Let’s be honest with ourselves – how many of us actually eat a balanced diet? Exact amounts or portions of protein, fat, fibre, etcetera? Nine times out of ten, it is a case of fattier foods one day, more meat or fish another, so on, so forth.
Indeed it is an age–old story – we have all at some point in our lives at least considered dieting. Abstaining from certain foods that could be harmful to us, and as a result (hopefully) lose some weight.
One of the most notorious food groups is the carbohydrates – in particular starch – found in bread, potatoes and pasta – and sugars. As we know, these foods help to give us energy, unless of course, we do not burn it off afterwards. Then it stores in our body as that old friend of ours – fat.
And these days, who do we blame? The kids.
In parents and grandparents, one of the more popular reasons for not being able to keep up a diet is due to the things their children or grandchildren eat.
For example, pensioner Mrs Barbara Shearing, 70, has tried on many an occasion to give up carbohydrates – in particular, bread.
“At my age, I do not need the energy because I don’t move around as much as I used to,” Mrs Shearing said, “I don’t need as many carbs now. Because I did not burn it off afterwards, I would just put on weight.”
Mrs Shearing went on to explain why, in the event of her putting on weight, it was vital that she did something about what she ate.
“As an arthritis sufferer in my knees, the extra weight I had gained was putting more pressure on my bones,” she told us, “So I would be in pain for days if I hadn’t been good. Especially in walking. And my back would hurt a lot as well.”
However, with two grandchildren who visit her frequently, Mrs Shearing feels they depend on the carbs, but does not say no to them while they are there.
“With younger people such as my grandchildren – they need the carbs,” she explains, “Because they stay with me so frequently, I felt I needed to buy them bread and stuff like that. But then there was just too much temptation. When the food’s just there – it’s very, very hard, but when they go back to school or whatever I don’t feel like I have to buy them so the temptation’s not there.”
Annemarie Aburrow, RD – a nutritionist, freelance dietitian and blogger based in Southampton – attributes an inability to abstain to more than just laziness:
“The main reason is that people think of it as just that – a diet. They start cutting out food groups and exercising at unsustainable levels, then wonder why all the weight piles back on when they stop ‘dieting’. Successful weight loss is about making permanent, sustainable diet and lifestyle change – eat less, move more.”
She also took into account the psychological reasons:
“[They] play a big role,” she said, “but as long as people have the right motivation and make small, achievable, realistic goals, they should succeed. In terms of parents and children, parents should be encouraging their kids to eat healthily from a young age, to role modelling good eating, exercise and table manners, and eat the same foods.”
However, Annemarie dismisses the idea of giving carbohydrates in general, and that the key to weight loss lies in something simpler:
“There are no health benefits to giving up carbs – only to reduce your portion sizes. A portion of rice is four cooked tablespoons – most people eat double or triple this, then wonder why they’re not losing weight! Cutting down on sugar and sugary foods is also key to weight loss. Reducing sugary drinks, sweets, chocolate, cakes, biscuits and even fruit juices and smoothies.”
She elaborated on her point of portion control:
“Reduce your portions of starchy carbohydrates,” she advises, “They should only take a quarter of your plate. Veggies should fill half the plate and the other quarter from protein foods, for example meat and/or fish. Fill up on fruit and veggies. There’s emerging evidence on the role of eating more protein-rich foods to increase satiety (feeling full for longer). Beans and pulses, for instance: lentils, kidney beans and chickpeas, are great.”
In 2010, the NHS reported that three–out–of–ten children aged between two and fifteen–years–old were considered overweight or obese.
In the same report, a “significant upward trend” in the purchases of dairy products such as eggs and butter, and sugary foods including jam (all of which are high in respective carbohydrates) was also noted.
While many health professionals say that giving up such foods are one step closer to a healthier diet, Rachel Meltzer Warren, a writer for women’s health website prevention.com, like Annemarie, disagrees. In her article “Foods Not to Ditch When You Diet”, she highlighted bread, potatoes and pasta among the top “forbidden” foods that should not be given up.
Bread and potatoes – common starchy foods – can be easily substituted. Tortilla wraps can be used for lunchtime snacks, and mashed carrots, swede and parsnips as a tasty alternative to potatoes on dishes such as Cottage Pie. Additionally, sweet potatoes are a healthy replacement for potatoes in making chips.
However it turns out there are other effects to giving up carbohydrates than reducing pain and losing weight. Dr Olivia Loew, a practitioner in sexual health at Southampton General Hospital, explains how a better diet can affect prowess in bed. According to her, dieting cannot always be a good thing:
“While there’s no direct link between giving up carbohydrates and sexual health, it has been suggested that there is a connection between dieting and a loss of libido,” Dr Loew told us, “Couples may experience a decrease in their sex life if one or both of them are on a diet.”
She has explored the advantages of abstaining from a sugary diet as well: “Lowering your sugar intake has been linked to a reduced risk of thrush. And of course the danger of getting diabetes is also decreased.”
What people forget is that children only eat what their parents introduce them to. With a 20% decrease in five–to–fifteen–year–olds eating fruits and vegetables since 2010, is it any wonder the child obesity levels are on the rise?
Another problem is that there are so many diets out there now; one will tell you to eat certain things and give up others, and then another will tell you to do the exact opposite. And also some focus on individual nutrients; whereas others like the Slimming World diet do not even educate their participants on the nature of calories. Then there are those that focus on simple moderation, such as Weight Watchers, which relies on a points system.
Food professionals have also got differing views on the subject of healthy eating. Jamie Oliver had a whole television series dedicated to helping children learn the benefits of eating healthily, whereas kitchen queen Delia Smith openly admitted in one of her television appearances that she does not believe in “healthy foods” at all. That is not to say she snubs healthy eating; she is more a believer in moderation as opposed to banning certain things completely.
It can only be seen as natural that all a child wants is sweets, sugar and basically all the stuff that they are being told they are not allowed to have, because of the increasingly–heavy emphasis on healthy eating. And while it is clear that the good points of dieting definitely outweigh the bad ones, what a child is and is not “allowed” to eat within their diet cannot be decided by anyone but the parent, not the other way around. Neither a professional nutritionist nor a celebrity who claims to have discovered the secret to thinness.