All Posts By

Lara Gray

Goal Setting for the New Year and Beyond

Goal Setting for 2022

As the year ends, many of us begin to think about our goals for the new year and beyond. Many of us will also fail to keep some of our resolutions and achieve our goals. 

Do not fear, this is perfectly normal. Psychologists use several approaches to help you in changing and sustaining a new behaviour. One such approach is the use of SMART goals. SMART goals are said to be achievable because they are 

  • S – Specific 
  • M – Measurable 
  • A – Achievable 
  • R – Relevant 
  • T – Time-bound (or Trackable).

For example, if you don’t get any exercise and would like to improve your fitness, instead of setting “become more fit” as a goal, try to use the SMART goal of “walk 7000 steps at least 3 times a week” as your initial aim – of course it needs to be achievable considering your current level of fitness, and you can adjust it as your fitness improves. 

However, no matter how SMART our goals are, some of us fail to achieve them. Part of the problem may be that we have too many different goals that end up overwhelming us, so we soon give up. Another, deeper problem may be that the goals we set do not align with our authentic values; we pursue them without questioning whether this is really what we want to do with our lives.

Indeed, one important (and sometimes ignored) aspect of SMART goal setting is “Relevance”. 

Is this goal relevant to how I want to live my life? Is it aligned with my authentic values?  Considering our values are also important when we have many different goals, and we need to prioritise and direct our attention to the most important ones. 

How do we know if our goals are aligned with our authentic values? 

Psychology Professor Steven Hayes, the creator of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) suggests that there is an important difference between goals and values. Goals are things we want to achieve. We may want to run a marathon, get married by a certain age, have 3 children, earn a certain amount of money, have a house in a certain suburb, etc. 

Goals can be seen as signposts on a certain path we travel in life. 

However, what is the direction of that path? The direction is given by our values. When we set goals that are consistent with our values, their purpose is meaningful to us. 

Keeping our values in mind helps even when, for whatever reason, we do not achieve our goals. For example, we might say that having loving, loyal, kind relationships is an important value to us. Our goals may never materialise: maybe we won’t get married, maybe we won’t have children, either by choice or because of reasons outside of our control. But we can still have loving relationships in our lives. We can choose to act in a loving way right now with our friends or with our family of origin. We can choose to be patient and kind to the stranger who slows us down in traffic. We can live consistent with our values, irrespective of whether we meet our set goals or not.  

Keeping our values in mind helps us travel the path we chose without the pressure and stress that sometimes can result from living our lives from one goal to another. It frees us from defining our lives in terms of a series of successes and failures and helps us keep the ‘big picture’ of who we want to be in mind. 


Dr Marianna Szabo is a Clinical Psychologist, a leading expert in Mindfulness and a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Sydney. 

Expert Q&A: Introducing Dr Kate Edwards

1) Could you tell us a little about your career and areas of expertise/interest? 

My research career has been in looking at how exercise affects health through its actions on immune function. My PhD and early work focused on vaccinations and how exercise can boost your immune response and reduce the adverse effects you experience. In recent years I’ve also developed a line of work in oncology, using exercise to improve treatment outcomes during chemo and immunotherapy, and again, reducing the side effects of treatment (exercise really is a wonder drug!).


2) What drew you to this line of work/research in the first place? 

I studied Biochemistry at University but by the end of my degree wanted to get out of ‘the petri dish’. I found that I loved the study and life at uni but wanted to do things that everyone on every corner of the street could relate to. That’s how I found myself doing a PhD in a Sport Science department, they liked me as I brought lab skills to measurements from experiments, and I liked it as I got to work with real-life people. After PhD I had an opportunity to work in research in California for a few years, and about 10 years ago moved here to Sydney to teach and research in my current position. Some could say I’d followed the sun, but it’s not hard to find more than I used to see in England.


3) How do you look after your own physical and mental wellbeing?

A long time ago I played international-level sport, so exercise and sport have been part of my life forever. Sport looks after a lot of my wellbeing because of the social support and interaction that it provides as well as the running around. Whenever moving to a new place (and I’ve done that a lot) the way I made friends was to join a team. Exercise training for a long time was what I did to help me play sport, but now it’s a habit, I feel worse if I’m not moving, which motivates me to move!  


4) Do you have a favourite post-workout cafe?

No, I’m a universal coffee lover, I enjoy an instant coffee and a real one similarly!


