Following a season of binge-feasting, I waddled my way to a nutritional therapist for advice on fighting pumpkin-pie pounds. Somewhat skeptical about the whole thing, I expected to hear the usual depressing diet tips: count calories! Cut fat! Small portions! More spinach!
As a result, I was pleasantly surprised by the methods of soft-spoken Laura Holland, a UK-expat who runs her nutritional therapy practice out of Abu Dhabi and Dubai. ‘Nutritional therapists differ in approach from the classic dieticians. Instead of controlling your calories, we focus on “eating yourself well” through specific foods,’ Laura explains. In nutritional therapy, food is used as a ‘prescription’ to treat a variety of health issues: fertility, depression, high blood pressure, diabetes, stress and, of course, weight loss.
Laura runs her sessions in a similar fashion to a regular therapist. Her blindingly white smile and reassuring voice disarm me, and within minutes I find myself pouring out a litany of body-esteem issues that would put any spot-ridden teen to shame. Halfway through my diatribe on cellulite dimples, Laura interrupts me and asks, ‘Would you say you’re afraid of food?’
Although her question catches me off guard, Laura pegs my feelings perfectly. In today’s world, food is treated as a dangerous substance, to be controlled by fastidiously counting calories, living off limited diets, and using miraculous low-fat products. But nutritional therapy offers a different approach to eating. Laura explains, ‘If you’re counting calories or worrying about fat percentage, then you’re eating the wrong foods.’ When Laura meets with clients, part of her goal is to help them change their definition of food; if they stop munching from what she deems the ‘fake food’ group, their eating and weight issues will naturally sort themselves out.
These so-called ‘fake foods’ are more difficult to spot than you might realise. ‘Next time you pick up a package of cheese, read the ingredients on the back,’ warns Laura. ‘Milk might be the first thing you see, but it’ll be followed by a litany of obscure chemicals. That means the supposed “cheese” you’re holding is not real cheese. The same goes for corn-syrup juices, meats packed with chemicals, and the pastas, breads and cereals made from bleached, enriched flour. These products are like candy in disguise, well-marketed and packaged as food.’
When Laura mentions healthy snack substitutes, I brace myself to start cutting up carrot and celery sticks. But, once again, she surprises me. ‘Why not eat some wholegrain rye crackers, topped with banana,
almonds, and drizzled honey?’ I blanch. It’s been drilled into me for years to avoid extra calories at all cost, and now someone’s telling me to munch on fat, sugars, and carbs without a care in the world?
Laura clarifies. ‘Bodies need the “omega 3 fats” – good fats from flaxseed, olive oil, nuts, and fish. Counter-intuitively, they can increase weight loss because they help fat and water transfer through cell walls.’ She goes on to say that in today’s food-fearing world, we’ve stopped thinking of the body as a holistic feature, and started treating it like a machine. Limit the input (calories/fat), and increase the output (calories burned) and you’ll lose weight. But what this health paradigm ignores is the body’s survival adaptations that have developed for thousands of years. We naturally need to eat different types of foods and healthy fats, and when we don’t our cells will shut down and hold onto the fat they’ve got. Dieters often try to control their calories by overeating the same restricted meals, but that can lead to food intolerances, nutrition deficits, bloating, water/fat retention, and more serious health problems down the line.
To lose weight, Laura recommends three simple steps: stop eating foods containing ingredients that look like atomic bomb elements, chew your food until it’s completely liquefied (because ‘your stomach doesn’t have teeth’!), and eat a variety of foods, including wholegrains and good fats among your classic veggie-fruit fare (terrifying!). If you follow these practices, your body should start recognising when it’s full. Laura’s approach sounded more sustainable and sane than any diet advice I’ve heard before, and I skipped out of the session with a delicious recipe list for my grumbling tummy.
Laura Holland, licensed nutritional therapist, helps clients in Abu Dhabi and Dubai develop nutrition plans to solve a variety of health issues. Dhs300 for an initial consultation. For more information, call 050 504 8523, or check out her website at www.inshallah.org.uk.
Five to try
1 Dorset Organic Muesli with natural yoghurt, fresh blueberries and honey.
2 Breakfast smoothie made with banana, strawberries, raspberries, ground flaxseed and crushed ice.
3 Chicken and pineapple stir fry with garlic, ginger, coriander, lime, vegetables, bean sprouts and cashew nuts.
4 Baked sweet potato, stuffed with sauteed spinach, feta, and pumpkin seeds drizzled with olive oil and garlic pepper.
5 Avocado, smoked turkey and cranberry on wholegrain rye bread.