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.

In the Media: What’s In, What’s Out

I can report that there is still a little happy dance in my office when I see my work go to print! In this edition of Living Well Magazine – I dish up this years Food Trends.

Words I’m extremely pleased to see in print: coconut everything is on it’s way out, as is “clean-eating” (can I get a wooooh!)

Booming on to the scene are the Non-diet philosophies, close to my heart – Intuitive Eating and the ultimate girl gang The Moderation Movement (not that they’ve got anything against blokes joining the gang of course!… as a side note if you’re a man looking for some diet-free support I highly recommend you get acquainted with diet free Dietitian Aaron Flores one half the Dietitan’s Unplugged Podcast.)

Trending this year are meat-alternatives, so best you familiarise yourself with jackfruit & cricket flour! Seaweed has stolen kale’s “green queen” crown and teetotalism is taking off!

Read all about it on pages 14-15 below. Jx

Reader above not working? You can read the magazine online here >>

Want a hard copy? Pop into your closet Unichem or Life Pharmacy and pick up a copy!

5 Lessons I’ve Learned in 5 Years.

Lessons in Private Practice


DEC, 2016

Last week I had the pleasure of speaking at the Postgraduate and Early Career Nutrition Conference in Christchurch.

I spoke about my experiences in Private Practice, sharing 5 lessons I’ve learned (often the hard way!) these past 5 years.

In follow up to that talk I’ve put together a 15 page workbook, to help new nutrition professionals considering private practice.

It was a great day, with the morning session dedicated to the presentation of dietetic and nutrition student research in a supportive environment. I was particularly excited to hear the research coming out of the University of Otago around body image and dietary restraint. Rachel Bensely and Rachel Kerr both presented their Dietetic Theses in this area.

“Craziness breeds opportunity. In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity” – Bron King

Bronwen King, the keynote speaker, addressed the room of new or recent graduates about the challenges we face as nutrition professionals in a world full of instagram nutritionists and celebrity gurus. It truly is a case of just because you eat and operate a colon does not give you the authority to advise others on their health and nutrition!

In this challenging environment working as private practice nutritionists we need all the help we can get to stand out and shine brighter than our less qualified (and often more vocal) competitors. This 15 page workbook presents 5 practical tips for university qualified nutritionists and dietitian’s considering a foray in private practice.

In the Media: To Eat or Not to Eat?

A big thank you to Living Well Magazine for inviting me to write about Intuitive Eating for their Summer Issue! As always, I am stoked to see it in print and thrilled to be sharing the diet-free message with y’all!

Hope you enjoy. Jx

Oats…Rolled, Quick or Steel Cut?

Oats are a delicious, filling breakfast option and versatile all year round. Perfect in winter served hot with grated apple, raisins and cinnamon or cold in summer as overnight oats with berries and greek yoghurt.

Oats are high in fibre and are also low GI so are sure to keep you energised throughout the morning (with steel cut and rolled oats lower GI than the slightly more refined quick oats). Oats are a heart healthy food, high in fibre – specifically beta glucan fibre – and may help to reduce cholesterol levels associated with poorer cardiovascular health.

You might have noticed the oats section of the cereal aisle growing in recent years. I thought I’d take a look to see what the differences are and how best to use each.


What’s the difference between rolled, quick and steel cut oats?

All oats start off as oat groats — the heavy part of the oat once the whole grain has been dehulled. Before being processed into any other variety of oat, Harraways groats are dry heat treated giving them their nice toasty flavour. Heat also inactivates the enzyme that causes oats to go rancid, making them more shelf-stable.


Rolled Oats

Rolled Oats

These look like flat little ovals. When processing these oats, they are steamed first, and then rolled to flatten them this helps to stabilise the oils within the oat so they stay fresh longer. Rolled oats take longer to cook than quick oats but are quicker than traditional steel-cut oats. They are best prepared stove top with milk and water for a thick creamy porridge. Rolled oats are also frequently used in baking, particularly as the feature ingredient in ANZAC biscuits and muesli bars.

Quick Oats

Quick Oats

Essentially the same as rolled oats, quick oats are rolled thinner and steamed longer so they are quick to cook (usually 3-4 minutes in the microwave). Quick oats look a little flakier than whole rolled oats but create a deliciously creamy porridge in a matter of minutes. If substituting rolled oats with quick oats in baking be sure to adjust your cooking time as they won’t require quite so long!

Steel Cut Oats

Steel Cut Oats

These are oat groats cut into two or three pieces with a sharp metal blade. They cook quicker than whole groats, because water can more easily penetrate the smaller pieces. Steel cut oats are also known as Irish oatmeal and look almost like small pieces of chopped rice. This variety when prepared and cooked traditionally take the longest of the supermarket oat varieties to cook, have a chewy texture and retain their shape even when cooked.

Steel cut oats are often considered the ‘healthiest’ or most wholesome of the three major breakfast varieties due to their minimal processing.


The great news is Harraways (made here in Dunedin!) have recently released a new range of 3 minute steel cut oats, available in Original, Apple & Honey or Brown Sugar, Cinnamon & Sultana flavours. Be sure to pop these microwaveable steelies in a deep bowl when preparing as they have a tendency to rise and bubble over!

I’ve teamed up with Harraways to give-away a breakfast prize pack. All you need to do is jump over to the Body Balance Nutrition facebook page and enter the competition there!

** Please note: this give-away is only open to New Zealand readers**

Living Well – Issue 3: Mood Boosters, Life Lessons & Breaking Bad Habits

Read the magazine online here >>

In this quarters issue of Living Well Magazine I share my tips for breaking bad habits and I’m also one of 5 wellness experts sharing a life lesson – mine is on MOOD BOOSTING foods – why? because heck, who wants to live life 1. not enjoying food and 2. under a grey gloomy cloud.

There’s a great piece on 3 women living with arthritic diseases and I really enjoyed reading about fertility boosters from Dr Mary Birdsall over at Fertility Associates and Dr Paul Henderson from Kate Sheppard Obstetrics/Midwifery. (his advice if you’re trying to conceive: ditch stress! After all taking a “holiday to Rarotonga and ending up pregnant is cliche for a reason”).

Read the magazine online here >>