bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Would you wear a diet monitoring necklace?

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Have you heard about this WearSens necklace? It’s technology that you can wear around your neck to monitor what you eat and drink. Of course, the most talked about application is for weight management. Fortunately, the engineers who designed it are also hoping that it will be used for medical management. It has the potential to be used to monitor whether or not people have taken medications or breathing patterns of lung transplant patients. Much more worthy applications of the technology if you ask me.

Why don’t I think it’s a good idea for weight management? For one thing, it can distinguish between food textures but not specific foods. Therefore, it’s not a useful tool for calorie tracking. It wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between water and pop or yoghurt and pudding, for example. Sure, if you’re trying to eat or drink at specific times of day it could monitor that but it seems like an unnecessary (and, I’m assuming, expensive) method of doing so. More importantly, it attaches a sense of shame to eating. And people complain about the nanny state! Do you really want a sense of judgement literally hanging around your neck every time you eat or drink something? Yes, mindfulness is important in developing healthy eating habits. So is learning to enjoy food without guilt.


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5 things low-carb gurus don’t want you to know

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I hate these lists: 5 foods you should never eat, 8 foods for a flat belly, and one I saw last week “10 Things Dietitians Say About Low-Carb Diets That Don’t Make Sense“. I should confess that as a dietitian, the headline alone immediately got my back up. Still, I took the bait and clicked the link.

Some of the stuff on there was quite reasonable, and some of it inaccurately portrayed dietitians and nutrition. It drives me nuts that we study nutrition for 4+ years in university, do internships, and must demonstrate continuous learning to maintain our professional status as registered dietitians, and yet those from other professions (and non-professions) are constantly proclaiming to the world that we’re nutritionally biased ignoramuses. Okay, so I didn’t exactly read this list with an open mind. No apologies.

Here are my top 5 retorts to this post and others in the same vein:

1. Low-Carb Diets Are Hard To Stick To

Have you ever tried a low-carb diet? There’s a reason why nearly everyone you meet who’s on a low-carb diet is singing its praises at a month or two in. How many people do you know who’ve consistently followed low-carb diets for years? Probably not many. There’s a reason for that. They are hard to stick to. Sure, you can feel physically satisfied on a low-carb diet but there are other aspects of it that can make it difficult to stick with. There’s the social aspect of food. It can be hard to follow a low-carb diet when others around you aren’t, forgoing birthday cakes and pizza. There’s also the restrictiveness that comes with a strict diet. You lose a lot of options when you cut-out or dramatically reduce carbohydrate intake. Finally, if you’re at all athletic, it can be extremely hard to train and perform at your best without carbohydrates.

2. The Opposite of Low-Carb Is NOT Low-Fat

Why is it that every time I hear someone poo-pooing on dietitians for our reluctance to support low-carb diets claiming that we push low-fat diets? The macronutrients are: carbohydrate, fat, and protein. While we all vary in our needs and desires for each of these, they all play a role in a healthy diet. I don’t know any dietitians who promote low-fat diets. Yes, in the past, because nutrition research is often flawed, we believed saturated fat was unhealthy. Most of us are over that. As I’ve said before, real dietitians eat butter.

3. Low-Carb Diets Are Not Proven To Be Safe In The Long-Term

As dietitians, it’s our job to provide people with the information that they need to make informed choices. When the average life span is over 80 years in Canada a two year study is but a drop in the bucket. Yes, you can probably be healthy on a low-carb diet. You can also be unhealthy on one as well. A diet of steak and bacon is low-carb, as is a diet of vegetables and fish. It’s a lot easier to get all of the nutrients that you need when you consume a greater variety of foods.

Yes, the Inuit ate high-fat low-carb diets. Will your low-carb diet consist predominantly of raw meat and seal blubber? I thought not.

4. Just Because You Can Be Healthy Following A Low-Carb Diet Doesn’t Mean That You Should

You can be healthy following all sorts of diets. You can also be unhealthy following them. A low-carb diet can be healthy, as can a vegan diet. You need to figure out what works best for you. Don’t let nutritional gurus convince you that their diet is the only way to go.

The main draw of a low-carb diet generally isn’t health anyway, it’s weight loss. These are not one and the same; no matter what the gurus may say. A healthy weight very much depends on the individual and health is not just physical. There is no shame in deriving pleasure from food.

5. We Don’t Like Diets

It’s nothing personal. We’re not eschewing your beloved low-carb diet because we have shares in the wheat industry. We tend to be wary of any diet because they are restrictive and have end dates and “cheat days”. The way you eat should be a way of life that you can maintain until the end of your life (which will hopefully be in the distant future because you’re following a healthy, enjoyable, varied, and balanced diet).


