Prior to our sessions, Kahina's diet was limited to 13 food items and the same three meals every day. We worked on increasing the variety of meals she could have at home and when eating out. This is one of her new favourites: wholegrain rice salad with red kidney beans, almonds, avocado, cauliflower, and kale.
The habits and attitudes I developed while working with Nikias helped me not only reach the goals we set at our first meeting, but also improve my relationship with food as a whole.
I was going to write an article about what a nutrition and weight management advisor does. Then I thought, who better than a real client to explain that?
Kahina and I worked together for eight weeks. She was worried about her diet, which consisted of the same three meals every day, and she felt restricted to a dozen food items in total. For this reason, she was supplementing with a multivitamin to make up for possible nutrient deficiencies.
For the duration of our work together, I asked her to stop taking the supplement. By the end of our sessions, she decided she didn’t need it anymore. Thanks to the changes we made to her lifestyle, she feels healthier, more energetic, and confident that she can get all the nutrients she needs from her food.
She also kindly accepted to answer some questions for my readers. So, if you’re wondering what a nutrition and weight management advisor can do for you, read on!
What was your goal when you decided to start working with a nutrition advisor?
I wanted to vary my diet. I know variety is important for overall health and I recently found a new physical activity I like – pole dancing – so I need to be in shape for that.
What did a typical day of eating look like for you?
For breakfast, I had crumpets with olive oil, scrambled eggs, a protein yogurt, and an apple. For lunch, I had microwaveable wholegrain rice, kale, carrots, canned tuna, and often almonds on top. For dinner, I had chicken breast, egg noodles, courgettes, and carrots.
My diet was even more restricted in childhood. In fact, what I was eating before I started the sessions was quite “varied” compared to my earlier years.
Why did you choose an advisor instead of a certified nutritionist or registered dietician?
I didn’t need that level of expertise. I just wanted to eat a healthy diet according to normal standards, but I didn’t know how to do that on my own. I needed motivation, education, and guidance, so you were perfect.
What did you think was your biggest barrier – or barriers – to achieving the results you wanted?
The more obvious barrier was the habit formation, just sticking to it, doing something different. It’s really hard to change your habits in the context of food, because we eat every day, so we generally make the same thing every day. It’s hard to break away from what you do all the time without a serious, conscious effort.
And then the less obvious one, the main reason why I don’t have a varied diet in the first place, are my food sensitivities. I have a very sensitive tongue, I can taste a lot of different textures, in particular, and I get anxious about trying different foods. New foods are difficult to deal with for me because of how they taste and how they can affect my body.
For example, probably because I always ate the same things, I noticed that, if I ate something different, it might make my stomach feel weird or might give me digestive problems. I was always afraid of that sort of thing, even as a child, like throwing up because of my food or getting food poisoning.
What expectations did you have?
I expected to be tracking what I ate in some capacity, keeping a food diary, basically, which I did end up doing. I also expected to get feedback on that to see if my diet was changing and to find out what my nutrient balance was, because I didn’t know.
For example, I was under the impression that I ate more carbs than anything else… and it turned out I was lowon carbs and needed to lower my protein and fat intake.
How did the work we did together help you overcome those barriers?
The sessions and my assignments were very structured. That helped me and it never felt like too much all at once. I was just given one new food to try every week. It wasn’t like I had to overhaul my diet and buy a ton of new foods I’d never bought before.
Because it was just limited to one food and because everything was so structured in the meetings, it was never overwhelmingor difficult; just the right level of challenging. That helped a lot with both issues, the habit formation and the food sensitivities.
For instance, I didn’t expect this, but the recording I had to do was pretty obvious. I literally just said what I ate, I didn’t have to keep close track of the nutrition facts or weigh anything. If you want to do those things, you can, but it goes to show that you can still do this effectively and not have to do all that stuff. That’s why a nutrition advisor is helpful: they keep track of all those details for you!
