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Nutritional Therapists: Food Police or Food Educators?

by Penny Crowther(more info)

listed in weight loss, originally published in issue 90 - July 2003

At the beginning of the year, a television series called 'Diet Another Day' featured different people undergoing various diets, health and exercise treatments. This was primetime evening viewing, potentially a great opportunity to educate and inspire the public about healthy eating. Instead, in the opening programme, there was a round of interviews with celebrities and members of the public, each recounting their negative experiences of dieting. In a covert attack on nutritional therapists, an expert denounced wheat and dairy free detoxifying diets as unworkable, misery inducing and pointless.

In another part of the programme, a journalist was featured undergoing a detoxification programme, which involved a diet and other treatments. In video diary style, she was shown complaining about how boring she found the food, how low she felt and how she had become a social recluse. She did however admit that she felt some health benefits. But the impression given was that any health gains were at the cost of leading a boring, pleasure free and sad life, and that it was not really worth the effort. With a few exceptions, this cynical view seemed to be the theme of the whole series.

I guess the point of the programme was to comfort all the guilt-ridden people who had broken their New Year's resolutions by the end of the first week in January. To be fair, the programme was also exposing the exploitative profit driven side of the diet industry. But it could have been really helpful to look more deeply at the reasons why people fail to stick to diets and offer some positive solutions. Repeating that meaningless mantra, 'eat a balanced diet' clearly doesn't work. If it did, obesity would not be such a huge modern day problem.

A misconception, reinforced by the television series and frequently by the media in general, that nutritional therapists are the 'food police' and that dieting means taking the pleasure out of eating is the first obstacle to overcome. Take a new client, Jane, for example.

Within the first few minutes of the consultation, she was keen to get across to me her love of food and her concern that I was going to take this away. A friend had recommended she come and see me, and Jane had already steeled herself for what she believed would be an ordeal. But she left me feeling very positive about trying new foods, grateful for receiving a lot of information that was interesting to her, and with a modified view of what healthy eating really meant.

Another obstacle when following diets can be low mood. Our attitude to food is deeply entwined with our emotions and longstanding habits acquired during our childhood. Therefore, changing the way we eat is bound to have a wider impact than simply going down different aisles in the supermarket. The physiological effects of giving up certain foods or drinks are fairly well documented – for example, the familiar headaches which often accompany caffeine withdrawal. But the emotional connections are often not made. Often we eat for all sorts of reasons which have nothing to do with hunger. We may reach for sweet or fatty foods for comfort or relief from boredom. When we don't eat these foods we can experience intensified feelings of loneliness, sadness, boredom or apathy. Before reaching for the food, pausing, taking a few deep breaths and a drink of water and allowing any feelings to come up can reduce the desire to binge. Sometimes counselling or a supportive healing treatment, such as Reiki, may be needed to process strong feelings. Regular meditation and mindbody exercise, such as Yoga, can also be really helpful.

After a few weeks on a programme, my clients sometimes report vivid dreams or memories from the past which they had buried. Or they may feel particularly sad for no apparent reason. Sometimes, very strong emotions come up during the early stages of a diet change, particularly if it is detoxifying programme. For example in Chinese medicine, a sluggish liver is linked with unexpressed anger. As the liver detoxifies physically the long repressed anger may burst forth unexpectedly! It is important to explain the possibility of this happening to the client beforehand. If they are not prepared for possible emotional outbursts they may blame the diet as being not right for them. But if he or she is encouraged go with what might seem negative reactions on the surface and not try to resist them, these reactions can be major catalysts for personal growth.

Sometimes family relations will be affected. If the client is prepared for this they may be better able to deal with it. For example, one of my clients fell out with her mother who took her daughter's change of diet as a personal criticism of the way in which she had brought her up. Friends can react very negatively. This can be because they start to become aware of their own eating habits and lifestyle and they may feel envious or slightly threatened. Changes in close relationships can result in feelings of insecurity. Often in time, friends come to accept the new behaviour. But, if they don't, it is important to seek support from other people going through similar lifestyle changes.

Finally, a word about freedom of choice. A nutritional therapist can provide education about the negative effects a particular food or eating habit may be having on a person. The client can then make an informed decision whether to continue with the food or habit or to replace it. If the client decides to continue with his or her original eating patterns, that is fine and it is done so with an awareness that was not present before. I always stress to clients that whatever changes they make, however small, will make a difference and I try to get them to set realistic goals. Striving for perfection can be the most successful form of sabotage!

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For breaking addictions to destructive eating habits.

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Helps with upheavals in close relationships.

For moving forward, moving away from unsupportive people in your life. Initiation into new way of life.

Temporary apathy, lack of enthusiasm

Mood swings, boredom, sugar cravings, commitment to follow through, emotional balance.


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About Penny Crowther

Penny Crowther BANT CNHC qualified as a nutritional therapist in 1997 and has been in clinical practice ever since. She has seen several thousand clients over the years, at her practice in London and online. Penny now specializes in nutrition for women in their 40s and beyond, particularly around peri and post menopause. Mid Life for women can be a time when fluctuating hormones play havoc with your wellbeing. In the midst of all the publicity around HRT, it's easy to forget just how powerful diet and lifestyle changes can be when it comes to navigating the menopausal years.

Penny will guide and support you through specific changes to your diet, targeted to you specifically, in midlife. She provides practical, easy to follow menu plans with easy and delicious recipes. The food you eat affects every cell and system in your body. It optimizes how you look and feel, both mentally and physically.

To book an appointment view consultation options here >>

As well as being a regular columnist for Positive Health, Penny has written for Holland and Barrett, and contributed to articles for the Daily TelegraphThe Times Literary supplement, Pregnancy & Birth and Marie Claire. She has been featured in the Daily Express, Daily Mirror and on local radio.

Penny is a registered nutritional therapist with standards of training endorsed by BANT (British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy) and CNHC. This includes completing 30 hours of continuing professional development, annually.

Penny’s approach to health is holistic, and takes into account emotional, mental and environmental factors as well as nutrition. She has trained in coaching and studied many complementary therapies before qualifying as a nutritionist, which provides a broad foundation of knowledge in her nutrition practice. Penny may be contacted on Tel: 07761 768 754;

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