Last night a Mars Bar saved my night

Last week I attended a public lecture on healthy eating behaviour and weight management (which I realise is a pretty dull start to a blog post – but bear with me).  The reason I feel compelled to write about it is that actually, it was the best Tuesday night I’ve spent in ages.  There was no mention of menu planning, protein to carb ratios or meal replacement shakes – but get this:  we all had to eat a Mars Bar together.  Now that’s what I call professional development.

Image: coffeedundee.com.au

Image: coffeedundee.com.au

Colleagues reading this post have probably guessed who I’m talking about.  Dr Rick Kausman has been working to help people eat well and take control of their weight for over twenty-five years, but the big news is that he doesn’t believe in dieting.

So how on earth does he help overweight people without putting them on a diet? Well that is just it.

Rick recognises that dieting (however you do it) only works in the short term. Because whether you’re counting calories, or banning whole food groups – you’re essentially suspending ‘normal’ behaviour, for the purpose of losing weight.  In an existential way, he describes it as a bit like holding your breath.  hungry as f***

But here’s the thing that really struck a cord with me: Instead of blaming the diet when it all goes to pot, we always blame ourselves.

   “The diet worked and I lost some weight, but then I mucked it up.  I put the weight back on”  

Sound familiar?   In the long term, diets do more harm than good, with the vast majority ending up right back where they started, plus a few extra kilos and an extra dollop of shame – thanks for playing.  Case in point is our national treasure and ex-Jenny Craig poster girl Magda Szubanski – who lost upwards of 35kg with Jenny Craig back in 2009, only to be resigned in 2014 to do it all over again (and then dropped six months later).

ironic much?The truth is that most overweight people have a pretty decent idea of how to eat better and exercise more.  Many are good at losing the weight – but just not keeping it off. They’ve been there, done that, and bought the t-shirt (in a variety of sizes).

But what Rick Kausman’s experience has taught him is that exercise and nutrition are only two small pieces of a very large puzzle.   And you can’t solve a puzzle when you’re missing most of the pieces.  Fabulous – right there.  I think I have nerdy, non-sexual crush on an older married man.

So what are the other missing pieces?  Here’s my three take away messages:

1.  Mindful eating.  We need to start listening to our bodies.

So many of us have lost touch with the way we eat.  We’re wolfing food down so fast that we barely have time to register fullness or pleasure.  Or we’re mindlessly nibbling our kids’ toast scraps at the kitchen bench. Sometimes, we eat just because it’s there, and sometimes because we’re anxious, exhausted or bored.

This is what Rick refers to as non-hungry eating.  It’s normal and totally okay to do some of the time, but do it on a regular basis, and you’re tricking your body into consuming more fuel than it really needs.

Rick teaches his clients to practice mindful eating, by recording their hunger levels and state of mind using a food awareness diary.  He uses the Mars Bar exercise (God bless him) to demonstrate how with practice, mindful eaters are able to eat less, and enjoy it more.  The simple, yet powerful question he proposes is ‘I can have it if I want it, but do I really feel like it?’

And that leads me on to my next point:

2.  We need to ditch the food guilt 

Fitspo? Clean eating?  Detoxing?  How have these ridiculous, self-riteous concepts ever helped overweight people?  I’ve said this before, but man, we really need to stop thinking of foods as good or bad, right or wrong, clean or dirty.  That goes for us, and doubly so for how we talk to our children about food.clean eating pulp fiction

As parents, most of us have done it before – and I’ll put my hand up here.  Against my better judgement, I’ve caught myself calling food ‘rubbish’ in front of my children. But does it stop them wanting the alluringly packaged, disturbingly coloured, salty-sweet ‘junk’ in question?  No.  This kind of language just encourages guilt and shame around food.  And as a mum (and a dietitian), that’s certainly not what I want to impart.

It may sound a bit naff when you first say it out loud, but talking about ‘everyday’ and ‘sometimes’ foods is an infinitely more helpful and effective approach.

3.  A number on the scales shouldn’t be mistaken for a measure of health and wellbeing

On my final point here, please don’t get me wrong – I’m well aware that obesity is a huge health and economic burden in Australia today.  It’s just that I don’t see how our obsession with weighing and measuring, diet ‘policing’ and fat-shaming is going to help.

grumpy bird

It’s time to recognise and foster the idea that healthy bodies come in a variety of shapes and sizes.  As health professionals, we need to shift the focus onto the person –  helping them to improve their self esteem, and motivating them to nurture (rather than detest) their bodies.  It’s called the person centred, non-diet approach, and the word is slowly spreading.

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Do you need help, or do you want to learn more?  You can sign up over here to access Rick’s free resources, and find the link to his inspirational book If Not Dieting, Then What?

 

 

 

 

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Paleo? Y/N? A post in defence of cheese

Okay. Are we officially over the Pete Evans / paleo social media shit-storm in Australia? I think it’s safe to say that I’m just about there.  I’m experiencing a severe case of Chronic Paleo Overload Syndrome (CPOS).

The problem is that as a practicing dietitian, it’s in my interests to keep abreast of the whole kerfuffle, and to know what Chef Pete Evans is preaching today to his 300K+ tribe on Facebook. Because you can bet your bokashi that my clients, colleagues, friends and family will be asking me about it.

How long – I wonder – before we’ll be asked to vote ‘for’ or ‘against’, and have our official paleo status stamped on our licence?:

Organ donor? (circle) Y / N.
Paleo? (circle): Y / N.

If you’re thinking I sound a bit paranoid, you may be right (along with premature ageing and a compulsion to stockpile Cherry Ripes, paranoia is a common symptom of CPOS).

But I’m not blogging here to enter into debate over Pete Evans’ recent attacks on the Heart Foundation tick – I think this recent post by a fellow dietitian says it perfectly.  When it comes to our healthy eating guidelines, or the role of fats and carbohydrates in the obesity epidemic, I defer to the extensive grey matter of Dr David Katz, and encourage anyone interested to read his recent thoughts.  And as for the idea that paleo can treat everything from autism to MS –  are you thinking what I’m thinking?..

Image: Getty images - ABC archives

What I am talking about here is the push I’m seeing for paleo to be accepted as a healthier alternative to current evidence-based nutrition guidelines.  And the proliferation of comments from the general public along the lines of:

‘I don’t see the problem with Paleo. It’s just a healthy diet that cuts out processed foods, and surely that’s better for us than eating crap isn’t it?

