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You can have your (Christmas) cake and eat it too -- all it takes is planning, says dietitian Elaine McGowan

You can have your (Christmas) cake and eat it, says dietician Elaine McGowan. With a little planning, you can enjoy all the festive trimmings without piling on the pounds

On the first day of Christmas my true love sent to me… not a partridge in a pear tree but a rich and sumptuous meal of turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, all the trimmings, topped off with an enormous bowl of pudding with lashings of brandy sauce.

Over the next 12 days, there might be a few lords a-leaping all right but rather than drummers drumming or milkmaids milking, we’re likely to see an endless parade of food: mince pies with cream, Christmas cake, biscuits, chocolates, beer, wine… and whatever sinful treat you feel like having yourself.

Of course, a little of what you fancy is a great thing, but remember that having a lot of what you fancy comes with a price. After Christmas, I see many people suffering from stomach problems. They have overindulged in December and are feeling overweight, unhealthy, lacking in energy and guilty – that is not a good way to start the New Year.

However, if you take a little care over the festive season, you can enjoy all the festive trimmings without piling on the pounds. It’s all a question of balance and awareness. And the first thing to remember is that Christmas shouldn’t last for weeks on end. We really shouldn’t be thinking of tucking into the treats until Christmas Eve and then we should think about returning to normal after three days at the most.

If you can, leave buying goodies until the last minute, otherwise, you’ll have them eaten six times over before the holiday even begins. When the festivities do begin, bring in a limited number of sweet things and apply some portion control. For four people, think in terms of eight mince pies, a small Christmas cake, a medium pudding and one large box of chocolates (820g).
Here are some tips to take you through the 12 days of Christmas – and beyond.

Day One
December 25th

Start your day with a breakfast rich in protein. Something like scrambled eggs and salmon on a wholemeal bagel or brown bread would set you up for the day. Then, when it comes to the big lunch, relax and tuck in. Have your turkey and ham and lots of roast, seasonal vegetables like Brussel sprouts, carrots and parsnips. Have the stuffing, gravy, roast and mashed potato too. Eat plenty of your dinner leaving less room for the goodies.
You can treat yourself to pudding or mince pies, and maybe, later on, some Christmas cake and tea. Spare the cream and ice cream, though. In the evening, have a wholemeal sandwich with fish or turkey or ham and remember to drink plenty of water, at least three pints. Limit the sugary drinks – such as juices and minerals – and if you are having alcohol, try to have one glass of water for every glass of wine or beer.

Day Two
December 26th

Have something filling for breakfast like a bowl of porridge and top it with cinnamon or dried fruit to give it a seasonal twist. You can have your treats today, too, but remember you don’t have to eat everything that is on offer. Exercise a little discretion; it’s not a competition to see how much you can keep down. Your body is a temple not a dustbin.

Use the turkey carcass for stock and make a nourishing winter soup with all the leftover vegetables. Use a variation of the following ingredients – garlic, 3 carrots, 9 mushrooms, 9 Brussel spouts, 1 medium sweet potato cubed, half a pint of stock, thyme, and salt and pepper to taste – to have as a low-calorie snack or as a warming lunch. It is full of immune-boosting antioxidants.

Day Three
December 27th,

You should be thinking about regrouping today and locking all the sweet things away. You can have the odd treat, say a finger of Christmas cake, but remember that it contains about 250 calories which takes one hour to walk off.

It’s a good time to start thinking about exercise too. Over the festive season, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that a person will consume between 3,000 and 5,000 calories a day, up to twice the recommended intake. People gain, on average, between three and six kilos (a half stone to a stone) at this time of year because the season of excess has extended by several days. So, take yourself in hand, and get out and walk for an hour.

Day Four,
December 28th

If you find you are craving sweet things, have two satsumas before you dip into the tin of chocolates. The fruit has only 25 calories and its sweetness might take the edge off your chocolate craving. You mightn’t feel like keeping count but remember five chocolates add up to 200 calories – that’s nearly an hour pounding the pavement if you want to undo the indulgence.

