No quick-fix to fitness

I’m reproducing here one opinion piece which I feel is very applicable still to Malaysia:

Food! The one thing Malaysians love. And in Malaysia, it comes in all varieties, quantities, and is available at almost every location, any time of the day. Moreover, food comes within all kinds of price ranges. The one thing that is relatively constant is that it has made our folk somewhat obese.

Some people, however, have come to realise that they need to lose weight. Usually, this comes about due to a health scare, and the first person to advise them at this time is their doctor. Here’s a little story.

One day, while doing reconnaissance for an off-site boot camp, a fellow instructor asked me if I had heard of a diet that allowed its adherents to eat only half of a thousand calories a day.

No!” I exclaimed. “Yes,” she responded, “One of my clients called me and told me she couldn’t train for 40 days because she had started this diet where you can only eat 500 calories a day! Her doctor advised her to go on it.”

Firstly, I’d like to make it clear that this is hearsay. Secondly, if it is true, shame on that doctor. On the basis that such a diet exists, the poor girl gets to eat 500 calories (five bananas, anyone?) a day, but also gets to enjoy injecting herself with human growth hormones. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this diet is for a teenage girl.

Let’s make it clear – healthy people eat! It’s just what you eat that counts. On the basis that it’s true, it is unbelievable that a growing girl is prescribed such a risky-sounding diet by a medical practitioner, and that a parent would allow her to go on it!

The Health Ministry, in its Healthy Eating The Key To Prosperity handbook, states that the recommmended caloric intake for sedentary adults is 2,000 calories (men) and 1,500 (women). Which growing school-going teenager can handle just 500 calories a day?

The problem with losing weight is that people want a quick-fix fast, which is why fad diets, “traditional remedies” and “slimming centres” can make big business. No one is willing to work hard to lose fat or get healthy. The funny thing is that if one does work hard at losing weight, it becomes a victory to be proud of.

At a recent National Sports Council course for Sports Science, Dr Anuar Suun told us of a 167kg boy who went to him to lose weight. In six months, we were told, the boy lost 35kg of fat. That is a sustainable loss and, I’m sure, a success the boy is proud of.

Many people claim they are not aware of good nutrition or the right food choices. Yet, at the aforesaid sports science course, when we discussed basic and sports nutrition, there were many exclamations of “Oh yes! Now I remember!” and “Oh ya ah! Learnt that in school!” Yes, we learnt the food pyramid in school. So we do know what’s good for us and what’s not, and in which quantities.

We also know that exercise is good for us. Stopping exercise because we’re eating less than the minimum of 1,200 healthy calories (suggested for an adult woman) is something we were never taught. So why do we do this?

If truly people believe they aren’t educated in nutrition, then surely the health and education ministries need to do something about it? Because obviously, memory retention of the food pyramid beyond school seems to be a problem.

Perhaps it is time Malaysian nutritionists, medical practitioners and health-related professionals started speaking up on detrimental fad diets and unhealthy nutrition practices. Most importantly – and there is no “perhaps” here – it is time for parents and teachers to lead by example.

After all, we have an obese and unknowledgeable population to deal with.

Originally published in the Sun newspaper.