Raising intuitive eaters

Most of you may not know, that in addition to being a dietitian, I am also a Mamma. I have two gorgeous children who bring me so much joy. One thing I learnt quickly was, that kids do as you do, not what you say. Have you noticed your children having a meltdown or telling off their toys and thinking, oh my goodness they sound exactly like me! Our actions; the way we nourish our body, and talk about our body are more powerful than any advice we give them. Watching our kids can be at times like looking in the mirror and seeing a mini me. I understand that being a parent is so wonderful and it makes life so full, but it is also so challenging and so constant. I truly believe that we all do the best we can, and that there is no need to criticize and judge other parents, as it is such a tough gig. What we can do is encourage (literally give courage), support (practical or just a listening ear) and wisdom (advice with love) when requested. I know this might sound a little bit off topic but I feel that it is important to share this so you can understand where I am coming from. The advice I give here on this page, is not meant to come across as judgment rather helpful advice if you want to take it up.

In my experience as a Mamma and through my observations in private practice, I have noticed some shared challenges that we face as parents. Firstly, there is so much information out there about food and nutrition, that it can be hard to know what to believe and what to implement. Secondly, I’ve noticed that there is a lot of pressure to nourish our children perfectly. Have you felt that pressure? It comes from so many various places: our own sense of achievement; other parents; media; health professionals; schools; kindergartens, social media etc. Thirdly, there is the challenge to continue nourishing our body given our hectic days and given the ridiculous pressure to diet and get back to our post-baby bodies. And finally, there is the challenge to raise body positive intuitive eaters. Now I know there are many other challenges but these are the ones I will initially focus on.


Ideas for those hot summer nights

Posted by on Feb 8, 2016 in Cooking | Comments Off on Ideas for those hot summer nights

Ideas for those hot summer nights

“You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients.” ? Julia Child

There are many things to love about summer: warm nights; day light savings; beach days; thunder storms; and the simplicity of cooking salads and barbeques most nights. Some of my favourite meals are: fish and chips with salad; roast vegetable pasta salad with chicken; greek meatballs with a greek salad and chap potatoes; rice and lentil salad with salmon steak; roast vegetable feta, chickpea and couscous salad; pear walnut feta and beetroot salad; this list could go on but one of our absolute favourites are hamburgers.

Homemade hamburgers are not only delicious but they can also be packed with lots of nutrients. Today I am going to share with you a recipe that my mum taught me and that I have adapted to our taste preferences. What I love about this recipe is that it is so easy and that if you use fresh ingredients you can freeze the burger patties raw and have them ready to go for another time. Now, I must confess that I am one of those annoying cooks, who often doesn’t measure food and just goes with the flow. Thankfully I have made this recipe so many times that I usually add the same amount of each ingredient each time.

Here it is: All you need to do is combine 500g mincemeat (beef or lamb which ever you prefer) with one grated carrot and one grated zucchini and one-two tablespoons of wholegrain seeded mustard. Add one egg which you can whisk prior to adding or just whisk in the bowl, two tablespoons mixed herbs and 1 ½-2 cups of fresh bread crumbs. I usually blend up 2-4 pieces of bread depending on how moist the mixture is. If you add too much zucchini the mixture can become quite moist so don’t use one of those really large zucchinis. Always use fresh bread crumbs otherwise the burger patties become too dry. I should mention that I prefer moist burger patties and therefore if you prefer really dry ones just add more bread crumbs. Now all you have to do is get your hands dirty and thoroughly combine all the above ingredients. For more flavour you can add a dash of salt and some pepper but if you have added enough seeded mustard and herbs the burgers should be full of flavour. This recipe is great for children, as they usually can’t taste the zucchini and carrot in the burgers.

Now for the fillings: You can make these as simple or as fancy as you like. I usually go with what’s in the fridge at the time. We love sautéed mushrooms and caramelised onion, sliced beetroot, tomato and cheese, rocket or spinach and sometimes even grilled eggplant and zucchini. You might be getting the picture that these burgers are massive, well they kind of are. But they are full of wonderful fresh vegetables which you can never have enough of. We like to use wholemeal chia rolls and usually spread a dip (like spinach and feta dip), avocado or a homemade tomato relish on the bread. This again gives the hamburgers extra flavour. So I hope by now your mouth is watering and all you can think about is going home and making this burgers! Well I’d love to hear what your favourite summer meals are and let me know if you try making these burger patties. I’d love to hear some feedback.

