Q and A with Dr Joanna McMillan

Welcome to our Q and A column of the Wild Women Weekly! Each issue, we’re chatting to the experts in health, fitness, nutrition and wellbeing to educate and inspire you to live a healthier, happier life!

We’re kicking off with foodie guru and nutrition queen Dr Joanna McMillan. Her mission is to make healthy eating effortless and joyful – not to mention delicious. She talks prioritising health, how to find a balance, the biggest food mistakes we can make and gives us a cheeky look at her day on a plate.

What are you passionate about?

Inspiring people to change the way the eat and live their lives in order to have the energy and wellbeing to be happier and get more from life, while giving them the information they need to do so. There are so many conflicting media reports, confusing and wrong interpretations of science and downright irresponsible misinformation that it's making it harder for people to know which way to go. My mission is to help clear that up and make healthy eating effortless!

What’s your top tip for prioritising health when you lead a busy life?

Not to see it as yet another chore. Healthy eating and living doesn't need to be a full time job, nor a pedantic one. It makes me mad when I see these holier than now so called health gurus posting their pics of them in warrior pose, then making their #paleo donuts... honestly it's so ridiculous. That is not what real health is about. Small changes make big differences in most peoples lives and they are the changes that you will be able to keep up for the long term - and that means long term results. I advocate making three goals every week of what you will focus on that will help you to reach your longer term goals. The weekly goals are the physical things that you will do such as walk for 30 minutes every day, or pack my lunch for work on at least 3 days. Then as you build those habits over time, adding to them every week you'll find yourself in a much better place.

You offer a very balanced approach to nutrition. For the people who are confused by all the conflicting information regarding nutrition, how can we make healthy eating simpler?

The bottom line is that it's about eating more real, wholesome, nutrient-dense food and less highly processed and refined packaged food. That doesn't mean nothing from a packet - we can make use of many modern, packaged foods to make healthy eating easier, but make most of your shopping trolley fresh foods and you're 80% there. We also need to recognise that provided we have the core foundations right, there are many ways to put together a healthy diet. You can be vegan or an omnivore and be equally healthy if you get your balance of foods right. Finally I think people also make the mistake of blaming one thing and thinking they have to be 'perfect' (which doesn't exist) all of the time. Then when they eat that forbidden food they are off the wagon until Monday when they start all over again. It's such nonsense. What you eat over weeks, months, years and decades is ultimately the influencer, so eating a slice of cake on the odd occasion or having bag of chips is not a problem. It's what is happening regularly that counts and it's as much about what you do eat as what you don't. 

What does your day on a plate look like?

I love breakfast - really that's what gets me out of bed! So I almost never skip it. I alternate between having my homemade muesli (a mix of wholegrain flakes, rolled oats, puffed grains such as quinoa, millet or buckwheat, mixed nuts, seeds & dried fruit), topped with fresh fruit, natural yoghurt and milk, or boiled eggs with avocado, spinach and tomato on wholegrain toast. I always have a coffee with milk too. Lunch might be leftovers from the night before, homemade soup with wholegrain bread and cheese, or a wholegrain sandwich or wrap with tuna or cold meat, loads of salad and hummus or avocado. Dinner I'm often creating recipes I can use for my Get Lean program, but essentially all my meals adhere to my Dr Joanna Plate so almost always have some sort of big salad, stir-fried or roast vegies, plus meat or seafood, a smart carb like beans or a wholegrain, plus extra virgin olive oil as my healthy fat. It can be as simple as a steak with a generous salad and sweet potato wedges or chicken fajitas (my kids favourite) or a slow cooked ragu with wholegrain spaghetti and a green salad. I don't really snack but if I'm truly hungry and hours from mealtime I'll have a ramekin with a mix of nuts, dried fruit and couple of squares of dark chocolate, or some natural yoghurt with fruit and nuts.

What is the most common mistake people make when they try to eat healthily, and how can we remedy it?

They go all-or-nothing and think they have to adhere to some set of 'clean eating' rules. I can't stand that term .. it implies 'dirty eating' and has a kind of moral attachment to it that makes me cringe. These rules also tend to cut out entire groups of foods based on some philosophy or judgement that is almost never based on science. Banning certain foods, particularly when they're healthful foods, just makes it more difficult to stick to your plan long term. My advice is to stop doing crazy fasts, extreme diets and detoxes that last only a short period of time, and instead think about more permanent realistic things you could change. Then step back at look at your life holistically - do you sleep well? Are you managing your stress levels? Are you happy at work and home? Are you sitting more than 8 hours a day? Are you exercising regularly? All of these things are equally important and all impact on each other and your ability to eat well. On Get Lean we try to look at all of these factors and see them as interlocking circles that are underpinned by joy. 

Come and meet Dr Joanna McMillan and get your nutrition questions answered at our Wild Adventure Workshop! 

About Dr Joanna

Having completed a Bachelor Degree in Science with First Class Honours in Nutrition and Dietetics in Scotland, Joanna moved to Australia in 1999 and won a scholarship to complete her PhD with The University of Sydney. Today, Joanna is the founder of Get Lean and a regular on Australian television and radio. She is also the author of several books, has a weekly column in Sunday Life and writes for several magazines and online blogs. She is also a proud ambassador for Diabetes Australia, The Skin & Cancer Foundation, FoodBank NSW/ACT & Muscular Dystrophy. As a trained fitness instructor, Joanna remains an avid exercise enthusiast, which she successfully juggles alongside the demands of being a mum to two very energetic boys! 

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