Most dietitians and public health experts are in furious agreement that there are some really good points to the paleo style of eating.  Engaging in debate about the quality of our food supply and where it comes from.  Stepping away from the supermarket shelves – groaning under the weight of sugary, processed, nutrient-poor foods.  Eating lots of fibrous, nutrient-rich vegetables, nuts and seeds.  Of course these are things we should all aspire to.

But let’s not get so blinded by these positives, that we fail to see the full picture.  The newsflash I have here is that there is a middle ground, which falls somewhere between a diet full of processed rubbish, and going paleo. It’s called eating things that grow in the soil, making your own instead of buying the packet, and developing a healthy relationship with food.

Quite simply – I believe going paleo is throwing the baby out with the bath water.

And this is why:

oats v fruitloops (1)

Paleo would have you think that a bowl of oats (with all that soluble fibre, folate, magnesium, protein and low GI carbohydrate) is no different to a bowl of Fruit Loops.

sandwich v fairy bread (1)

Paleo doesn’t distinguish between a sandwich made with grainy, low GI bread, and a sugar-laden cake made with refined white flour.  It lumps these two distinctly different beasts in together as ‘bad’ foods.  It perpetuates the idea that there is something inherently dangerous about gluten, despite any robust scientific data to this effect (and as a dietitan married to a guy with coeliac disease – I kind of know my research in the area of gluten sensitivity).

dairy and legumes bad

True paleo diets omit legumes and dairy – two incredibly nutrient dense food groups consumed by diverse cultures around our globe.  We’ve been eating these foods for centuries – long before the current obesity epidemic, the rise of food allergies, intolerances and their associated health burden.

There is a tonne of research which shows the benefit of legumes in the diet – probably because they are an excellent source of slow release carbohydrate with a wide range of nutrients and a good whack of fibre.

And dairy?  Slow release carbohydrate again, with quality protein, potassium and an ideal ratio of calcium and phosphorous for bone health.  A high dairy diet may not suit everyone (lactose intolerance and cow’s milk protein allergy/intolerance are known issues), and some prefer not to drink the milk of another mammal for ethical reasons.  But does dairy classify as a toxic food that is inherently bad for all of us?  No.

Please don’t make me live in a world without cheese – I just don’t think I’d cope.

miniature cheese platter

Miniature Cheese Platter – Stephanie Kilgast

So I have an idea.

Let’s start talking about nutrition without the sweeping generalisations and one-size fits all perspective. Let’s encourage a back-to-basics, cut-the-crap approach, without demonising foods we’ve been cultivating and eating without incident for centuries.  Let’s ditch the Facebook slinging match, the before and after shots and the contest for most number of ‘likes’ and ‘shares’.  And while we’re at it, how about accepting that as powerful as our diet is – it is not the cure for every disease or disorder under the sun.

With that in mind, I’ll get back to prepping my utterly non-paleo, yet delicious and healthy dinner.  Legumes, rice, cheese, vegetables – and a sneaky glass of wine on the side.  The perfect salve to my CPOS-riddled brain.

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The truth dietitians won’t tell you about fad diets

Here’s a thing:  Diet books for dogs.

Because why limit the dieting industry to humans, when there’s a whole market out there for overweight, guilt-ridden, food focused dogs?

diet books for dogs

Now they can unlock their ancestral diet too.  Or go vegetarian (I’m no dog nutritionist here, but seriously?).  And someone very passionate about canine diets, felt the need to write a ‘complete guide’ to not eating poop.  Yes they did.

It’s further evidence that the diet industry is showing no signs of easing up.  And do you know what?  My sensible, measured dietitian-ness can’t fight it any longer. I’ve decided it’s time I ditched the goody-two-shoes routine and jumped aboard that juggernaut.

Because nobody wants to read about how small, sustainable changes to your eating habits can help you lose weight and improve your long term health.  Not even dogs.  What we’re searching for is the dietary holy grail: a revolutionary new eating program that melts away kilos, cures chronic diseases and doubles as religion.

The key to fad diet success is pretty simple – as you can see from my nifty graphic below.

Fad Diet Writing 101

Sounds pretty awesome – right?  A lot more happening than ‘eat less crap and exercise more’.

But fad diets don’t just look and sound good.  The truth is that they’re benefiting us in more ways than we can imagine.  And the new, edgy, laser-tooth-whitened me is here to let you in on what the DAA and the Government have been trying to cover up for YEARS:

 1.  Fad diets help people lose weight and feel happy

Every year, millions of people shed millions of kilos of lard on fad diets.  And while they’re doing so they feel FANTASTIC.  It’s hard to miss how fantastic they feel, because they tell anyone and EVERYONE who will listen, and the best ones even get to go on TV. The giddy joy of fitting back into your old skinny jeans and living on ketones are a pretty heady combination.

But don’t feel bad if your friend is looking suddenly more buffed than you since they kicked their toxic sugar habit.  The flip-side to stringent diets is that they just aren’t sustainable for 98.7% of those who try them**.  You’ll be able to get your own back a few months later, when they’re back in their fat pants and no longer sporting that zealous, invincible look. When you pop over for coffee, just stare a little too long at the packet of biscuits on the bench, and then ask ‘hey how’s your sugar-free diet going?’.

**figure based on random sample of my dieting friends over past 25 years

2.  Fad Diets Are Good For The Economy

Because they sell books.  Billions of them!  And you can’t stand an ebook proudly on your coffee table as a conversation starter.  Fad diets are what keeps the publishing and printing businesses afloat, and keeps people in jobs.   And it doesn’t end there.

dietbook montage

With all of these sensational, ground-breaking new diets, comes the demand for sensational, groundbreaking new products – Himalayan Sea Buckthorn Seed Oilhome fermenting kits, and fart-proof underwear (I know you think I’m joking but check this shit out).  And let’s not forget the celebrities, shonky doctors and wellness coaches whose pictures grace the covers.  Their maca powder habits and alkalised water deliveries keep the health food industry in business, which in turn sells more kooky books, which in turn drives sales of carb-free pasta and dairy-free-soy-free-real-cheddar-taste-without-the-cheese kale chips.  And who can argue with that logic?

kale chips

3.  Fad diets put food on the table for desperate TV programming executives

Just imagine where those poor souls would be, without the constant turnover of new fad diets to feed the 24 hour news cycle?  Very short on low-brow current affairs and breakfast ‘news’ segments, is where.   And in the absence of such tasty programming morsels, we’d probably be subjected to more awful news about war, disease and famine. Which would make us so miserable we’d just gorge ourselves on more biscuits and cake, and get even fatter and more disgusting.

