A Letter To My Children: What Really Counts, By Dietitian Laura Clark
There are Cornish views as I type this – except it is dark because who has time to blog during the day in half term! Holidays in Cornwall filled with pasties, ice creams, fudge and cream teas and grandparents primed to spoil equal joy for my children and despair for their dietitian mum!
But then I got to thinking, does it really matter? It’s only a week! As my children move through life collecting subliminal food messages from the likes of Peppa Pig, Charlie and Lola and the vloggers of the future what are the messages I want them to take from all my efforts (and qualifications)!?
Well this is the blog post I’d write to them sharing my thoughts and wisdom (!)
Whilst they’re learning to read, I hope you enjoy!
Dear Emilia and Sam,
Here are my top tips for a healthy, happy life with food…
Keep the house clean but not necessarily your food.
At the moment clean eating is a big thing – it’s causing friction as qualified nutrition professionals such as your Mum confront self-styled nutrition experts who are making claims about food which have no scientific bearing. Perhaps in a fast paced world where we feel less control over things than we used to, we are seeking ultimate control over our diets, perceiving a ‘clean one’ to be better for us. In truth, there is no one perfect diet but a diet lacking in major nutrients and food groups is not the answer.
Balance it out.
I may have had Frosties for breakfast before school every morning (eek sorry kids, major confession there!) but I cleaned my teeth and got plenty of B vitamins! Sugar wasn’t public enemy number one when I was your age and to quote your Grandpa ‘It never did me any harm’ – but things are different now. It’s more abundant and we seem to have lost all perspective on what a portion size for you should be. You’ll be relieved to know your Mum paid attention in portion guide class and as a result you will not be offered a chocolate cake the size of your head on my shift.
One thing your grandparents probably got right though, was never banning foods. I could have some treats and usually some the next day too if I wanted. When foods are banished or quoted as ‘bad for you’ they lose their context within a balanced diet and tend to become disproportionately desirable. I’ve worked with many people who have had food denial used as a form of punishment or food given excessively as reward – when food is manipulated in this way, it takes away its potential to nourish and gives it the power to destruct.
Keep eating breakfast.
You seem to enjoy it at the moment – in fact it’s the one meal you seem to eat without any fuss – you may not gobble it down in time to watch Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom in future but I hope that you always make time for it… it fuels your brains and your bodies and helps regulate your appetite through the day. Statistically you’re more likely to be leaner if you eat breakfast and whilst it’s not necessarily the metabolism booster it’s claimed to be, it is associated with healthier habits in life generally.
Keep testing your bodies.
I love to watch your enthusiasm when you complete a forward roll on the sofa, or perfect a bottom wiggle dance move. Our bodies are meant to move and years of being terrible at netball or any ball sport to be honest rather put me off. It’s taken a while for me to embrace activity again, to realise its benefits and to appreciate its ability to strengthen both my body and my mind. I hope you have your Dad’s coordination skills but above all have fun and keep testing your bodies in new ways.
Your bodies will change over time, inevitably there will be bits you won’t like but definitely bits you do. Always respect what goes into your bodies but go wild occasionally! With good habits hopefully instilled from childhood (I say confidently) it all falls back into place eventually!
Never judge a book by its cover.
All too often people are judged from the outside. We do have an obesity crisis in this country and this is caused by a whole host of things. Some of your friends will have been born predisposed to developing obesity and potentially diabetes which is really sad – it’s not their fault and it makes it tough. The habits that we see as normal when we’re little become our default setting when we’re older. That’s why I care so much. Our relationship with food is often a complex thing – and behind the scenes there’s always a reason why we have habits that may not seem that good for us! Seek to understand and don’t jump to conclusions.
Don’t confuse physiology with technology.
Worryingly you are almost falling into the stat of 58% of 3-5 year olds being able to operate a smart phone. Despite future innovations in science and technology, no one will have reinvented the digestive tract. Be smart with your gadgets but also your body. When it comes to physiology nothing is instant or fixed by the click of a button. What you eat now helps to protect your health for the future. The UK’s most prevalent diseases do not develop overnight. There are a thousand opportunities in your lifetime to halt what could otherwise develop into something nasty by creating an environment inside your body that makes the existence of misbehaving cells very hard. That’s what disease is at the end of the day – misbehaving cells egging on their mates to do the same.
To stand the best chance of this it’s best to…
Embrace the plants!
When I was a little girl I was raised on meat and two veg – and one of those ‘veg’ was usually potatoes. As a result I will always be a little afraid of the lentils in the cupboard! There’s no doubt that a more plant based diet is more protective in the long term. I urge you to make meat the accompaniment in your diets, not the centre piece. Enjoy plenty of fruit and veg and plant based proteins such as soy, nuts, seeds, pulses and wholegrains -the more diverse, the more your gut will thank you for it. Getting to know and influencing the bacteria in your guts is the future apparently – I’ll let you fill me on the latest when you study biology!
And that’s it… for now – come on eat up! J
Through evidence based nutrition expertise Laura aims to educate, motivate and inspire people to lead healthy balanced lives. Laura has a wealth of experience having worked in the health service in the UK and abroad for 14 years. Her private practice and consultancy, LEC Nutrition was established in 2005. She is a media spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association and also enjoys contributing to mainstream press, television and radio.