Chocs away

13th April 2001 at 01:00
No caffeine, no chocolate, no beer - it sounds worse than a double lesson with a class of riotous Year 8s. But that is what student teacher Deb Sutton has to go through if she wants to boost her energy levels and maximise classroom performance. James Bennett reports

I have a cauliflower floret in one hand and a Mars bar in the other. Which do you want? Rabid cries of Mars bar fill the air. But we don't want to give you that...

We all know healthy eating keeps you leaner, fitter and leaping out of bed in the morning. In a high-pressure job such as teaching, it will pay particular dividends in terms of energy and classroom performance. But how to manage it? Especially when time is short, processed comfort foods are readily available, Ofsted is on the warpath and willpower is in scarce supply.

Friday magazine introduced two strangers to each other - one from the world of teaching, the other a nutritionist - to see how they get along. In one corner is Deb Sutton, 23, a PGCE (French with German) student at Keele University; in the other, Pam Rigden, nutritionist and former national athlete, MA, BSc Hons (sports sciences).

We asked Deb, while on placement at a school, to keep a food diary, writing down everything she ate during a school week. Then we asked Pam to analyse it and, if necessary, to suggest improvements.

As the diary shows (see below), Deb made no attempt to cover up her reliance on endless cups of tea, white bread and chocolate. Not good, but probably no worse than thousands of other teachers. Pam was shocked. "No water?" she asked disbelievingly. " Mind you, I've known people who tell me they only drink water when they take paracetamol. If they drank water, they probably wouldn't need to take paracetamol."

Pam drew up a food plan (see overleaf) for Deb - with variety as her gospel. Gone are the days of the monotonous single-item diet - grapefruit, cabbage soup or slimming "milkshakes" three times a day. Pam has laid out a smorgasbord of healthy food to choose from, but Deb must vary her choices from the foods listed, many of which will, anyway, not be available at her corner shop or in the school canteen.

To tackle the problem of motivation, Pam has also taken a staggered approach, gradually introducing the new regimen on a set number of days per week.

The contrast between Deb's student teacher existence "up north" and Pam's nutritional nirvana down in London and Brighton is marked. Pam looks with disdain at the turkey pie in the school canteen relished so much by Deb:

"Turkey is a great food, low in fat and nutritious, but why incorporate it into some sort of sauce and wrap it up in pastry?" Because it's yummy, Pam.

So, will Deb manage the tofu smoothie, not to mention 25 pieces of assorted fruit and veg in a week? We'll report back later in the year with some general tips from Pam for teachers, and an account of how well Deb sticks to the diet - and the difference it makes to her home and school life.

Deb's food diary

Monday 7.30am Wake up, not very convincingly, to tea and toast with Marmite. First day of "real teaching" at new placement; plenty of time sitting in staffroom with other associate teachers panicking about lessons. 10.30am: cup of tea (no milk).

Have horrendous Year 8 lesson. Give detention for next week, and tuck into shop-bought cheese and cucumber sandwich at 12.50pm.

Home at 4.15pm. Need another cup of tea as I explain horror of Year 8 to my housemates - fellow trainees based around Stoke. Also need couple of chocolate biscuits to calm nerves.

Drag myself food shopping, so pizza for tea - always have pizza when I've been to the supermarket. 6pm: Eat whole pepperoni pizza. Drink cup of tea while planning lessons watching television - and raid emergency box of Celebrations chocolates as I'm still annoyed with Year 8. 8pm: flatmates decide we need to go for a pint. Have two.

Tuesday 7.30am Surprisingly perky. Enough time for tea and Marmite toast before school. No time for tea at school though. Having been shopping, I have made packed lunch: two chicken and tomato rolls (white), black cherry yoghurt and a chocolate crispie cake. Then back to the classroom for afternoon onslaught.

Home at 4.15pm, have two cups of tea and a chocolate digestive with the daily analysis of school. 6.30pm: cook pasta for tea, with half a jar of chunky vegetable sauce and cheese.