4.  Fad diets make for excellent dinner party and water cooler conversations

Which helps us connect with like-minded suckers individuals who’re interested in any new fad innovations in nutritional science.  Next time you’re stuck for conversation, just try this:

Simply combine the phrase ‘I read recently’ or ‘my trainer says’ or ‘many people now believe’ with any old rubbish, and you’ve got yourself a whole lot of credibility and a sure-fire conversation starter. For example:

‘I can’t believe you still eat carrots.  I read recently they’re worse than soft drink’

‘Gee I’m glad they do a paleo all day breakfast here – my trainer says I shouldn’t eat gluten after 4pm on weekdays’

‘I wouldn’t touch dairy with a barge-pole these days.  Many people now believe it causes early puberty, autism spectrum disorder and flabby upper arms’

5.  Fad Diets give stupid people a chance to be famous and make money

My final point on this matter may sound a little harsh, I know.  But doesn’t everyone deserve a chance to have their day in the sun?  Why should stupid people miss out?

And here, I give you Freelee the banana girl – a raw, vegan diet coach who has invented the Mono diet.  She’s shed 20kg by eating ANYTHING SHE WANTS (as long as it’s low fat, raw and vegan that is), in ANY AMOUNT.  The catch is that she only eats one type of food at each meal. NB. If you are contemplating watching this clip, proceed with caution, and please note these are 4 minutes of your life you will never get get back.

And on the subject of stupidity, I couldn’t finish up here without introducing Alicia Sliverstone and her books The Kind Mama and The Kind Diet.  

#1 New York Times bestseller Written for the many people out there who prefer to get their dietary, fertility and medical advice from a celebrity instead of a doctor – it’s apparently topped the New York Times Best Seller list.  Now that’s what I call #booksales.

But before you race out and get your own copy, do me a favour and check out this review, which is quite frankly, more useful and entertaining than both her books put together.

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Supermarket stupor

Well, it’s been a pretty big few weeks, I’ve got to say.  Firstly, I dissed the machine that is Pete Evans – and survived to tell the tale.  Secondly, I donned my invisible cape of assertiveness and pimped the story to a parenting website (at the risk of being descended on by activated nut-jobs around the country).  And thirdly, I joined twitter.

The freakish spike in my stats since last week’s post appears to confirm three things:

  1. Love him or loath him, Pete Evans and his ‘Paleo Way’ are very hot right now
  2. I’m not the only one who has completely cracked the sads with fad diets, food wankery and the people getting rich off the back of it all
  3. Secretly, we all have a little bit of Alf Stewart in us.
My (surprisingly real) Alf Stewart impersonation

My (surprisingly real) Alf Stewart impersonation

Happily, all of these factors seem to be working in my favour, and have brought about more than one spontaneous expression of joy through dance in my kitchen, and a record number of new subscribers.   So to the newbies, I’d like to introduce myself:

Hello. I’m Marnie.  And in real life, I’m not nearly as authoritative as I sounded in my last post (just ask my children, who never listen to me).

In a previous life (B.C.), I lived with my husband in cosmopolitan St Kilda, dined in the hottest restaurants, and worked with one of Australia’s most talented chefs (he was scary as hell in the kitchen, but a teddy bear outside of it).   But these days, I spend a lot more time reading Lego instructions than articles about the hottest new fad diet on the scene. And (quite dull I’m afraid), I spend a large chunk of my life teaching clients about basic nutrition, and preparing meals that my kids will actually eat.

I don’t usually make a habit of poking my nose into the business of celebrity chefs, or blogging about their peculiar food choices – but I’ve made an exception in Pete Evans’ case.  And that’s because he’s decided he knows a crap-load more than anyone trained in nutrition or public health, and has quite a penchant for dietitian-bashing.

The recent argy-bargy between Pete’s disciples and dietitian Susie Burrell is proof that many members of the public prefer to take dietary advice from a tanned celebrity, than an experienced health professional.  It’s also been a stark reminder of how downright revolting people can be, from behind the anonymity of a computer screen.

And that’s what was on my mind, last Friday afternoon when i-village parenting site published an edited, (somewhat less entertaining version) of my Pete Evans rebuttal.  As I quietly closed my laptop, and bundled the kids into the car for the shopping trip I’d be putting off all day, I realised I had just put myself out there amongst the trolls.

And it was in the supermarket, under that horrible flurescent lighting (my shopping list predictably forgotten) that I experienced a severe case of Supermarket Stupor.

super stupor

It went something like this:

‘Okay kids let’s think about what we came here for THINK Goddammit. Visualise the list and stop pulling the trolley – it makes it hard to steer’ Oh God… have they started slagging me off yet?!  

‘I think we’re out of juice [toxic cocktail] Who said that?!?  and cheese sticks’  Oh no – excess packaging = bad.  Will get 1kg block and cut into cheese sticks.. [probably from miserable grain-fed cows] Excuse me? What are you doing in my head?!  Hmm.. maybe should buy organic cheese – is that a thing? Quick! What would Rosemary Stanton do?

‘You wanted granny smith apples?  There – grab that bulk pack. Oh FRIG the packaging thing again –  must send message to evil supermarkets re: obsession with wrapping everything  No – get the loose ones and put them in a bag I’ll reuse the bag for dog poo and Arlo STOP pulling.  It makes it VERY. HARD. TO. STEER.’  Ommmmm… Breathing… breathing is good….

‘Mummy!! You said we could choose one thing – can we have CLIX?! Yeah CLIX! CLIX!’ here we go – this is my fault for letting them have Clix last week

‘No. We’re not getting Clix.’ stop frowning – people think you’re a grumpy cow

‘Pleeeeaaaase?’