5) What is one thing you wish people knew about wellbeing? 

Exercise does as much for mental health as it does for physical health.


6) What is one of the most ridiculous things you’ve read or seen about wellbeing that you know to be untrue?

Current discussions about vaccination safety is a hot-bed of miss-truths and misunderstanding.


7) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or websites on health or wellbeing that you’d recommend?

Current hot topic is ‘The Long Shot’ discussing the development of the COVID vaccinations, and I often find gems of episodes among the RadioLab series.


8) What is your top tip for living a healthy and happy life? 

Most of the time Grandma was right – meals are best home-made, eat/drink everything in moderation, and walk everyday and you’ll do pretty well.


Staying Healthy at Home

Many Australians are presently working from home. Cutting the travel time to and from work provide opportunities to spend that time doing other things we wouldn’t ordinarily have time for. But working at home can be a disruption to normal routines that we all tend to thrive on. One of the most common sentiments I hear as extended holidays draw to a close is that many actually look forward to having the routine that the work life brings. Lack of regularity is just one of several challenges being house bound presents us. With that in mind, I offer six suggestions to stay healthy and sane whist working from home for this next, unspecified period of time.


  1. Keep a regular sleep/wake schedule: Not having to wake up at a specific time to catch the bus to work and merely having to open the computer to start our day can allure us into creating haphazard sleeping schedules. Humans have evolved to keep regular sleep/wake, light/dark rhythms that rewards us with vitality, productivity and energy when we observe these regular sleep-wake cycles. This period of physical isolation allows us to firmly entrench an 8-hour sleep opportunity and circadian rhythm that we might never have again, as going out to restaurants and other entertainment is off the cards for the foreseeable future. Decide what time you would like to wake each day, work back 8-hours, allowing an extra 30 or so minutes for wind down, shower, intimacy and so on. Remembering to use bright lights in the morning hours and dim light in the period before bed. Then stick to this schedule every day. 


  1. Respect work/life balance: in our parents and grandparent’s day, for the vast majority, there were no mobile phones, computers and internet. Once the work day was done, adults did not go home and keep working until all hours.  Now that we are house bound and have access to emails on our phones, there can be a strong temptation to essentially work 7 days a week, without truly respecting down time. It would be wise to maintain ‘office hours’ and ‘personal hours’, where, during the latter, the phone and computer are off to work and on to family, friends and entertainment. 


  1. Set an exercise schedule: just as we have group exercise classes, personal training and running clubs, keeping a scheduled daily exercise regime (especially in the morning before work hours) is critical to maintaining momentum and not falling off the bandwagon during this time we are at home. Here are several suggestions:
  • Talking a 5 to 10-minute walk after meals aids blood sugar control and the energy slump we often get mid-afternoon. This is a very little time investment but has a huge potentially to make us feel great and energised;
  • Aim to walk in nature several times a week, so we don’t develop cabin fever from doing everything indoors.
  • Exercise every day and alternate hard (see next point) with easy sessions, such as walking and jogging;
  • Use time efficient modes of interval training, such as stair or hill runs, as the ‘hard’ sessions. Aim to accumulate at least 10 minutes of high-intensity work in these sessions. After a 5-minute warm-up, finding a hill or stairs it takes about a minute to reach the top, tackle these 10 times with a slow walk back down. Skipping is another tremendous exercise mode, where you would aim to do a similar workout (10 x 60-seconds of skipping with, say, 30-seconds rest in between);
  • Set up a body weight circuit three times a week. An example of a circuit might be: squats, push-ups, lunges, abdominal planks and skipping. Do each exercise for 60-seconds, moving quickly on to the next exercise. Rest a minute at the end of the circuit, and perform five rounds of the circuit, 


  1. Use house bound time wisely: This unusual time provides us with the perfect opportunity to work on aspects of health and fitness that we do no ordinarily have time for, such as stretching, trigger point work or foam rolling, deep breathing and meditation. It can be as simple as a 5-minute stretch, foam roll or deep breathing while you make your morning coffee or tea. It’s another healthy habit that takes basically no extra time from your day but doing it regularly will make you feel great.


  1. Be mindful of eating ‘as something to do’: Most people working from home have already worked this out – we eat because we are bored, procrastinating or as something to do. So that we all don’t gain unwanted weight over this time, it would be helpful to set an eating schedule that we stick to every day and avoid mindless walks into the kitchen to snack.


