“People always say to look on the bright side. I’m a vegan because I know it makes a difference, but I still feel hopeless sometimes, like what’s the point? There are horrible things happening every day to people and animals and how can I turn a blind eye to that? It just depresses me.”
It’s true that there are violent acts committed towards people and animals every day. You can choose to focus on the long history of cruelty shown to others and the possibility that it will continue forever into the future … Or, instead, you can shift your focus to something more empowering. For example, you might reflect on the positive difference you are already making, and ask questions such as, “What else can I do to bring about change?”
There’s evidence to suggest that people who feel hopeless or depressed have different thought patterns compared to people who describe themselves as hopeful and happy most of the time – and these thought patterns can be changed. Those who consider themselves depressed tend to think a lot about what’s wrong with the world, and what’s missing from their lives. On the other hand, people who generally enjoy a happier mood more often focus on what’s going right as well as what they are grateful for.
So, does this mean that we should always look on the bright side and ignore what’s wrong with the world? Not quite – denial is unlikely to help anyone! But if you’re struggling with a sense of hopelessness or depression and this is affecting your ability to make a positive impact, then it’s worthwhile taking a look at your own thoughts. With some effort, our habitual way of thinking can be changed so that we can stay as emotionally strong and healthy as possible, even while keeping our eyes open to what’s actually occurring around us.
There may have been countless times you’ve heard, “I could never give up meat. It’s too tasty!” or “Why do you bother? It’s not like you’re going to change the world”. You can focus on those occasions, or remind yourself instead that you are one of many people who are taking action to create a more compassionate world, and the number of people choosing to go vegetarian and vegan is growing every day.
It’s totally understandable that you would feel hopeless about how much unnecessary suffering there is all over the planet at the moment. However, while you can’t control everything around you, you are at least able to control your inner world and mental state to some extent. You can do this by consciously shifting the focus of your thoughts. Try as much as possible to pay attention to what is within your power to say or do, rather than concentrating on all the things you are powerless over.
Every time you catch yourself feeling hopeless, ask yourself what you were just thinking about. If your mental energy was focussed on what’s going wrong, what’s missing, or what you can’t control, try switching to another thought about what’s right, what you’re grateful for, and what you do have control over. If you continue to do this, you are likely to become a lot less hopeless over time and to feel in a better position to help in whatever way you can.
About Jess Jess is an intuitive counsellor who offers readings and consultations worldwide through JessAngIntuitive.com. With over 9 years’ previous experience as a psychologist, she has also helped people apply practical strategies to address anxiety, depression, trauma, and substance use. After being vegetarian for over 10 years she decided to go vegan in 2010, and now loves to support others in both enjoying and making the transition to a vegan lifestyle.
The word ‘lapse’ is commonly used when a person falls back into any unwanted behaviour or experience such as depression, drug use, binge eating, or another habit. A lapse is different from a relapse because while a lapse is typically very short-lived, relapsing involves returning to previous levels or patterns of behaviour without any clear indication of wanting to stop.
For example, if you have one glass of wine after several weeks or months of deciding to quit drinking, and then commit to having no more alcohol afterwards, then this could be considered a lapse. But if you go back to previous levels of alcohol use, such as having a 6-pack of beer every day, then that would count as a relapse.According to the Australian Oxford Mini Dictionary, to ‘lapse’ means to ‘fail to maintain one’s position or standard’. Failure might seem like a harsh word to describe a temporary slip-up or mistake, but people often do beat themselves up when they have a lapse, especially when it comes to ethical issues and behaviours that they feel strongly about.The tricky thing about lapses is that there’s often a lot of shame and guilt associated with them, and ironically, this can actually increase the risk of people giving up on their resolve and choosing not to ‘get back on the bandwagon’, so to speak. Conversely, when someone is kind to themselves before, during, or after a lapse, then they are more likely to learn from the experience and stick to their goal or desired behaviour in future.
The potential to lapse
If you’re already vegan, it’s likely that the last thing you want to think about is the possibility of lapsing by non-vegan behaviour, such as by eating meat or dairy again. While of course there are some people who decide not to be vegan anymore after a certain period of time and are happy with that choice, for the purpose of this article the assumption is that you are vegan or are interested in becoming vegan, and would rather not use animal products again.
While it’s tempting to deny that there’s any possibility of having a lapse in future, the truth is that lapses happen, and it can be empowering to know that there are ways to plan in order to try and prevent them. Here are some questions you can ask to help you prepare for a potential lapse:
What could put me at risk of having a lapse?
Write down the places where you might be at a higher risk of lapsing. For example, at a work function BBQ, or during a social gathering at Yum Cha where the vegan meals are few and far between, or at a relative’s house where you will likely be offered the same chicken soup you used to eat all the time when you were little.
Think about what other situations or emotions could lead to a lapse. Are you more likely to grab a meal at a drive-thru when you’re tired and busy and have nothing in the fridge at home? (If there’s nothing vegan on that drive-thru menu and you’re starving, the chances of you having a lapse could skyrocket). What about after an argument? Or if you’re feeling down or nervous and you just want some comfort food like that favourite milk chocolate bar you used to have as a kid?
How could I prevent this situation, or is there somewhere I could go if I need to leave?
Note down in advance how you might be able to prevent a particular high-risk situation. If a social lunch is being planned, could you suggest meeting at a cafe or restaurant where there are plant-based options? If the venue is already set, is it possible to call the staff in advance to ask if there is anything vegan on the menu, or if any meal can be changed slightly to make it vegan? Maybe you could keep some ready-made vegan snacks or frozen meals at home so if you get home late feeling tired and hungry, you know you’ll still have something to eat. While it’s not particularly healthy, you could consider going out and splurging on some vegan sweet treats so that if you do get a craving for certain comfort/junk foods, you’ll have a vegan alternative there that’s already in your possession.
