Emma Sgourakis, is not the one-size-fits-all type of nutritionist. Having dealt with digestive issues since the early age of nine she has been devouring books and studies on the subject ever since, even when studying fashion design at RMIT.
While working in the fashion industry, she realised that she was more passionate about health and nutrition than she was about fabrics and style and decided to make that her main profession. A fully qualified clinical nutritionist since 2000, Emma trained in Melbourne at the Australasian College of Medical Nutrition (ACNM) and has been in practice for over 15 years, both privately as well as in various clinics and health retreats around Australia.
What differentiates her from other professionals is the way she practices, working closely with a variety of clients, be it want-to-be mums, executives, to professional athletes and women going through menopause. Her clientele is mainly located in Melbourne where she is based, across Australia and internationally via Skype. At 42, married with two young children aged five and almost four, she manages to juggle a career whilst keeping her own and her family’s health in check.
Her articles have been published in the Australian Elle, Vogue, Marie Claire, Madison, The Age and The Daily Telegraph, as well as in the British press, and is the only Australian nutritionist officially affiliated with ‘Peat Nutrition Consultants’ Dodie Anderson (Boston USA) and Rob Turner (California USA), inspired by and putting into practice the research of Doctor Ray Peat PhD.
What may be considered unconventional about her approach, but has proven to be the cornerstone of an effective diet plan, is the focus she places on her clients’ lifestyle.
Whilst travelling 12 years ago, Emma met another half-Greek and travelled through Europe for a year, settling in a tiny seaside village for six months. That’s where she first became properly acquainted with the Greek way of life, and fell in love with it.
“My dad hails from Plati, outside of Kalamata but moved to Australia with his family when he was five,” she told Neos Kosmos.
“I always loved the philosophy behind Greek food and the Mediterranean cuisine,” she says, stressing that she can’t leave those flavours out of her diet.
“But it was life in that village in Crete over a decade ago,” that immersed her in what eating like a Greek means and helped her uncover truths about human nutrition.
Stress and poor sleep quality are super important, huge factors that are being downplayed. If you don’t take both into consideration, you will never lose that extra fat no matter how hard you might try to run it off on the treadmill.
Nutrition has always been an issue for Emma growing up, which is why after much trial and error she is adamant that there is no go-to recipe for everyone.
“What works for me, might be rather detrimental for you even if we seemingly fall under the same category/classifications,” she stresses explaining that even when two people are of similar background, are the same age, sex, weight and height, it does not mean they are the same and should be following the same nutrition plan.
“My private programs are two to three months in duration, and each assessment is a long process that records and analyses a client’s medical history and current nutrition; their schedule and questions.
“I never stop being surprised by how well people know their car and at the same time they have such little understanding of their own body,” Emma says.
Providing in-depth fortnightly sessions and ongoing support, individually tailored for long-term health shifts, she aims to educate her clients and personally supports them towards restoring their bodies to a more resilient and functional state.
“No-one gets long-term major improvements with short-term fixes that might not be sustainable or beneficial in the long run. Losing weight is not indicative of health-gains. When people don’t understand why they are eating or not a food and what it does for them or to them, it can be detrimental to their health and too taxing to their body to eliminate certain food groups or feed on specific others,” Emma explains.
“Empowering people with knowledge is very important. When they start studying themselves, there comes a point where they see food differently and are able to realise what their cravings and needs are telling them about their bodies; then they don’t need the help of practitioners.”
READ MORE: Tracing the origins of the famed Greek Mediterranean diet
Emma is opposed to commercialised Western ‘diet’ principles and the industry-driven food pyramid, constantly questioning mainstream health ‘beliefs’ and quick-fix fads, staying true to an evidence-based approach and physiology. She takes into consideration scientific research but each plan has to be person-specific.
“For the last 30 years I have been experimenting with pretty much every type of diet out there: raw, paleo, vegetarian and so on. I hit a health wall at some point with all of them,” she admits.
“About a decade ago I stumbled upon research that was based on human physiology and rather than being fixated on how good and green food looks, I decided to bring it back to the self and notice what the body requires.”
Moving patients away from degenerative, inflammatory and inefficient foods, towards nutrient-dense, functional and easily digestible, pro-metabolic foods she tries to match the diet to each person’s physiology.
“As a practitioner I believe that the ‘go home and start this diet plan because it works for most people’ plan, fails. I saw that happen to many people, deprivation or changing someone’s diet may drain a person of energy.
“A short course is not enough to place you in a position of authority and decide what nutrients and how many calories stay in a person’s diet,” she warns.
“Obviously, that will result in people losing weight but it has little or nothing to do with being healthy, having enough energy and resilience and feeling good.”
Practitioners can rely on a long list of hair, saliva and blood tests to gauge their clients’ health but sometimes the body isn’t satisfied and plateaus or responds with concerning issues like hair-loss, depression, insomnia, infertility and hormonal imbalances.
“People should opt for pro-metabolic foods as opposed to the ones that are fairly indigestible for humans – there’s good carbs and good protein. It’s not just about meeting your macros but it’s more about the good forms of the macronutrients.
“A lot of the basics kind of goes along what our grandparents knew and we sort of have gone and confused the topic,” she insists adding that there are elements of the Greek and Mediterranean cuisine that are wonderful, useful and beneficial; but it is the basic component of the Greek ‘diet’ that people fail to understand and follow.
“Where people miss the point is often when they focus on this diet being the best or one of the best for longevity is that it is not the diet alone that does it.
“The Greek way of life is different,” she enthuses.
For Emma, even if her clients are receiving the best quality of nutrients it doesn’t cut it if they are living in a busy city like Melbourne, working a highly stressful job, not getting out in the sun much and missing out on sleep. Stress around the time of eating can have a huge damaging effect due to the amounts of cortisole when we eat in such a state. What Emma has found is that for Greeks such as the residents on Ikaria island who often make it to over 100 years of age, it is the way the food and day-to-day reality is lived that makes the difference.
“People in a Greek village don’t run around eating lunch in a hurry whilst in their cars, on the phone and in between meetings,” she argues.
“They sit down and enjoy food over an extended period and chew it down properly, spending time with their friends, neighbours and family.
“Those people are connected, they trust each other. Time does not matter, they do not lock doors of homes or shops and they all have something to contribute to the local society. There is no stress on that island. Those things are probably even superior to the benefits of the chemistry of the food.”
Exposure to natural sunlight and getting good quality amounts of sleep are imperative for humans, and are often neglected in this day and age, especially the latter.
“Stress and poor sleep quality are super important, huge factors that are being downplayed. If you don’t take both into consideration, you will never lose that extra fat no matter how hard you might try to run it off on the treadmill.
“We should take that lesson from the Greeks,” she says. ” If we can combine that with the deliciousness of the honey, the olive oil, feta and watermelon, not to mention the tastiest lamb in the world, we have a recipe for success!”