There is a lot of information and studies around what healthy eating is, and what the “best” kinds of foods are and it isn’t easy to know what information is correct and trustworthy. We’ve reached out to Lorrie Chow, Registered Dietitian from BC Children’s Hospital to answer a few questions about healthy eating.
We started off with addressing what food choices and food related behaviours may be harmful for you.
A lot of people calorie count and there seem to be a ton of apps out there that help track calories. So what are your thoughts on calorie counting, and what can people do instead of calorie count?
We don’t recommend calorie counting. It’s very hard to know on an individual basis what your body’s metabolism is, how many calories you need, and then it tends to change from day to day. We recommend that they listen to their hunger and fullness cues. Your body will tell you what you need on a day to day basis. So some days when you’re really hungry, it probably means that your metabolism is higher that day and your calorie needs are higher. If you want to do more, keeping a food diary is helpful. This doesn’t mean tracking calories, but writing down what you eat so you can see what you eat on a typical day. Food diaries help you to reflect and think to yourself, “Is that what I want to be putting in my body?” Sometimes we eat without thinking and food diaries just put a little more mindfulness into what people have been eating.
Do you have a personal favourite food app for a food diary?
Often apps that track food will also track calories and give amounts of daily calories which can make people stressed about their eating. There is the one from dietitians of Canada that’s pretty decent. Otherwise I would suggest keeping a small notebook or using the notes function in your phone.
So there are also a lot of fad diets and these can include things like cleanses, keto, low fat, paleo, intermittent fasting, and even avoiding certain foods, so like sugar, carbs, and gluten. What are your thoughts on these kinds of diets? Are they harmful? Helpful?
So the research shows that for about 99% of people who go on a diet it’s ineffective in the long term. So most diets, end up being lower in calories and the person will lose weight, but it’s typically unsustainable. Also typically part of the weight a person loses is muscle mass, and when you lose muscle mass, your metabolism slows down. So we don’t recommend diets. Ever. *laughs*
What is the one piece of advice you would give to people who are thinking about changing their diet or even going on a diet?
Remember that anything that you do needs to be sustainable for the long term. So it can end up being a little bit boring, and not quick, exciting or trendy like diets. But, finding one thing to work on at a time and doing SMART goals will help. So something very small, very sustainable, very realistic, like maybe you want to work on drinking less sugary beverages. Maybe right now you have sugary beverages four or five times a week, try reducing this to three times a week. That is a sustainable long term goal. You can then slowly build on that.
We also spoke to Lorrie about differences between diets and healthy eating. If you’re looking to change to a healthier lifestyle, there’s no pressure for you take certain foods out of your diet completely. Dietitians are there for “people to get to the point where they’re eating as healthy as they can for them”. “It’s more of a personal process”, says Lorrie. “I could say what an ideal healthy diet would look like, but that might be unattainable for someone. And so working one step at a time towards that.”
Lorrie mentions the new Canada’s Food Guide as an ideal goal what foods you should eat. The new Food Guide includes foods with lots of whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Recommended protein has changed and is moving towards less meat based proteins and more sustainable plant based proteins. Meals that follow the food guide may be difficult for someone to maintain, so the key to following an ideal food intake is through small steps you can do every day.
Are there tips you like to give your clients, family, friends or the people you work with that they can do in their day to day?
Yeah so normally if we’re starting to work on towards healthier food consumption, the place I like to start is the sugary beverages. So if they’re having Frappuccinos, finding an alternative drink they enjoy that doesn’t have the load of sugar that those have. Yeah *laughs* and finding other options that way. So reducing juice and pop.
After that, we start getting into trying to find higher fiber grains that they might enjoy. This may be just be mixing grains. So not only whole wheat pasta, but mixing white and whole wheat pasta together so you’re increasing your fiber slowly.
Ok, do you have any tips for when people eating out?
Yeah so some people might do what we would call food pairing. So if you go out, just once a week, then we’d say eat – enjoy your meal the way you want. If you want French fries, get French fries. If you’re eating out more frequently, then we recommend figuring out how to make a more nutritious option at that time. So maybe if you normally would get a hamburger, French fries, and a pop, maybe getting a hamburger, French fries and water. Just taking one thing and making it a bit more nutritious.
Lorrie ends off the Q&A with some things to keep in mind while you form your healthy eating goals. “Make your goal around a behaviour, not weight”, Lorrie states. She explains that “weight’s not a behaviour, weight is an end result that might happen.” When you think about your goals, it’s important to focus on healthy eating goals, not numbers on a scale. From a dietitian’s view, it’s all about small changes you can maintain and using healthy living strategies each day.
Lorrie Chow is a Registered Dietitian who works at BC Children’s Hospital with the Mental Health Metabolic Program.
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