Work out if there are any places you could go while you’re feeling vulnerable and/or if you need to leave a particular situation – places where you know you’re unlikely to lapse. For example, it might feel best to go home if you live in a vegan household, or visit a supportive friend, or go to a plant-based restaurant, or anywhere you enjoy going and where you normally do other things as opposed to eating – such as at the beach or park where you can walk and relax.
How can I put off my decision?
If you find yourself reaching for some non-vegan food while still feeling that you would rather not lapse, then put off your decision to eat it. Wait at least 10 minutes. You may feel it’s easier to do this if you distract yourself during that time, such as by talking to others or doing something active. It often helps to remember previous occasions when you stayed strong in difficult situations. If you’ve done it once, you can do it again.
Write a list of coping strategies, especially ones that you can use in any situation that you won’t always be able to predict. Some examples would include calling a friend, becoming aware of your breathing and slowing it down if you’re feeling stressed, doing something you enjoy, etc.
What are my top reasons for being vegan?
After you’ve put off your decision for 10 minutes or so, connect with your most important reasons for being vegan, and then ask yourself if you still want to eat, drink, or otherwise use that non-vegan product. Your mind will probably be clearer just from waiting that short amount of time.
How can I celebrate?
Don’t forget to celebrate! It’s common for people to skip this step like it’s a sign of immaturity to reward yourself for handling a high-risk situation well, but it’s a really important step to take. Whenever you get through a high-risk situation and manage to stick to your decision to stay vegan, do something to celebrate. It can be as simple as taking out some time to read a bit of that novel you’ve been wanting to start, or schedule a massage, or just pat yourself on the back to acknowledge your efforts. It can help to ask what you’d say to someone else who had just been through a similar situation, e.g. “good job”, “that was tough but you’re getting better at this”, or “well done”.
Learning from lapses
If you’ve ever had a lapse and are still feeling really bad about it, remember to go easy on yourself. Again, being overly harsh on yourself can sometimes leave you more vulnerable to another lapse rather than keep you on track.
Where there’s shame, there’s a tendency to hide what’s happened, which can make it harder to get support or advice from others who may have some handy tips to share of their own about preventing such lapses in future. You certainly don’t need to broadcast the fact that you’ve had a lapse, especially if you believe that a particular person or group of people might judge you or make you feel worse if you share that you’ve had one. In many cases though, there’s a good chance that several of the people who you fear will judge you for having a lapse have actually had their fair share of lapses in their own life.
If you’ve had a lapse, it does not mean you are no longer capable of sticking to your values. Lapses can be learned from. A couple of great questions to ask straight away include: “What led to that lapse?” and “What will I do differently next time?”
The more you prepare for a lapse, manage high-risk situations well and celebrate your successes, the more confident you will be about your ability to prevent lapses from occurring. Just as importantly, your experiences and lessons may serve to help other aspiring vegans to deal with concerns about lapsing, to avoid becoming discouraged, and to stay committed to a vegan lifestyle in future.
About Jess: Jess is an intuitive counsellor who offers readings and consultations worldwide through JessAngIntuitive.com. With over 9 years’ previous experience as a psychologist, she has also helped people apply practical strategies to address anxiety, depression, trauma, and substance use. After being vegetarian for over 10 years she decided to go vegan in 2010, and now loves to support others in both enjoying and making the transition to a vegan lifestyle.
Ask most Australian adults how much milk they drink, and they’ll answer
‘I really don’t drink milk – I just have a bit on my cereal and a dash in my coffee’.
But consumption data gathered by the dairy industry tell a different tale. Annual fluid milk consumption stood at 105 litres per person in 2015/16 (just under 300 ml per day), which the dairy industry is pleased to announce is “very high… compared to other comparable countries”. The main driver for this high level of milk consumption, again according to the dairy industry, is “the relentless expansion of the ‘coffee culture’ in Australia during the last decade.”
Still keen on dairy? A recently published study on over 98 000 Swedish women and over 45 000 Swedish men whose dietary habits and disease risks have been tracked for up to 30 years, found that drinking more milk was associated with a higher risk of death. Chillingly, the researchers reported that
“In women, death rates were already increased at 1–2 glasses of milk per day”
which, as the dairy industry brags, is the average daily intake of milk in Australia.
The Swedish researchers speculated that the higher mortality risk they observed may be due to lactose (milk sugar). Lactose is broken down by our digestive processes into the simple sugars glucose and galactose, and galactose has been shown in animal studies to induce oxidative stress and inflammation, accelerating the aging process.
In fact, the same research team had found in a previous study that humans who drink more milk have higher levels of two markers of oxidative stress and inflammation, 8-iso-PGF2α and interleukin 6:
as a major cause of land degradation, deforestation, water stress, pollution, and loss of biodiversity.
Fortunately, there are many health-promoting alternatives to dairy products, including a wide variety of plant milks and yogurts. I favour whole-bean soy milk such as Bonsoy, oat milk and better brands of almond milk (the shorter the ingredient list, the healthier the product!) and home-made soy yogurt which I make from Bonsoy and a dairy-free yogurt culture. Coconut milk and coconut yogurt are far too high in saturated fat for anything other than occasional use.
Conventional wisdom has it that ‘a little of what you fancy does you good’, and that ‘everything in moderation’ is the key to good health. If this approach is working well for you – if you easily maintain your ideal weight, have a healthy relationship with food, and have no health problems – then great! Keep doing what you’re doing. If not, read on :).
