I’ve just been to the Fitness Show at the Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre, where I had the opportunity to speak at the Wellness Hub, one of the stages at the show.

It was not the easiest talk I have done as there was a lot of noise – music, barbells dropping, and hooting and hollering all around. Having said that, I had a dedicated audience that listened despite these many distractions.

My talk was on reading a food label and focusing on the ingredients, highlighting many additives and what they actually mean. I also spoke about the importance of real food because we’ve lost our instinct to eat for fuel due to the abundance of food-like substances in the diet.

A Noticeable Absence of Real Foods

What I saw while walking around the show felt almost alien to me. Everyone was wearing the fitness uniform; young men and women were in tight and showy gear, and many of the women wore false eye lashes and had breast augmentations.

On the positive side, it was so good to see young men and women exercising, challenging themselves, being proud of who they are and wanting to show the world. On the negative side, I saw a culture of exercise but not real nutrition, of ego but not self love, of looking but not thinking. Maybe my age is showing, but in the world we live in today with so much happening in health (or rather, I should say, sickness), I felt that while the fitness show was a wonderful start, there was so much more that could have been offered by taking a holistic view of health.

For example, many of the stands were filled with protein powders, electrolyte drinks, supplements and the like.

Many of the supplements were synthetic and the protein powders came in all flavours and colours with massive marketing and advertising buzz words.

As I made my way around each stall, reading the ingredients, I was filled with despair. All the protein powders had the word ‘natural’ – natural colour, natural flavours – (which has no meaning in our food standards code), and thickeners, fillers and artificial sweeteners were also plentiful. The supplements were mainly synthetic and the electrolyte drinks much the same. As far as I could see, the beef jerky and the Changing Habits products were the only real foods there.

I had some time to talk to some of the institutions that were offering diplomas for personal trainers in their skill and nutrition. I asked the basic questions as to what they were teaching in nutrition. Every answer referred to the dietary guidelines, focusing on fats, carbohydrates and proteins. There was no mention of the ingredients of a product.

I mused about the young people at the show and thought about when they get married and have children. My children are in their mid to late 20’s, so my childbearing days weren’t that long ago, yet there was no thought or fear of autism, hyperactivity, allergies, or food sensitivities for the child you were bringing into the world. But now there is a real chance that a child could have one of these maladies. In fact, over 40% of children in Australia have a life-long illness.

The Importance of the ‘Real Food Mantra’

So, does being fit mean you are healthy? After the weekend, I don’t think the two necessarily fit together.

When the show The Biggest Loser was on television my favourite part was when they showed what the contestants ate, or the contents of their fridge and pantry – this made up about 1% of the program. The show was mostly about the exercise but not much about the food. If there was a food aspect, then it was a challenge with food-like substances or talking about calorie in and calorie out or watching the amount of carbs, fats and proteins that were consumed. I read the research that was done on the contestants after the show and many had put the weight back on and gone back to their old ways. They were not being taught a sustainable outcome.

We took our registered training organisation, the Functional Nutrition Academy, to the Fitness Show to break into a market that is about fitness but not necessarily about health.

I would love to see more personal trainers teaching the real food mantra rather than promoting the protein powder, meal replacement culture.

When it comes to health, we must consider where our food is sourced, the agricultural ramifications for our food, what we put on our skin, what chemicals we use in our home and our overall impact on the planet and how we can leave it better off than when we arrived.

I’m not so sure that my generation has done this, but for the younger generation I see a glimmer – it’s there in other presenters on the Wellness Hub stage at the Fitness Show and in my adult children. They are all talking about living a life that’s real, eating real foods, taking time out for oneself and generally making sure (as my dear friend Kim Morrison says in her book The Art of Self Love) that we stay within the power of the self-love circle. That is, remaining self aware, and promoting self care, discipline, control and respect, not only for ourselves, but for others and the planet.

Cyndi O'Meara

Founder at Changing Habits
Not your typical nutritionist, Cyndi disagrees with low-fat, low-calorie diets, believes chocolate can be good for you and thinks cheating and eating yummy food is an important part of a well-balanced diet. Cyndi must be doing something right because she maintains a healthy weight and has never (in her whole life!) taken an antibiotic, pain-killer or any other form of medication. Cyndi is a passionate, determined and knowledgeable speaker on health issues and uses her education and experience to help others improve their quality of life so they too can enjoy greater health and longer lives.

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