Body shaming; via opinion only

“But she’s too skinny!”

“You need to put some weight on love!”

“Get a few burgers down you, that’ll sort you out”

“Have you seen how much weight she’s put on? She used to look so good”

My real life job is to fight Eating Disorder voices, an Eating Disorder Warrior if you will (I may get some kind of jaunty Viking hat in future). We’ll refer to this as ‘The Voice’ since what is so poorly understood about Eating Disorders is that it is just that. It isn’t someone’s personality, it isn’t someone just “being silly”, it isn’t someone who wants to starve and it certainly isn’t a choice.

It is someone who has to endure the relentless nature of The Voice controlling that person every second of their day to a point where they don’t have ownership over themselves. Some Voices can be so strong, the people underneath may never have a chance against them.

The sentences above are examples of mindless comments that can often push a sometimes small Voice, simmering away in the background into a full-blown Eating Disorder and the worst thing is, the perpetrator has no idea of the scale of damage they’ve caused.

Many factors affect the development of an Eating Disorder such as environmental, social, behavioural and genetic predispositions. However one modern issue is becoming more of an influence than it ever has before – Body Shaming.

Social media is available and accessible to infinite proportions and any app you open up today will undoubtedly tell you to diet. Never mind if you wanted to read about the economic stability of Britain, or whether you want to laugh at something Boris Johnson (you ok hun?) did today; tough, you must drop everything and diet because there is an ad popping up to tell you to and of course, you must shrink to be accepted in our image-…. (it’s not even image-conscious, it’s insanity) controlled world right?

While you’re trying to shrink and those pounds just aren’t shifting fast enough (of course they won’t, it doesn’t work like that despite what the adverts tell you), you must also buy some pills to help you diet and then you must juice your all food and adopt a toddler-like approach to weight loss orrrr… just replace your food altogether with a concoction of pills and shakes and become some kind of machine who doesn’t even recognise food, fun huh!

Who cares how you do it; forget Photoshopping, why not just remove a rib? As long as you’re thin right?!

Facebook articles by unqualified Nutritionists tell us we must diet and be thin, The Daily Fail and its Sidebar of Shame tell us to diet otherwise how else will know if we’re thin enough to ‘pour our curves’ (I know, people get paid for this..) into that bodycon dress a la the Geordie Shore ladies (who, by the way may appear tanned and slim but all internal organs are undoubtedly screaming out for help). As long as they’re ‘Bikini body ready’ (Protein World, hang your heads in utter shame) then it’s ok!

I now spend the majority of my time with my patients discussing media influence, body image, body shaming and teaching them how to handle the opinions of others.
How did we get here? How are we now in a position where my job is to literally talk sense to people to the point I question whether I am actually doing anything effective. But I am because the world we live in promotes such incredibly unhealthy behaviours and beliefs around food and the constant shift between weight loss and gain that anyone with healthy thought processes around food are now in the minority.

Opinions from others are constantly pushing people to extreme ends of the scale. There is now no balance, no stability. People tell me they’ve ‘dieted for years’ and been in a constant yo-yo state, which is wholeheartedly the problem. The key is find balance but when society and the media constantly tell you otherwise because this is far too sensible and boring, how do we stand a chance?

There is a revolution coming (she says with a sigh so content). People have had enough of being told what they ‘should’ (maybe we ‘should’ stop using ‘should’?) look like and it could not have been more timely. Incredible women (now calling themselves BoPo Warriors) such as Megan Jayne Crabbe (@BodyPosiPanda) and Gina (Naked With Anxiety blog) are fighting back and proudly displaying their bodies on social media to demonstrate the fact that we can be who we want to be without fear, guilt or apology.

They are promoting body positivity first and foremost and why shouldn’t we all buy into this? They’re not telling us that they know best or what we should look like, they’re merely voicing that it’s ok to accept ourselves as we are as since that’s half the battle. They don’t profess to being health professionals or knowing what is clinically healthy because that is an entirely separate issue. Accept your body first, end of.
What you do afterwards if you want to become healthier (if YOU choose to and not because someone tells you you should) is entirely up to you and a matter for you and a health professional and if someone doesn’t want to change? So what! Who are you to challenge them? They’re not you. Projecting your ideals onto them shows the issue lies with you, not them.

