Digestion Basics

I’m sure you’re familiar with the saying “you are what you eat”. It’s a great way to motivate us to eat healthier. However, a more concise way of looking at this proves that you are not what you eat, you are what you digest, absorb and are able to utilize.

So no matter how perfect your diet is, if your digestion isn’t working properly, not only won’t you be able to absorb all the nutrients you think you’re feeding yourself but you’ll be setting yourself up for a host of digestive problems such as heartburn, dysbiosis (the proliferation of abnormal gut flora), IBS, etc. Gas, burping and bloating are not normal!

When Hippocrates said “all disease begins in the gut” he was really on the spot. Today, digestive disorders affect millions of Australians. That’s why digestion is foundational to Nutritional Therapy and is the first thing I address with pretty much every client I work with.

I’d like to leave you with a few facts about digestion and several simple tips to help you improve yours.

Did you know that digestion actually starts with your brain? It starts when you start to think about what you’re about to eat. Digestion is also parasympathetic process. This means you must be in a state of calm and relaxation for digestion to work. If you’re on the run, stressed out, in an argument, you are in sympathetic mode. If you eat in this state, you’re behind the eight ball. All the complex parts of digestion just won’t work. It puts you in a state of fight or flight. When you’re in this state, your body thinks it’s in danger (from our hunter gatherer days) and digestion takes a back seat to other bodily processes designed to get us out of dodge.

So do yourself a favour and chew well (when your food is physically broken down properly, it takes some of the pressure off of other parts of your digestive system so it doesn’t have to work so hard) and let your salivary juices start to flow. These juices in your mouth contain enzymes that start to digest carbohydrates. They also set into motion a chain of events in the rest of your digestive system to prepare for the food that is coming down the pike (they signal for the release of enzymes and hormones necessary to break down and absorb your food) . Here are few more simple tips for you try to help improve your digestion.

• Eat your meals sitting down. Take a few deep breaths to relax and calm your body and mind before you take your first bite. This helps you get into a parasympathetic state prior to eating.

• Try starting your meal with ½ tsp raw apple cider vinegar in ¼ to ½ cup warm water as another digestive tonic.

• Chew your food! It should actually liquify in your mouth before you swallow. A good rule of thumb is to chew your food 20-30 times as a goal.

• Include fermented foods with your meals. This could be a small glass kombucha or water kefir, 1-2 tablespoons of fermented vegetables or sauerkraut to boost your ability to digest your meal. Fermenting foods makes their nutrients more bioavailable (your body doesn’t have to work so hard to make the nutrients available as the fermentation process has done some of the digestion for you). Start slow and build up your tolerance. You can also start with a teaspoon of the brine or “juice” from the kraut if you can’t yet tolerate the vegetables at first.

• Digestive bitters can also help boost HCL (hydrochloric acid in your stomach that helps you digest proteins) levels. They also stimulate the digestive system to produce digestive enzymes and secrete bile which helps you digest your fats.

 Need some help with digestion and nutrition? Get in touch for a consultation.

Is Stress affecting your Health? Adrenal Dysfunction and what you need to know.

High levels of stress can affect and impair quality of life and health. We are all busy and disconnected, and it making time for rest and relaxation can be difficult. But it’s one of the best things that you can do because high levels of perceived stress that go unaddressed are one of the primary causes of adrenal dysfunction or HPA Axis Dysfunction.

Many people that I work with are high functioning individuals who have high expectations of themselves and long daily to-do lists. They are disciplined and strict with their daily regimes.

How does this affect the Adrenals? Let’s take a look.

What Are your Adrenal Glands & The HPA Axis

The adrenal glands are two small organs that are located above the kidneys. The adrenals are involved in hormonal balance, gastrointestinal function, brain health, blood sugar balance, the immune system, bone metabolism and more. They help regulate your response to stress and are able to protect you by activating the fight-or-flight response. It does this by increasing your blood sugar levels, elevating your heartbeat, and increasing your blood pressure by holding onto salt.

One of the primary ways that the adrenals do this is through their production of two hormones: DHEA and cortisol. DHEA is a hormone and a precursor to testosterone and estrogen. It’s also very important for development, thyroid health and the immune system. Cortisol is involved in regulating blood sugar and is the body’s stress hormone, as increased stress typically leads to more cortisol production. The adrenals also produce adrenaline (epinephrine) and other hormones. This process is ideal when you experience short periods of stress or adrenal stimulation, as it helps to keep you alive.

