Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Another hot take on Canada’s new food guide

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You all know that I can always find something to bitch about. I’m that girl who’s always the one to find a bug in her freshly picked raspberries or the bone in her piece of fish. My mum will attest to that. It was a running joke in my family that if there was anything weird to be found in the food, I would be the one to find it. So, it should come as no surprise that I have lots to say about the new food guide. But… it may come as a surprise that I don’t actually have anything negative to say about it! In fact, I think it’s pretty fucking great.

In no particular order, here are the changes that I’m most excited about:

  • The addition of food skills (and food literacy). This is literally 85% of my job and it feels really good to have Health Canada supporting it as an important part of healthy eating.
  • The removal of juice as a serving of fruit. It’s going to be so nice not to have to deal with that terrible piece of advice anymore.
  • The removal of serving sizes and recommended number of servings. They confused people and it’s impossible to make recommendations that will work for the entire population. I can’t wait to no longer hear “I can’t eat ALL that” again.
  • I’m glad they got rid of the meat and alternatives and milk and alternatives food groups and lumped them into a proteins group from which they encourage plant-based sources of protein.
  • I appreciate the inclusion of Indigenous foods and ways of eating and the acknowledgement that many people in remote communities and on reserves may struggle to meet the recommendations in the food guide.
  • Following from that, I also appreciate the recognition that external factors, in particular, many social determinants of health, can affect the ability of people to follow a healthy diet.
  • I’m glad that water is recommended as the beverage of choice, again bye bye juice and chocolate milk 👋🏻👋🏻👋🏻
  • I like that the emphasis is on promoting health and only once is weight mentioned. As I’ve ranted about in the past, the food guide is not supposed to be a weight loss diet plan.
  • The photos included in the guide are really appealing. They look way more appetizing to me than the old cartoonish images did. Plus, they’re all about full meals and not just random foods.
  • The overall focus is on a healthy pattern of eating, not just individual nutrients. Much more in-line with how we actually eat. Plus it’s advised that we enjoy (wow!) our food.

My one concern (aside from a couple of very minor things) is that apparently Health Canada does not plan on making the resources for the general public available in print. I think this is a huge mistake. Not everyone has ready Internet access. Also, the old food guide was used in schools and other educational settings (including the food literacy classes I teach) as a teaching tool. I work in public health and we get MANY requests from schools, organizations, and individuals for copies of the food guide. I’m not sure how we’re going to educate people and incorporate the food guide into our programs if we don’t have a print resource available. I hope that Health Canada will reconsider this decision so that everyone has equal opportunity to benefit from the new food guide.


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If you’re cheating on your diet, then you should probably break-up with it

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Yes, the above post is undoubtedly very cute. Using emojis is a fun way to make your point. However, I would argue that if you are struggling with your weight that you should actually reverse the suggestion by Dr Nadolsky.

I’m not saying, eat unhealthy food all day every day. I’m saying, take some of those “treat” foods from the weekend and enjoy them whenever you feel like it. Something more along these lines:

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If you’re struggling with your weight and you’re eating super healthy through the week and then you “undo” all your hard work by eating a bunch of crap on the weekend your problem is not the weekend. Your problem is the week. If your workweek diet is very restrictive and doesn’t allow room for treats, or carbs, or entire food groups, then it’s not a sustainable way of eating. If you feel deprived during the week, then it’s not a sustainable way of eating. If you can’t continue to eat the way you eat during the week through the weekend, then it’s not a sustainable way of eating. If your diet through the week is devoid of pleasure, then it’s not a sustainable way of eating. If you’re cheating on your diet whether it be for one day a week, or all weekend, then you should probably break-up with it.

Regardless of your weight, your diet should be one that you enjoy. That provides you with nourishment and pleasure. You should be able to enjoy your food every damn day of the week.


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Are pharmacists the new dietitians?

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The other day I was in a grocery store when a recording came over the PA system encouraging customers to speak to the in-store pharmacist about making healthy food choices. Naturally, I was like “what the fuck??”. People wonder why dietitians are so defensive of our profession. This. This sort of thing is exactly why. Because everyone seems to think that they’re qualified to dole out nutrition advice despite the fact that dietitians are the only professionals who spend over four years studying nutrition in university and must indefinitely continue our education to maintain our licensure.

It’s not cool of the chain to be asking pharmacists to provide dietary counselling. If you want to offer that service, hire yourselves some damn dietitians. It’s also not cool of the pharmacists to accept that added responsibility.

Yes, pharmacists are a wealth of knowledge when it comes to medications and they can be hugely helpful in advising customers about potential drug-nutrient interactions regarding medications that customers are taking. They more often than not, likely have a greater knowledge about nutrients in food than your average person. However, none of this equips them with the expertise to provide nutrition counselling.

