Being Conscious about Food

Photography:  Brooke Lark  Words: Tamara Kisha Tan

Photography: Brooke Lark
Words: Tamara Kisha Tan

We held our second salon (and the first one of the year) at The Co. Duxton on 25 January 2018. The salon gathered folks from all walks of life to engage in ‘Conversations on Consciousness’. PAUSE is glad to have worked with lululemon Singapore to make this session a success.

PAUSE had the privilege of having four very esteemed experts on the mind, body/fitness, nutrition and living, who lent their time to the discussion with the intention to share their wisdom with all of us present.  

They are, in order of speaking, as follows:
1) Milena Nguyen – Life-design & Women’s Empowerment coach
2) Myren Fu – lululemon Singapore Ambassador & Director at G1RYA training centre
3) Lisa McConnell  – Functional Nutritional Therapist at Integrative Physio 
4) Stephanie Dickson  – Founder of Conscious Festival, Green is the New Black Asia

This report will cover what Lisa shared with us about being conscious of what we eat: 

Being conscious of the food we consume – briefly, what does this mean to you?

Well, first and foremost, I think what's important to consider is quite simply: do you even eat at all? I know that it might sound very basic, but I can't stress how important this is. It's a moot point being conscious about the food you consume when you can't guarantee the basic scheduled mealtimes that keep a person going. I mean, we are all human, and sometimes we do get so caught up in what we're doing that we forget to eat. It has happened to me loads of times, and so for me, it's something I do watch out for on a daily basis. 

How important is it for us to be mindful of what we eat?

The short answer is that it is extremely important. I'd like to share an anecdote for this, and it involves the television. So, there are two scenarios here, the first one with food and the television and the second scenario only involves your plate of food. In which situation do you think you'd be eating more mindfully? I know a lot of people take to the television after a long day of work to relax and unwind, and because they return home around dinner time, pairing both activities occurs quite naturally. Unfortunately, when you eat and simultaneously watch the television or surf the net on your laptop / cell phone, you aren't paying attention to what you are eating at all. This results in you consuming a lot more than you need, or worse, you don't feel as satisfied with the food you've consumed at the end of the meal. Set aside time dedicated to eating and you'll see how rich the experience is. 

What is the goal of conscious nutrition?

Eating the right type of food that suits you and helps to improve your overall health and wellbeing. Similar to what Myren has been talking about–that no workout would benefit two different people in the same way–each person requires a unique nutrition plan because each body is different and each person's lifestyle is very different. Consequently, unique individuals would require a different set of nutrients, different amount of vitamins, fibre, carbohydrates, proteins, etc. for their optimum diet. 


It is possible these days to follow popular fad diets and see physical results that are deemed positive (i.e. weight loss, the loss of inches etc.) In your opinion, would there be a much lasting benefit if we do this?

Yes, it's true that you see results very quickly with extreme diets, but you may be so convinced by for example weight loss, that you may not notice deficiencies creeping in as you are focused on looking at versus listening to the changes your body is undergoing. Fad diets are often very singular in their approach and usually exclude a good group or category, so they are not sustainable. Therapeutic diets, on the other hand, are accompanied by a professional, who knows what they are doing and ensures sufficient nutrient content to provide therapeutic effects within a specific timeframe. Personally, I tend to try different elements of some of these diets, e.g. juicing, raw foods, superfoods or MCT (Medium-chain triglyceride) oil and combine them into a novel, sustainable approach that keeps me in discovery mode and excited about food. As a nutritional therapist, I try to guide people to figure out a dietary approach that suits their lifestyle, body and priorities, while enjoying the process of trying new foods and recipes. 


Do you think that people potentially make the wrong food choices regarding healthy nutrition based on a lack of consciousness regarding what they are eating? Or do you think it is instead a lack of a basic understanding of the constituents of food (e.g. carbs, fat, protein etc.) and how they work within our body?

Yes, this is precisely the issue. Clients are coming to me in search for a nutritional solution to alleviate problems they face, but I'm finding that they don't even understand the basics of nutrition. Recently someone said to me, "Lisa, you know I've really changed up my diet. I've cut out sugar completely." I was very impressed, and so I asked, "All right, that's a great step. What do you eat for breakfast?" And this person replied, "Oh, I eat a whole bunch of fresh fruit! No sugar in them at all!" – I mean, it might sound astonishing when I'm sharing it here, but he isn't the only one who is misguided when it comes to what food is primarily made of. 

