How To Spot A Dodgy Diet Before It Spots You

At some point we’ve all fallen victim to a dodgy diet that promised to shave kilos, increase energy, cure cancer (shame on you, Belle Gibson) and miraculously transform our lives and our bodies. Not so surprisingly the majority of these diets are found online, particularly via social media, with the person/people selling them claiming to be some sort of health guru.

RELATED: Are We Surprised That Soft Drinks Cause Death

What is surprising – and what I found to be most shocking – is that you don’t necessarily need to be qualified in order to give (and sell) nutritional advice or plans. In fact, according to one of Australia’s leading dietician/nutritionists Susie Burrell, completing an online course of only a few weeks is enough merit to warrant calling yourself a ‘health advisor’ or ‘expert’. A few weeks! That’s like calling yourself a practising doctor after one semester at uni – where is the logic?

Understandably, results speak for themselves, so when we see incredible before and after photos it’s inevitable that we’re going to associate whatever program they’re on with success. What we fail to take into account is where/who the diet came from, if it’s right for OUR body and the implications this might have on our health and mental attitudes in the long-term.

Susie (pictured below) insists that the only profession who is “scientifically trained to give a range of applied nutrition advice,” from sick to healthy people, is a dietician. This means that qualifications such as a diploma in health or an undergraduate degree in health and nutrition don’t cut it, she says.

dodgy diet, clean eating, nutrition advice, health guru, health expert, dodgy nutrition plan, diet, Susie Burrell

“A dietician is an accredited profession which requires a minimum of 4 years of university study, along with ongoing education and accreditation to give applied nutrition advice to individuals,” Susie explains.

But with so many popular diets now available at the click of the purchase button, how do we distinguish a dodgy diet from an appropriate one? We put all of our questions to the trusted dietician, who also specialises in customised eating plans,  to enlighten us.

What type of ‘health guru’ or certification would you say is the least credible?

At least an undergraduate university degree that includes the study of physiology, metabolism and biochemistry.

What are some red flags to look out for?

If they do not mention their training or qualifications I would be wary – ‘health coach’ or ‘nutritionist’ should instantly encourage you to do more research as anyone can call themselves a health coach or a nutritionist with minimal training, if any.

Ideally, what should a good nutrition program include?

Dietary plans and programs written by someone who is qualified and accountable. Direct access to this professional for specific issues/questions. Dietary changes and plans that are sustainable, have a minimal number of calories and that do not require you to eliminate whole food groups.

Regularly eating clean foods and treats containing ‘healthy sugars’ gets the tick of approval by a lot of ‘experts’, can you clarify this?

If it sounds suspicious, it is usually a sign you need to be careful. If it sounds too good to be true it usually is and it is common sense that food is not ‘dirty’ – and then sugars, no matter which type, are still sugar. Just because the latest guru says differently, be questioning.

What’s the worst fad diet that you’ve come across in the last few years?

Lol, there are so many. I think the idea of quitting sugar but then eating coconut oil, rice malt syrup and dates is ridiculous. I also think that juicing, as even a short term diet option, is dangerous and damaging to metabolic rate long-term.

If you can’t afford to enlist the help of a dietician or nutritionist, what should you do?

You know, there is so much sound dietary advice out there. You can simply purchase a diet/exercise book written by a dietitian or well-known and respected trainer which often contain nutritionally sound meals plans.

After recent backlash, where do you see the health industry going?

As there is more and more interest in health and well being, there will be more and more people out there trying to make money out of it. The key is to go with professionals who are qualified to be giving specific dietary advice.

Go with your gut. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is and at the end of the day, weight-loss and weight control takes hard work, commitment and life long focus – it is as simple or complex as that.

Image via Random House

July 28, 2015

Top 10 Tips On How To Avoid Winter Weight Gain

It’s all too easy in winter, when it’s freezing cold and you’re craving comfort food, to carb-load for Australia. What’s more, it’s snuggle weather, cold and flu season, and you’re wearing a mountain of layers – eating light meals and stripping off and heading to the gym can seem like insurmountable tasks.

RELATED: Top 10 Energy Boosting Foods

But is putting on winter weight in manner of a woolly mammoth inevitable, or can it actually be prevented? Highly regarded, qualified and practicing nutritionist and passionate foodie, Jessica Cox, 38, (pictured) says it’s the latter; winter doesn’t have to spell doom and gloom for our waistlines and/or our digestive health.

nutritionist, nutrition advice, winter weight gain

Jessica, who’s armed with a Bachelor of Health Science (Nutrition) and more than eight years of clinical experience, is also the founder and business owner of Brisbane’s Jessica Cox Nutritionist Clinic (JCNC). She treats all health conditions, but specialises in ongoing digestive issues and food intolerances.