Flatmate heads for campus shop and I order a Yorkie. Goes nicely with a cup of tea (7.30pm). Watch a bit of TV, sink another tea (9pm).

Wednesday 7.45am Wake-up cup of tea but no toast; running late. End up teaching a Year 11 German lesson I wasn't expecting, so my lunchtime spectacular of two chicken rolls, chocolate crispie cake, raspberry yoghurt and apple comes as a pleasant relief (12.45pm). Rush home - Year 11 parents' evening to go back for. Over the post-mortem cup of tea (4pm) a housemate offers to cook me chilli. Tuck into big plate at 5.30pm.

Back from parents' evening at 8pm and have tea and a bar of milk chocolate before going out with friends. Have a couple of Cokes before making for bed.

Thursday 7.45am No toast again but tea wakes me up a bit. No time to make sandwiches - in a rush to get to school and photocopy - so a school dinner instead. Turkey pie with mashed potato and sweetcorn, followed by date and apricot crumble with custard (love custard).

2.30pm: cup of tea.

6pm: have the two rolls I couldn't be bothered to make this morning for tea - with cheese, chicken and cucumber, a crispie cake and an apple, washed down with two cups of tea. Another cup of tea later in the evening to accompany lesson planning (9pm).

Friday 7.30am Toast and TES. Buy sandwiches at paper shop. Only 7E to cope with before lunch so I feel I don't deserve my egg mayonnaise sandwiches and apple, but I eat them anyway. Do photocopying for last lesson, then have tea while typing up lesson plans for next week.

Home at 4.15pm, quick cup of tea, couple of chocolate digestives, and do some work before cooking more pasta with rest of chunky vegetable sauce at 5.30pm.

Off to Guides, where we decorate biscuits. I sample one, but the blue icing puts me off having more. Head to the bar to find housemates. Have a Coke and couple of pints of bitter.

How is Deb doing?

Deb was about right in terms of calorie intake over the five days, but the fat content fluctuates from 124 per cent to only 75 per cent of the daily requirement, writes Pam Rigden. Weight gain and poor blood sugar management, and hence low energy levels, are the likely consequences.

Protein intake is far too high and relies too heavily on animal sources such as hard cheese, resulting in a high fat, especially saturated fat, content: 32 per cent of Deb's calories is derived from fat while the maximum recommended is around 30 per cent. No more than 10 per cent should come from saturated fat sources and Deb's diet exceeds this by 3 per cent. This means her intake of cholesterol is too high, which could have serious implications in the long term.

Her intake of polyunsaturates (good fats) is low. She could address this by changing the protein sources in the diet as per my recommendations. This will also increase her intake of vitamin A, currently low.

Carbohydrate content is lower than ideal, and consists mainly of refined starches and sugars. This means Deb is likely to have problems associated with poor blood sugar management, such as energy highs followed by depressing lows, exacerbated by her heavy reliance on caffeine. She needs to replace these with complex sources of carbohydrate, which release energy slowly and are more nutritious. Her salt intake, currently too high, will also drop.

Sadly, fruit and vegetables, apart from the occasional apple, don't feature, which explains why she doesn't take in enough fibre and vitamin C. While the Government recommends five portions a day, nutritionists recommend more and that we have as much variety as possible.

Finally, Deb appears to drink no water and relies heavily on tea, Coke and the odd beer. All dehydrate the body. We need to drink three to four litres of water a day. My clients' energy levels improve almost immediately when they start drinking water.

I recommend that Deb:

* Start drinking water. Begin with one litre a day in week 1, two in week 2, up to three in week 3. Have an extra litre for any one hour of exercise.

* Give up tea and Coke during the week. Substitute with herbal teas or hot water with lemon juice. Try to restrict yourself to one cup of tea a day at the weekend and cut the Coke.

* Try to restrict chocolate and alcohol to weekends only.

* Remember to snack. Snacking is good provided you eat the right things - not chocolate digestives. Aim to eat six times a day.

Pam Rigden works in London and Brighton and offers nutritional analysis by phone or email. She can be contacted on 07050 227107 or at

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