‘NO!’ because I’ve just published a post professing we all need to eat less processed food and more plants, and I’m pretty sure Clix biscuits don’t fit into the second category there, and ? is that guy looking at me strange ?  Is he going for his..?!  No of course he’s not. Don’t be silly.  He’s just looking at his phone.  

‘Mumma can we have Shapes then?’  Maybe he’s waiting to snap a picture of your kids with Clix and Shapes so he can post it to Pete’s Facebook page with the caption:

Just encountered outspoken paleo ridiculer and brainwashed brand-slave dietitian Marnie buying her kids processed crap in the stupor market this evening #slavetothefoodindustry #dietaryguidelinesfail #badastherestofthem

 

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You’ll be glad to know that I eventually pulled myself together and escaped the supermarket without appearing obviously unhinged.   I also stopped worrying about my potential death by social media suicide, and enjoyed an extremely delicious Thai takeaway with a friend while we watched Dead Poets Society and toasted the life of Robin Williams.

But the point of this post (I think) is that being a parent is a tough gig.  Sometimes, all of the noise and clamouring and expert advice out there about what we should and shouldn’t eat drives me a little batty – to the point where I just want to pack up, go home, and cuddle the dog.

But when I take a breath and a step back from it all –  I realise this:  Rather than freaking out and reinventing our way of eating, I just need a reminder, every now and then, to get back to basics.  And so my aims this week are simply to say no to the pester power of packaged rubbish, and to pack good, simple food in their lunches.

I’m also working on my new book I know stuff Pete Evans doesn’t – which I’m writing in the hope it will convince my husband and children that I actually do know what I’m talking about.  Wish me luck.

i know stuff pete evans doesn't

I got 99 problems – but a grain ain’t one

I’ve been channelling Alf Stewart again.  It’s something that comes over me at times of intense frustration – like when my children decide to barge through the toilet door the moment I have closed it and sat down… or in this case it’s when celebrity chefs decide they need to reeducate the nation about feeding their families.  Not according to evidence-based guidelines developed by research bodies throughout the world, but according to their own skewed beliefs and practices.

The Almonds are activated! (Image: Sunday Life, The Australian)

The Almonds are activated! I repeat: The almonds are activated! (Image: Sunday Life)

If you haven’t yet heard, Celebrity chef Pete Evans’ latest bit of Facebook grandstanding has him promising to bring his version of healthy eating into schools across Australia – and his Facebook fans – the anti-dietititian brigade – can barely contain themselves.  He hasn’t yet told us what exactly his ‘Healthy School Lunches’ program will entail, but if we are to go by his recent spot in the Australian (‘6 foods I never stock at home’), it might look something like this:

No grains.  That means goodbye to the humble sandwich and sushi roll (sorry mum). This also extends to meat that was fed grains, in case you’re wondering.

No dairy.  Because apparently no-one in his family can digest it.  And sorry (!) but soy alternatives such as tofu and soy milk are also bad for us  – proving 130 million Japanese resoundingly clueless.

No sugar (Pete goes into convulsions at the mere mention of sugar).  That seemingly innocent combination of glucose and fructose apparently causes all manner of physical and psychological disturbances, according to…. well… him.  But don’t fear, because pure maple syrup and raw honey are tickety-boo.

No vegetable oils.  Pete reckons vegetable oils are toxic.

Gee, that’s quite a bit there on the bad list Pete.  So which foods does he give his blessing to?

Nuts and seeds.  I’m right here with you Pete – these are great foods.  Activate away!

Fibrous organic vegetables.  Awesome.  Fibre is good.  Organic is nice.. if you have the funds.  We should probably all eat more vegetables.

Herbs and spices and naturally fermented foods.  No argument here.  Hey -I wonder if the sludgey banana I found at the bottom of my daughter’s bag would count as a naturally fermented superfood?!

Organic, free range, 100% pasteurised meat, poultry and eggs and hand-caught salmon from sustainable waters.   These are all good things.  Very expensive good things.  But here’s where the value judgements start to creep in – because surely if we just cared enough about our family, we’d all scrape around and find the money to eat organic?    

Coconut oil. Yes of course coconut oil.  Coconut oil is so hot right now. Because of it’s high smoke point right? (see what I did there) and it’s apparent lack of ‘toxicity’.  He also allows virgin olive oil at times, but favours lard and tallow as healthy cooking options at home.  Mmmm…

What about fruit? I hear you ask.  Fruit didn’t rate a mention – evidently it wasn’t downright evil enough to make the naughty list, or pure enough to make the nice list.  Does that mean I should give up practicing my apple swan lunch box art?  Humph.

turn-ordinary-apple-into-deliciously-artful-swan.w654

Now you’re probably thinking at this point – gee she’s really got her knickers in a knot over this one.  And yes, this is out of character for a dietitian who isn’t usually very dietitian-like about food.  It takes a bit for me to get my hackles up, but man they’re up.  My inner Alf Stewart (in his gravelly tones) has been baiting me:  ‘C’mon girly – are you gonna let that dingbat with his flamin’ activated almonds get away with this rot?’

No Alf.  I won’t stand for it.  I’m going to clamber up onto my soap-box and let rip.  Here goes..

As a dietiitan, I see people every week who are utterly bamboozled by conflicting dietary advice.  They no longer know who to believe, and many have lost the instinct which tells them whether they’re hungry or full.  Guilt is a big theme.  They ask me about the 5:2 diet, whether they should Quit Sugar or detox, and whether dairy is good or bad.  The ones who eat well are also taking spirulina and popping vitamins, and the ones who eat crap don’t don’t really give a crap.so hot right now

I’m very familiar with actual food allergies/intolerances and the restrictive and socially isolating diets that some need to follow.   Food allergy sucks.  Coeliac disease is not fun. And food intolerance symptoms can be genuinely distressing.  But I’m also encountering more and more clients who appear to be hiding their frankly disordered eating habits behind the veil of food intolerance or ‘special’ requirements.

Like the woman I saw recently, who over ten years, had whittled her diet down to only eggs (6-8/day), cream and butter, pork, chicken and lamb.  She avoided all grains and all fruits and vegetables except potato (which she fried in duck fat) and banana (100g/day).  Her blood cholesterol was a whopping 19mmol.  But in the immediate future she needed a psychologist more than she needed a dietitian.

