Food revolutionary blames Jamie Oliver
What does it feel like to be a food revolutionary? Ask dietitian Lea Stening, and you’re likely to have a very lively conversation. Blame Jamie Oliver.
Two years ago Lea saw his videos teaching children to cook, which spurred her on to connect with his global network of food revolutionaries who are doing everything they can to promote healthy eating at a grassroots level.
That’s not to say that Lea is new to any of this. Having worked as a dietitian for over 40 years, Lea has helped hundreds of private clients and high performance athletes, as well as individuals within sporting organisations and schools, to understand more clearly how to meet their energy needs.
Operating her nutrition consultancy largely online now means connecting with people in a way that is easy and convenient. It also gives her incredible reach, as can be seen in the classroom Skype sessions she has run in places as far-flung as Iraq and Sudan.
The message is simple. “It’s about opening a dialogue about what being a healthy person really means.” Lea says. “Apart from food, apart from exercise, it’s also about mental health. It’s about being safe and feeling loved. It’s about giving parents the confidence to bring about simple changes in the home.”
Food is vital to life and yet so many people are plagued by misconceptions around what to eat, how much to eat and what we can do differently to stay healthy. Parents have an even trickier job around understanding how children’s dietary needs differ from their own and finding ways to discuss food with their child without causing undue anxiety.
Lea has a lot to say on the matter. Writing two books has delivered her message to a wider audience. The latest book, Healthy Kids, Happy Lives, offers practical advice (as well as online access to resources and recipes) and moves the discussion on from simply monitoring body mass index and food groups.
”We hear a lot about food groups but there’s not enough information out there for people to understand that some foods are digested at different rates. There are characteristics inherent in whole foods that can fill you up more quickly and help you feel satisfied. I think children today are lacking structure in their diet and are eating in a haphazard way. I think there’s been a lot of interest in discretionary foods and how we should watch the muesli bars and sugars, but we need to address appetite and what causes hunger in the first place.”
While childhood obesity has received significant media attention, Lea is quick to point out that it’s not the only issue of concern. If a child plays a lot of sport and their energy needs are not being met then ‘burnout’ is a very real possibility. People tend to forget that energy is not just required for getting us from A to B but is essential for basic functions – breathing, muscle development, growing tissue and even creativity. Says Lea simply, ”we need power to stay alive.”
While a healthy body is the focus, the wider environment is critically important. To this end, Lea is keen to share her professional insight around topics as diverse as food labelling, advertising and corporate marketing that sees sports drinks and fast food linked in subtle ways to sporting success.
”It never stops. There are new challenges every day,” says Lea. For the time being, retirement is not an option for this food revolutionary. With a flourishing private practice, books to publish and support of organisations such as vegetables.co.nz and the Heart Foundation, Dietitians NZ and Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution to keep her in the swim, Lea Stening is far from throwing in the towel.