Saturday, 19 November 2011

Healthy vs. Light

I refer to myself as being 'health aware'. Slightly under-qualified for the term 'health conscious', I genuinely enjoy a wide range of foods and frequently give in to cravings for chocolate, fizzy drinks, fast food and Monster Munch.

 “So, what? You’re 5 foot 7 inches, weighing barely 8 stone.”

For those acquaintances of mine who have often tried to berate some of my healthy lifestyle choices with such words, I’m hoping you’ll gain some insight from reading this . . .

Due to my lifelong ability to consume junk without any tell-tale signs on my figure, I often find myself having to justify the fact that I go to the gym. People naturally assume I’m trying to lose weight. Whilst I appreciate the responsibility of those who are just concerned that I might be seeing a fun-house version of myself when looking into a mirror, I can reassure you that this is not the case. If I wanted to disappear, I would become a magician. If I didn’t go the gym (which I haven’t, for most of my life), I wouldn’t be now gaining weight through muscle tone, as well as experiencing the countless benefits to regular exercise such as improved circulation, stamina, alertness, sex-drive, release of ‘happy hormones’, and boost of immunity against health problems; to name a few. Or course, I could always take up a competitive sport – if it wasn’t for lack of interest, and let’s face it, skill.

In a bid to improve my way of eating for 71% of the time (5 days a week, out of 7) and ensuring that I maintain a good consumption of nutrition throughout my daily grind at the office, I once browsed the internet for inspiration. On Googling the term ‘healthy lunch’, I was hit by website after website that suggested that ‘healthy lunches’ came in the form of low-fat microwaveable dinners. Of course, that’s the problem with trusting the internet as a reliable source of information – people can publish any old shit (myself included) and unfortunately there’s too many digital-age chumps who take it as gospel. And this brings me to the common misconception - that low fat and healthy are the same thing. Without being a nutritional expert, I can confirm with the utmost confidence that they are NOT.

Food commercials that boast about the low-calorie content of their products (often featuring a catalogue cut-out style female parading around in a red swimsuit) would have us believe that ‘fat’ and ‘calories’ are dirty words. Fat, believe it or not, is vital for maintaining healthy skin and hair. It also plays a part in health cell function and insulates organs against shock. Plus, it keeps us warm (but you knew that already, didn’t you?). A calorie is a unit of energy in food consumption, some of which are nutritional. The opposite of a nutritional calorie is known as ‘empty calorie’ – of which provides little function in the human body other than weight gain. 

So, what’s the problem with eating reduced fat foods? In short, when fats have been artificially removed from food during processing, they are generally replaced with something else. Read the label, and you’ll see all those funny words that you’d otherwise only see directly in front of you when you’re losing at Scrabble. Chemicals are not nutrition. As a general rule of thumb, the more natural your food is, the better it is for you (though I’d talk to a real expert before you go and start eating grass and rocks). 

Recently I watched a newsmag-style television broadcast about the growing availability of junk food on our high streets over healthier options. Initially, I got all excited about the fact that the media were showing a responsible attitude – that was, until they went into detail about the impact this has on obesity without a single mention of the other negative repercussions on our health. Its no wonder, as a naturally slender person, people always say to me “You don’t have to think about health. You can eat whatever you want”. Sure, I can – as long as the prospect of hair loss, skin disease, a rotten smile and clogged arteries doesn’t bother me. In reality, I should be just as conscious as the next person about what I eat, and believe me when I say that I don’t find it easy. Lately, whenever I get the urge to reach for my third sugary treat of the day, I have to remind myself that I’m dating a dental hygienist.

So, who is to blame over society’s body-image obsession? Before I go pointing my skinny finger at the media, I would just like to show my appreciation for programmes like Supersize Vs. Superskinny. Not as vacuous as the title makes out, it focuses heavily (no pun intended) on the importance of nutrition. However, would the title ‘Two Extreme Examples of Malnutrition’ gain the same level of ratings? Probably not. Sadly, outer beauty seems to prevail its importance to us over actual health, so the media is just giving us what we expect.

If you want to really love and respect your body, then pay attention to how it feels, rather than what it looks like. Health is an inside job.