And I suppose that’s why I get so worked up about diets that are all about restriction, and self-appointed ‘experts’ like Pete, who advocate them.  They promote the idea that eating to a certain formula will make you better, cleaner, stronger.  Through mainstream and social media, they subtly pervade the public conscious, encouraging confusion and needless anxiety around food.which diet?

Do we want to teach our kids that foods have either good or bad moral values?  Do we want to risk strengthening the foundation for disordered eating, in those who are most vulnerable?  As the mother of a nearly eight year-old daughter, the idea terrifies me.  And I wonder if the thousands who ‘like’ and ‘share’ Pete’s grandiose school lunch plans have really thought this through?

Pete obviously has passion for what he does – and that’s great for him, and the upwardly mobile, alternative-aligned punters with whom the paleo movement resonates.  But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here.  He’s a TV chef with nutrition qualifications from an ‘Institute Of Wellness’, and quite frankly, he’s no Jamie Oliver.

I prefer a bit of common sense and moderation, myself.  I learn from my colleagues, who blog with intelligence and perspective – like Dr Tim Crowe from http://www.thinkingnutrition.com.au – who presents the science in lovely bite-sized, helpful chunks.  And http://www.thenutritionguruandthechef.com – a breath of fresh air in cyberspace in the form of no-nonsense, cut-the-crap good food.

So how about we all just calm down (that’s you included Alf), practice a bit of moderation, and agree that different styles of eating suit different people.  If we cook real food at home, eat plenty of plants, eat less processed food and stop when we’re full, I figure that’s a pretty good start.

(now if you’ll excuse me – I’m just popping down to the shops for some organic free range offal and giant mushrooms to make this paleo burger for the kids lunch tomorrow)

Abaondoned undies, exhausting forks

It’s occurred to me lately that we need to rethink the division of labour in our household. Because as the kids are growing up, life is getting seriously busy – and I’m slowly turning into a grumpy old cow.

Long gone are those toddler years when staying in jamies until noon was de rigueur, and ordering drive through coffee in your ugg boots was an acceptable days outing.

early days

These days there are alarms going bleep-bleep and befuddled children to boss about.  There are sustaining breakfasts and inspiring lunches to be negotiated. There are bags to pack, uniforms to locate, permission slips to be signed and teeth to be brushed. Those teeth need to be brushed Every. Single. Morning.   Top if off with a school bell to meet, and it gets me almost every time – I’m doing that shouty thing before the day has even properly started.

And the days when I try to complete the whole saga and then continue on my way to work?  Multiply the degree of difficulty by approximately 1.75, if you expect to a) remember your lunch and b) not look like you’ve been dragged through a bush backwards.  Some women do it every day of the week – and it baffles me how.

But then I read a few of those smug, ‘it’s really not so difficult if you’re organised’ type blog posts and came across this gem:

I have 3 young boys to get to school in the morning and have no trouble . We have a timetable. 6.30 – 7am – breakfast and shower. 7 – 7.30 – Chores, which are broken into 3 groups and they do each morning. They rotate at the end of the week. 7.30 – 8 – relax, 8am – depart for school. Lunches are made on Sunday night and packed in the fridge/freezer for the whole week with their name on them. Have been doing this since the youngest was 4 yrs old and have no problems at all.Pocket money of $5/wk is paid every Sunday. My boys are healthy, responsible, organised, good at school and sports and very happy..

Is she for real?  Do people really get their jollies packing a week’s worth of lunches every Sunday night, before unwinding with a well-overdue sock drawer inventory and a cup of camomile tea?  Obviously Ms Smarty Pants here doesn’t need to ask her children to do something at least three times before it will even appear on their radar – giving her plenty of time for her pelvic floor exercises while cooking day 13 of her 20-day rotating menu cycle.

Anyhow… I recently decided to implement a system of weekly chores and pocket money – because it dawned on me that if I don’t, I may well miss the bus, and end up with children who still don’t know how to use a washing machine at age 35.

The bedroom formed the ‘core focus’ of my new system.  From now on it was up to them to ensure it was tidy every morning, or they could kiss goodbye to their sweet $2 on Sunday.  In addition, he would take charge of emptying the dishwasher cutlery basket, she would help sort the clean washing, and they would both take turns feeding the dog.  I wrote it up, had it laminated and hoped for the best.

high hopes

One week down the track, we hit a snag.  My daughter had ‘run out’ of underwear, and so I went in to investigate and found no less than 5 pairs of underpants (balled up within various garments) in the bottom of the closet.  I delved deeper, and discovered several pairs of pyjamas covered in vegemite smears or crusted-on porridge, and shoved in various PATENTLY NON-PYJAMA draws throughout the room.

Arlo started out brilliantly with the cutlery task (completed with more precision than my husband, who favours the ‘turn upside and tip’ approach).   But predictably his enthusiasm faded, to the point where a direct transcript from his most recent unpack goes something like this:

Oh… this is soooo booorrrring (drop one fork into draw)…  It’s going…. to…. take…….. all………day… (drop one spoon into drawer) …. It’s….. tooo…. hard…. and… booooorrrrrring….. {enormous sigh}

Observing this spectacle, I fought against every fibre of my being, which wanted to take him and shout: JUST LET ME DO IT YOU LAZY GOOD-FOR-NOTHING OVER-PRIVILEGED UPSTART in an alarmingly Alf Stewart fashion.

Surely I should just save myself the angst and do it myself, properly, with no need for the drill-sergeant routine?  But that would be quitting.  So we’re pressing on.

I’ll let you know if the point ever comes when the kids ‘helping’ actually saves me time, and doesn’t make me want to stick a fork in my leg.  But until then, I’m keeping a good stock of Bombay Sapphire at the ready.

He got the cutlery blues

 

And then there were five

Life in our household used to be a bit mad.  And by mad, I mean up and down like a yo-yo with an average noise level rated as extreme.  It was also mad as in one minute we’re all getting along swimmingly and the next minute it’s fisticuffs.  I think the madness level was pretty much on par, for a family with two young children.

And then, along came Billie.

Along came BillieBillie who has impulse control issues and a penchant for destruction.  Billie with her fetish for eating pencils, the children’s soft toys, and human food (straight off the table).  If she’s not supposed to have it, you can bet she wants it – with every fibre of her being.

