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What I’ve learnt as a nutrition student

When Sarah Boykett went back to uni to study nutrition, she had no idea how much it would transform her relationship with food.

Two years ago I quit my job and a steady pay-cheque to become a dietitian. I hoped the hours spent listening to lectures, writing lab reports and reading journal articles would answer my big dietary dilemmas.

In reality, the more I learn, the more questions I have. Something unexpected did happen though – the way I viewed my body and food changed.

Here are a few principles I now follow.

  1. Weight is not the be-all and end-all

Trust me, I have tried every diet in a quest to be healthy – and by healthy, I mean lose weight. Now, my long term health, strength and happiness trump dropping a dress size. My healthy weight is the weight I’m at when I listen to my body, exercise regularly and eat according to my appetite. It really is liberating.

  1. There are no bad foods, only better choices

We all know as soon as we start demonising foods, it leads to a cycle of restriction, bingeing and guilt. I choose sensible foods most of the time, and when I eat some incredible artisan gelato or a packet of chips, I give it my undivided love and attention. Then I go back to business as usual. No guilt. None.

  1. Cut back on meat

I thought I was doing the right thing eating lots of meat – protein is the magic diet bullet, right? What I have learned is that I was eating way too much. Now I’ve added some vegetarian meals to our week, which is a big change for a family who refused ‘meatless Monday’ a while back. There are huge benefits for the body, the planet and the bank balance by going vego part time.

  1. Quitting sugar? Lay off the salt too

I am all for decreasing added sugar, but while you are at it, decrease the salt too. While some people are more salt sensitive than others, decreasing our salt intake can improve blood pressure, kidney health and reduce risk of some cancers. Packaged foods are generally higher in salt than their homemade or wholefood counterpart, so think of it as another reason to get cooking.

  1. Drink milk, not Mylk

If you can tolerate it, the incredible ratio of fat, protein, carbohydrate and minerals in dairy foods make them an ideal snack. Crackers and cheese are a staple in my handbag along with nuts, veggies and fruit to keep me away from the vending machine. Plus, a chocolate milk after a big exercise session is the perfect recovery snack – who needs an expensive protein shake?

If you need to drink dairy alternatives, look at the protein content and make sure it’s fortified with calcium. While you’re there, check the ingredients list – some milk alternatives are definitely better than others.

  1. If in doubt, go Mediterranean

Mediterranean diets are varied, but the common thread is eating a variety of fresh ingredients. By eating what’s in season, your diet will feature fruit, vegetables, legumes, fish and olive oil, with incredible health benefits.

Family dinner is a big deal in our house and we don’t rush mealtimes, which is supported by research showing this can help decrease overall food intake through more mindful eating.

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