You Are What You Eat

The Challenge

When I walk around a shopping centre, I am struck by the increasing number of seniors, most of whom are fat!

Statistics tell us that 60% of our population is overweight and 40% obese. Obesity and it’s related illnesses is the biggest cost in our national health budget

As a doctor, I am seeing more over 50’s with diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, arthritis and liver disease which are all related to eating too much food and drinking too much alcohol. Somehow we seem to think that when we get to a certain age we can let it all hang out and not bother to look after ourselves any longer. This actually causes us more misery than pleasure.

Why is this happening? It is a basic rule of ” calories in and calories out.” (a calorie is a unit of energy). We are eating as much if not more and we are exercising less. We no longer grow our own vegies and tend to our garden patches, we no longer chase sheep and cows, we just go to the supermarket and select a packet of whatever food we like. Minimal calories are expended. We no longer have to chop the wood to fire up the stove and water heaters, we just turn a knob and the electricity or gas just flow. We jump in our cars to go even short distances and we seldom walk or ride a bicycle.

As we age, our metabolism slows down and we actually need less food but we tend to eat more. Our sense of taste and smell are reduced, so we go for food with more salt, sugar  and fat to get pleasure from what we eat. As we also tend to be less active, so the weight goes on,  particularly around our waistlines. This is the most dangerous type of fat for our health.

Dieting does not work! Yes you can drop weight while you are restricting your calorie intake, but once you return to your normal eating behaviour, all the weight goes back on. This is actually worse for your health than never losing the weight in the first place. It takes a life long change in your eating behaviour to lose and maintain a healthy weight.

The solution is to take in fewer calories and to use more calories with activity. I can see the wrinkled noses as you read this as you think ” go on a diet and go to the gym – no way”

I think the Spanish have a great way of eating. They have something small with a coffee at breakfast time followed by a savoury snack mid morning, such as a piece of Spanish omlette and perhaps another coffee. They have lunch about 1-2 pm then have a siesta. Around 5pm they have another snack. If they are having something sweet, they have it at this time. Around 8 -10 pm they have Tapas, which consists of small dishes of a variety of meat, fish and vegetable dishes, with wine of course.  Despite the high rate of smokers, the Spanish life span is similar to ours, and we certainly did not see as many obese people as we do in UK, USA and Australia. They must be doing something right.

The Solution

The food message is eat smaller quantities and reduce the amount of processed foods which contain more sugar, salt and fat. We can look at the analogy of a car. A car made out of cheap material will not last as long, nor work as well. If you give your body “cheap” food, the result is that you won’t function as well and the odds are that you won’t last as long either. Or, think of it this way; if you put cheap contaminated fuel in your car, it will clog up your engine. Do the same with your body and your blood vessels will clog up.

The good news is that it’s not too late, even if you are over 60. Start today and take better care of your body than you do your car.