Stress & HPA Axis Dysfunction

Most people are exposed to acute stress topped with lots of chronic stress. The body doesn’t know the difference so it responds in the same way, leading to a higher secretion of cortisol. The HPA axis is a complex interaction that occurs between the adrenal glands and the hypothalamus and pituitary and controls the innate way that you react to stressors. This is the entire system that communicates and secretes cortisol and other hormones. In the context of chronic stress, the hypothalamus secretes corticotropin releasing hormone which signals the production of Adrencorticotropic hormone (ACTH). ACTH travels through the body and acts on the adrenal glands to stimulate the release of cortisol. Other hormones and organs contribute to the stress response as well, activating the sympathetic nervous system and the body’s fight-or-flight response.

When you are constantly stressed, running from task to task all day long, and never saving time for a break, your cortisol levels can become a rollercoaster. Different people will develop different cortisol patterns. Cortisol levels could be higher at certain parts of the day that it’s not supposed to be or constantly elevated or even in some cases completely exhausted. Some people refer to this as a stage of ‘adrenal fatigue’. The problem with the term adrenal fatigue is that it’s not a medically accepted term, condition or diagnosis. A more accurate way of describing the situation would be HPA axis dysfunction.

Common symptoms include difficulty falling or staying asleep, fatigue, brain fog/memory issues, anxiousness, irritability, weakened immune system, difficulty handling stress, headaches, muscle weakness, dizziness, weight gain and digestive issues. And while there are plenty of supplements and adaptogens that are useful for helping with your stress response, they are worthless if you don’t identify the root cause of your stress.

Stress can also alter the composition, function and metabolic activity of the gut microbiome which may lead to the progression of disease.

Stress is the body’s way of reacting to a threat or challenge. Stress is also tricky to pinpoint for various reasons: 1) there are many different forms such as environmental, mental, emotional, & physiological 2) people normalize being stressed to the point that they don’t realize they are in fact stressed and 3) it’s not easy to measure. 

Stay tuned for my Top 10 Tips for Adrenal Dysfunction.

What is coaching anyway?

Let’s play a game. Can you answer ‘yes’ to any of these questions?

There’s a gap between where I am now and where I want to be

I can make and keep appointments to work on my goal(s)

I’m committed to do the work required and take action to get to where I want to be

I’m willing to change any self-defeating behaviours and beliefs that limit my success

I am willing to try new things, even if I’m not yet 100% convinced they will work

More than three yes’s? Then coaching is what you need.

So what is coaching anyway?

Essentially, coaching is a future-focused conversation with a trained professional. A conversation that’s 100% about you and helping you think differently about things you’ve previously felt stuck or unclear about. It’s action-oriented. Coaching gets you results.

Why do I need a coach?

Continue reading “What is coaching anyway?”

Magnesium – are you getting enough?

Magnesium is a mineral essential for over 300 enzymatic systems in the body, many of which relate to brain and nervous system function. Inadequate intake of magnesium is linked to cardiovascular disease, metabolic diseases, skeletal disorders and neurological abnormalities.

Magnesium and mental wellbeing

Magnesium comes up a lot when talking about muscle cramp relief, exercise recovery and sleep. However, magnesium is also a very beneficial mineral when it comes to supporting your body to adapt to stress and promoting mental wellbeing.

Magnesium has been shown to help reduce the release of hormones, which lead to over activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, which plays a role in our stress response. Over activation of this axis is associated with increased stress and lower stress tolerance, which can lead to poor mental health such as increased anxiety and low mood.

Magnesium is also an important co-factor necessary to help synthesise neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, a deficiency in either of these can lead to symptoms of depression, nervousness, inability to concentrate and anxiety.

Continue reading “Magnesium – are you getting enough?”

Intermittent Fasting – is it right for me?

Intermittent fasting is the voluntary abstinence from food for a prolonged period of time.

Traditionally many cultures and religions have used fasting in their practises.

Some Christians follow lent.  The Muslim religion has Ramadan where fasting is observed for 29-30 days during the daylight hours.

Buddhist monks and nuns following Vinaya rules commonly do not eat each day after the noon meal, aiding in meditation and good health.

Intermittent fasting is an umbrella term for various eating diet plans that cycle between a period of fasting and non-fasting over a defined period. Intermittent fasting is under preliminary research to assess if it can produce weight loss comparable to long-term calorie restriction.

Many believe that fasting is the most ancient secret to good health.

There have been many studies on various intermittent fasting diets that show that intermittent fasting can improve health and successfully aid in weight loss.

