Episode two

00:00:11 Fiona Spence 

Welcome to our second podcast in this series focusing on food, wellbeing and mental health, brought to you by NHS Fife Nutrition and clinical dietetics, learning disability and mental health team. I'm Fiona Spence, a registered nutritionist at NHS, and today we're talking about diet culture with the lovely Amzu Parpia, a Mental health dietitian. 

00:00:31 Fiona Spence 

Amzu before we start, would you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background? 

00:00:37 Amzu Parpia 

Sure well now where do I start? I qualified, did my bachelors in biochemistry in India and my masters as well in India in nutrition and Dietetics went on to work as an intern in one of the private largest hospitals in Bombay, India, so that's where my humble start was made and then in UK have worked as a weight management dietitian. Went on to start working as a dietitian in an inpatient unit for young adults within mental health unit, and probably that's where I think my speciality in mental health and eating disorder grew and I've been working for the last three years as a mental health dietitian and as my colleagues would know, my heart lies within the speciality of eating disorder. 

00:01:26 Fiona Spence 

That's really interesting. Thank you Amzu. 

00:01:29 Fiona Spence 

So at the start of a brand new year or we're kind of at the start of a new year there's probably lots of people thinking about their New Year's resolutions, whether they call them that or not, and you know whether it was these positive changes they wanted to make at the start of the year, and I suppose, now at this time of year we're looking back and maybe thinking, well, that failed miserably. Or do you know I haven't managed to stick to that? 

00:01:54 Fiona Spence 

When it comes to making changes to our diet, whether it's a New Year's resolution or not, you must hear about this a lot Amzu.  

00:02:05 Amzu Parpia 

Absolutely Fiona, and from my personal experience, I completely relate to this because every year, irrespective of the weight I've been, I've always had a New Year's resolution around my weight, I think, and probably I might not call it as a New Year's resolution being the rebel I am, I would call it as a positive change or something, but on reflection I know I have given in to the pressures of the diet society or the food mania or going with the trend, almost because you see so many things around you know as start of the new year. 

00:02:31 Amzu Parpia 

I would be like I'm just going to add more vegetables to my food and I'm like I know it deep inside I'm giving in to the pressure and the need to have one. 

00:02:39 Fiona Spence 

Which, that must be so reassuring for people listening to this realising. Well there's even a dietitian saying that you know you succumb to these pressures as well. 

00:02:48 Fiona Spence 

You know, I know I do, and I like you, I don't call it a New Year's resolution. I'm absolutely determined I won't call it that, but I know I'm making a change at the start of a year. 

00:02:57 Fiona Spence 

To try and better myself whether it's To try and Improve things, maybe do some more housework. Absolutely failed that miserably already. 

00:03:06 Fiona Spence 

Or whether it is about, you know if it's food related or trying to get fitter or trying to be healthier. 

00:03:11 Amzu Parpia 

Absolutely, we all deep inside have done it at one point of our life or not. 

00:03:16 Fiona Spence 

So would you say the food industry and the diet industry have a big influence on how we perceive ourselves? 

00:03:22 Amzu Parpia 

Totally Fiona, especially. You know we see so many Instagram influencers adverts on Facebook, social media, supermarket aisles. 

00:03:33 Fiona Spence 

We’re surrounded by it aren’t we? 

00:03:36 Amzu Parpia 

Absolutely, Christmas you’ll see all the chocolates up and as soon as the new year starts you'll see all the chocolates just disappear in the discount section. 

00:03:41 Amzu Parpia 

And then you've got all these, you know, healthy foods. What are you doing? Adverts on the television asking you what are you going to do in the new year with regards to eating? being healthy so there it's everywhere we are all tempted to try these things. 

00:03:55 Amzu Parpia 

And at times we go on these almost crash diets or crash Ideas of making our life healthy or being healthy that we know deep inside that they are trash. You know you're going to fail at it, but you want to give it a try. You tempted to give it a try. 

