A closer look at ‘healthy’…

I have been asked and asked if I am going to start blogging regularly again – and the answer is YES! Finally I have time between clinic hours, home life, speaking engagements and a 12 week old puppy… and I am going to get back to the blog!

Todays blog is all about being healthy. Its winter, its cold, and its dark. There is nothing better than, at the end of the day, curling up by the fire with a bowl of pasta and a glass of red, or a big bowl of soup and hot crusty bread, OR a hot chocolate and marshmallows! But, that is not healthy… is it?

There is a fine line around living a healthy life and feeling in control… and your healthy life controlling you!

I am lucky and I get to meet a lot of interesting people every day; clients, friends, colleagues and journalists. There are so many people who love to tell me that they are living by certain food ‘rules’; only eating at certain times, excluding certain food groups (without medical reason), only eating certain combinations of foods, and following certain eating plans.

I understand that the intention is there to be ‘healthy’, but the irony is; your ‘healthy life’ may just be making you UNHEALTHY! If you are constantly worried about food – researching, discussing, trying different plans, and stressing over every meal / snack – then there is a problem.

As a dietitian, the pattern I see most often is that when a person learns to relax the ‘rules’, eat with variety, listen to their body and their needs, introduce more wholegrains and cut down on large amounts of fats, cut down on intense exercise daily, understand how food works in the body, and TRUST their bodies; only then do they see improvements. Reports are generally improvements in energy, moods, gastrointestinal symptoms, weight loss and overall, a better feeling of balance and well being.

It is not surprising to me when clients start to see lifestyle ‘results’, but it is to them – and I love it every time! You see, eating in a balanced fashion, and understanding your body and your needs, gives you tools for life. Over time the domino effects of overall health include improved confidence, a sense of self compassion, and a feeling of contentment… I can even verify this from personal experience!

So, start by deciding to tune into your body this winter – rest when you need to rest, eat when you are hungry, get to know yourself… really know yourself, and allow yourself to be that wonderful human being that you are; perfectly YOU!

Love,

Kathryn xx - Black

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Learn to listen to your body

Hunger v’s Non-Hunger

Unless I am seeing someone for a specific medical condition, I generally don’t tell them what to eat.

What I DO do is teach people about nutrients and food – quality, portion sizes and cooking techniques. I also teach people about eating and getting back in touch with their bodies, and one of my observations has been that the ‘food’ side of things is often easier to grasp than the ‘getting in touch with your body’ side of things!

Hunger is often the first thing we talk about and yet can be one of the biggest ‘ah-ha’ moments for clients. The first thing to always think about is that hunger is a normal body cue and it feels different for different people (and some people manage better with different levels of hunger!). Fullness is also a normal body cue. It indicates to us when we have had enough to eat, when our body perceives that it has received enough energy.

Some people are even afraid of feeling hungry. Some popular diets even market to this, promising that ‘you will never be hungry’, which is not really of advantage to you. You are supposed to feel hungry and supposed to feel full!

There is no need to be afraid of hunger, it is normal, and even a good sign that your body is working well. Best of all, hunger is easily fixed!

Often diets will advertise themselves as having the ability to make you ‘never feel hungry’

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So what does hunger feel like?

As I mentioned, different people, feel hunger differently. Some of the ways hunger can be felt can be described as:

  • Hunger ‘pangs’
  • Hollow or empty feeling
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Weakness
  • Tiredness
  • Nausea
  • ‘Queasy’ feeling
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Crankiness
  • Irritability
  • Headache
  • Dizziness

Here is an exercise you can do right now sitting at your desk:

Close you eyes and bring awareness internally.

Start at your mouth and work your way down to your stomach.

Are you aware of any signals that your body is giving you that you are full, or hungry?

Does any part of your body feel tense? Or hollow?

Is your stomach moving or is it still?

Can you associate any other feelings with how your stomach is? Are you happy? Anxious? Nervous? Tired?

