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A healthy diet does not have to involve sacrifices - interview with Katarzyna Błażejewska-Stuhr, guest of the 5th ŚFN

The word diet sounds ominous. It is associated with sacrifices, holding back from eating tasty foods, time-consuming meal preparation, and expensive ingredients. However, eating healthy does not have to involve sacrifices, and tasty dishes can be prepared quickly without having to slim down your wallet. Katarzyna Błażejewska- Stuhr, a clinical dietician and psychodietitian, co-founder of the foundation "Kobiety bez diety" [lit. Women without a diet], as well as the author of several books on healthy eating and a guest of the 5th KATOWICE Silesian Science Festival, convinces us that a healthy diet is not as scary as we might think.

Work, studies, children, home - people in today's world are increasingly busy and even if they wanted to prepare a healthy meal, they often do not have enough time or energy to do so. Out of convenience and the desire to save time, they are more likely to reach for fast foods than to prepare a nutritious dish on their own. Are we able to eat well in such a fast-paced lifestyle?

– Absolutely. I myself am a mother and a wife, I work and I also have a lot of interesting activities that I prefer to do than sit in the kitchen. I'm all for taking less time to prepare a meal, so I like to cook a dish that I divide into portions and then freeze. Using a few similar tricks makes it easier to implement a healthy eating style. For example, meal planning works well when I'm out, in between activities and hungry. Fast foods often seem like the best option when we have little choice, so going out hungry is a big risk to our healthy eating. If we plan this in advance and take with us at least a packet of peanuts, chestnuts, or an apple, it will be a little easier to survive. If once in a while you eat something that is not so healthy, nothing bad will happen, but if low-quality food becomes a habit, it will affect your health and well-being.

So it is better to choose one day when you prepare a set of meals for the whole week than to do it every day

– Yes, definitely. I think that only those who are passionate about cooking are able to enjoy spending several hours a day in the kitchen. I have a lot of ready-made frozen products - vegetables or soups - because it takes 10-15 minutes at most to prepare them. When I get home, I can quickly prepare such a dish for myself. This is much better than making a cheese sandwich in a hurry, which will be much less nutritious.

Does city life encourage or discourage healthy eating? On the one hand, the availability of supermarkets means that most products are easy to purchase, but does quantity go hand in hand with quality?

– This is not always the case. I try to shop at farmers' markets or cooperatives. The latter have grown a lot during the pandemic. It's worth finding them in your area. Although there are many shops with healthy food in the cities, I think it is better to look for a place where the products are cheaper but of good quality. It is good to be guided by taste. If vegetables or fruit don’t taste good, it should be a signal for us that they probably do not have sufficient nutritional value either.

Bohaterka wywiadu ubrana w ciemnoróżową suknię trzyma w prawej ręce czerwone jabłko

Photo from the private archives of Katarzyna Błażejewska-Stuhr


The term healthy food sounds rather extravagant to many sceptics. This belief is often reinforced by the price. A product with the "organic" label may be much more expensive than ordinary food. In short: Can Poles afford organic food?

– You have to be aware that organic farming has to be more expensive because a farmer who does not use chemicals and artificial fertilisers has smaller crops and is at greater risk of losing them in the event of, for example, potato blight. Of course, we are taking our financial capabilities into consideration, but we also need to bear in mind that if we do not invest in our health now, we will probably have to invest in treatment later. Let us try to make the best decisions possible. The more we choose organic products and 'vote with our fork', the bigger the organic market will be and the cheaper the products will become.

Many people are convinced that a person on a diet is a martyr and that the diet itself is synonymous with suffering. But healthy eating doesn't have to involve constant sacrifice, does it?

– I am one of the founders of the “Kobiety bez diety” foundation, which takes a stand against the restrictive approach to nutrition and treats dieting as a sacrifice. Food is hugely important - it affects our health and well-being as well as the world we live in. I wish people deciding to go on a diet to lose weight would treat it more as a long-term change in eating habits rather than a short, restrictive diet. Research shows that the latter end in a defeat in 80-90% of cases and in a long-term increase in body weight. Since I am a psychodietetitian, I know how to face various challenges and make them easier to overcome. Even just a thought of us being forbidden to eat something can cause us to obsess about it and become unhappy as a result - and we will eventually give up and reach for that food product. But, if we start with enriching our diet with more vegetables - without removing anything, just adding - then we will end up changing our eating habits with the confidence that we are doing something good for ourselves and that we are giving ourselves something and not just taking away all the pleasurable things. 