00:04:11 Fiona Spence 

So why do you think that is? 

00:04:13 Amzu Parpia 

It's quite hard to say because the answer is different for everyone. You know everyone does it for their own reasons, has resolutions around things which are personal to them. However, I feel that we all wait for that magic to happen almost, isn't it? 

00:04:29 Amzu Parpia 

It's that magic to fit into a certain body shape. I know my 8 year old, you know, from the very start in the primary school has been like, mum we're not supposed to eat too many sweeties, and you're not supposed to. And I'm like a mum, who's like we can eat everything in moderation, so I guess it's so ingrained in us right from the beginning. 

00:04:47 Fiona Spence 

From a really young age, and yet there's the other you know, part of you that whether you're you know a parent or a grandparent, or you know a friend that you know you, you're. 

00:04:56 Fiona Spence 

Don't you always feel that you're trying to encourage others to just be themselves? You know, I'm forever telling my children, you know, don't be a sheep. 

00:05:03 Fiona Spence 

Don't go along with the flow, do what makes you happy. 

00:05:06 Fiona Spence 

You know, be who you want to be. 

00:05:08 Amzu Parpia 

But, it's lost in between. 

00:05:08 Fiona Spence 

But everybody wants to fit in. 

00:05:10 Amzu Parpia 

Absolutely, it's that magic to fit into a certain shape, because we've internalised almost the weight stigma, we feel that pressure that if you are overweight, you're unhealthy or not being physically active. 

Fiona Spence 

You’re judged 

00:05:23 Amzu Parpia 

Everybody looks at you in a different way, and absolutely you're judged. You're very right, Fiona. So I think it's about that pressure of being something you're not. 

00:05:34 Fiona Spence 

Yeah, I think there'll be so many people listening to this that can relate to this. The stigma, the pressures. 

00:05:40 Fiona Spence 

But I suppose isn't it true that you can in fact be slim and look so called healthy on the outside, but actually unhealthy on the inside? 

00:05:49 Fiona Spence 

I remember reading an article about it once a long time ago, and the thing that stuck in my head was this. You know, you can be fat and fit and however whatever way they defined fat as. 

00:06:01 Amzu Parpia 

And how do people define fat, by the BMI? 

00:06:06 Amzu Parpia 

It's just a guide for us to know how do we help further you know for a person to achieve their growth or the development, but there are so many factors that influence it, your genetics, your environment and the BMI range is so, it’s got caveats for South Asian populations, so there's so much to it. 

00:06:24 Fiona Spence 

And athletes if you're looking at rugby players. 

00:06:27 Amzu Parpia 

And BMI is not a good indicator for them, so it's about, you know, just can we fit all into one scale of this BMI and call everybody fat if they are above a certain number. 

00:06:37 Amzu Parpia 

It's a number game, isn't it. 

00:06:38 Fiona Spence 

And it's really unfair because it gives people the wrong perspective. 

00:06:43 Amzu Parpia 

Absolutely like talking from my experience of working in the young people inpatient unit, we used to see what weight a certain young person should be depending on their percentile of growth since childhood. 

00:06:56 Amzu Parpia 

So we used to go into the red books and look at their child. You know what weight was the child born at and what percentiles are safe. 

00:07:03 Amzu Parpia 

I was always in the 90th percentile. You can't fit me into a BMI range of 50, which is based on a 50 percentile population. 

00:07:10 Amzu Parpia 

Like, that's not me. That's not the structure of my body, so it all depends upon you can't fit everybody in a certain body shape. 

00:07:11 Fiona Spence 

Yeah it’s not you. 

00:07:19 Fiona Spence 

And I guess the fact of the matter is it's not really about health or weight at all. It's about these companies and these brands wanting you to consume their products. But this only works as a guilt trip if they manipulate you into buying a product. 

00:07:34 Fiona Spence 

Or making us believe in the magic of these super foods. 

