• APD, Stefanie Valakas, (22) talks about how she manages to eat well while also maintaining social connections and eating out with friends and family. (Supplied)
Do dietitians practise what they preach? Stefanie Valakas shares how she eats to balance her nutritional needs with being social. #MyDayOnAPlate
By
Stefanie Valakas, Presented by
Yasmin Noone

14 May 2018 - 12:26 PM  UPDATED 25 May 2018 - 11:16 AM

Eating well is not just about nutrition – it’s more than the sum of its nutrients. We eat all the time, so it is deeply engrained in our lives. What we eat has a huge social element to it and it's connected to our memories, culture and families. 

That’s my personal philosophy. But knowing what eating well means to you, and knowing works best for you is really important. It may take a bit of time to figure it out but once you do, it can positively influence what you eat and enhance your overall state of health.

What we eat has a huge social element to it and it's connected to our memories, culture and families. 

My day on a plate

I take into account a few different things when I plan my meals: the time it takes to prepare or cook a dish, the amount of time I have available, the nutrition it offers, whether it offers variety and what I feel I need to eat day-to-day, which is always going to change. But in general, this is how it currently unfolds.

Breakfast

I have a bowl of oats topped with fruit, nuts and seeds. This breakfast features day-to-day in autumn and winter. Oats are packed with fibre, so they keep me really full and helps with bowel regularity. Nuts are also great sources of healthy fats.

I eat this breakfast with cow’s milk. It contains calcium, vitamin B2, protein and phosphorous, which are all really important nutrients. I usually alternate between full cream and lite milk, depending on what is available.

During summer, I probably have more toasted muesli, smoothies or pancakes – which I have a slight obsession with as it reminds me of my childhood.

Morning snack

I usually have a coffee and later, a piece of fruit – whatever is season. Right now that might be a mandarin, kiwi fruit or an orange. That’s usually enough to keep me going until lunch but light enough that it won’t fill me up. A piece of fruit also keeps my sweet cravings at bay and gives me a whole range of nutrients and fibre.

Lunch

My lunch is usually leftovers from dinner. It’s just a timesaving strategy and reduces food wastage.

If there are no leftovers for whatever reason, I usually just make a salad and try to go vegetarian at lunch, just to try to reduce my overall red meat intake.

So I might use legumes or tinned tuna to get more Omega-3 fatty acids into my diet. I may also have wholegrains, roast vegetables or pasta.

My lunch is usually leftovers from dinner. It’s just a timesaving strategy and reduces food wastage.

Afternoon snack

I am a big afternoon snacker, so I try and prepare snacks that I know are good for me or that I need to eat.

Right after lunch, I usually have a couple of squares of dark chocolate because I know I will have sweet cravings in the afternoon. And if I didn’t have a piece of fruit in the morning, I’d also have a piece in the afternoon.

I usually have a handful of nuts or homemade popcorn. There’s a lot of research that says nuts can reduce your risk of a number of chronic diseases. Popcorn is also really easy to eat, low in energy, a good source of fibre, a wholegrain and quite filling.

If my lunch is low on vegetables, then I bring sliced raw vegetables with me [in a container] to snack on, like carrot, cucumber or cherry tomatoes and I dip them in a small pot of cream cheese.

Dinner

We usually have one vegetarian dinner a week – it could be lentil salad or soup.

My family are Greek, so we often have roasted meats and vegetables on a weekend or traditional Greek dishes like stuffed vegetables, which are filled with rice and meat.

I might eat takeaway food, around once a week at home. I also go out on the weekends. If I feel like I need to eat more vegetables on the day I go out, I might choose the “healthier” option on the menu. But at other times, I’ll have a burger or a pie.

It can be hard as a dietitian to come out and say that sometimes I get take-away food or eat out. But we are real people too.

I know that’s not what you would expect a dietitian to be eating but it’s important to be social, as food is more than just about micronutrients.

Eating out every now and again makes me want to go home and return to eating well. When I come home, I’m like ‘I can’t wait to eat something nutritious that I’ve made myself’.

I’m not perfect. It can be hard as a dietitian to come out and say that sometimes I get take-away food or eat out. But we are real people too. We eat the same type of foods that non-dietitians eat [but try to do so in moderation].

The 80/20 rule

My main message is to eat what feels right for you. You don’t have to be perfect all of the time.

Use the ‘80/20 approach’ to eating well. To do this, for 80 per cent of the time, you eat minimally processed foods. Do your best to cook at home, focus on eating foods with a high-fibre content and incorporate fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, dairy and meats into your diet.

Then, about 20 percent of the time – perhaps on the weekend – you might treat yourself or go out and eat socially.

That’s my approach and I find it works for me. It provides me with a positive relationship with food and I don’t resent food in any way. I just keep appreciating it, allowing it to nourish me in a way that constantly brings me joy.

If you want to hear more from Stefanie Valakas, you can follow her on social media: Instagram, @the_dietologist or Facebook, @thedietologist.

Can diet soft drinks really help you to lose weight?
We tackle the big question about your take-away request: if you order a diet soft drink with a burger and fries, will it really help you to lose weight?
The dirty truth of 'clean eating' is not the diet but the dogma
Clean eating should simply be about food, not guilt or glamour. Dr Giles Yeo cooks with Ella Mills of Deliciously Ella to get behind the health trend.
Can chewing more help you to eat less?
In the midst of many desperate attempts to lose weight, we may have overlooked one of the easiest, safest and quickest ways to diet and eat less.
You can lose weight by eating pasta, says new study
Finally, scientists give us the all clear to go on a diet where we're required to eat carby-pasta dishes to lose weight.
Why is booze such a diet destroyer?
Alcohol not only contains a lot of calories but it changes the way your whole body processes food.