The Nutrition Conundrum

“We are what we eat”, is a saying we have all heard, probably told ourselves or others the odd time or two over the years.

We have a plethora of diets in the marketplace. I say marketplace because generally someone is making money out of the various diets. Over the last month or so I have been astounded at the COMPLETE opposites out there.

I watched a couple of videos of lectures where it was “proven” (?) we are herbivores. We should never eat meat.

Then I have read and watched other qualified people swear we are carnivores, just live on meat.

Both sides all very convincing presentations, I have to say, in isolation.

We have LCHF (low carb, healthy fat), Atkin’s, Dukan, Paleo – the list goes on. Although not my usual reference material, Wikipedia does have a LONG list of diets.

It is 2018 – you’d think by now we’d have a consensus on what we should be eating! We’ve been to the Moon, we can do heart/lung transplants, but we can’t decide what to eat?

Then I came across this article, “The Last Conversation You’ll Ever Need to Have About Eating Right“. The opening paragraph echoed my thoughts beautifully.

It’s beyond strange that so many humans are clueless about how they should feed themselves. Every wild species on the planet knows how to do it; presumably ours did, too, before our oversized brains found new ways to complicate things. Now, we’re the only species that can be baffled about the “right” way to eat.

Well, we don’t see lions or sheep or elephants debating about what to eat, do we?

Time recently published “There’s No Such Thing as a Single ‘Best’ Diet“, a roundup of recent findings.

The estimated 45 million Americans who embark on one of these eating plans each year often do so to lose weight — a highly personal process that can lead to various results. One person finds success cutting carbs. Another swears by going vegan. A third fills up on healthy fats. Each one believes she’s they’ve found the elusive secret to weight loss.

An ever-growing body of evidence, however, suggests there’s no such thing as a single “best” diet — and that nutrition is a whole lot simpler than our fascination with fads would suggest.

The edit above is mine – removing gendered pronoun! Basically, the core of a lot of the diets is the same – the proponents tinker around the edges and give it a new, attractive, (dare we suggest profitable?) name.

Yes, too much sugar is bad for our health – here’s what the science says” is the final article in a very good series about sugar from The Conversation.

The World Health Organisation recommends limiting “free sugars” to less than 10% of our total energy intake. This equates to around 12 teaspoons a day for an average adult.

But more than half of Australian adults exceed this limit, often without knowing. “Free sugars” don’t just come from us sweetening coffees and teas or home-cooked dinners; they are added by manufacturers during processing.

It’s often a surprise to learn just how many teaspoons of sugar are added to popular foods and drinks: (My note: check out the graphic – scary stuff).

I’m not even going to address the current war of words about the sugar lobby in the old days putting all the blame on fat, or the debate about the cereal lobby essentially “controlling” the establishment of government dietary guidelines. Google it, there is plenty of content relating to those debates online.

There is no doubting there is money being made in trying to encourage people to eat a specific way. One particular high profile diet promoter appeared in my Twitter feed yesterday, complaining that a criticism of his diet “… threatens my business model“. Not a skerrick of concern expressed about client HEALTH, or actually addressing the criticism in any constructive manner. Nope, “business model”, I.E. MONEY, was the expressed concern. Interestingly both tweets were deleted shortly after: very disappointing as I wanted a screen grab!

As I followed that black line up and down the pool yesterday, I tried to put myself back in the earliest days of human existence. I didn’t want to be influenced by the massive amounts of “EAT THIS WAY” media reports and yes, I know the Australian Dietary Guidelines inside out. I wanted a blank slate.

I live in a cave, which my little wandering band of humans was lucky enough to find. Do I have hunting weapons yet? Painting my mental picture, spears appeared leaning against the front door rock. Yes, we had a front door rock! How do you think we kept the bears out at night? Are we pre or post fire? I couldn’t remember, while swimming, if spears came before or after fire in the history of mankind’s development. If I’m pre-fire, that means raw meat, something I’m not a great fan of. Oh, well.

Looking out of my cave, what do I think I am likely to see that I can EASILY feed on? Fruit probably (seasonal of course). Green, leafy plants definitely. Think wild spinach and silverbeet type plants.

BUGS! Oh, yes, plenty of bugs! “To feed two billion more people, the world needs a bug diet“. Mind you, that’s if there are any bugs left – humans dislike bugs, we spend a lot of time, money and energy trying to eradicate bugs. Cockroach or centipede for dinner, dear? Of course, there is always “Soylent Green” for the future. If you haven’t seen that movie, get it. No spoilers here.

Meat would actually have been quite hard for my family to get; probably highly prized. We are a small band, including women and children. Wild animals are faster than our little legs, moving in large herds. They are very good at dodging our spears too. Fish aren’t much easier to get and birds? OMG, those darn things FLY! Roast wild turkey is not on the menu this week! Oh, I forget – have I got fire yet? Maybe not roast.