When people decide to voice their opinions to someone else or worse, announce them on social media (#keyboardwarrior), perhaps the most shocking thing about this is sheer lack of recognition that the opinion is subjective, therefore true to your belief and your belief only.
You can utter as many ill-informed opinions on things such as weight, body size and image as you wish but that doesn’t make it informed, fact or more importantly, welcomed.

Nobody holds the title of ‘Queen of Body Image’ who doles out acceptance awards if you meet impossible and imaginary ideals (please America (or worse, Trump), do not let this become a reality). When did you last hear someone ask you for your opinion on their weight or size? It’s unlikely they did if you really think about it.

Instead of trying to detox your body, detox your mind; after all, there IS no ideal. You’re ideal as you are. Living in acceptance of yourself is true freedom.

Go forth and look at that chocolate cake in a way you might look at Chris Pratt in Jurassic Park (my friend likes him, uhh hum).

Mental Vs Physical health

I’m now about two months into my role as lead Mental Health Dietitian for a local health board. Constantly striving for parity of esteem, I came across this perfect post which lead me to draft the below..

http://www.buzzfeed.com/kirstenking/have-you-tried-herbal-tea

This link explains perfectly how many people treat mental health conditions compared to physical health ones. Whether you understand it or it not, Mental health illnesses such as anxiety, depression and eating disorders are real conditions and are not mood, behaviour or more importantly, choices. Anorexia Nervosa is the most fatal of psychiatric disorders and is as serious illness as many cancers.

The less we understand and stigmatise mental health, the more people suffer in silence unnecessarily.
Treat people with kindness always and don’t take anything at face-value if someone you know seems out of character. You never know the impact you could have on someone’s life by asking “Are you ok?”.

#MentalHealth #TimeToChange #EndStigma

Change your eating habits for life

 

“I have to just cut out all the junk and i’ll be ok”

What a statement! A huge statement made so flippantly without any kind of understanding of the sheer magnitude of it for so many reasons. It was this statement that led to waffle (*hilarious food joke klaxon*) on about the below.

‘Cutting out’

 *Pauses to find the right words here because this concept is unfathomable to Dietitians*…. Why would you cut anything out of your diet? Think about why you’re saying these words and what they mean. Cutting out a particular food or food group implies that a food/food group is bad, forbidden and that only serves to reinforce a very damaging ‘deny-binge’ style type of behaviour.

As Practitioners, we use the words ‘balanced’ and ‘moderation’ over and over on a daily basis and there’s a robust rationale as to why we do but if you are of a certain mind-set where you have decided you are cutting out certain foods then that’s a mind-set that needs to change. Changing this mind-set will ensure that you never have to worry about your diet again. Imagine never having to constantly stress about your diet again yet maintaining a healthy weight…That freedom (and it is complete and utter freedom) is entirely possible, you just need to alter a few thought processes and that takes some work.

The reason it needs to change is: (bare with me, being concise isn’t my strongest point)

  • We need food from all five food groups, every single day and there are lots of scientific reasons why
  • We don’t need huge amounts of one food group (i.e. Protein seems to be a favourite here) and less of another (i.e. Carbs seem to be a favourite here..) because we only so need so much of one nutrient then the rest of obsolete (think of it like a small glass of orange juice; you need a small glass, anymore and you will not be gaining any extra nutrition, just the extra calories and extra calories leads to weight gain)
  • We need a variety of foods, even fat so you are able to enjoy the foods you like every single day. The hard part is knowing that even though you can have chocolate every day, you can’t have the entire 500g bar every day and this is where those pesky ‘balanced’ and ‘moderation’ words come in to it. If you think moderation is a takeaway meal, 5 beers and chocolate on four nights a week is moderation then you are doing nothing but making excuses for your eating habits. If you think enjoying a small amount of something you like on a daily basis is moderation then you’re you are the proud owner of a healthy attitude to healthy eating.
  • I am simply saying the exact same thing in each bullet point, mainly to reinforce the point that you do not have to cut out any foods from your diet.