Day Five,
December 29th

So, another big night out is on the cards and you don’t want to be the one ordering the sparkling water. Everyone struggles making healthy choices and it’s especially hard when it comes to alcohol. Not only is it full of empty calories but it stimulates the appetite by causing blood sugar to drop, which explains why we often get the munchies at the end of an evening.

Eating before you go out on the town is a great idea. Have something like cheese or peanut butter on wholegrain bread, or hummus on oatcakes with half a glass of low-fat milk. If you can, eat while you drink. You could think about diluting your drinks too, or pacing yourself by sipping on a glass of water between. Start slowly, choose wisely and don’t mix your drinks.

Day Six,
December 30th

Hydrate. Hydrate. Hydrate. That is especially important when consuming alcohol but we often tend to get very dehydrated sitting around in the balmy temperatures of centrally heated homes. Caffeine can dehydrate too so try to limit tea, coffee and minerals. Drink lots of water and try peppermint and camomile tea to ease the gut.

No sugary treats today.

Day Seven
December 31st

It’s New Year’s Eve and everyone is letting their hair down. Go out and enjoy it. If you are going to drink, make sure to go out with something in your stomach. If you are having a meal, enjoy that too but bear in mind that there some very simple adjustments can make a big difference. Drink a glass of water and/or eat a piece of fruit before you go to the restaurant, so that you won’t be ravenous when you arrive. Try not to dig into the bread basket before the food arrives. Choose soup as a starter and choose main dishes that are grilled, boiled, poached, stir-fried. Instead of having a full dessert, share one or have a few squares of dark chocolate in your bag to satisfy that sweet tooth.

January 1st
Day Eight

You can indulge a little today and maybe start the day with a fry for breakfast. You could allow yourself maybe two full Irish breakfasts over the 12 days of Christmas. Other mornings, when you might have more time, have a cooked breakfast but reduce the fat content. Have an omelette, or beans on toast, or grilled bacon with mushrooms and tomatoes.

Day Nine
January 2nd

Start the day with a protein breakfast or a smoothie. Protein can be very satisfying and smoothies made with bananas and berries are high in antioxidants, which is good after the festive splurge. They are also full of Vitamin C, which can help prevent colds and flus and boosts the immune system. Go for a healthy dinner, filling up on veg.
Gather up all the sugary treats left in the house and plan to give them away – there are lots of charities who would be delighted to get them.

Day Ten
January 3rd

Alcohol and treats should be completely limited. If you are out and about shopping, beware of the liquid calories in that well-earned cuppa. A frappuccino or a hot chocolate could top 440 calories and if you add a little muffin because you think you deserve it after all that traipsing around, you could be consuming more than half your recommended daily allowance.

Day Eleven
January 4th

It’s time to think fruit. Eat lots of it and eat it in its entirety as that way it’s more filling. It’s a good time to think about the year ahead and the dietary changes you might need to make to give you more energy. Never skip meals, though. Instead, plan in advance and try to eat what is in season – as well as tasting better, it is often cheaper. If you do want to have a treat, just control the portion.

Day Twelve
January 5th

Well done on making it through the 12 days of Christmas. It’s time to weigh yourself. If you have stayed the same weight, that is a real result. Congratulations. If you haven’t, don’t beat yourself up. Fifty pc of Irish adults are overweight and some 300,000 children. If you have gained a few pounds, you will be joining most Irish people but do try to lose it as quickly as possible.
One of the best ways to do that is to keep a food diary. Studies show that people reduce what they eat by up to 20pc when they write everything down. For the new year, resolve to weigh yourself once a week, in the same spot, wearing the same clothes, to keep track of your progress. The very best of luck with it. Here’s to a happy, healthy and energetic new year.

Elaine McGowan specialises in diets for Irritable Bowel Syndrome, stomach problems and weight loss. Tel: 01- 6459617.

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Sports NutritionThe finish line of the 2012 Dublin Marathon in Merrion Square on 29 October marked the culmination of months of hard training for husband and wife Michele and Tony Hamilton. The training regime adopted was one where diet was as important as the miles run in the build up to the marathon.

