Monday, October 28, 2013

The no dieting philosophy

"Oh, you are a dietitian... Cool give me a diet plan please I want to lose my belly fat". This is the number one line I get when I tell anyone that I'm a dietitian. Does this surprise me? Of course not... How would it shock me when I know that Americans spend on average 40 billion dollars per year on dieting. The sad truth is that all this money spent isn't showing positive results and the rates of obesity are only climbing!

What is this telling us? What is this telling you? The reality is obvious, dieting DOESN'T WORK!!
Does this mean that all of us dietitians need to kiss our jobs goodbye and that folks should give up on trying to lose weight and live a healthier life? Of course NOT! Dietitians are always going to be here to educate, coach, and motivate and folks need to take in the information to make healthier food choices while indulging on favorite foods sometimes. But is this enough? Sadly, it is not! The way of eating is as important as the food we choose to eat. In this post, you will learn about how to eat for a healthier weight and a healthier life.

                                                              Photo credit

First of all, let's see how we learned that eating behavior affects greatly our diet. A couple of decades ago, researchers started to observe that french people had healthier weights and lower incidence of heart disease. We started looking at different food components in the french diet that might have been contributing to these positive effects; I'm not going to go into these food components because it's beyond the scope of this blog post. With all the research about the french paradox, researchers, and even book writers, made us aware that it's not only about the "what", but it's also about the "how"of the french diet. French aren't the only ones who follow the french paradox, in fact two other europeans countries, Italy and Switzerland, have similar eating habits as the French. So, this brings us to the point of this post.... What is the secret in the "how" of the diet of these nations?

There are 2 components to the "how" of eating:
1. The environment in which we eat
2. Ourselves which include mind and intuition

Let's start with the eating environment; How many times were you caught up eating a sandwich on the go, having a lunch while trying to finish a last minute project, or simply having dinner while watching t.v.?
These things happen often, don't they? How would you compare these meals with a nice dinner with a friend or a dinner date at a fancy restaurant? The latter meals are more valuable and memorable aren't they? You would call the "nice dinners", beautiful eating experience wouldn't you? Is this the same for the former meals? I highly doubt it.
Other than the setting, we can make some "environmental changes" to lose weight; for example:
- Smaller plates (8 to 10 inches) = smaller portions (you don't even realize it)
- Higher contrast  (Pasta on dark dish) = smaller portions
- Tall glasses = smaller liquid volume

                                                              photo credit

Now, let's talk about the self which include mindfulness and intuition; Some people think that you only use your mouth to eat, I say you should use all your fives senses + your brain, here is how:
1. Your brain: Think about what you are going to eat. That is where your nutrition education, your likes, and dislikes come into play. Ask yourself the following questions:
 - Is it good for my body? If it isn't, do I eat eat all the time or on occasions and in moderation?
 - Is it something I WANT to eat? Do I feel like having something spicy, or sweet?
2. Your sight: It is important to appreciate the way our food looks. Quite often, we eat food out of a box without even knowing how it looks like. I'm going to quote here the old saying: "The eye eats before the mouth".
3. Your sense of smell: Train yourself to recognize your food just from meters away through its scent. Some studies have shown that you tend to take smaller bites when you perceive the aroma of your food. Smaller bites result in extra chewing and a higher probability of perceiving satiety. Therefore you stop eating when you feel satisfied resulting in lower overall food intake.
4. Your sense of touch and feeling: If it's hand/finger food, sense its texture. Once in your mouth, chew properly to perceive the texture in your mouth... Is it crispy, creamy, liquid?
5. The sense of taste: Now we get to the obvious, taste your food... Is it sweet, sour, spicy?


                                                                   Photo credit

Finally, throughout your eating experience pay attention to what your body is telling you. Your brain receives satiety signals from your digestive system, On average it takes 20 minutes for these signals to be perceived. Therefore, you need to eat slowly and pay close attention to what your body is trying to tell you.

I hope these strategies will help you be as healthy as our European friends :)
As always, I would like to hear from you :)


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The first lady in the biggest loser

In case some of you didn't hear about the re-appearance of first lady Michelle Obama in the biggest loser, this blog will shed the lights on this news. Yes, I did say re-appearance because the first lady did appear in that show back in April 2013 as part of her "Let's move" campaign.
Now before starting to talk about my opinion regarding Mrs.Obama appearing on the biggest loser, I would like to give my opinion about the show itself, and about the first lady's health and wellness initiatives.

I watched the first season of the biggest loser when I was 14 years old, this was my first intorduction to weight management and obesity. At that time, I had very little knowledge about nutrition, health and wellness. I viewed the contestants highly and I thought that they were inspirational to anyone who wanted to lose weight and live a healthier life. I knew that their caloric intake was very restricted and that they over-exercised, but I thought that that was the way to go in order to lose weight (eliminate junk and workout till you drop). The show also made me think of the "before" of each contestant as lazy, lousy, unmotivated, and unbehaved; therefore the before was not a "socially accepted" figure. The "after", on the other hand, was idealitic, successful, inspirational, and super motivatational; everyone was supposed to follow these "after" figures. So my naive, not fully developed, young brain thought, at the time that:
- If you are overweight or obese, it is ON YOU because you are just lazy.
- You are superior in terms of self-control and health when you are at a healthy weight.
- You need to cut out all the junk and engage in long and vigorous physical activity in order to lose weight healthfully.