So many common misconceptions and extreme thinking around diet and eating still exists and when it comes to your diet and your overall health, there should be no place for this. Disordered eating habits can have adverse impacts on health. If there’s one thing I try to ensure patients understand is that when it comes to losing weight, there’s no rush. It didn’t go on in one week and it sure isn’t going to come off in a week. This process does a lot more harm than good and research suggests that dieters who yo-yo diet risk poorer health outcomes than those who lose weight gradually and maintain a healthy body weight over a longer period of time. Barasi (2003) supports this and suggests that this type of dietary intake pattern can lead to inadequate energy and nutrient consumption with subclinical deficiencies developing and implications for future health.

‘Junk’ food

Foods high in fat and sugar are usually associated with this term and common misconceptions and our perceptions of these foods often lead us to believe these foods are bad. While it is true that foods high in fat and sugar can contain double the calories than in foods such as chicken and fish, it does not mean these have to be coined as ‘bad’ or cut out of the diet completely. The hardest part for anyone trying to lose weight is knowing a) what portion can they have of a high fat food and b) how often can they eat it and there lies the answer to weight loss and a healthy attitude to food.

Picture the scene; you’re trying to lose weight so you have a chicken breast (grilled, no skin, obviously) and some vegetables for your tea. Cue one hour later, you are so hungry, you could eat a small horse then two hours later (by this time, a whole zoo), you cave and you reach for some toast. But then you’re still hungry so you reach for some crisps….. But after that, you’re STILL hungry so you pop a pizza in the oven, eat half and you’re finally full. Great, problem solved. Or not…. By trying to lose weight so rapidly, you decided to cut out that jacket potato or that serving of rice. You then became so hungry because your body needed that 300-400kcal starchy food portion and it wasn’t overly happy with that measly 200kcal chicken breast you gave it so it told you so and it forced you to eat until you were full because that is the normal eating process after all. So why try and fight it? By having that jacket potato (you could even go crazy and have some butter in it), you would’ve had a balanced meal and would’ve been full within half an hour. By doing the former, you consumed an extra 900 odd kcals which you didn’t need; you just needed the 400 from the carbohydrate thus saving yourself 500kcals. Adding the butter not only provides you with a balanced meal, it provide valuable vitamins that you actually need and after all, 50kcals of your budget spent on butter is a pretty decent investment as opposed to splurging another 500 on that half a pizza…

‘I’ll be ok’

The biggest mistake you can make when aiming to lose weight is thinking that ‘I’ll just do this <insert unrealistic and unachievable statement here> and I’ll be ok’. Thinking you can control your body’s hunger mechanisms by cutting out foods and tricking it is not ok and will never work. Accept that you have a constant fire you need to feed and there’s no getting away from it. The key is to know when and what to eat.

There is a vast amount of research that suggests the most effective way to eat for good health and a good attitude towards eating habits is:

  1. 3 x balanced meals a day
  2. 2 x healthy snacks in-between meals

The aim

Start your weight loss goal by aiming to achieve this structure, even if you are so busy one day, you pick up a biscuit and have that as a snack. It will do more harm than good forcing yourself through till lunch time as you will pay for in calories at some point during the rest of the day.

Image

 

And finally…

Research tells us that many people do not eat according to current recommendations. There are many reasons for this but one that is particularly common is that some food, once eaten, can change body size and many people struggle with this psychologically. Ogden (2004) suggests that this is loaded with a set of complex meanings such as attractiveness, control, lethargy and success and these factors may play a role in the reasons why we find it difficult to eat in regular and a controlled manner. Seems pretty understandable that if a food has made you feel particularly bloated one day that you would associate this with it becoming a ‘bad’ food and may avoid it in the future. This is when eating can become disordered and you may be at risk of developing dangerous eating habits. You can develop disordered eating without having a diagnosed eating disorder and evidence suggests that this style of eating is strongly associated with poor physical health outcomes, especially in young adulthood (Pevelar et al, 2004).

