BY KIAN WEST
LATE LAST YEAR I WENT TO A GUT HEALTH WORKSHOP (SERIOUSLY). I WENT BECAUSE OF A FRIEND CONNECTION, BUT HONESTLY, BY THE END OF THE AFTERNOON I WAS SHOCKED BY HOW MUCH I HAD LEARNT ABOUT WHAT WE PUT INTO OUR BODIES AND THE EFFECT IT HAS ON OUR OVERALL HEALTH. I ALSO HAPPENED TO BUMP INTO KIRSTY SEWARD OF REVIVE NUTRITION, AND SINCE THEN HAVE BEEN FOLLOWING HER CAREER WITH GREAT INTEREST.
Taking a seat inside Good Brother Espresso one Saturday afternoon, I got an update on PhD candidate Kirsty’s career in nutrition, what that involves and a little taste of what she has planned for the future…
Kirsty, tell me a bit about yourself.
I've got a lot going on. How do I explain myself? Essentially, I'm a dietitian. I'm in the final semester of my PhD. I think my true passion is teaching and sharing knowledge, teaching people basic nutrition and how to have a healthy relationship with food. My title would be a dietitian and I will soon have a PhD in behavioural science.
What does that really mean?
It's basically the study of our behaviours. My PhD focuses on nutrition in childcare and how to best support childcare services to provide healthy food to children while in care. So it's essentially helping childcare services overcome barriers to changing their nutrition behaviours in the setting. Barriers might relate to their knowledge of nutrition or their skills to plan and prepare healthy foods. These same barriers can also often be applied to one-on-one consultations, when people are trying to make changes to their diet.
So, what are the barriers for people to change and how can we overcome them?
There is a range of barriers that can impact on changing a behaviour. You can increase a person’s knowledge about healthy eating, but it's also about working out what else is going on in their life and how to overcome their obstacles.
Is habit a bigger hurdle to cross then?
Definitely. You need to look at a broad range of factors when trying to change a person’s nutrition habits. Do they have the correct knowledge about healthy eating? What foods are they purchasing? What's their budget for food? Even their social influences around them – are their friends and relatives supportive of their healthy eating? Their mental wellbeing and their self-confidence to make a change – do their emotions trigger them to eat certain foods? Plus so much more… So you can see, we’re looking at a whole range of factors.
I love doing the dietitian stuff – the numbers and the macros and the meals – but I'm also all about helping people build a healthy relationship with food and a healthy lifestyle, through helping them with their behaviours and changing habits. There's no short fix; there's no quick fix. It should be a long-term change, a full lifestyle change, not just an, ‘I'm going to stick to this diet for eight weeks and then that’ll be me.’ Usually when someone starts a ‘diet’, they look at changing everything all at once and then can be quite overwhelmed and usually won't stick to the plan. They will fall off the wagon at week two or three because they've changed everything. Whereas if you get them to change little things at a time, it will boost their self-confidence that they can do it, and then it tends to lead to a long-term lifestyle change.
Is that where Revive fits into the equation? How would you describe Revive as a business?
Our philosophy is eating a wholesome balanced diet that is rich in variety, and helping clients develop a healthy relationship with food. We don't eliminate any food groups (unless the client has dietary requirements). We generally promote eating wholesome, clean, fresh foods, plus have the occasional treat if that's what you want.
We’ve recently launched online services, offering online meal plans. Over the past nine months I’ve developed the meal plans and acted as an online mentor for lifestyle challenges delivered nationally. It's taught me a lot. Being in that online environment has encouraged me to self-reflect on the nutrition messages I deliver and how I can best deliver these messages. I think that's a big thing I do: self-reflection. I believe I learn just as much from my clients as they can learn from me – this is how I grow as a practitioner.
Who inspires you?
Jamie Oliver. Not just because of his cooking – he's an awesome cook – but because of the work he does teaching young children in school about nutrition. With his Food Revolution project, he aims for more nutrition education to be delivered in schools, to teach children what healthy eating is – the importance of fruits and vegetables in their diet. It’s known and researched that children’s food preferences and dietary habits developed in childhood can be carried right through to adulthood. Jamie Oliver and I share the same passion for encouraging children to develop healthy eating habits.
I think people get very overwhelmed with nutrition, so I see a big part of my role as just translating all the technical information – like, what do food labels mean? What's the health star rating on labels? What is a healthy ‘balanced’ meal? Translating all that technical kind of stuff into simple snippets that people can take away. That's probably a huge part, but my passion also now comes into behaviour change and helping people develop healthy lifelong habits.
Do you find there are a lot more mental health elements to this than you might have thought when you signed up to it?
Yes, definitely, and I think there is a pressure a lot of people put on themselves. I think social media plays into that hugely as well. The pressure to eat perfectly and be perfect.
Yes, and you're only seeing an element of someone's life on social media. You don't know all the other bad habits they may have.
Yeah, true, and food is connected to so many emotions or feelings. People eat if they're bored, if they're upset, if they're happy. Food is tied into events – we celebrate with food. We can associate different foods with emotions and events in our life.
I think my mentality as a dietitian has really transformed since completing my bachelor’s degree. I suppose when you first come out of uni and it's like, strict, strict, strict – you’re analysing every calorie and every gram and perhaps a client may not be losing weight because they're not eating this or that. But then with ongoing practice, you start to really learn there's so many other factors to take into account. Diet is only one factor, fitness or physical activity is another factor, and then emotions are another factor. Social events, workplace environment and relationships are all other factors. And doing my PhD in behavioural science has allowed me to really understand this combination of factors. To change a person's diet, there's a lot more than just their food intake to consider.
if you could teach Novocastrians one thing, what would it be?
One thing? To take your eyes off the time. If you try to change everything at once – like if you're jumping around trying to change your lifestyle – focus on one goal at a time. It might just be eating a healthy breakfast for the first week. Focus on that one goal, nail that and then move onto the next goal. Or invest in seeing a dietitian. Don't get fooled into all the social media nutrition talk. Accredited dietitians use an evidence base to support their practice. And don't be so hard on yourself. It's hard. Changing a habit is challenging.
When you're not doing dietitian work, where do you like to hang out?
You will most likely find me at the gym or outdoors being active.
I think that still fits in the work bracket!
Okay, I do love the Hunter Valley. I’m a fan of food and wine – and they've got good wine! I also enjoy walking past our iconic beaches. I love what Newcastle has done, connecting one beach to the other.
Where can people find you?
Instagram is probably Revive’s biggest channel. All info about our services can be found on our website. I’ve also recently joined the Fast Fuel meals team. It's awesome what we're doing there, providing healthy, fresh, chef-prepared and calorie-controlled meals. It’s perfect for those people who are super busy or who just want to live a healthier lifestyle!
These are my two main focuses right now on top of finishing up my PhD as well.