  1. Stay connected: It has already been observed that the phase ‘social distancing’ is unhelpful and the term ‘physical distancing’ might be more appropriate. We are very used to seeing people at work, on the bus or after work. This, for the time being, has largely stopped. Rather than just texting people, make the time during ‘personal hours’ try to use FaceTime, Skype and Zoom as a way of connecting with others, especially those really affected by isolation, such as the elderly. Try to call people as well, rather than texting. In this way, those who are more affected by physical distancing will feel a much greater sense of connection, which is far better for everyone’s mental health.


Dr Tony Boutagy is an Exercise Physiologist with a PhD in exercise and sports science from Charles Darwin University. He’s conducted over 50,000 training sessions in his career that has spanned 25 years, and is regarded as one of the premier personal trainers in the country. 

The Four Horsemen of the Relationship Apocalypse

Having a happy, supportive romantic relationship is an important source of life satisfaction for most people. However, relationships can also be hard work, and are often a source of frustration and distress. It is no wonder then that nearly half of all marriages end in divorce. But is it possible to know what predicts divorce?

Professor John Gottman at the University of Washington was one of the first psychologists who did so successfully. In several research studies, Gottman and his colleagues observed newlywed couples interacting with each other and followed them up for several years, aiming to find interaction patterns that could predict which couples would stay married and which ones would get divorced within 5-10 years.  

Among the many predictors of divorce he identified, one of the best known is what Gottman called “The Four Horsemen”, referring to the biblical “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” bringing destruction. Gottman’s “Four Horsemen” describe four behaviours or emotional reactions during couple conflict. They build on one another and compound each other’s negative effects, leading to a cascade of increasingly hostile interactions and emotional withdrawal from the relationship.

So what are Gottman’s Four Horsemen? 


The cascade starts with criticism. It is important to differentiate criticism from a legitimate complaint. In successful relationships, a complaint is expressed in a tactful, respectful way that concentrates on the actual behaviour to be discussed. Criticism, as one of the “Horsemen”, can be identified by harsh, broad statements that attack the whole person. It often starts with “you always…” or “you never…” or “you are so … (selfish, careless, cold, etc)“. Frequent criticism and attacks of this kind can then lead to the appearance of the next “Horseman”: defensiveness. 


Defensiveness is a common response to criticism. It is not pleasant (and usually not fair) to be attacked in such harsh, broad terms. A partner may therefore respond by denying responsibility or even shifting blame from themselves and counterattacking their partner. Of course, this then can cause their partner to feel that their concerns are not taken seriously, so they intensify their criticism. A cascade of attacks and counterattacks follows, with each partner feeling increasingly frustrated and unsupported. 


Repeated criticism of one another and responding to this criticism with defensiveness (such as shifting blame or countercriticism) can lead to a sense of contempt. At this phase of the interaction, a lack of respect is expressed by sarcastic statements about the partner, name calling, eye rolling, mockery, and hostile humour. Gottman suggests that contempt is the most destructive of “The Four Horsemen”. 


Stonewalling is a response to the first three behaviours. In the middle of a fight, some people stonewall as an instinctive self-protection mechanism. Because they feel psychologically overwhelmed, they need to shut down emotionally or remove themselves from the situation physically. They may stop responding, or they may leave the interaction. In the long term, one or both persons in the couple begin to avoid interacting with the other. Very little communication takes place, and what does take place is either reduced to talking about trivial, “safe” matters or continue to be destructive, peppered with repeated low-level expressions of criticism, counterattacks, and contempt. 

Of course, not all couples who are stuck in such destructive interaction patterns end the relationship. There are many other predictors of relationship dissolution, as well as of staying in unhappy relationships. Nevertheless, if you notice getting engaged in increasingly hostile interactions, it may be a good time to stop and consider whether there is a more helpful way to solve conflicts with your partner. 

Gottman has written several books advising couples who would like to improve their relationship.  Some of these may be helpful: 

Gottman, J.  (1995). Why Marriages Succeed or Fail And How You Can Make Yours Last.

Gottman, J. & DeClaire, J. (2002). The Relationship Cure.  

Gottman, J. & Silver, N. (2015). The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.


Dr Marianna Szabo is a Clinical Psychologist, a leading expert in Mindfulness and a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Sydney. 

Expert Q&A: Introducing Dr Kieron Rooney

1) Could you tell us a little about your career and areas of expertise/interest? 

