Nour­ish don’t pun­ish

De­pri­va­tion and crazy di­ets have long been the go-to when it comes to weight loss, but a quiet revo­lu­tion is un­der­way. Lead­ing ex­perts are mov­ing to­wards a more bal­anced ap­proach to well­ness. And it’s life-chang­ing

Women's Health Australia - - APRIL 2018 - By Lau­ren Sams

The quiet revo­lu­tion that’s chang­ing the way we eat – for the bet­ter

Way be­fore maca pow­der and bee pollen, grape­fruit was the star in­gre­di­ent of a famed 1930s diet. The idea? Eat the tangy fruit as of­ten as pos­si­ble to help sup­press your ap­petite for, well, more ap­petis­ing foods.

Then there was the cab­bage soup diet (self-ex­plana­tory), the Is­raeli Army diet (lots of boiled eggs, hardly any carbs) and, of course, end­less num­bers of kilo­joule-count­ing plans.

Each of th­ese has one thing in com­mon: re­stric­tion. For so long, the most pop­u­lar ap­proaches to weight loss and well­ness have fo­cused on cut­ting back what we eat, whether that be giv­ing up carbs, fats or kilo­joules.

But here’s the cur­rent pic­ture: nearly two-thirds of Aus­tralians are over­weight or obese, ac­cord­ing to the Aus­tralian In­sti­tute for

Health and Wel­fare. Mean­while, the Na­tional Eat­ing Dis­or­ders Col­lab­o­ra­tion es­ti­mates that close to 10 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion suf­fer from eat­ing dis­or­ders and the But­ter­fly Foun­da­tion puts the cost of treat­ing th­ese at al­most $70 bil­lion an­nu­ally. So if re­stric­tion isn’t keep­ing us healthy, what will?


Lyndi Co­hen was 11 the first time she went on a diet. “I be­came ob­sessed with cre­at­ing rules around what I was and wasn’t al­lowed to eat,” she says. “I had a list of foods – all low-fat and low-kilo­joule – that were ‘good’. When I ate them, I was ‘good’, too. And when I ate the ‘bad’ foods, I felt ‘bad’. I would pun­ish my­self with long ex­er­cise ses­sions to try to com­pen­sate. Very quickly, I got into a re­ally vi­cious cy­cle.”

What fol­lowed was 10 years of dis­or­dered, cyclic eat­ing. “I would re­strict my­self, then feel de­prived, and then binge on the foods I told my­self I wasn’t al­lowed to eat,” Co­hen re­mem­bers. “The more I re­stricted, the more I binged later, and the more out of con­trol I felt around food. I started gain­ing weight and feel­ing hor­ri­ble. I felt like ev­ery­one else had this amaz­ing sense of willpower, and that I was a fail­ure be­cause I didn’t. For years, I felt com­pletely out of con­trol.”

It took learn­ing about the term ‘dis­or­dered eat­ing’ for Co­hen – now a nu­tri­tion­ist who spe­cialises in emo­tional and dis­or­dered eat­ing – to iden­tify her own prob­lem. “It took me years to come to a point where I was able to eat healthily and not de­prive my­self,” she says. “I lost the 20 ki­los I’d put on with binge eat­ing, but it took five years.”

What changed for Co­hen – and what she and other ex­perts be­lieve we all need to change – was her re­la­tion­ship with food it­self.

“We need to see food as some­thing that nour­ishes us, rather than some­thing to con­trol,” she says.

Th­ese ex­perts are among the grow­ing num­ber cham­pi­oning a food revo­lu­tion that’s as much about our mind­set as what we put in our mouths. Ready to join them? Hell, yeah. Af­ter all, learn to nour­ish your body and it’ll change your life. Say it with us now: vive la revo­lu­tion!


“In­stead of re­fer­ring to food as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, you can hon­estly eat every­thing in mod­er­a­tion,” says Co­hen. “And I re­ally do mean

every­thing. Is it bad to have a piece of birth­day cake on your birth­day? Ab­so­lutely not. There’s a time and a place to have every­thing.”

Also re­think words like ‘bal­ance’. That doesn’t mean balanc­ing out that choc sponge by slog­ging your­self on the tread­mill later. “Bal­ance is about prac­tis­ing self-suf­fi­ciency: it means be­ing able to go out with your friends and not hav­ing to Google the menu be­fore you go. It’s about some­times hav­ing cham­pagne and cake on the week­end, wak­ing up on Mon­day and feel­ing OK about that, and know­ing how to nav­i­gate from there.”

Lastly, know this: a ‘diet’ is any pro­gram that spec­i­fies what you can and can’t eat. And while Co­hen re­veals that ex­perts are steer­ing away from the word it­self th­ese days, that doesn’t mean di­ets aren’t still all around us. “Any­thing that tells you what foods you’re al­lowed and not al­lowed: that’s a diet,” she says. “Quit­ting su­gar? Carbs? They’re di­ets. And re­strict­ing your­self doesn’t work in the long run.” And on that note...


When clients come to see di­eti­tian Char­lene Grosse, they ex­pect one thing. “Ev­ery­one thinks I’m go­ing to tell them, ‘On Mon­day, you eat this, on Tues­day, you eat that’, so I hear the sigh of re­lief when I of­fer them a non-diet ap­proach to weight man­age­ment,” she says. “Di­ets are short term and have been proven time and again to not work. What we need to do is start eat­ing mind­fully – fo­cus­ing on why we eat the way we do, rather than what we eat.”

