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Sense in the jungle of nutrition

Expert advice comes in handy when negotiating the minefield of dieting

Nutritionist Alicia Coetser is in love with strawberries and all things clean
STAY HEALTHY: Nutritionist Alicia Coetser is in love with strawberries and all things clean

From Noom, DASH, Noakes, Dr Oz, Dukan, Paleo, Keto, Banting and Mediterranean, various virtual weigh-less groups, intermittent fasting, low-carb-high-fat —  this is just some of the lingo that has come to haunt and confuse the heck out of most people.

“I am seeing clients who are lost in the wilderness of nutrition,” is how a leading dietitian on the Garden Route describes the ever-growing battlefield of diets.

My mother would have said “nobody came out of an Auschwitz concentration camp fat and all excuses for being chubby — like faulty thyroids and hormonal issues — are bollocks”.

In 2021, I spoke to a psychologist in Plett, who has since emigrated, and he said he was seeing patients who had put on weight during the Covid pandemic and subsequent lockdowns.

The reason for it, he said, was that during this time many people lost the human connection to friends and family that we bipeds are designed to have, and thus sought solace in deeply connecting with food, booze and even cigarettes.

So, what now for those of us who have joined the Michelin fraternity, is the burning question?

To the rescue is Alicia Coetser, who recently started a much-needed practice in Knysna/the Garden Route.

Coetser has an honours degree in nutrition from the University of Cape Town and a string of other qualifications in this field.

There is no one-diet-fits-all, she says, but also no magical elixir to losing weight.

The slimming game all hinges around the unavoidable thing called calories.

It’s not rocket science that if you put more in than you expend, you will not lose weight.

A consultation with Coetser is very useful because these blasted calories hide like chameleons in all sorts of things and she knows them like the back of her hand.

All weight-loss programmes need to be sustainable and sensible, is what Coetser advises.

“No radical or draconian dieting is going to work because one cannot live on eggs, bacon and fat forever —  or for that matter weigh everything that passes your lips forever.”

“Empirical evidence shows that everything in moderation is the best way to go, not only to lose weight, but also to be healthy,” she says.

Using the latest buzz-phrase of “clean-eating” she explains it entails consuming whole and unprocessed foods like fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, lean meat, chicken and fish.

Sugar, crisps and fast-food don’t fit the bill, but Coetser says that “once in a while a bar of chocolate (not five) isn’t the end of the world because we are human after all.”

To illustrate the concept, Coetser has simplified the whole slimming exercise with a picture of a plate.

“Aim to fill half your plate with vegetables, one quarter with lean animal protein like fish or chicken or plant proteins and the other quarter with unprocessed carbohydrates like whole grain or starchy vegetables like sweet potato or corn,” she says.

Incidentally, this is a model which is endorsed worldwide by heart and cancer foundations.

Coetser is of the old school who insist breakfast is important.

She likens our bodies, metabolism, to a fire that needs to stay stoked all the time.

“If you miss meals and get very hungry, then imagine you need to start the fire from scratch again with a lot of wood instead of just topping it up regularly,” she says.

Other advice she dispenses is: Eat mindfully. This means sitting down for meals, chewing slowly, appreciating every bite.

A fist in a sack of Nik Naks while watching the latest series of Ozark is not the way to go.

Always have a glass of water nearby when eating.

When it comes to alcohol, Coetser and even the fanatics seem to agree.

Booze makes you fat. There are slices of bread in even my one glass of red wine, that’s just a sad fact — loaves of white bread in an evening’s beer intake.

These are also empty calories, Coetser explains, and, what’s more, alcohol affects our appetite hormones.

It’s a fact that inebriated (or hungover) people tend to kill for a hamburger long before a plate of green vegetables.

Eat and move, is another of her other commandments.

“Avoid the food-coma after overeating. Go for a walk after dinner.”

The bottom line with this diet/nutrition thing is that we need to develop a healthy relationship with food and this can only happen with an understanding of how it all works and that each one of us is different.

Given these challenges and the jungle of information out there, it’s well worth a visit to Coetser for a personalised consult —  and ongoing support. Especially if you are sporting Covid love handles which won’t budge.

Coetser can be contacted on 076-059-8344.

• Elaine King is an award-winning journalist and editor of more than 30 years. She has worked for newspaper groups in SA, at the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong (where her children were born) for more than a decade and most recently as a script editor for TRT World television in Istanbul. Her hunting ground is now the Garden Route.

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