Dr Alfred Dawes | Is there a perfect diet?
Recently a group of young professionals, myself included, embarked on a journey to improve our health. The concept is simple: Hold each other accountable by posting pictures of each meal in a Whatsapp group designed for that purpose. Each plate would be graded on a scale of 0.5 to 4 stars.
In addition, we would critique each other, and lively discussions would ensue.
A few pictures were posted on social media sites and with the interest generated, an Instagram page @idietja was created. What followed was an unintentional study of nutritional knowledge and practices of a wide cross-section of social media users here and abroad.
EGGS: GOOD OR BAD?
There ensued, at times, heated debates as to what was considered healthy. Eggs were the worst thing ever. Then eggs were good as long as you removed the yolk. Only boiled egg whites and never omelettes or scrambled. This was just one example of how debunked myths continue to have lifelines from so-called experts, who never update their knowledge, rehash dogma, and pass it on to unsuspecting individuals as nutritional facts.
The truth is that half the proteins and almost all the vitamins and minerals that make eggs healthy are found in the yolk. The concern that triggered the egg yolk warning was that it contains cholesterol. High cholesterol has been linked to heart disease and damage to the lining of the arteries.
It is not uncommon to see unhealthy foods labelled cholesterol-free, giving the impression that they are good for you. However, if eggs are consumed in moderation and if you are not advised by your doctor to watch your cholesterol intake, there is no reason why you can't have eggs with yolks prepared in a healthy manner.
DEBUNKING THE MYTHS
Then there were the heated arguments over bread. Bread is an abomination and should never be consumed. Gluten is the enemy of all that is good. Carbs are the enemy. Fats are the enemy.
Fruits and nuts are the way to go, like our ancestors. Wait. No. Fruits have too much sugar. Nuts are calorie-dense and fatty. No. Those are healthy fats. No. You should only eat meat and vegetables. Chicken is good. No red meat or pork. But only chicken breast. Nothing else. Yes, vegetables are the way to go. But not your regular vegetables. Try spinach. Try the most exotic varieties that cost the most but are superfoods. And the debate goes on and on and on.
It is no surprise people are so confused as to what is good for you. There is so much confusion as to what are the right choices. A big part of the problem is that we believe too much in idealism. We are looking for the perfect way to eat that will give us the perfect body in the perfect time. The result is that outside of crash dieting, we tend to go on diets that are unsustainable in the long run. The average person cannot entirely remove wheat from their diet and only eat chicken breast for the rest of their lives. You are bound to fail if you like pork or the occasional chicken wings. Being on these rigid diets eventually make you feel boxed in and in the end, you give in to compulsions and cravings. Diet over.
It is the same idealistic thinking why we have so many wars the world over. Colonial powers in drawing up lines on a map to create countries believed that tribes who were at war for hundreds, sometimes thousands, of years will suddenly think of themselves as a country rather than a member of a tribe.
The result, civil wars that have torn Libya, Iraq, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Yugoslavia and many other countries, into regions where the original tribes and religious groupings have traditionally held power.
It is idealism why we don't promote safe sex in school but instead preach abstinence. It is idealism when we tell persons who are over a hundred pounds overweight to eat right and exercise to lose their weight. Our teenage pregnancy and obesity rates tell us that those approaches must be wrong. But that is the ideal way they should be addressed.
MUST BE A LIFESTYLE CHOICE
To achieve our health goals, we must choose a lifestyle. Not a ridiculous crash diet or an unsustainable 'perfect' diet, but eating in a way that is healthy and can be kept up in the long run. If you like meat, you are most likely going to fall off the bandwagon if you attempt to become a strict vegetarian.
There are simple guidelines that can be followed and all healthy lifestyles must include exercise. This cannot be overstated. Eating right without adequate physical activity will not be enough. Likewise, trying to burn off junk food at the gym will not get you the results you want.
Over time, the nutritional value of your meals will improve once you take the time to sift through the multitude of nutritional information and advice. This was noted with our group as those who struggled to get 2s are getting 4s more often.
Accountability and friendly rivalry helps in lifting the standards of meals and should be explored as a means of helping friends to achieve their lifestyle change.
Remember, it takes 21 days to form a habit and 12 weeks to form a lifestyle. Forget about New Year's resolutions and start your change now.