Do MY FOOD CHOICES affect anyone else?

The reason I named my facebook page Our Food Karma is because I wanted to highlight the idea that we are all in it together and our own food choices have a massive influence on the food choices of others and I’ll explain why…!

Family influences:

If you have one parent who is obese you have a 50% chance of becoming obese as an adult and if both your parents are obese then your obesity risk goes up to 80%! I argue that the risk is more down to nurture rather than nature! Our diets in adulthood are largely influenced on what food we were given as a child. Although easily mistaken, love is not providing sugary foods to settle children. If you are overweight as a child you are likely going to be overweight as an adult, unless you change your diet dramatically later on in life.

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Parents/caregivers who eat unhealthily will undoubtedly impart at least some of these unhealthy eating behaviours to their children. Also your diet prior to and during pregnancy along with your weight can have long lasting effects on your child’s health even in adulthood!! Women who enter into pregnancy overweight increase their own risk of developing gestational diabetes and increase the likelihood of their child developing type 2 diabetes later in life!

So in order to ensure your kids are healthy and less likely to become overweight, develop type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease as adults it is worth reassessing mealtimes and making nutrition a priority.

Friends:

Whether we realise it or not our food choices affect the food choices of our friends. For example, when you are meeting up with friends and someone suggests a dessert, do you say

  1. “yes, that’s a great idea, I was eyeing up the chocolate éclair” OR
  2. “I’m good, the dinner was enough for me!”

When  you visit friends do you bring cakes and biscuits or do you bring a healthy dip? When you go to the cinema do you convince your friend to get popcorn and chocolate too so you can feel better about treating yourself? Do you bring sweets for your friend’s children or instead buy them a colouring book, bracelet, or DVD? What I’m discussing here is what you do most of time; sometimes you might bring ice-cream to cheer yourself or a friend up, or maybe you have that dessert just because you feel like it, or maybe you do bring sweets over for a friend’s child but as long as your habit (what you do around 80% of the time) has a positive impact overall then you will be doing okay! Our friends are often the most influential people in our life! It pays to be around healthy friends..!!

Housemates:

Every house I’ve lived in (and I’ve lived in a lot), I’ve learnt or picked up some cooking tips from a housemate. You notice what your housemates buy in their grocery shopping and you see and smell the end results. This affects you whether you know it or not! However, when your housemate prefers to order a pizza then this can make you a bit more relaxed and perhaps not as stringent with your home cooking (…but at least there’s no one taking over the cooker!). If we look at things the other way round your housemate may start to become curious about your food and perhaps may start to buy some of those “strange” vegetables you get each week!

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Grocery shopping:

The food industry and supermarkets are to blame for all the cheap and easily available unhealthy food. There is enticement and temptation everywhere, as their sole objective is to make money! However, it is ultimately us who swipes our bank cards and pays for our own food shopping. If we did not continue to purchase all those sugary drinks, biscuits, cakes, pastries, and chocolate then there would no longer be a demand for them and suppliers would stock more healthy food (but only if there is a demand!).

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This is a photo taken by my friend Elize when she was in Amsterdam. Sometimes a photo can describe a thousand words!! Very ironic!

Eating out:

Similar to grocery shopping above, if we make the individual choice to stop buying takeaways and instead eat at healthy restaurants then the demand for these fast food chains will go down! Fast food restaurants located near schools or near residential areas is associated with an increase in obesity! We can also do our bit at restaurants. Portion sizes in restaurants are often a lot bigger than what you would normally eat at home. There is often the dilemma of not wanting to waste food and to get value for your money. Although you may feel awkward asking the following questions, my advice is to not care as most restaurants are a business and are there for profit but if people keep asking then they will gradually change their menus/options! The following questions can be helpful in making sure you follow a healthy diet while eating out:

  • Are there half portions available?
  • Can I have the dressing on the side?
  • What exactly is in the salad? I find salads can be hit and miss. You can get amazing, tasty and filling salads and on the other hand you can get miserable, tasteless and unfilling salads, and then you wish you ordered those chips that someone else has (and you may even treat yourself to a dessert to feel better after this mishap!).
  • Can I have a larger portion of vegetables instead of the baguette/bread/chips? Or a side salad with the soup instead of white bread (which is commonly provided)?
  • Ask to have what you’re not eating put into a takeaway container. This prevents you from continuing to graze and it means you have another meal/snack for later (sustainability!).