00:07:37 Amzu Parpia 

Oh yes. Absolutely, because you are their target audience. You are the consumers. 

00:07:41 Fiona Spence 

Yeah, they just want to sell a product they just want to make money. 

00:07:44 Amzu Parpia 

They're right or they're in their right to do so, but it's about. I almost feel these public health campaigns or the diet cultures we see around for me are like anti obesity wars at the moment the only two things that they are trying to do is not make us overweight, so all the population should be in a certain body shape or type and the other is if you are overweight, let's make you fit. Let's make you thin. 

00:08:06 Fiona Spence 

So I guess attitudes in society place our worth on what we weigh. 

00:08:11 Fiona Spence 

But really, although this is societal, its influence has come through media and marketing, almost brainwashing us. 

00:08:19 Amzu Parpia 

Absolutely. We're not here as well as you know, to ridicule the Society of the world we live in. 

00:08:25 Amzu Parpia 

But these cultures encourage us to have disordered relationship with food, and that's what we're here to talk about.  

Fiona Spence 

And so what do you mean by disordered relationship with food? 

00:08:36 Amzu Parpia 

I mean that you know, because of the information that you see around in the advertisements or on the Internet, we almost start classifying foods in our brain as good foods and bad foods, and the good foods are certainly the foods which are nutritious. The fruits and vegetables, the whole meal foods, the cabbage rice, etc. Whereas 

00:08:56 Amzu Parpia 

The bad foods are foods which are high in fat sugar, which is the crisp. The chocolates. Many people think foods which contain high amount of carbohydrate. Nutritionally this is right. 

00:09:09 Amzu Parpia 

However, what I'm trying to say is that because we do classify them as good food and the bad foods are then treated as pleasure foods or the treat foods, we get overly fixated on restricting or denying ourselves these pleasure foods rather than having them in moderation. We completely deny ourselves of these foods and we focus on clean eating. 

00:09:33 Amzu Parpia 

Because of which your body starts getting overly occupied with thoughts of these pleasure foods. How tasty that must be, and I'm not supposed to have that, you've got these over occupation of these thoughts all the time with food. And it's like me, if I'm not eating for the entire day. By the end of the day I'm thinking food, food, food. 

Fiona Spence 

You’re starving 

00:09:53 Amzu Parpia 

They're starving, absolutely, and then you just crave for these bad foods and you give into these cravings. You feel like a failure. 

00:10:02 Amzu Parpia 

You feel the guilt trip coming in, so that cycle keeps going. You keep denying yourself of these pleasure foods rather than having in moderation something that I think you know we did cover in the first podcast topic.  

00:10:14 Fiona Spence 

That's right, and I suppose you know when we're thinking about mental health, the impact that this must have on you. 

00:10:19 Fiona Spence 

It's almost like tormenting yourself and it's not your fault. You know this is something that is we are surrounded by these unhealthy messages all the time and to try and make sure that you're not succumbing to these, you know. 

00:10:34 Amzu Parpia 

It's so ingrained because out there you know there is a lot of attention on almond milk. It's really a healthy, clean option, but nutritionally, almond milk is very similar to cow's milk. 

00:10:48 Amzu Parpia 

Probably cows milk is slightly more nutritious, but there might be reasons why a person might go for almond milk so if they're lactose intolerant, or certainly if they believe in the plant food versus animal product. 

00:11:03 Amzu Parpia 

Uhm, being good for the environment, things like that, but again for almond milk to be produced, a lot of machines are going on to extract that milk from almond. The knock on effect on the environment. 

00:11:11 Fiona Spence 

Which we have to be conscious of that you know as well that there are, yeah. 

00:11:16 Amzu Parpia 

So it's about introspecting ourselves of what is the reason I'm going for that Almond milk? Is it because I'm just seeing it in the media? 

00:11:22 Fiona Spence 

Yeah, why are you doing that? 