You may notice other emotions that are unique to you. Acknowledge these. Maybe write them down, but don’t focus on them…

There are a couple of reasons why we are getting you to understand and value your body cues and that is because, it is likely (if you are a human – very likely!) that you have, in the past, used food for reasons other than hunger.

Chances are you have used food for one or more of the following:

  • Comfort
  • Reward
  • Distraction
  • Boredom
  • To stay awake
  • In celebration
  • To clear your plate
  • So you don’t offend anyone.

Whist some of these are quite acceptable reasons to eat when not strictly hungry, they are the reasons that don’t happen every day – celebrations are occasional, usually once a month at best; Not offending the person giving you the meal or snack is also minimal. The big issues are around when you find you are CONSTANTLY eating for emotional reasons, as a distraction, or as entertainment.

Eating when we are not hungry is called ‘non hungry eating’. Non hungry eating also includes overeating, grazing, nibbling and bingeing. Most people do a significant amount of non hungry eating and it does appear to be one of the biggest factors in causing weight gain, and difficulty loosing weight.

 
So how do we decrease our non-hungry eating? 
Well, there are two ways.

1. The first way is to recognise it! Check in with yourself before you eat something and see if you are really hungry or not. Using your hunger-fullness scale is a great tool for this. Being more aware of our physical hunger and fullness also helps us to become more conscious of the reasons we might be eating when we are not physically hungry.

2. The second way to decrease non hungry eating is to be more aware of weather we are enjoying all of the food we are eating. This may sound strange to some of you, but it is very common habit a lot of people have where they are not really paying attention to this aspect of eating. For example, we might start off enjoying something – that first bite or two taste fabulous, but then we loose the pleasure and we just keep eating to finish it off. Another thing that can happen is that we start off with a food we really enjoy, and then we get distracted, by the TV usually, and before we know it, our plate is empty and we barely tasted the food!

Always remember – YOU are the expert on your own life, no one else. A dietitian can help guide you; give you up to date, evidence based advise; help manage medical conditions nutritionally in conjunction with your GP; teach you to manage your own nutrition and that of your familys, but we are NOT experts on YOU!
 
with love,
 
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Is it OK to fake it?

Over the past 30 or so years, there has been a number of debates as to the safety of consuming artificial sweeteners such as aspartame (Equal and Nutrasweet), sucralose (Splenda) and saccharine (Sugarine).

Many people have concerns about the potential (albeit largely unproven) adverse effects of artificial sweeteners, and I have to admit… I am one of them!

Now, don’t get me wrong. I know that before artificial sweeteners can be sold in our supermarkets, the Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) test them to make sure they are safe to eat. My concerns, however, are not so much grounded whether the sweeteners are ‘safe’ but rather, from a perspective of health and wellness. Are they the best thing for your body?

I am often asked for my opinion on artificial sweeteners, and so I thought I would share with everyone. Here are my thoughts:

Sugar is a type of carbohydrate, used by our body as energy for working muscles, providing fuel for the central nervous system, enabling fat metabolism, and preventing protein from being used as energy. Sugar is a nessasary part of a healthy diet. However, there is NO NEED to get our sugar from processed foods and adding table sugar to our cereal, tea, coffee or milk. There is plenty of naturally occurring sugar in whole foods like fruit (fructose) and dairy (lactose). Foods containing natural sugars are usually rich in nutrients including vitamins and minerals and in many cases, dietary fibre.

So, what if you want to sweeten your porridge? Or add something sweet to your baking?

First, let me say that for a special occasion, like birthday cakes, Christmas cakes etc, I will absolutely follow a recipe and use sugar in my baking (you don’t want to mess with a Donna Hay flourless chocolate cake, believe me!). There is something wonderful and special about picking out a cake recipe for someone you love and making their birthday cake (I did this yesterday for my husband, and yes, I used a cup of brown sugar, as per the recipe). But, remember, this is only a few times a year… for everyday baking – muffins, loaves, bread etc, I like to use one of the natural alternatives.