Billie is what you might call a keen gardener.  In fact keen is an understatement – I’d venture she’s more of a fervid gardener.  She has a grand vision for our back yard, and in this vision, succulents just will not be tolerated.  The ones in pots are toppled, and those in the garden beds are enthusiastically chomped apon.   I like to think that her online dating profile might go something along the lines of:

‘Hi, I’m Billie.  I have a shoe fetish and a penchant for rigorous pruning and excavation work’.

Needless to say, we’ve given the winter veggie garden a miss this year.

Billie is also a keen collector.  She curates and covets the strangest things – such as the awful fluorescent green wig and the Hulk mask from the kids’ dress-up box.  These enigmatic items are so much more tasty and interesting than the dedicated dog chewy toys we bought for her. And her collection continues to grow – so that this week I had to buy her a toy box of her own.

She fills it by slowly appropriating more and more of the kids toys – each desperate dash into the playroom being carefully timed and orchestrated.  She has learnt, you see, that possession is 9/10ths of the law.  And persistence pays off.

naughty billie brady bunch.jpg

And then there’s the food thing.  The problem is that Billie just isn’t that fond of dog food – which is troubling for me as a mother, dietitian and general food enthusiast.  I simply can’t have a skinny dog.

I mix up puppy milk for her every morning (even though she’s technically too old for it now). Sometimes I squat next to her and coo words of encouragement while she eats.   And the other night I even added double cream to her doggy kibble, in an effort to bump up the calories and tempt her little tastebuds.

I know – she’s a Whippet, and they’re skinny right?  But I can’t seem to help it – I’m a feeder.

I can, however, confirm that she is growing, because last Friday when I tried to bath her in the laundry sink, she didn’t really fit anymore.  There was a lot of scrabbling, splashing, slipping around and sweary outbursts until we finally emerged  – both utterly flustered and dripping wet.   It was not unlike trying to bath a baby giraffe.

Another development of late is that my weekly purchases of paper towel and disinfectant wipes are slowing, and I can’t remember the last time I stepped in a puddle of urine.  In fact, Billie has recently taken to tapping at the back door to go out for a wee. Can I tell you how exciting that is?!  To me, it’s a bit like finding a forgotten fifty in my jeans pocket.

What - they do dog graduation certificates now?

What – they do dog graduation certificates now?

The main reason she’s learnt to do this, of course, is the treaties.  If we learnt nothing else from puppy pre-school, we learnt that treaties are the currency Billie works on.  Thanks to treaties she can also sit, and drop, and wait at the road.  Which is why my pockets are always full of liver treats these days (no forgotten fifties to be found).

It’s also the reason why the people at City Farmers LOVE me.

And when I add up all the food, the paraphernalia, puppy pre-school lessons, kennel make-over expenses, doggie parkers (plural, because she ate the first one), vet bills and registration ..

…well, the truth is that I don’t.  I think it would give me a small coronary to see the final figure.  And that wouldn’t achieve much now would it?

The cost of Billie

So what’s life like with a Billie in the family?  It’s a little bit more mad than before, but it’s good.

It’s good to see the kids race out to greet her when we get home, and to hear her skidding around the house at top speed first thing in the morning.  I secretly love it when she goes missing at night, and I find her quietly snuggled up and eyeing me sheepishly from one of the kids’ beds.  And she gets us out of the house and walking every day.  She reminds me that what really matters isn’t that the beds are made or that the floor is mopped. Housework will always be there tomorrow.

We’re just so in love with our kleptomaniac, hyperactive, little bony-assed dog, it’s insane.

Billie goes to the park

 

 

 

 

 

I can see clearly now

Man, how time flies.

This time last year, Cam and I had just returned from two decadent, amazing weeks in New York City.  If I remember rightly, I was on cloud nine – firstly to be reunited with the kids, and secondly due to my greatly enriched wardrobe.  And a year down the track, my New York dress and Freddies jeans are still on regular rotation.  They’re the souvenirs that keep on giving.

High pants on the highline

Wearing my high pants on the Highline

I started writing this post last week at the Royal Childrens’ Hospital, as Arlo and I waited for his annual opthalmology appointment.  And because it’s only once a year now that we make that trip, I always find myself taking stock of life.  Every year I cast my mind back to those horror few months when he was tiny, and we were told he may well be blind.

From about six weeks of age, I’d noticed that Arlo wasn’t responding to visual cues as did his eagle-eyed big sister.  I could walk by him, and he wouldn’t turn his head – nor would his eyes follow me around the room.  And at times I noticed his eyes would waver from side to side in a slow, rhythmic fashion.  It was unnerving, but he was so little.  I told myself that they all developed differently, and tried not to worry.

early days snuggles

early days snuggles

But by twelve weeks we were booked in to see our first paediatric ophthalmologist.  She assessed him, and was fairly blunt about the situation – we were given the various forms we needed for a battery of further tests, and wandered, shell shocked out to the car.  I bawled.  And for a month or so we lamented and agonized over the idea that our precious little guy might never see our faces.

If we skip forward almost five years, those of your who know Arlo will know that he is not blind – not even close.  He has a condition called congenital nystagmus – essentially a weakness in his eye muscles that makes focusing difficult, and causes a slight jiggling of his eyes (which you may notice if you’re up really close).

He does lose me easily in the playground (there have been more than one of those announcements over the loud speaker at school), and finds it hard to pick out tiny details in the distance.  But oh – how I wish I could show him to the heartbroken mother who bawled in the car that day.  I could save her a lot of anguish by telling her what we have since learnt: a twelve week old baby who smiles cannot be blind (and surely that is something that any paediatric ophthalmologist worth their salt should also know?).

barwon heads jetty jumps

We never saw that doctor again – we got a second, and a third opinion, and had an enormous amount of support from the wonderful people at Vision Australia.  We were overjoyed to see his sight improve – slowly but surely – to where he is now.

And what of this year’s appointment?  Arlo has improved one line on the vision test, and although he’s still technically below the driving level, we’re not worrying about that for a good eleven years or so. If it’s warranted in the future, there is the option of surgery – which can’t fix it, but should help a bit.  And we’ve been off choosing glasses frames this week, to see if correcting his slight astigmatism with lenses will also help.  He’s chosen the Country Road frames, as he felt they looked ‘sporty’.

