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
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?
A NEW WAY OF THINKING
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!
1. CHANGE YOUR LANGUAGE
“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...
2. STOP DIETING. STAT!
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
“WE NEED TO START EATING MINDFULLY, FOCUSING ON WHY WE EAT THE WAY WE DO, RATHER THAN WHAT WE EAT”
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.
3. JOIN THE MACRO MOVEMENT
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.
4. REMEMBER: FOOD IS SUPPOSED TO TASTE GOOD
“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.
5. BE TREAT SMART
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.