“Myself and my wife Michele are keen runners. Not only is running a way to get fi t, it is great to release
stress from the pressures of everyday life. It is also a way to enjoy the adrenaline rush of running with thousands of other like-minded individuals on the streets of Dublin or the back roads of Limerick. We got the running bug back in 2009 and since then we have ran the Dublin Marathon four times. We have managed to shave off 40 minutes from both our first marathon finishing times in the Dublin marathon, achieving personal bests of 3hr 34 minutes and 3hr 44 minutes respectively this year.

We approached Elaine back in May 2010 to seek dietary advice in order to lose weight and to aid our training regime. Our training involves runs up to 4 times a week, starting from May to October, with distances ranging from 4 miles up to 23 miles in October. Returning home from training late in the evenings meant that we had no structure around our meals and nutrition. Initially we believed that this intense training regime would give us a passport to eat whatever we wanted, from chips to Mars Bars! We couldn’t
understand why we weren’t losing weight after all our running. We found rather than losing weight we were struggling to stay at an even weight.

We sought advice off Elaine and after she saw our eating diaries she recommended a low and controlled carbohydrate diet. We believe this decision to get help from Elaine changed our lives. We got a shock
when Elaine told us that we were “really partying” when it came to our eating habits and that if we hadn’t started the running the previous year we would both be two stone heavier! Elaine quickly recommended a complete change to our diet. We would have to learn to control our carb intake dependent upon the intensity level of the training. It meant that we cut down on unmeasured portions of pasta and potatoes, eliminated sugar in our diet in the form of biscuits and chocolate bars, and embraced our new best friend porridge. She also departed great dietary advice concerning hydration, starting food diaries, and cutting down
alcohol intake.

The results of the new food plans are that we have both lost weight – Michele 9.2kg (1.5 stone) and Tony 6.3kg (1 stone). We can now maintain healthy body weights, and stay injury free. More importantly we have been able to drastically improve our running times and are comfortable and confident both in and out of our running clothes. Visiting Elaine has changed our lives as she has taught us how to maintain a healthy lifestyle, something we feel we would not have been able to achieve on our own.

Cut down on foods high in calories, fat and sugar.

In every 100 grams of food:
Healthy Eating Tips from Elaine McGowan Weight Loss Clinic

Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, wholegrains and pulses

Limit your intake of red and processed meat
Try to have 1 meat free day per week

Eat less salt

Do not use dietary supplements as a replacement for healthy food

Use the Food Pyramid to help you plan your meals every day

Make a food diary to stay on top of what you’re eating (use an App such as myfitnesspal or go to

Limit your alcohol intake

Aim for at least 30 minutes physical activity everyday

Keep weight within healthy BMI range – 18.5- 24.9 weight (kg) / height (m2)

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Elaine McGowan Weight Loss ClinicsWhen I attended the Clinic last Saturday, I was shocked, firstly at the amount of weight have lost, as this time last year I weighed 143kg, BMI 42 (22.5 stone) with my waist size at 51 inches, this year I am now 111kg, BMI 33 (17.5 stone) with a waist size of thirty eight inches, I know I have another two stone or so to go but I know now that I can achieve it. I was further shocked when Elaine asked if I would tell my story, as I could not believe that anyone would be interested in my achievement. So this is my story:

Even as a child I was taller and bigger built than average, because of this I have always been shy and a person of few words, as I headed into my 20’s and 30’s the weight seemed to slowly creep up on me. However, unfortunately in January 2008 I lost my father through tragic circumstances, and only a few days later became a Dad myself for the first time, after waiting thirteen years for our miracle to arrive.

Due to the loss of my Dad and all that goes with such a tragedy, I had to go on anti depressants which unfortunately made my weight balloon more. It didn’t help that during that period in my life, I had to deal with sleepless nights, the feelings of grief and negativity, I just seemed to be barely getting by each day, because of which it seemed I was unable to help myself and didn’t want to take on board that people were concerned about my growing weight.

