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Food glorious food – modern day malnutrition

Dr Victor Ti / Share:
Obese children enjoying their favourite drinks in Thailand. Bangkok Post

Historically, poverty has been a normal part of life. Food was often scarce and famine was a common occurrence. Human life expectancy was much shorter. The majority of the world’s population suffered from diseases related to nutritional deficiency, including poor immune function. Many people died from infections, especially babies, children, and those who have a weak immune system.

Time marches on, accompanied by evolving conditions, including the abundance and ease of access to food. Nowadays, whenever we think of eating a pizza, a few light finger-taps on our mobile screen is enough for a pizza to be delivered at our doorstep in almost no time. It is as if one only needs to make a wish, and the pizza appears almost instantaneously. Doesn’t this sound familiar? Yes. Aladdin and his magic lamp.

In this modern era, nearly everyone has their own ‘Aladdin’s lamp’. Therefore, for many of us, we rarely go hungry. Over-eating has become the new norm.

In the past, marasmus-kwashiorkor (protein-calorie) malnutrition was so common that most people were familiar with this medical jargon. Today, the once common scurvy (a skin-gum disorder) caused by a vitamin C deficiency, beriberi (a weak heart) caused by a vitamin B1 deficiency, rickets (soft, bowing bones in the legs) caused by a vitamin D deficiency, and marasmus-kwashiorkor malnutrition are almost unheard of.

Nowadays, most of our population are dying of a new form of malnutrition – malnutrition of the affluent. Many people are overeating, but they are malnourished. They are eating too many meals per day; some of them are eating almost all day, every day, even when they are working. For these people, eating is regarded as: a leisurely past-time activity, an entertainment, a culture, a habit, or worst of all an addiction – food addiction.

Additionally, many people have developed a preference for tasty, nutrient-deficient, empty calories – foods that make them fat, unhealthy and disease prone. These include: highly processed sugars such as corn-fructose-syrup found in most soft drinks, alcohol, and nutrient-poor foods such as rice, noodles, pasta, bread, biscuits, cakes and candy. Therefore, many grow fat
and unhealthy. Obesity has become the scourge of this millennium.

Obesity is a growing issue that is expected to kill many – many more than COVID-19 has. COVID-19 is likely to end sooner or later, or at least be kept under good control now that there are a few hopeful and effective vaccines within sight.

There will never be a vaccine for obesity as it is not an infection, but a consequence of food addiction – a behavioural issue.

Obesity has been strongly linked to many diseases that can potentially cause debilitating or fatal consequences. These include: diabetes, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, all types of cancer, heart attacks and strokes, which are all strong predictors of premature death.

Don’t we all want to live a long and healthy life? Surely the answer is yes. The truth is, we can do it if we eat nutrient-rich foods and do not eat too much. It is quite simple; it is a matter of choice, what I personally like to refer to as our mindset. We just need to set our mind right, hold that mindset firmly, decorate it with interesting mental labels, and continue working on it with patience and perseverance. Then we can do it, and have it – a healthy body, and a long life. Trust me, you can do it. Everybody can if they really want to.

Obesity is a consequence of food addiction. Therefore if we want to overcome obesity, we ought to first address the root cause – food addiction.

An addiction is a behavioural problem. It is as if a stubborn, hungry ghost is sitting in the food addict’s mind, constantly ordering them to eat and drink, and rewarding them with a feeling of euphoria whenever they do so. This is especially the case when they eat or drink empty calories such as: processed sugar, alcohol, and nutrient-deficient calories. These foods stimulate the taste buds and the brain, invoking a state of euphoria that urges the addict to yearn for more.

Food addiction cannot be effectively treated by taking medicine, as it is a behavioural problem rather than a chemical one. Additionally, some diet pills – such as phentermine – are addictive, and can cause damage to the liver and brain.

About twenty years ago, a celebrity in Singapore suffered liver failure after taking phentermine. His girlfriend donated part of her liver to him and he survived, however he could have easily died. Diet pills are potentially dangerous and can even be fatal.

Food addiction is best corrected using a psychological approach – behavioural therapy. Abstinence (fasting) can also be a powerful psychological antidote to the issue.

By practicing food abstinence we are essentially starving the hungry ghost that resides in our mind. This hungry ghost will naturally fight back by pushing us to stop fasting. Therefore, the yearning for food will increase when we start fasting, and if we break the fast, the hungry ghost will stay in our mind and the addiction will continue.

We are bound to fail unless we persevere to continue starving the hungry ghost until it feels extremely distressed, thus deciding to leave our mind.

Intermittent fasting is another form of food abstinence – a highly effective approach to overcome food addiction.

Shifting from a predominantly high calorie diet to a ketogenic diet – comprising of high fats and protein, but with a low calorie count – is a way to re-train one’s body to burn fats into ketones. It is an alternative approach to weight loss and control that many people find effective.

Regular exercise also helps with weight loss and maintaining a healthy body. Any form of exercise, including isometric, isotonic, aerobic or resistance exercise helps, especially when it is done in conjunction with food abstinence. Exercise converts excessive fats to muscles, thus increasing one’s overall body muscle mass.

Muscle tissue has the highest density of mitochondria. Mitochondria are the powerhouse in our body’s cells. Inside these cells, glucose is burned to produce energy, which is then used to fuel our bodies.

A bigger muscle mass means a higher number of mitochondria in our body. Therefore they will burn more glucose and generate more energy. When more glucose is consumed, more fats shall be converted to fatty acids, which aid the production of glucose for the mitochondria.

So, a bigger muscle mass means a greater number of powerhouses to burn the excess energy that is stored in our fat cells. In this sense, the coupling of fasting and exercise is an excellent combination that works towards effective weight reduction or control.

In conclusion, the type, frequency, and quantity of the food we eat, as well as how frequently we exercise, largely determine our weight and health status. In this sense, we are indeed what we eat and how we live our life.

Dr Victor Ti, MD, MFAM (Malaysia), FRACGP (Australia), Dip P Dermatology (UK), Dip STDs/AIDS (Thailand), Dip. AARAM (USA), LCP of Aesthetic Med. (Malaysia) is an experienced expat specialist generalist (Family Physician) of BH Clinic, Phnom Penh. As a specialist generalist, he is skillful at diagnosing all general diseases and excluding the sinister ones. Apart from the general diseases, Dr Victor is also known for his skill in skin diseases, sexually transmitted diseases, minor surgery, and aesthetic medicine. He can be contacted via email [email protected] Tel: 023900446 or Whatsapp: +60164122977. Facebook name: Victor Ti.

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