Nutrition gets personal
The Institute for Optimum Nutrition explains why personalised nutrition is important when it comes to getting to the root of a health concer.
With lockdown hibernation over, many people will soon be looking for advice on shedding ‘the corona stone’ or shaping up for summer. Much of this will say ‘simply eat less and move more’. But whilst symptoms of health status – such as excess weight – can appear the same in different people, the triggers can be very different; which means a plan that worked for someone else may not work for you.
This is why registered nutritional therapists take a personalised approach to supporting health. Leanne Gardener, a registered nutritional therapist at the Institute for Optimum Nutrition (ION), says: “Ongoing research shows that due to our distinct or unique genetic makeup, we should no longer be following a generic approach to our health and wellbeing. Personalised nutrition allows for targeted advice, health plans and lifestyle changes.”
What is personalised nutrition?
Personalised nutrition is an underlying principle of nutritional therapy, recognising that every individual is unique. Rather than adopting a one-size-fits-all approach, a registered nutritional therapist will consider a client’s health journey and health goals, and develop a programme tailored to them. Functional tests may inform recommendations based on each person’s unique biology. This could include genetic predispositions to nutrient deficiencies, food allergies or hormone imbalances, as well as factors such as life stage, sex, ethnicity, or religious backgrounds that dictate particular diets. The individual’s environment is also important, for example exposure to mould, pollutants or stress.
Because the title is not protected by law, anyone can call themselves a nutritional therapist. A registered nutritional therapist, however, will have completed a minimum of three years, evidence-informed training, and is a member of both the professional register, the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC), and the professional regulatory body, the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT). BANT states that “only registered nutritional therapy practitioners and registered dieticians are trained and qualified in clinical practice to meet national standards and work in a one-to-one setting”.
When it comes to weight loss, she adds that a personalised approach is particularly important. “Initially the client contacts the clinic, asking to see a nutritional therapist for weight loss. However, during their initial consultation it becomes clear that there are underlying health conditions that need to be addressed first. The weight loss then becomes a secondary bonus.”
Here’s how ION’s Optimum Nutrition Clinic worked with three different women, who were all looking to lose weight.
Amelia: 27-year-old marketing and PR executive
Challenges: 16kg/2.5 stone overweight, anxieties about a lack of control when eating, very irregular periods, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), warned she would be needing metformin (medication prescribed for type 2 diabetes) soon. Typical days involved skipping breakfast, light lunch, then overeating in the afternoon followed by guilt, as well as eating after dinner when already full.
Personalised recommendations: Her first appointment focused on what she was eating, with gentle prompting to get her to reflect on the reasons for her food choices and guidance on better choices.
To bring overeating under control, regular balanced meals and snacks were introduced. It was imperative that she start eating breakfast and had a lunch that would fill her up. It was highlighted that a meal including protein, fat and carbohydrate would help her feel fuller for longer, and reduce the risk of her craving carbohydrate foods later on in the day. As PCOS responds well to a low glycaemic load approach, suggestions were based around this.
Dietary changes were made step by step, over a four month period, as it might have overwhelmed her to make lots of changes straight away. Before long, she was losing an average of 1 to 1 ½ pounds a week.
Margot: 61-year-old accountant
Challenges: Insomnia, taking prescription medication to help her sleep. Wanting to drop a dress size. Typical days involved green juice for breakfast, eating three meals per day, being active and walking daily.
Personalised recommendations: Poor sleep often goes hand in hand with weight gain, so caffeine reduction was a priority; with Margot reducing her coffee intake from five or six cups, each with sugar, to one or two cups a day. Protein was increased at breakfast and lunch, as was the magnesium content of her diet for sleep improvement. She was encouraged to shift to wholegrain bread, rice or pasta, with a wider variety of vegetables.
The aim was to balance blood sugar levels in the long term for both weight loss and quality sleep, and to reduce the need to snack. She was encouraged to take up more relaxing forms of stretching and breathing exercises such as Pilates, yoga and tai chi; and to practise conscious muscle tightening and relaxing when unable to sleep.
Caroline: 53-year-old receptionist
Challenges: Suffered with colitis for years, has headaches, pain in left hip, bloating, plus 1.5 stone weight gain following menopause. Keen to stop craving sugar and to lose weight.
Personalised recommendations: Weight gain is normal with the menopause because the body has to produce oestrogen from other sources, including fat cells. To investigate Caroline’s bloating, she was advised to keep a food diary and note any reactions so that appropriate changes could be made, for example restricting gluten or dairy if necessary.
There’s an interesting link between stress and menopausal symptoms. When under stress the body can divert oestrogen production in favour of making the stress hormone cortisol, which can affect both appetite and sleep. Balanced meals can help. Because Caroline could only tolerate small meals, a breakfast smoothie was recommended, which she could drink slowly. Snacks could be changed to a few nuts or some fresh fruit, although constant snacking isn’t helpful for the gut, especially with a digestive disorder. A low FODMAP diet was discussed; this involves eliminating foods that contain types of sugars for six weeks, before slowly reintroducing them to see if any cause a reaction.
Could personalised nutrition help you? Visit out clinic at ion.ac.uk/thriveclinic
Discover the benefits of being a registered nutritional therapist – visit ion.ac.uk/thrivecareers
* All identifying client details have been changed