My day job entails conducting research and teaching on how what we eat, influences our metabolism. This work includes investigating for example, the influence of lower carbohydrate and higher fat diets in diabetes and obesity as well as on measures of performance in normal healthy individuals. I’ve also completed work on the role of high sugar diets in altering health status and the potential for non-nutritive sweeteners to assist recovery in diets focused on lowering sugar intake. I completed a PhD in Biochemistry in 2003 and since then have been an academic at the University of Sydney.


2) What drew you to this line of work/research in the first place? 

To be honest, it was the only thing I was good at at University. I squandered most of my first year enjoying the freedoms that University Student life brought. However, by second and third year I found myself intrigued by metabolic biochemistry and the way in which our entire system is integrated to utilise the energy of food we eat and how our behaviors may change to seek out specific foods. Through the course of my PhD and then academic life, the relationship between what we eat, how we eat it and our health fascinated me.


3) How do you look after your own physical and mental wellbeing?

I wax and wane. Periods of control and periods of laziness. I like to convince myself it is all by design. But to be honest sometimes I have all the energy in the world to commit to health and sometimes sleeping in, having an extra drink and getting take away feels like the right thing to do. When I am committed, there are 3 – 4, 7km runs a fortnight interspersed with some weights on alternate days and more often than not there are 10-11 home cooked dinners in that fortnight with leftovers for lunches. I typically avoid sugar sweetened beverages, and opt for extra veges over “passenger carbs” like bread and pasta 


4) Do you have a favourite post-workout cafe?

Not really, since most of my runs and weights workouts are at home. But if you are in the Balmain / Birchgrove area The Gladstone Corner store does a great long black.


5) What is one thing you wish people knew about wellbeing? 

It takes a conscious effort to find it, grow it and keep it. And a subconscious effort to lose it.


6) What is one of the most ridiculous things you’ve read or seen about wellbeing that you know to be untrue?

That you have to cut the fat off your meat to make it healthy.


7) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or websites on health or wellbeing that you’d recommend?

I really enjoyed “the art and science of low carb living” and “The case against sugar” otherwise I am somewhat of an online itinerant.


8) What is your top tip for living a healthy and happy life? 

Every sugary drink is doing you harm


The Truth About Supplements


Supplements are often the first question I get asked about.

The magic bullet that will improve your overall health and wellbeing in one or two (or sometimes 6) tablets a day! There are few, but critically important populations that do need supplements. For example, any woman of reproductive age is recommended to take a multivitamin every day to get sufficient folic acid. Folic acid supplementation reduces the chance of having a baby with neural tube defects. These defects occur very early during gestation, often before a woman knows she is pregnant. 

The main challenge in determining if they work or not is the one size fits all approach. There is A LOT of research done on supplementation. It is a multibillion-dollar industry that benefits from making health claims demonstrating the efficacy and or effectiveness of their products. 

If you think about all of the different supplements out there and all of the different health outcomes they purport to benefit, you are going to find some that have evidence to support their use. For example, if you look at the Cochrane Library Database* that houses the GOLD standard in reviews of the evidence for clinical studies and type in “probiotic” you will see that there are 56 reviews on them spanning topics such as “probiotics for treating eczema” to “probiotics for non‐alcoholic fatty liver disease and/or steatohepatitis”… And you will see there are over 7381 individual trials on them! 

So do they work? Maybe. It depends on what you are trying to measure. 

One of the biggest issues (and sometimes dangers) with recommending supplements is that there is an assumption that a particular naturally occurring vitamin or mineral in food, if taken in isolation and in high doses will lead to better health as we believe we understand the mechanisms by which it works.

Let’s take vitamin A or E as an example. These are antioxidants that combat free radicals. We assume vitamin A or E will reduce the damage to cells caused by free radicals, including damage to our DNA, which may play a role in the development of cancer. Seems logical these vitamins could help reduce cancer. Better load up on antioxidants supplements. 

Well they did just that back in the 1990s and early 2000s with a series of studies that were designed to improve cancer outcomes in high risk groups. 

One study conducted in the 1990’s wanted to test if the health effects of vitamins found in fruits and vegetables, retinol and beta carotene, (think vitamin A), which had been seen to be in higher concentrations in people with lower rates of lung cancer, would be the same when taken as a supplement. 