 At the time, I had as much nutrition education as the average North American. I didn't know what research has shown when it comes to over-exercising/under-eating. But now, I am an RD and I am fully aware of the consequences of promoting such behavior, here are just a few:
-A drop in metabolic rate, which leads to weight gain in the long term.
-Weight rebound which is caused by both drop in metabolic rate as well as unsustainability of the extreme weight loss techniques used in the show.
-Symptoms of eating disorders experienced by some contestants.
-Stigmatization and descrimination of overweight/obese individuals
And to add a cherry on the sundae, research has shown that this kind of shows does not motivate viewers to change their behavior towards a healthier lifestyle.

Now, that I have shared my view of the show, I will talk about Mrs.Obama's intiatives. I honestly am happy with all the amazing things that the first lady has been doing to promote a healthier lifestyle in the United States. She has been implemting fantastic campaigns such as "My Plate" which provides americans with a visual respresentation as to what their meals should look like and the "let's move" campaign which encourages a more active lifestyle. She also has worked on many handy tools and recipes to promote health and nutrition. Therefore, I do not intend to disregard or forget all the efforts that she has been putting to help the nation towards a healthier lifestyle.

What really bothers me is that Mrs.Obama's messages have always portrayed in a positive way, we see colours, smiley faces and lots of love; this gives us a positive attitude towards healthy eating and physical activity. The biggest loser does the total opposite; people are suffering, some are vomiting from over-exercising, and negative messages are sent to the public through the show.

By appearing in the biggest loser, the first lady would be using a negative motivational approach to health which was shown to result in a lower adherance to nutritional and health recommendations when compared to positive motivational strategies. So is the nation going to consume more water if Mrs.Obama promotes water consumption on the biggest loser? Are there going to be any negative consequences of this apperance? My answer is no to the former and yes to the latter... what do you think?

Monday, October 21, 2013


How many times have you heard one of these statements: "I found this new all natural juice, I drink so much of it! So healthy :)", "I bought a new juicer and it is FAN-TAS-TIC, I am going to drink up most of my calories and cleanse my body"?
Let's get to the bottom of this... It is absolutely okay to drink fresh juice if you enjoy it. However, if you are doing this solely for health reasons, I'm sorry to break this down to you, but I would actually recommend that you eat your calories instead of drinking them.
Here are three reasons why solid food wins in the solid vs. liquid battle:

1. There is no such thing as a cleansing diet. Our body is a powerful machine that actually gets rid of toxins by itself, drinking up our calories doesn't help in removing toxins whatsoever. Additionally, liquid diets are usually very low in calories which, when combined with a deprivation of certain nutrients such as B vitamins, fiber, iron, and zinc causes our metabolism to slow down and results in nutrients deficiencies. In the long run, our metabolic rate decreases leading to weight gain, and we could also show physical and/or functional signs and symptoms from nutrient deficiencies.

2. Some studies have shown that liquid calories do not act the same way as solid calories when it comes to satiety. These studies suggest that it takes longer for satiety signals to be perceived by our brain when we consume our calories in a liquid form. This indicates that we might actually consume more calories than we think when we drink up our food. On the long term, this may lead to weight gain.

3. If you are given the choice between a bowl of berries and an orange or these same fruits blended with some water in a mixer and you want to make your choice solely based on health concerns, which option would you choose? Our juicing fanatics may want to choose the latter option. Well, let me tell you that it is actually better for health to consume the fresh fruits because they preserve the fiber which has many health benefits such as regulating blood sugar, improving satiety, and maintaining a healthy bowel function.

So these are my ideas about juicing, I intend by no means to create fear of consuming liquid calories; In fact, I think it is healthy to add some life and variety to our diet by consuming a little bit of everything. My intention in this post was really to shed the light on the myth which suggests that drinking up all (or most of) your calories is better for you. And again, I love moderation, balance, and lots of variety in my diet! I bet you do too :)


Sunday, October 20, 2013

Behaviour change

I am really excited to have my first blog post focused on behaviour change. As mentioned in the "about me" section, I am really interested in the psychology that leads us to make our food choices and lifestyle decisions. Therefore, it is important to me to draw your focus on this specific aspect before starting to talk about food. 
According to me, behavior and attitude form very solid foundations to our daily choices, which include food and eating behaviour. And yes I did say choices, because we ARE in control of the what and how of our nutrition; in fact, we make 200 food-related decisions EVERY SINGLE DAY!!! So how can we make sure that these decisions are not only the "right" decisions for our body, but also how can we try to maintain a long-term commitment to approach food in a healthy way? This post will tackle these questions in a scholarly and interesting manner. 
I viewed an amazing webinar provided by the Dietitians of Canada (DC) which was presented by Michael Vallis, a registered health psychologist, who is also recognized as a leader in the field of motivational interviewing. Below are some of the key points he mentioned are crucial for success in behavioral change:
1. Try to find positive motivators in order to sustain behavioral change
    Example of positive motivator: I will have a higher self-confidence.
    Example of negative motivator: I will not get a heart attack.
2. Be patient and diligent because it takes 2 to 4 years for a new behavior to become a habit. 
3. YOU are in charge of your health; your health care provider is a facilitator but YOU should be the active 
    member in your behavior change.
4. Remember, change IS difficult so it is 100% okay to trip and fall but the real success is to stand up back  
    on your feet.
5. Healthy behavior is socially and statistically abnormal therefore it does take MANY trials to master.
    And this is totally okay!
6. Your goals should be:
    - SMART: Specific Measurable Achievable Realistic Timely 
    - Big enough that they are challenging but small enough that they are doable
I hope you benefit from this information. I encourage you to submit any comments you have below :)