Relearning food and nutrition

Instead of learning about the right and wrong foods to eat, let’s learn instead about the many different foods and diets each compatible with healthy living.

Instead of learning to change what we eat according to a new diet, let’s learn instead to modify what we eat according to our internal hunger.

Instead of learning to stop eating the foods we love, let’s learn instead to eat them in the amounts that provide us with long-term enjoyment and satisfaction.

Instead of learning to eat by following all of these rules and restrictions, let’s learn instead how to eat with freedom and by following our intuition.

Instead of learning that eating is a practice done primarily to lose weight, let’s learn instead that it is a practice done primarily to nourish the billions of cells that contribute to the optimal functioning of our mind and body.

Relearning food and nutrition matters.

It matters because eating within the context of diets, judgements, rules and restrictions is highly stressful. This stress is not just damaging short-term, it too has long-term impacts on our hormonal, neurological and digestive systems.

Eating in a stressful state can:

When we approach food and nutrition with a different mindset, we can help to undo these physiological effects. Research shows that eating more mindfully and with self-compassion – being aware and attentive to our eating, without judgement – promotes healthy weight management.

Indeed, our eating mindset is proposed as a better predictor of weight management than any specific combination of foods or nutrients is.

The most common question I get asked as a nutritionist is, “Is this food healthy?”

My most common answer is, “That depends, largely, on how you eat it.”

10 ways to reduce your calorie intake without thinking about calories

  1. Use smaller plates and bowls.
  2. Replace short, wide glasses with tall, narrow ones.
  3. Use smaller spoons.
  4. Throw out the lolly jar (or replace it with a fruit bowl).
  5. Place healthy foods at the front of the refrigerator, and less healthy foods at the back.
  6. Repackage foods sold in large packages into small containers.
  7. Always put food into a plate or bowl, so you can better see how much you are actually eating. Never eat straight from the package.
  8. Snack only at the table, and only on a clean plate.
  9. Put everything on your plate before you start eating, and don’t go back for seconds and thirds.
  10. When serving your meal, try dishing out 20% less than you think you might want before you start eating. You probably won’t miss it.

Perhaps the easiest way to change your behaviour, is to change your environment.

[Hat tip to Wansick.]

A Body Acceptance Manifesto

Body, more than anything, you must know you are both beautiful and enough. Exactly as you are, in this very moment.

The only words deserving of you come from a place of admiration and appreciation. Disgust, hate and fat have no place for you.

I wholeheartedly believe you are beautiful. Negative judgements – from others or my unconscious self – do not reflect you. I promise another perspective will not be given the power to undermine you.

I know that scales don’t define your worthiness. You are filled with an abundance of warmth, compassion and love. No number changes that.

I accept you will change, and that you will wrinkle, expand and sag. But know this will never change your beauty, nor how I feel about you.

I am aware there will always be slimmer, taller and more defined bodies than you. Yet your beauty is unique, and can never be diminished by the presence of another.

I commit to always being grateful for you, as you exist to always support and look after me. My words cannot express how much I admire you, or how thankful I am to have you.

I choose to feel pride and joy when sharing you. I will not hide you, or feel ashamed by you, when being with another. It is a privilege to give them the opportunity to admire and cherish you, exactly as I have learnt to.

Nutritious eating, regular exercise and adequate rest are not only aspirations for you. They are each daily practices. It is both my responsibility, and my privilege, to respect and nourish you.

Yet the greatest gift I can give you is my unconditional love. A love that supports you into becoming the best and healthiest version of you.

Although you may not be there yet, my admiration for you now is possible because I understand you are both a work of art, and a work in progress. Just as I am, too.

Body, I love you. All of you. Truly, deeply, unconditionally.

[Download and print the body acceptance manifesto for free, here.]

How you can eat less sugar and not lose weight

An important nutrition principle is the one of replacement: for every food (or nutrient) you remove from the diet, another usually takes its place.

One common limitation I see with many popular diets is that they fail to appropriately advise on replacement. Low sugarlow fat and low carb can each be effective for better health and body weight. But they can each be pointless exercises, too.

To demonstrate, consider these well established research findings:

  • Replacing sugar (and other carbohydrates) with protein reduces weight gain. Yet replacing sugar with other carbohydrates (starchy foods like white bread, rice and crackers), does not.
  • Replacing fat with protein and fibre reduces body weight. Yet replacing fat with carbohydrate, does not.
  • Replacing carbohydrate with polyunsaturated fat (found in sunflower, safflower and soybean oil, and a variety of nuts, seeds and oily fish) reduces heart disease risk. Yet replacing carbohydrate with saturated fat (found in some meats, dairy and butter), does not.

Talking about what to eat less of, matters. But talking about what to eat instead, matters even more.

9 nutrition tips from those who live a long and healthy life

  1. Eat plenty of vegetables.
  2. Enjoy a variety of fruits.
  3. Include nuts and seeds daily.
  4. Eat legumes (beans and pulses).
  5. Choose high-fibre grains.
  6. Use extra-virgin olive oil.
  7. Eat oily fish.
  8. Drink tea or coffee.
  9. Enjoy a glass of red wine.

If you find yourself confused with the semantics of healthy eating, start with what we know to be associated with better health.

Once there, it’s hard to go too far wrong.

How to find the meaning in life

The meaning of life question (“Why are we all here?”) is philosophical, and hasn’t been answered with consensus scientifically.

But the meaning in life question (“How can I find meaning and significance within my life?”) is one that has.