This week, I shared my thoughts about ‘sometimes’ and ‘never’ foods – based on both my personal experience, and over 20 years of working with thousands of clients who have various degrees of ‘messed-upness’ around food – with a client, whom I’ll call Grace. She found the discussion enlightening and helpful. I hope you will too.
Let’s start by dividing foods up into 3 categories. The first is ad libitum foods – that is, foods that you can and should eat as much as you like of, because they’re flat-out healthy, and just about impossible to overeat. Think fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. Ever tried overeating broccoli or boiled chick peas? How far did you get? I thought so.
The next category is sometimes foods. This category includes both plant-based foods such as dried fruit and nuts, which are wholesome but perilously easy to overeat, and not-so-wholesome foods such as animal products (unless of course you’re vegan, in which case they’re a ‘never’ food) and ‘vegan junk food’.
And finally, we have our never foods. These are the foods that really ought not to ever pass your lips, for the sake of your physical and/or mental health.
The tricky question is, how do we distinguish between a ‘sometimes’ and a ‘never’ food?
As I explained to Grace, a ‘sometimes’ food is one that you know you can consume, every now and again, with complete safety – that is, it won’t make you feel unwell, and after you’ve finished it, you don’t crave it, and you don’t think about it at all until the next occasion that you have it. And when I say occasion, I mean ‘occasion’. An occasion is a special event, like a birthday, Christmas, or anniversary. If you’re eating a particular food 4 times a week, that’s not ‘occasional’ consumption!
For both Grace and I, alcohol is very much a ‘sometimes’ item. As I told Grace, once a year I share a half-bottle of Macquariedale Estate dessert wine with my husband, on our wedding anniversary. It’s the one wine that doesn’t give me a headache within minutes of the first sip, so I enjoy it… and then forget all about it until the next anniversary.
Grace drinks champagne at weddings, but other apart from that, has no interest in alcohol. So for both of us, placing alcohol in the ‘sometimes’ category is a no-brainer.
What about the ‘never’ foods? For me, that used to be anything sweet and gooey – chocolate mud cake, cheesecake, custard tarts – anything with that magic combination of sugar and fat would flip my obsession switch. One bite was never enough. If someone in my family brought home chocolate mud cake, it would sing to me from the fridge. I’d hear it serenading me at night while I lay in bed. I couldn’t stop myself from opening up the box and cutting another piece – just a tiny sliver, then another, then another, until it was all gone and I was faced with both the physical discomfort of a stomach full of sweet, fatty stodge, and an equally sickening feeling of shame at my abject lack of self-control.
But even when there was none left, I would keep thinking about it. When could I get my hands on some more? Surely I could I just have one slice, and then put it out of my mind? Surely I could eat it ‘in moderation’; after all, other people around me seemed to be able to do that.
The breakthrough moment came when I acknowledged to myself that there were some foods that I simply could not be moderate with. To make my life easier, I had to put them on the ‘never’ list.
This is not such a foreign idea. We don’t tell smokers to ‘smoke moderately’; we tell them to quit. If someone is an alcoholic, we don’t tell them to cut down on their drinking. They need to stop drinking entirely, at least for a period of time; some former alcoholics are able to have the occasional drink after they’ve gone through recovery, while others find out the hard way that even one sip of alcohol will invariably lead to complete relapse.
You might have already put certain foods on your ‘never’ list; for example flesh foods, if you’re vegetarian, or all animal products, if you’re vegan. As social psychologist Melanie Joy points out, entire cultures put certain foods on their ‘never’ list; for example, dog meat in Western cultures, and pork amongst Muslims and Jews.
I have a number of Jewish clients who grew up in secular families, but in their teens decided to become ‘religious Jews’ – that is, to follow Jewish laws. One element of becoming religious was keeping kosher. The interesting thing is, that not one of the people I’ve spoken to who did this, ever experienced any difficulty in letting go of non-kosher foods – even foods that had been favourites before – once they made the decision to keep kosher.
Most of the vegans I see report the same phenomenon. There’s an identity shift that happens once you declare, to yourself and others, “I don’t eat that”, whether the ‘that’ is non-kosher foods, meat or chocolate mud cake. As Grace mused, other people tend not to argue with you (“Go on, just have one, I made it just for you!”) when you simply say “I don’t eat that”, probably because at some level they register that ‘not eating that’ is part of your identity, and non-negotiable.
As our discussion progressed, Grace realised that potato chips needed to become a ‘never’ food for her. She had already decided to never bring them home, but had given herself permission to eat them when at other people’s houses. Problem was, once she had one, she couldn’t stop eating them, and bingeing on chips tended to derail her attempts to eat more healthfully overall. That’s hardly Grace’s fault; as investigative journalist Michael Moss pointed out in his disturbingly brilliant book Sugar Salt Fat, Big Food invests Big Money into developing products that are so addictive, once you have one bite you can’t put them down.
But people do vary in their susceptibility to the addictive pull of processed foods, both for genetic (and possibly epigenetic) reasons and because of varying experiences with food during childhood, and different foods are ‘binge triggers’ for different people. I’ve never had much of a ‘thing’ for chips, so they don’t need to go on my ‘never’ list; it just doesn’t occur to me to eat them in the first place.
Placing all those gooey sweet treats on my ‘never’ list, on the other hand, completely liberated me from the endless, energy-draining back-and-forth in my head about whether, and when, and with whom, and how often, and how much I could eat those foods. Once I became a person who doesn’t eat ‘that’, I reclaimed all the energy that had been tied up in that conflict… and put it to much better use!
