This week let's talk about ‘backyard nutritionists’. When I am talking about a 'Backyard Nutritionist', I'm talking about people who are giving nutritional advice but who have very little-to-no studied knowledge - yet still offer personalised nutritional advice and meal plans to their clients or friends.
Why am I so worried and frustrated by this?
First, are these people really looking out for your overall health? Meal plans might be designed for body fat loss or muscle mass gain, but does it mean it is still giving the body what it needs to thrive and survive for the rest of its life.
Second, I have studied hard to get where I am today. For the past 6 years have worked to increase my knowledge as an Accredited Practicing Dietitian and Sports Dietitian. I do not know everything and am learning new things every day. However I do know how to provide a good nutritionally balanced diet to enhance training and performance, prevent sickness, and increase quality of life. And I know this well enough that I have been accredited by two National bodies.
I know I cannot stop others from providing nutritional advice, nor will I ask them too. However what I want is for people to become more aware. Just because someone uses the name nutritionist, nutrition coach and dietary advisor does not instantly qualify them for the task. Sadly, ANYONE can call themselves a nutritionist, there is no law against that. However no one can call themselves a Dietitian without being qualified.
So I want to encourage you to look carefully at the information you are reading or hearing. Critique it. Do not be afraid to ask questions and delve into why the nutritionist has planned this for you.
Let me give you an example of how important the right information is by breaking down as basic plan and showing you how it can affect the body. This way you can understand how and why I plan the way I do.
Most of you are aware that high protein, low carb diets are all the rage at the moment for body fat loss and training. It is the most typical diet plan I have seen from my clients coming to me after seeing a 'Backyard Nutritionist'. So here is a sample plan that might follow such a diet:
Breakfast: 150g of steak + 1-2 C of fibrous vegetables (greens, carrot, cauliflower etc) + 30g of almonds
MT: 150g of chicken or steak + 2 C of fibrous vegetables + 20g of almonds
Lunch: 150g of chicken, fish or steak + 2 tbsp of coconut oil + 1 C of fibrous vege
Pre Training: Protein shake
Post Training: Protein shake
Dinner: 150g of chicken, fish or steak + 300g of sweet potato + 1 C of vege
Now let's consider this plan a little more carefully:
This meal plan contains a total of 600g of meat a day. HOLY! Are you trying to ruin the persons bowel! The cancer council stated many many years ago, consuming more than 500g of red meat a week can lead to bowel cancer. I am sure if you have been listening to the news over the last couple of weeks, you will have heard many things about bacon, processed meats and red meat to be linked to this. Imagine if the person above decided to consume 540g of steak in one day! Would that sound ok with you?
You might also consider that this is not a nutritionally balanced diet. Every plan I write, I ensure that each person eats enough vitamins and minerals to prevent sickness, osteoporosis, increase energy levels and boost their immune system. This diet does not provide sufficient vitamins and minerals for anyone. I did a quick analysis and this is what I found it was lacking:
Iodine: Responsible for producing the hormones that control our metabolism
Calcium: Required for muscle contraction, bone health and prevention of osteoporosis
B vitamins Folate and Thiamin: control our energy levels, prevent cracks and sores around the mouth. Thiamin also controls nerve function and muscle contraction
Iron: unless the above person is having red meat at every meal, iron intake will be low for a female. Iron is essential for helping supply oxygen to the cells in our body. It gives us energy and helps fight infection
Omega 3 and 6s: These fatty acids are essential for regulating blood pressure and preventing inflammation. Important factors for those who train excessively.
Vitamin C: Important for keeping the Immune system functioning well.
While there are plenty of vitamins and minerals from vegetables, unless you know how much to provide exactly of certain vegetables, then you will be lacking all of the above!
It is very low in carbohydrate. For a person who is trying to perform and train consistently, this is not enough carbohydrates to see good advances in training or in muscle mass. Your muscles need carbohydrates to fuel the muscle repair process. Without carbohydrates the quality of muscle will not increase at a very fast rate.
Because it is a low carb diet, in the first few week of following it, there will be a lot of body fluid and muscle glycogen loss. Carbohydrates hold onto fluid and following a low carb diet can drop 2kgs of carbohydrate and fluid stores. This is why WEIGHT loss happens so quickly in the beginning, because it is fluid rather than FAT loss. Yes you will lose some body fat, but no it will not be 2kgs.
One of the most important questions for me when trying to write a plan for my clients is whether the diet is sustainable. Would you be able to follow this meal plan for the rest of your life? This type of diet may have the person motivated for the first month or two because they are seeing results. But what happens when you get over it, or you have a cheat meal? Would binging come into this? Would eating meat become so unappealing that you would go back to consuming the diet you previously had done, plus more? For me, complete restriction is not the way to go unless you have to make weight for a competition or it is imperative for training.
Final question to ask yourself is whether you would you actually enjoy eating this way. Some people would, but the majority would not. At least not long term. Think about what do you want from life as a whole. Life is not just about your looks. Nutritional advice, while going a long way to helping with sports performance and weight loss, is mostly about becoming more healthy and finding a better quality of life altogether. You only have one life and get one chance to live. Would a life with a diet like the above be really worth it for you? And remember, this is not just about the short term gains. What effect would eating like this have on your body in the long term? Just because you do not see the effects of having a poor nutritionally balanced diet right now, does not mean you will not later on in life.
I have seen a many problems emerge from people following advice by unqualified people. Their results may have begun well, but they turned into extreme digestion issues, cold sores, skin break outs, fainting and, in some cases, their body as started to go into shut down mode.
So if you ever receive dietary advice from an unqualified nutritionist, don't hesitate to question the plan and their rationale for it for you. Your nutrition is a serious business and that's why I take your nutritional care seriously. The food we eat it is our fuel and gives us life. Ask and make sure you know that what you are doing is right!
For those PT’s, trainers or coaches who do refer or even just encourage their clients to see a qualified Nutritionist, Dietitian – Thank you! A good quality diet makes such a difference in how someone performs, behaves and trains. You are greatly appreciated.
Finally, for my clients - I hope you see the above as a testimony to why I care so much about providing you with personalised care and advice. I do not take our relationship for granted. As I said - I take nutrition seriously and, more specifically, I take YOUR nutrition seriously. Thank you for trusting me and believe me when I say that I will always work hard to ensure you receive the best plan and advice that I can give you.