Grosse’s ad­vice? Go back to the ba­sics – eat more slowly (20 chews per mouth­ful is ideal), wait un­til you are hun­gry to eat, only fill your plate with what you’ll rea­son­ably eat and, per­haps most im­por­tantly,

when you’re eat­ing, make it the only thing you’re do­ing. “When we fo­cus on eat­ing – the plea­sure of it – we en­joy it more and usu­ally eat more slowly,” says Grosse. When we slow down and fo­cus, we’re bet­ter able to recog­nise that we’re sat­is­fied, too. All th­ese moves kick­start a more bal­anced diet, which in turn can lead to weight loss and bet­ter health out­comes.

And the key to last­ing well­ness? Sim­ple changes – and con­sis­tency. Case in point: The Na­tional Weight Con­trol Registry in the US tracks peo­ple who have lost at least

13 ki­los and kept them off for at least five years. While each of the 10,000 par­tic­i­pants shed weight in their own way, there were some strik­ing – but very fa­mil­iar – sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween most: walk­ing more of­ten, eat­ing break­fast daily, watch­ing fewer than 10 hours of TV


a week. “They all made changes in their ev­ery­day be­hav­iours,” says registry de­vel­oper and pro­fes­sor of psy­chi­a­try and hu­man be­hav­iour Rena Wing. Over time, th­ese small tweaks had a huge im­pact.


Rather than de­mon­is­ing spe­cific foods or food groups, or re­strict­ing what you eat, start think­ing about foods in terms of what they can pro­vide: macronu­tri­ents. Macros are what make up the caloric con­tent of food. There are three: fats, car­bo­hy­drates and pro­tein.

“Fad di­ets are al­most al­ways about re­strict­ing cer­tain macros,” says Grosse. But, she ex­plains, each macro is valu­able, pro­vid­ing im­por­tant nu­tri­tion to help nour­ish your body. Those carbs in grains, fruits, ve­g­ies and your Sun­day­brunch bread are packed with nu­tri­ents such as vi­ta­mins, min­er­als and an­tiox­i­dants. They’re also our main source of fi­bre – this helps you feel full and sta­bilises blood su­gar. Mean­while, pro­tein (in lean meat, poul­try, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, legumes) is a power source of io­dine, iron, zinc, en­er­gis­ing B12 vi­ta­mins and healthy fats – a small daily amount of the lat­ter sup­ports your heart health and brain func­tion. Con­stantly swerve any of th­ese magic macros? This can lead to nu­tri­ent de­fi­cien­cies and in­crease health is­sues down the track.


“It should be de­li­cious!” says chef and nu­tri­tion­ist Teresa Cut­ter of The Healthy Chef. “We’re meant to en­joy food – I cer­tainly do. If it tastes great and is good for you, you’re more likely to make and eat it again.”

Cut­ter’s phi­los­o­phy is all about us­ing fresh, sea­sonal in­gre­di­ents (which taste bet­ter nat­u­rally) and sim­ple cook­ing meth­ods. “For me, part of mind­ful eat­ing is mind­ful cook­ing. Learn how to cook and make healthy meals you love.”

Grosse agrees. “You can get re­ally over­whelmed by con­flict­ing mes­sages over food, but the bot­tom line is, we all need to eat a va­ri­ety of foods from each of the five food groups – veg­eta­bles, grains and ce­re­als, fruits, dairy and al­ter­na­tives, along with meat/poul­try/fish and al­ter­na­tives. It doesn’t sound sexy or new, be­cause it’s not! But it works.” Learn how to cook the ba­sics and make ve­g­ies taste great, and you’re halfway there. Cut­ter’s secrets? “A gen­er­ous driz­zle of ex­tra vir­gin olive oil and a small sprin­kle of sea salt el­e­vate any vegetable. And don’t un­der­es­ti­mate the power of roast­ing – this brings out veg­eta­bles’ nat­u­ral sweet­ness, and the carameli­sa­tion ren­ders them golden and crisp.” Bland greens, this def­i­nitely ain’t.


Ever started your day with steel­cut oats and sea­sonal berries, then ended it with a ke­bab, a slice of pizza, three schooners and half a bag of cook­ies you found in the outer reaches of your pantry (#truestory)? You’re not alone.

It’s the ‘all or noth­ing’ men­tal­ity so many of us strug­gle with – we start out eat­ing so well, but as the stresses of the day mount (or we see cause for cel­e­bra­tion), things be­gin to go pear-shaped. And when you’re eat­ing food with the mind­set that you shouldn’t be hav­ing it and you’ll need to bal­ance it out later, it can send you into a spi­ral of think­ing, ‘Well, I’ve failed, so I might as well fail a bit more,’ says Co­hen. Cue main­lin­ing an­other few cook­ies and feel­ing crappy. “That’s why it’s so im­por­tant to re­frame the way we see food,” she ex­plains. “It’s fine to eat a piece of pizza or a brownie if that’s what you want – as a treat. But en­joy it as just that, so give your­self per­mis­sion to eat it, and savour it. Let your­self have the cookie. It’s one cookie! It’s fine.”

But con­versely, try not to eat treats when you don’t ac­tu­ally feel like them. “We’ve all been in sit­u­a­tions where there’s so much food on of­fer, and it’s hard to re­sist,” says Co­hen. “But if you re­ally don’t feel like eat­ing treats, and if you know you won’t en­joy them, then don’t. This is an im­por­tant part of eat­ing mind­fully, too.

“It takes time to heal your re­la­tion­ship with food. But if you in­vest in it, you can get to a point where you re­ally lis­ten to your body: you’re of­fered dessert and recog­nise you truly don’t feel like it this time, or you get halfway through your plate and think, ‘I’m ac­tu­ally not hun­gry any­more, I’ll save it for later.’”

And once you get to that point? “That’s ex­cit­ing. It feels good,” con­firms Co­hen. Mind­ful, nour­ish­ing eat­ing – we’re so ready for you.

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