The scope of practice for pharmacists in Canada contains no mention of nutrition or dietary counselling. Store owners may not know that this service is outside the scope of practice for pharmacists. Therefore, I believe that the responsibility lies with the pharmacists on-staff to let the company know that they are should not be providing this service to their customers. As allied health professionals they should recognize the limitations of their own scope of practice and defer to RDs in matters of nutrition counselling.

When I worked in a grocery store we had an in-store dietitian as well as pharmacists on-staff and everyone worked together to provide customers with the best service possible. Pharmacists have enough to do without having to get into nutrition counselling with customers, which, when done appropriately, can be quite time-consuming. Do you really want to wait longer to pick up your prescription? Setting aside the issue of expertise, do pharmacists really have the time to devote to counselling customers on nutrition? Let dietitians, who are actually trained to provide individualized dietary advice, provide this service so that pharmacists can focus on their own area of expertise.


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Why you shouldn’t eat like an athlete

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Aside from a sort of general curiosity I don’t see the point of articles about the diets of elite athletes. Honestly, I think sharing them as if they’re nutrition tips for the masses is potentially harmful. Unless you’re a professional athlete yourself, which the vast majority of us are not, most of their nutrition advice is not going to translate to your life. You’re probably not burning 10, 000 calories a day and I’m sorry but an hour at the gym is not comparable to the rigorous training that professional athletes undertake.

It also seems to me that many athletes undertake questionable dietary regimens (ahem, Tom Brady) in the hopes of being the best of the best. The article I linked to above has some fairly benign advice but there are loads of athletes that are following bizarre advice in an effort to hack their genes and optimize performance. When your career depends on it, it’s kind of understandable that you’d be willing to try something a little extreme. The danger lies in attributing your success to drinking alkaline water or avoiding mushrooms and encouraging us common folk to jump on your nutrition bandwagon.

The dietary needs of athletes also vary significantly depending on their sport, as well as their sex and size. The perfect diet for a marathoner is going to be quite different from the perfect diet for a shot putter. You can’t just assume that what works for one athlete nutritionally will work for another. Even more so, you can’t assume that what works for a pro athlete (or for anyone else for that matter) is going to work for you. In fact, if you tried to eat like most professional athletes you’d probably be consuming significantly more food than you need.

Go ahead and be amazed by the number of calories consumed by athletes in the Tour de France. Indulge your natural curiosity by reading about Michael Phelp’s massive training diet and other wild diets of athletes. Just don’t try these at home.


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Making people feel like shit about what they eat isn’t an effective tactic to get them to change

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At some point someone came up with the brilliant idea to use scare tactics, guilt, and shame to convince people to do (or stop doing) certain behaviours. I think it may have originated with smoking cessation where people thought that showing people videos of people smoking through holes in their throats and with horrible mouth cancers would convince people to quit. And then people thought, “hey, it worked for tobacco, let’s try it with food”.

Unfortunately, while these tactics may work in some situations, and with some individuals, as a general rule, making people feel like shit about their choices isn’t a terribly effective strategy to convince them to change.

I see so many (possibly well-meaning) people sharing shaming messages in an effort to get people to follow their dietary regimes that essentially every food is now laden with guilt and dolloped with fear.

There are popular memes trying to make people feel guilty for not being vegan or to make people feel guilty for being vegan.

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There are headlines like “There is no conspiracy: Gluten really is evil”, “7 reasons why you should stop eating meat immediately”, “Eating bananas at breakfast is bad for you”. Books like: 141 Reasons Sugar Ruins Your Health  and The Hidden Dangers of Soy. Not to mention all of the vloggers, bloggers, and Instagram nutritionistas pushing their agendas. Seriously, go to google and type in “why you should never eat ____” and insert pretty much any food in there. You’re pretty much guaranteed to get at least one hit telling you why practically every food is going to kill you.

This isn’t healthy. We should not be afraid of something that is essential to life. Something that should be pleasurable. We shouldn’t be loading every food up with fear.

For those using these fear-based messages to try to convince people to join your diet, you’re probably not having the effect you intended. Rather than convincing people to change you’re quite likely just making them feel like what they’re doing is shameful. Maybe they’ll secretly try to change because they’re embarrassed about their shameful food choices and then just feel even worse if they fail. Maybe they’ll just ingest a little bit more guilt every time they eat something they’ve been told is evil.

The nutrition world has become like some sort of twisted religious cult where once you’ve been “saved” you need to spread the gospel and indoctrinate as many heathen eaters as possible. Instead, how about we stop trying to push our person beliefs onto everyone else? How about accepting that there is no one and only diet? That what works for you and is enjoyable for you might not work for everyone else. Let everyone else enjoy their food in peace unless they ask for your opinion.