How much should you eat and how much should you exercise?  Does good health simply come down to these two questions?

In seeking to justify the infiltration of junk food ads on our TV, I heard a representative from the Advertising Industry say something to the effect…”it is people’s responsibility to decide what they eat…after all it is about energy in and energy out”.  In effect he was saying balance food intake with how much exercise or activity you do.

Yes, it is true, it is ultimately a person’s responsibility to decide on what they eat, and yes it is important to balance food intake (energy in) with activity/exercise (energy out).

However I am in emphatic disagreement (if such a type of agreement exists) that it is NOT just about how much you eat and howactive you are.

Why?  Because the relationship between health and food quality is being ignored.

Understanding health and food quality

We make choices several times a day about what we eat and how we live our life.  Some of these choices increase our likelihood of good health and others undermine it.  It is the total sum of our choices that we repeat over years that impact on the quality of our health.  Chronic health problems are a result of poor choices in food and lifestyle over time … habits we live day in and day out.

Whether these habits promote or undermine our health depends on the quality of these habits.  Quality of food is determined largely by its nutrient content … nutrients are required for good health.

Eating is for many an enjoyable past time … we love food, we love how it tantalises our taste buds, how it makes us feel, we love to share a meal with friends and family and when we are looking to celebrate or commiserate events in our life, food is often a central player in this.

An integrated view of the relationship we have with food

However food is more than a past time; food contains nutrients, nutrients our body needs each day to run its body systems.  The body is like a business, a household, a school or a community.  It comprises multiple systems that have different functions.  These functions are inter-related and interdependent.  A lack of nutrients can cause problems and issues in our body systems, this can lead to system dysfunction and dysfunction can manifest as poor health or potentially disease.

As an example, let’s look at protein – found in a variety of foods including fish, legumes, nuts, seeds, chicken, grains, turkey.  Protein is a macro nutrient, it comprises amino acids, the body uses amino acids for a huge array of things, to make DNA, to make transport carriers that move nutrients in and out of our cells, to make antibodies to protect us from bugs, to build or maintain muscles and to replace our skin cells.

Let’s compare protein to a small bottle or can of soft drink.  First of all is likely contains between 12-16 teaspoons of sugar.  Would you sit down and eat 12-16 teaspoons of sugar?  I think not.  Soft drink also promotes the excretion of potassium.  Potassium is essential for maintaining the fluid in our cells and hence maintaining normal blood pressure, keeping us hydrated, keeping our muscles working properly and helping our energy systems work properly.

So what should you do?

  • Seek out fresh food
  • Seek out food in season
  • Use lots of fresh herbs in cooking or add them to salads
  • Minimise your amount of packaged foods (foods that come in cans, boxes, bottles and other containers)
  • Limit your take-away and fast food
  • Eat a wide variety of foods to obtain a wide variety of nutrients
  • Chew your food, don’t inhale it
  • Sit down to eat your meals, create an environment conducive to digestion
  • Aim to have 2/3 vegies on your plate and 1/3 grains or legumes (beans & lentils) or fish, chicken, eggs or lean red meat.

I cannot emphasise enough … the nutrients you give your body and how well your body utilises these nutrients will influence the quality of your health.  You may be able to get away with a poor diet for a period of time, however it will eventually catch up with you.  We are living longer and longer, maintaining your health is essential to optimise your quality of life over the long term.

All things in moderation

Don’t worry, you do not need to never indulge.  Having the occasional treat is not a disaster to your health.  Have a piece of birthday cake, indulge occasionally in that favourite wicked dessert and have a piece of your favourite chocolate here and there.  These things if done 2-3 times per week will not undermine your health.  However if you choose these foods daily and always over healthier food choices, sure will likely have issues over time.

How do you know if you are not eating well?  Your body generally gives you symptoms, they can include fatigue, indigestion, flatulence (wind), burping, reflux, poor sleep, weight gain, muscle aches, hormone imbalance and mood changes.

If you are experiencing any of these, you may need to review what you eat.

Move in whatever way works for your lifestyle

And of course, don’t forget to move … stay active.  Walk, run/jog, join a yoga class, ride your bike, go surfing, kayak, play tennis, swim, get stuck into the housework, get off the bus 3 stops early and walk to walk … whatever it is you you like to do, I encourage you to do it.

A few things to think about:

  • How much you eat should be relative to how active you are.
  • Try and do a variety of activities so you are engaging different parts of your body.
  • Choose activities you enjoy, selecting an activity you find boring or difficult means it will likely go by the way side.
  • Try and exercise in the morning – if you are tired at the end of the day you may find it difficult to get motived.
  • Be realistic about how much activity you are doing.  Research indicates people generally over estimate their level of activity and hence eat more than they need.
  • Build being active as part of your daily or weekly routine.  Find ways of being active daily that you don’t classify as ‘formal’ exercise.
  • Try and include some activities outdoors – it will help you get your much needed dose of vitamin D.
  • And if you have not exercised for a while, start with gentle exercise and consult with a health practitioner for advice and guidance.

Adopting an active lifestyle will mean you will be stronger physically, have more even moods, sleep better and be less stressed.

We have so many wonderful foods to eat – great fruit, veg, legumes, grains, fish, chicken, nuts, seeds …..Nature has provided us an array of wonderful food colours, smells, textures and tastes.

And we are blessed with a beautiful country and pretty good weather.

I encourage you to enjoy your food and stay active.

ciao, Jan