People's Post

Change lifestyle to save your life

Martin van Gee
Martin van Gee

With society’s everlasting obsession with losing weight, we have all become familiar with at least one swing diet.

But, how many are actually succeeding or trying to get their health back on track?

Obesity and weight could have a serious impact on your health with increased risk of an early death.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) emphasises that obesity is becoming a major health problem in many developing countries, particularly in adult women. And it is associated with increasing risk of developing hypertension, coronary heart diseases, diabetes, stroke, and some forms of cancer.

For Mavis Williams from Lotus River, her battle with weight started in her teens.

“I don’t remember ever being skinny. I was the chubby child,” she says.

In her adult life, she tipped the scales at 170kg.

“I was eating a lot of the wrong stuff. The heavier I got, the lazier I was to actually get up and cook, so it was a cycle that never stopped. Eating quick food all day,” she says.

After being diagnosed with diabetes, heart problems, high cholesterol and increasing pain in her legs, Williams has started a journey of weight-loss. “I was told lose weight or die. I am only 38 and I may not even see 40, so I am working on this now,” she says.

But poor nutrition cannot only be a contributor to obesity, health officials say.

Grassy Park resident Martin van Gee has been living with diabetes for 36 years. He experienced first-hand the impact nutritional changes can make to better one’s health. “To be honest, my diagnosis did not come as a shock, I used to consume six to seven 500ml bottles of Coca-Cola a day. I was always trying to quench my excessive thirst.”

A former drug addict, his addiction with drinking was difficult. “I knew if I could overcome my drug addiction, I can give up drinking.”

After receiving his diagnoses, Van Gee had to adjust his diet. At the time of his diagnosis, Van Gee was told by the doctors that he was very sick.

He was given a letter for admission to hospital, and swiftly ended up in a ward with multiple drips. He was told by the doctor he had diabetes. “I had to change many things and I firmly believe that it is an illness that you as a patient can control. This includes cutting out smoking and drinking. I was very positive about changing my lifestyle to improve my health.”

According to the Western Cape Department of Health, many communities in the province struggle with health challenges, exacerbated by malnutrition and obesity.

A malnutrition pattern is predominantly characterised by undernutrition in children, whereas in adults, ever-increasing obesity is found, says the department.

Williams says as children, they were never taught about healthy food. “Growing up, we ate what our parents could afford. It was challenging and we could not complain about what was put in front of us,” she says.

“As an adult, we try to forget about the struggle and spoil ourselves with takeouts and fatty foods. I don’t have any children, but they would have been fat too; the way we used to eat.”

For Williams, the transition has been hard. She says the stigma faced at gyms has seen her exercise at home to Youtube videos.

“I still struggle with my diet, eating salads and boiled stuff is not as enjoyable as a burger. But I have already lost 18kg and that is helping me to stay on track,” she says.

With his success, Van Gee encourages and motivates other chronic patients about diet and healthy habits.

“When you drink alcohol and smoke, it makes your chronic condition worse, and therefore becomes more challenging to control conditions such as mine, which is diabetes. I used to smoke 50 cigarettes a day but cut it out. I can’t tell any person what to do, but I speak from my heart – I would love to meet any patient and share my experiences with them. Changing my lifestyle saved my life,” he says.

Jeannine Subramoney, a dietician working at Wesfleur Hospital in Atlantis for the past eight years, helps patients to make lifestyle changes that will work for them.

She gives the following tips to improve your health:

  • Start with a glass of water when waking up (before coffee) and a glass of water with supper. Often when your body is dehydrated, you will get headaches and feel hungry. If you feel like snacking, drink a glass of water – often we feel like eating when we are actually thirsty.
  • Replace white bread with brown or wholegrain bread, as it keeps you fuller for longer. Add a protein, such as peanut butter (no jam), boiled egg, or tuna instead of meat spreads or sandwich spread.
  • Replace half of the rice on your plate with lentils or beans.
  • Instead of having two starches at a time, such as rice and potatoes, try to eat only one.
  • Make raw vegetables part of your plate, such as raw carrots.
  • Children do what the parents/caregivers do. Break the vicious cycles of obesity and lifestyle disease by eating healthier as a family.
  • Reduce your sugar intake by only adding one teaspoon of sugar in your tea or coffee.
  • You can still have a treat. Have a set day in the week on which you will eat a luxury food item such as a pie, sweets, chips or have a cooldrink.
  • Don’t reward your children with a food item. Rather read them a story or let them choose a family activity.
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