My Favorite natural sweeteners:

1. Honey

Raw honey is a natural sweetener that is easily available. It is my ‘go to’ when I need to sweeten something as it has some really lovely quality’s and fabulous taste. Honey has a low glycemic index, making it ideal for those who want to control their weight and blood sugar.

High-quality honey contains natural antioxidants, enzymes, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals.

Unfortunately, most of the honey eaten today has been heavily processed, and many of the healthful benefits have been reduced or eliminated, so it is important to try and find a good quality natural honey. There are some great options at farmers markets usually and you can often buy in bulk.

2. Dates

I have always loved dates! Not only are they chewy and tastey, they are very rich in fibre. Dates also provide potassium, calcium, manganese, copper and magnesium.

Calcium is an important mineral that is an essential constituent of bone and teeth, and required by the body for muscle contraction, blood clotting, and nerve impulse conduction. Manganese is used by the body as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase. Copper is required for the production of red blood cells. Magnesium is essential for bone growth.

3. Maple Syrup

Most people think about using maple syrup only when they are baking bread or on pancakes; however, it can be used as a substitute for sugar in other. It can be used for making biscuits, cakes and I have used it when poaching fruit for dessert. Maple syrup has a distinct flavor that really lends itself to dessert type foods.

The important thing to make sure is that you are buying ‘pure maple syrup’ and not ‘maple flavoured syrup’, and, like honey, good quality is the way to go!

But, what about Stevia?

Many people choose stevia over natural sweeteners like fruit and honey, but this is not my choice. Nature is very clever, and fruit and raw honey, in particular, are excellently balanced sources of glucose and fructose, which provides the liver with building blocks to create glycogen (glucose stores). Stevia, however, does not support glycogen formation.

Why is glycogen important? The body cannot convert inactive thyroid hormone T4 into active thyroid hormone T3 without adequate glycogen. This can result in a slowed metabolism and lead to hypothyroidism, and lack of energy. Without adequate dietary sugars, the body cannot create and store glycogen.

Additionally, when blood sugar is low, glycogen is broken down and released as glucose in the bloodstream. When the diet lacks sufficient glucose, there will be inadequate glycogen stored. If sugar is not immediately ingested to raise blood sugar levels, the body releases extra adrenaline and cortisol to convert muscle protein and fat into glucose. If this pattern is repeated, the frequent release of these stress hormones takes its toll on the body… and one of the symptoms of excess cortisol is abdominal weight gain.

So what is my opinion? Try to use natural, low GI foods like good quality honey or dates to sweeten baking, add fruit like banana, grated apple or grated pear to cereal or porridge to sweeten your breakfast meal and enjoy the extra benefit of added fibre. Oh and for special occasion baking, follow the recipe and just use sugar!

Believe me – the less sugar (or artificial sugar) you have in your diet, the less you will want, and your food will taste fresh and wholesome when you use real ingredients!

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What’s the big deal about Fibre?

I’m sure you have heard from your doctor, your mother, or read it in a magazine – ‘make sure you get enough fibre!’

But… fibre is only for old people, right?

WRONG!

Fibre is one of the most underrated nutrients in the diet. As a society we seem to be always talking about the protein and fat in our diets, but poor old humble fibre often gets over looked, when it might just be the key to good health and weight control!

Fibre is largely classified as carbohydrate. Put simply, there are three types of carbohydrates – simple carbohydrates, complex carbohydrates and fibre. The reason dietary fibre is not like other carbohydrates, is because the bonds that hold its sugar units together cannot be broken by human digestive enzymes and therefore, fibre cannot be digested.

Even though it may not be able to be digested, fibre can regulate the speed of digestion, modulate metabolism, help lower cholesterol levels, slow the release of sugars into the blood and feed the healthy gut bacteria. The bacteria living naturally in your intestines convert very small amounts of dietary fibre to fatty acids, however not an amount significant to consider fibre a source of energy.