Interventions for tackling weight loss need to be holistic, realistic and achievable. Structure and timing of eating is key in the first instance and aiming for structure in the diet will ensure the rest of the journey (making healthier food choices and exercise) will become a little easier to face. Perhaps my favourite notion when it comes to tackling food-related behaviour and weight is that the focus on should be on structure of the diet and timing of meals and little to do with the set of weighing scales in your bathroom that you undoubtedly have another unhealthy relationship with. Studies support this and suggest that interventions for weight loss should focus on modifiable behaviours; weight is not behaviour and therefore is not an appropriate target for behaviour modification (Bacon and Aphramor, 2011).

Image

Ditch the scales, eat regularly, choose wisely and be well. Food is too great a privilege and pleasure to not enjoy wholeheartedly

 

REFERENCES

 

Bacon L and Aphramor L, (2011). Weight Science: Evaluating the evidence for a paradigm shift. Nutrition Journal. 2011. 10:9

Barasi, M (2003). Human Nutrition. A health perspective. 2nd Ed. Hodder Arnold. Oxford University Press.

Develar. RC, Bryden. KS, Neil. W, Fairburn. CG, Mayou. RA, Dunger. DB, Turner. HM. The relationship of disordered eating habits and attitudes to clinical outcomes in young adult females with Type 1 Diabetes. Diabetes care. January 2005. Vol. 28. No.1 84-85.

Ogden, J (2004) Health Psychology. A textbook. 3rd Ed. Open Univerity Press.

Mental Health: Anxiety, Depression and Diet

As a former Mental Health Dietitian, the area of mental health holds a great deal of interest for me and sees me frequently climb aboard my Twitter soapbox in order to continuously dispel myth and reduce stigma (one of those battles was with a former X Factor winner via Twitter; I won said battle and he no longer sells records but that’s another story!).
This post is the first in a series of mental health-related topics from anxiety to bi-polar disorder and its aims are to dispel the enormous amount of myth surrounding the complex world of mental health and to highlight the role of diet in these often poorly understood conditions.

Prevalence and type of condition

1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year (Mind, 2013). Mental illness encompasses a broad spectrum of conditions from the sometimes mild (but possibly the most common) condition of daily anxiety (4.7 in 100 people) to the severe form of schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder. They can arise at any age, to any individual and can be triggered for many reasons including socio-economic, environmental, financial and genetic influences.

What does diet have to do with anxiety and depression?

In short, alot! There are many possible influences on food intake for someone suffering severe anxiety and depression and these are;

– self-neglect, apathy, lack of interest in food and/or erratic eating habits
– abdominal pain secondary to severe anxiety
– lack of support to help individuals improve their intake (lack of assistance with shopping, lack of clarity on what they need to buy to improve diet)
– lack of understanding of the importance of diet
– financial constraints

Many nutritional consequences of mood disorders such as anxiety and depression and having witnessed these, they are potentially as mild as a patient requiring a multivitamin due to poor intake to a patient neglecting their food intake so badly that they have become at-risk of a syndrome called re-feeding syndrome. This syndrome is due to metabolic adaptations that take place in the body as a result of starvation and the consequences of this can be fatal. This is an all too-common syndrome that many inpatients within a mental health ward present with and as a Dietitian, it is important to understand why it has presented.

Food and nutrition is usually the last priority for someone suffering anxiety or depression and ironically, it the one thing that may also help to reduce symptoms.

Anxiety and Depression

Anxiety is a form of depression therefore both are thought to be due to an imbalance in neurotransmitters in the brain that carry messages between brain cells. Both these terms tend to be used loosely in modern society and many people think that anxiety is “just a bit of worry over nothing” and that depression is “just a low mood, chin up!”… and this could not be further from the truth! Many patients admitted to mental health units are admitted for either anxiety, depression or both. They can also be referred as outpatients since once they become stable on medication, they then may require continuous support with weight management and improving nutritional status.

