Q & A with Susan Williams – A Supremely Talented Dietitian

Published: 07 Sep 2015

Q & A with Susan Williams – A Supremely Talented Dietitian

Susan Williams, Accredited Dietitian and Health Counsellor participated in a Facebook Forum recently with our amazing community.  The content was of such a high quality, that we wanted it to be available to everyone.

Hi Susan, I’m having trouble getting my weight down even though I eat healthy foods and I don’t have large portions. I’m 68 and I wondered what foods I can eat to get my metabolism working more efficiently.

Ok, a couple of things…. Weight loss, argh! Weight – argh!

1. It’s a very poor measure of health.

2. Weight loss diets and products – even if a dietitian writes and supervises them or it’s called a lifestyle change have a 95-97% failure rate. True story.

3.Dieting is associated with weight gain over time – how crazy is that?

4. After the age of 70 even health professionals who think weight loss is the key to all that is healthy and wonderful don’t recommend weight loss, you aren’t 70 I know!! Hmmmm, so how does that help you? Not at all.

So my suggestions are

1. Any behaviour change that you undertake really needs to come from a life enhancing, health building mindset. A good question to ask yourself is “if I wasn’t trying to lose weight why would I do this” this can help you identify ways of eating and moving that are most enjoyable and sustainable for you (see The Non-Diet Diet).

2. As far as metabolic rate goes, the biggest impact you can have on this is through resistance exercise to build muscle, and just incase you think this isn’t for you, my mum started weight training at age 70. Many people are told to eat frequently to boost their metabolic rate, however if you are eating and you aren’t hungry then you’re just eating extra. Not eating when you ARE hungry – trying to push through hunger is what is likely to lower your metabolic rate.

3. One thing you can do is look at your “non-hungry” eating, like emotional
comfort/bored eating. A question that you can ask (thanks Dr Rick Kausman) is “I can have this if I want it, do I want it now?” this can help us identify if we are hungry or eating for other reasons. Sometimes if this is decreased and other strategies are implemented weight settles to a lower level, but this isn’t guaranteed.

Hi Susan, what is your favorite healthy snack?

Hmmm I quite like yoghurt nuts and fruit. Cheese and crackers and dried fruit is also a bit of a fave. I like to make cakes as muffins or cupcakes and have them occasionally too.

Hi Susan. Do you have any good protein snacks? Thanks

  • NutsDieititian Jordan Springs Cheese
  • hard boiled egg
  • tinned fish
  • cold meat
  • cheese
  • milk
  • yoghurt


Hi Susan, what are five superfoods we should try to eat regularly?

Oh Superfoods!! One of my faves! Eating has become almost like religious puritanism, cutting out or quitting (sugar, gluten, carbs, whatever) has become a way for people to one up others, to show their virtuousness, to be better than. There are genuine reasons for avoiding some food types or some elements of some foods but many people are avoiding foods needlessly.

And on the flipside of avoidance we worship some foods. Kale, acai, chia, it changes all the time. Superfoods are just foods with a hefty price tag and a crazy marketing budget.

Dark coloured fruit and veg are rich sources of so many beneficial nutrients, oily fish, seeds and nuts are all accessible foods that we can include in our diet without the hefty price tag and marketing buzz.

 What nuts are the best?

All nuts, variety really does take care of a lot of our needs, go for unsalted when you can.

Hi Susan, what sort of meal plan would you suggest for someone with PCOS?

General (as compared to dietary guidelines) recommendations are lower carbohydrate, higher protein, low GI
carbs – slower digested. Plenty of veg and also naturally fatty foods like nuts and avocado. Some people need metformin to improve their insulin resistance.

Hi Susan. What are your thoughts on vitamin supplements? A good ‘insurance’ policy or a waste of money? I sporadically take a multior VitB when I feel ongoing low energy/sluggishness. Am I wasting my money? Thanks ????

I’m a big fan of getting what we need through our diet. There’s so much we don’t know about how food works in our body and how foods interact with each other. That said you’re probably not doing yourself any harm taking a multi, but as you say it might be expensive wee! B vitamins are quite widely available in our diet, but a chilled Berocca does seem to do something!!! Placebo effect perhaps? There are some supplements that are really helpful, many people are low in iron and vitamin d, it’s important to have these identified by your GP in a blood test before taking any corrective action.

