We interviewed a dietitian on building good eating habits.

​We caught up with dietitian and gut health expert, Nicole Dynan to ask her a little about the advice she gives her clients and what she eats to maintain a healthy gut.

THIS IS WHAT SHE HAD TO SAY. 

Why did you decide to pursue a career in health and wellness?

Through many years of working in a high-pressure job in the pharmaceutical industry, I experienced first-hand the difficulties of maintaining my own health while working within a busy and stressful corporate environment. Using medicines to help people was one thing, but I was driven to go much deeper than that, and so began my journey toward helping them more proactively, where it all starts – themselves and their food. I started The Good Nutrition Co. to share my knowledge of the power of food with as many people as possible, and to help them change their lives for the better. Since opening our doors, we have had the privilege of helping thousands of people through our three private practice clinics, and through our corporate and workplace nutrition and wellness programs.

What do you enjoy the most about working with your patients?

I love connecting with people and listening to each unique story. Every patient is different and helping them to identify and achieve their health goals is so rewarding. I remember one of my early phone-based patients in New Zealand.  He was a farmer and had chronic constipation and suffered depression.  He didn’t have many cooking skills but was motivated to fix the problem as he was soon to be married. We made some basic but important changes to his diet and over the course of 4 weeks fixed the constipation and improved his mental health!

What was the food culture like in your household growing up?

Growing up in Australia, the food culture in my house was very much based around meat and three veg (with an emphasis on meat)!  We were encouraged to ‘eat everything on your plate’ or there would be no dessert afterwards. I think this was pretty typical of the time.  Thankfully, we grew some of our own veggies and were encouraged to pick and eat them directly from the vines.  Green beans were my favourite. 



Tell us about your relationship with food? Has it changed over the years? 

Being born a big baby (9lb / 4kg) I have always loved my food.  Unfortunately, it hasn’t all loved me in return, as I have suffered with food allergies and intolerances since childhood.  

I self-selected out some foods that my body didn’t like growing-up and refined this when I did my master’s practical placement at the Allergy Unit at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney. Suddenly my fussy eating made sense.  It highlighted to me the power of food and the importance of tailoring an approach to every individual.

I think this is part of the reason I became a dietitian and definitely part of the reason that I have specialised in gut health and food intolerance.



What blog/magazine/book/Instagram account has been inspiring you of late?

The Healthy Food Guide Magazine is fantastic! It is available in the supermarket each month and is put together by dietitians (so you know that you can trust the information). It is loaded with great content and recipes.  Recipes from past editions are available on the website: www.healthyfoodguide.com.au  

What are the most common food mistakes you see people make?

The most common thing I see with my patients, particularly related to managing their weight, is eating when they are not hungry (or otherwise waiting until they are starving).  I help them put their body back in control and give their head a rest by using a ‘hunger scale’ .

For example:  Imagine 0=not hungry, 10= starving and 7= eat.

Eating when you have a good level of hunger (7), but are still in control, means that the previous meal is digested and absorbed, and your body is ready for more energy.  Waiting until you are starving (10) can often lead to over-eating or bingeing to re-establish your blood sugar level back to a comfortable level.

What are your thoughts on ‘all or nothing’ diets?  

I think it is human nature to ‘mix it up’ and in some ways, this serves us well when it comes to a varied diet. But ‘all or nothing’ fad diets can be short-term and often do more harm than good, especially on the mental health side of things. People lose faith in their ability to lose weight which affects self-esteem and their ongoing health, when really, it is not their fault. These diets are designed to fail.  They tend to cut out complete food groups, reducing available nutrients and even impacting the diversity of the gut microbiota, which we are learning, are integral to good health. An Accredited Practising Dietitian can help you to find a sustainable way of eating that matches your food preferences, energy levels and time availability.

Why did you become so passionate about gut health? 

Living with gut issues all of my life was one thing, but I’ve had the privilege of doing extra training in this area, so it made sense to specialise.  Life-changing results can be achieved when we get the food right.  I feel like I can make a big difference in this space.


What advice would you have for someone who is learning to listen to their body and what it needs? 

Be patient and ‘trust’ your body to be your best guide. It can be helpful to create some language to identify signals that your body is sending, for example, when I feel hunger, I always ask myself “it is head hunger?” or “Is it tummy hunger?” If I am unsure, I have a glass of water and ask again in 20 minutes or so.  It helps me to identify boredom or stress eating and prevent over-eating.

What 3 simple things can people do to improve their gut health starting today? 

Start the day with a glass of water and drink small amounts of water regularly. Dehydration can even impact the gut of the person with the best diet. Aiming for ‘2 litres before 2pm’ can be a good way to help avoid that 3pm slump.

Increase the variety of plant foods you eat every week. Include a variety of high fibre foods from fruit, vegetable and grain sources to ensure a robust, healthy gut microbiome. 30 different types of plants each week is claimed to be ideal.

Include fermented foods in your diet to boost your natural probiotic intake. These can include Greek yoghurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, sourdough bread and cheese.

What tools/methods do you use to stay on track towards your goals?

I am a big believer in responding to my body.  If my energy is great, I’ll go for a run or do a high energy exercise class.  If it is lower, I’ll go to yoga or do some meditation.  I do the same in relation to food. I don’t count kilojoules or unnecessarily restrict foods in my diet, but I do try to eat when I am hungry and always aim to choose something nourishing.  I’ll have a treat on occasion, but don’t crave it every day.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nicole Dynan is an Accredited Practising Sports Dietitian specialising in gut health, food intolerances and plant-based diets. She has worked at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital Allergy Unit in Sydney and has dual qualifications in dietetics and psychology.

Nicole is known as ‘The Gut Health Dietitian’ and runs a network of private practice clinics in Sydney for ‘The Good Nutrition Company’, which she founded in 2012.

Nicole operates a national corporate nutrition service for EAP & Wellness Provider, Benestar, and is a guest lecturer for The University of Sydney.

Nicole is a media spokesperson for The Dietitian’s Association of Australia.


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