00:11:24 Amzu Parpia 

It's healthy. It's classified as good food or a superfood, or a clean food I'm going for it. Or is it why I'm going for it because my body needs it?  

Fiona Spence 

Yeah, not being forced into it because you feel you should. 

00:11:34 Amzu Parpia 

Absolutely, and that's the unhealthy fixation that you were asking about. What is this that we're talking about so that unhealthy fixation with food? 

00:11:50 Amzu Parpia 

And to sum it up, I would want to say that you know we need to introspect ourselves because after all we want eating to be a physiological process, an enjoyable experience. 

00:11:59 Amzu Parpia 

You don't want it to be an unpleasant experience where you're all the time giving yourself a hard time for having a packet of crisps. 

00:12:05 Fiona Spence 

Yeah, you're either feeling guilty for eating something you enjoy, or you're feeling like you're restricting by not eating what you should be eating. 

00:12:12 Amzu Parpia 

So right so I'm not suggesting that do not look at your health or you know don't exercise or don't nourish your body or don't take your 5 a day. 

00:12:21 Amzu Parpia 

Do all of that, but think about doing everything in moderation. Don't do it just because you see it out there and you feel forced to do it. 

00:12:27 Fiona Spence 

And it's like you said, you know, eating should be enjoyable. It's you know, in so many cultures food is a wonderful thing to enjoy, and it's not really about the food, it's about the coming together. It's about the company. It's about you know the entire experience around food. Yeah, it's OK to prioritise other things. You don't eat just to be a certain way, or shape though 

00:12:51 Amzu Parpia 

And I've heard so much you know, patients that come in after Christmas time that would be like I'm going on a detox. I'm going on a detox and I'm like what is this detox? 

00:13:00 Amzu Parpia 

Just having fruits and vegetables. At least the detox I've heard is about just having fruits and vegetables or just going on a liquid diet. What you're doing is you're having certain foods which are good for you, but you're eliminating all the other food groups. So rather than having everything in moderation, you are only focusing on a certain food group and you're not getting nourishment from the rest of the food groups. 

00:13:21 Amzu Parpia 

So it's an extreme one end to the other. Yes, I've eaten you know my sweets and, you know, indulged myself during the festive time. 

00:13:30 Amzu Parpia 

And now I'm only going to do fruits and vegetables. No, go back to eating more of fruits and vegetables along with everything else in moderation, because certainly doing an extreme diet. We all know it doesn't last. 

00:13:42 Amzu Parpia 

For more than a few days, you know you are going to give it up. 

00:13:44 Fiona Spence 

It's too hard to stick to. 

00:13:45 Amzu Parpia 

And you are going to give yourself a guilt trip. Feel like a failure because of it. 

00:13:49 Amzu Parpia 

In the end, you know we know that detox as a, you know, a healthy functioning body has kidneys and livers who constantly are detoxifying the body and removing the waste products. 

00:14:00 Amzu Parpia 

So why are we putting ourselves into these crash diets? 

00:14:03 Fiona Spence 

Yeah, these organs do this for us. We don't need to assist them. 

00:14:05 Amzu Parpia 

Absolutely and there is no magic pill or no patch or no drink out there, or a lotion that's going to do the magic job of detoxifying your body. 

00:14:19 Amzu Parpia 

If you want to read more about, you know what I mean. You can check out the link in the comments shared below. 

00:14:24 Fiona Spence 

So that's the British Dietetic Association, and the link should be in the comment below, thank you for that. I suppose the real thing to point out as well is it you know during this conversation is that it is important to remember for your own mental health, that you know this relationship with food you have to keep it real for yourself. Do you know how to prioritise it for yourself? 'cause if you start restricting the certain foods that you eat, the impact that places within your social life. I mean you, how difficult would it be if you were on a really restrictive diet? 

00:15:04 Fiona Spence 

So if you were on a detox or a liquid diet and your friends were going out for dinner.  

