The world is a confusing place; there are many things which confuse me. The laws of cricket, the stock market, and religious wars are a small few. As a dietitian, every day I see people confused about what to eat, what is “good” or “bad”, what is a “superfood” or is “toxic”, what quantities are “too much” or “not enough”. And I don’t blame them. It is a confusing world out there, as you navigate your way up and down the supermarket aisles.
It’s just as confusing that between 1995 and 2011, Australia’s intake of both carbohydrates and total sugars fell significantly in men, women and children, despite the fact our obesity rates have increased significantly. The percentage of Aussie adults either overweight or obese has climbed to over 63%, so all those celebrities quoting sugar as the root of all evil can zip it. Furthermore, between the 1990’s and today, social media has boomed and today it spreads all sorts of messages and advice far and wide such as “strong is the new skinny”, “this tea will make the fat drip off you” and “3 weeks to a flat stomach”. Hmmm, something tells me that despite the fact “28 day shred programs” are available at the click of a finger, these messages may not be working?
Whilst there are many hypothesis and scientifically proven causes as to why our obesity rates haven't improved, one culprit I’d like to focus on is the fat shaming, the food labelling and the guilt inducing movements that are offering no solutions to this. This includes celebrities, magazines, TV, books and more who offer quick fixes such as 1 week “failproof” diets, who dump foods into black and white boxes, and who scrutinise any sort of weight gain in other celebrities. The aim of these: make us feel that if we can’t stick to their diet, if we eat foods from the wrong box, or gain any sort of weight, well, we’re the problem. And we NEED their help. So we pay more money for more advice on how to “improve our failed selves” by advice so difficult to stick to, we fail, then rinse and repeat.
The answer is simple: restrictive diets, such as tea detoxes and 28 day challenges don’t work. When our bodies are significantly deprived of food, as a survival mechanism, our metabolism slows down, we become more focused on food (in particular, the high energy food our body needs), and we have less energy to exercise. We can only fight nature, the voices in our head, and avoid social situations for so long. Eventually, we run to the foods we were avoiding, eat more than is appropriate. We feel guilty for this- we tell ourselves we will be “stronger” next time, follow the diet to the tee, and get to that golden number on the scales. But by putting even harsher expectations on ourself on a system that’s doomed to fail, we feel even worse when the diet doesn’t last.
We need to start understanding foods are NOT good or bad. Yes, some are higher in fat, or sugar, or salt, or protein etc, and to ensure we allow our bodies to function optimally we need to balance our intake of foods so that we’re getting the optimal amounts of these components. Healthy eating is about eating a range of food to appetite, not eating to meet specific numbers. It is about occasionally overeating, occasionally undereating, sometimes eating foods because you simply like the taste, but also knowing you can have it, but do you really want it? You can have it in the future, so there’s no need to binge on it now. It’s about tasting your food, not eating it in a rush of guilt.
Yes, it’s that easy. Of course, being a dietitian, my relationship with food is that perfect I can see every photoshopped image and unobtainable diet as a lie and walk away from eating a slice of cake feeling as proud as if it were a slice of quinoa and kale pie. Unfortunately I’m a shit liar in real life, and whilst it’s easier to lie through a computer, I’d be just as bad as all those who make my blood boil if I let you believe that. No- as someone who battled through Anorexia Nervosa it has taken me a long time to get to the point where I accepted that counting numbers on the scales or calories did not make me happier, healthier, or a better person. That the length of time you could avoid a “bad” food for was not a measure of your worth. If your attitude is similar to how mine was, this post isn’t going to fix it. But hopefully it may be a start. There are tools to help you break those cycles. Book an appointment with an Accredited Practising Dietitian or get your hands on the book “If Not Dieting, Then What?” by Dr Rick Kausman.
Why will this be worth it? Because, years ago, a Salted Caramel and Cookie Dough Cheesecake was my worst nightmare. Anxiety inducing, it would balloon me to at least double my weight with one spoonful. Well at least in my head it did. But the other day, when it was my sister’s birthday, I thought of her three favourite dessert options. Salted caramel, cookie dough, and cheesecake. As I couldn’t find any recipes for this, I invented this decadent dessert and it was delicious. Does that mean I will eat it every day? Gosh no. Every month? Not even. Because that wouldn’t allow my body to function optimally physically. But the body is just as much about mental health, and denying it forever, would be detrimental to psychological health. So I cut a slice, savoured every mouthful knowing it won’t be the last time I enjoy a rich cheesecake, that it nourished my mind, and at the next meal I’d use fresh fruits, veggies, grains and animal foods to nourish the body. It’s all about balance. And occasionally, cheesecake.