Here, the nutritionist says instead of hibernating on the couch with a bowl of pasta bigger than your head, with a bit of nutritional planning, you can boost your energy and stay svelte in the colder months.

“As a nutritionist, it’s a big part of my job at this time of the year to ensure my clients are provided with the best nutritional tools to breeze through winter and bounce straight into spring,” Jessica says. “This primarily involves keeping daily food intake ‘on point’ regarding macronutrient balance, while ensuring that more heavier comfort foods do not become overly dominant on a day-to-day basis.”

So, fellow carb-lovers, I’m sorry to break it to you, but we’ve got work to do in cleaning up our diets this winter. For Jessica says learning to balance the meals we naturally crave in winter, such as stews, braises, mashes, pasta, rice, breads and polenta, is key to maintaining our weight.

“I don’t think you need to watch your calories more, from summer through to winter, it should relatively be the same if your exercising habits remain unchanged – it’s more about watching how you put together your meals,” she says. “So when it gets cooler, we start to crave those carb-dominant comfort foods. It’s not that carbs are bad, it’s just that our portions start to get a bit skewed in the cooler months.”

Jessica’s other top tip is to eat a nutrionally balanced diet during the day to help us fight those sweet cravings during the afternoon slump. “Go for a snack that’s going to have some sweetness, but combine it with protein, so a good option would be a handful of nuts, but add dried apricots to that too. Alternatively, have a square of 70-80 per cent cacao dark chocolate, but have it with a handful of nuts so it’s more filling and there’s more protein to keep you feeling fuller for longer. Sugar on its own gives you that little boost but drops you down again.”

And ladies, watch your comfort and/or emotional eating behaviours – which often go hand-in-hand – in winter, Jessica says. “In the cooler weather we want that more fuller filling to create warmth in the body – you can get addicted to that – again, it’s about teaching people that the more balanced intake you have during the day, you don’t get those cravings for such large, heavy meals as you won’t be as ravenous.”

nutritionist, nutrition advice, winter weight gain

A sweet-tooth tip I personally love, is Jessica’s advice to forsake a block of milk chocolate for a yummy, but healthier alternative such as a piece of 80 per cent cacao dark chocolate in a cup, melted with some boiling water, topped with frothy milk. Yum!

And the nutritionist says alcohol is another top healthy diet-killer; she advises alcohol-free days from Monday-Thursday, then ideally only one-to-two drinks on the remaining days. “If someone wants to lose weight, wine consumption most nights can be a real issue; your body will use alcohol as a preferential fuel to burn and it’s more inclined to store your meal as excess.”

Jessica’s top 10 tips on how to avoid winter weight gain:

  1. Start your day right: Ensure your breakfast and lunches contain a combination of your macronutrients, this being carbohydrates, protein and fats. This will provide you with long lasting satiety and reduce cravings for sugar between meals. An example of this would be a brown rice, veggie, chicken and cashew stir fry, or a toasted rye wrap with avocado, spinach, grated beetroot and smoked salmon.
  2. Don’t skip breakfast: Eating breakfast really does amp up your metabolism for the day. When it’s chilly it can be tempting to spend a few more minutes (or ten) under the blankets, causing you to be late and run out the door without breakfast. A good rule of thumb is to eat your breakfast within half an hour of waking.
  3. Snack regularly: Include a morning and afternoon snack with protein to keep your metabolism charging along and to avoid energy slumps (leading to chocolate cravings in the afternoon). A good tip is to include some sweetness with your protein snack, like a handful of pistachios with some raisons or a few dried apricots.
  4. Watch the carbs: Keep your complex carbohydrate (or grain) portion of your main meals to just roughly one-third of your meal. For example, if you have the above stir-fry, ensure only one-third of the meal is brown rice.
  5. Smash the veggies: Aim to make half of your meal vegetables. These vegetables could be roasted, stir-fried, braised and stewed.
  6. Watch your portions: When it’s cold, we often want to eat more for that ‘full’ feeling. Overeating is one of the most common bad habits we have which leads to weight gain, especially through winter. Eat till you are comfortable, not bursting full.
  7. Don’t overeat: Wait 20 minutes before going back for seconds. Nine times out of 10, you will not want it and that craving will have passed.
  8. Turn up the heat: Include warming and metabolism-boosting ingredients in your meals such as chilli, cayenne pepper and ginger, along with drinking green tea.
  9. Get fresh, baby: Keep some fresh, lively food in your diet with all those cooked vegetables. Add a handful of baby spinach or rocket to a braise as you serve, or a generous handful of herbs. This will keep your digestive tract filled with a variety of fibre sources, and in turn keep your transit time (stool movements) on track. A healthy digestive tract always results in a healthier metabolism!
  10. Get expert help: Unsure about what’s right for your body and your needs, especially with exercise involved? See a nutritionist: an expert can help you gain critical education to enable you to achieve your personal health and weight-loss goals.