00:15:10 Amzu Parpia 

I'm going to say no. And then just feel bad that I'm missing out. There's a fear of missing out as well.  

00:15:13 Fiona Spence 

How awful and how rubbish would that make you feel? 

00:15:17 Amzu Parpia 

And that's not what you want 

00:15:18 Fiona Spence 

And then almost then isolates you from your social group from your family and friends. 

00:15:24 Amzu Parpia 

And that emotionally is quite draining. Yeah. And then you're going to crave what the things that you are almost restricting you're going to crave more for it because your hormones are so low, your good hormones, your happy hormones, and you're going to go for these foods. 

00:15:25 Fiona Spence 

But it's too much. It's far too much restriction. 

00:15:38 Amzu Parpia 

And then you're going to give yourself a guilt trip that I actually do not end up going with my friends and staying at home and then bingeing or eating more of a certain food that I was not meant to. 

00:15:48 Fiona Spence 

So your life becomes completely focused around food in a really negative way. 

00:15:54 Amzu Parpia 

Also, it is important to know that a very restrictive diet can lead to obsession over calorie counting. Having a look at the food labels all the time weighing your food. 

00:16:05 Amzu Parpia 

These obsessions can also lead on to, then weighing yourself quite often in the day. 

00:16:11 Amzu Parpia 

It is more important to think that the food the body needs this food as a fuel. It should never just be about what the scales tell you, because in the end food is a fuel. 

00:16:22 Fiona Spence 

And absolutely, and you know, I think it's so important to make sure that people think about you know their weight and their food intake probably a lot of the time, but we have to remember that you know and obviously males and females will both do this, however there is a big difference over the space of a day. Different times in a month where your weight will be considerably different for various reasons. 

00:16:48 Amzu Parpia 

Absolutely, even in the same day you weight in the morning and then your weight in the afternoon will be so different depending on whether you've moved your bowels, what have you, you know, have you had so much fluids? 

00:16:57 Fiona Spence 

Eating and drinking 

00:16:58 Amzu Parpia 

Absolutely. So there's so much going on over there, isn't it? It's 

00:17:03 Amzu Parpia 

Not, we're just not what we see on our scales. 

00:17:05 Fiona Spence 

Yeah, uh, So what do we do instead? 

00:17:08 Amzu Parpia 

I think to start with first thing is yes. If you need you want to have a New Year's resolution, go for it, but it doesn't have to be always around food or your weight. 

00:17:18 Amzu Parpia 

It can be anything around you know things like you know you said, you know I want to clean my house more. 

00:17:26 Fiona Spence 

Did I say that?! 

00:17:30 Amzu Parpia 

Holding you to that!  

Fiona Spence 

Yeah maybe I’d like to try! 

00:17:33 Amzu Parpia 

And the second bit is listen to your heart, which is so important along with listening to your brain and your body. And we did cover that in the first podcast, isn't it? Is the holistic well being? 

00:17:46 Fiona Spence 

Yeah thing it's like you say, yeah it is. You have to listen to you know what is good for your body but also actually what's going to keep you sane.  

00:17:55 Amzu Parpia 

Absolutely like for me, you know So for me, going for a drive listening to music really does it for me, but at times you know I used to go for these evening walks with a friend and I used to love going for them because of the blether I had, not because I was getting more steps on my step count or something. 

00:18:10 Amzu Parpia 

So it's also about something about the company or the enjoyment out of it. It is not just the physical activity. 

00:18:16 Fiona Spence 

The social aspect isn't it, which is so good for us, really good for us. I know that you know, like I, I'm really lucky and I live in an area where I'm surrounded by you know forests and farms, and you know I can hear the sheep at the end of my street. I've got, you know. 

00:18:33 Fiona Spence 

Just the beach isn’t far. 

00:18:33 Fiona Spence 

And I just think I'm so lucky to have that and actually now I really do embrace it. 