Conclusion

We live in a world that is becoming more and more aware of the link between nutrition and health but unfortunately our awareness is not having enough action. Although it may seem like we can only play a small part; if everyone made one small change to their diet every week we would have a healthy and happy population in no time!

If you would like to read more of my nutrition blogs then please like my facebook page Our Food Karma. For more regular updates and interaction please add me on snapchat with username: sharuuu000 and instagram as ourfoodkarma

When does ‘normal eating’ become disordered?

There is a lot of focus on the two extremes of the eating continuum; overeating leading to obesity and undereating to the point of anorexia nervosa, but where dose everyone else fit in? Are we all ‘normal’?

Normal eating is considered to be flexible and balanced. You eat when hungry and stop when full. You can eat healthy (nutrient rich) and unhealthy (nutrient poor) foods. There are some constraints so that you do not over indulge all the time but you are not too overly strict either. If this sounds like you then you have it sorted…..

However, what I’ve noticed is, that when it comes down to it many people suffer from disordered eating or at least crossed into disordered eating at some point in their life. Maybe you were a ‘normal eater’ but you noticed that you gained weight over a year or more. You may have felt uncomfortable in your clothes and your confidence was affected. You then decide to make a conscious effort to lose the weight that has crept on. You start to monitor what you eat and lose some weight. But then you start to feel guilty for eating that burger or ice-cream at the weekend. But it’s ok you will barely eat anything on Monday to make up for it… and so it goes, with a constant focus on weight with regular and severe restrictions.

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Disordered eating is difficult to define but it involves a deviation away from normal eating behaviours but not to the point of an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa.

Signs of disordered eating1

  • Constantly focusing on weight
  • Food intake strictly monitored and/or restricted
  • Not eating when hungry or waiting until a time you set
  • Unable to stop eating when full
  • Eating because you are bored, anxious or lonely

On the other hand you could have an obsession with healthy food to the point that it is no longer healthy “orthorexia nervosa”. You may be so fixated on healthy and pure food that it consumes your life. Your self-esteem becomes linked to whether or not you had a “good food day”. You may create severe food restrictions in order to show discipline and sometimes even superiority over others. It gets to the point that it affects relationships and your own mental and physical health. The prevalence rate of orthorexia nervosa is estimated to be about 7% in the general population and can range from 35-58% for high risk groups such as healthcare professional including dietitians/nutritionists.2

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I would be lying if I said that I’ve just always had a healthy and positive attitude towards food! I was obsessed with my weight from a very young age. I only realised how bad it was when a few years ago I read a diary that I had when I was nine, in which I wrote “I wish I wasn’t so fat”. I was not fat but I had already started to link weight and body size to self-worth and confidence.

This theme continued in my teens but I also had the realisation that food could affect my mood in both a positive and negative way. I started to notice that when I had meals with lots of fresh fruit and veg I felt better in myself, more positive and more energetic but when I ate processed, especially sugary foods I often felt more negative about things and I had lower energy levels overall. I also linked exercise to feeling good and confident, and I later learned that was because of all the endorphins being released!

In my first year of university I moved in with girls who were members of a commercial slimming programme. They followed a strict point system and used the points left over for alcohol. I never joined but I did start to make dinners like theirs, which were often plates of low point vegetables. I certainly upped my intake of vegetables but I was left feeling unsatisfied and often hungry within an hour or two.  I even actively avoided eating avocados because of the calorie density! I often craved snacks and when I didn’t give in to these cravings and went to bed with the start of hunger pains I felt good and knew it wouldn’t be long until weight started to come off. Then there were the days when I ‘wasn’t strong’ and ate and sometimes over ate. I felt guilty and needless to say my self-talk was very negative!

