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Moderation is key to healthy eating
It was one of those rare moments in a working woman’s life. Deliciously, wickedly self indulgent. I was sitting at the hairdresser’s, with the soporific effect of the dryer, gorging on a generous portion of the most delicious French fries in the whole world. Readers, they were perfect. My cup runneth over as I sipped on a frothy cappuccino. In my free hand was a novel of extraordinary beauty, of the sharp edge of too much tenderness called, The Museum of Innocence by Turkish Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk. Life was good. So you can imagine my surprise when I was shaken out of my fat, starch, salt, sugar and caffeine induced trance when a woman with wet hair broke the spell.
“Miss MATOOOR...” I stopped mid-fry and tried in vain to look dignified with the rollers in my hair. She attacked with full force. “You writing ALL those articles about health care, about heart disease and THIS is what you eating?” I wanted the ground to swallow me, and that chair and the fries in particular, up. “Err, umm, I...” my words trailed and disappeared into the vacuum of the dryer as she marched off and I guiltily looked down at the evidence on my lap. Like all women, I have been struggling all my life with weight issues: from being thin to the point of anorexia in my early teens morphing into baby fat as my girlfriends fed me up, encouraging me to eat in a perverse way as they dieted, to the pounds that wouldn’t melt after my second baby.
At 11, I saw my great-grandmother who was a keen sportswoman, equestrian, tennis champion, swimmer, polo player in her youth (with the photos to prove it), dissolve at the time of her death into a mass of immobile, diseased diabetic fat. My beloved ancestors were unable to say “no” to red meat, butter, oil, cheese, fried food, white rice, and bread. They never said “no” to sweet and milky drinks. Nor to cakes, creamy, buttery desserts, pastries, cream in their coffee, or sugar. They loathed vegetables. But they paid for it.
My mother is more careful, but she inherited the diabetes which she manages with exercise and healthy eating, but it was a struggle. At 15, I began running (which I hated but set me on a lifetime of addiction to the natural high I felt after exercising). I also gathered my stupid schoolgirl habit of smoking a cigarette a day. I noticed early that I stuffed myself with junk food when I was sad or confused. But somewhere along the way healthy living became a sybaritic delight. Running a marathon became a conquest of inner demons, a battle of grit with myself.
Instead of eating to fill emotional voids I began gorging with my eyes and touch. I reveled in the bounty of papayas, mangoes and sapodillas festooning our stalls, in textures and colours of fruit and vegetables, some local, others reminiscent of vines and fields around our islands, in the mingling of damp earth with carrots and beets, baby trees of cauliflowers and broccoli, tangy tomatoes, greens and herbs. I learned about herbs..mingling them in yoghurts, stews, curries and soups, relished in the mint leaf that works as well in a spicy chutney as an accompaniment to fruit.
Ginger, onion and garlic pastes combined with yoghurt, saffron, cumin, mustard seeds, cloves, cardamom and cayenne pepper formed a base of my limited Indian cooking. I found that salads made with spinach, broccoli, nuts, salmon, olive oil and lime were filling. I ate five times a day, carried nuts in my purse, ground them in smoothies. Olive oil and yoghurt went with almost everything from fruit smoothies to salads. I ate tiny morsels of meat and eggs as a treat and got my protein from split peas, beans and tofu. I drank massive amounts of water: hot, cold and herbal.
Soon KFC, that used to feel like a treat, felt like punishment. I will probably get diabetes, but I’m damn well going to fight it as long as I can. I do cheat. A bit of chocolate, a portion of fries, a shared dessert, sips of Coke, a glass of cool, white wine on a hot afternoon. If I didn’t, life wouldn’t be worth living. But it’s an aberration. A cheat day. Not the norm. I realised that the worst thing I can do for my health is yo-yo dieting, so if I go up in the scale by five pounds, I deny myself treats for a few days. We know the link between fat and disease and death is no longer restricted to adults, it has spread in our lifetime to children.
Living in a country with one of the highest incidence of diabetes, heart disease and cancer in the world, food has taken on another dimension. It could be poison or panacea depending on what you eat. Prof Surujpal Teelucksingh who recently won the Dr Anthony Sabga award for his work with diabetes discovered that obese children tend to be diabetic. Lets face it. We are so full of preventable lifestyle disease in this country (diabetes, heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure) because we morph into a self indulgent, fat, lethargic people (I hate to say it) not unlike my darling ancestors.
We put sugar in everything—from meat to drinks. Sugar is a poison: it causes spikes in glucose levels; it increases the risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, it causes immune system disorders, and chromium deficiency; it ages our bodies, it adds to stress; it obtrudes important nutrients, it messes up children’s behaviour.
When we are not eating sugar we are eating high glycemic foods, starches like provisions, potatoes, rice, pasta, white bread, cornflakes, sweet bread, that rapidly increase blood sugar which not only makes us obese but increases our chances of sudden death from heart attack. We eat fatty meats like pork, lamb, beef, and steroid pumped chicken which elevate blood cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.
I’m not saying that you must never stuff yourself again, I’m just saying that moderation is key. If you stuff yourself today, detox tomorrow. Keep a stable weight. Snack on vegetables. Drink water. Exercise. Prevention is far better than an uncertain cure, better than going blind, dying from heart disease or lying in bed stroke ridden. Lets take responsibility for ourselves and eat to live, rather than live to eat. And let us revel in the loveliness of the earths offerings while we are at it.
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