Here’s how:

  1. Align your everyday behaviours and choices with the person that you want to become. Our everyday actions bring meaning when they move us towards our longer-term goals and values.
  2. Use your unique strengths to contribute to something greater than yourself. This may be through charity work, pursuing a greater sense of spirituality, undertaking a new and fulfilling career, or often just engaging with your current work in a new and more purposeful way.
  3. Know that you are worthy and capable. Believe and trust that you are enough, and that you can indeed make a difference.
  4. Accept and embrace the setbacks, pain and adversity in life. After all, it is these events that can provide a greater sense of meaning than a constant state of peace and happiness ever can.
  5. Finally, prioritise connection with others. Our life is most meaningful when it is shared.

Having greater meaning in our lives predicts not just our mental health, but also our physical health.

And whilst science hasn’t answered the meaning of life question, I like to think the answer is partly about living a life that is full of meaning.

Why you should reconsider eating coconut oil for better health

A recent review on the health benefits of coconut oil finds:

  • There is not one human trial to show coconut oil lowers cardiovascular disease risk, and
  • Only 2 small human trials show coconut oil increases HDL (“good”) cholesterol, yet another 2 trials show no significant effect.

Now, compare this to:

  • A 5 year trial of over 7 000 people shows adding 50mL extra-virgin olive oil to the diet daily lowers cardiovascular disease by 30%.
  • A review of 8 long-term trials totalling over 13 000 people shows replacing saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats (like sunflower, safflower and soybean oil) lowers heart disease by 19%, and
  • A review of 60 human trials shows conclusively that replacing saturated fats with both polyunsaturated fats or monounsaturated fats (like canola and peanut oil) lowers cholesterol levels. There are at least 26 human studies showing this for canola oil alone.

Whilst a lack of evidence does not mean unhealthy, we should prioritise eating what we can confidently say is healthy.

There are many oils that fit this description. I’m not yet convinced coconut oil is one.

Why the “healthy” weight may not be so healthy

1. Healthy behaviours and healthy weights are not the same thing:

  • Overweight people who exercise and eat healthily develop excellent metabolic health, even if they are still an “unhealthy” weight.
  • Slim people who are inactive and eat poorly typically have poor health, despite their “healthy” weight.

2. Much of what contributes to body weight is actually healthy:

  • Many people who work out regularly will develop significantly greater muscle and bone mass, improve their health substantially, yet are at risk of becoming an “unhealthy” weight.
  • Not all body fat is associated with poor health, with more fat in some areas (such as the buttocks and hips) linked to better health.

3. Not accepting our current body weight is highly stressful:

  • Body weight has a strong genetic component, and I don’t know of a single person who has found weight loss to be an easy and stress-free process over the long-term.
  • Seeing yourself as an incorrect weight is a constant emotional stressor (consider that 9 in 10 formerly obese people would choose blindness (!) over being obese again).
  • Constant emotional stress predicts significantly poorer health and early mortality.

4. A large difference between your current and desired body weight is considered a better predictor of physical and mental health, than a large current body weight!

  • There is no clear bodily mechanism that directly links being overweight to poor health.
  • The association between weight and health differs between cultures who perceive the same body weights differently.

Yes, a clear association does exist between body weight and mortality for the population.

But how can one point to this data and accurately conclude that a single individual must be of a particular weight if they wish to be healthy? Especially when the association between weight and health is largely influenced by the way that we perceive our bodies.

Healthier, I think, to do more healthy behaviours, than to stress about needing to be a “healthy” weight.

How you can think your way to better health

Consider the following:

  • Perceiving your daily activities as exercise can result in significant drops in weight, waist circumference and blood pressure, without any actual changes to your reported eating or exercise.
  • Having a make-over decreases your blood pressure, but only if you perceive that it makes you look younger.
  • Pretending to be a pilot improves your vision by around 40%.
  • Your blood sugar level (if you are diabetic) will rise and fall based more on your perception of time, than the actual time.
  • Imagining yourself getting the cold makes you 4 times more likely to actually get it.
  • Viewing your cancer (if you are a cancer survivor) as ‘cured’, as opposed to ‘in remission’, correlates to you being physically healthier, more energetic and less depressed.
  • You have about a 1 in 3 chance of healing yourself from virtually any disorder if you are given a placebo (an effect that remains even if you know it is a placebo).
  • Pretending you have travelled back in time (if you are elderly) significantly improves your strength, flexibility, posture, height, weight, hearing, vision, arthritis, and makes you look physically younger (!!) when judged by people blinded to the study.

Each of these scientific findings makes good sense when we see our mind and body as deeply connected, and understand that our beliefs are far more important than we give them credit for.

If you have a health problem that you can’t overcome, I think it is at least worth asking: is it because I actually can’t, or because I have been living in a society that has made me think that I actually can’t?

Why you should take a new approach to your New Years resolutions

Here’s an exercise well worth doing:

Think about your life at a specific time in the future. Imagine everything has gone as well as it possibly could.

You have worked hard, used your strengths and succeeded at accomplishing each of your life goals at that point in time.

This moment is the realisation of your life dreams.

Now, for 15-20 minutes, on 4 separate occasions, write continuously about what you imagined.

When we take the time to write about ourself accomplishing our long-term goals, we benefit. These benefits are substantial and numerous, and include:

  • improved mood and well-being,
  • more optimistic thinking,
  • greater clarity about our motivations, priorities and long-term goals,
  • improved confidence,
  • integration of our emotions and life experiences in a more meaningful way,
  • enhanced physical health, and
  • a lower chance of getting ill.

When done right, the process of writing our New Years resolutions can not only benefit us one day in the future.

It can also benefit us today.

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