For the purpose of this paper I would like to further explore:

  • Periodic fasting (where, once every few months you cut your food intake down for 5 days in a row)
  • The 5:2 approach (where you restrict your calories for 2 days a week)
  • Time Restricted Eating (where you restrict your eating to a narrow time window)
Continue reading “Intermittent Fasting – is it right for me?”

Plant Based Diet

What does “plant-based diet” mean? Is it the same thing as being vegetarian or vegan?

What Does Following a Plant-Based Diet Mean Exactly?

Some people use the term ‘plant-based diet’ as a synonym for the vegan diet. Others may use the term in a broader way that includes all vegetarian diets, and I’ve also seen people use ‘plant-based’ to mean diets which are composed mostly, but not entirely, of plant foods.

The main idea is to make plant-based foods the central part of your meals.

Think vegetables as the main part of your meal, with a little grains or complex carbs and some protein (plant or animal depending on how strict you decide to be).

So, rather than thinking ‘We’re having steak and 3 veg for dinner’ think we’re having veggies and some steak on the side.

A plant-based diet emphasizes foods like fruits, vegetables, and beans, and limits foods like meats, dairy, and eggs. From there, more restrictions could be put in place depending on how strict you want to be. It may completely eliminate foods from animals or just limit intake depending on the individual’s interpretation.

That means meat and seafood don’t necessarily need to be off-limits — you might just decide to cut down on how frequently you eat those items.

In my Plant Based cooking workshops for both adults and kids I use only plant based ingredients to cater for vegans.

https://eatinginmind.com.au/plant-based-cooking-workshop-for-kids/

https://eatinginmind.com.au/plant-based-cooking-workshop-for-adults/

Current Research

Most people who adopt this way of eating do it for the potential health benefits. There have been many cardiac benefits linked to Plant Based diets, like reduced cholesterol. Some studies suggest that eating a plant-based diet may improve fertility, and it also may reduce your risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes.

One study linked diets rich in healthy plant foods (such as nuts, whole grains, fruits, veggies, and oils) with a significantly lower risk of heart disease.

Another study found it can also help prevent and treat type 2 diabetes, and it cites research that suggests this diet may help reduce the risk of other chronic illnesses, including cancer.

What to Eat and Drink

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Whole grains
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Beans
  • Lentils

What to Limit (or Avoid Entirely, Depending on How Strict You Decide to Be)

  • Dairy (milk, cheese, yogurt)
  • Meat and poultry (like chicken, beef, and pork)
  • Processed animal meats, such as sausages and hot dogs
  • All animal products (including eggs, dairy, and meat if you’re following a vegan diet)

Scientifically proven benefits of a Plant Based Diet

A diet that promotes whole foods and plant-based ingredients can reduce the likelihood that you’ll need medication, lower your risk of obesity and high blood pressure, and maybe even help prevent or manage type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

A plant-based diet can also help you manage your weight and may lead to weight loss if you follow it in a healthy way. Most people also start to feel like they have more energy.

To set yourself up for success your grocery list should mainly list fresh vegetables and fruit, beans, and plant-based proteins to make sure you have plenty of options to reach for when you get hungry.

Are there any potential disadvantages of a Plant Based Diet?

Simply sticking with plant-based foods doesn’t set you up for good health.

Particular attention will need to be paid to the quality of the foods you’re consuming, because there are plenty of unhealthy foods that qualify as plant-based, such as potato chips and french fries. In fact, a visit to the vegan markets can prove this theory as there were plenty of battered and deep fried options!

Choosing unhealthy plant-based foods can increase your risk of weight gain and health conditions such as heart disease.

Also, if you decide to take the plant based diet to the next level and go vegan (completely off all animal products) you will need to keep an eye on your B12 and choline levels. Vitamin B12 is found primarily in animal sources, and the two best sources of choline are egg yolks and liver.  

So, instead of a diet centred on meat and dairy, the starring roles are played by vegetables, fruit, and whole grains. It’s an approach to eating and lifestyle that has been shown to have significant health benefits, including weight loss and disease prevention.

How can Food and Nutrition Coaching help you?

Improving your health and changing your health behaviours requires a lot of work and focus.

Research suggests that up to 90 percent of chronic disease is caused by diet and lifestyle factors.

Food and Nutrition coaching along with other allied health professionals that are well trained in these areas can play a significant role—alongside licensed clinicians—in reducing the burden of chronic disease.

Reversing chronic health issues, weight loss, energy, training and performance, whatever your motivation for wanting change the smallest changes over a period of time can be the most lasting ones.

Sometimes learning new habits may be self directed. Sometimes new habits can be formed by joining a community or group of people starting a new program and supporting one another.