Over 18,000 men and women at a high risk of developing lung cancer were either assigned a beta-carotene and retinyl  palmitate (vitamin A) supplement taken daily or a placebo. The study was stopped ahead of schedule because participants who were randomly assigned to receive the beta-carotene and Vitamin A were found to have a 28% increase in incidence of lung cancer and a 17% increase in incidence of death compared to the placebo group. 

A second study in 2001 was conducted to determine the long-term effect of vitamin E and selenium on reducing the risk of prostate cancer in approximately 34,000 relatively healthy men >55 years. It was assumed these antioxidants would reduce the risk of cancers in high enough doses. 

Oral selenium and vitamin E was planned to be taken for a follow-up of a minimum of 7 and maximum of 12 years at very high doses. It was found that the risk of prostate cancers in men that were supplemented with vitamin E was 17% greater compared to a placebo (no supplement). In the selenium group there was also an increased risk but it wasn’t statistically significant.

So what does all of this mean?

Both of these studies highlight that caution should be used when recommending or using high doses of vitamins or micronutrients. Naturally occurring dietary constituents (i.e. vitamins and minerals) are part of normal physiology, and either deficiency or excessive doses are harmful. 

It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t adhere to advice given to you by your doctor or dietician if treating a medical condition, but it does show that the assumed benefit of a vitamin or mineral is not always correct when taken in isolation. 

This lack of benefit/potential harm from single antioxidants was later confirmed in 2012 with one of those GOLD standard Cochrane reviews I was talking about before that looked at Antioxidant supplements for prevention of mortality in healthy participants and patients with various diseases

This review included 78 clinical trials with 296,707 participants randomised to antioxidant supplements (beta-carotene, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, and selenium) versus placebo or no intervention. They found, wait for it, an increased risk of mortality was associated with beta-carotene and possibly vitamin E and vitamin A, but was not associated with the use of vitamin C or selenium, with absolutely no benefit of antioxidant supplements in the general population or in patients with various diseases.

Ok, but you are really here for me to tell you whether fish oil is good for you or not. Right? Well. 

A recent large Cochrane Review assessed the effects of increased intake of fish and plant-based omega-3 fats on all-cause mortality, cardiovascular events and blood lipids levels, mainly via capsules, as many people believe that taking omega-3 supplements reduces risk of heart disease, stroke and death. 

The review included 86 clinical trials and over 120,000 participants that compared greater omega-3 intake versus lower omega-3 intake for at least a year. The review found that increasing EPA and DHA (omega-3 fats found in fish) had little or no effect on all cause mortality, cardiovascular death, stroke, or heart irregularities.

So, what’s the take away from all this?

Some supplementation is necessary for some people

There will be new studies that may change what we know on some of the topics I have shared with you here, and if they do, and the reviews are high quality, without industry funding then the thinking around supplementation may change. But if you’re healthy, and not a female trying to fall pregnant or sexually active and of reproductive age, eat a minimally processed, plant-based diet and you are going to be in good health!


* Cochrane Library Database – If you ever want a summary of the evidence on a topic that uses randomized controlled trials to test an intervention, then this is the place to look – and they now give great plain language summaries.


​Dr Nick Chartres is the Director of Science & Policy at the University of California, San Francisco working with the Program of Reproductive Health and the Environment. His work focuses on US federal chemical policy and regulation.

Nick received his PhD from The University of Sydney, where his thesis examined ways to reduce bias in public health guidelines, including the primary studies that are used in our national Dietary Guidelines. Nick also has a Masters in Nutrition.

The Stages of Change

People know that smoking is bad for their health, but still choose to smoke. People know they ‘should’ go for that run, but still choose to sleep in. People know that the McDonalds drive through is not the healthiest option for dinner, but still use it on a Friday night after work. People are informed and educated around healthy behavioural choices, however still make unhealthy choices. Even when an individual has a serious health scare, they still may not want to change or know how to change the behaviours that have led them to their condition. 

The Transtheoretical Model (Stages of Change) can explain why. 

Social psychological research into dietary change and levels of physical activity are often the forgotten piece in understanding how to promote healthy behavioural change, long term. 

Health Behaviour Models

The contribution of social psychology is now becoming more and more influential in affecting long term dietary and exercise change. The most important contribution has been the advancement and application of various health behaviour models to initiate and promote change.

Some of the most popular models of health behaviour include: the health belief model; social cognitive theory; protection motivation theory; the theory of planned behaviour; and finally, and importantly, the transtheoretical model of change.