One of fibres biggest attributes, and the reason it really is a friend of anyone frying to manage their weight, is its ability to make you feel fuller for longer… making it one key nutrient to include enough of everyday!

The fact is that most Australians do not consume enough fibre. The Heart Foundation recommends that adults should aim to consume approximately 25–30 g daily and on average, most Australians consume 18–25 g of fibre daily. Part of the reason for this is that over time, we have lost the concept of whole foods. We eat concentrated or reconstituted foods and miss some of the important dietary components when we remove the whole food from the nutrients contained within it. An example of this is the juicing craze… juicing a fruit will not help you digest the nutrients an better, will not ‘cleanse’ you and will certainly not increase your metabolism, in actual fact, by juicing fruit, you miss out on all the roughage… the fibre!

Types of fibre:

There are two types of fibre found in foods

Soluble fibre hides the flesh of fruit and the grain of rice inside the hull, and it’s what gives cooked veggies their soft, mushy quality. In your stomach, soluble fiber binds with liquids to form a gummy gel that makes you feel full as it slows digestion, letting your body absorb more nutrients from the rest of your food.

Insoluble fibre bulks up as it absorbs liquid in the stomach and the bulk pushes waste down and out of your system. Insoluble fibre is usually found in the skins and outer parts of foods, and it’s what gives many their tough, chewy texture. Insoluble fibre works to speed up the passage of material through your digestive tract and sweep out toxins on its way.

Most foods have a combination of soluble and insoluble fibre and anything with 3 grams of fibre is considered a good source of fibre, and an excellent source is anything with 5 grams or more. The best fibre rich foods are generally:

  • Wholegrain breads such as mixed grain, rye, sour dough.
  • Wholemeal cereals like oats, bulgur wheat, pearl barley and brown rice.
  • Fruit and vegetables.
  • Legumes and pulses such as kidney beans, lentils and chickpeas.
  • Nuts (1/4 of a cup of nuts has 4 grams of fibre)
  • Chia seeds.

Now… Just to confuse matters, it is also important that we point out that if you eat too much fibre, it could potentially reduce the ability to absorb key nutrients including calcium, iron and zinc.

So, to help control your weight, help lower your cholesterol, reduce your risk of bowel cancer and keep yourself regular, you should aim to include a high fibre breakfast cereal, 2 slices of wholegrain bread, two pieces of fruit and a couple of cups of vegetables everyday. Easy!

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My top tips on how to avoid processed food.

1. Read the ingredients label before buying anything. Many people pick up packaged foods and look at food labels, I was reviewing items such as fat grams, calorie count and sugar content. While this may be important to some (particularly if you are diabetic), the best indicator of how highly processed a food is can actually be found in the list of ingredients.
If what you are buying contains more than 5 ingredients and includes a lot of unfamiliar, unpronounceable names, or numbers, then you may want to reconsider before buying.

2. Increase your consumption of vegetables and fruits. I am sure you’ve heard similar advice a thousand times, and I hate to tell you that it couldn’t be more true. This will help to displace the processed foods in your diet, and will actually make your food selections in general very simple. No more counting calories, fat grams, or carbs when your only concern is selecting whole foods that are more a product of nature than a product of industry.

3. Invest in a bread maker, or buy your bread from a local bakery. If there is one food I would recommend you keep yourself and your family away from it is commercial, mass produced, white bread. If you make your bread, or buy from the baker, you will find there are fewer ingredients and certainty less preservatives. Our local bakery uses the following for its whole meal loaf – whole wheat flour, water, yeast, oil and salt. If you have a bread maker, the advantage is that you can control the type of flour, the amount of salt, and you can also get inventive – add cheese and chives, or dried fruit, or olives!

4. In addition to your bread choice, when selecting foods like pastas, cereals, rice, and crackers always go for the whole-grain option. Make sure you read the ingredients to make sure the product is truly made with only 100% whole grains – not a combination of whole grains and refined grains which is unfortunately how a lot of “whole grain” products are made.