Sometimes, finding a coach that you can work with could be the answer. A coach that focuses on you and your achievable goals and helps you unblock any issues you may be having and add value to your health journey.

How can you become more efficient with these changes?

By building new habits.

Create daily goals, make small changes.

The small goals that lead to a successful reversal of unwise habits can have a big and lasting effect on your health.

Changing our behaviour may be the single-most important way you can prevent and reverse chronic disease.

A coach can support you, hold you accountable and at times challenge you – something that can be difficult to do on your own.

Food and Nutrition coaching is designed to support people in changing their behaviour.

Building habits not only helps us cut down on the time it takes to perform behaviours, but it makes those behaviours stick.

Coaching doesn’t follow the typical “expert” model that’s so common in healthcare.

Instead, as a coach I will partner with you to understand your current condition, flesh out your goals, create doable objectives, and hold you accountable.

Small goals will help you achieve seemingly small behavioural changes that add up to big benefits for your health.

Wholegrains – are you getting enough?

Are you consuming enough wholegrains?

Many of us are focussing on low carb, high fat, high protein and are failing to include grains into our daily diets.

With the recent popularity of trendy diets such as paleo and keto, the health benefits and importance of including whole grains in the diet has been over looked. Whole grains provide prebiotic fibre which is  important for gut health and diversity of the microbiome.

Evidence shows regular consumption of whole grains plays a valuable role in reducing the risks of heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and obesity.

What are whole grains?

All grains such as wheat, rye, oats and rice start life as whole grains. When found in their natural state, whole grains consist of the entire seed of the plant. This seed or “kernel” is made up of three parts – the bran, the germ, and the endosperm – all of which are edible. This is protected by an inedible husk that protects the kernel from potential damage by sunlight, pests, water, and disease.

Unlike refined grains, whole grains contain all three parts of the kernel. When grains are refined or heavily processed, the bran and the germ are removed leaving only the endosperm. In removing the bran and germ about 25% of a grain’s protein is lost, plus valuable nutrients. Synthetic vitamins and minerals are added back to enrich the refined grains.

Whole grains can be milled into flour or used to make breads, cereals and other processed foods. They can be eaten whole, sprouted, cracked and milled. When purchasing food, check that the label on the packaging states that it contains whole grains which means that the “whole grain” part of the food is required to have the same proportions of bran, germ, and endosperm as the harvested kernel does before it is processed.

Whole grains are a far healthier choice providing more protein, more fibre and many important vitamins and minerals such as  B vitamins, vitamin E, magnesium and iron. Whole grains contain valuable antioxidants.

Aim to include 3 serves of whole grains a day. Whole grains include buckwheat, oats, brown rice, quinoa, bulgur, barley, corn, barley, rye, teff, farro.

Emotional Eating

Emotional Eating

Emotional and stress eating is the reason why so many diets can fail. Emotional hunger is REAL and many of us use food to make ourselves feel better. You might reach for a container of ice cream when you’re feeling down, order a pizza if you’re bored or lonely, or find yourself in a fast food outlet after a long stressful day with the kids or at work.

Unfortunately, emotional hunger cannot be filled with food.

Eating may feel good in the moment, but the feelings that triggered the eating are still there. And you often feel worse than you did before because of the unnecessary calories you’ve just consumed.

Occasionally using food as a pick-me-up, a reward, or to celebrate isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

But, for some of us eating can become our primary emotional coping mechanism—when your first impulse is to open the refrigerator whenever you’re stressed, upset, angry, lonely, exhausted, or bored—you get stuck in an unhealthy cycle where the real feeling or problem is never addressed.

Did you know that bingeing on a packet of chips is directly linked to stress – that constant chewing on something crispy alleviates our stress. And,  that Japanese researchers claim that chewing on gum for 10 minutes can reduce stress!

No matter how powerless you feel over food and your feelings, it is possible to make a positive change. You can find healthier ways to deal with your emotions, and learn to eat mindfully to regain control of your weight, and finally put a stop to emotional eating.

  • Do you eat more when you’re feeling stressed?
  • Do you eat when you’re not hungry or when you’re full?
  • Do you eat to feel better (when you’re lonely, sad, bored, anxious,)?
  • Do you reward yourself with food?
  • Do you regularly eat until you’ve stuffed yourself?
  • Does food make you feel safe? Do you feel like food is a friend?
  • Do you feel powerless or out of control around food?

Here are some clues you can look for to help you tell physical and emotional hunger apart.

Emotional hunger comes on suddenly.

Emotional hunger craves specific comfort foods.

Emotional hunger often leads to mindless eating.