So how do you know if a food needs to go on your ‘never’ list? I simply ask clients to tell me which foods they crave, and then ask them
“If I were to tell you that you can never have that food again in your whole life, how would you feel?”
If they experience a visceral sensation that’s strikingly similar to the experience of grief – that ‘gutted’ feeling you get when someone you love dies or leaves your life – I know we’ve found a ‘never’ food. I mean, if you told me I could never eat broccoli again I would feel bummed, because I like broccoli, but I wouldn’t feel bereft. There are other vegetables in the world, after all!
I use Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) and Matrix Reimprinting to work through that grief and unpack the early-life experiences that forge our deep emotional attachments to certain foods, which helps bring my clients to the point of being able to move those particular foods onto their ‘never’ list with no ‘maybes’ and no regrets.
And the interesting is, most of them end up reporting the same experience as me: down the track from when I made that decision, I no longer have any interest in those foods. They don’t actually look like food to me anymore. So there’s no sense of missing out, or yearning for a lost pleasure. My life is better – happier, richer and fuller – for being a person who doesn’t eat ‘that’.
After descending into a hidden valley, crossing a smooth flowing river and climbing a staircase between lush green trees, I eventually found myself in the gardens of Govinda Valley, with a water drop shaped wind chime resonating in the light breeze that flowed gently between the trees. I’d only been here three minutes and already felt a palpable sense of quietude and calmness. I was greeted with a beaming smile by a lady who introduced herself as Aki, who invited me up to the dining room and offered me tea.
Ghandi said: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others’. The sanskrit word ‘Seva’ means a service which is performed without any expectation of result or award for performing it. Such services can be performed to benefit other human beings or society. When the Govinda Valley Retreat Centre was established in 2006 the essential vision was to serve. To provide a peaceful, nurturing and nourishing facility to all, regardless of their chosen path of spiritual practice, and a comfortable environment for people of Sydney and beyond to conduct retreats, seminars and conferences. The retreat has hosted hundreds of vibrant and successful groups and events in that time, and established a solid reputation for delicious healthy food, refreshingly helpful and personalised service, excellent facilities and a unique location offering access to ocean and bush.
I was soon greeted by the cheerful and warm Radha – the retreats’ bookings manager – who guided me through the facilities and grounds. The setting of this wonderful establishment is nothing short of sublime. Nestled in a peaceful valley between majestic mountains and amongst the pristine wilderness of Otford Valley, its bordered by a flowing creek and the beautiful Royal National Park and south pacific ocean lies beyond its eastern mountain. The property is surrounded and embraced by nature.
The location is very practical, just one hour from Sydneys’ CBD or thirty minutes from wollongong by car, and only five minutes walk from Otford train station. There are a myriad of gorgeous spots to explore in the local area, such as the dazzling Bald Hill lookout, and popular surf beach Stanwell Park just a few minutes away by car.
Heading into the building, I was blown-away by the vibe of their event spaces, which comprise of a large ground-floor 135m2 hall (which can fit up to 250 seated guests or 75 yoga mats), a smaller 65m2 hall (sixty seats or 20 yoga mats). These spaces are really gorgeous and inviting, bright, airy and naturally lit with big windows and leafy views. There is a large dining hall that seats 72 people inside and thirty on the balcony. There is also a therapy room which is ideal for one-to-one consultations and treatments such as massage or counselling.
the main hall, GV’s largest space
It was glorious to stroll through the grounds and check out the facilities, down pathways lined with gumtrees and resplendent with bottle brush flowers in full bloom. The expansive thirty acre property has a volleyball court, half basketball court, bonfire areas, verandas with seating and spacious grassy areas that are great for meditation or outdoor activities. It even has an outdoor wood-fire pizza oven – nothing like the taste of fresh crispy pizza!
Radha showed me the range of accommodation options which include six twin-share ensuites and ten quad-share dorm rooms. The total combined total accommodation capacity of the centre is fifty people, plus there is space for campers and an additional option to allow more people to attend events. If a retreat planner attracts forty or more people they can have exclusive use of the property.
The team are clearly experts at hosting retreats and providing personalised services to meet the needs of yoga practitioners, speakers and event planners to plan and run their dream retreat. Their team of enthusiastic volunteers and staff will take care of all the cooking leaving the practitioner to do what they do best. The support for your event can be as little as accommodation and meals, or as much as arranging practitioners to enhance your events where Govinda Valley’s team can book in a therapists or teachers from their extensive local contacts which allows you to add things like massage, yoga, meditation or cooking lessons to your retreat program.
As we concluded the tour, although I’d only been at the centre for an hour, I noticed the Otford Valley – with its nest-like setting amongst hills and mountains had a unique, calming and comforting effect on me. As if reading my mind, a short time later Radha explained that traditionally the Otford Valley area was used as a birthing and healing centre by the Aboriginal natives. I was also told that the centre often gets visited by deer, parrots, kookaburra and kangaroos. Perhaps its the frequent sounds of joyful kirtans, mantra chanting or drumming that attracts them.. or the fact that only vegetarian food is served at the centre, making it seem like an inherently safe place to visit..
I enjoyed my visit and tour and can conclude that GV is truly a magical place. Its a place where spirituality, physical fitness, learning, networking and personal growth is supported by a special peace and serenity. Its a place to reconnect to the nature and life within you and around your. A place to find peace of mind, contentment and discover inner wellness. The volunteers and staff who run this wonderful facility are very evidently putting the art of seva into practice on a daily basis through their passion and commitment, and are working hard to make Govinda Valley Retreat Centre a joyful and spirited place of heart and kindness, and a hub of healing and growth!
the nearby Kelly’s Falls, Garrawarra State Conservation Area
According to the ancient philosophy of ayurveda, if we eat the right foods in a favourable environment, it can nourish our mind, body and emotions, not just our body. We metabolise with all of our five senses and everything we hear, touch, see, taste and smell becomes part of us. Food becomes nectar, and every meal becomes healing and nurturing.
