1) Can you please tell us a little bit about yourself and your career?
I am an accredited practicing dietitian, accredited nutritionist and personal trainer. I am currently a PhD candidate with the CSIRO and Flinders uni looking into improving the diet quality of households (parents and children). I run my own business where I do private consulting, community and public health work and I teach fitness classes.
2) What are some of your favourite healthy snack ideas to recommend to clients?
I am a sucker for peanut butter! Anything with that nutty goodness tastes delicious. So for those that enjoy peanut or nut butters, I usually recommend a date with ½ a teaspoon of peanut butter, or healthy seedy crackers with peanut butter and sliced banana. Otherwise, the good old Greek yoghurt and frozen berries usually does the job to keep myself and my clients away from highly processed or high sugar packaged foods.
3) Your Honours project back in University was based on childhood obesity. Was there anything interesting you found during this time?
From our results, we found that the home environment (defined as what parents do and what food is made available to the child) is a much more important place to influence healthy eating and exercise habits for our children (primary school aged) when compared to the school environment.
So although it’s great that schools have many initiatives in place to improve the health of children, we need to focus more efforts into the home environment and what parents are doing and providing.
4) What is your opinion on the Weight Watchers Free Program for Teenagers?
It is unfortunate that a company that promotes a restrictive lifestyle and weight loss as the only success is now targeting children. Children really should not define themselves by a number on the scales. They don’t need to be counting calories or points, but instead, they need to be encouraged to listen to their bodies through intuitive eating and moving their bodies for fun and pleasure – not punishment, and definitely not to achieve a meaningless number on the scales.
Although Weight Watchers says “It’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle” – dieting is defined as calorie restriction with the goal of weight loss, and that’s ultimately what Weight Watchers promotes. Scientific evidence proves time and time again that dieting as such is not sustainable. Rather, people, especially teenagers, need to have healthy habits that make them feel healthy overall, and healthy means a different thing to everybody!
5) There is a bit of a movement among dietitians who specialise in HAES and the Non-Diet Approach who believe that dietitians shouldn’t be working in the weight-loss area – based on the idea that 80-95% of people who diet end up regaining the weight anyway. What is your take on this? Do you believe dietitians should work in weight management?
I believe there is a place for HAES in our field of dietetics. We definitely know that dieting is not sustainable long term and this where a weight-neutral approach comes into it. By focusing on overall health – that is physical and mental, people will achieve a healthier lifestyle. On the other hand, there are some individuals whose health is affected by their size. We know obesity is a risk factor for many lifestyle diseases and cancer, however, we should keep in mind this is one risk factor. Many other risk factors come into play. In this spectrum, dietitians help people make better choices, one step at a time, in aim to improve their overall lifestyle. Dietitians work in multiple areas and have different ways of portraying messages, however one thing is for sure, we all have a common goal, and that is ensuring people are healthy. At the end of the day, it is up to the individual which Dietitian they’d like to see for advice – it is crucial that a patient is comfortable with their health care professional.
6) Do you have any nutrition advice that you feel surprises people?
Definitely. I love myth busting the nutrition non-sense that surfaces our feeds. My recent post comparing sweet potato with white potato got a lot of attention in that they are both as good as each other. So instead of focusing on having one type of food, we should focus on having as much variety of food as possible. So, yes, white potatoes are just as nutritious as sweet potato, just like spinach is just as good as kale!
7) What are some of the common strategies you use to help people eat more vegetables?
I think of myself as the salad guru and I have many delicious salad recipes up my sleeve – my clients are usually surprised at how tasty they are. So my clients tend to make them for lunches and as sides to their dinners. One of my favourite is made of rocket, cucumber, grilled eggplant, sundried tomato, 4-bean mix, avocado and a dressing made from extra virgin olive oil, yoghurt and apple cider vinegar. Hits the spot!
8) Is there anything about your nutrition philosophy that has changed over the last two years?
Not necessarily changed, more so enhanced. I’ve always had a passion for ensuring people have a healthy relationship with themselves and food, but in recent years, I have been heartbroken with how disconnected individuals are with eating. I think we should really take a stance as nutrition professionals, and promote the message that food is not just ‘fuel’, or ‘calories’. Seeing food only as just fuel creates a terrible relationship with it. We tend to underestimate the complex reactions that food creates in our bodies, the messages that it delivers, and the social, emotional, physical, and mental changes it can influence. Our strong cultural associations with food come from a time when it was considered precious and the abundance was only seasonal. Now, food is everywhere, and companies are stripping it of its nutrients and making it into junk. That’s terrible abuse of a precious resource. So instead, we should embrace real food – no matter what it is, we cook it with care, and share it with love. That’s a nutrition philosophy more people should appreciate.