So, here is the question: can we convince meat-eaters to give up meat? People who love fried chicken or sausages often are aware that animal agriculture is damaging to the planet and that these products are not good for their health, but they just taste much better to them.

– Indeed, that is the fact of the matter, but even the planetary health diet does not exclude meat altogether, it allows small amounts of it. Personally, I prefer the idea of the so-called green Mondays, which boils down to taking a break from meat every Monday and eating it during the rest of the week. This way I have the opportunity to test new plant-based recipes. I think that replacing meat products with plant-based products might prove difficult because lentil or tofu patties will not taste the same as a cutlet made from pork or chicken breast. But you can try completely different foods such as baked beans in tomato sauce without sausage but with fried tofu. Suddenly I realise that I have survived that Monday and it turned out to be not so difficult. You can reduce your meat consumption little by little and not declare that you will not eat a single gram of meat ever again, because that just puts certain limits on your mind. Changes need to be taken step by step and without a shock to your body.

So, veggie burgers probably won’t be enough to convince people to go vegetarian?

– They can be tasty too, but if we are set on looking for substitutions, we can easily become disappointed. Plant-based products taste different and have a different consistency, but recently there are more and more products that imitate meat products nearly perfectly.

Does educating Poles on healthy eating bring positive effects or are we a tough crowd?

– It’s a difficult topic. We are knowledgeable and curious, but sometimes too much information can complicate things. Of course, we are seeing some changes, but I would like them to occur a little quicker.

Na scenie siedzą bohaterka wywiadu oraz dwóch współrozmówców

A meeting with Katarzyna Błażejewska-Stuhr during the 5th ŚFN. Photo by Matylda Klos


Drawing on your experiences and observations, how do you asses the increasingly popular interest in healthy and ecological foods? Is it a genuine care for one’s own health and the future of the planet or just an aesthetic?

– In Poland, this trend continues for at least a couple of years now. Just take a look at the number of culinary shows in the tv programme. Although many of those shows are not strictly about eating healthy, they exist in near proximity to those topics. I think that this trend is here to stay. Unfortunately, our desire to seek new things is so strong that it creates a huge potential for abuse and exploitation of people’s curiosity.  Month by month, magazines publish different recipes for a new, innovative, and apparently the best, diet. I don’t know if the topic would become so popular if they would constantly write that we need to eat vegetables and fruits, drink water, and exercise. It would be quite boring, to be frank, and no one would read such a column on a regular basis. Victims of such a thoughtless approach to miracle diets often become patients at dieticians' offices.

In that case, where should we look for reliable sources of knowledge and how to not get lost in this influx of information?

– You should pick 2 to 3 trusted bloggers or authors of books on eating healthy and focus on them instead of jumping from one to another. You need to keep in mind that the profession of a dietician in Poland is not regulated by law, so someone can become one after finishing five-year studies at the Medical University of Warsaw, as I did, or just finish a one-year course. It’s worth checking the experience of the expert we are taking advice from. Setting a hard-to-accomplish goal such as losing 14 kg in 10 days is a red flag as well. Our body cannot change this fast, and even if we take weight loss supplements, we need to wait about a month to see any effects. We should remain patient and see everything through a realistic lens. Dieting also should not cause a sense of guilt, so if keeping up with someone's recommendations worsens our well-being, it is a sign that it might not be something worth pursuing. It's important that we treat ourselves with kindness and care.

If you were to give us the three most essential rules for eating healthy, what would they be?

– To eat vegetables - add them to your meals, drink lots of water, and try to plan out your meals. 

Thank you for the interview.

This interview was conducted by Weronika Cygan

The was published in print in the "Gazeta Uniwersytecka UŚ (University of Silesia Magazine)" (issue 2 [292] November 2021).

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