The team at Heart & Soul Cafe Cronulla have infused so much soul and heart into their offerings, that even a short visit there becomes an invigorating and inspiriting experience.
As I entered the warm ambience the deliciously lively cardamom and cinnamon chai fragrances enveloped me and the smiles of the friendly staff and upbeat acoustic vibes made me feel instantly relaxed and welcome. The natural polished timber chairs and tables (locally sourced) create a very earthly feel and many options – including a large communal table, but the generously padded bench seats with extra cushions were an irresistible and inviting choice.
Now for the best bit – the food! Heart & Soul do a fantastic and eclectic array of options from burgers to curries to salads for breakfast and lunch to suit every taste. A good portion of the menu are house made including the chai tea blend, the hand cut chips, muesli mix, banana bread, muffins, caramel slice and the flour-less super seed bread.
Heart & Soul were a finalist in the 2016 Savour Awards for Excellence in the specialty restaurant category, and its no surprise that they did so well with so many unique and creative items on the menu such as their kofta balls, tamali pie, cacao and peppermint smoothie, and matcha lattes. Just reading it had me salivating in anticipation, and I could have happily grabbed a fork and tried a bit of everything if given the chance. The majority of the menu is also vegan, gluten-free and refined sugar free, so they are really making an effort to accommodate those with food sensitivities and move with the times and the clean-eating conscious food movement.
After a fair bit of umming and yumming I chose the quinoa burger because it sounded hearty and although I’ve tried quinoa many ways I’ve never had it in a burger, so was curious to try it. My meal arrived in swift time, piping hot, topped with fresh alfalfa and with a cute basket of hand-cut house made fries on the side. The burger pattie was succulent and full of flavour. It had a delightfully satisfying even ‘meaty’ texture and a nutty slightly sweet taste and also a red colour which I guessed would be fresh beetroot added to the mix. These flavours harmonised well with the avocado sauce, greens and alfalfa. The hand-cut house made chips were a delight, a golden pile of gloriously crispy slices of heaven in a basket that tasted so good they could have been made by Radha, the lover of Krishna.
Although I don’t always eat dessert with lunch, with so many crazily delicious creations seemingly calling out to me from the glass cabinet I had to partake. I’ve been hankering to get onto the cocowhip train since spotting it on various facebook groups and instagram pages, so thought it was high time I gave it a whirl. Heart and Soul offer cocowhip in chocolate and vanilla and in various match ups with their other desserts like their caramel slice or muesli, so I opted for the vanilla with brownie. Cocowhip is unique among coconut based ice creams as it contains organic bio-fermented coconut powder for gut and intestinal health. Its also vegan, soy, refined sugar and dairy free so it has considerable nutritional value. One could expect it to taste strange but I was blown away with the sweetness and even after eating the whole large serving with brownie I didn’t have anything but a happy belly and a big smile on my face!
I was lucky enough to get to chat with the head chef Jose Paucar, whose passion for food is very evident. He glowed as he talked about his unique creations, and the large array of house-made dishes and items. “I love cooking because I love to see the smiles on people’s faces as they enjoy my food’, revealed Jose. Jose has been worked as a chef for fifteen years and has been vegan for the last ten.
I think a big part of the reason that this cafe produces such soulful and spirited food with a friendly atmosphere is that its owned and run by Govinda Valley Retreat – a non-profit organisation in Otford, one-and-a-half hours south from Sydney CBD where they do various yoga courses, and have volunteer ‘Wwoofers’ involved, which gives the cafe and retreat a community feel that permeates what they do. The Cafe and retreat managers are also involved with many aid initiatives such as Caring for Life charity who do great work for animal protection, environmental awareness and distribution of vegan and vegetarian food.
When I first went vegetarian twenty years ago I was was actually living in Cronulla at the time and the only veg options in the area were fruit juices, salad sandwiches (hold the meat and cheese) and maybe a dry, bland lentil burger if you were lucky. Times have certainly changed and Heart & Soul is ushering the food revolution in the south, with their healthy, mostly organic wholefood vegetarian and vegan food with a conscience. As someone who has lived strictly vegan for the last four years, and more recently gluten free and refined sugar I’m really excited to know of places like Heart & Soul where I have two many options.
With food like this, its no wonder that locals are taking advantage of it and exploring delicious new options that support and enhance their health and vitality. Heart and Soul is well worth a drive from other parts of Sydney and compliments a day trip to this gorgeous seaside town where you can explore all kinds of water sports, surf, swim, walk, shop or relax with a yoga class at their nearby Heart & Soul yoga school and be guaranteed of a healthy, divine, flavoursome, super healthy and satisfying meal at this wonderful cafe that will warm your soul and lift your heart.
Heart & Soul Cafe is located at 6/17 Gerrale St. Cronulla, three minutes walk from the train station and south cronulla beach. They are open seven days, 7am-5pm. Find out more about them on their facebook page and website
Last month, I had the honour of speaking at the Cruelty Free Festival in Sydney. I titled my presentation ‘Myth-Busting the Vegan Diet’, and boy, are there a lot of myths to bust.
In the Q&A session afterward, several people asked questions relating to fat intake.