In January, 2012 my wife asked me to go to my Doctor and see if there was anything that could be done about my weight, as we had a very happy and active four year old to consider. To my own amazement I agreed when my GP referred me to the Dietetic Clinic. My shyness had always held me back, and when I attended the Clinic Elaine made me feel very comfortable as she went through everything with me. I have to date, taken on board, all of Elaine’s advice, and at this juncture would like to thank her for her support, as Elaine helped me build a confidence in myself that I could achieve this.

I was finding it difficult recently especially after the Christmas, but since going back to Elaine, last Saturday I feel that I can achieve it. The only regret I have is that I did not contact the Clinic before now. It is fantastic to be able to fit back into clothes that have been waiting in my wardrobe for me to lose weight. Because of my weight loss I have new energy, and a new lease of life. I would encourage anyone who is struggling with weight to keep trying because the feeling I have these days is worth all the struggles to get there.

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Simple low FODMAP Chow Mein Dish

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Low FODMAP Diet ReciptesIngredients (serves 2)

  • 2 chicken breast fi llets, sliced (or meat of your choice)
  • 4 tablespoons dark soy sauce
  • 4 tablespoons light soy sauce
  • 4 tablespoons oyster sauce
  • 1 tablespoon cornfl our
  • 3 tablespoons oil
  • 1 bag beansprouts
  • 3 spring onions (green part), chopped
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 teaspoon fi nely chopped ginger
  • 150g green beans
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground white pepper


1. Place meat in 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce, 1 tablespoon light soy sauce, 1 tablespoon oyster sauce and cornflour in the fridge for 4 hours to marinate.

2. Bring a pot of water to the boil and cook noodlesaccording to packet instructions. Once cooked, run under cold water to prevent sticking.
3. Heat oil in wok until very hot and fry meat until cooked. Add beansprouts, spring onions, carrot, ginger and green beans to the wok and cook for 5 minutes. Add to the cooked noodles and the meat.

4. Stir and add the remaining dark soy sauce, light soy sauce, oyster sauce, sugar and pepper. Stir thoroughly and serve.

Categories : FODMAP, FODMAPs, Recipes
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Great Limerick Run

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Great Limerick RunElaine is currently working as Sports Nutritionist for the Great Limerick Run in conjunction with Barrington’s Hospital, who are sponsoring the event. This is a large sporting event, which incorporates 4 different challenges encouraging individuals to achieve their own personal goals by running, jogging or walking. In it’s third year, it has over 8000 participants each year.

For more information visit

Categories : Exercise Tips
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Patient Success Story: Sam Meredith, Where am I now? Weight loss success follow-upWell since my last appearance here on Elaine’s newsletter in 2009, a lot has changed! Having completed my Science degree at UCD, I was inspired by Elaine’s passion for her job, and having an already growing interest in the area of nutrition and dietetics, I decided that this was a career that I would like to pursue. I am now in my final year of studying to be a Dietitian! Having first sought Elaine’s help for weight loss in 2006 at the age of 19, I never would have imagined that I would be following in Elaine’s footsteps four years later but in September 2010 I commenced my journey to becoming a dietitian. This year I will be graduating with an Honours Degree in Dietetics and have gone from being a patient of Elaine’s to helping her with a number of projects.

I have continued to lose weight since my last appearance and recently reached the 5 stone weight loss mark, however it has not been easy!

It has been a very long slow process due to my body’s difficulty in losing weight as a result of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Therefore it is a daily struggle to prevent myself from undoing all that I have achieved to date. Life events such as moving away from home, starting a new degree, increased socializing events and falling in love all appear to cause increase in food intake. Although I do allow myself to indulge sometimes, it is important to bear in mind the effort that you put into losing weight and whether it is worth having the extra helping of dinner, or the high calorie dessert for the second night in a row.
For those of you who struggle with weight I would encourage you to never give up, it is so rewarding when you reach targets that you set yourself such as buying yourself a new outfit and being able to feel and
look great because of the hard work and commitment you have invested.