Weight management for depression often tends to be a particularly sensitive area to tackle since often, the trigger for the individual’s depression may have arisen from bereavement and changes to personal life which tend to have huge ramifications on diet. Sometimes an individual can present with weight gain due to overeating for comfort in order to fill a void or suffer weight loss due to self neglect as a result of emotional trauma. A study by Peet (2004; cited by Mackintosh and Lawrie) showed that increasing levels of mood disorders were partly attributed to changes in diet in terms of increased consumption of processed foods, sugar, trans fat and reductions in fibre. Therefore the challenge is working with individuals to set realistic goals to improve diet whilst being mindful of the enormous barriers A Dietitian must help them over come. Many of the strategies i’ve tried involve helping the individual to find a non-food related coping strategy so finding out about lifestyle can have a particularly beneficial impact on goal-setting and positive outcomes.

Both ends of the spectrum in weight management are particularly sensitive areas that require a holistic approach and collective and realistic goal-setting. Many Dietetic students tend to find the field of mental health difficult since as students, we’re so keen to showcase all our fantastic knowledge only to be met with even more barriers than you might expect from a patient in a general health setting. They key for anyone helping someone overcome a condition is to build up a trusting relationship and a little bit of thinking outside the box helps too. There have been many occasions where i’ve created some Blue Peter style tick box resources or made Champion certificates in order to help my patients reach even the smallest of goals but to them, it’s an enormous triumph and huge step towards improved mental health.

Food and mood

There has been a great deal of interest in the area of food and mood, particularly in relation to serotonin (this helps contribute to feelings of happiness) and neurotransmission. Studies have suggested that serotonin production is affected by blood glucose levels and Wurtman (1993) suggested that a high carbohydrate load leads to increased transport of tryptophan into the brain. Which loosely translates as there is good stuff (tryptophan) that might help improve your mood by eating certain foods!

Foods containing tryptophan:

– Chicken
– Turkey
– Beef
– Eggs
– Oats
– Milk
– Potatoes
– Bananas

Needless to say, the above pretty much looks like a balanced, healthy and varied diet! So the key is, aim for a diet rich in fruit, vegetable, breads, pasta, meat and dairy and the other most important lifestyle change you can make to improve your mood is to exercise as this is often the most under-utilised anti-depressant and probably one of the most effective treatments.
The only other fundamental necessity in helping and supporting those with a mental health condition is understanding along with a good attitude so read, learn and do your best to understand.

Happy Mental well-being 🙂

P.S It was Steve Brookstein

For further advice on Depression and diet, please take a look at:
British Dietetic Association ‘Depression and diet’ – http://www.bda.uk.com/foodfacts/Diet_Depression.pdf

REFERENCES

Mind, 2013 http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/statistics-and-facts-about-mental-health/how-common-are-mental-health-problems/

Peet, 2004, cited by Mackintosh, A and Lawrie, S (2004). Cross-national differences in diet, the outcome of schizophrenia and the prevalence of depression: you are (associated with) what you eat. The British Journal of Psychiatry (2004) 184: 381-382. Available at: http://bjp.rcpsych.org/content/184/5/381

Wurtman, 1993. Depression and weight gain: the serotonin connection. Journal of Affective Disorders. Oct-Nov; 29 (2-3); 183-92. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8300977

Young and Leyton, 2002. The role of serotonin in human mood and social interaction. Insight from altered tryptophan levels. Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior 71 (2002) 857–865

Eggs and cheese tapas

This tasty tapas treat takes less than 15 minutes to prepare, is cheap and filling! Great for all the family.

Serves 6

6 x hard boiled eggs, cooled and shelled
3 tbsp grated cheddar cheese
1-2 tbsp mayonnaise
2 tbsp chives
1 fresh chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped
Pepper to taste
Lettuces leaves to serve

1. Cut the eggs in half lengthways and using a teaspoon, carefully scoop out the yolks into a sieve, reserving the egg white halves.
2. Spoon the filling into the egg white halves. Arrange a bed of lettuce on individual serving plates and top with the eggs. Cover and leave to chill until ready to serve.

Eggscellent!

20140201-130647.jpg

Diet myths; what information can i trust?

