When we combine the fact that only five percent of Australian children and adults consume the recommended serving of vegetables a day, with a society that is obsessed with weight loss and body image, we create a recipe for lifelong poor physical and mental health.
During Nutrition Week a Charles Sturt University nutrition expert explains the benefits of a weight- inclusive approach to health and wellness, and how healthy behaviors are the ultimate guide to good health.
By Dr Marissa Samuelson in the Charles Sturt School of Allied Health, Exercise and Sports Sciences.
Did you know that healthy behaviours like eating more fruit and vegetables is more influential on your overall health outcomes than measures like what you weigh?
But as a society we are conditioned to measure our health according to weight, waist circumference and height, not by our eating habits which will have a greater impact on our physical and mental wellbeing.
We have evidence that BMI (body mass index) is a terrible measure of an individual’s health although it is often used this way. Healthy behaviours are much more strongly correlated with good health than BMI is.
In contrast, a weight-inclusive approach to health and wellness is based on the understanding that our current obsession with weight and weight loss is harmful.
Encouraging weight loss is not evidence based, as we do not have good evidence to show that maintaining weight loss is achievable for more than 90 per cent of the population.
Yet the diet culture that touches every corner of our society subtly (or in some cases obviously) pushes people to focus more on our bodies and appearance, than our actual feelings of wellbeing and enjoyment of movement and food.
This can obviously push people towards dieting (even though we know diets don’t work) and worse ─ fad diets, which are both physically and psychologically damaging.
During Nutrition Week take a step away from the diet and BMI bandwagon, and focus on what’s more important, improving the quality of what we eat, being active and not smoking.
Easier said than done I hear you say, especially with children who are notorious for not eating their vegetables. And when you consider many parents are just coming out of months of home-schooling, the last thing they want is a fight over food at the end of a long day.
We also often want immediate results and can pressure our kids to eat their vegetables when they are simply not ready to. Waging war at the dinner table might result in kids taking a few bites at the time, but is not shown to increase the variety of what they eat in the long-term.
Encouraging kids who don’t eat enough vegetables to just start playing with different types of vegetables or helping an adult cook or grow vegetables can be a good way to encourage kids to begin to accept veggies on their plate.
Actually eating the vegetable may come much later. Having a veggie of the week or month to try cooking and eating it in different ways can also be a fun way to learn about a new vegetable..
Focusing on the practical aspects of learning about foods ─ what they smell, look and feel like, as well as how they are grown ─ is much more appropriate for smaller children than discussing what nutrients foods contain.
There is so much pressure on us all to eat a certain way and follow dietary rules. A weight-inclusive approach to eating focuses on listening to our bodies, rather than externally imposed rules about what and how much to eat.
This is referred to as intuitive eating, and the key principle is eating a variety of foods. No one food is considered good or bad, food is just food – all foods are part of a balanced diet.
Eating should be just as much about flavour and enjoyment as it is about getting enough nutrients.
Often the reason people don’t eat vegetables is they don’t like the taste - this is especially true for kids who can find veggies bitter.
Diet culture would have us believe that we need to boil or steam our veggies, but there’s nothing wrong with serving vegetables or salad with added flavour to help make them more enticing such as salad dressings, butter, olive oil, salt, garlic or herbs.
Diet culture would also have us believe there are set rules about when you can or cannot eat certain foods. Many of us were brought up on ‘meat and three veg’ for dinner, and vegetables don’t even get a mention at other meal times, changing this habit will instantly boost your intake.
Have breakfast at dinner time or eat lunchtime foods at breakfast – intuitive eating is about understanding what your body needs and this can be very different for everyone.
Play around with mixing and matching ingredients to different meal times.
You could think about adding avocado, mushrooms, tomato or spinach to your egg on toast in the morning, add some rocket or lettuce to your wrap at lunch or making sure there is a pile of vegetables on your plate at dinner.
Adding ‘veggie rice’ to a casserole can also be an effective way of adding vegetables to a dish without changing its flavour too much.
While there are lots of ways to improve your vegetable intake, the key is to find what works for YOU, in the context of your own life, and what satisfies your own hunger.
Focus on what you can change during Nutrition Week. Fad diets will leave you feeling empty, literally and emotionally at times.
You are better to make small, sustainable changes that will foster healthier behaviours and, ultimately, wellness.