This is actually one of the most contentious areas of nutrition, even in the plant-based nutrition world. The Internet is awash with misinformation regarding fat, and a slew of popular pro-fat books released over the last several years has only contributed to people’s confusion about how much fat they should eat, and what type is best.
I’ve been asked so many questions about fat both by clients and members of EmpowerEd, my health and nutrition education program, that I thought I’d gather all the Big Fat Myths together into one post.
Here they are, in no particular order:
Myth #1: Coconut oil is a healthy food
I’ve covered coconut oil in detail in my article Coconut oil: beyond the hype; just to summarise this long and fully-referenced article, coconut oil:
Does not help you lose weight or belly fat;
Does raise the ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol, as well as triglycerides, which is associated with an increased risk of heart disease;
Does impair insulin sensitivity, which raises your risk of type 2 diabetes;
Does not prevent Alzheimer’s disease; and
Does dramatically decrease endothelial function (the ability of the inner lining of your blood vessels to regulate blood pressure and stop plaque formation) and impair the antioxidant capacity of HDL for at least 6 hours after consumption.
Once again, I’ve already discussed olive oil in great detail in The Mediterranean diet: sorting fact from fantasy. The bottom line is that olive oil is not ‘heart healthy’; it’s just less damaging to cardiovascular health than saturated animal fats such as butter, which is hardly a ringing endorsement of olive oil.
Just like coconut oil, olive oil impairs endothelial function, causing accelerated growth of cholesterol-laden atherosclerotic plaques that cause heart attacks and strokes.
And if you’ve heard that the PREDIMED (Prevención con Dieta Mediterránea) study proved that a Mediterranean diet with either olive oil or nuts is better for cardiovascular disease prevention than a low-fat diet, you’ve been suckered by one of the biggest Big Fat Myths of our time.
You see, the people assigned to the ‘low fat’ diet in the PREDIMED study didn’t eat a low fat diet at all.
As the table below, from the Supplementary Index to the study shows, the control group began the study eating a really high fat diet (39% of energy intake from fat), and ended up eating… a really high fat diet (37% fat).
So what the PREDIMED study actually proved is that a pretty bad diet supplemented with olive oil or nuts, is a bit better for you than a truly god-awful diet. How much better? Well, eating a Mediterranean diet plus olive oil would lower your risk of the primary end point (a composite measure of heart attack, stroke, and death from cardiovascular causes) by 0.6% compared to eating the ‘low fat diet’ that was anything but low fat, and eating a Mediterranean diet plus nuts would lower your risk by 1%.
Excuse me for not being blown away by these outcomes, especially when I compare them to the amazing results that Drs Dean Ornish and Caldwell Esselstyn have obtained, using a low fat plant-based diet to reverse heart disease!
Myth #3: Avocado contains essential fats
Every time someone trots out this particular myth, I get an almost uncontrollable urge to scream at them, ‘Stop taking advice from people who earned their nutrition degree from the Academy of Google!’
As anyone who has actually taken a nutrition course knows, there are only 2 essential fatty acids (building blocks of fat that you have to eat, pre-formed, in your diet because you can’t make them yourself). They are the 2 polyunsaturated fatty acids
Linoleic acid, an omega 6 fatty acid; and
Alpha-linolenic acid, an omega 3 fatty acid
That’s it. Every other type of fat that we need, we can make all by ourselves, out of these 2 fatty acids along with non-fat precursors, chiefly carbohydrate.
Avocado contains chiefly monounsaturated fat; in fact out of the 32 g of fat in half an average avocado (flesh only), over 19 g is made up of monounsaturated fat. The remaining fat in an avocado is chiefly saturated (more than 5 g), leaving just over 4 g of polyunsaturated fat. Out of this, most is linoleic acid (the omega 6 fat that most people get too much of anyway) and 0.255 g is alpha-linolenic acid (the essential omega 3 fat). In what universe does this constitute a food high in essential fats?
(For comparison, a heaped tablespoon of ground linseed (flaxseed) contains 2.3 g of alpha-linolenic acid and 0.6 g of linoleic acid, easily fulfilling the Australian RDI of 0.8 g of alpha-linolenic acid for women and 1.3 g per day for men.)
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love avocado and enjoy the rich, creamy texture that it brings to salads and Mexican foods. But I don’t fool myself that it’s making some irreplaceable contribution to my nutritional intake; it’s just a treat that I have in very limited amounts.
Myth #3: Eating fat helps you lose fat
Oh, puh-lease. I know people love to hear good news about their bad habits, but this one is beyond ridiculous. The people pushing this myth are the same ones telling you that eating carbohydrate-rich foods such as rice, potatoes and lentils makes you fat, despite the fact that the slimmest populations of humans on the planet eat a starch-based diet.
Here are some facts about fat:
Fat contains 9 calories per gram, carbohydrate supplies under 4 calories per gram
This is one of those myths that just won’t die, no matter how much evidence accumulates to disprove it. A major meta-analysis published in 2012 in the Archives of Internal Medicine summed up the state of play in regards to fish oil supplements:
“Supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids did not reduce the risk of overall cardiovascular events…, all-cause mortality, sudden cardiac death, myocardial infarction, congestive heart failure, or transient ischemic attack and stroke.”
Myth #5: You need to eat a high-fat diet for hormonal health
I’ve had so many female clients tell me that another naturopath or nutritionist advised them to eat a high-fat diet to ‘balance their hormones’ that I’ve pretty much lost all faith in the institutions that educate and credential such practitioners, whose modus operandi appears to be simply Let’s Make Stuff Up.