Ideas for those hot summer nights (Recipe)


The Numbers Game

Posted by on Feb 4, 2016 in Health at every size, Healthy relationship with food, Intuitive Eating | Comments Off on The Numbers Game

The Numbers Game

Planning of dietCalories in, calories out, weight, clothing size, waist size, portion size, measurements, BMI, weight watchers points, time spent exercising…..numbers. Do any of these numbers mean something to you? Have they played a significant part in your decisions about food, exercise or health? Have they been beneficial or harmful? Many people choose to manage their health and weight by controlling numbers. In the end this becomes a time consuming and stressful process that doesn’t reap any benefits.

Health isn’t determined by a set of numbers, and you won’t suddenly feel better because you are a certain size or because you consumed a certain number of calories. Health is about caring for yourself, and it is about wellbeing in a whole range of areas. We don’t arrive at health, rather it is continual life journey where we prioritise looking after our self because of our values not because of a set of numbers.

Unfortunately, many people manage their weight through following numerous diets. As stated in previous blog posts, diets are dangerous and instead of improving health they cause a lot of harm. We also need to remember, that science has proven that diets don’t work. Diets are based on numbers and rules and therefore they create a great divide between your internal regulation cues and your mind (the choices you make). We are not robots that can be controlled by a set of formulas and numbers. They don’t lead to sustainable change and they don’t lead to improved health outcomes.

One of the most common ways people use numbers to control their health is by calorie counting. Calorie counting involves setting a limit of calories you can consume on a daily basis and then all you have to do is stick to this limit by adding up all the calories you consume throughout the day. How can that be harmful, you might say?

Let’s examine how calorie counting negatively impacts our relationship with food and our body. Calorie counting gives people a false sense of control over their food intake and weight. How can we possibly determine and control how much fuel and nutrients our body needs on a daily basis? Did you know that there is no scientific evidence to support calorie counting as a form of weight management? It simply doesn’t work and isn’t accurate at all. All the numbers on nutritional labels are estimates. They can never account for the seasonal fluctuations of nutrients in food. In addition, there are so many factors that determine how much fuel and nutrients the human body needs on a daily basis. Calorie counting suggests we need the same amount of energy every day, however our nutrient and energy requirements fluctuate. The consequence of relying on calorie counting is that it prevents us from listening to our body’s natural rhythm and therefore we miss all its signals (hunger, fullness, thirst, tiredness etc.). We become disconnected from our body which makes it very difficult to accurately listen and respond to the natural fluctuations in energy requirements. Relying on calorie counting will lead you to over or under estimating how much fuel our body needs. In addition to its inaccuracy, calorie counting also removes the joy associated with eating. Removing the joy of eating can cause physical and emotional deprivation. Which we know can trigger emotional eating patterns. Rather than giving you control over your health and weight, calorie counting actually gets you to work against your body instead than with it. It doesn’t allow you to build a sense of trust with your body, which is essential for intuitive eating.

The second most common way of using numbers to determine health, is by valuing the number on the scales. Unfortunately many people feel that the number on the scale is a very important number. For some people if they don’t weigh a particular number they will feel devastated and it will impact their self-confidence and esteem. The fact is that our weight will fluctuate on a daily basis according to time, temperature, hormones, fluid levels, whether you’ve opened your bowels etc. It saddens me that for many people the focus on weight becomes such a pursuit or focus, that they lose sight of all other aspects of life. The fact is that the number on the scales does not determine your value or worth. It does not determine your personality, skills, values, and health. There is so much more to health than weight. When we become free of the pursuit of numbers, we can truly eat in an intuitive way, take care of ourselves and live by our values. This is where health and wellbeing begin.

So here are some questions to get you thinking about what is driving your health goals.

  • Do you feel that you will only be healthy once you reach a certain weight?
  • Do you find yourself focusing more on calories in food, rather than eating mindfully and enjoying food?
  • How much time and energy does calorie counting take?
  • Have you found that your diet rules or calorie counting taking too much priority and distract you from more important values?
  • Do you feel physically and emotionally deprived when you follow your diet rules?
  • Are you pushing yourself with exercise just to meet a target and losing all enjoyment when exercising?
  • Are you exercising even when exhausted?
  • Do your diet rules impact your social interactions?