Emotional hunger isn’t satisfied once you’re full.

Emotional hunger often leads to regret, guilt, or shame.

What is mindful eating?

Mindful eating is a practice that develops your awareness of eating habits and allows you to pause between your triggers and your actions.

I can help you achieve your goal through on-going support and motivation. By being a source of encouragement and accountability I will help set you on your path to health.  

https://eatinginmind.com.au/contact/

Postnatal Nutrition

The postnatal period (first three months) for a woman is a new and challenging time.

Sleep deprivation for parents is the most critical. Having experienced sleep deprivation myself, I know how easy it is to make poor food choices, lack energy and suffer from postnatal depression.

No matter your best-laid plans to eat well in this postnatal period, it very simply just doesn’t happen amidst the chaos of having a newborn, unless you are fortunate enough to have someone prepare all your meals for you.

The health and wellbeing of a new mum is just as important as the care of a baby in the postnatal period. The mother has just given birth and still continues to be the vital source of nutrients for her breast-fed baby for up to six months and beyond. Her body is adjusting to the trauma of childbirth, her mind and emotions are feeling it all, and her hormones are adjusting to dealing with all the loved up cuddles and the terrible toddler (if there is one!). And, although some women are unable to breast-feed their baby, most are able to. Good breast milk production, as well as energy required to function, relies on rest and good nutrition.

I know how difficult it is to eat well and stay hydrated in the postnatal period. I did it 4 times and each time didn’t get easier.

I know how easy it is to reach for the most calorie rich and energy dense foods in times of absolute exhaustion.

Unfortunately some of these foods can alter our moods, and make any anxiety or post natal depression symptoms worse.

Often you have your baby in your arms either breastfeeding or settling. Trying to eat something at the same time. Breastfeeding can make you VERY hungry.

Or, you are trying to catch up on sleep while your baby is asleep.

So when exactly do you fit in eating meal preparation or even eating?

Here are some of my top tips to try to keep on top of your nutrition and feeling your best.

  • Stay hydrated! Breast milk is approximately 70% water. Always drink a large glass of water when breastfeeding. Aim to drink at least 2 litres of water a day.
  • Postnatal mums need to consume more calories and nutrients to help breast milk production and recovery after birth. Try to eat regularly i.e. six snack size meals or three main meals, whatever is easy and works for you. This will also help to keep your immune system strong which is vital during this period.
  • Try to keep your fridge stocked with as many fresh vegetables as you can. Remember to EAT THE RAINBOW to try to consume as many micronutrients as you can. Even better – get your partner, mother, or a friend to slice, dice and julienne your veggies so that you can snack on them throughout the day.
  • Don’t be in a rush to lose your pregnancy weight. Rapid weight loss can effect breast milk production. When you finally feel up to it, daily exercise such as walking with your baby in a pram or sling can be very beneficial.
  • Increase protein rich foods i.e. fish, meats, dairy, eggs and legumes. Protein helps the body to recover and satisfies a ravenous appetite.
  • Increase calcium rich foods i.e. dairy, salmon, sardines, legumes, dark leafy greens, tahini and dried figs in your diet. 1300mg/day of calcium is required for breastfeeding mothers and the production of breast milk. Enough calcium now may also help prevent possible osteoporosis later in life.
  • Sleep deprived and low in energy, we often look to carbohydrates for that quick energy fix i.e. biscuit, muffin, cake, and toast with jam etc, because it’s easy and accessible. Carbohydrates are really sugars. The more we eat them, the more we crave them – a vicious cycle. Opt for complex carbohydrates i.e. wholegrain breads and cereals over simple carbohydrates i.e. biscuits, muffins, cakes etc, for longer lasting energy.
  • Combine your complex carbohydrate with protein for a satisfying snack or meal i.e. peanut butter on toast, cheese on wholegrain crackers, cereal with milk and/or natural yoghurt.
  • Quick and easy one-handed healthy and nutritious snack/meals include fresh fruit, dried fruit, nuts and seeds, yoghurt, smoothies, crackers with peanut butter or cheese, sandwiches (if your fillings don’t need to be pre-cut) and cereal.


The nutritional aim for women in this postnatal period is to stay hydrated, eat wholesome nutritional food and rest where possible. It sounds easy but it isn’t. Pre-planning of meals is essential. So is getting someone to help out with the chores around the home. If friends and family offer to help, take them up on their offer. Don’t be a superwoman. No one is expecting you to be. Enjoy being a mum and enjoy the quality time with your precious baby.

And remember to ask for help if things get a little overwhelming.