‘Trust’ is a word many of us take seriously in life. We trust people, we trust inanimate objects and we trust information. As Dietitians, we take the meaning of the word to a whole new level. The British Dietetic Association’s (a Dietitian’s professional body) new strapline is ‘Trust a Dietitian’ and this is so because Dietitians provide information on food and nutrition that you can trust. We provide the best possible information and advice in order to help you reach your goal and to help you lead a healthier lifestyle however we tend to come across a few barriers while trying to do this!

The word ‘diet’ in itself is enough to conjure up many different meanings but add the word ‘myths’ and you’ve got yourself a whole other minefield of information. The problem with these two words used together is that you read information (for example) about weight loss and expect to walk away feeling more informed and that you have read information that you can trust.

You then meet your friend for coffee and tell her all about a magical new diet where the writer has promised you that you will lose a stone within one week. Incredible! There is just one small catch they tell you however; you can’t eat very much, you must lead a restrictive social life and you must be prepared to be an irritable, erratic human being until you reach your goal. Don’t forget that you trust this writer however because no-one would write about something as complex as weight loss if they were not suitably qualified surely? You eventually start to lose weight however and you start to believe this diet really works! You start telling even more people about this wonderous diet and your friends start to lose weight too and you feel Tony the Tiger great! But in a few weeks, you start to feel unhappy, a little fed up of being constantly hungry even and quite frankly, you’re fed up of snapping at everyone. You revert back to what you deem ‘normal eating’ for you and lo and behold, you put the hard-earned weight loss back on. So what went wrong?

Unfortunately, dietary advice is not always provided by the experts and there is an abundance of misleading and incorrect information available and accessible within the public domain. This is why only information that has been provided by a Dietitian (RD) or Nutritionist (check what qualifications they have, i.e a BSc minimum or some are registered with the Nutrition Society) is trustworthy.

Unfortunately, the above scenario is all too familiar with so many people and it can cause so much unnecessary upset and confusion therefore this led me to think about a few all too common and mis-leading diet myths..

1. “You shouldn’t eat past 6pm”

Your metabolism (this refers to all the physical and chemical processes in the body that convert or use energy) is a process that gives the body the energy it needs from food. If you are sat at home at 6.01pm and you are hungry, do you need to eat? Yes! This means you have eaten what you have needed that day for your body to work properly and for you to walk around your home/office and now you need a re-fill! If we listen to our bodies and recognise the feelings of hunger and fullness, it will guide us to eating exactly what we need daily. So ensure a good fluid intake (since this feeling is similar and often mistaken for hunger), listen to your stomach and ignore stringent rules around timing.

2. Weighing in (*chuckle *) at number two it’s the “You can’t eat chocolate/sweets/crisps, you’ll get fat” classic.

Many people are under the common misconception that if you eat fat, you’ll become fat and this simply is not the case. While it is true that per gram,  fat contains nearly double the calories of carbohydrate or protein foods, it is untrue that it is the sole cause of weight gain. Any foods that are high in fat and sugar must be consumed moderately since they yield a high energy content and when consumed in large quantities, can increase the risk of certain disease such as cardiovascular diseases.

3. ”Carbs’ make you fat’

In the last few years (most notably since the Atkins’ Diet) Carbohydrates have been the subject of an enormous amount of unfair and uninformed criticism. Carbohydrates are a macro nutrient (meaning they should provide a large part of the diet) and actually contain the least calories per gram out of any of the other foods. They provide the body with energy so that other foods such as protein can be spared to repair the body and not be used as a substitute for energy. The reason foods such as pasta and potatoes have become demonised and banned from the diet is typically because a) they are dished up in large portion sizes and like any food, if you eat over and above what you need, you will gain weight and b) what is added to them (i.e. Cheese, butter, creamy sauces).

4. “I have to feel hungry all the time in order to lose weight”

This is a very common misconception and not at all true. If you feel hungry all the time, the chances are that you don’t eat enough to fuel and nourish your body and therefore are likely to be verging on unhealthy. While it’s true that you should listen to your hunger signals and feel a little hungry some of the time, being painfully hungry is dangerous and unnecessary. Neither is it the way to lose weight. Physiologically, your body will wonder why it is being starved therefore it will hold on to its energy stores because it doesn’t know when it will be fed again. This kind of yo-yo dieting can be incredibly damaging and a study by Sidiropoulos (2007) found that medical complications resulting from semi-starvation adversely affect virtually every organ system. Common signs and symptoms included loss of subcutaneous fat tissue, orthostatic hypotension, bradycardia, impaired menstrual function, hair loss and hypothermia in adolescents.

