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Business women start Brain Smart Talks

18 March 2015

Melinda Overall Nutrition

There are some jobs in life where it is impossible not to indulge - consciously or subconsciously - in puns. Nutrition provides a gut-full and Melinda Overall (below right) has heard them all.

Mercilessly teased for her surname, Melinda says when it comes to combining it with her business -  Overall Nutrition - it has really paid off.

“I spent 25 years in HR with a specific focus on Health and Wellbeing programs before becoming a qualified nutritionist. Now I teach about 520 students a semester, run a private practice, speak at corporate events and, most recently, I’ve begun a business Brain Smart Talks with Dr Nicola Gates (below left).”

Nicola Gates  Melinda Overall Head

Nicola Gates is a Registered Psychologist and Clinical Neuropsychologist. Her career has focussed on promoting optimal brain, mind and body health. Her priority is building resilience and mindful awareness, and reducing risk of the four ‘Ds’ in life – depression, disease, dementia and disability. Increased risk of the four Ds, she believes, is largely due to lifestyle.

Melinda’s passion is supporting people to obtain optimal health through diet and lifestyle, and applying food as medicine.

Cognition and mental health, Melinda points out, are two very different things but both are affected by nutrition, which most importantly includes lifestyle.

“Research shows nutrition supports mental health, and when you consider our brains use about 25 percent of the calories we consume to function, it becomes very obvious that supporting the brain through good nutrition is going to be very important for cognitive development as well,” says Melinda.

Brain Smart Talks present to a broader audience the connection between brain and gut and how good mental and cognitive health is supported by nutrition. Children and nutrition and brain health is one important area on which the business focusses. It’s also focussing on adults and particularly women, who go through a number of life stage/hormonal phases including pregnancy, children, menopause and aging.

“Nicola has a theory that there is a dementia tsunami is building. Her clinical experience is proving to her that dementia is setting in earlier. Stress, alcohol, poor lifestyle choices - including not exercising - add to our growing rates of depression and dementia.

“As a nutritionist,” continues Melinda, “it’s important for me to understand what people do to relax, what exercise, what activities. Relaxation helps regulate the stress response while our food provides us with the micro-nutrients we need for our bodies and brains to work their best.

“Depression has been shown to have strong links with diet, and there is growing research showing how probiotics can support the treatment of anxiety and depression. We are beginning to understand bio-directional communication access, the fact that our gut instinct is real.”

Research into the operation of the vagus (10th cranial) nerve - which emerges at the back of the skull and goes down to the abdomen, stomach and legs - supports Melinda’s assertion about gut instinct. The nerve, among other things, is “responsible for keeping the digestive tract in working order, contracting the muscles of the stomach and intestines to help process food, and sending back information about what is being digested and what the body is getting out of it”.

The key message for anyone, according to Melinda, is that at those times when you are really busy, most stressed or anxious - and you let your nutrition slip - those are the times you need to be most disciplined around what you do and how you eat.

Chucking everything in your pantry out and repurchasing isn’t necessary. There are simpler strategies. For example, Melinda has a client who never eats breakfast or lunch but prepares these meals for her kids every day: “I’ve said to her: when you prepare their sandwiches, prepare one for yourself. It’s that simple and very soon it becomes long term.”

She also believes spending time fasting is good for your body and that sleep affords that time. In relation to the popular 8/16; 10/14 regimes – where people eat for eight or 10 hours, and fast for 16 or 14 – Melinda believes the intermittent fasting gives the body a rest, allowing it to enter relaxation and reset mode.

“Our haste-driven lives - wanting to get lots of things done now - mean we often eat late, after 8pm, and then at the other end of the day, and again in our haste to get things done, we start really early often eating before 8am. It just doesn’t let the body catch up, reset and relax.”

Brain Smart Talks recently held an event for women approaching or experiencing menopause. Marketed through Facebook and their contacts, Melinda and Nicola were pleased with the success and found the experience eye-opening themselves.

“The media gives us snippets about how hormones and lifestyle affect us as women, and the research is at worst misquoted and at best half-explained. There are so many strategies you can employ - nutritionally and through attitude - to support you through hormonal changes such as menopause.

“Both Nicola and I are associated with Golden Door in relation to our respective areas of practice and they’ve asked us to hold a weekend in the Hunter Valley in June on women’s health and wellbeing. We are calling it Health, Hormones and Happiness. It will take a very holistic approach.”