Have your oats, but don’t forget the cheesecake.
I am an Australian critical care doctor with a not-so-secret love for all things food (except for coriander). I have an innate inability to sit still (both figuratively and literally), a never-ending case of the travel bug, an affinity for alliteration and a tendency to bribe my colleagues with baked goods.
When I’m not excruciatingly sleep deprived from night shift, you can find me accruing CPD points, booking my next holiday, baking up a storm or sussing out the latest local cafe opening.
The world of health and nutrition can be confusing and difficult to navigate in a time where science is rapidly evolving and every pretty Instagram influencer seems to have the latest diet fad to dish out to their followers. One minute it’s acai and charcoal and spirulina, the next it’s drinking coconut oil (please don’t do that) – so who knows what the next marketers fever dream will be?
My attitude to a healthy diet is simple. Eat nourishing food to enrich the body 80% of the time, and enjoy your favourite treats to enrich the soul for the other 20%.
It has taken a long time for me to truly appreciate this balance!
As a teenager in the early 2000’s, I struggled with the idea of a healthy lifestyle. After all, we were the generation famously given the message “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels“. Long before the days of social media, we were bombarded with advertising in our favourite girlie magazines about how we should love ourselves for who we are, followed by tips on how to quickly drop the last 10kg to get the guy. Way before Paleo was even a thing , we knew all about Dr Atkins, the cabbage soup diet and South Beach – extreme diets forged in the midst of the rise of fast food outlets and the packaged food revolution, eons before the detox-teas and diet plans of Instagram were ever even conceptualised.
Fast forward 20 years where two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese. Our time-poor culture is only compounded by the availability of home-delivery services we never would have dreamed about as kids. We also have social media in all it’s glory, which assaults us with photo-shopped images of skinny ‘influencers’ flogging this month’s latest diet trend, flanked by “food porn” posts bragging about the biggest burgers, the most loaded fries and the tallest freakshakes you can find. And don’t even get me started on the self-proclaimed ‘health bloggers’ who have no formal science based qualification whatsoever, but who are all too keen to dish out grossly unfounded advice about the latest ‘superfood’ that ” the doctors don’t want you to know about!” (cue eye roll here – in the words of Tim Minchin, “You know what they call alternative medicine that’s been proved to work? – Medicine”).
It’s interesting to see how after 20 years we’re still being inundated with these ridiculous ideas about food, health and lifestyle – it’s just now everyone has their own two cents to throw in the pot, whether they have any real credibility or not.
A word of advice from me, as someone who doesn’t have a cult social media following to maintain or their own range of unnecessary vitamins to promote; but as someone who has happily invested 12 years of study and a lifetime of financial debt into a career in medicine. A career of unsociable rosters, long hours, night shift and thousands of hours accruing a never-ending depth and breadth of knowledge about the human body. A career that I have sacrificed much of my own life for, in pursuit of improving the lives of others.
Healthy is NOT:
- Constantly calorie restricting, then bingeing and purging when the hunger finally catches up
- Making up for your dietary indiscretions with gummy vitamins or protein shakes
- Exercising to the extremes just to punish yourself for what you ate last night
- Obsessively documenting food in MyFitnessPal under the guise of being ‘self controlled’
- Avoiding vegetables but eating bacon and ice-cream because it “fits your macros bro”
- Making an abundance of excuses for why you can’t possibly exercise or eat well today
- Being “too busy” to eat well (most people are not truly too busy – just too tired, a bit disorganised, or sometimes even just a bit lazy)
The harsh confines of extreme diet and lifestyle restriction are just as bad as the daily pursuit of overwhelming culinary hedonism. Healthy is not about the extremes. Healthy is about balance.
In my career, I have experienced first hand how incredibly short life can be, so I am not advocating for you to ditch your favourite treats (I have never met a patient on death’s door who wished they’d eaten more kale). 80% of the time you should eat like you’re going to live to be 100. Eat a wide variety of mostly unprocessed foods, not too much, lots of plants and as many different naturally-occurring colours as possible. Be open-minded and experiment. You may just figure out which fruit, veggies, grains and pulses you genuinely like, which work within your budget and restraints of cooking time. If you have no idea where to start, ask a friend, ask your Mum, try a meal box service complete with recipes – we’ve all got to start somewhere.
BUT – there’s no point living to be 100 if you haven’t lived a life well-lived. So 20% of the time, be kind to yourself and give yourself permission to eat the dessert and drink the wine. Fully immerse yourself in the moment, be mindful, don’t rush and make sure you thoroughly enjoy every bite of it. You can have your oats, just don’t forget the cheesecake.