I was interviewed today by my local BBC radio station about claims in the new book by Great British Bake Off finalist Ruby Tandoh, Eat Up: Food, Appetite and Eating What You Want, that the diet industry is broken, and what did I think about it.
The marketing promises a ‘radical manifesto takes the guilt out of eating and puts the pleasure back in’. Hurrah! Seriously looking forward to reading it. What the question brings up for me is ‘what should we be eating for health and happiness?’
As a nutritional therapist and health coach, I can answer that easily for you right now. Eat in a way that balances your blood sugar 80% of the time, focussing on whole foods like fish, meat, lentils and pulses, lots of veg and salad, a little fruit, and smaller amounts of rice, potatoes and pasta. BUT (and it is a big but) for any healthy lifestyle plan to work in the long term, it has to be sustainable, and that means not only easy to follow but enjoyable. And the truth is, cutting out entire food groups and never having the scope for a glass of wine or a piece of birthday cake is a recipe for disaster. Can you even imagine?
The sad truth is that we have fallen out of love with real food, and we no longer trust ourselves to know what to eat any more. How the hell did that happen?
[Never ask a question you don’t know the answer to…] Gather round and make yourself comfortable because I’m going to tell you exactly how it all went so wrong. Seriously, you’re not going to believe this…
It all started, dear reader, when an American scientist called Ancel Keys had in mind to test a hypothesis that eating fat gave you heart disease. He looked at data from 22 countries, ditched three quarters of the countries’ data because it didn't fit with his theory and – ta, da! – that’s how that old chestnut came into being.
Then, by unfortunate coincidence, a study on rabbits was published that showed when rabbits were fed cholesterol, it furred up their arteries and they died. Like, durr! Of course it did. They were rabbits and they only ever ate plants. Who thought that would be a good idea. I am being flippant, but you couldn’t make this stuff up.
And that is how we got to fear fat. Fat as in giving us heart disease and also making us fat (not helped by, in English, the word for the fat you eat and the unwanted body inches being the same). That Keys guy, by the way, quite some time ago announced that, whoops, the data didn't stack up, but the damage was done.
Governments from around the world had starting making their fat-hating policies, leading to big food manufacturers coming in to ‘save’ us with their fat free, ‘healthier’ versions of the food that we had likely been eating without undue problems for decades. And once the money is involved, good luck with getting any Government policy changed. Incidentally, many of those ‘healthy’ products until recently contained trans fats, and we know these are really bad news for health.
But there is something else going on, too. We are so time-poor that rewarding ourselves with treat foods like cake and biscuits is the easiest way to show ourselves we care. My experience in running the Food Fabulous nutrition clinic in Chelmsford is that so little of why we eat what we eat has to do with nourishing our body (regardless of whether we believe anti-fat propaganda or not).
The far greater part is to do with how we feel about ourselves and about life in general. Eating half a packet of chocolate biscuits is much easier than figuring out – not to mention getting – what we really need, which might be a way to de-stress, feel loved, get attention, kick back our heels, and even sleep. We are almost completely out of touch with our own bodies.
When I’m working with clients, we focus a great deal of lifestyle and mindset because it is a critical factor in deciding whether we make healthy food choices or not. Simple fact: if you feel stressed or miserable, the chocolate biscuits are always going to win – unless you have a plan in place for dealing with the highs and lows of modern life.
Pepper this with a heavy dose of guilt – because many people know what they should be eating (and don’t get me started on ‘should’) – and it’s easy to end up making food decisions based a crazily-long list of rationale. Choose the damn chocolate cake and move on! Then stop the conversation you’re having in your head about it. Eating a slice of cake is not the end of the world. Do not get all ‘what the heck, I might as well eat the whole thing’.
My passion is to spread the word that eating real food to nourish the body and soul is both desirable and achievable. And you can have cake. Really you can. Just not as often as you might be doing now. Find other ways to feel what you need to feel. Figure out what you need to hear, then tell yourself that and get on with the day. Consider ways to polish your self care. I guarantee you are not doing anywhere near enough. Just as relationship gurus advocate not looking to another person for happiness, the chocolate biscuits won’t make you happy either and you know that. Enjoy the theatre and magic of cooking, and eating foods you love and that love you back. Then read a book, go on a long walk via a country pub, swim, dance, sing… Whatever floats your boat.
To listen to the radio interview, go here...