And so, as I do every year around this time, I look around at how fortunate we are, and I thank my lucky stars that my little man can see.

Ten things I’d really have liked for Mothers Day

Okay.  I know this is an easy target.  And there are probably a lot of these lists going around.  And of course, if I really could have anything I wanted, I would wish for world peace and end to poverty and a cure for cancer and MS and every other bastard degenerative disease out there.  I’d also wish for a happy ending for all of the women who so desperately want to be mums, but aren’t yet.  Excruciating.

So thank you to my beautiful children, and their handmade cards and gifts.  And thank you to my husband for buying me flowers and vacuuming the car and making me dinner.  I salute you.

mothers day delights

Here are ten things which would also have been awesome Mothers Day gifts:

1.  It would be really nice if, for once, my daughter nailed the ‘what I love about Mummy’ question, at the school mothers day morning.

You know – the bit when you all sit around in a circle, and every child has a turn at saying something nice about their mum?  In front of EVERYONE.  And I see her start to squirm… Some acceptable examples, as voiced by her classmates last Friday, were:

  • She’s AMAZING
  • She’s beautiful
  • She’s the best mum in the world (5 children said this!)

And what I got was:

  • She cooks me food

Now this is a true statement.  I do, in fact, cook her dinner most nights, and pack her lunches every day.  And yet… I’ll admit to being a little underwhelmed.  Surely an adjective or two wouldn’t go astray here?

fish finger guys

(I do make awesome dinners)

2.  I would love a shoe re-homing device

Like a Robomaid, only it specifically seeks out shoes (must be able to climb walls to reach those placed on the mantle piece out of the puppy’s reach) and returns them neatly to the correct closets.  Just a little thing, but I think it would make me immensely happy.

my mantle piece

3.  I’d like my children to remember to flush the toilet and wash their hands

Again, just a little thing.  And not a terribly difficult concept to grasp, one would think.  But do you know how often it is that I walk into the bathroom to be greeted by Mr Hanky staring back at me?!  Far too often.

I think what I need is one of those space aged booths with automatic flushing and a lock-in system which denies exit until you’ve washed your hands (with soap Goddamnit).  This would also eliminate the ‘did you wash and flush?’ question, which I currently ask at least five times daily.

And while I’m on the subject of toileting,..

4.  Is there such a thing as doggy toilet training boot camp?

And if not, can I maybe have that Chesty Bonds Vet man from the tele come over for some intensive toilet training assistance?  And I can make him cups of tea and regale him with cute puppy stories..

Why are you looking at me like that?  Did I say that out loud?

bondi vet man

What? Are you saying I’m the first person to have this fantasy?

Oh and one more while I’m on the subject:

5.  Can I please be allowed to go to the toilet in peace?!  PLEASE!?

This means no barging through the door as soon as I have closed it.  Or, for that matter, trying to hip-and-shoulder the door down if I lock it.  And no thumping on the door and asking me questions.  And no wailing MUUUUMMAAA I need you!

And finally, no slumping heavily against the bathroom door and breathing loudly until I am finished.  Just NO!  Okay?!

6.  I would like a mute button for the children

Now I don’t wish to sound harsh here.  I adore my children.  And they say some of the most delightful things.  So I would just like the option of the mute button for emergencies, and I promise I wouldn’t use it too often.

4878030109_3ace30595c_z

7.  I’d like a CCTV slow motion playback / external referee to sort out the children’s arguments

Imagine how much easier this would make my life?!  All I’d need to do, in the event of the screaming match / sobbing child / mysterious chocolate swindle, would be to make that special sign they do (where you draw the outline of a screen with your fingertips, and look up to the heavens).

I might use my mute button whilst waiting for the decision.

red card


Sorry kids – official decision is final

8.  I’d like the children to call out ‘DADDDYEEEEEE!!!’ in the middle of the night, in the event of a wet bed / tummy ache / evil Kermit in the cupboard / unexplained night terror / pending vomit

Enough said.  Moving right along..

9.   I’d like an extra 5 minutes sleep for every F&#KING loom band I find around the house.

I mean SERIOUSLY!  These things are everywhere.  And the dog tries to eat them.  And then I have to chase her.  And then she thinks I’m playing with her.  And then by the time I’ve finally caught her and prized open her jaws, I’ve forgotten what the hell I was doing in the first place.loom bands

10.  I’d like a four day mini break in Noosa with 7 old friends, a rooftop spa and and an afternoon beach cocktail party

And that, my friends, is exactly what I’m doing this weekend!  Come Thursday morning I’ll be boarding a plane (without a million activity pads and snacks and changes of clothes) and ordering myself a glass of sparkling.

It’s a Mothers Day present I’m giving to myself.  And it’s going to be awesome.

 

Burnt chop syndrome (and other real life lunch scenarios)

Well I can’t blame an evil publishing giant this time, but tonight I’m clambering back on to my school lunch soapbox.   You see, last night it took me no less than 40 minutes to assemble three sets of kinder/school/work lunches.  Seriously.  And as I finally snapped the lid on the last box I wondered – what is wrong with me? Surely it shouldn’t be that hard.

But after debriefing with friends today, I find it’s not just me.  Evidently, there is a certain state of mojo required to expedite a school lunch.  And if you’re not feeling it, you’re in trouble.

Now in retrospect I have to admit that the wine (and the resultant CBF state of mind) probably didn’t help.  But I also blame the cute kleptomaniac who now lives with us.

Billie


I’m sorry? What is the sweet potato you’re referring to?

At one stage I had to give chase in order to wrestle a sweet potato from her jaws (mental note: never look other way with pantry door ajar).  A moment later I turned around to find her balancing on top of the rubbish bin – looking simultaneously gobsmacked and delighted by her own daredevil feat.  And seemingly every two minutes from that point, I was downing tools to rescue various household objects or human appendages from her needle-sharp choppers.

Added to the amusing puppy antics, it seemed like every plastic container I sought out was either missing a lid, needing to be washed, or had mysteriously vanished from the face of the earth.