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Many types of cancer can be linked to being overweight or obesity; these include oesophagus, colorectal, breast, endometrium and kidney.

A diet high in red and processed meat may cause increased risk of colorectal cancer.

Sources: Oireachtas Report Feb 2013 and WHO recommendations

Categories : Healthy Eating
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Welcome to Christmas & New Year!

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I’ve included tips in this month’s Newsletter so that you can still enjoy your Christmas this year, but without the weight gain. I also feature a piece on walking that I hope will encourage you to become
more active this month – the holidays can present the perfect occasion to start a regular exercise programme.

I’ve also included a delicious, warming and healthy recipe that you can have to hand at any time over December to help you to avoid overindulging at other times of the day.

Keep in mind my tips to get you going for the New Year.

See you next month when we can all start the New Year together with new, attainable goals for our health and wellbeing!

For now, here’s to a happy and healthy Christmas for you and your family!

Best Wishes,

Elaine McGowan Weight Loss Clinics Dublin, Ennis and Limerick

Categories : Uncategorized
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Elaine’s Recipe of the MonthElaine’s recipe this month is bursting with fl avour and immune-boosting antioxidants (it is an excellent source of beta-carotene and also a good source of vitamin C and fibre). Also, the following provides just 138 calories so it is also extremely low in calories and will help to keep you full for longer.

Ingredients (serves 4):

  • 6 garlic cloves (no need to remove outer skin)
  • 3 carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 9 small button mushrooms
  • 9 Brussels sprouts
  • 1 medium sweet potato, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 tbsp olive oil or a few sprays of lo-cal spray
  • Half a pint of vegetable stock
  • Pinch of thyme (fresh or dried)
  • Pinch of pepper, to taste


Preheat oven to 200°C/400°F/gas mark 6. Place the vegetables and thyme in a roasting tin and lightly cover with your olive oil or lo-cal spray. Roast for 45 minutes, turning the vegetables occasionally until tender.

Serving suggestions: serve on their own as a snack or warming lunch, or as an accompaniment to a meat, fish or chicken dish.

Other ingredients: Although the above is a particularly delicious combination of vegetables, you could also use red onion, swede, turnip, parsnips, butternut squash or celeriac in this recipe.

Categories : Healthy Eating, Recipes
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Exercise – walk everywhere you can to use up extra calories you consume (see walking tips).

Have ‘free days’ – Take December 24, 25, 26, 31 and 1 January as ‘free days’ (when you relax your standards a little) and then simply get back on track on the other days.

Fill up on goodness – eat plenty of winter vegetables (see recipe!) and seasonal fruits at meal times in order to fill up and avoid overindulging on less healthy foods at other times of the day.

Watch the booze – studies show that alcohol stimulates food intake (‘the munchies’) and can also increase
subjective feelings of hunger (plus it is full of ‘empty calories’ – see here).

Stay Stable –  aim to be the same weight for January 3 – it’s normal to put a few pounds on over Christmas
Day and Stephen’s Day, but then cut back on the intervening days to avoid weight gain

Categories : Weight Control Tips
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Walk to Fitness

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Regular walking is perhaps one of the best forms of activity as it is at a moderate intensity and therefore it impacts positively on the risk factors for heart disease, obesity, diabetes and even some cancers. Perhaps one of the real benefits is that people perceive exercise as relatively easy, so they are more likely to get up and go out for a walk as opposed to visiting a gym.

Walkers report that they feel better about themselves, have more confidence, are more alert and enjoy better sleeping patterns – surely that’s reason enough! Also, while it’s true that walking doesn’t burn calories as quickly as jogging or other high-intensity activities, dozens of studies have shown it to be a very effective weight-loss tool.

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that brisk walking is very effective for reducing deep abdominal fat, the most dangerous kind of fat in terms of heart health.

Get Going this Christmas & New Year

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that a person should accumulate at least 30 minutes of
moderately intensive physical activity on most, preferably all, days of the week. Next month we will show you how to challenge yourself further each time, by introducing variety into your walks, using new walking techniques and even perhaps trying a slow jog for some.

