(Store this in the "your health is your wealth" file...)
Earlier this year I participated in the Appetite for Life (AFL) healthy lifestyle programme. It is a programme that involves six weekly workshops. These workshops are highly interactive and involve food tasting/demonstrations to put everything what you learn into context.
I recommend the course highly. One of the underlying philosophies that attracted me was that it is NOT A DIET. Rather, it "focuses on many small lifestyle changes that together add up to a big change in health", and "aims to normalise healthy eating behaviour and moving more while putting weight loss into perspective with other health issues." It is about lifestyle, and sustainable improvements.
The following are some of the points covered by the course. By no means does it cover all of its contents. And the point that I really need to stress is that the regular, interactive workshop environment, with actual demonstrations, was an essential reason for why this course was successful. If you're interested in nutrition and living a healthy lifestyle, and you're in Christchurch, I highly recommend the course.
- Food doesn't just provide kilojoules; it also provides nutrients. We need to orient our diet towards nutrient rich foods and away from kilojoule dense foods.
Some of the exercises contrasted a diet high in nutrient rich foods with a diet high in kilojoule dense foods. Seeing them side by side was profound.
- The course introduces a "healthy plate model" - ideally, a plate should consist of 1/2 non-starchy veges, 1/4 starchy foods, and 1/4 protein.
- Not all fat is equal. We should orient towards unsaturated fat (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats) and keep saturated and trans fats to a minimum.
- Carbohydrates aren't all bad. Some are much better than others. For example, contrast whole grains, non starchy vegetables, and fruit with soft drinks, fruit juice, white bread, and white flour products. The former take longer to digest, keep us full for longer, are better for controlling blood sugar.
- Fibre is important, and we should aim to consume at least 30 grams per day.
- There are two types of fibre: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fibre is good for cholesterol. Insoluble is good for digestion (helping food transit through our digestive system; helping with bowel health).
- Physical activity is an important part of having a healthy lifestyle. (More than that, physical inactivity is a health risk.) Being physically active doesn't necessarily mean joining the gym and starting running. It includes being sedentary less often (eg getting up from the desk more often and spending less time on the couch); engaging in more incidental activity (eg stairs rather than lifts); and more regular planned activity (even walking is much better than being sedentary).
- It is very easy to eat more kilojoule dense food if we eat mindlessly. The course discusses the "mindless margin", which is the "gap between what we think we eat and what we actually eat".
- A key way to reducing the mindless margin is to eat at regular times, trying to remove snacking as much as possible, and managing situations where we might be tempted to eat mindlessly. In particular, we should make sure we have breakfast. Ideally it should be high in fibre, include fruit and/or vegetables, and low fat dairy. It should be enough to last you at least 4 hours - so you don't need a mid-morning snack.
- We also need to be very mindful with respect to drinks that aren't as good for you as water. For example, soft drinks, energy drinks, sports drinks, iced tea, fruit juice. And alcohol.
- When preparing meals, you can do a lot to make subtle changes to a recipe to make it better for you (and your loved ones). If you are working to a recipe, you can bulk it out with additional vegetables; reduce the amount of oil and butter; use trim milk rather than full cream milk; remove fat from meat; use less cheese and substitute edam cheese rather than cheddar cheese (25% less saturated fat).
- The course provides some wise counsel regarding fat loss. It stresses that "Fat is not lost evenly; it is lost in small steps followed by plateaus." It stresses: "Plateaus are normal." And: "If you're not gaining, you're winning".
AFL was a rewarding course. I applaud the Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) and the Canterbury Primary Health Organisations (PHOs) who fund this course. I am confident that providing this education to people will not only improve the quality of life of its participants, but ultimately result in long-term cost savings for the CDHB and PHOs.
Whether you have a pressing reason for managing your weight and making your lifestyle healthier; or whether you're interested in nutrition (for your own benefit and your loved ones); I highly recommend the course.
Information can be found at http://www.appetiteforlife.org.nz/.