Like most dietitians I don’t like the word “diet”. It makes me think of a whole lot of “rules” that need to be followed and adhered to, and for the most part take the fun out of eating. Now of course for some people, needing a “diet” is a necessary part of life. As a dietitian, I’ve helped many people with low FODMAP, gluten free, low potassium, high energy etc diets, and when required these diets can deliver huge health benefits. Because my job involves advising people on “diets” many people often question me as to my own diet. Do I follow something in particular? People often assume I’m highly restrictive with my choices, when that couldn’t be further from the truth. I love food and (mostly) enjoy cooking. I also enjoy looking for new ways to make healthy foods tasty and easy to prepare.
I strongly believe in the concept of mindful or intuitive eating and definitely have a “non diet’ approach to health. I do believe that our bodies are equipped with everything we need to maintain a healthy weight, this is our appetite. For some people this might be slightly heavier and for others slightly lighter, there’s no denying that we all come in different shapes and sizes. In our fast paced society many of us have lost the ability to tune into our appetite. We eat because the food is there, because it’s 12noon and that ’s when we take our lunch break (whether we’re hungry or not), we eat too fast, we eat because we are tired/stressed/emotional or even happy. Over time we stop listening to our bodies.
What I do try to follow is our Australian Guidelines to Healthy Eating and my diet is probably most closely aligned to the Mediterranean way of eating. I also try to focus on what I should be eating not on what I shouldn’t be. This means I’ve always got some sort of plan for how I’m going to get my 5 serves of veggies and 2 serves of fruit in each day. I also try to tick off my 3 serves of dairy and will look for opportunities to add nuts and seeds (for the heart healthy omega 3 fatty acids they deliver) to my meals and snacks, as well as other quality proteins. When I choose grains with my meals, I make sure they’re wholegrain and low GI as much as possible. I find that by focussing on eating all the foods my body needs for health each day, I actually have little appetite left for snack foods or more indulgent choices. Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy my chocolate, cakes ice cream and a glass of wine as much as the next person, and if a truly feel like having them I do. I don’t restrict any food but I listen to my body and I set aside the time to eat. Eating when you’re distracted scrolling through Facebook, driving in the car or even reading a magazine can often mean your not tuning into your natural appetite. In fact if you’re eating like this you can often get to the end of the meal and not really feel like you’ve eaten because you haven’t stopped to enjoy the flavours and textures of the food.
So here’s what a dietitian eats in a day!
Breakfast: I’m very seasonal with my breakfast, when the weather is cold I always start the day by making a huge pot of porridge (rolled oats) for my whole family. For myself I top it with brown sugar, chia seeds, cinnamon and walnuts. Most days I have 1/2 glass of unsweetened orange juice and a small (piccolo size) white coffee. In warmer weather bircher muesli or toasted muesli with Jalna sweet and creamy yoghurt and fruit does the trick.
Mid morning: Often I find a coffee is enough for my morning snack. It’s always a skinny latte but this time it’s a larger size (medium if I’m out and about) and about 200ml if I’m home. On this particular day I was hungry for a snack as well so I had some multigrain crackers and hummus. Other choices would be one of my coco cranberry bliss balls.
I’m always looking to get a lot of vegetables in at lunch so I don’t have to fit them all in at dinner. It also helps keep me full all day. This week I made a huge batch of these spiralised sweet potato noodles sautéed in chilli, olive oil and lemon zest and teamed it with crunchy oven baked kale and a sprinkling of pine nuts.
I usually team my lunch with a green smoothie or I have a fruit salad with Jalna sweet and creamy yoghurt and a sprinkling of toasted muesli.
Mid afternoon: I’m not usually hungry, sometimes I have a peppermint tea. Occasionally I join my kids in their after school snack, but the key here is I listen to my body and eat if I’m hungry.
D; My dinners are planned for the whole week to minimise the stress of having to come up with things on the fly (and then not having the right ingredients). I divide the week up between meals I know my kids like, meals I like to eat and new things we want to try. I always aim to have at least 1 vegetarian meal and 1 fish meal (I should really be eating more fish, 2 would be ideal) and 2-3 red meat meals. Lots of our meals are served family style where everyone can help themselves to what they like. This helps give the kids some control and choice at the dinner table, and has been shown to help minimise fussy eating in the the long run. Our meal tonight was chicken drumsticks cooked in the oven, salad, kale chips and bread. No matter what type of meal I’m cooking, I aways make sure that there are plenty of vegetables (even if my kids don’t always chose them!).
D: Now as I said earlier I don’t believe in restricting any food. Research has shown that the more we try and restrict foods that we think are “bad for us” the more we crave them and can often end up overeating them. With that in mind, if I feel like having a “treat” I go for it. This particular night I had a chocolate covered ice cream on a stick (connoisseur).
With regards to alcohol I really try to minimise my intake. New research published in the Lancet this year has suggested that our current guidelines advocate for too much alcohol. It’s been suggested that men and women should have no more than 100g of alcohol per week, or 6 standard drinks (a standard drink being just 100ml of wine). Our Australian guidelines are currently under review and will be released next year. Given the association between alcohol intake and some types of cancer, (and because I come from a family with a high risk of breast cancer), I try to restrict my intake to a standard glass of wine and I make sure I have at least 2 alcohol free days a week.
So there you go I follow a diet that is flexible, nourishing and above all enjoyable. Whilst i eat for health I also eat for enjoyment and that’s something I truly want to teach my children. I believe that that teaching your children about healthy eating starts with respecting that your child has their own programmed appetite and they intuitively know how much they need to eat each day.
Fascinating research has been conducted on infants that shows how beautifully programmed an child’s appetite can be. Very young infants were fed baby formula made up to different calorie strengths. Guess what happened? When the babies were fed the energy dense formula they drank less, and when they were fed the more dilute formula they drank more! In other words their appetite kicked in and they ate (drank) according to their needs. How amazing is that?
Other research has shown however, that by age 4yrs many children are learning to ignore their natural appetite and already display signs of what we call “non hungry” eating.
So how can be help our children become intuitive eaters?
My top tips are:
- Recognise that your child has their own appetite and respect that. Don’t ask them to clear their plate or eat a certain number of mouthfuls
- Don’t rush your children to eat. Set aside the time to sit down at a table and enjoy your meal in peace without distractions (ie tv, books toys etc..)
- Don’t label foods as “good” or “bad” – this starts to attach feelings of guilt to food. Teach your children that there are foods that we need to eat all the time and some foods that we don’t need to eat as regularly
- Don’t be overly restrictive with food – As parents we want the best for our children and it can be tempting to remove all chocolate, lollies, cake, etc.. from their diets. But do you know what? This approach doesn’t teach your child how to manage these foods or where they fit in a healthy diet. Research has shown that overly restrictive behaviour around food leads to “cravings” for these foods, which ultimately can lead us to over consuming them. I would prefer my children grow up knowing they can enjoy some chocolate but also being able to stop when they’ve had enough of it. It’s important to recognise that food has non nutritional benefits, sometimes we just want to eat something that tastes utterly delicious. I believe children should have this experience.
- Review the messages you send your children about body image and food – What do your children hear you say about your own body? If you are constantly talking about needing to loose weight or what foods you are avoiding, your children will get the message that food is something that they need to be conscious of controlling with external measures rather than something that should be entirely intuitive.
Julia @ Bloom
( ps if you want to read more on my thoughts about how I feed my children and teach them about food you might like this blog post)