Healthy Eating

Respecting the wisdom of our bodies

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Have you heard that weight loss diets don’t work, but only 95 % of the time? Its true- statistically, they actually pretty much all backfire long term.  But because they all tend to work in the short term, dieting is a perfect way to make women feel inadequate and guilty for not being strong willed enough to continue. Dieting has also caused so many women to have eating disorders that these have become normalised. Do we even remember what it is like to eat ‘normally’, as we did as kids (if we were lucky)?

I have been through a bit of a revolution in my own thinking around weight issues and diets recently due to my own experience, and doing some reading and research. I love to research and learn (and unlearn) things that completely change my thinking around a topic, especially a health topic. 

Doctors and other well meaning people including natural health practitioners, often can’t see past a weight issue and presume fat people are lazy and overeat, wheras that isn’t usually true at all but is a cultural sterotype and bias. Rather than focus on health and the reasons, often financial or social for poor lifestyle patterns, health professionals often focus mainly on weight loss for health issues in people who weigh more than the societal ideal, which actually doesn’t work. This approach leaves people feeling disempowered, unheard and unseen, and further prone to self ridicule that they can’t do something they think other people can do- lose weight. 

Pretty much no one can continue a calorie restricted diet indefinitely, because the body has such deeply wired survival mechanisms to defend against starvation. 

These survival processes include: 

  • Slowing down the metabolism when we eat less, making us cold and sluggish

  • Making us hungrier than ever, literally

  • Making food taste better than ever, especially the high caloric forbidden ones

  • Making us obsess about food

  • Lowering our mood

These mechanisms frequently induce a bingeing impulse to balance the starvation effect. Familiar?

The science around dieting is actually pretty clear. Restrictive dieting (of calories, of whole food groups such as carbs or fats) doesn’t work long term. We cannot in the long term usually override these primal, evolutionary mechanisms which are designed to make us find food and eat it, now, when we have undereaten. 

So, after the first high from the enthusiasm, good intention, excitement and determination to finally become the ideal size we want to be, and the rush of positive feedback from initial weight loss....it becomes gruelling, and we become miserable, but we hang in there for varying lengths of time, telling ourselves it will work this time and we can eat like this forever. 

This can last for weeks or even months, even a couple of years for some. But 95% of people do not maintain their weight loss and have returned or exceeded where they were before dieting, within 5 years. Not because they are weak but because their body is doing what is is designed to do, and doing it very well. It is designed to survive! It can override our conscious mind quite easily. We are not weak, we are perfectly normal. In fact, we are the descendants of the people who didn’t starve because these mechanisms were so strong! 

So why do we want to lose weight in the first place? For many people it is because of an ideal in our heads that was put there by the advertising and fashion industry, and then reinforced by the medical industry. We are not all meant to be the same size, and the BMI scale is not so scientific as you might think. 

Why not focus directly on the health issues....and the lifestyle, dietary, exercise prescriptions and social support that will support the health issues...rather than the weight? Telling people to lose weight hasn’t worked yet- why do we keep doing it? 

It is possible to be healthy and weigh more than the BMI scale tells you is healthy. In fact, carrying some extra weight improves longevity and recovery from illness, according to good studies. The science behind everyone needing to be slim for best health is not actually solid at all, but it is so entrenched in our culture that even despite evidence to the contrary, health professionals keep teaching it and focusing on weight rather than health and wellbeing. And when the issues are often social and economic disadvantage, it completely misses the mark. 

Self love, self kindness, self acceptance, are so much healthier for us than disordered eating patterns will ever be. But ask any teenage girl and half of them at least will be on a diet of some sort. It starts young, and it is the antithesis of self love, and it leads to disordered eating patterns. And when we eat in a disordered way, listening to external authorities and ideals we have internalised, instead of our own natural appetite, we have lost touch with what our body wants and needs. 

