An Open Letter to: AIA, Sovereign, Gemma McCaw, Cory Jane, NZ Teachers, Educators and Parents

22nd August 2018

To ‘The Healthiest School Challenge’ development & support team, Gemma McCaw, Cory Jane, New Zealand teachers, educators and parents.

We are writing to you express our concerns with the recently launched ”AIA The Healthiest School” challenge. We are healthcare providers working in the field of eating disorders, body image and anxiety around food and bodies. 

We commend and support AIA & Sovereigns interest in health promotion (and extra funding toward sporting equipment) however we believe the risks associated and potential harm caused albeit inadvertently by this program outway the perceived benefits. The Healthiest School competition and its intended us of pedometers by school aged children is problematic for the following reasons:

* Any motivation for children to move their bodies is all externally driven, there is no intrinsic motivation. Is this something that is going to encourage children to engage in health behaviours long term? We predict children will most likely lose interest either before or after the 6 week mark. At best, this competition/initiative  is likely to be ineffective, and at worst extremely harmful.

* This challenge reduces health to a number – and just one aspect of health (exercise) at that. Sending this message to children who are concrete thinkers puts children at risk of disordered thoughts and behaviours around health. This program does not consider a child’s emotional or mental health.

* The use of pedometers encourages children to disconnect from their body, instead relying on technology to tell them how much to move. Furthermore the use of pedometers and other devices measuring steps or energy expenditure teaches children to ignore important intrinsic body signals informing us when to move and when to rest. This ability to rely on internal regulation – a feedback system that is unique to each of us and communicates on the specific needs of our body should be nurtured not stomped on by the repeated silencing of body signals and reliance on external cues for movement and exercise.

* Inititiatives prioritising exercise further reinforce the dominant pedagogy currently used in nutrition and health education to school children – one that is deeply healthist, discriminatory, stigmatising and exclusionary (it is inaccessible for our most economically and socially deprived children, children of ethnic minorities and children living in larger bodies). Programs designed to target childhood obesity, through the promotion of measured energy expenditure and/or intake further reinforce the currently accepted, and incorrect narrative, that the size, shape and weight of our body is a good and accurate representation of our health status and wellbeing – and that deliberate, controlled and measured exercise will attain a body symbolic of “health”.

* This challenge is exclusionary to less physically able, those with health conditions and children with less access to extra opporutnities for movement outside of the school environment.

* The competitive nature of the challenge introduces an opportunity for children to build a self-concept (or view of self) that is rooted in deficit, not measuring up or being “good” enough, or “contributing enough” to the collective effort. School children experience a range of developmental changes both physically and emotionally, including navigation of interpersonal relationships, coping with conflict, bodily changes and development of puberty that are all associated with an increased body preoccupation. We do not need to introduce monitoring and measuring devices that will further encourage engagement in body checking behaviours and potentially facilitate the development of eating and exercise pathologies.

*Self-esteem becomes linked with a number on a pedometer with pride associated with a high step count, however this a case of diminishing returns resulting in children seeking to acquire higher steps than the previous day/week or competition school in ways that do not protect a safe relationship with movement and body. This creates a space for children to develop an antagonistic body relationship, one of guilt, shame and anxiety.

* We have been unable to find any materials associated with the program that offer guidance, advice and tools to assist in the screening of eating disorder behaviours or the predisposing risk factors for the development of an eating disorder, anxiety or obsessive compulsive behaviours – children whom are at most risk of disordered eating/exercise thoughts and behaviours have the potential to be triggered by this program.

* We encourage the inclusion of information and support for teachers to be able to competently recognise harmful behaviours/obsessions in children and outline steps to take after identifying these children in order to access timely intervention and support.

We ask if the possibility of a temporary increase in a child’s physical activity, through an initiative that has not demonstrated an extension into fostering a healthy relationship with exercise or body, worth triggering disordered eating, eating disorders or pathological exercise behaviours in children who may already be susceptible through varying levels of trauma – bodily and/or psychosocial – by inviting an initiative encouraging the use of pedometers/step counting, stigmatisation and discrimination of bodies? 

In permitting this program to go ahead unchallenged, we would be failing in our responsibility to work proactively in Eating Disorder prevention as; providers of eating disorder recovery services, a mother, and size diversity and body liberation advocates. We hope you will reconsider the appropriateness of this initiative in light of the concerns shared here in and we are keen to work with you to modify or redevelop this program should you see value in these concerns and recognise the serious risk of harm.