00:18:39 Fiona Spence 

And whether I've got some music on and I'm going for a forest walk on my own, or whether we're actually spending time as a family with the kids and everybody out there, you know, going up the farmers track or going to you know for a walk along the stream and getting the kids to engage in what they can hear. 

00:18:55 Fiona Spence 

You know the rustling of the leaves under their feet? Can they hear the stream in the background? How many different birds can they hear, so good for you? 

00:19:01 Fiona Spence 

Yeah, and yes, you're getting, you know you are getting your steps and you're having a nice walk. You're exercising at the same time. It's that family time. 

00:19:10 Amzu Parpia 

Yeah, about being away from your gadgets almost, you know you. 

00:19:13 Fiona Spence 

Just want to just disengage a bit of escapism, isn't it? 

00:19:16 Amzu Parpia 

Absolutely. You've said it all, Fiona. So weight loss does not necessarily just mean health. You know you because you've lost weight. You're healthy. It does not mean that it's not the same thing, because size is not the only indicator for health you know there is much more beyond just your size. 

00:19:36 Amzu Parpia 

To nourish your body, you need food as a fuel and you need a regular supply of this fuel. It's not like your car, you know where you fuel it once in a week and it will keep running for the entire week until it runs empty. 

00:19:48 Amzu Parpia 

The body can't do that. You need to provide food at regular times. So it's really important to have set meal times and try not to skip meals. 

00:19:58 Amzu Parpia 

Because having too long gaps between meals can lead to impulsive food decisions, like I was saying, if I do not eat in the entire day evening is like food, food, food. 

00:20:06 Fiona Spence 

Food, yeah, you're over hungry, absolutely. 

00:20:09 Amzu Parpia 

Absolutely. And it's important to have food from all food groups, foods, even that you have classified as treat foods or pleasure Foods. 

00:20:19 Amzu Parpia 

You need to have them in moderation. Don't eat them all the time, but yes, you know you can have them as moderation. For me definitely that's chocolate, you know. I do need a chocolate here and there sometimes you know. 

00:20:32 Amzu Parpia 

So foods are not just good or bad, healthy or unhealthy, clean or dirty. What we're trying to say is that food is beyond that. 

00:20:42 Amzu Parpia 

It is fuel of a different kind. Body needs different amount of each kind of food. 

00:20:48 Fiona Spence 

That's really interest Amzu and I think it would be really helpful if people want to know more about the food groups and how much you should be eating of each food group then if you have a look at the link in the comments below, that should give you a rough idea for the eatwell guide.  

00:21:10 Fiona Spence 

Amzu. I have really enjoyed our time talking about diet culture today. It certainly opened my eyes. You've made me think in a completely different way about the pressures we feel in society about our body image and the misconceptions around body size and health. 

Uhm, if we had three top tips from you for our listeners, what would they be?  

00:21:30 Amzu Parpia 

I would say the first one is don't get fooled by the false promises of yet another marketing gimmick.  

Rather than dieting and restricting focus on nourishing your whole self, that is your body, your mind, your soul, your feelings. 

00:21:40 Amzu Parpia 

The second is start with one change at a time and build it up from there because remember that new Year resolution doesn't always have to be diet or weight related. 

00:21:52 Amzu Parpia 

And the third one I would say is it is important to nourish your body and the only way to do so is by eating from all food groups and balancing your meals like we heard in the first podcast. 

00:22:04 Fiona Spence 

I'm sure the listeners will find your three top tips extremely valuable. You know. Don't buy into the marketing; only one change at a time, and don't torment yourself by restricting your diet. 

00:22:14 Fiona Spence 

So I hope that New Year's resolutions or whatever you like to call them from now on will be less focused on food and more focused on what makes you happy. Thank you, Amsu. 

00:22:25 Fiona Spence 

It's been so lovely talking to you today and thank you for listening. We look forward to sharing another podcast with you soon.