I have read research showing ancient societies ate a lot of meat but that little evidence of meat eating was found in the analysed remains of different peoples in a different location. Could this be a question of timing? Herds of animals move – maybe these second group of people had no access to meat for a time before their untimely demise? Was it an area not well populated by animals? Lots of questions.

So what do I think I am eating in my cave days? ANYTHING I can get my hands on that keeps me alive! There is no bread, ice-cream or pastry. I am probably gathering nuts and grains when in season. Just because we wouldn’t eat raw grains NOW doesn’t mean we didn’t then. Maybe we soaked them to soften them, I have no idea. But if I am hungry and there is a patch of grains ripening, I’m likely going to eat them.

Yes, if I can get meat or fish or birds, you bet I’m going to eat meat.

What about food storage? Squirrels store nuts, why would humans not store nuts. Depending on location, perhaps fruits could be sun dried or dehydrated for storage.

I’m an omnivore. I’m a human. I eat whatever I can get my hands on to stay alive.

The National Geographic has a lengthy but interesting article about research into the evolution of the human diet, “The Evolution of Diet“.

These examples suggest a twist on “You are what you eat.” More accurately, you are what your ancestors ate. There is tremendous variation in what foods humans can thrive on, depending on genetic inheritance. Traditional diets today include the vegetarian regimen of India’s Jains, the meat-intensive fare of Inuit, and the fish-heavy diet of Malaysia’s Bajau people. The Nochmani of the Nicobar Islands off the coast of India get by on protein from insects. “What makes us human is our ability to find a meal in virtually any environment,” says the Tsimane study co-leader Leonard.

Scientists slam the caveman diet – and say early humans just ate whatever they could to survive and reproduce” is another article highlighting the hit and miss nature of stone age eating.

It said hunter-gatherers in cold northern climes would have had an almost exclusive animal-derived diet but those living near the equator would have eaten more plants and fruits.

While early hominids were not great hunters, and their teeth was not great for exploiting many specific categories of plant food, they were most likely dietary ‘jacks-of-all-trades.’

That article points out we’ve changed the nutritional value of the plants and fruits we do eat based on what we deem is “desirable” rather than nutritious.

Yet modern strawberries have been selected to be large and sweet adding: ‘The foods that we’re eating today, even in the case of fruits and vegetables, have been selected for desirable properties and would differ from what our ancestors were eating.’

The other obvious variable is VARIETY (see what I did there?). Due to seasonality and mobility I suggest the variety in our diet would have been far greater than it is now. We ate what was available, when it was available, to stay alive and reproduce. Sure, today we still have some produce seasonality, but generally speaking we can go to the local supermarket and get the same things week in and week out.


So where does all that leave you and I, us sufferers of various medical conditions? Are we what we ate? Maybe partly. What should we eat now that we are sick, trying to get well and/or manage our conditions?

There are medical diets. If you are on one, stay on it.

If you are like me and have calorie challenges as I describe in “Lighten Up to Limber Up“, we have to get the best value nutrition within our NET calorie allowance (given our reduced fuel burn rate). Remember to fuel your exercise, so it is NET calories as described in that article.

I’m not telling you what to eat. I am asking you to THINK about what you are eating. Are you eating what you know you should be eating, or are you eating quick, easy, sweet, fatty, processed foods with little nutritional value? Are you getting adequate iron, protein and other nutrients you need?

Give your body what it needs to help fight whatever condition it is you are fighting. Bugs are optional menu items at this time.

PS: Yes, I enjoyed the pancakes VERY much!

If you need guidance with exercise or nutrition to help you manage your conditions, please Contact me.

Additional References:

Carbohydrates & Cardiovascular disease – by Dr Zoë Harcombe, awarded a Ph.D. in public health nutrition in 2016.

Food scales

Lighten Up to Limber Up

Many people with chronic health conditions are told by their doctor to “lose weight”. Having a chronic condition can mean the weight creeps on, often prior to diagnosis when we don’t know what is wrong, just that we aren’t well. This may continue after we are diagnosed, while we wait for treatment decisions to be made or for treatment to kick in. We may be on a steroid for a while (as I was) which despite the best intentions in the world can result in patients gaining unwanted kilos. Lots of stuff going on that disrupts our normal patterns, can effect our ability to see we are gaining a kilo or two.

How many times do any of us get home from work too tired to cook a proper meal, so we have a toasted cheese sandwich? With Vegemite, of course! Or grab take-away on the way home? Maybe even Vita-wheat, Vegemite and cheese. That’s 232 calories, but not really nutritionally balanced. Doesn’t look too appealing either, to be honest.

Vita-Wheat Vegemite Cheese

In addition, because we don’t feel well, we aren’t exercising enough to compensate for our often less than optimal food choices. We are defeating ourselves from both aspects: too much in, not enough out. We are NOT necessarily able to just ramp up our weights or cardio and burn that cheese sandwich right off. In fact, walking from the car to the lift at work may be as much as we can manage some days. Adjusting to our new activity levels means adjusting to new fuel levels as well.