Hi Susan, just a general question but what are your thoughts on juice detox’s as a way to kick off weight loss/lifestyle changes?  Also what are your thoughts as a dietitian on the China Study by T Colin Campbell?

Curly Questions!

My experience with behaviour change is that most people do best making changes that they can maintain long term.  Making drastic changes often results in a pass or fail mentality and when we fail we fail big and the self recrimination kicks in. This makes further behaviour change really hard.

I think juice cleanses/detoxes aren’t necessary to start any sort of behaviour or lifestyle change. I think there is more value in stepping back and looking objectively at all of our fundamental health habits – eating, moving, sleeping, stress management and ask which are not serving our health, which could we change without too much upheaval and start there. Build on the successes and reflect regularly on the benefits that flow, use these as motivation for further change.

As far as the China study goes, I’ll admit I don’t know it in-depth. I do know that it promotes a vegan diet. My thoughts on this would be that I would be supportive of a predominantly plant based diet but I don’t believe it is necessary to be vegetarian or vegan for good health. There are many ways of eating well, and around the world in populations that have a large proportion of their elderly peopleVeggies living an ctive and contributing life there are only a few consistent dietary patterns. A predominantly plant based diet, mostly minimally processed foods, seasonal local foods.

Michael Pollans advice Eat food Mostly plants Not too much works well too.

Most of us do eat way too much meat, and too much processed carbohydrate foods. When nutrition surveys of the population have been conducted its come out that less than 7% of people get the recommended serves of vegetables!!! So I say start by adding veg to whatever you’re eating now!

Hi Susan, I drink a lot of sparkling water ( not flavoured), is sparkling water ok to drink as a direct replacement to still water? It has 10mg sodium per 250ml.

That sounds like a great option, we love sparkling water too. It can be a bit more refreshing than plain water. That sodium level is quite low. Unless you have a very strict sodium restriction then this will be fine. As a comparison 1 thin slice of white bread has 136mg of sodium.

Hey Susan,
I have a pretty persistent sugar addiction that I can’t seem to kick. Some days I find that I have no desire to eat real food at all. I’ll instead eat a whole block of chocolate or a packet of biscuits (sometimes both!). I’ve tried portion controlling sweets but once I have a bit I really struggle to stop and never seem to feel sick of the stuff like most people. It’s either I don’t eat sweets or I eat it all (literally). This sugar binging habit is starting to really worry me. Any advice on how I can avoid them would be appreciated. (And just to settle your concerns, I have frequent blood tests and don’t have diabetes……yet! I’m also not dieting).

That sounds tough! My first reaction is that it is in trying to stop that the habit persists. I’m totally a proponent of non dieting and absolutely believe that no foods are good or bad. Good nutrition is really important for our good health though. A couple of questions to ponder. Do you like other foods – crunchy, savoury, oily, salty, spicy, soft, juicy foods? When you’re eating biscuits, chocolate or lollies are you busily telling yourself you shouldn’t be? Do you give yourself a hard time for eating them? I have so many clients that have a firm list of “good” and “bad” foods, and rather than guiding them towards eating well they don’t eat the “good” foods and eat more of the “bad” ones and then beat themselves up. They swing from not having them in the house because they feel that they can’t control themselves, to eating all of it to get rid of it. If this resonates then it’s totally something you can work on changing. Mindfulness, bringing permission to eat all foods, body and appetite awareness are all practices that help. Dr Rick Kausmans work would be a great starting point (see my articles – Your body is wise, and “Don’t you know how much suger is in that?”) .

I think I eat pretty well, maybe a bit too much. I need help with portion control.

This is something I hear often. Appetite awareness – knowing when we’re hungry and full or satisfied can be obliterated by dieting. Eating in a rushed or distracted environment can also mean we eat more than we are actually hungry for. Most people have had the experience of being interrupted during a meal and realising when they return to the table they aren’t hungry any more. Getting in tune with our body’s signals of hunger and satisaction is the best way to get our portion control right. Checking in with your body prior to eating to see what your hunger signals are and then checking in part way through eating can give you information on whether to keep eating or not. Being mindful and aware can help us eat with more satisfaction. it’s important to remember that if it is our intention to eat “perfectly” we will probably fail. Mindfulness and awareness gives us the space to choose whether to continue eating (because it tastes so fantastic) or to stop because your body feels comfortable now. Neither of these choices are right or wrong, they give us choice and control.  See my article – Your body is wise.

