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.

NZ Grower - - NEWS -

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.

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