Meet Gillian, a regular at Barre & Beats at Studio 191, and a fully qualified Nutritional Therapist, who studied at The Institute for Optimum Nutrition in the UK. She is also a member of the British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT) and has a new practice in the Oud Zuid of Amsterdam.
Gillian’s main goal is to support people with chronic diseases as well as those with niggling gut and health issues to be able to optimise their health through nutrition and lifestyle changes. Her advice is to learn how to listen to your body and thus to understand it’s needs. Gillian chose to study Nutritional Therapy as a result of her own struggle with an autoimmune condition she had since she was fourteen and for which current medicine has no answers for the root cause of the problem. After researching herself into the condition Gillian began to see the potential benefits of food and lifestyle changes. In this interview, Gillian gives advice about useful nutrition and lifestyle changes you should consider for the new year.
A day in Gillian’s Life
I start every day with a teapot of warm water and lemon, I know it sounds like a cliché but it really kicks my day off in the right way. It stimulates the liver, aiding digestion and detoxification and I really do feel the difference. Then I often have fruits such as berries with nuts and seeds, to ease digestion: fruits are more easily digested, thus, it is better to eat them first rather than after a heavy protein. The fruit can sit on top on heavy proteins in the stomach and begin fermenting quicker than the proteins, which can cause a feeling of indigestion or irritation. I will however always have protein for breakfast like nuts, seeds or eggs and I will combine it with carbohydrates such as avocados and organic baby spinach to maintain sugar balance in the blood and to keep me fuller for longer during the day. If I only eat carbs for breakfast I spend the rest of the day chasing the carbs fix and feeling much hungrier. Then for lunch and dinner, this time of year, a variety of different types of bone broths and soups are the way to go for lunch, because you get the warmth, fibre and lots of wonderful vitamins and minerals. I am hearing soups are the new juices! For dinner I rotate between oily fish, white fish, organic chicken and lean organic meats and I have 4 to 5 vegetables for dinner each day. These vegetables will always contain dark green leafs like Kale which the kids and I love roasted lightly in the oven. Nothing complicated just clean, real foods.
Do you ever get sugar cravings?
I do, not as much as I used to, the more you cut back on the sugars the less the cravings get, if I get them they are mainly in the evenings. It’s usually when you are getting tired and the body is looking for more energy. The only thing that really helps to get me through it is to go to bed or have a magnesium Epsom salt bath and then go to bed. If it’s really an intense sugar crave, you can have low glycemic load fruits like berries, cherries and pears or 70%+ cacao (cocoa) chocolate, although you have to be careful because chocolate might keep you awake due to its caffeine content. Really it is best to listen to your body when it’s tired in the evening, go to bed rather than go for the sweet treat, you will feel better for it in the morning.
As a Nutritional Therapist, how do you deal with changing patterns that are deeply ingrained in someone’s culture or personal history?
There is a lot of psychology involved in eating, so much of eating is emotional and habit based. I think changes can only happen with understanding and educating someone. It’s not always easy for people to change ingrained lifestyle habits and rituals overnight. When you tell someone something about nutrition, you need to give them time to absorb the information, they have to think about it and then make a decision whether their health is more important than their daily habits and routines. That’s the hardest part about nutrition: asking someone to change their lifestyle is a lot harder than asking someone to take a tablet every day that is going to, for example, lower their blood pressure, but of course strong pharmaceuticals usually come with nasty side-effects. The Nutritional Therapist’s main role is motivating people to change their food habits and lifestyle. It’s mainly through understanding how these changes can be detrimental to their health, that will encourage a person to change.
Having started a new year, juice cleanses and the like populate the media. What is your opinion about juice cleanses? Do you recommend them or are you partisan of some other kind of New Year’s cleansing method?
I think there is no harm in fasting and certain vegetable based juice cleanses. Just be careful with high fructose based juices as they can really affect your blood sugar balance and gut ecology. Sometimes a water fast can be just as effective as a juice cleanse. Giving your digestive system a rest once in a while can be very beneficial to your overall health. However, you should make sure that your body is able to cope with your chosen juice cleanse or fast. It would be wise to discuss any health issues you may have before starting the juice cleanse with whoever is offering it. Be sure the juice cleanse you have decided to follow is developed by a Nutritional Therapists or professional healthcare provider with a knowledge in this area. You also need to think about the build-up to going on the juice cleanse and how you come off. This information should also be provided to you before embarking on one.
It seems to be human nature to create quite idealist New Year’s resolutions every January. How do you recommend introducing desired changes that look colossal and actually maintaining them for more than a few weeks?
It really works differently for different people. For me, I would make small changes, so maybe one or two changes every few weeks. They shouldn’t be extreme, they should be things that you think you can maintain long term. For example, to reduce your sugar intake, you could start by learning about and choosing low-glycemic load foods. Exercise to start the day is also a fantastic way to help you make healthier decisions throughout the day, to get you into a healthier mindset.
What would be your top recommended nutrition based New Year’s resolutions?
1. Avoid processed foods: making the road from the root to your plate the shortest possible. Local whole foods are the way to go. If on an ingredients list you see things that you don’t understand, they are best avoided. Real foods don’t have an ingredients list if you think about it.
2. Follow the 80/20 rule: eighty percent of the time make healthy food choices, twenty percent of the time allow yourself to break the rules. Everyone has a crappy day once in a while, don’t punish yourself too much about it, just move on and get back to being healthy again.
3. The dirty dozen and the clean fifteen: if you can’t afford to eat all organic, just choose the right ones to buy organic. Green leafy vegetables are one of the key ones. The greater the surface area and the softer the surface of the fruit, the more likely they are covered in pesticides. For example, broccoli, has lots of surface space in which the little insects can get into, they are massively sprayed. Vegetables and fruit with a hard surface like avocados and pineapples you don’t need to worry about too much. You can also spray fruit and vegetables with apple cider vinegar then rinse off with water to remove pesticide residues.
Do you think there is one appropriate diet for everyone or everyone has a diet that fits them best?
I definitely don't think there is a 'one type fits all' diet, however there are certain key points that ring true for everybody. Crucial ones are: start with an organic plant based diet, variety in lean organic proteins, limiting the amount of processed foods you eat and avoid added sugars. You have to listen to your body, learn to recognise reactions to foods, such as bloating and discomfort, and then make decisions about what foods should be in your diet.
Many people, as dictated by our age, surf the Internet in search of nutritional information and diets, but the whole subject of nutrition has become an oxymoron: one day you read one thing, the next, precisely the opposite. How do you recommend people to deal with all this information?
It’s always important to look at the source of the information. What I found while studying in the field, is that Google Scholar is a good place to start, it sources scientific papers and well researched topics. A problem with the field of nutrition is that it’s not well regulated, so people can make all kinds of claims and statements online that are not scientifically backed. When you read something online, just make sure it’s a reliable source. The article should have an author and a date it was published, if it doesn’t I would probably ignore it.
What would be your top tips on how to create a diet plan that works for yourself.
Keep a food diary is a key starting point. Look at what times you are eating, what you are eating, how is your body reacting to those foods. This will give you more understanding about your eating patterns and habits. From this you can begin to create realistic achievable goals.
Being really organized is also so important. If you want to make some changes, give yourself a week of planning, making sure you have all the right foods in your cupboards. The key is in the preparation! Set goals and give yourself rewards, that are not food based rewards, for example, book yourself a massage or go to a gig. Most of all enjoy what you eat, find delicious recipes that you can manage. Healthy foods can and should be delicious, find your favourites through trial and error and build new healthy habits in your day, with time they will become part of your everyday routine.
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