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By Gina Cousineau

I love to hike, so I want to take this opportunity to introduce you to free docent-led hikes for all fitness levels with the Irvine Ranch Conservancy group at letsgooutside.org.

While there are awesome trail systems right here in our own backyard, I love the opportunity to meet new people and explore trails that I never knew existed in my 37 years of living and hiking here.

During these hikes, it is bound to come up that I am a culinary nutritionist, with a focus on preventing disease, and so the questions commence.

I happen to love talking all things food and fitness, so I welcome these conversations.

I begin these encounters by listening very carefully to the questions/statements shared with me. Then I thoughtfully decide what my next move will be, swaying between comments such as these: Where did you hear that? What are your goals? Or why would you consider that?

At the top of the list of comments I hear are “What do you think of the keto diet?” “I intermittent fast,” and “I was told to avoid dairy and gluten.”

I often cut to the chase with the goal of education and providing background to where the latest diet craze came from.

In the case of the “ketogenic diet,” this was a medical nutrition therapy designed by clinicians working with children who had uncontrolled epilepsy, way back in the 1920s. As you can imagine, this was a huge medical breakthrough, as every seizure potentially damages the brain, so taking extreme action was necessary.

These children were followed closely and supplemented with nutrients they would inevitably be missing from this high-fat, moderate-protein, and low-carbohydrate diet, missing out on important vitamins, minerals, and much-needed fiber. This was not meant for the general population.

Much of what I do in life is to try to get people to consider if their latest diet approach is reasonable. And for me, when we talk about consuming high amounts of fat, including “heart damaging” saturated fat, along with removing major food groups, aka the “keto” diet, I have to ask, “Why?”

Unfortunately, the nutrition strategy is usually driven by the desire to lose weight, not the desire to improve health.

And while most new clients come to me with the primary goal of weight loss, within a few weeks of educating them, I would say most, if not all, buy into the desire of preventing, halting, and reversing disease processes with the goal of a long, healthy, independent and joyful life. And, surprisingly, the almighty scale follows suit.

Most of my clients are excellent dieters, meaning they have tried many, and some admit to having been “on a diet” for most of their adult lives. When I ask about their success, they always state “the diet worked until I went off it.” (Deep sigh from Mama G.)

With the influx of social media and access to the internet, opinions abound in the multibillion-dollar nutrition and health industry, so we must be very careful with whom we allow to influence us.

While bullying and brainwashing have existed from the beginning of mankind, the concept of “gaslighting”—making people question the validity of their own thoughts—is alive and viciously present today.

My hope with my readers is to empower them with health and wellness information that is “reasonable”; consider goals when it comes to health; understand that a decrease in weight of only 5-10% can remarkably improve your health, but that it doesn’t have to come with a punitive and restrictive diet approach; move toward more wholesome food choices; gather in the kitchen to cook and eat meals together; and get outside and enjoy this beautiful place in which we live.

Gina Cousineau is an interventional culinary nutritionist. With an extensive education—a BS in Dietetics and MS in Integrative and Functional Nutrition, as well as being a trained chef and fitness professional—her goal is to help her clients’ health thrive using “food as medicine.” She is offering a complimentary, four-week webinar series this month (all sessions recorded). Subscribe at mamagslifestyle.com or at mamag@mamagslifestyle.com to participate.

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