I’m wanting to lose a bit of weight before summer and was just wondering if you give out meal plans?

To be honest, it’s not very likely.  There are some situations where I will though (eating disorders, elimination diets). I’ll tell you why. Meal plans rarely suit a persons tastes or lifestyle unless they are written by the person themselves. They may seem great to start with but soon you deviate from it because life gets in the way. Then you’re back to where you started. There are many many meal plans available in magazines and online, if a meal plan was what you needed you’d be all sorted by now.

I will help you write your own meal plan though. You know your commitments, skill in the kitchen and preferences better than anyone else. I can help you plan more nutritious meals that will suit your needs and commitments.

I’m usually very sceptical of any kind of “super” or “wonder” food or product … show me the evidence! However, I recently read an article on the benefits of bananas. We all know that a banana is a wonderful, healthy snack, but it suggested that bananas are beneficial in mental health, among other things. Are there foods that help on those “down” days (apart from chocolate)?!

hanks to my awesome friend Dr Tim Crowe for sharing this link with me.… I’m with you on superfood skepticism many aspects of diet will aid good mental health. Regular eating is important, being hungry feels very low and lethargic. Eating a wide range of minimally processed foods (what’s good for us physically is also good for us mentally) brightly coloured fruits and vegetables, seeds and nuts and naturally fatty foods like avocados, good quality protein like unprocessed meats, eggs, fish. And occasionally enjoying delicious indulgences in fantastic company are all helpful.

I would like to know how many snacks, other then fruits,e.g.: chips, chocolate,custard pie… are kids meant to have in one day? Thank you.

Most kids will do well with 3 meals and 3-4 between meal snacks. Ideally we treat children snacks as mini meals, children have high energy and nutrient needs but small tummies so they do need to eat frequently. Sometimes foods like chips biscuits lollies etc are high in energy and can certainly be incorporated into a healthy childs diet, one serve a day is probably sufficient. If we go over on some days and under on others our bodies are resilient enough to cope. Don’t stress to much about parties!!  (see my article Your body is wise)

My kids play a lot of sport and always seem to be hungry. What sort of food would be the best snack before a game?

Pre game, it’s so important to go into activity well fuelled. Being hungry or light headed is likely to result in a loss of focus, poorer performance and possibly injury. Carbohydrate foods are ideal foods pre game. they provide the body with glucose. Breads, cereals, legumes like baked beans, fruit, dairy,are all good choices. Its a good idea to practice the timing of food pre game though. Its very unpleasant to feel a heavy full tummy while your undertaking intense activity. Most people find that not eating within an hour of activity works well. After activity a mix of carbohydrate and protein is great to replenish fuel. Again dairy, legumes, peanut butter and honey sandwich, ham and cheese toast are all good. Some kids push themselves pretty hard and have no appetite immediately after their activity, for these kids drinks are a great choice.

My question is with kids and eating what’s on their plate. So we have a rule that if you don’t eat all your dinner there is nothing until breakfast. Do you think this is a rule that should be in place or are the little ones more in tune with their bodies then us adults? If they don’t eat all their dinner and then come to you in 15 mins and say they are hungry besides reheating their dinner should they have desert? Which in this house could vary from fruit to yoghurt to chocolate to ice cream. Thanks for your very valuable time! ????

Argh every parents nightmare! I’m a very big fan of Ellyn Satters work check out how to feed and how to eat. My approach from this work is “parent provides, child decides” that is we adults decide what is served for meals and snacks, children decide how much or whether they eat. They are generally far better at regulating their intake than adults are. It’s important to have regular predictable meals and snacks so children don’t feel pressure to sort things out for themselves, children need to be allowed to eat as much as they need to be satisfied too. Setting the family routine and expectation that eating is done at the table at meal time is important, then its our job as parents to guts it out and not give in to between nagging for extras. It sounds harsh but it does teach that you need to eat enough at meals. If you’re going through this often it’s might be a good idea to include dessert as part of the meal or to set one or a few nights a week as dessert nights. Dessert shouldn’t be conditional on whether dinner is eaten or not, dessert can sometimes be a fruit and dairy option and sometimes be a more decadent option. Children will sometimes eat some dinner, then the dessert and then the rest of their dinner. Funny things.