The Transtheoretical Model of Change (Stages of Change Model)

Developed by Prochaska and DiClemente, the model’s central concept is that all individuals pass through similar stages of change regardless of the problematic behaviour that they are trying to change.

These stages are:

  1. Pre-contemplation
  2. Contemplation
  3. Preparation
  4. Action
  5. Maintenance

With relapse common in the attempt to maintain any new behaviour.

Think of a current behaviour in your life that is potentially unhealthy. It doesn’t need to be anything too sinister; perhaps your partner has been telling you to drink less wine during the week, or you’re staying up past midnight binging on Netflix, or you’ve only exercised once in the past month. Look at each stage outlined below and see if you can identify which stage you are currently in, where you have been, and most importantly, where you would like to be!

Pre-contemplation: This is where a person has little to no awareness that their current behaviour is unhealthy or problematic. People in the pre-contemplation stage have no intention to change their behaviour in the foreseeable future. This is your husband or wife who you have desperately wanted to exercise for the past ten years, and despite your every attempt to change his or her behaviour, they haven’t even walked past the gym!! They’re thinking… “What problem?! It’s not a problem!”

Contemplation: This is where a person is thinking about making a change, but they haven’t yet taken any kind of action. This may have been you before joining the gym. People in contemplation see the advantages and disadvantages of their problematic behaviour… “I know that half a bottle of red wine each night isn’t great for my waist line, but it really helps me to relax once the kids have gone to bed.” Sound familiar?! 

Preparation: This is the third stage where a person shows intent to act and has gone about planning for changing their behaviour. This may have been you when you hired a personal trainer and started arranging for a regular time to be available in your week for exercise. 

Action: Once a person is engaging in their new healthy behaviour, they are in action. For example, doing your first exercise session!! This is also known as the “doing” stage.

Maintenance: Once a person has continued with their new behaviour for 6 months or more, they are in the final stage of change.  

Relapse: A relapse or a ‘lapse’ is a normal part of changing an unhealthy behaviour. A relapse is defined as going back to the problematic behaviour (or worse), whereas as a ‘lapse’ is like a little slip up. The important thing is to learn from any lapses or relapses by identifying the trigger, and then putting strategies in place for preventing another one from occurring in the future. 

As you pass through each identified stage of change, so too does your level of self-efficacy. In other words, once you progress to maintenance (especially if you have been following a detailed program) you will find it easier to identify and overcome any common barriers in the future. Therefore, when you relapse or lapse (which is very normal), you can re-implement your new learnt and healthful behaviours. The goal is to move towards maintenance, while increasing your levels of self-efficacy. 

It is important to note however, that ‘at-risk’ populations are often not prepared for the action stage and will not be served by traditional educational programs. Therefore, helping people set more realistic goals and assisting them in moving towards action with a trained professional is a very important step in this process. Professionals who have the right skills can guide you in changing your thinking and attitudes.

If you have issues with self-worth, or anxiety around changing your behaviour, or perhaps a belief that prevents you from acting, this is completely normal! Seeing a psychologist may be a crucial step for you in changing your problematic behaviour. Psychologists are well trained in dealing with ambivalence. It is very common for people to be ‘stuck’ in the contemplation stage. If this sounds like you, a psychologist can guide you in working through the pros and cons of changing your behaviour and collaborate with you to start preparing for change. 

Take Home Message

Changing life long behaviours and creating new healthy habits can be incredibly difficult. The first and most crucial step to the process is about identifying the behaviours in your life that are problematic. If you believe that you don’t have the ability to change, it is recommended that you seek professional help from a psychologist to guide you in commencing the process of change. Everybody can change a problematic behaviour; you may just have to change your attitude towards the behaviour first!


Simone Chartres is an endorsed Clinical Psychologist with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA). She has over 10 years of clinical experience working with young people and adults with complex presentations in the public and private sector. Simone has extensive clinical experience in the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of anxiety disorders, mood disorders, substance use disorders and eating disorders.

Expert Q&A: Introducing Jemma McGeachie

1) Could you tell us a little about your career and areas of expertise/interest? 

I am a Women’s health and Musculoskeletal physiotherapist who has worked for nearly two decades helping people achieve their goals.

My passion is helping women through pregnancy and beyond and also the journey of back pain and how exercise rehabilitation can be the change.