We have lost touch with what normal eating looks like and replaced it with ideals and beliefs (which change regularly - low fat, low carb, vegan, keto etc). Normal eating means we eat when we are hungry and sometimes we eat when we are not hungry. SOmetimes we naturally eat more such as when feasting or in social situations, and we eat what feels good to us- and we are in touch with what we feel like eating- we eat intuitively, naturally. Our weight does stabilise and our appetite varies. We listen to our bodies. We enjoy our food but it becomes a normalised part of our life, not an obsession. We don’t think about food all the time, or about our weight all the time. We don’t obsess about what we can’t have, or how we should look. We enjoy our bodies, our natural appetite, food and movement, in a more natural way. 

I was on a post-menopausal diet (to lose a few kgs). I considered it was working and beneficial and had the initial weight loss and even maintained for a year. Then I became obsessed with food, and ridiculously hungry. My next meal was all I could think about. I realised something was not right about this, and my picture of what I should look like and weigh was skewed and not worth the food obsessiveness. And it wasn’t working anyway after a while. I could feel my metabolism slowing down, and I had to eat less and less to maintain the lower weight. Something in me recognised I had to let go and follow my natural appetite and let my weight fall where it will. Then I did some reading (such as the books I have listed at the end) and recognised myself in them. 

When we deprive ourselves of what we crave, we can become obsessed with it (which can lead to bingeing). When we have permission to eat what we want, it loses its power over us- although it takes a leap of faith to trust that it will. Of course, we also eat for emotional reasons, which is natural....and if the disordered eating patterns are triggered by trauma, or started in childhood, or extreme, it can take some unravelling and healing, perhaps even needing counseling and trauma work. What is clear though is that believing that the disordered eating and dieting culture will resolve the underlying trauma and “weight issues”, or that focusing on weight will resolve health issues in the long run, is misleading. It just doesn’t. 

Here are a few books if this topic intrigues you, and you would like to be free of yo yo dieting and disordered eating, and come back to enjoying food and eating normally. 

I am a practitioner who is embracing this way of thinking, and I wish to support people of any size and weight to be healthy, to resolve health issues including those traditionally associated with excess weight and to feel relaxed and free of  weight loss fixation, the diet industry and unrealistic ideals. This may involve some unravelling of conditioning, and some re-learning to love and accept ourselves as we are, and only from here can we be free and comfortable in our own bodies, and kind enough to ourselves to respect and listen to the wisdom of our bodies. 

Recommended Books:

Body Respect : What Conventional Health Books Get Wrong, Leave Out and Just Plain Fail to understand About Weight by Linda Bacon PhD and Lucy Aphramor PhD

Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works by Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole

Health at Every Size by Lucy Bacon PhD

The Fuck It Diet by Caroline Dooner

Body Beautiful by Anuschka Rees

More vegetables please.

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Something my clients hear me say a lot is to eat more vegetables, fruit and legumes because hardly anyone eats as much as is optimal. I don't advocate any one diet for clients (I am not vegetarian although some of my clients are and I support that), but hardly anyone eats even the government recommended 2 fruit and 5 veg servings a day. And I would say if you need to heal from chronic health issues, that would be an absolutely bare minimum.

One of the best things you can do for your gut health, heart health, cancer prevention, and to lower overall inflammation in the body, (which is an underlying condition for many chronic illnesses), is to eat more plant-based foods.

Many people fall back on bread or other grain-based products, as their staple- toast/cereal for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, pasta for dinner- because they are so convenient, but they are a little acidic on the body, especially the white versions. Fruit and veg are alkalising and provide a much better foundation especially if one has chronic health issues or inflammation. Legumes are usually forgotten and I just want to remind people about them.

Not only do I recommend more vegetables, fruit and legumes as the basis for any diet, but also more VARIETIES of fruit, vegetables and legumes.

We live in an era and a place where we have such an abundance of variety! If you find yourself bored with apples and bananas, when was the last time you had black grapes, figs, persimmons, fresh raspberries, honeydew melon, mango or papaya? Or blood oranges, fuyu persimmons, or the many different varieties of plums available at the moment? They are not expensive compared to chronic illness, takeaway food, or a bottle of wine!

