One doesn’t need a new year to start new habits. But this is often the case. “I must exercise more”, “eat more healthily”, “must quit smoking” and so on and so on. These are serious commitments people flippantly say over their third glass of wine and cheesy nachos. Why is it so hard to commit to these seemingly ‘unreachable’ ideals? Tanja Bencun explores the good intentions of empty promises and a ‘lack’ of time. ‘I don’t have time.’ This has to be the worst excuse for allowing yourself to become idle. We all have time. It’s just a matter of prioritizing what is important. The ‘I don’t have time to exercise or read or eat healthy’ people are the ones you will find aimlessly wasting time at the bar after hours or find transfixed in front of the TV as if possessed by the powers of romantic comedy. Even though we live in a fast paced society ‘The microwave generation’ as it is aptly referred to, does not mean we have to allow it to define who we are. Quick fixes and easy options to nutrition are widely promoted in the media. Stick on abs, calf implants and liposuction instead of eating healthily and exercising. A dietician based in Fourways,Johannesburg, La Rentia Marx, says her field of expertise is an underestimated one. But she loves it because a person can change their life with the basics – your nutrition.“People often eat out of necessity not out of need. And then they make bad choices because they are hungry and need something now…Quick fix is booming because it is easier…People come (to me) for guidance. To see what is right for them – to find the balance in what they take in. Not all fat is bad – you just have to limit your intake of fats and eat the more natural state of the fat.You want your clients to eat the more organic and natural foods and raw fats like olive oil in place of the quick fix meals.” “They use the excuse that they don’t have time to eat healthy and make their own meals. We don’t put us first…or prioritise what we eat. That is the problem.” This is so true. I see it everyday. People don’t take a proper lunch break to take time to eat something fresh they have prepared. They eat convenient foods in their car or at their desk. A national survey recently showed that learners frequently consume fast foods, cakes, cool drinks and sweets at least four days a week.

Healthy eating, balanced meals, portion control and exercise are key

Marx has noticed a trend where society is lacking in motivation and education and is unaware of the impact it has on their bodies not to consume good, healthy foods. “As long as they don’t see symptoms they think their body is coping fine with the easy, take out meals…We are sadly a society of desperation rather than education.We don’t really take care of ourselves until it is really bad and than we go for the quick fix way…you need to make time for things that are fulfilling and that give you more enjoyment in life.” This makes sense considering 43 million children under five years old are overweight and around one billion adults are overweight worldwide. One of the ways dieticians try to get their patients out of the take-away pattern is by getting them to pre-cook their meals on the weekend. It seems so simple – but some people need direction in helping them make better food choices. Besides good nutrition, exercise is paramount in the quest to live your best life. “Walking 20 minutes a day is good for everything. It helps with relaxation, weight management, bone density, strengthening your spinal chord and cartilages,” adds Marx. The lazy and careless attitude of our society is evident in the fact that physical inactivity is the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality. Globally, 6 % of deaths are attributed to physical inactivity and is associated with increased levels of obesity, breast cancer, colon cancer, osteoporosis, stress, anxiety and depression. It is also one of the major underlying causes of mortality in the world. “Balance is what heals. Exercise and nutrition, work and play”…As she says this, I am reminded of one of her patient’s she spoke of earlier. A computer programmer who works through the night and forgets to eat. Getting by on a meal a day, he wonders why he is always lethargic. Even though our society is one more driven by money and business than by health, there is a trend of following a more health conscience society. But “my concern is that they don’t follow the healthier route,” says Marx. “People tend to follow what they see in the media…and there is a lot of very misleading information out there. Nutrition is the fundamental base of health. The problem is there are so many conflicting reports on nutrition and health and a lot of fear nutrition communication…There is also too much information. For example some experts say avoid dairy products. But it is a very good source of calcium and vitamin B. So where do you listen?” Listen to your body Dieticians do not like the word diet as it implies a short term fix to losing weight rather than a full time commitment to living a more balanced and healthier lifestyle. This is the only way to achieving results. Lactose intolerant, gluten intolerances and allergies are big buzz words right now– and although Marx is not denying that our food has an impact on this, often enough it is not the actual food that is bad for you but rather the quality of the food. Such as steroid induced meat and preservatives found in easy meals. “Wheat has been shunned to be bad. Very few people have a wheat intolerance – it’s more often than not a gluten problem – the yeast is the problem. It can make you feel bloated, and give you cramping and constipation.” Huge levels of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular problems and high blood pressure are just some of the consequences of bad eating habits. Stress driven illnesses such as ulcers and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) are also common ailments Marx sees daily in her practice. Commenting on the blood type diet, Marx says this is a variation of the low carb high protein diet. “You can have lots of salad and vegetables, restrict carbs. I don’t see the merit in it. Your body and your brain need carbs to function but you just need to choose the right ones. Rather choose a brown bread or brown rice. Your body will tell you what is not good for you. It’s really about finding what’s right for you and keeping a balance. If you find rice bloats you rather have potato.” What you put in is what you get out It is a cliché, but if you put in the work, you will see results. If you follow a balanced and good eating plan, your body and mind will react. Quick results in energy levels are evident almost immediately. Whereas weight loss takes more time. Louise Bembridge, a registered Dietician & Pilates Instructor at the Morningside Sports Medicine, stands strongly by maintaining balance between healthy eating and exercise. “You help people and teach them to help themselves. I can only do so much, the challenge is that I can only tell you what to do and then it is up to that person to take your advice and follow it.” Even though it seems that some diets do work. It is short term and not good in the long term. “A lot of these diets do work but the problem I have with them is that you cut too many foods out so the diet becomes unbalanced and the person cannotmaintain that. In my practice I don’t use the word diet at all because diets end. People can’t stick to them so they go back to their bad habits and gain weight – if not more. I call it a lifestyle or eating plan…. It’s always better to cook your own food. Convenient food has its place but it has lots of salt and preservatives.” A lot of Bembridge’s patients have issues with weight management and low energy levels. “I see a lot of type 2 diabetes (develop when you get older). High cholesterol, high and low blood pressure. There is usually a lack of exercise and high stress levels. And obviously incorrect foods. It’s a lot easier to get hold of it (fast foods) and it is more convenient. And a lot of people don’t like to cook and make the effort.”Health research shows that 30 minutes of moderate physical activity and a healthy diet can reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.A disease that effects over 277 million people. Bembridge says: “Healthy eating, balanced meals and portion control are key. If you can get those three right and throw in some exercise, then you have already made a lifestyle change.” Sometimes changing your lifestyle can be as simple as making your own vegetable garden. The stigma attached to healthy eating that it is expensive or not tasty is false. As Bembridge says, if people took some of the money they spend on convenient meals and rather buy fresh produce they will see how inexpensive it is.“I have made people eating plans for R40 a day. Making your own (tasty and healthy) sandwich costs R5. It’s worth it to take and make the time. It does not take long to make a good meal.” I hope we are not heading towards a ‘drive thru’ generation mesmerized by technology. It is time to put you first and be more thoughtful in your lifestyle choices. Balance. Moderation. Variety. Taking your time. Fresh produce. Exercise and healthy eating habits. These should be the new buzz words. Things we all know. But very few practice.

– By Tanja Bencun, feature writer