5. Cook at home! Bake, pan fry, bbq and sauté… just make sure you are using real, whole food and you can control what is going in the food. I bake all my own cakes, biscuits, bread and cereal. It takes a bit of extra time on a Sunday, or late one night during the week, but if health is your priority, it can be done. By baking at home, you limit the salt, flavours, MSG and other preservatives found in processed foods.

6. Visit your local farmers’ market the next time you need to restock your fridge. You will find a wonderful selection of fruit and vegetables in season and local meats. Last time I went to a local market, I bought the most divine fresh olives! It is not only better for our health and our community, but also better for our environment to purchase locally grown products as opposed to the supermarket produce.

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Eating ‘Clean’… Kathryn style!

I often have clients and friends ask me about the phenomenon known as clean eating. ‘So… do you eat clean?’, they all want to know.
The answer is – I’m not sure! I am not really certain where the term clean eating came from. I did some of my own social ‘research’, I have realized that, clean eating definitions differ from one ‘health expert’ to another.

What appears to be a common theme however, is the lack of processed foods these diets prescribe to… which makes me think that clean eating is most simply following a whole foods way of eating.
Personally I generally subscribe to a whole foods way of eating, as I know that the more food is in its natural form, the better it is for our bodies. No one can dispute that!
Eating Whole foods is not about restricting what you eat, or applying ‘rules’ to your food. It is also not about eating low fat or low carb. What it IS about, is eating mindfully, eating intuitively and choosing to eat REAL foods.

How to recognise whole foods and include them every day:

• Whole foods that are more a product of nature, and less a product of industry.
• Fresh fruits and vegetables are whole foods
• Dairy products including unsweetened yogurt, milk (skim, low fat and whole milk) eggs, and cheese. In contrary to some beliefs, in Australia, full cream milk is not less processed than low fat or skim milk
• When choosing grain based foods, look for whole-wheat or whole-grains. You can usually see the grains, and the more the better!
• Seafood – fresh, local and caught using sustainable practices is preferable. Try to shop locally for seafood if you can rather than in big chain stores where it is often imported and frozen.
• Locally raised meats such as pork, beef, and chicken (and in moderation! 120 grams of red meat is sufficient in a main meal)
• Beverages limited to water, milk, freshly squeezed an unsweetened juices (in moderation), unsweetened coffee & tea, and, to help the adults keep their sanity, wine and beer!
• Snacks like dried fruit, seeds, nuts.
• All natural sweeteners including honey and fruit juice concentrates are acceptable in moderation, and appropriate to cook with.

What is NOT considered a whole food, and what to avoid:

• Refined grains such as white flour or white rice (items containing wheat must say WHOLE wheat)
• Any foods with artificial colours, flavors, or preservatives added.
• Refined sweeteners such as sugar, any form of corn syrup, cane juice and all the artificial sugars.
• Shakes, powders, diet bars or drinks… no matter how many promises they make!
• A general rule could be: Eat nothing out of a box, can, bag, bottle or package that has more than 5 ingredients listed on the label.
• Deep fried foods or takeaway foods.

SO, as you can see, it is not about eating ‘clean’ (or dirty?) for me, its about avoiding the high salt, sugar, saturated fat, preservatives and colours that are associated with packaged foods.
Now, I am a realist, and I know that there are times when it is appropriate to have processed foods (birthday cakes are an obvious one, and we have a had quite a few of them lately!). I enjoy chocolate every now and then, or even a prepackaged biscuit with my yea. I also know that if you get yourself organized, and prioritise your own health and that of your family, you will quickly find that it is not that hard to enjoy a whole foods way of life. Your body will thank you, I promise!

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I am a ‘wholefoods dietitian’, but what does that mean?