Many thanks,

Sarah Peck & Jessica Campbell

Eating disorder dietitian, mother- of-3- girls, nutritionist, medical student and size diversity & body liberation advocates.

Sarah Peck is Auckland’s Body Balance Dietitian supporting eating disorder recovery. Sarah specialises in childhood and family nutrition, food flexibility and improving relationships with food and your body.

As a non-diet approach Dietitian Sarah can support you to regain trust in your body through intuitive, mindful eating practices and self-compassion.

Sarah is available for 1:1 consultations and facilitates the in school program “Feeding our Futures” supporting teachers to engage in safe conversations about food and bodies, and the delivery of developmentally appropriate nutrition education in the classroom.

Jessica Campbell BSc PgDip, is a Non-Diet Nutritionist & Medical Student passionate about weight inclusive healthcare practices and Eating Disorder prevention & therapies. 

Jess is a New Zealand based non-diet nutritionist and owner of Body Balance Nutrition, a provider of food and body positive nutrition and dietetic care and eating disorder recovery services New Zealand wide.

Jess is active in the HAES New Zealand working group and co-facilitates the NZ Diet Free Nutrition and Health Professionals online network.

#TrendingNow: Great reads & good listens!

I’ve compiled some of my favourite articles and PODCASTs from around the interwebs on all things intuitive eating, body image and clean eating. Hope you enjoy!

If you’ve read something rad I’d love to hear about it!

1. Fat is not a feeling

Eat Well NZ Fat is not a feeling

Nicola over at Eat Well NZ wrote a beautiful article about body image and she’s also got some great tips for boosting your body image. 

Need an extra dose of body love? Check out The Girl Guide: Body Confidence Edition

2. Food can not cure or kill….(well except peanuts!)


I’m a big, big fan of Zoe Nicholson, she’s one half the Moderation Movement and an Australian Dietitian taking a nonsense line on all things nutrition. Never afraid to front up and debunk the misinformation flooding the internet, The Moderation Movement has done wonderful work to bring non-diet philosophies mainstream. Zoe (and Jodie the other half!) should be so proud of all they have achieved. I particularly enjoyed Zoe’s recent article “We must let go of this idea that food can either cure us or kill us”

3. Want to hear the research behind HAES? (And…what does politics have to do with dieting?)

You need to listen to this fantastic PODCAST from Meret, a writer and ex-radio DJ over at Life Unrestricted. Meret interviewed Dr Linda Bacon a health professor and researcher in weight-regulation science, she holds graduate degrees in physiology, psychology and exercise metabolism with a specialty in nutrition. Got doubts? Need to hear the science? This is a must listen!

4. Clean Eating: Does it work?

Ever wondered if it’s true that diet can alter the pH in your body? Sophie Medlin is a dietitian and lecturer at King’s College London. I recently stumbled upon her article scrutinising clean eating and she debunks a few of the faulty philosophies underpinning it.  You can read all about it here>>

5. Five Steps to a Summer Body


What can I say?! Fiona Sutherland nails it with this piece. She is absolutely attuned to the vulnerabilities of women struggling with body image or food relationships in the lead up to summer. Fiona can also spot a phoney being phoney baloney using non-diet dialogue to sell diet products (major respect for calling it out). 

As “Intuitive Eating” and “Mindful eating” have become increasingly popular, the diet industry and clean eating nutritionists are starting to incorporate some of these buzzwords and phrases into their programs, sales copy and websites in an attempt to stay relevant and keep pushing their bikini-body-guides! (After all everyone’s starting to realise dieting aint the way!).

I recently published this article on how to spot a diet program pretending to be a non-diet….confused? Read this>>>

If you’ve read something rad I’d love to hear about it!

Jess x

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The Girl Guide: Body Confidence Edition

A Girls Guide To Body Confidence

Up to 80% of women are unhappy with what they see in the mirror according to research published by the Social Issues Research Centre. Learning to hate our flaws and bodies starts from a young age and is programmed by popular culture and societies endless pursuit for thinness.

I’m on a mission to break the body bashing cycle.

I’ve put together my top 10 tips to help young women* find their way back to loving (or at the very least accepting) their body the way it is. You’ll be amazed at how great you can feel, how many new opportunities and experiences you are open to when you aren’t so hung up worrying about what others might be thinking about your body.

*these tips are suitable for ALL women – take what you need and adapt as necessary!


1. Drop the Shade

Don’t be a shady with yourself, if you wouldn’t say it to your best friend then girrrrl what-ya doing saying it to yourself? Stop it! Call a truce. Take note of your internal dialogue – if you’re being a nasty gal, try rephrasing what you’re saying to something positive and beautiful. You hear me?

