Dr Joanna McMillan: Eat for Real Change at TEDxMacquarieUniversity (Transcript)

Full transcript of health guru and nutritionist Dr Joanna McMillan’s TEDx Talk: Eat for Real Change at TEDxMacquarieUniversity Conference

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Dr Joanna McMillan – Health guru and nutritionist

How would you feel if I was to tell you that nutrition science has come such a long way that in my hand I have some pretty special pills? You’re never going to have to eat again. You won’t be eating any meals, all you need to do is take one of these pills: breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the rest of your life and it’s going to give you the perfect balance of protein, carbohydrates, and fat. It is going to give you the number of calories or kilojoules that you need to stay at exactly the perfect weight for your body. It’s going to give you all of the antioxidants and what we call phytochemicals which just means plants nutrients, plant chemicals that are good for us. All in these amazing little pills. Isn’t science amazing? How would you feel? “Boo!” Yes. That’s what I was hoping for.

I hope you are feeling, “God, that would be awful!” “How disappointing!” I hope there are some memories coming into your mind right now. They certainly are in mine. I remember my mom’s awesome lasagna that she always used to make when we’d used to appear as millions of people and she had twenty mouths to feed and she would whip up this lasagna.

I remember my grandmother used to make this extraordinary gingerbread cake that my mother could never replicate despite being the better cook. I remember the pancakes that the grandmother of a family friend always made us whenever us kids appeared at their house.

I remember being a teenager doing exchanges with a student in France and we had bowls of hot chocolate with white bread yes, white baguette with butter and jam and we dipped it into our hot chocolates. I remember the amazing paellas that we used to have as a family in Spain on our family holidays.

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The point is food is much much more than about nutrients. You’d be pleased to know that science is not nearly at this point. Thank goodness, because food is more than the nutrients that it contains. Food is part of who we are. Food is part of our culture. It is part of our upbringing. It’s part of how we negotiate and interact with each other. Just think about, those of you in the room with a partner, what did you do on your first dates? I’m willing to bet that you went for dinner at some point. What do we do when we’re celebrating? Apart from popping open the champagne, we probably have some celebratory cake or we have some food.

What do we do at Christmas and New Year? What do we do at funerals? Food is always involved. I’ve traveled to some pretty remote places in the world and it’s the same everywhere you go, whether you’re in the most modern urbanized city or whether you’re in some village in the middle of Africa somewhere; people want to share food with you. The sharing of food is the sense of friendship, a sense of who we are as human beings.

And here’s my concern, is that — and I’m a Nutrition Scientist, I’ve devoted my career to this space — my concern is that nutrition is destroying some of those things. But here’s the problem, because we do have quite literally a big problem.

Here in Australia, and unfortunately in most of the rest of the world, certainly all of the developed world, and, fastly catching us up, the developing world, it is now the norm in Australia to be fat. Now that’s not an aesthetic problem. I’m not here to talk about body image, that’s a whole other talk. But that problem coaches us in a whole number of chronic health diseases. We know that diabetes is on the rise. Type 2 diabetes is now the fastest-growing chronic disease in this country and 280 of us are diagnosed every single day. Every 12 minutes an Australian dies of cardiovascular disease. Ladies, one in three of us will develop cancer and guys, I’m sorry, one in two of you will develop cancer before you’re 85.

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Now, while much of that can’t be prevented, we do know that diet, and lifestyle but diet is intricately involved in all of those chronic diseases. If we were to change the way that we eat, we could dramatically reduce those numbers; we could dramatically reduce the early death that is in this country and dramatically improve the quality of life for so many people.

So, why is it that it’s so hard to do? If you’ve ever tried to follow a diet, isn’t that an awful word? I hate calling myself a dietitian because that word “diet” is in there. But diet really just means the way that we eat and what we are eating. It’s really hard to change the way that we do and part of that is because of how ingrained the way that we eat is in the way that we live today. So, how you’ve been brought up to eat will always have a dramatic influence on the way that you’re eating today and the way that your future children and the next generation comes through.

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