nutritionist, nutrition advice, winter weight gain

Images via Womens Health, Get Your Fit Together, Paleo Recipes


May 12, 2015

Celebrity Diets: Making Sense of the Latest Weight Loss Trends

Quit sugar. Go gluten-free. Banish carbs. Eat organic. Shun dairy. Only eat raw. Stock up on superfoods. Have plenty of fibre. Give red meat the flick…is your head spinning yet?

One week it’s “stop eating X” and the next it’s “only eat Y”, so if you’re more than a little confused about what you should be eating, then don’t worry because you’re not alone. Celebrities are spruiking diets and cookbooks more than ever now, and with most providing real evidence of the benefits they can seem very compelling. But how can all of them be right? If someone was to follow all the different advice what’s left to eat? Air?

Obviously it’s not possible to carry out all these varied diets at once without starving and putting your health at risk (especially when they’re not short-term fad diets but ones for life – like Gwyneth Paltrow and her gluten-free gospel). So if you don’t have any food intolerances or medical conditions, and are simply looking to improve your general health and wellbeing, then which diet is the best to sink your teeth into?

According to Lauren McGuckin, accredited practising dietitian and spokesperson for the Dieticians Association of Australia, there is no ‘magic bullet’ solution because our dietary needs are as unique as we are, and diets which point the finger at one particular food group or dietary component (such as carbs, sugar or gluten) simply cause confusion.

“There’s a lot of misinformation out there. Blaming one particular dietary element as the cause for weight gain or other health issues is often not the answer and eliminating whole food groups can lead to nutritional shortfalls,” says Lauren.

“For the general population these often-drastic measures are also of little to no benefit, and because of their restrictiveness and the effort required to stick to the plan, they often aren’t sustainable.”

It appears many of these celebrity diets are also misleading in their portrayal, such as the gluten-free diet (which is really a low-carb diet in disguise), and going sugar-free.

“You don’t see results from the ‘no sugar’ diet specifically because you cut out sugar; it’s the act of eating less processed, sugar-containing foods and replacing them with lower calorie wholefoods that has the effect,” says Lauren. “Sugary processed foods and drinks, such as soft-drinks and lollies, are often also high in saturated fat and energy and are a major contribution to weight gain; so limiting these has always been a core dietary recommendation.”

So what do we do then? What should we be eating? According to the experts, there is no sexy solution and the answer is what most of us already know – forget the hype and get back to basics.

Here are some of Lauren’s top tips for eating well for life:

1. Follow Australian Dietary Guidelines
Eat plenty of fruit and veg; lean meat, poultry and seafood; low-fat diary; wholegrain/high fibre breads and cereals; drink plenty of water; and limit alcohol and foods high in saturated fat, added sugars and added salt.

2. Be individual and realistic
Tailor eating to your nutritional and health needs, and to fit with your lifestyle so you can maintain the diet for life.

3. Don’t cut out carbs
They’re a major source of fibre and other important vitamins and minerals. If you want to shed excess weight though, try halving your carbohydrate servings (e.g. cereals, bread, pasta, rice and potatoes).

4. Cook meals from scratch
You’ll reduce salt and sugar content, lessen the chances of additives/preservatives, be able to control the fat content, and improve your food quality by using fresh, top notch ingredients.

5. Eat fresh and unprocessed when you can
Less chemicals, additives and preservatives; and more satisfying as the stomach has to work more to digest wholefoods.

6. Be smart about fat – limit total fat intake for a slimmer waistline, but ensure you include vegetable-based fat sources for a healthy heart (e.g. nuts, avocado and olive oil).

7. Reduce your sugar intake
Limit the amount of sugary foods and added sugar you eat, particularly if you’re diabetic or watching your weight.

8. Eat the rainbow
No need to search for strange superfoods: there are cheaper ones already in your kitchen or garden. Eat foods with different (natural) colours to broaden the types of antioxidants you’re getting.

If your diet could do with a ‘tune-up’ or you suspect you might have a food intolerance, visit the Dieticians Association of Australia or see your GP.

Susan Taylor muses about life at One Woman Circus.

October 10, 2013