So what did the lunch boxes finally consist of?  As you can see below, I seem to have peaked early, with child 1.  By the time it came to packing my own lunch, I was functioning solely on autopilot, and all I could muster was a Vegemite sandwich.  I was suffering a bad case of burnt chop syndrome.

burnt chop syndrome (school lunches)

Anyway, burnt chop or not, it got me thinking about the other unfortunate school lunch scenarios I’ve encountered over the years.  And here’s a sample of my top five.

Can I hear a few ‘HELL YEAH‘s in the house?!

Scenario 1.  The Incorrect Fruit

Mother:  (unpacking lunch box)  Why didn’t you eat your banana today?!

Child:  (looking revolted) Because I hate bananas.

Mother:  No you don’t – you like bananas.  You can’t tell me you don’t like bananas.

Child:  No I DON’T like bananas and you don’t know because you’re NOT ME.

Mother:  (breathes deeply) You ate two bananas yesterday.  Of your own volition.

Child: (sulking) Well I don’t like them when they’re black and squishy.

Mother:  Now come on – I put that banana in your lunch this morning and it was not black and squishy then.  It’s black and squishy now because it’s been thrown around in the bottom of your bag all day.

Child:  (stoney-faced) Well I don’t like bananas anymore OKAY?

Outcome:  Mother mentally crosses banana off ‘acceptable fruit’ list, sighs and absentmindedly takes bite of squishy banana (then forces self to chew and swallow when realises child is watching intently).  Mother looks at bowl full of bananas purchased that day, and inwardly screams.

Banksy bananas


(image: Jez)

Scenario 2.  The Incorrect Cheese

Mother: (unpacking lunch box) Why didn’t you eat your cheese today?!

Child:  Because it looked funny.

Mother: What do you mean it looked funny?  It was just cheese.

Child:  But it didn’t have a picture on it.

Mother:  That’s because I cut it off a block of cheese.

Child:  (withering look) Well I only like the wrapper cheeses.

Mother: But the wrapper ones cost $60/kg, and the block of cheese is the same thing but costs $15/kg. I don’t see what the problem is?

Child:  It IS NOT the same!  Your cheese is disgusting!

Outcome:  Mother feels defeated by marketing conglomerates and pours glass of wine.  In future, mother buys ‘pretty’ cheese with strange girl or robot faces on the wrapper in order to provide cheese option which child will actually consume. Child / marketing company celebrate.

Acceptable cheeses

Scenario 3:  Sandwich Rage

Mother:  Okay, quickly now, would you like ham/cheese/tomato, or turkey/cranberry lettuce, or tuna/celery/mayonnaise in your sandwich?

Child:  Jam.

Mother: (visibly tenses) I didn’t offer jam.  What about cream cheese/carrot/sultana?

Child: (deadpans):  Honey.

Mother:  (through clenched teeth)  Are you serious?!  ARE YOU!?

Child: (defiantly) Well I don’t feel like any of those options!  Why can’t I just have jam?

Mother:  (in small, tight voice) Because you had jam yesterday.  Because you can’t have jam every day.  Because you need to eat VEGETABLES!

Child: (sighs dramatically) Okay well give me cheese then.

Mother:  (no words… Stalks to fridge, takes cheese slices and slams into sandwich, throws into lunch box)

Child: (face crumples and begins to wail dramatically) Why do you have to be so grumpy at me?  You don’t even LIKE me!  (stamps ridiculously out of room).

Outcome:  Mother feels simultaneously furious (for being stamped out on), dejected (over recurrent lunch drama), mean (over shouting and sandwich slamming) and exhausted (always exhausted).

Husband enters kitchen with ‘what’s all this about’ look on face and receives ‘don’t look at me that way’ face in return.  Mother wonders what is wrong with her as she is already shouting at 8am, when she had vowed it would be a shout-free day.

The terrified sandwich

The terrified sandwich (image: Sakurako Kitsa)

Scenario 4:  The ‘Forgotten’ Lunch

Child:  What’s for afternoon tea?  I’m starving.

Mother:  (staring in disbelief at contents of lunch box)  You didn’t eat ANY of your lunch today!  What is going on?

Child:  Oh.  I forgot.

Mother:  (still incredulous)  What do you mean you forgot?  How can you forget to have lunch?

Child: (looking furtive)  Well it was Lucy’s birthday and she bought in cupcakes.

Mother: Yes…?

Child:  And Charlotte’s mum was on canteen so we got a lolly snake and Jumpys.

Mother:  And so I wasted my time packing you a healthy lunch today, so that you could eat lollies and cake all day instead?

Child: (angelically)  I didn’t waste ALL of it – I ate the Tiny Teddies at recess.

Outcome:  Mother throws sandwich in bin, feeling her life is one big cliche, and curses self for implementing spartan Mon-Thurs no drinking rule.  Mental stocktake of house for any form of liquor uncovers half bottle of sticky in fridge from weekend entertaining.  Mother wonders at acceptability of drinking dessert wine before dinner.

Is this a thing?  This should really be a thing..

Is this a thing? (this should really be a thing)

Scenario 5:  No Bread In House

Mother:  So sweetie, we seem to have run out of bread.  You’ll have to have biscuits and cheese today.

Actually..  sorry.. I think these biscuits are a bit stale.

Child: I’ll have to have a lunch order!

Mother: (sounding upbeat) No no, I’ll just make an antipasto plate for you – you don’t need to have bread every day.

Child: (uncomfortable with deviation from the norm)  But I just want a sandwich…

Mother:  How about some…. baby beetroot… and some crab dip… and some chorizo and rice crackers…?

Child:  (panicking now)  Why haven’t we got any bread!? I can’t eat any of that – I need a lunch order!

Mother:  (slowly losing resolve) But it’s good to try something different!  You might start a new trend amongst your friends – I bet they’ll all be jealous… ?….

Child:  (detects weakness and goes for the kill)  Everyone will laugh at me and I’ll have no friends and I’ll be hungry and (sobs) I – just – want – a – lunch – order (sobs again while peering through hands).

Mother:  (dejectedly) Oh okay I suppose.  But no party pies.

Child:  (Miraculously recovers from lunch panic and beams triumphantly).

Outcome:  Mother sips tea and tries to look at upside – calculating minutes of free time bought by lunch order.  Contemplates drying hair or putting on make up, then looks over at younger child and realises kindergarten does not have canteen.

Mother takes deep breath, channels Zen state, and returns to fridge…