Why this non-diet dietitian is impressed with Canada’s new food guide

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Today in Canada, we see the first update to Canada’s food guide since 2007. While the media is focusing on an unprecedented switch-up of food groups, and implications on meat and dairy and fruit juice industries, as a registered dietitian working on a daily basis with individuals and families, I see some of the more subtle changes. In fact, as a dietitian who takes a non-diet approach to helping my clients eat better, I see a lot of positive messages in the updated guide. I’m just so impressed! Join me as I walk you through the updates that I find the most applaud-worthy:

1. Bye-bye serving sizes

“What is an appropriate serving of cheese?” “How much bread should I eat per day?” Why does the package say a serving is 100g of yogurt, and Canada’s Food Guide says 3/4 cup?” “AM I EATING TOO MUCH?” “AM I EATING ENOUGH?” Or… the quandary that plagues picky eaters (and their parents) across the country, “I am not getting the recommended servings of vegetables per day! What do I do!?”

One of the most subtle changes in the new food guide is absence of recommended servings per day, which in turn eliminates the necessity for defined serving sizes. This drastically simplifies the messages to the public. With the previous guide, adults were cautioned to “eat 7-10 servings of fruits and vegetables per day” (which begs the question, is this softball-sized honeycrisp apple count as one, or two servings? and what happens if I get full before I finish it?). In contrast, Canadians are now being told, “Have plenty of vegetables and fruits.” Other broad categories of nutritious foods such as fibre-rich whole grains and protein-rich foods are similarly treated. Simple.

Of course, there are plenty of situations where Canadians will need more help determining if their nutrient intake is adequate for health. That’s where dietitians come in! Consulting a registered dietitian is the best way to make sure you are “getting plenty” of the nutritious foods as suggested in the guide. For example, I offer nutrient analysis in my practice so that parents can be sure that their child is indeed getting enough nutrition for healthy growth, despite perhaps falling short of the fruit and vegetable intake suggested in the previous version of the guide. And medical nutrition therapy –  making sure food intake is appropriate for diabetes management, heart disease risk, diverticular disease or gout, as some examples  – is what registered dietitians are trained to implement.

But overall, the abandonment of recommended servings per day is a bold and timely move away from the type of prescriptive diet-mentality messaging that we are used to receiving about our eating. This change, coupled with other positive messaging sprinkled throughout the guide, results in the permission for Canadians to take back the decision of how much we should be eating in the run of each day. Which comes as a breath of fresh air for worried parents of picky toddlers, those living with an eating disorder, and chronic dieters alike.

 

2. Proportions, not portions

On the same lines, I noticed that in choosing to focus on proportions (not portions), the new guide allows for considerably more freedom to choose how much we eat… while still giving some guidance of how to get an ideal balance of nutrients.

If you look at the plate graphic that personifies the messaging of our new food guide, you’ll notice that foods are recommended in proportion to each other. Half your plate vegetables and fruits, one quarter of your plate protein foods, and one quarter of your plate whole grain foods.

The “plate model” is in no way new. Dietitians have been using the plate in diabetes education for many years, and more recently the USA adopted a version when it’s dietary guidelines were updated when Michelle Obama was first lady.

What I want to remind the reader is that although the visual is a plate, you may also choose to call to mind these proportions when you are planning meals. Aim to serve a variety of options from different food sources at each meal.  For example, making a turkey soup? Plan to include turkey, some whole grains (maybe brown rice or barley) and “plenty of vegetables”. Rather than a quarter cup of frozen peas for the whole pot of soup, try throwing in an assortment of vegetables that gets your total soup makeup to be closer to half vegetable. Plan on serving soup with salad? Don’t worry so much about pumping in the vegetables. Plan on having homemade bread on the side? Forget about the barley. My point here is that thinking about the proportions of nutritious elements of a balanced meal will help you plan your meals. Then you can eat how much your body wants at that meal. Which brings me to…

3. Beyond Food

“Healthy eating is more than the foods you eat.” AMEN! Previous to this release, Canada’s Food Guide was mostly about what Canadians ought to be eating for good health. It had very little to say about how we eat. You might be surprised to hear that as a registered dietitian, I will argue that how we eat is just as important (and in many cases more important) than what we eat! In fact, this is one of the reasons why our profession has embraced the holistic-scoped title “Dietitian” in place of the more limited connotations of “Nutritionist”.

