LET’S TALK with Dr Faraaz

So here I am again with another article in this thought-provoking health series for Asian Sunday. My columns are designed to explore topics, start a conversation and touch on real life issues that affect every community. The series is not designed to take the place of medical advice and if you do have any concerns of that nature then you should, as always seek advice from your doctor.

When you have visited your family doctor, have you ever been advised that many of your problems could be improved and even avoided if you were to eat well and enjoy a healthy lifestyle? Well what does all this mean?

We live in a world where fast-food is more available than ever, where convenience meals are exactly that – convenient and where we live in the fast lane. Work, eat, sleep, repeat – life can often be that repetitive for many of us. So how can we eat well and enjoy a healthy lifestyle?

I recently visited the States, and every time I cross the Atlantic I go through a whole host of emotions when eating out, ranging from happiness all the way through to guilt. Why? Because I know what is good for me and what is not, but whether I act on it or not is another thing altogether! It is a gross generalisation I know, but for purposes of discussion: the portions are massive and the ingredients are unhealthy, however the taste is often exquisite! What that calls for is self- restraint and a common-sense approach to a difficult situation. Should it be this difficult though?

Something else that America has introduced me to is French Vanilla creamed coffee – yes, you read correctly, creamer instead of milk. This is full of fat, sugar and all the bad things our doctor tells us to avoid in inappropriate proportions. So all of this sent me on my own internal journey where I analysed my personal habits and ‘lifestyle’. I found that temptation by way of a tasty fast-food was sometimes too much to resist, the ease of buying a $1 coffee that tasted so good was far too tempting. But you do not need to travel so far to pick up bad eating habits where in the United Kingdom we are facing obesity on an epidemic scale. In order to eat well, we need to know what we eat and from that what is good and bad. This is of course a simplistic assertion, as for example one person’s recommended salt intake may not necessarily be the same as the next.

What does eating well mean to you? Could you benefit from keeping a meal plan? I know that if I were to keep a meal record of what I ate over the past week and I were to post-mortem the ingredients of those meals, there would be much room for improvement. But how far should we take eating healthily? Coming from an Asian background myself, I know first-hand that food from the Indian subcontinent can be saturated in fat, salt and carbohydrates. Too much of these – very bad! With a wealth of information at our fingertips, we can see what is in our food, how many calories we are eating and how balanced our diet is. Are we eating the correct amounts of protein, carbs, fats etc? Are we balanced? It is a question that we should ask ourselves and a topic that should enjoy greater emphasis in schools.

Whilst eating well may be one hurdle, another is enjoying a generally healthy lifestyle. What on earth does that mean? Well it could be as simple as exercising as best as you can in your own individual circumstances. One size does not fit all and one can’t say that every single person should for example swim one-hundred metres three times a day four days a week. What if you can’t swim? I am just being facetious of course, but my point is simple: are you exercising? And are you doing as much as you should be doing? Not your brother, sister, neighbour, cousin – but you? Enjoying a healthy lifestyle incorporates a whole host of things not only limited to exercise. Stressful lifestyles are linked to all sorts of medical conditions such as tension headaches, high blood pressure, anxiety disorders and so on. Lifestyle quite simply incorporates everything you do into one word – and therefore enjoying a healthy lifestyle potentially means improving in all different aspects of your life.

Eating unhealthy and not enjoying a healthy lifestyle can of course adversely affect your health. Simply put, overindulgence of bad foods will equal raised body mass index, increased risk of heart conditions, stroke, high blood pressure and so on. So there are a million reasons why we should all step back and look at what we eat, and analyse our lifestyle. It doesn’t take a lot, but could allow us to enjoy health rather than suffer illness later in life. So before reaching for the French Vanilla creamed coffee next time I am in the States, perhaps I will exercise self-restraint based on my current analysis.

As always, I emphasise one point, one person’s medicine is another’s poison. This also holds true for health and wellness where one size does not fit all. If you are uncertain about how you could work on improving your health, talk to your doctor.

I hope that leaves you with some questions, and some of which only you may have the answers. Self-analysis is a vital tool in our armamentarium. You can follow my Twitter feed on @Faraaz_Bhatti and let’s talk about important health issues. If you would like me to discuss any specific issue or get a conversation going then feel free to let me know.

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