Whole foods with Kathryn Hawkins, Sydney Australia

Whole foods are foods that are unprocessed and unrefined, or processed and refined as little as possible, before being consumed. Whole foods typically do not contain added salt, sugar, fat or preservatives. So, I am a dietitian that believes in eating real, unprocessed food majority of the time!
You wont see me telling my clients to open packets or use shake mixes to improve their health… I have a ‘food first’ mantra.

The term ‘wholefood’, is often confused with organic food, but whole foods are not necessarily organic, nor are organic foods necessarily whole (more on that later!). Examples of whole foods include unrefined grains, beans, fruits, vegetables, raw nuts, seeds, lean cuts of meat and fish, eggs, cheese, honey and milk.

A focus on whole foods offers three main benefits over a reliance on dietary supplements: they provide greater nutrition for being a source of more complex micronutrients, they provide essential dietary fibre and they provide naturally occurring protective substances, such as phytochemicals.

Stay tuned to this blog early next week as we look at ‘How to avoid processed food’.

Stay warm and stay well,

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The Power of CONSISTENCY

I want to introduce you to is my favorite demeanor – it is that of ‘consistency’. It is a very simple, yet quite powerful, way to be.

Consider this: It is the consistent actions of a person that ultimately determines their success.

Think of some one you know, who, in your eyes, is successful. Now think about why… I bet it is because they have been consistent. This is true in all areas of life – study, sport, work, parenting, marriage, friendship, health… you name it. A consistant approach will always lead to a better out come… Lets look at why.

A colleague said to me early Monday morning “did you have a nice break?” and I replied, “yes thank you, I did, but I am pleased now to be back at work and in some sort of routine again”. They looked at me as if I had two heads, but I meant it! Having routine and regularity in our lives has several psychological and physical benefits in that it allows us to get into a rhythm that we work best in, gives us something to look forward to, is easier on the body, and eases anxiety. Routine helps us become consistent.
This is not to say that if you work shift work or travel a lot you cannot practice consistency or keep routine, it may just take more effort and awareness. Routine can be built around practices at meal times, at bed time or on rising, irrelevant of the time of day this may be, and being consistent in who you are and what you do.

Here are some examples of being a consistent person:
▪ If you are consistent with your intake of wholesome food and 30 minutes of exercise per day, then you will continue to remain relatively healthy.

▪ If you are consistent in your words to those most important to you, they won’t have to guess how you are feeling and how you will react, and greater trust will be established.

▪ If you are consistent with your approach and performance at work, you are more likely to be more organized, have greater success and less stress.

Greater consistency in even one small area of your life can have a positive impact on so many others. If you figure out how to be consistently YOU, then you can be anything you want. I completely believe this.

How does consistency work?

1. It creates momentum
When you take consistent action every single day, your brain absorbs a wealth of information and ideas that can help you keep going. Taking consistent action creates momentum and builds on itself and we began to feel the improvements little by little, ultimately building confidence, and success.
Consistent action and focus on a particular goal on a daily basis will yield the inevitable attainment of it. Once it becomes a habit, continued consistency will ensure you sustain it.

2. It induces failure in order to provide valuable feedback.

Perhaps one of the reasons why people don’t work everyday toward their goals is because they know failure will rear its ugly head at some stage. Don’t be afraid of that… Embrace it! Failure provides us with valuable feedback.
Consider how we learn from infancy. If an infant is learning to pick up a toy, he or she may try one way and fail, but immediately try a different approach. They may try dozens of times before they successfully grasp it. The infant does not try once and then give up and become miserable! The infant is learning from the feedback that failure taught them. Once learned, it becomes habitual and no longer requires conscious thought. Further to this, once the task is able to be performed consistently, it can be improved on over time.

Aristotle said,

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.

So, if we practice being consistent in the way we live… it will become a habit.

So, you have started by visiting my website and my diary, and it really can be a time of change and a time of growth for you. With a consistent approach and a commitment to improving your health, you really can work to build confidence, self compassion, and reach your goals – physically, psychologically and spiritually.

Be kind to yourself, mindfully practice being consistent, and I look forward to you visiting again soon,

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