“These foods are in our diet for enjoyment, for variety, for allowing us to socialise,” Hendrie said. “Cutting out can work for some people, but for other people it exacerbates cravings for that food.”
That was the case for Ryan Roets, a Melbourne-based father of two who says he has tried many diets in the past without success.
“I think as soon as you have abstinence you make that food precious,” said Roets, whose favourite indulgences were peanuts, chips, lollies and an after work drink. “When you make food precious, eventually you give in… and when you have it you go for your life.”
Roets, 45, who has been on the CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet for the better part of a year, had fallen into a habit of snacking, eating large portions and cracking open a beer while cooking followed by red wine with dinner.
He says he hadn’t realised how many discretionary foods he was consuming: “It’s amazing how quickly they add up.”
Few people do, Hendrie said.
“People might know these foods are unhealthy but we’re not always consciously eating them, we’re not always conscious of how they add up over the day and we are not always aware of the portion size,” she explained. “A portion size of discretionary food is 600 kilojoules and that’s about one chocolate biscuit, not three or four.”
By asking questions about the quantities, frequency and variety of discretionary foods we eat, the Analyser allows people to see the cumulative effect.
An interactive section allows users to see how cutting back, halving or eliminating certain foods would impact their daily intake and overall health.
“We don’t want to shame people,” Hendrie said. “We want to be a little bit more positive – it’s not ‘cut them out, they’re bad foods’. It’s more nuanced than that. It’s ‘choose a strategy that works for you’.”
And having a strategy is important given that these foods are everywhere. Not only are they in our shops, cafes, service stations and vending machines, new research by the University of Sydney found nearly 90 per cent of food options tagged as ‘healthy’ by online food delivery outlets were considered ‘unhealthy’ according to an independent scoring system.
Armed with a plan, rather than trying to abstain, Roets and his family have become more discerning about their daily treats and have reduced portion sizes. Getting out of a dietary rut also inspired them to become more active and together they have started playing tennis and doing 10000 steps a day. Even Roets’ father has become involved.
“Between my wife, myself and my father we’ve lost almost 90 kilograms. I felt 65 a year ago and I feel 25 today.”
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Sarah Berry is a lifestyle and health writer at The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.