These are just a few common diet myths that are best avoided at all costs; try instead to aim to eat for good health, nourishment and well-being.

One of my favourite quotes goes like this; ‘Tell me what you eat and i will tell you who you are’ (Brillat-Savarin). That is why you can ‘Trust a Dietitian’.

Reference and further information

British Dietetic Association (2014) Food Facts: Weight loss. Available at http://www.bda.uk.com/foodfacts/Want2LoseWeight.pdf

Sidiropoulos, M (2007) Anorexia Nervosa: The physiological consequences of starvation and the need for primary prevention efforts. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2323541/

What is healthy eating?

Every one has heard the term ‘healthy eating’ and this can imply different connotations to many people.  From talking to many patients, friends and family over the years, the general consensus appears to be that healthy eating equals a constant state of hunger and only living off ‘rabbit food’. This seems unappealing enough to put anyone off the thought of changing their habits to include a healthier diet!

The reality of healthy eating is a far simpler and enjoyable process than a constant rumbling in the tummy (or to use its more scientific and amusing word, ‘borborygmus’), a thoroughly non-satisfying juice drink consisting of an old cucumber and a dollop of syrup and a miserable mood. Be mindful that food is far too great a pleasure in life not to be enjoyed so shouldn’t we be allowing ourselves to do just that?

So what IS healthy eating and how do we go about adopting a healthy diet and lifestyle? The key to a healthy diet is balance. Many people tell me they find this difficult and other influences from social, environmental and financial factors can all affect our ability to obtain and sustain a balanced diet. They key is to eat a wide variety of food, including food from each of the five main food groups in the right quantities.

All the food we eat can be divided into five groups:

They are:

  • Starchy foods, such as bread, rice, potatoes and pasta. Choose wholegrain varieties whenever you can, or eat potatoes with their skin on for more fibre.
  • Fruit and vegetables.
  • Meat, fish, eggs and beans/alternatives.
  • Milk and dairy foods.
  • Foods containing fat and sugar

Try to choose a variety of food from these groups every day with the majority of your intake coming from the first two groups. Starchy foods give us energy, Fruit and Vegetables are essential for our vitamin and mineral and fibre intake, Protein is necessary for rebuilding our bodies, Dairy is necessary for our main intake of calcium and the ‘foods containing fat and sugar’ section exists (albeit in a small segment) because we eat for other reasons than purely physiological and psychological; we eat for pleasure too. It is only when our intake becomes un-balanced and we consume too much from this group that we risk weight gain and a less healthy diet. This comes back to the question of moderation. Many people are generally shocked to discover the ‘foods containing fat and sugar’ is even included in the Eatwell plate however the concept of eating in moderation is such an important concept to grasp and there are many misconceptions around this food group. This group tends to be either avoided fully as it is seen as ‘forbidden’ then abstinence from these foods usually equals excess and may impact psychologically (for example, feelings of guilt) or it is consumed in excess due to confusion or misunderstanding of how much of this group should make up the diet. It is important to note that foods from this group can be enjoyed however they have a much higher energy content than all other food therefore this is why we should only consume them in small quantities and of course, moderately.

Most people don’t normally associate the word ‘moderation’ with Christmas therefore this tends to be why there is often a huge uptake of dieting and ‘detox’ diets (i.e old cucumber, syrup and the token miserable mood!) in the New Year and throughout January. The first thing that springs to most people’s minds after Christmas is the total banishment of all solid food and the notion that we should all be drinking a questionable raw vegetable drink three times a day. This does not have to be the case; follow the Eatwell principles mentioned above and you’ll never have to go hungry again and as for detox diets? You just need your kidneys and liver for that.

Happy (balanced) Eating!

REFERENCES

Eatwell plate, available at: http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/eatwell-plate.aspx)