Also, another huge issue is convenience – there is home delivery service, tasty and easily accessible hawker fare and many restaurants around the corner. I do get it, that it's just so effortless to go to these places and get your meal when you're hungry. Clients tell me, "you know, Lisa, it just takes too much time to prepare food. I just don't have the time." But the truth is, simple, healthy meal plans are not that trying to make. And if you do think this way at the moment, that's ok. But I would put it to you to be honest and ask yourself if you've honestly given it a shot. Have you looked up simple, nutritious and healthy recipes and tried your hand at preparing them to see how much time you'll actually need? You can find joy in preparing food for yourself, instead of eating out all the time. And of course, if you do try, and find that you still feel that you need guidance and professional nutritional help, well, us nutritionists are happy to lend a hand :) 

Please advise us how we call all be more conscious about what we eat – the little things we can do to start, and how we can progress from there?

I say, use technology to your advantage. There are alarms and numerous applications in the market that you can program to help you keep track of meal times – and even when you should be having your next glass of water so that you can stay amply hydrated throughout the day. It takes some getting used to, but once you get into the groove of things, you'll find that you're doing yourself a huge favour, you'll feel the physical effects, and your body will thank you for it. 

Also, when you head to the hawker centre, which is quite common and somewhat of an attraction in Singapore, try to avoid MSG. For me, I will only buy a plate of food from the hawker centre or a restaurant, if I get a 'no' as an answer to three questions, namely (1) Is there MSG in this?, (2) Is there Ajinimoto added? and (3) Is there flavour powder in this?

Furthermore, when you go to the supermarket, make sure that you keep to the aisles on the outskirts as much as possible. That is where all the healthy food is located - the stuff to avoid all are in the middle aisles where most people frequent. When you finally start deciding on what to buy, always make it a point to read the labels. A lot of branding is deceiving. Some food products can claim that they are 'sugar-free' and when you turn the container to the back and read the ingredients list, you might find a variant of sugar listed somewhere within the list. It is currently not illegal to do this, so food companies continue to do so where they can. Sometimes you'll also see very interesting labels like 'gluten-free avocado' - I really could go on with a long list, but essentially my message to everyone is to be aware of what is in the food you are buying, because ultimately the one who will consume it, is you. 

There is a lot of talk and growing scientific research about the gut being the second 'brain' or mind of the body – how healthy your gut is, is essentially a reflection of your wellbeing – physical, emotional – everything. How true is this?

There is definitely a link there - for example, what we generally consider as the 'happy brain chemical' serotonin with most of us being aware that a 'deficiency' may be associated with mood changes, exists mainly in the gut where it affects gut mobility versus acting in the brain. There is a definite gut-brain axis with two-way communication via hormones, brain chemicals and the nervous system controlled by the brain and the enteric–the gut's very own nervous system. The scientific community has been looking into the gut microbiome:  it has been reported that there is roughly 1.5 - 2kg of bacteria, viruses and fungi that most of us carry around in our gut. They've also discovered that all of the microbiome together, has more genetic material than we do and it outweighs our human cells by roughly 100:1. This technically means that you are only 10% you. The rest is made up of microcrobes that are meant to live in harmony with you, and are critical for your health!

Most people don't realise that how you treat and feed those microbes has a significant impact on your health. In fact, a very recent finding is that your brain is not as sterile as previously thought–in fact, it is now known to have its own 'brain microbiome'. Therefore, if you have gut inflammation, you can also experience brain inflammation; on the flip side, if you can rebalance your gut microbiome, the brain microbiome is likely to follow suit. It's all very exciting, and gut health experts are now looking at the various possibilities to 'heal and repair' both the gut and brain, together.  

Lisa Jane McConnell is a functional nutritional therapist at Integrative Physio. She earned her BSc. degree in Nutritional Therapy from Middlesex University. Before dedicating herself to helping people discover the power of nutrition and lifestyle changes, she was formerly pursuing an international corporate career. When she found that it was taking a toll on her health and well-being, she turned near-burnout into an opportunity to reassess and revitalise. Lisa treats all types of health conditions but has a particular interest in Adult Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), alongside other mental health-related issues. She works with clients from all over the world, and focuses on tailoring realistic, achievable programmes that they can integrate into their lives.