It’s time to ditch the post-colonial diet and get back to our roots

Traditional health messages have not gained traction with those who need to prioritise their health the most, Annah Stretton says.

In 2016 Annah Stretton, well known fashion designer and social entrepreneur set out to design a wellness programme that would not only break through the apathy that so many New Zealanders have around their health status, but it would also challenge much of the rhetoric and metrics that the mainstream health and fitness industry spends millions of dollars every year churning out.

“Traditional health messages have simply not reached and/or gained traction with those who need to prioritise their health the most,” Stretton says. “All they’ve done is perpetuate boom to bust dieting and exercise fads that don’t acknowledge cultural diversity or even affordability and therefore never bring about lasting change.

“Maori and Pacific Island cultures have such a different relationship to body image and food than what is being pitched at them in mainstream media. Food is not something to be obsessed over or abstained from, instead, it’s a powerful symbol of love and connection for sharing with whanau and the community.”

But where the issues have arisen is in the quality of food being shared. Increasingly ‘kai’ consists of a post-colonial rich diet of processed food and beverage and that is taking a huge toll on the health status of these communities. Obesity has become the new normal and it’s now surfacing at very young ages, Stretton says.

So, what’s the answer? Two years into her mission and having just completed a successful pilot with Te Whakaruruhau Maori Women’s Refuge, Kia Puāwai, the charitable trust that Annah has set up to deliver her wellness programme, are claiming success.

The Kia Puāwai motto is ‘gain health, not weight’ through slow and steady ‘edits’ to an individual’s existing lifestyle and it seems to be resonating with participants.

“Kia Puāwai’s programme really works for the Refuge team because it is not a diet or exercise programme. We’ve had the diet and exercise messages before and they don’t work. The culture shift in the team has been remarkable so I’d give Kia Puāwai’s programme 5 out of 5,” Renee from Waikato Women’s Refuge says.

The 13-week programme is based around three core principles – Nutrition, Movement and Mind with a 60% weighting on the Mind because the body achieves what the mind believes.

“In a nutshell, it’s about helping people make small changes in their lifestyle to achieve better health and wellbeing rather than giant leaps into the unknown and uncomfortable. It doesn’t push diets, exercise plans or supplements, it measures wellness rather than weight and it acknowledges and respects cultural diversity,” Stretton says.

To find out more about Kia Puāwai and/or enrol in an upcoming programme visit kiapuawai.org.nz