Promoting healthy eating on International No Diet Day

Today, 6 May, is International No Diet Day (INDD). Originally created in 1992 by Mary Evans Young, director of the British group ‘Diet Breakers’, the idea of the day is to fight the trend that people, and women in particular, are constantly made to feel embarrassed about their bodies, and always feel they should diet to lose weight and become more ‘socially acceptable’.

In her book, ‘Diet Breaking: Having it all Without Having to Diet’, she speaks about how irritating it became to her that women were forever experiencing little crises about having a biscuit or snack at teatime – “I shouldn’t really”, “I’ll have just one”, etc. She goes on to ask the question “What do you think would happen if you spent as much time and energy on your careers as you do on diets?”

It's not a good idea to starve yourself with fad diets, but it is a very good idea to stick to healthy foods. (© All Rights Reserved)
It’s not a good idea to starve yourself with fad diets, but it is a very good idea to stick to healthy foods.
(© All Rights Reserved)

Since its inception in 1992, INDD has grown to a wider awareness creation movement, addressing the potential dangers of dieting and other extreme steps people take to lose weight such as vertical banded gastroplasty surgery, also known as ‘stomach stapling’.

Many restaurants and food shops have also jumped on the bandwagon, using the ‘no diet’ message to promote the sale of indulgent foods and snacks. This, however, misses the point – the idea is not to promote over-indulgence. The point, I believe, is not that it’s fine to be obese and that you shouldn’t try to stay in shape. Obesity is a major problem in both men and women, and a contributor to an alarming percentage of deaths worldwide. As such it definitely needs to be addressed. The way to address it, however, is not through fad diets an starving yourself, but rather through healthy eating and regular exercise.

In it’s book ‘Weighing the Options: Criteria For Evaluating Weight Management Programs’, the American Institute of Medicine‘s Committee To Develop Criteria for Evaluating the Outcomes of Approaches To Prevent and Treat Obesity states:
“We agree, of course, that there should be more appreciation and acceptance of diversity in the physical attributes of people, more discouragement of dieting in vain attempts to attain unrealistic physical ideals, and no obsession with weight loss by individuals who are at or near desirable or healthy weights. However, it is inappropriate to argue that obese individuals should simply accept their body weight and not attempt to reduce, particularly if the obesity is increasing their risk for developing other medical problems or diseases.”

So, use International No Diet Day as a reminder to stop spending your life embarrassed about how you look, and to stop chasing one fad diet after another. But equally importantly, use the day as a reminder to change your long term eating habits towards eating more healthy food, and to start exercising.

Extreme diets and obesity are not the only two options – there is a healthy, sustainable middle ground that everyone can, and should, work towards.

Catch a healthy beat on International Dance Day

International Dance Day is celebrated on 29 April each year since 1982 when it was introduced by the International Theatre Institute (ITI), a UNESCO partner NGO.

The day celebrates dance as a universal art form – crossing all political, cultural and ethnic boundaries, and bringing people together through the common language of movement and rhythm. Each year an outstanding dancer or choreographer is selected as ‘Message Author’ for the event, and this year the honour goes to Taiwanese choreographer Lin Hwai-min. Quoting from his Dance Day message:
“Dance is a powerful expression.
It speaks to earth and heaven.
It speaks of our joy, our fear and our wishes.
Dance speaks of the intangible, yet reveals the state of mind of a person and
the temperaments and characters of a people.”

Dancing can provide you with a healthy, energetic full-body workout. (© All Rights Reserved)
Dancing can provide you with a healthy, energetic full-body workout.
(© All Rights Reserved)

Besides its cultural and artistic significance, dance is also a great physical activity, providing the dancer with a comprehensive full-body workout. As a mode of exercise it has many advantages – not only is it more fun than slogging away in a gym, it’s great for core strength, balance training and flexibility. In this age when many children and adults spend the bulk of their time sitting at a desk behind a computer, rather than engaging in physical activity, dance can become an even more important form of expression. Dance Day Message Author Lin Hwai-min also touches on this important role of dance, saying:
“Come, turn off your television, switch off your computer, and come to dance.
Express yourself through that divine and dignified instrument, which is our body.
Come to dance and join people in the waves of pulses.
Seize that precious and fleeting moment.
Come to celebrate life with dance.”

So come on, enjoy the unity and diversity of dance, feel the rhythm, and exercise your body while you’re at it. Happy International Dance Day, everyone!

A personal ode to running on World Run Day

Today, 11 November, is World Run Day. Nothing fancy, just a day founded first and foremost to celebrate the joy of running, and secondly to create an opportunity for runners to organise their own local World Run Day events, with the aim of collecting funds for a charity of their choice.

