Tumbler Ridge rethinks what it means to be healthy

Residents of Tumbler Ridge are being asked to rethink their eating habits with the “Eating Well and Being Healthy in Tumbler Ridge” diet and lifestyle guide, and those who sign on said they are seeing results.

“It’s a remarkable thing – it’s ridiculously easy, but the results are amazing,” said Dr. Charles Helm, who put the guide together with support from the Tumbler Ridge Health Centre Hospital Foundation. “It’s so simple to do, and I just feel bad because I’ve given people the wrong advice,” said Helm. “With the best of intentions, I’ve given people the wrong advice and bad advice over 30 years in medical practice, and I’m trying to turn that around now.”

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Helm said he was accustomed to giving out the mainstream information on dieting, focused on cutting down on fats – in turn, he said, this often leads to an increase in sugar consumption.

“It was plain in front of our eyes that whatever advice we were giving wasn’t working, because year by year, decade by decade, we were getting into more trouble with obesity and the complications of it,” said Helm. “The whole thing requires a rethink and collectively, the medical profession, we have to have the courage to say what we’re doing wasn’t working, and how do we change it?”

The paleo-inspired eating plan that is outlined in a pamphlet for customers at Helm’s office to pick up focuses on eating fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish and lean meats and cutting out refined sugars and processed foods. “The single most important thing is that we are eating about 100 times more sugar than our ancestors did,” said Helm.

The guide suggests that juices should be avoided completely, and cautions that foods that are touted as healthy, such as yogurt, can often have high levels of added sugars.

Helm adds an alliterative reminder of other foods to be wary of: cakes, cookies, crackers, candies, and potato, pasta, pizza, pastries, processed food and pop.

“I like to tell people, if your grandma would recognize it as a vegetable, fruit and meat, then eat that,” he said. “If it’s a funny, processed-looking thing that grandma wouldn’t recognize, stay away.”

Helm said the suggested guide is not as restrictive as some paleo diets, noting that things like bread, cereal and rice should be limited but are OK in moderation. Stricter paleo diets also bar milk, but Helm suggested people should consider whether their body handles milk well or not rather than cutting it out unnecessarily.

Within the paleo diet, Helm said a great deal of research has been put into the way eating habits have changed through the years and the subsequent effects.

“It’s more logical and intuitive than any other eating plan, because we look at evidence and ask questions and think on long-term scales; not just where we are today, but how did we get here and what has happened over the last couple of million years?” said Helm. “What have we been eating and what are the changes that have been made?”

Seeing that over-restriction can lead to yo-yo dieting and unsuccessful attempts, Helm said they have incorporated the principles of the paleo diet with leeway and latitude.

“We really have thought this through for ourselves and looked at the best evidence,” he said.

As for those who have given the program a try, Helm has had a positive response, with some patients really taking the principles to heart.

“It’s going extremely well,” said Charissa Tonnesen, who has lost approximately 45 pounds since taking to the program in March. “I have tried other things before, to eat reasonably and exercise, and lost a bit of weight here and there, but not this quickly.”

Tonnesen said she initially thought she would try to follow the guide, but had low expectations of results. Then, she said, she started to lose weight, her energy levels increased and she never felt like she was starving.

“I see it as a lifestyle modification rather than a crash diet,” she said.

Helm encouraged people to be skeptical and consider whether the lifestyle change is for them.

“Give it a try for a month and see how you feel and that should be enough to convince you that what we’re putting forward is the right thing,” said Helm.

“There’s no hidden agenda – we’re not trying to sell you something – we just want you to be healthy because we’re your doctors.”  


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