The power of permission

Posted by on Dec 23, 2015 in Healthy Weight, Intuitive Eating | Comments Off on The power of permission

The power of permission

Many people don’t know what it’s like to eat without diet rules or judgment looming in their mind. For people who follow diets, even when they allow themselves to eat more freely, there are always conditions they have to fulfil. Wouldn’t it be nice to enjoy the festive food this Christmas without having to compensate, and without having to take on board the guilt and judgement of your inner critic? Let’s talk through a common scenario and take a look at alternative ways of approaching the festive meal.

Scenario: Lee has a hectic schedule of work, friend and family celebrations. She is really worried about eating too much and gaining weight as she won’t be able to stick to her usual strict diet regime. Lee decides to severely restrict her food intake on the day of the Christmas celebration.

Lee arrives at the first celebration extremely hungry because she hasn’t eaten much all day. She finds it difficult to concentrate and to think clearly. Unfortunately, because of her hunger, she also finds it difficult to eat in moderation. In fact, she finds herself eating a rapid pace and eating more than she would normally. Whilst she is eating the food she is distracted by a sense of guilt as she thinks about all the diet rules she is breaking. This makes it difficult to engage in conversation and enjoy the company of friends. When she leaves the celebration she isn’t feeling joyous and relaxed; instead, she is weighed down by the judgement of breaking her diet rules and eating more than she wanted. For some people this might trigger a period of bingeing, restriction or some other form of punishment. Lee is thus robbed of her joy during the festive season.

Question: How could Lee approach the festive celebrations differently so she can enjoy the food and the company of her friends?

  1. She could choose to nourish her body with regular meals and snacks instead of restricting her food intake. If Lee chose this option, she would have arrived at the party with a moderate hunger rather than an extreme hunger. When someone is extremely hungry, no amount of will power can prevent overeating. Nourishing your body with enjoyable food throughout the day can prevent extreme hunger and deprivation. This would help Lee to think clearly, make considered choices and engage with friends.
  2. She could choose to give herself permission to nourish her body with enjoyable food. If Lee gave herself permission to nourish her body with enjoyable food she wouldn’t have the opportunity to break any diet rules and feel guilty. You might be thinking, “But doesn’t that mean she will overeat because there are no boundaries or rules to guide her?” You may be surprised to hear that it doesn’t! Firstly, if Lee arrives at the party having nourished herself all day, she won’t have extreme hunger – a common drive towards overeating. Secondly, if Lee has permission to eat and enjoy food, she will be able to eat the food in moderation, as she listens to her body rather than a judgmental mind. The permission to eat gives Lee the opportunity to actually taste the food, tune into her appetite and enjoy the experience. Knowing that she has unconditional permission to eat all foods enables her to eat in moderation because she doesn’t feel deprived; she knows she can have this food again at any time. When you have unconditional permission to nourish your body, you will learn that you don’t want (say) chocolate cake at every meal; you will then learn to have it in moderation and truly enjoy it.
  3. Permission prevents the punishing cycle of disordered eating. Finally, giving oneself permission to eat and nourish your body helps prevent restriction, bingeing, compensatory exercise, etc. If Lee allowed herself to eat and enjoy the festive food, then no diet rules would be broken and therefore there is no need for punishment such as restriction, bingeing or compensatory exercise. Therefore, permission to eat will help her to enjoy the festive celebrations rather than being caught in the disordered eating cycle.

Strategies: How can you apply these strategies this festive season?

  1. Be disciplined in providing yourself with regular and enjoyable meals and snacks on a daily basis.
  2. Try saying the following statement before each meal: “I give myself permission to nourish my body with enjoyable food”.
  3. If you are feeling anxious, try focusing on some deep breathing.
  4. Try to eat in a mindful way. Be “present” whilst eating, and notice the different elements and experiences of the meal without judgment.

If you have been caught up in the dieting cycle for a while, it will take time to make change and to accept the permission to nourish your body with enjoyable food. Be brave and give it a go. You may need support; I would therefore recommend contacting a dietitian who teaches intuitive eating skills.