I became less social and had the mentality that I’d be happy when I was a certain weight. I avoided having a 21st as I didn’t want to see my friends until I had reached my weight loss goal and felt better in myself. The university I went to was over 4 hours from home so I usually only went home every 6 to 8 weeks. When I did go home my family and friends would either say to me “you look great and you’ve lost weight” or if I didn’t look that great then nothing would be said. These comments where all said with good intentions but it affected my self-esteem when I hadn’t lost weight and I didn’t look as good as I could have. Each time I headed back to college I made a goal that I’d be “X” weight before I went home again and if I hadn’t reached that goal I’d make up excuses like I had to work or I didn’t have money to do whatever was planned. I was also determined to get a first class honours degree and I was often stressed as I did not know if I was doing enough to achieve my goal. There were also a lot of family issues and food took the edge off this, albeit momentarily.

It was only after I finished my degree and went travelling that things started to change. I went travelling with two friends and we first went to China for a month. We joined a tour group of nine backpackers. We often had our meals organised for us and we ate together all the time. My whole attachment/controlling behaviour with food dwindled.  After that month we went to Australia. I had an amazing time and didn’t give too much thought to food until I arrived in Melbourne after a month travelling down the east coast. I realised at that point that I’d gained weight and by the time I was leaving Australia I was determined to lose this extra weight. I spent three months travelling solo in South East Asia. I started reading books about detoxes and fasts. I started to do a few day fasts and after reading a book on why a seven day fast would be good for me, I decided to do it! The only thing I allowed myself was a slice of lemon and water for seven days…! I don’t know whether I was delirious or not but I felt amazing after it. I’ve never tried it since and would not recommend it because of the potential serious adverse effects but it is just what happened at that stage in my life.

When I came home I became more and more interested in nutrition. I decided to apply for a Masters in Human Nutrition. I loved the course and I also wanted to learn more about holistic nutrition so I did another nutrition course at weekends. I also worked part-time in a health food store and overall I just loved what I was doing. At this stage I was much more of a ‘normal eater’.

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Although I loved the masters in nutrition I realised I was heading towards a research career but I wanted to help people change their diets. I decided to move to England to do a two year post-graduate diploma in dietetics. I lived with other student dietitians and I became more relaxed and viewed food more in terms of nutrient/health value rather than on kilocalorie content. I got back to basics and realised the simple things work. There were no more drastic diets but I still knew that I had to have discipline and strategies in place to prevent myself from gaining weight. I am not someone who can eat what I want and remain the same weight. I love food, and although I eat healthy the majority of time I do have some processed foods occasionally. Some people may disagree but even too much healthy food can lead to weight gain. I’m now quite relaxed with what I eat and the portions sizes because I know my body and I’ve so many good habits ingrained that I don’t need to think about my diet on a daily basis. But if I start to gain weight and I begin to feel uncomfortable then I’ll start monitoring my food intake more closely. When I speak about weight it’s not about the number on the scales; for me it’s about feeling good and comfortable with my body shape and size.

I am not someone who will ever just see food as an energy source, nor would I want to. Our food choices affect our physical and mental health, with these affects being more pronounced in some people more than others. Likewise our mood and emotions can also affect what we chose to eat. The type of food we eat even has positive or negative effects on the strains of bacteria which colonise our gut. These bacteria may then affect our overall health and even our brain and cognitive function (gut-brain axis)! The exact mechanism is still unknown but it may be via regulating immunity or hormonal and neural messages.3

I feel my own experience has helped me to be become an intuitive practitioner. I love weight management and I really empathise with clients. I understand that it is not as simple as just being in energy balance or to only eat a square of chocolate and save the rest for another time. What we eat on a daily basis is intrinsically linked to our emotions and our environment. What works for one person may not work for another.

As a nutrition tutor I try to be real with my students and let them know that it is not always about how much knowledge you can share but it’s about your ability to listen and build rapport with clients that will determine if they and their client are successful!

If you would like to read more of my blogs and nutrition updates please like my facebook page Our Food Karma and you can add me on snapchat: sharuuu0000

References:

  1. Dunford, M. & Doyle, J.A. (2015) Nutrition for sport and exercise. (3rd edition) Stamford, CT: Cengage.
  2. Varga, M., Dukay-Szabo, S., Tury, F., van Furth, E.F. (2013) Evidence and gaps in the literature on orthorexia nervosa. Eating and weight Disorders. Jun;18(2):103-11. doi: 10.1007/s40519-013-0026-y.
  3. Holzer, P., Farz, A. Neuropeptides and the Microbiota-gut-brain-axis. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2014; 817:195-219