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Sorry, dietitians just aren’t sexy

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Something that’s been weighing on my mind a bit lately is the disappointment that many people seem to have with dietitians and the reasons for this. Basically, it boils down to the fact that we’re not sexy. Nope, we can’t tell you the next great superfood you must buy daily (spoiler: there is no such thing as a “superfood”). We won’t recommend any breakthrough weight loss supplement; sorry, whatever Dr. Oz is selling we’re not buying. We won’t tell you “never eat these five foods“. And we won’t tell you that paleo, Atkins, low-carb, low-fat, gluten-free, vegan, <insert any trendy diet here>, is the best diet.

There are no shortcuts to health. There are no foods that you should never ever eat (I mean, obviously, there are some foods that should be consumed on an occasional basis, such as candy, and others on a regular one, such as vegetables). But we’re never going to tell you not to eat something. We’re also never going to tell you what diet to follow. Our job is to help you figure out the diet that works best for you and how to optimize it to make it as enjoyable and healthy as possible.

Yes, I know that there are loads of other people out there who are more than happy to tell you that their diet is the best, the only, the diet to end all diets. I know that, that level of certainty can be alluring. It’s much more appealing to have someone tell you exactly what you may and may not eat when you’re struggling on your own. It’s not easy to hear that no foods are off the table and that no superfood is going to swoop in to the rescue. However, let’s not confuse confidence with competence. Dietitians are here to help you make the best choices for you, not to impose our own dietary regimes on you. Maybe we’re not sexy or fun or exciting but we’ll be here for you when all of those other diets let you down.


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Follow Friday: Me in Best Health Mag

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Before the holidays I was interviewed by Lisa Bendall for Best Health Mag, a companion web magazine for Reader’s Digest. The article: 8 ways to feel full faster just went up the other day. Of course I had a lot more to say than made the cut but at least the content seems to be fairly accurate :)

A couple of things I wish had made it in there: discussion about Brian Wansink’s research, discussion about volumetrics. Volumetrics is the use of eating foods with low calorie density so that you can eat a larger quantity. As we tend to eat with our eyes a big plate of salad can be more satisfying than a candy bar even though it has fewer calories. In addition, there’s been research showing that recipes that have been modified to decrease caloric content by increasing vegetable content (e.g. mac and cheese incorporating pureed cauliflower) are just as satisfying as their full-calorie original counterparts.

We also talked about some things that have frequently been touted as ways to feel full and lose weight that have been disproved. For example, the consumption of a glass of water prior to a meal. Water can be satisfying when we’re mistaking thirst for hunger, but consuming water before supper does not lead to consuming fewer calories at the meal.

What it really all boils down to are a few key tips: preventative eating (eat before you get too hungry so that you can make rational dietary decisions), eat more vegetables, chew your food, include protein with all meals (especially breakfast) and snacks.


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Why you shouldn’t make any nutrition New Year’s Resolutions

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Are you making any New Year’s resolutions for 2015? Have you made resolutions in the past? Have you ever had success?

Many people (roughly half of us) make New Year’s resolutions. How many of us actually keep those resolutions? Only about 8%! Not exactly a resounding success. And this is why, I, a registered dietitian, am urging you not to make any dietary resolutions this year.

I know that a lot of people resolve to: lose weight, stop eating chips, eat less, give-up chocolate, etc. The number one resolution for 2014 was to “lose weight”. Usually these resolutions are made stoically following holiday eating and drinking extravaganzas. We’re left feeling tired, deflated, and sometimes gross after parties, turkey and stuffing sandwiches, and seemingly bottomless stockings crammed with chocolate oranges. It’s a Brand New Year. What better time to turn over the proverbial kale leaf and dive into a sea of green smoothies? Well, actually, pretty much any other time of year is better and we can’t survive on green smoothies alone (or has Rob Rhinehart finally perfected soylent?). Winter, at least in Canada, can be one of the hardest times of year. We see little sun, it’s cold, icy, snowy, rainy. The perfect recipe for baked macaroni and cheese, you know the one, oozing with three kinds of cheese and buttery bread crumbs on top. It’s not exactly the time of year that screams fresh salads.

It should go without saying that I want you to be healthy and happy. I want you to eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, and get enough sleep. It’s because I want all of these things for you that I don’t want you to resolve to do them tomorrow. Resolving implies a certain level of gritting your teeth and forcing yourself to go through with something that you don’t really want to. Part of living a healthy life is being happy. How happy can you be if you’re forcing yourself to do things you hate and avoid things that you love? Why not wait for the glitter from New Year’s Eve settle and then starting figuring out how you can make the best, and the healthiest, choices for yourself.

Some of us, yeah, that 8% might be able to choose resolutions that we’re able to stick with. Maybe you’re part of that 8%. If you are, kudos. But let’s just pretend that you’re not. What are you going to resolve this year?