The new food guide has guidance to “be mindful of your eating habits” including emphasis on taking time to eat and the importance of noticing your hunger cues. When it comes to knowing how much food is right for you, these skills are king. However, they  no longer come naturally to many of us. Growing up in a country where food policy was based on a serving-sized-based guide taught us to decide how much to eat using our heads, rather than our stomachs.  Relearning how to prioritize feeding ourselves (and prioritizing ourselves in the process) is part of what I help adult clients muddle through. Learning to distinguish feelings of hunger from feelings of wanting, fullness from love is another part. See, dietitians too are about more than just food!

We are being encouraged to eat together . A whole pile of research supports this recommendation. Even all the health benefits associated with the Mediterranean diet depend both on the foods chosen as well as the tradition of eating meals together (a far cry from our current North American reality). The “what” and the “how” are indistinguishable in dietary research. The evidence is clear: we know that eating together as a family helps our children grow up with better health, better eating habits and a more positive relationship with food. Older adults who eat alone are more likely to be socially isolated and suffer from undernutrition. All of these facts make eating together an integral part of healthy eating and I am so glad to see it included in the update.

The new guide also gives us permission (finally) to enjoy our food. I cannot count many times have I heard as a dietitian that “healthy food doesn’t taste good.” We feel pressure to eat certain types of food, and guilt if we enjoy foods that are not on that “healthy” list. The new food guide recognizes that food choices are based upon more than simply nutritional value. Taste, culture, and food traditions are included as important factors that influence our food choices and enjoyment of eating. And so they should be! If I may quote Ellyn Satter, a nutrition mentor of mine, “when the joy goes out of eating, nutrition suffers.”  Kudos for the government of Canada for recognizing this truth.

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A modern, relevant, evidenced-based tool for Canadians

Overall, I have a confession to make. As a dietitian, I haven’t used the (2007) version of Canada’s Food Guide as a educational tool in many years. Did I drop it from my resource repertoire because it included fruit juice as a nutritious choice? Because Canadian dairy farmers and meat marketing boards had their voices heard at the stakeholders table? Not really. Food politics aside, the reason my practice outgrew this tool was that my work with clients evolved beyond the food-measuring, portion-counting, diet-mentality-inducing framework that it was built upon.

If we look at the history of food guides in Canada, we see that back in 1942, “Canada’s Food Rules” were created to advise Canadians how to get enough during wartime. In the early decades of government food policy, guidance was designed for ensuring nutrition, not restricting it. Any guidance on portions was presented in minimum number of servings per day, and the quantifier “at least” were peppered throughout the guides. Only in the late 1970’s through 2007 did our food guides start trying to restrict, discourage consumption of certain foods, and place upper limits on serving sizes. By the time I studied nutrition at university, Canada’s Food Guide didn’t look all that different than the weight-loss diets one finds in the back of women’s magazines (the major difference, of course, being that our guide was more evidenced-based). In the 80’s, 90’s and early 2000’s, weight-loss dieting was the public health message.

What I look forward to in Canada is a national nutrition policy that encourages, above all, eating competence and healthy relationships between Canadians and our food. Today’s Canada’s Food Guide, with it’s absence of prescriptions of how much to eat, and great emphasis on how we eat and our enjoyment of the process, has impressed me. It’s a step towards a future where our kids will be raised knowing more about feeding themselves, and less about dieting. Bon Appetit!

 

Appetite for Change Workshops

Interested in a group session?

I offer group presentations and interactive parent workshops on child feeding, both at my location or at yours. Please contact me if you have questions about which option will best meet your needs.


“Feeding is Parenting”
how to raise a happy, healthy eater

family-style meal children eating with parents at table

Welcome to the world of child feeding! Do you have a picky eater at home? Do you dread mealtime because of stress, arguing, or tears? This multimedia lecture is an introduction to feeding children of all stages. The presentation walks the participant through Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility in Feeding and how to apply in the home. Well-suited for parents and caregivers of children, this presentation can be delivered to a small or large group settings, at Appetite Nutrition or at your school/facility.  Includes 4 instructional videos.