No more guilty pleasures – part two

Posted by on Sep 21, 2015 in Healthy relationship with food, Healthy Weight, Intuitive Eating, Mindful Eating, Uncategorized | Comments Off on No more guilty pleasures – part two

No more guilty pleasures – part two

I have lost count of the number of times I have you heard someone say, “I really shouldn’t have eaten that”, or, “Now I’ll have to go work off this chocolate cake at the gym”. These statements of judgment and self-criticism undermine any enjoyment and satisfaction one may have experienced whilst eating delicious food. Instead of feeling satisfied from savouring a rich array of flavours and textures in a particular portion of food, one is left with the unsavoury feeling of guilt.

What happens when our food intake is driven and shaped in this way? If we live by a set of onerous diet rules, where there are ‘bad’ foods, we will always be driven by a sense of deprivation, and a temptation to break the rules and indulge in what is forbidden. Instead of savouring these so-called ‘forbidden’ foods, you are left with a sense of regret and guilt.  Our bodies are not robots; we can’t follow legalistic diet rules and expect to feel nourished, satisfied and healthy. Furthermore, the deprivation that comes from diet rules is not only physical but emotional. Eating is meant to be a pleasurable experience engaging in all our five senses. To truly be satisfied by food, we need to be present to the experience of eating without judgement. Imagine going to a party filled with a sense of worry and dread about what food might be served. Whilst at the party you are not present to the engage in company rather your priority is focusing on your diet rules. Your thoughts keep drifting to punitive reminders that you can’t afford to have those chips or that cake. This brief scenario helps portray how depriving diet rules can be. They not only impact your relationship with food and your body but they also impact your emotional wellbeing and your social interactions.

Being reliant on diet rules, always results in judgment and criticism hanging over your head as you eat. This judgement is most likely unrelenting and harsh, with thoughts that you will never have eaten perfectly enough. Legalistic and moralistic diet rules become a barrier to being in tune with your body and present to the experience of eating and will leave you with a guilty feeling. This combination of deprivation and guilt are catalyst for overeating and emotional eating.

I guess this leads to the question: how can we eat without guilt?

I find that there is always some resistance to eating without rules. Firstly, it is for many people an unfamiliar way of approaching food. But secondly, many people worry that they will lose control of their eating habits without the rules to keep them in check. Let me reassure you that letting go of food rules and condemnation, will help you to find peace with food and your body. This peace enables people to become really in tune with what their body needs and helps people balance their food cravings. It helps you to eat all foods in moderation, and therefore maintain a healthy weight. If you are willing to take the plunge and let go of your burdensome restrictive diet rules and willing to open the door to a new relationship with food and your body, then here are a few steps you can take:

  1. Eat mindfully. Stop multitasking whilst eating. No more checking facebook or emails or watching tv, just sit and eat. Be present to the enjoyable experience of eating and notice all the different aspects of the food and eating experience.
  2. Let go of all judgements and guilt. I am sure that initially those negative, judgemental thoughts will be automatically playing over and over in your mind. Acknowledge them and then redirect your attention to neutral and compassionate thoughts about the food you are eating.
  3. Eat at a moderate pace. Don’t shovel down your food. Take a moment to pause whilst eating and be in the moment. This will also help you know when you are full.
  4. Listen to your body. Notice what hunger, fullness and thirst feels like without judgment. Respond to your hunger, don’t ignore it and don’t let yourself get extremely hungry. Being extremely hungry can be a trigger for emotional eating.
  5. Enjoy a wide variety of food. And the emphasis is on enjoy! Don’t deprive yourself. Be open to new foods and meals.
  6. If you are craving a particular food, eat it. Eat it mindfully. Notice: how it’s presented; focus on the different tastes and textures; notice the sounds in your mouth; savour the experience. Describe the food/meal only using mindful language, non-judgemental, neutral and compassionate terms. An example of a neutral thought could be as simple as “I am eating a slice of chocolate cake; it has a rich chocolate colour and is moist in my mouth.”
  7. Eat your sometimes food and don’t compensate. Don’t exercise to burn off the calories you have just eaten. Exercise is about moving your body and looking after yourself.
  8. Remember eating is about nourishing your body physically and enjoying the food you eat.