Also, you always gave me really specific ways to change something that didn’t go well the previous week. For example, if I didn’t like a new food after trying it once, I had a second choice.
The strategy always evolved, depending on my needs. It was a very head-on, problem-solving approach rather than just saying, “Oh, it’s ok! Try again and try to do it right this time.”
What was a typical session like?
We reviewed everything from my food diary from the previous week and talked about what went well and what didn’t go as well, that is if I achieved the goal of the week or not.
For example, I wanted to increase my water intake, so we talked about whether I reached my weekly target for fluid intake. If I didn’t, we discussed why and either adjusted the amount for the following week or kept it the same until it became a habit.
Then I had my new food for the week, each from a certain food group on the EatWell Guide. For the dairy group, for instance, I tried cottage cheese. The homework was to incorporate that into my meals at least three times the following week, then on a regular basis thereafter.
What helped the most was being educated about the health benefits of that food group and of the food item in particular to give me more incentive to try it.
For all that I’m very sensitive to taste and texture, if I know that a food is going to help me somehow, that definitely gives me more incentive to just suck it up and try eating it. Usually, the first time is a little jarring, but then the second time it gets easier, so it’s important to have that motivation to keep trying.
I was also recommended some simple recipes involving the new food of the week and previous new foods to encourage me to vary my meals as well as just the ingredients in them. I was given a lot of different tools to make the change I wanted, so I could choose what suited me best.
How did your experience compare to your initial expectations?
It went much, much better than I thought. I did expect to vary my diet more, which I did, but it’s on a completely different level than I imagined. I more than doubled the foods I eat and I have them in different combinations, too.
I’ve also developed the habit of trying new foods. I will just see something I want in the supermarket and think, “Oh, I can put that in one of my meals!” I’m not really afraid of doing that anymore. Just the fact that I think about it at all is a big change!
I am also very pleased that now, when I go to a restaurant, I have a lot more choice. At home, I reduced my olive oil consumption, which I didn’t even know was a problem. I was eating over 40% of my calories from fat because of it and now I’m much more mindful of that. It saves a lot of money, too!
Lastly, even though weight loss wasn’t my goal, I ended up losing a couple pounds and, more importantly, I was able to see the change in my physique, as my belly got smaller.
That was the first time I’ve ever actually seen my food behaviour have an impact on my body, because I’ve been a similar weight for most of my adult life. That was really motivating!
What do you wish had gone differently?
I wish I had had a more concrete assignment to make a list of all the foods I eat now in my more varied diet as well as come up with a meal plan for the week.
That way I would have known what exactly I needed to buy at the grocery store… And I wouldn’t have forgotten the ingredients for the recipes, like I often did, so I could have tried more of them!
Last question! Why don’t you give some examples of your new meals?
Now that’s hard, because it changes every day!
For example, today for breakfast I had a banana and oat cake topped with peanut butter. It’s microwaved, so it’s super easy. Then I had a pear and crumpets, which sometimes I top with cottage cheese or olive oil.
For lunch, I had giant wholemeal couscous, a vegetable stir-fry, and now I coat the pan with olive oil spray instead of olive oil. Then I had a Greek yogurt and an apple.
For dinner, I actually tried one of your recipes, but with noodles instead of rice, and courgettes.
Thank you, Kahina. This was awesome feedback!
Starting from a diet restricted to thirteen food items, Kahina incorporated ten new ones, which she still eats regularly today. She also increased her fluid intake, which used to be as low as 1,100 ml per day, up to 2,000 ml!
Having overcome many of her anxieties, she hasn’t only improved her physical health, but her mental health as well.
As for myself, I found working with her a rewarding experience. I also learnt a lot from this interview, such as the huge benefits of giving concrete assignments to raise awareness of a certain behaviour. Her feedback will most definitely help me with future clients!
If you want help with your nutrition, check out this page for a breakdown of my services and get in touch. I look forward to hearing from you!
A personal trainer who likes bodybuilding, superheroes, and bread.
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