2) What drew you to this line of work/research in the first place? 

I was fortunate to work with specialist physiotherapists early in my career both in Sydney and in London, who were truly inspirational.

After the birth of my 3 boys I was extremely passionate about helping women in this space, returning them to work pain free and helping them to reach their exercise goals.


3) How do you look after your own physical and mental wellbeing?

Habits and routine are so necessary for me. I love pilates which makes it easy to attend and I also enjoy running with my friends. My boys keep me active too!


4) Do you have a favourite post-workout cafe?

Somewhere in the sun with  good coffee and a good friend.


5) What is one thing you wish people knew about wellbeing? 

It can mean something different to everyone! And that’s okay!


6) What is one of the most ridiculous things you’ve read or seen about wellbeing that you know to be untrue?

High intensity workouts can damage your joints and weaken your pelvic floor. This is simply untrue!


7) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or websites on health or wellbeing that you’d recommend?

I love what Noom is doing with their app. Lots of great tips and tricks based on evidence based psychology on how to achieve health and fitness goals.


8) What is your top tip for living a healthy and happy life? 

Prioritise yourself first and really work out what makes you feel good. Reward yourself often and smile more. Your brain will believe you are happy if you do!


Research Review: Diets Rich in Fermented Foods Reduce Inflammation in our Bodies

In this article, our expert Dr Tony Boutagy – reviews Gut-microbiota-targeted diets modulate human immune status   by Wastyk et al. 2021, and breaks it down to give us the vital parts we need to know. 

1) What was the high-level summary of the research?

The microbial cells that live in the human gut are collectively called the gut microbiota or microbiome. These cell colonies significantly affect our metabolic and immune health and we know that diet plays a major driving factor in the composition and function of these microbiota.

This study found that a diet rich in fermented foods (things like sauerkraut, cottage cheese, kombucha, miso and kimchi)  enhances the diversity of these gut cells and decreases several markers of inflammation, which are linked to increased risk of chronic disease.

This is the first study to show that we can boost the diversity in these cells and lower certain markers of inflammation by eating a diet rich in fermented foods.


2) How was the study undertaken and what did it try to measure? 

This was a clinical trial of 36 healthy adults who were randomly assigned to a 10-week diet that included either fermented or high-fibre foods. The two diets were analysed to examine the potential for different effects on the gut microbiome and the immune system.


3) What did the study find? 

Over the course of the 10-week intervention, the researchers observed a decrease in many inflammatory markers in individuals consuming fermented foods and an increase in microbiota diversity. Eating foods such as yogurt, kefir, fermented cottage cheese, kimchi and other fermented vegetables, vegetable brine drinks, and kombucha tea led to an increase in overall microbial diversity, with stronger effects from larger servings

The results suggest that fermented foods may be powerful modulators of the human immune system and may provide an avenue to combat many diseases of modern civilization.

The findings also paint a nuanced picture of the influence of diet on gut microbes and immune status. On one hand, those who increased their consumption of fermented foods showed similar effects on their microbiome diversity and inflammatory markers, consistent with prior research showing that short-term changes in diet can rapidly alter the gut microbiome. On the other hand, the limited change in the microbiome within the high-fibre group supports previous reports of a general resilience of the human microbiome over short time periods, with the researchers speculating that changes in the microbiome may require more than 10-weeks in response to increasing dietary fibre intake.


4)  Is there any other research out there that supports these findings or contradicts it?

It has been known for some time that the microbiota is highly malleable and can be radically reshaped within days to months of certain events, such as when someone migrates to another country, takes antibiotics or changes their dietary habits. 

Previous research has demonstrated that humans living today in industrialised areas have reduced diversity in gut microbiota compared to our ancestors. Studies have also shown reduced diversity in these cells in modern industrialised communities compared to those eating a traditional, non-Western diet, without heavy food processing. 

This is the first study to demonstrate an increase in microbial diversity and lowered inflammation in response to a diet rich in fermented foods. The findings support previous reports that diet is an important modulator of the composition and function of the microbiome, and these changes can occur over a relatively brief period of time.


5) How much weight should we give this research?

