Bunny Shaming

Last weekend, my children took part in a yearly ritual involving a fantastical giant fluffy bunny and a shite-load of chocolate.  Some call it Easter, but in our (seriously non-denominational) family, it’s known as The Chocolate Holiday.

The holy chocolate day starts with the adult rising uncharacteristically early, and sneaking outside – under cover of darkness – to scatter the goods throughout the garden.  It is quickly followed by the stampeding of little feet, the ripping of foil, and the unbridled joy (and heavenly silence) that is legitimate chocolate consumption before breakfast.

At 8 years of age, my daughter is undoubtedly too old to believe in a giant, chocolate-bearing bunny (just as she’s surely too old to believe in Santa or the tooth fairy, yet steadfastly clings to such notions).  But she’s not letting go, or letting on, because …

CHOCOLATE

And you know what?  I totally get that.  In fact I applaud that.

As a dietitian, and a foodie, I believe that finding pleasure in food is a good thing. And following on from that, I believe that it’s okay to eat some foods not for their nutritional value, or health-giving properties, but simply because they’re luxurious / indulgent / insanely delicious.

And that’s why something I read this week made me feel very sad.

Surprise surprise, it was Pete Evans.  Pete with his special brand of blue-eyed, slightly unhinged dietary zeal, preaching once again to his tribe on Facebook.  But what got me this time was that he wasn’t just talking about himself. Nor was it another emotive, highly crafted ‘over to you’ tale of paleo triumphing over the woes of chronic disease.   This time, it was about kids – his kids – and how he was teaching them the ‘right’ way to eat.

Here it is what he posted on 13th April.

Pete Evans and the bunnies

On the surface it’s kind of sweet – is it not? The protective, nurturing father, guiding his daughters through life with a charming tale of (pure, disease free, enlightened) bunnies. And judging by the volumes of adoring comments it garnered, that’s exactly the way Pete’s tribe saw it.

But it’s the subtext that made my stomach churn.  Because when you read between the lines, Pete’s message to his daughters is that eating lollies at a party is a bad thing to do – that it would harm them, and essentially make them less pure.

His is a lesson in the dichotomy of food, and the warped idea that no amount of lollies is ever okay, if they want to lead healthy, happy lives.  It perpetuates the idea that foods are either righteous or sinful.  Tonic or toxin.  Pure or dirty.

To me, the bunny story is food guilt, dressed up as good parenting.  And it makes me sad to think what foundations are being laid down right now in his daughters’ impressionable young minds.  And – for that matter – in the impressionable young minds of children all over the country who’s parents buy into this militant way of thinking.

No bunnies were harmed

Because humans are not bunnies Pete.  We are emotionally complex, intelligent creatures who develop a relationship with food very early on in life.  We don’t just mindlessly nibble away on whatever we are fed – we learn and develop a belief system around foods from our family, friends and life experiences, which will lay the foundation for our eating patterns in the future.

Will Pete’s ‘bunnies’ grow up subscribing to his dogma and never want to eat a lolly?  Or (more likely) will they eat the lollies one day, and then feel the guilt?  What other ‘bad’ foods will they grow up feeling ashamed of eating?  Chocolate surely, and maybe grains, dairy foods, legumes, potatoes?  And how will they fare in their teenage and adult years when their world opens up to reveal a minefield of dangerously available, ultimately alluring ‘banned’ foods?

My opinion is that such teaching is a recipe for disordered eating in susceptible individuals.

And that’s why I won’t be banning my children from any particular foods, regardless of how nutritionally bereft they may be.  I won’t be staying at the party to slap their little hands away from the fairy bread, or cautioning the grandparents against buying them an ice cream.

I’ll be offering them mostly nutrient dense, minimally processed foods that I know will support the growth of their bodies and minds.  I’ll be teaching them that we eat not only to fuel our bodies, but also to indulge our senses, and to socialise, and be part of a community.  I’ll be letting them know that sometimes it is okay to eat food just for pleasure, and hoping to instil in them a mindful, moderate approach to eating, rather than a rigid, fearful one.

And so, ends my little Friday night stint on the soap box – with that vexatious, unsexy message of moderation again.  That, and a couple of questions to ponder:

1.  Are you sure no bunnies were harmed in the making of that statement?

And

2.  Is food the new rock?  Or for some, is it the new religion?

Pete Evans

Is Food the new rock? Image: http://www.news.com.au

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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.

*   *   *

 

 

 

 

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)