You'll Never Sparkle Throwing Shade

2. Don’t pass judgement on anyone’s body

Passing judgement on another body or chit chatting with others about someones appearance (even if they want to) is unhelpful. To break the cycle of body bashing we need to move away from constantly talking about so-and-so’s booty or thigh gap. 

By the way….. this takes practice! Don’t expect to be perfect right away, start to notice when you’re being a nasty gal about someone else’s body (or your own), and aim to be neutral.

You got this!

Body Confidence for Girls


3. Don’t allow anyone to body shame you

Whether intentional or not, you can be body shamed one of two ways: directly “You are too fat to wear a bikini” or indirectly “you’re ordering the pasta?! Don’t you think you should be ordering a salad?”.

Regardless, nip-that-shiz-in-the-bud. You like the bikini? Great, wear it. You want to order pasta for dinner (but someone’s suggested you “should” have a salad). Phooey! Order the pasta, enjoy it.

If someone is being shady, call them into line and ask that they respect your body just the same way you respect theirs. Your body is not table talk, it’s not up for discussion or to be commented on. (PS. You don’t need to be sassy, like Doug the Pug, just explain how you feel).

Doug the Pugs Body Confidence Lessons

4. Focus on what you do like

All too often we look in the mirror and focus on the flaws or bits we don’t like. Shift your focus to what you do like about yourself. (hey….maybe your eyebrows are on fleek!).

Practice being thankful for what you do like for the next week or so.

Choose Beauty

5. Ditch your Scales

Scales are literally the worst thing ever to happen to women’s body image the world over! They weigh you. Your entire being. Muscle, bones, water, all 1.5kg of your gut bacteria (seriously), your blood, your organs, AND YOUR FAT. But we conveniently forget all of this and accept the number of the scales to represent just our fatness and allow it to be a measure of our self worth. 

Scales are a numerical reflection of your interaction with gravity. They don’t measure your intelligence, sassiness, sense of humour, passion, drive, determination, kindness or any of the hundreds of other beautiful qualities we possess as women.

My advice to anyone trying to learn to love their body or heal their relationship with food?

THROW THE SCALES OUT (or better yet take them outside and smash them up #empowered)

Ditch the Scales

6. Learn how to graciously accept a compliment

In general, we suck at accepting compliments – often playing the humble card… “oh no, I’m not…!” (Kiwi girls we’ve got the added challenge of tall poppy syndrome!).

Women and girls tend to deflect compliments, argue with them or try to immediately return a compliment with a bigger compliment (ok giiirrl, this ain’t no compliment competition).

Not sure how to accept a compliment without feeling icky? Then you should read this short how-to-guide.

How not to accept a compliment

7. Appreciate how bad-ass your body is and all the things it can do

Instead of tearing it down, focus on all the things your body can do and allows you to do on a daily basis. Keep a journal or notepad handy and jot down one or two things each day your body has allowed you experience. Say thanks!

Body Balance Nutrition Lessons in Body Confidence Body Gratitude

8. Exercise to feel good not to look better

Choose movement you love. (We have a saying in my house: If you don’t love it don’t eat it, if you love it, savour it). Just like food, your exercise choices should have you excited to be moving. If you dread the gym, or pounding away on a treadmill it’s simple…. don’t do it. Do something else, sign up for social sports team, walk the dog, walk with friends, join a sports club, go to yoga or swim. Don’t force yourself to exercise in a way that doesn’t make you happy. You will dread it and there ain’t no fun it that!

Exercise because you love your body. Lessons in Body Confidence 

9. Don’t compare your body 

Ever heard the saying “Comparison is the thief of joy”? Never has it been more true than when talking about bodies! 

Learn to look at others, seek out their greatest asset and feel great for them without feeling inadequate or jealous. We weren’t designed to all look the same, we have unique features and assets and we ought to learn to embrace others beauty whilst still feeling good in our own body.

Admire Someone Elses Beauty Without Questioning Your Own

10. Join a Girl Gang

Hah!…. not an Orange is the New Black kinda Girl Gang.

Your Girl Gang should be all about building you up and supporting each other. Life’s too short to hang around with energy vampires. Your squad is supposed to make you sparkle. 

Surround yourself with others who share common interests…. after all you become the company you keep.

Don’t settle for Regina’s.

Here’s my girl gang and these gals rock.