For vegetables, how about the different types of pumpkin now in season; fennel bulbs; orange or yellow capsicum; try a different type of onion than normal; okra; Chinese veg like pay choy; fresh asparagus, sweet potato; different cucumbers; or even a different type of potato than normal? These different colours and types all feed different beneficial gut bugs.

For legumes, which are particularly beneficial for our gut microbes with their fibre, there are chickpeas, black beans, brown or green lentils, butter beans, soy beans, cannelloni beans, kidney beans, and all the wonderful dhal lentils such as mung, urid , red or adzuki. There are even pastas now made purely from legumes.

I encourage you to try something new this week. Try and eat the rainbow every day! Recipes abound online- just google your ingredient! I am loving the Yum app on my iPad, which I keep in the kitchen when I am cooking. I can look up an ingredient I have in the fridge, and find dozens of recipes containing that ingredient.

I hope I have inspired you to have some fun with colourful plant foods and get healthy at the same time.

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Are you addicted to sugar? Here's an idea.....

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Are you addicted to sugar? Do you need that snack with sugar a couple of times a day- a chocolate bar, a "healthy" bliss ball, some icecream, a drink with sugar added? Its hardly a personal weakness....sugar is everywhere. It can seem very challenging to break the habit.

Years ago I got out of the sugar rut by going cold turkey. I just decided to stop when someone I loved encouraged me to. And in those days I was much more "paleo" and avoided much fruit and ate more meat. It worked. I haven't really eaten much sugar since then and I rarely crave it.

However it's not what I recommend nowadays, and I haven't found "just go cold turkey" particularly effective for most people. Addictions are tricky because we only have so much willpower, and with all the stress and things pulling on our quota of willpower, its pretty hard to use willpower to break an addiction. A stressful day, an upset, and our hand reaches for the sugar almost by itself and we watch it without being able to stop it. I have certainly been there.

What I realise nowadays is how valuable fruit is, and I eat lots of it- as in, a lot. So does Dave my husband. Fruit when eaten as part of a fairly lowish fat diet, does not raise blood sugar or act like table sugar in the body at all. It provides a whole food that feeds and nourishes the cells including the brain with the fuel they prefer, glucose.

Nowadays I recommend eating plenty of fruit to transition away from addiction to sugar.

Craving sugar? Have some grapes, a mango, or whatever takes your fancy. It is NOT the same as sugar, at all. Fruit is a food which feeds your cells in the way they love, directly. It is a whole food, with fibre and untold amazing nutrition, nourishing you in so many ways. It also assuages that craving for sugar.

I would suggest eating fruit freely, without fear, to move away from sugar addiction. But you might like to keep your fat intake moderated, as fruit and fat are not such a great combination.

I do eat fruit at the end of meals though. I often crave something sweet at the end of a meal and fruit does the trick. And yes, food combing rules tend to say that's not ok, but it works for me.

Do you love fruit but have been scared into thinking its just another form of sugar and therefore bad?

Summer Eating, and enjoying more plant foods

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So here we are in the midst of summer in Perth, although some days you wouldn’t know that with the crazy weather. But overall, the weather is warm/hot and sunny and there is an abundance of wonderful foods at the markets and shops. I would like to inspire you to make the most of the season produce available, and to eat a wide variety of plant based foods. 

Fruits and vegetables are the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet, and most people, even those who consider themselves healthy eaters, simply do not eat enough fruit and vegetables. The government recommends 5 serves of vegetables and 2 serves of fruit a day, and they are very conservative, so you can be sure that is the absolute bare minimum you need. My opinion is that for optimal health it needs to be more than that. 
 

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Many people do not find vegetables appealing, and they often grew up in an era where boiled vegetables was the norm, or they have trained their taste buds to eat highly flavoured take-away foods. So the crisp taste of asparagus or an Asian salad or stirfry broccolini, seems boring. To a large degree, it is a case of broadening your horizons, trying new foods, being open to learning to enjoy them, and being creative in trying new recipes. It may take some time, but it is worth it. The alternative is likely to be a descent into chronically poor health. 