That’s what one of my clients, whom I’ll call Helen, said to me recently, only half-jokingly. We had been discussing the dietary changes that she needs to make in order to overcome an aggressive autoimmune disease. One of the major barriers to change that Helen keeps bumping up against is that her social life revolves around various forms of not-so-healthy eating – meeting up with friends at a restaurant, going out for a pub meal with her husband and so on.
Can you relate? I sure can. When I first decided to become vegetarian, at the age of 15, I suddenly realised how many food-centric activities that I’d previously enjoyed with my friends were now off the menu – quite literally. No more McDonald’s after the movies. No hot dogs at the roller skating rink (yep, I’m that old ;-)). Even sausage sizzles at school resulted in me feeling uncomfortably excluded from the social rituals which function as the glue that binds groups of unrelated humans together, providing us with a feeling of community that’s essential to both our psychological and physical well-being.
Most of my clients who’ve adopted vegetarian or vegan diets report the same kinds of experiences: work functions in which their dietary preferences aren’t catered for, despite having given a ‘heads-up’ to management; friends who choose restaurants for get-togethers that have absolutely nothing on the menu that’s suitable for non-carnivores; and of course, the dreaded family Christmas dinner, in which ‘tradition’ dictates that there’s a dead representative of virtually every species of animal on the table, like some dystopian version of Noah’s Ark.
The social isolation that many people experience when they decide to eat in a non-typical way – whether that’s becoming an ethical vegan, or a health-conscious plant-based eater – can be so intense and demoralising that they end up reverting to their old way of eating. In fact, a survey of over 11 000 Americans found that a startling 84% of vegetarians and vegans end up abandoning their diet, and that “insufficient interaction with other vegetarians/vegans; not being actively involved in a vegetarian/vegan community” and “disliking that their diet made them ‘stick out from the crowd’” were among the most common reasons for reverting to the dietary norm.
I’ve developed a keen interest in the role that social support plays in helping people stick with a healthy plant-based diet, so much so that I’m writing my Honours thesis on this very topic. I’m in the very earliest stages of my social support research project right now, but what I can share with you at this point is that social support matters. A lot. In fact, for Australian men, the number of vegetarian friends that they had was found to be the strongest predictor of how much meat they themselves eat.
Importantly, online communities such as Facebook groups are just as helpful at providing social support as more traditional in-person social groups. (Hint: my research project involves a closed Facebook group which was set up to provide support for people who want to eat a plant-based diet.)
So neither Helen nor anyone else needs to dump their old friends in order to stick to a healthy diet. She (and you) just need extra friends who share your commitment, whom you can connect with online, in person, or both.
By the way, that’s the reason I include a Facebook group (whose privacy setting is Secret, so none of your other FB friends can see you’re in it – a concern expressed by many of my clients, who get ‘stalked’ on social media by family members or friends who disapprove of their dietary choices; I kid you not, this actually happens!!!!!) in my health and nutrition education program, EmpowerEd. It’s just so incredibly helpful to be part of a supportive community of people who share your perspective on diet and health, empathise with your struggles and celebrate your successes with you.
Back when I was a naturopathy student in the early 1990s, no one I was acquainted with would have taken this question seriously. At that time, everybody ‘knew’ that being overweight was due to eating too much fat. End of story.
But then the Atkins diet – which exonerates fat, and vilifies carbohydrates as the culprit in weight gain – was reborn as the best-selling book Dr Atkins’ New Diet Revolution (having died a rapid death in its first incarnation as Dr Atkins’ Diet Revolution in the early 1970s).
A wave of me-too books followed: The Zone Diet, The South Beach Diet, Protein Power and a swag of others of lesser repute.
The Paleo diet craze also took off around this time, having originally been launched in the late 1970s.
While the proponents of each type of diet varied on some details, they all sang from the same hymn sheet on one point: ‘carbs’ (carbohydrate-rich foods) were bad. Carbs raised insulin levels, carbs turned to fat, carbs caused diabetes, carbs caused your arteries to block up, carbs caused inflammation, and so on ad nauseum.
Fast forward to 2016, and I’m still being told by clients on their first visit to me, that they’ve been restricting their fruit intake because their personal trainer, or some book they read, or a blog they follow, told them that “fruit is full of sugar” and “fruit makes you fat”.
I used to simply dismiss this preposterous claim with a rhetorical question: “Have you ever seen a fat monkey?” but the notion that fruit is fattening has wormed its way so deeply into the collective unconscious that I now need to address it more comprehensively in order to loosen its grip on my clients’ minds.
So this is what I tell them:
Firstly, epidemiological (population-based) studies have found that fruit consumption protects against weight gain – but fruit juice has the opposite effect (1).
Secondly, diets with a moderate amount of naturally-occurring fructose from fruit give better weight loss results than fructose-restricted diets (2).
Thirdly, the vilification of fruit by low-carb proponents is based on several misunderstandings about the fructose that fruit contains. Fructose is a simple sugar – called a ‘monosaccharide’ – that together with glucose, comprises sucrose, or table sugar.
Whereas glucose stimulates your pancreas to release insulin, allowing your cells to take up glucose and burn it for energy, fructose does not stimulate insulin secretion and is instead is taken up almost entirely by the liver.
Under certain circumstances, fructose can be turned into fat, which can either accumulate in the liver causing fatty liver and hepatic insulin resistance; or be sent out into the blood stream, causing systemic insulin resistance, high triglycerides and fat accumulation in adipose tissue.
Sounds scary, right? But what are those ‘certain circumstances’ in which fructose creates such calamities? Quite simply, experimental feeding trials in which obese individuals are fed fructose at levels that no normal human being would consume – typically 50% above the 95th percentile of consumption, or in other words, half as much again as is consumed by those who eat the most fructose in their regular daily diet (3)!
