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The Poison of Perfection

Kate Freeman

I told a client the other day that I don’t perfectly follow a meal plan. She was shocked.

“How do you think I eat?” I asked her, a little perplexed at her reaction. “I just assumed that you ate perfectly. All the time,” was her response.

At first, I wanted to answer the question like this: “No. I don’t eat perfectly.” Then I wondered why this was my first reaction.

Chips, dipped in aioli, were on my mind. I do like to eat them. I enjoyed them at the coast two weeks ago. I was also thinking about the Mars Bar I ate after dinner three weeks ago. I was pre-menstrual, grumpy as all shit, and my husband had brought home a peace offering. I also do enjoy a cider, twice a week, and if there happens to be a really good quality cupcake around, then I’ll eat it happily.

Isn’t it funny? I immediately concluded that because I occasionally eat those things listed above, I don’t have a perfect diet. But then I was thinking, where do I draw the line? I put one sugar in my daily coffee. I like to drizzle honey on my muesli.  My yoghurt contains a small amount of added sugar. Isn’t sugar evil? Sometimes I eat a sausage at a BBQ and sometimes, it’s wrapped in white bread. WTF Kate? I eat bacon occasionally (which some people still think is unhealthy) and I put feta on some things, OK, most things.

My mind is starting to create the perfect diet in my head. Because now that I’ve decided I don’t follow a perfect diet, I want to know how far off the mark I am. Here’s my thought trail:

  1. We know that we need to eat vegetables. So the perfect diet would have at least five serves of vegetables.
  2. We know that fruit is good for us (well the sensible people do), but we also know that if we’re not super active then we shouldn’t eat too much. So the perfect diet only has two serves of fruit.
  3. We all know that we shouldn’t eat foods high in energy and low in nutrients, due to processing. So out goes the junk food. No cakes, crackers, biscuits, chips, pastry, pizza, ham, salami, slice, cheesecake, chocolate, ice cream, custard and lollies.
  4. We also know that sugary drinks are all energy and no nutrients. Bye bye soft drink, cordial, most fruit juices and alco pops.
  5. Ok, so there’s a lot of emphasis on processed foods. They’re apparently bad. That means no yoghurt, cheese (of any kind), tinned fish, tinned vegetables, schnitzel, nuggets, fried foods, tinned legumes, bread, pasta, rice, oats, muesli bars, dried fruit and breakfast cereals. No protests, they’re all processed, they’re out. This also applies to protein powder, protein bars and any other ‘protein’ thing that comes in a packet. Even if it says ‘paleo’ or ‘natural’.
  6. Right, so now I can eat vegetables, two pieces of fruit. Whole meats, chicken and seafood. Raw nuts and seeds. And that’s it. That’s the perfect diet…

Brain: Ahhh, excuse me Kate, mind if I butt in? This is not a good thought process.

Kate: Brain, what the hell? I’m trying to discover what the perfect diet is!

Brain: The more you try to make your diet perfect, the more you realise that you have to cut food out or stop eating whole food groups. You know that good nutrition is much more than this.

Kate: Oh brain.

Brain: You know the right conclusion to this thought process.

Kate: Yes brain, I do.

There is no such thing as the perfect diet! Hurrah!

You see, you could create the ‘perfect diet’ of vegetables, fruit, meat, chicken, seafood and nuts, but even then, where do you draw the line? Are potatoes allowed on that diet? They’re vegetables but some people also say they’re carbs and they’re bad and make you fat. What about blending fruit? You’re allowed fruit but if you blend it, now it’s juice. Are you allowed juice? I’ve even had clients who don’t eat salad out of a plastic packet or they’ve cut out broccoli and other vegetables because of the potential for chemicals from pesticides and fertilisers.

The truth is, there is no such thing as a perfect diet. It doesn’t exist. There are only dietary patterns that promote health, and ones that don’t. And that’s all you need to know.

Dietary patterns that promote health have the following characteristics:

  • They are rich in vegetables and plant based foods
  • They tend to include plant-based fats – avocado, nuts, seeds, olives, etc
  • They tend to include legumes and whole grains, rich in dietary fibre
  • They tend to include seafood, eggs and good quality sources of protein
  • They tend to include small amounts of unprocessed meat and chicken

Within this dietary pattern, you need to adjust your nutrition to suit your goals. If you’re not meeting your goals, then you need to make some changes. Not to make your diet more perfect, but to make it geared towards getting your body to do what you want it to. Just make sure that your expectations are realistic!

If you want to lose weight, you need to tailor your diet to include lots of nutrient dense, low energy foods, so you can fill up but reduce your energy intake over time. Regardless of the food rules you follow, you need to create a consistent and significant energy deficit.

If you want to maintain your weight, you need to choose nutrient-rich foods, be aware of your daily energy needs and not exceed them with habitual overeating. Weight maintenance is only a little more food each day than what you’d eat to lose weight. We put on weight over time because we’re eating too much. Not just too much sugar. Not just too many carbs. Not just too much fat or junk food. Too much of everything – except vegetables…95% of us could eat more of those!

If you want to fuel high-performance sport, then you need to meet your daily energy needs with smart, well-timed snacks and meals. You also need to clearly articulate your goals, plan your meals and consider periodising your nutrition over time.

If you’re elderly and need to maintain muscle mass and food enjoyment, you need to up your protein intake and use your favourite flavours to keep food enjoyment high.

And the list goes on.

To conclude. After a moment of thinking, my answer to the client was this: “There is no such thing as the perfect diet, I follow a healthy pattern that’s right for me.”

If you’re looking for real, practical, no-nonsense nutrition advice, then my team at The Healthy Eating Hub can help. We’re in Gungahlin and Woden and have appointments available now for individualised, non-judgmental help! We’ll find a healthy eating pattern that’s right for you!

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Kate Freeman

Kate Freeman is a Registered Nutritionist and the founder and managing director of The Healthy Eating Hub. Kate’s healthy eating philosophy is all about whole, fresh foods, being realistic about life and creating long term healthy eating habits. She doesn’t believe in detoxes, fad diets or quick fixes. Once you’ve finished working with Kate, you’ll be empowered to feed yourself well for the rest of you life! More about the Author

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