Feeding your New Baby

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This 2-hour interactive workshop is ideal for parents and caregivers of newborn babies (or for parents and grandparents to-be!) This is an interactive group class, facilitated by the dietitian. It is the setting to have your specific questions answered about feeding your baby who is not yet eating solid food (0-6mo). Together we will view 8 instructional video vignettes and discuss. Participant maximum 15 (registration required).


 

Feeding your Older Baby

Baby self-feeding picnic Baby-led weaning

This 2-hour interactive workshop is ideal for parents and caregivers of older babies who starting or have started solid foods (6mo-2yrs). This is an interactive group class, facilitated by the dietitian. It is the setting to have your specific questions answered about feeding your baby as they begin their journey into the wide world of eating! Together we will view 8 instructional video vignettes and discuss. Participant maximum 15 (registration required).


Feeding your Toddler

Toddler playful eating self-feeding funnyThis 2-hour interactive workshop is ideal for parents and caregivers of young children who are in the much-loved toddler phase (18mo-4yrs). This is an interactive group class, facilitated by the dietitian. It is the setting to have your specific questions answered about feeding your toddler, as this stage presents special challenges to having calm family meals. Together we will view 8 instructional video vignettes and discuss. Participant maximum 15 (registration required).


 

 

Feeding your Preschooler

Preschool kids daycare childcare self-feeding meal

This 2-hour interactive workshop is ideal for parents and caregivers of young children who are in the preschool or young school-age phase (4-6yrs). This is an interactive group class, facilitated by the dietitian. It is the setting to have your specific questions answered about feeding your child as they grow into a person who will be exposed to different foods and different ways of eating outside your home. Together we will view 8 instructional video vignettes and discuss. Participant maximum 15 (registration required).


Feeding your School-aged Child (coming soon!) 

School-age child eating sandwich self-feeding school lunchPlease send me a message if you are interested in a workshop on this topic.


Feeding your Adolescent Child (coming soon!)

Let's All SnackPlease send me a message if you are interested in a workshop on this topic.

“Everything you know about obesity is wrong”

As a follow up to my post on the promises of weight loss dieting last week, I thought I would share the link to an American article that will give you more to chew on (much, much more!)

Comments encouraged! Let me know what you think of the stories shared. You’re gonna want to read this one twice.

Click here to see the full article by Michael Hobbes, with pictures by Finlay MacKay.

Or copy and paste:

http://highline.huffingtonpost.com/articles/en/everything-you-know-about-obesity-is-wrong/

Are you tempted by the promises of weight loss dieting?

The number one request I have as a dietitian is for help with weight loss. As an expert on food and nutrition, I am well-equipped to help a person eat better. I am happy to help a client begin to take better care of themselves with respect to eating (in fact, it’s my passion!) Weight loss, however, I do not promise, or even track, in my work with adults. Why not?

All of our bodies are different; we come in different heights, builds, frame sizes. Some of us weigh more than others. Our bodies tightly regulate weight through a delicate dance of hormones and metabolic adjustments. However, some of us weigh more than nature intended, as a result of past dieting. In fact, weight loss dieting almost always makes a person fatter, not thinner, in the long-run.

On my professional experience, when we are tempted to attempt weight loss in order to feel better in our bodies (or in our lives), we are falling into a big fat trap. Often, even with huge positive improvements to eating habits and selection of highly nutritious foods, a person will not lose the weight. Or weight loss will start, and then suddenly hit a wall. What happens then? Negative self image, negative self talk. “What’s wrong with me, I will never be able to get this under control.” Self blame. “I have no will power, why did I buy so many Halloween treats? I cannot be trusted with any sweets in the house!” Or perhaps we blame the diet, the plan, so over to the next new diet craze we go. In the meantime, we’ve built up more resentment towards our bodies, and possibly lost and regained weight in a short amount of time, which only signals the body to even more fiercely hold on to the extra pounds the next time around. In other words, the war continues. And we are losing!

Sometimes a person will find a way to lose the weight and become slim, but negative self image and negative self talk does not miraculously disappear with the extra pounds. If we dislike our bodies, at any size, there are probably other things we dislike about our selves, too. Eventually, unless we work on accepting our whole selves, from the inside out, the weight will come back. We think we deserve to be fat.