“If someone has not exercised for a while, I suggest that they start with 30 minutes, but then build up to 50 minutes by the end of the Christmas holidays,” says Elaine.

“This means that they are starting the New Year with good habits already in place!” Remember that it is always sensible to talk to your GP before embarking on a new exercise programme, particularly if you have a history of medical problems.

Categories : Exercise Tips
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Alcohol: Empty Calories

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“At Christmas time, we often turn to alcohol to celebrate the holidays, but remember to go easy as alcohol does no favours to your waistline,” says Elaine. “It is high in calories and provides little or no nutritional benefit. In fact, alcohol contains about seven calories per gram which means that, if you want to lose weight and reduce excess body fat, alcohol is not a good choice! You may be surprised at the calorie content of your favourite drinks!”

Alcohol: Empty Calories

5 Alcohol Savvy Tips

“Many clients ask me ‘how can I cut down on booze at one of the most alcohol fuelled times of the year?’ It may actually be easier than you think – follow my tips to reduce your intake without feeling that you are depriving yourself.”

Eat while you drink – or, better still, eat beforehand as food slows down the rate at which the body absorbs alcohol

Dilute your drinks – water down white wine with soda to make a refreshing spritzer or add more mixer to spirits

Choose wisely – opt for low calorie versions of your favourite drinks, such as low cal or ‘light’ beers or slimline mixers

Start slowly – try to relax and sip your drink slowly – sit back and try to stay in control

Pace yourself – sip on a glass of water in-between each alcoholic drink.

‘A little of what you fancy is good, a lot of what you fancy has a price’

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1 mince pie with 1 tablespoon ofwhipped cream – 350 calories

70g slice of iced rich Christmas cake – 250 calories

5 Cadbury’s Roses or Heroes – 200 calories

30g (small handful) mixed nuts & raisins – 150 calories

2 satsumas – 50 calories

1 Banana – 80 calories

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Welcome to the Autumn/Winter Newsletter

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Welcome to the Autumn/Winter Newsletter from Elaine McGowan Dietetic Clinics. It’s back to school and routine for many of us so it’s a really good time of year to start eating healthily. We have lots of interesting features in this newsletter so we hope you’ll enjoy.

There are a number of patient success stories covering successful weight loss and the continued success of the low FODMAP diet, we think you will find them all inspirational.

There are plenty of practical pointers on how to make healthier food choices and great suggestions for a filling and healthy breakfast.

There’s a reminder of the top tips for weight management that we all too often forget. The Minister for Health has recently introduced some changes to the Food Pyramid used throughout Ireland to help guide healthy eating; we outline these amendments here.

Finally, we’ve included a recipe for a winter warming soup- Spicy Tomato and Butternut Squash- delicious and easy to make. There’s also a tasty omelette recipe with spinach, feta cheese and herbs, it takes minutes to prepare and is filling and nutritious.

Wishing you good health and energy for the winter months ahead.

Best Wishes,

Elaine McGowan Weight Loss Clinics Dublin, Ennis and Limerick

Categories : Uncategorized
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About Elaine

Elaine graduated from Trinity College with a B.Sc., (Hons) in Human Nutrition and Dietetics. She gained wide experience working as clinical nutritionist in several hospitals prior to establishing her first private dietetic clinic in 1992.

Private Practice Experience
Elaine has gained vast experience specialising in providing private individual dietetic consultations for her clients in her clinics for the past 17 years. In recent years, her main areas of interest are weight management, obesity, diabetes, heart disease and nutrition and gastro-enterology.

Elaine is an active member of the INDI and was chairperson of the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic weight management interest group from 2005 to 2007.

Dietetic and Nutrition Consultancy
Elaine has provided dietetic consultancy to a wide range of industries including private hospitals, hotels and catering companies. She has designed, piloted, implemented and coordinated workplace wellbeing programmes for several prominent companies and large international corporations.