Navigating Diet Dystopia
It is a confusing subject – diet. What should we eat? What makes us sick? How do we look after our gut? Which is the best way to lose weight? Which is the healthiest diet regime? Who is the most knowledgeable and respected food guru? It is a minefield.
This is what prompted leading celebrity nutritionist, author and public speaker, Dr Libby Weaver, to pen her latest tome, entitled: “Food Frustrations: What Am I Supposed to Eat?” This is the most common question she is asked by people who flock to her speaking engagements, one of which I was fortunate to attend. She stresses that 80 percent of our body weight is about what we eat, and 20 percent relates to exercise, so clearly diet is important.
Dr Libby is mesmerising. Confident, smart, practical and the embodiment of her healthy mantra – you just wish you could have her in your kitchen every day to help you navigate the eating maze in which we often find ourselves trapped.
She takes a simple, holistic approach to health and nutrition, based on three pillars:
- Biochemistry – what is wrong?
- Nutrition – what do I need?
- Emotion – how can I change?
Eat from a place of love, not fear
She doesn’t believe in diet plans, because she says most of us don’t follow them, often due to our emotional state. She believes in delving into our psyche to really understand why we are not following a healthy diet, before trying to help us change. She contends that we often eat to dull our pain, rather than finding more supportive forms of nourishment, such as going for a walk, writing in a journal or catching up with a friend. We need to “eat from a place of love, not fear”.
She says that our heritage can also play a part in our diet. For instance, 98 percent of Asians are lactose intolerant and those with Irish heritage are often gluten intolerant due to the potato famine of the 1840s which suddenly changed the staple diet towards grains.
Like many health professionals, Dr Libby is concerned about the rising rates of obesity. There are 42 million obese children, aged 0 – 5 years in the developed world, and this is expected to increase to 70 million by 2025. The issue this raises, particularly for girls, is that an increase in body fat equates to an increase in oestrogen, which is why we are seeing girls menstruating at younger ages.
So, apart from accessing the services of a psychiatrist, what is the answer if we want to simply understand what we should eat?
Low human intervention food, aka whole, real food
Dr Libby explains that nutrition information moves in 30-year cycles, so the way to cut through the fads, such as low-fat, or high-protein, is to recognise that nature gets it right every time. Therefore, she contends that we should focus on eating “low human intervention food”, which basically means, whole, real food that is nourishing and sustaining. Practically, this equates to five serves of vegetables and two serves of fruit a day, with the occasional serving of meat and dairy. She does admit that “nourishing your soul” (read: wine and chocolate) is also important when your girlfriend has just broken up with the love of her life, or when you have had a particularly bad week at work.
Sugar is the demon
Dr Libby believes the biggest demon in our society is sugar, particularly that hidden in processed foods. She advocates to only consume the sugar produced naturally by plants, which will generally be in small doses. If we must consume sugar from processed foods, such as yoghurt, then make sure the sugar content is less than 5 grams per 100 grams of product.
Sugar cravings are fuelled by habit, addiction, tiredness, caffeine, stress hormones, low self esteem, unworthiness and seeking joy in life, so learning to control these triggers is vital. Dr Libby advises that if we have too many stress hormones (which can be triggered by anxiety, but also caffeine), we lose our ability to use body fat as fuel. To decrease sugar cravings, we need to increase fat from whole foods.
Focus on protein and minerals
We roughly need what we weigh in kilograms, in grams of protein. However, no food in nature is 100 percent protein, so we need to choose carefully, also considering the quality of the food and the soil in which it is grown. Shopping at farmers’ markets is a good start.
Zinc is another ingredient we need in our diets, but which is now often lacking in our soils, so we need to supplement it with healthy servings of beef, lamb, eggs, seeds and oysters – or supplements.
So, what are the key takeaways from the inimitable Dr Libby Weaver?
- Stop dieting, and start nourishing
- Decrease consumption of processed foods
- Increase consumption of plant-based foods
- Choose whole, real foods
- Address emotional eating
Happy dieting, I mean, eating!
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