In trials where fructose has simply been substituted for the glucose normally consumed in the average human diet, there were no adverse effects on body weight, blood pressure, blood fats or insulin level; and in fact a possible benefit was found for glucose tolerance and glycemic control in diabetics (4).
The other point to bear in mind here is that fructose in the human diet almost always occurs in combination with glucose, whether in fruit, honey, table sugar or high fructose corn syrup, so trials where fructose is consumed in isolation give very misleading results.
Just how much fructose does fruit contain, anyway? Different fruits have different amounts, but as a rough guide, a 420 kj serving of fruit (say, 1 apple or 1 cup of blueberries) contains 10 g of fructose.
How much fructose was found to wreak metabolic havoc and cause weight gain in experimental feeding trials? 104 to 250 g per day, or an additional 18% to 97% of total daily energy intake (4).
So if you’re intending to eat 20 apples today, you probably need to back off on your fruit consumption (and yes, that IS a warning for people following Raw Till 4 and other diet plans based on fruit; apart from anything else, excessive fruit consumption nudges out vegetables, which should really be the basis of our diet for optimal health). Otherwise, relax and enjoy some of Mother Nature’s dessert, guilt-free!
(And if you’re looking for something a bit fancier than an apple, try this recipe: Black Sapote Mousse :).)
Most people assume that their body image – their perception of the attractiveness of their own body – will automatically improve after they lose weight. That seems fairly logical, right? If you don’t like the way you look now, surely you’ll be happier with your appearance once you’ve slimmed down?
I beg to differ. I would argue that in order for you to reach your healthy weight and stay there permanently, you need to improve your body image first. Yes, you read that right. What I’m saying is that hating the way you look now is actually a direct impediment to you being able to make – and sustain – the kind of changes in your weight and body shape that you’d love to see.
Here are 3 reasons why:
Reason # 1: Hating your body makes you feel down, and when you feel down you’re more likely to binge.
British women’s magazine Top Santesurveyed 3000 readers and found that 90% said their bodies made them feel ‘down’. 73% said they binged on food, with 32% admitting to bulimic behaviour (bingeing followed by purging, either through laxative abuse and/or self-induced vomiting).
In the course of my extensive work with women suffering from emotional eating, I’ve learned that there is a direct correlation between those 2 phenomena: when women (and many men) are feeling bad about their bodies, they find themselves irresistibly attracted to what I call ‘trigger foods’ – foods that they can’t stop eating once they’ve had a taste. Here’s a common thought pattern that many of my clients report, when I ask them what was running through their head just before they started to binge:
“Since I’m so fat already, what difference will it make if I eat this packet of biscuits/tub of ice cream/block of chocolate?”
The despair, disgust and hopelessness underlying this thought pattern are so overwhelming, your unconscious mind will drive you to seek relief… and one of the fastest ways to get temporary relief from these painful emotions is to eat ‘hyperpalatable’ foods, for reasons I’ve explained in a previous post. And because these foods not only pack such an enormous calorie punch, but also powerfully reinforce your desire for hyperpalatables and undermine your ability to enjoy healthy foods, every binge makes it harder and harder for you to lose weight.
Reason # 2: Hating your body makes you feel undeserving
In our thin-is-beautiful culture, the vast majority of people associate “fat” with a swag of undesirable characteristics. Here are some responses women gave when asked what they associated “fat” with:
Confronting, don’t you think? What I’ve found over and over again, is that women who see themselves as “fat”, with all the negative associations that trail along after that word, don’t feel worthy of having the body they’d really like to live in. Not only do they feel judged by our thin-obsessed society; they judge themselves. They defer self-acceptance and self-love until after they look the way they believe they ‘should’ in order to be acceptable.
They also have great difficulty seeing themselves as slim even when they’ve lost significant amounts of weight (see my previous post on body image lag), so they tend to self-sabotage and regain the weight they’ve lost.
In contrast, Rachel, after participating in The LEAN Program wrote to me
“I realised where I was stuck in critical thinking and how I could love my body shape no matter what family or friends think! What I found ironic was the more I accepted myself as fat the readier I became to be thin. So having lost weight I accept myself as I am now and I accept and recognize the ‘fuller figured’ shape I used to have.”
The key here is to love your body right now, not to defer that love until you look the way you want to look… because if you hate yourself now, you’ll still be hating yourself after you’ve lost weight – you’ll just find new things to hate!
Reason # 3: What you focus on expands
EFT Master and Law of Attraction teacher Carol Look is fond of saying
“You can’t get thin when you feel fat.”
I agree with her 100%! If all you can see when you look in the mirror is your cellulite, your flabby upper arms, your protruding tummy, droopy bottom, thunder thighs etc etc etc, you can bet your bottom dollar that’s what you’ll be getting more of! Conversely, when you can look in the mirror and notice what’s already beautiful and attractive about you, you shift your energy significantly, and set yourself up to receive more of what you’re experiencing: self-appreciation, gratitude and contentment.
That’s exactly what happened to Sona when we worked through The Mirror Exercise in The LEAN Program. When we began the exercise, she could only notice her “bingo wings”, “thick thighs” and “flabby stomach”. After we worked through the first phase of the exercise together, she could see her beautiful eyelashes, long legs and attractive hair – a hugely significant shift for her.
When you feel confident about yourself, and in touch with your own attractiveness, you make decisions about food and exercise that support you in losing weight healthfully and keeping it off; you feel deserving of having the body you’d like to have.