You see, weight stigma is entrenched in our culture. Fat people are assumed to be lazy, uneducated, unmotivated, unable to get their lives under control. These stereotypes run so deep, that we unconciously apply them to ourselves and our own lives. If we are living in a large body, we see it as a problem to be fixed. Read this week’s article describing Obesity Canada’s views on weight bias here.

But what about health?” we cry. “Surely being overweight is not healthy?” It is true that many of today’s top chronic diseases are associated with obesity. But scientists will be the first to point out that association is not causation. Let’s break it down. Eating better can improve your health. It may lower your blood pressure, it may help keep your blood sugars controlled, it can help you feel more energized, and improve digestive woes. But recognize, eating better may or may not result in weight loss. And weight loss may or may not result in improved health outcomes. You see, it’s the eating better part that is directly tied to health. Which is actually great, because it’s the eating better part that we can control. Physical fitness is another one we can directly control. But weight … Remember those tightly regulated hormones and metabolic adjustments? Weight is controlled by the body; caloric intake and expenditure are only two of a myriad of factors that end up determining a body’s weight.

When I’ve worked with clients in the past under the weight loss agenda, I saw the same sad story repeat itself every time. My client would be doing well with eating, having made many sustainable changes: eating at more regular times, making plans to feed themselves, including a balance of nutrients in meals and snacks, even finding a happy place with regards to including sweets and treats. But get them on the scale…. All of a sudden they are failing. They want to give up. “What’s the point?” And so slowly (or suddenly) they give up. All the healthy habits they have built, out the window. On to the next weight loss diet plan. (After a period of feeling like a failure and eating ice cream directly out of the tub, of course)

What’s the moral of the story here? Change the way you think about yourself. Don’t start eating better based on an ever-elusive promise of weight loss. Don’t fall into that big fat trap… Unless you want to eat better for a little while, then give up, then eat worse for a while to make up for your injured pride, and end up back where you started. Don’t be fooled! There is another way.

Start eating better for you. For health, for satisfaction, for the way it makes you feel, for the role model it sets to your family and friends. Many of us have past food issues, and misunderstandings about nutrition based on bad information that abounds. Many of us need help, and a plan to get us better set up for eating well. I can help you with that. No scale required.

Spinach Squares

I learned this recipe from the fabulous folks at the Dartmouth Family Centre when my child was young enough to participate in their fantastic drop-in programs. The kids just gobble them up, and even the adults were sneaking seconds and thirds! I like these squares because they make such a nourishing and satisfying snack. With nutritious ingredients like spinach, eggs, cheese and flour, they really provide a great combo of carbohydrate, protein and fat. And they taste fantastic!

Make a double batch and freeze some. Kids can shred cheese, measure flour, etc. These are great for snacks, picnic lunches, or serving as a fancy appetizer at your next family gathering. Enjoy!

Ingredients:

  • 1 300g package frozen spinach
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 gently beaten eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 1½ cups shredded mozzarella cheese

Directions:

  1. Thaw spinach overnight, or in the microwave on defrost for about 5 minutes. Drain in colander and squeeze out extra water.
  2. Combine flour, salt, and baking powder in large bowl.
  3. Combine eggs, milk and melted butter in a small bowl, add to dry ingredients and stir to combine.
  4. Add chopped onion, shredded cheese, and spinach. Stir just until combined.
  5. Pour into a 9×13 greased baking dish. Bake at 375°F for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick in centre comes out clean.
  6. Let cool and cut into 24 squares.

Weight Watchers offering free teen memberships

This is happening in the States… will WW Canada be next? What do you think about teenagers joining WW? I will tell you what I think.

I think it is an excellent marketing move for this giant in the weight loss industry. It is a great way to increase their client base. Because, of course, a certain number of teen members will continue to be (paying) adult members. Brand loyalty is especially strong when forged in our young years. Perhaps this is even be a genius marketing move, because research strongly suggests that adolescents are even more likely to become lifelong dieters if they start dieting as teenagers.

So I think it is a good business move. But does it help, or harm, the teens in the process? Medical doctors take an oath to “first, do no harm” with their patients, and allied health professionals have similar codes of ethics. Would you trust the largest player in the weight loss industry worldwide to have the best interests of your adolescent child in mind? Or to just be really smart business strategists?

American Dietitian Rebecca Scritchfield, authour of the book Body Kindness, has written her opinion of Weight Watcher’s new teen promotion for the Washington Post, here. Take a look!