Body Balance Nutrition Lessons in Body Confidence Join a Girl Gang


If you know someone in your life who NEEDS to read this then I’d love you to share it with them!


5 Minutes with James Vercoe: Top tips to Tone Up

As winter draws to a close and you start thinking about enjoying long hot summer days at the beach or yummy BBQ’s with family and friends, one of the questions you may be asking yourself is how can I tone up?

There’s no simple answer to this question as there are many factors influencing our ability to loose fat and develop leaner/stronger muscle mass, what works for some women won’t for others. The key is to chose activity you enjoy.

Here are my top three tips to get you on your way to that summer body!


Are Your Beliefs Holding You Back From Losing Weight.

If following a ‘meal plan’ and sticking to the “LIST” really worked (it doesn’t) achieving and holding on to your dream bod would be simple.

Beliefs we hold about ourselves and our bodies may likely be standing between you, weight loss and a healthy relationship with food.

Our beliefs – or “the narrative” – are the stories we construct to make sense of our lives. They are so very powerful in influencing our behaviours but are often wrong and unhelpful.

Here are a few negative beliefs, or narratives you might be telling yourself…

“I’ve failed before, why would this time be any different, what’s the point in trying”

The damage from this statement is clear, you likely put off making changes for fear of failure. You might be the type of person who “will start tomorrow” or you just don’t know where to start and so not starting is easier.

Perhaps you have tried and failed to lose the weight, or you’ve been a yo-yo dieter for decades. It’s not your fault you failed. In fact you’ve been set up to fail. Diets don’t work, sure you might see results in the short term but the diet likely falls by the wayside at social occasions, or the meal plan your nutritionist gave you is boring and unrealistic (think weighing portions of food, naughty and nice lists….boring!!). Perhaps you’ve tried extreme FADs with short term success but once you have reached the target weight you fall back into your ‘normal’ eating habits and find the weight creeps back on.

Change the dialogue to: “I am ready for change, changing my habits comes with ease and I am successful”. That’s right, every time you hear the old though pattern coming to mind you repeat your new narrative.

“I am too lazy or unmotivated to lose weight, to change my eating habits, to prepare meals or to exercise” (whatever it maybe you want to achieve!).

I hear this often in clinic. Clients reveal they feel unmotivated to lose weight.

This is partly to do with previous failure or worse, committing to weight loss and working hard only to see no results!

You must question these statements.

Are you really lazy? Or are you trying to commit to exercise that doesn’t interest you?

Are you really unmotivated? Or are you exhausted, sleeping poorly and burning the candle at both ends?

Do you lack motivation because you lack clear goals or a reason to get up off the couch?

Question these statements, and identify instances where you have proved these to be wrong. Now, change the dialogue: “I am motivated, I am excited, I am energised.”

“I don’t deserve to be healthy and fit”

You may or may not be consciously aware of this narrative. For some people, years of self loathing and a terrible relationship with their body results in feelings of worthlessness and a deep belief that they are not worthy of looking and feeling great.

This belief manifests itself as emotional eating and snacking, stuffing feelings down with food. Activity and exercise are difficult to do, finding excuses not to move your body is easy to do.

Busy mums are often victim to this thought pattern – prioritising everyone around them – and neglecting their own needs (and I’m not just talking about taking a shower). A feeling of guilt is associated with taking time out for self care and having the time to exercise is considered indulgent. Interestingly, many mothers will serve healthy family meals and ensure kids are choosing appropriate snack choices only to sit on the couch in the evening and drink half a bottle of wine or eat a packet of chocolate biscuits. This isn’t a lack of knowledge! This is feeding feelings and emotions.

Change this dialogue to: “I am worthy, I deserve a body I love. I respect my body and myself to make healthful choices.”

I’ve only touched on three self-sabotaging mindsets or narratives here! There are many, many more. I encourage you to listen to your inner voice over the next few days…. is it nasty or nice? Do you have a raging inner mean girl or guy, constantly running you down with negative narrative?

I want you write down all the nasty, no-good, ‘crap’ you tell yourself in a list. Now, go back through and re-write each mindset to reflect a new positive approach. Hit “play and repeat” on your new positive narrative, it’s time to drown out the sabotaging self talk!

5 Under-rated exercises you can do at home

Stuck for ideas when it comes to exercising around the home (or hotel)? Try the following 5 super simple exercises. Slowly increase the number of reps as you find each exercise and becoming easier and aim for great technique to start with. Oh yeah…and that’s Bjorn our Body Boost Coach demonstrating below!