If you want to develop a healthy relationship with food and your body, I would highly recommend seeing a dietitian. A dietitian can help you: develop mindful eating skills; guide you in letting go of dieting rules and help you develop a balanced approach to food and health.

No more guilty pleasures – part one

Posted by on Sep 21, 2015 in Healthy relationship with food, Healthy Weight, Intuitive Eating, Mindful Eating | Comments Off on No more guilty pleasures – part one

No more guilty pleasures – part one

One issue most people raise with me is the sense of guilt they feel for eating ‘sometimes food’* or even ‘everyday food’ such as carbohydrates or full fat dairy. Many people see dietitians as the ‘food police’ and are therefore shocked when I question their sense of guilt because of eating, say, a piece of cake or a packet of chips. It’s really disappointing that our dieting culture is robbing people of the joy of eating. It saddens me that we are saturated in a culture that places moral judgements upon food – judgements which are both futile and damaging.

Why do people insist on placing these judgments and values upon food? There is a growing trend at the moment (which has also been around for quite some time) to place virtues on food. Fad diets such as ‘clean eating’ are categorising food into a moral hierarchy. In fact all diets place food into a moral hierarchy; as they state which foods are good or can be consumed and which foods are bad and must be avoided at all cost. This gives people a false sense of moral superiority as they follow their strict dieting rules.

The moral dialogue around food is so ingrained in our society that most people don’t see the issue with it. But what are the negative impacts of moral judgements on food. I imagine that you would feel worthless, guilty, shameful and unclean. All of which should not be associated with eating and nourishing your body. As stated in a previous blog, the body has strong biological and psychological drives which will always overrule any dieting rules you attempt to put in place. In fact, you will always become preoccupied with the foods you are trying to avoid. And when your body is deprived emotionally and physically, it will increase its hunger drive to the point where you will end up breaking your rules. Therefore it is inevitable that you will break this moral hierarchy and when it happens you will most likely give in and overeat or binge on the forbidden foods. This highlights the fact that diets and moral judgements on food lead toward and an unhealthy relationship with food and your body.

Diets and moral judgements on food change the natural and nourishing relationship we should have with food into a destructive and damaging relationship. Rules and moral judgements don’t allow us to enjoy food. Taking the joy out of eating leaves people feeling unsatisfied and craving delicious “forbidden” food. Ellyn Satter (2008, p3) puts it perfectly “Today’s consumers experience a fundamental contradiction between wants and shoulds with respect to food selection. If you are typical, you feel deprived if you eat the foods you should and guilty if you eat the foods you want.” Food rules and moral judgements will actually drive overeating patterns. The truth, but sad fact is that when people who follow diet rules finally eat the “forbidden” food, they can’t even enjoy it due to the moral judgement, shame and guilt weighing over their mind.

As far as I can see, eating any food isn’t a crime, and therefore it doesn’t warrant guilt. Furthermore, if we really want to think about ethical issues surrounding food consumption, we should be discussing things like food wastage, the amount of plastic used in food packaging, redistributing food to the poor, sustainable food production, and the need to sell (rather than waste) produce that is ‘imperfect’. It seems our society has turned the moral issues around food upside down and lost sight of the real ethical issues which we should be thinking about.

Okay, so I hope this has got you thinking about your attitudes, beliefs and rules around food and eating. For many of you, it is an automatic habit to say “I shouldn’t have eaten that….”, or “Why did I eat that, I was meant to be good today!” If you are interested in starting to develop a healthy relationship with food, I have a few challenges for you. I wonder whether you can start to pay attention to the dialog in your mind about food, appetite and weight. As you notice the different thoughts, don’t beat yourself up or judge them, just notice them. Then you might like to start asking yourself a few questions:

  • Is this a neutral or positive statement about food?
  • Does this place limits on what, where, when, how I eat?
  • Does this help me connect with my appetite?
  • Does this help me enjoy food and feel satisfied?

As this is a big topic to discuss, I’ve had to divide my blog post in two. So in the next blog, we will continue to challenge the moral judgements on food and I will begin to give you some practical advice to help you begin developing a healthier relationship with food and your body.

*Sometimes food: are foods that you each for enjoyment but they are not necessarily providing your body with essential nutrients.