I love running. Simple as that. To me, running, and distance running in particular, really is the purest sport of all – no fancy equipment, no complicated rules, just you and the road. Be it a tarred road in a city or a dirt track in the mountains, the idea is to get from point A to point B using no other means of propulsion than your own body, sometimes with a specific target time in mind, and other times with no goal other than to have as much fun as possible while you’re out doing it.

The benefits of running are numerous – from a physical point of view, it has huge cardiovascular benefits, and despite the stories about ‘runner’s knee’ etc, it really is good for your musculoskeletal system. And the benefits are not just physical – few things clear the mind and calm the soul like a long run in the early morning before the city wakes up and all the craziness starts. Not to mention the mental boost of jogging on a beautiful single track path in the wilderness. And as any runner will tell you, few things beat the ‘runner’s high’ you get after a long, tough run.

Before I ‘became a runner’ (I still often doubt if I can call myself that, especially when I see these huge gaps in my running diary, but that’s another story…) I remember seeing these people seemingly slogging along on the pavement, often in terrible weather, and I thought to myself they must be crazy. Why on earth would you do this to yourself? And it looks so boring! And then, one day, for whatever reason, you decide to go for a jog; and then another; and then perhaps you enter some fun run… And so it evolves, and before you know it, you’ve finished your first marathon. Or perhaps you never bother entering a race, and simply get into the habit of going out for a run every day, some rain or shine. But suddenly things are different – you’re the one out running in the rain, and seeing these people driving past, looking at you like you’re some crazy nut.

But you know better…

Join me in celebrating World Run Day. Go for a run. Whether you’ve done it before, or not. Whatever the weather.

It’s good for you.

World Mental Health Day and the global crisis of depression

Today, 10 October, is World Mental Health Day. This day, sanctioned by the World Health Organisation, raises public awareness about mental health issues. The aim is to stimulate open discussion of mental disorders and to promote investment into treatment and prevention services.

The theme for 2012 is “Depression: A Global Crisis”. In support of this, the World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH) has compiled a highly informative PDF document on World Mental Health Day and on depression in particular – well worth a read.

Depression – a mental disorder that involves depressed mood, loss of interest, decreased energy, feelings of guilt and reduced self-esteem, disturbed sleep, suppressed appetite, reduced concentration and heightened anxiety – is indeed a crisis of global proportions, with a reported number of 350 million people worldwide suffering from some form of depression. That’s almost 1 in 20 people worldwide.

While various forms of treatment exist – including basic psychosocial support combined with antidepressant medication or psychotherapy such as cognitive behaviour therapy, interpersonal psychotherapy or problem-solving treatment – depression is often not correctly diagnosed and access to treatment remains a problem, especially in the developing world. It is estimated that in some areas less than 10% of depression sufferers receive treatment.

Bipolar affective disorder, a severe form of depression, involves disruptive mood swings between frenzied manic states and episodes of deep depression.
(© All Rights Reserved)

In a way we are faced with polar opposite problems in the developed and developing world when it comes to treating depression. In the developing world, the disease is often not correctly diagnosed, and the necessary medication is not available, or there aren’t suitably trained caregivers to assist with the required therapy.  In the developed world, on the other hand, I personally think we tend to ‘grab the pills’ way to quickly. While antidepressant medication is a key component in the treatment of severe depression, what is worrying is the extent to which it is willy-nilly dished out to anyone and everyone who feels a bit down. Almost like the injudicious prescription of antibiotics for anything from a mild flu, when all that’s needed is some rest and recovery time, we are becoming a population popping ‘happy pills’ when the problem could be solved successfully, and with less side-effects, through therapy and even self-help approaches including regular exercise, maintaining a healthy diet, relaxation techniques, a regular sleeping routine, creating a stable daily routine, etc. As reported by the WFMH, “Innovative approaches involving self-help books or internet-based self-help programs have been shown to help reduce or treat depression in numerous studies in Western countries.”

While antidepressant medication is an important component in the treatment of moderate to severe depression, milder forms of the disease can be effectively treated through self-help treatments including regular exercise and healthy eating.
(© All Rights Reserved)

On this day, spare a thought for the millions of people suffering from depression, and do what you can to be there and to support those needing our help.  If you feel you may be suffering from the disease, don’t hesitate to seek help – it can be treated. And make sure to get an informed opinion before necessarily opting for medication – there are many potentially less harmful alternative treatments out there.

To quote the WFMH, “On an individual, community, and national level, it is time to educate ourselves about depression and support those who are suffering from this mental disorder.”