I can see some readers rolling their eyes already: “I knew she’d get to the weight loss eventually, but I want a coach who isn’t all about the scales“.  Hear me out. Let me assure you I am not all about the scales (actually, I am all about food scales), but I mostly certainly AM about helping my clients attain and maintain a weight that supports their efforts to manage their condition – or conditions. Take a good honest look at my picture below – do I really look like Vogue are going to invite me to appear on their cover next month? Of course not – I am no Australian size 6 – nor do I aspire to be. That photo is 12 months old – taken shortly after my medication change but before I was able to ramp up my own weights, but I have used it deliberately to illustrate the challenge we face.limberation-small-15

What I aspire to is being pain free and in control of my conditions. I’ve achieved that as far as my autoimmune conditions are concerned, but I can still improve my back support (detail later in this article). I am not going to complain if I lose a few more kilograms, but neither am I going to obsess about it. While the lighter I am the less stress there is on my joints, where I am right now I’m more interested in building strength (to support my joints and increase my metabolism (in turn encouraging those kilos to drop off as a nice side benefit).

Make no mistake, when it comes to your health, the risk of developing a range of conditions is dramatically increased if you are overweight or obese (comorbidities associated with obesity are conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer to name just three) . The risk of negative long term health outcomes are higher if you remain overweight or obese. The medical and scientific evidence is overwhelming.

Being overweight increases the load on joints for conditions such as the arthritis family. The heart has to work harder to pump blood around. If you find doing stuff an effort, imagine how hard your internal organs are working. My lumbar spine is not a lumbar spine I would recommend either – as we get older, lots of bits and pieces tend to show wear and tear, irrespective of any conditions we may have. In my case my lumbar spine is a bit unhappy. So core and glute strength is important for me.

At L3/L4 I have “marked facet joint hypertrophy” and a disc bulge. At L4/L5 I have a broad-based disc herniation and facet joint arthropathy. The complete findings run a full page, that’s just a sample. I don’t need or want to place any more stress on my back by making it carry around extra kilograms or not supporting it with good muscle tone. I still have some intermittent pain we suspect may be the result of this wear and tear, but it is improving.

To give your body the best chance of serving you well for the next 20, 30 or 40 years, you need to take care of it. Especially now a medical condition/(s) is making a darn fine effort at undermining your plans. Reduce the strain on the joints, give your heart and lungs a lighter workload, give your body the right fuel in the right amounts.

Speaking of fuel, when you take your car to fill up the tank with petrol or diesel, the fuel tank has a finite capacity. My car has a 60 litre tank. I can’t put 70 litres in the car. Our bodies are a little more flexible. My body will use an estimated 1,388 calories a day to stay alive: breath, pump blood around, blink (refer BMR Calculator below this article). I’m 62, so my metabolism is already slowed just by the fact I’m not longer 20. If I eat more than 1,388 plus whatever my activity calorie burn is but don’t use it, I’ll just expand. Unlike the car’s fuel tank, my body has no capacity limitations. Nor does yours.

Example: 1,388 + 100 for steps for day + 380 for a strength workout = Total 1,868

If I eat 2,200 calories, guess where the excess over 1,868 is going? Fat stores. That puts more stress on my joints, internal organs have to work harder.

Many of the learned articles on overweight/obesity talk in financial terms of the costs to the community and the country. I’m concerned about the personal non-financial costs to YOU, the individual.

I won’t lie to you. Getting into the groove of eating less calories BECAUSE you are burning less calories is a bit tough initially. As I mentioned in my opening paragraph, it may be a while before you even realise your activity levels have dropped or your metabolism may have slowed as a result of your new friend, your condition. We have to adjust to not burning as much as we used to: it requires us to develop new habits, change behaviours: that is hard. But only for the first few weeks. What bothers you more? A difficult few weeks –  or a tough (possibly shortened) rest of your life? The sooner you take positive action, the shorter the road will be.

Am I saying I never have a Murray River Salted Caramel with Macadamia ice cream (my nemesis)?

Connoisseur Murray River Salted Caramel

No, I’m not saying that. I like to have the things I really enjoy every now and then. I am also well aware that “little” indulgence is worth 339 calories. In other words, worth a whole meal (for my calorie levels, you may be able to have more). If I’ve burnt off 400 calories through activity that day, I can indulge and still hit my calorie deficit target. If I’m having a day where for whatever reason I’ve done very little activity, I make sure I am strict with myself. Keep on top of it, because we no longer have the luxury of going for a 40 kilometre bike ride to pull back a couple of naughty days.

All that discussion was without even looking at ensuring we are getting balanced nutrition. Our body is fighting an internal battle for us now – we need to give it the right nutrients (micro and macro) to put up the best fight it can. That’s a whole different topic for another day!

This article should be read as an introduction and conversation starter only. The concepts discussed are general and not tailored for any individual circumstances. Limberation can provide healthy eating support and guidance.

Additional resources:

PwC report, Weighing the Cost of Obesity

BMR Calculator

BMI Calculator

Australian Guide to Healthy Eating

Also check the references on the Science Stuff page.