Legumes, nuts and seeds, and healthy fats like olive oil are also important plant-based foods to keep in mind, and include in your daily diet. Then there are specialty and superfoods such as seaweeds, chia and hemp seeds, and herbs and spices, which add important elements to a rounded diet. Although I am focusing on plant-foods, I am not saying that is all you should eat. For many people, meat and even dairy can feel important for them, and that is fine, but still, plant based foods should be the mainstay of the diet. That doesn’t however include the white flour or fried potato based plant foods most people eat too much of already.

The benefits of more whole, plant-based foods are more fibre so a healthier gut, less inflammation, and a lowering of diseases such as heart disease, obesity, some cancers. Also, reduced blood pressure, healthy cholesterol levels and improved control of type 2 diabetes. There are so many more benefits but these have plenty of solid science behind them. 

So how to add more plant-based foods? 

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Baking: get creative with beetroot chocolate cakecarrot cake, add chia seeds or oatbran to recipes, and enjoy healthier, wholegrain versions of your favourite recipies. 

Baked veggies: you can bake a batch of vegetables such as potatoes, pumpkin, beetroot, carrots, sweet potato, caulifower….that can then be eaten hot or added cold to salads or reheated. Plain baked potatoes can also hold a lot of healthy filling. Here is a good guide.

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Chia puddings; check out the many chia pudding recipes available….you may have found your new fast food super healthy and delicious breakfast. 

Smoothies are another way to add fruit and superfoods like chia, or spirulina, and if you are brave add a decent handful of baby spinach or cos lettuce- you won’t even taste it, I promise! It is a great way to get a decent serve of nutiritous leafy greens, and helps balance the fruit with healthy minerals and more fibre. 

Snacks: a piece of fresh fruit at this time of year is so easy…a nectarine, a mango, a handful of cherries. Another great snack high in protein and quite sustaining, is a small handful of nuts. Nuts are high in energy density- i.e calories- but a little goes a long way. Other snacks include hummous with carrot and celery sticks. 

Its a great time to do some juicing as well, and I tend to only recommend vegetables juices such as celery and cucumber, with a little apple to sweeten. Here is a good green juice recipe. They are so hydrating and balancing for our bodies at this time of year. Fruit juices are ok occasionally but are too concentrated in fruit sugar without the balancing effects of the fibre, so I much prefer to recommend fruit whole. Green vegetable juices can be very beneficial though. 

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Asian greens. These are a great way to add more leafy greens to your diet, such as in stirfries and soups. Don’t be put off by how big a bunch of Asian greens is- it shrinks down to a fraction of its size when cooked, and they only need cooking for a couple of minutes. Also spinach and baby spinach are great, and you can add these to mashed potato or pumpkin as well. 

Salads are of course perfect for this season, but often people run out of imagination and eat the same salad all the time. Here is one webpage with some awesome recipes you can make ahead. I make my salads for days ahead, and when I feel inspired in the kitchen I might make 3 types of salads and keep them in containers in the fridge for our lunches. This week I have made a version of carrot /date (or raisin) salad, a Mediterranean tomato salad and an Asian salad.  I also made a batch of peanut sauce to go over veggies during the week. 

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I hope this has given you some ideas to widen your repertoire of plant-based foods, especially those suited to this time of year, when we often only want to eat raw or lightly cooked foods. Enjoy all the wonderful fruit, and enjoy nourishing your body with healthy, wholesome plant-based foods. 

Here is a recipe I love and make frequently. I originally got it off the Medical Medium site as I love spinach. Don’t be scared- it is actually delicious and sweet and so easy and filling and a great way to increase your iron intake and absorption. : 

Raw Spinach Soup. 

Serves 2. 

1 bunch of spinach or 1 bag of baby spinach, well washed and drained. 

1-2 tomatoes or punnet of baby tomatoes

1 stalk celery (optional)

1 orange, juiced, or just peeled and chopped (2 if you want to make sure you really like it the first time). 

1 clove of garlic and 1 small piece of ginger (optional)
 

1/2 avocado

herbs such as cilantro or basil

Pinch of salt

 

Blend and enjoy at room temperature. 

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