This study was conducted by a multi-centre team of world leaders in both diet and the microbiome. They used state-of-the-art technologies to examine the composition of the microbiome and several markers of inflammation and found that high-fibre and high-fermented-food consumption influence the microbiome and human biology in distinct ways. While these findings are promising, they need to be further demonstrated in larger studies across diverse populations, 

However, given the fact that our present understanding of low microbiota diversity is associated with many chronic diseases of modern civilisation, such as obesity and diabetes, coupled with the knowledge that high levels of sanitation in industrialised populations has led to reduced microbial diversity, studies like this that show increases in microbial diversity by simply eating fermented food appear to be a simple and user friendly way to improve health.


6) What does this mean for your work/research/industry?

There is an immense body of literature that supports the role of fibre in health and lower rates of mortality. Studies also reveal the role dietary fibre plays in supporting gut microbiota diversity and metabolism and the positive role of short-chain fatty acids, a product of fibre fermentation by the gut microbiota, in maintaining gut barrier health and reducing inflammation

Dietary interventions that specifically alter dietary fibre, such as increasing total fibrous carbohydrates, whole grains, and resistant starch have shown impacts on the microbiota along with improvements in numerous health markers.

A recent study found differences in microbiota composition among fermented food consumers versus non-consumers. Given that fermented foods have historically been part of many diets around the world, consuming fermented foods may offer an effective way to reintroduce evolutionarily important interactions. They may also provide a way to rebuild microbes that have been lost over the course of the over sanitising of our modern environment.

Extensive data across the field of gut microbiome science has established that diet is a major driver of the species and functions that reside within an individual’s gut. Poor diet is a known contributor to many diseases of modern culture that are rapidly spreading globally as more populations adopt Western-style diets. Furthermore, many modern diseases are driven by chronic inflammation, an immunological state that is modulated by the gut microbiota.


7) What’s the key takeaway for us to take from this research?

This is the first study to demonstrate that eating a diet rich in fermented foods can both improve the diversity of the microbiota and reduce markers of inflammation. This increase in microbial diversity may play an important role in reducing the risk of developing several chronic diseases, such as type II diabetes and obesity.


8) Will you be doing anything differently because of this research? 

I have made a concerted effort to include fermented foods several times a day in both my and my family’s meals. These have included yoghurt, kefir, pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi and cottage cheese. I’m looking forward to exploring more food options that will bring in a greater variety of fermentation to our diets.


Tony Boutagy holds a PhD in exercise science, where his primary interest is in body composition and human performance. Dr. Boutagy shares his time between hands-on coaching in Sydney and online education on topics which include health, exercise and lifestyle.

Expert Q&A: Introducing Simone Chartres

1) Could you tell us a little about your career and areas of expertise/interest? 

I’m a Clinical Psychologist and have worked with various mental health presentations. I started out working with homeless adolescents, and have since worked in drug and alcohol rehabilitation, in a phobia clinic, within the area of perinatal mental health, as well as the school setting. I love the variety that a career in psychology brings, however I have a particular interest in working with trauma and anxiety disorders. 


2) What drew you to this line of work/research in the first place? 

I’ve always been passionate about people being able to access quality and affordable mental health support. I find human behaviour fascinating and feel so fortunate that I get paid to help people improve their lives!


3) How do you look after your own physical and mental wellbeing?

Exercise, good food, good coffee and socialising!


4) Do you have a favourite post-workout cafe?

Anywhere with outdoor seating and the smell of the ocean!


5) What is one thing you wish people knew about wellbeing? 

There is no quick fix or magic pill! It’s about a lifestyle and slowly making positive changes that you can maintain.


6) What is one of the most ridiculous things you’ve read or seen about wellbeing that you know to be untrue? 

During my Clinical Masters training I was fortunate enough to do a placement at Royal North Shore Hospital Pain Management Clinic.  It was incredible. The patients came in with chronic pain that they had been suffering from for years. They were all on a cocktail of drugs, but still in pain. They completed a 6 week course with a team of psychologists, physios and doctors, and walked out on no drugs and pain that they were able to manage. Opioids do not work for managing chronic pain, despite what the pharmaceutical companies try to tell us!


7) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or websites on health or wellbeing that you’d recommend?

I love listening to Conversations with Richard Fidler and Sarah Kanowski. It always reminds me of how interesting humans are and the incredible things that people have survived. Often when we are anxious we are stuck in our minds thinking about ourselves. Taking the time to listen to the life of someone else can be incredibly healthy for your own wellbeing.


8) What is your top tip for living a healthy and happy life? 

Build self awareness and be able to recognise when a behaviour is more hindering than helpful. And stay connected to other people!