Azmeh Khan, 30, is a housewife and mother of two. When I first met her in college, she was a short, stout girl, who loved junk food, wore XL sizes, struggled with acne and had begun losing hair. We lost touch for years until last month when Azmeh and I decided to meet up.
The minute Azmeh walked in, I could hardly recognise her. She had lost a lot of weight, had a clear, flawless skin and her lush black hair hung well below her shoulders. I was pleasantly taken aback.
“You look great, Azmeh. What’s your secret?” I put forth a clichéd question.
Azmeh giggled but her reply was rather boring. “I quit junk food!” she says triumphantly.
“That can’t be true. Quitting junk food can’t catalyse such a transformation!” I reply, refusing to accept her explanation.
“It can. Unhealthy food inevitably affects our bodies in the worst possible ways. We don’t realise but merely nibbling on a seemingly small packet of crisps or wafers can add pounds to our weight, raise blood sugar level, cause headaches, and induce acne,” she explains.
“Did you go on a diet or take any weight-reducing medicines that are extremely popular these days?” I was fishing for more information, wanting to know the secret to her lovely transformation.
“No, I simply began consuming a healthy and well-balanced diet. I cut back on carbonated drinks, stopped munching on sugary treats and began incorporating fruits and vegetables in my daily diet,” Azmeh says.
“Also, I began eating smaller portions of healthy food five times a day to avoid overeating during lunches and dinners. Don’t get lured by all that seemingly delicious food, which is actually bad for your health. Be determined to make nutritious meals a part of your life.”
Azmeh is right. Many weight-watchers resolve to quit eating unhealthy, spicy and oily food, but instinctively resume their ‘bad eating habits’ once the designated timeframe of their respective diets is over.
The dilemma is that they give in to their food temptations very easily.
Indulgence, once in a while is acceptable — even the most conscious weight watchers amongst us can’t resist the temptation to gobble crisps or biscuits or gorge on cheesy pizzas when those mid-afternoon hunger pangs kick-in.
However, making these seemingly innocent food indulgences a part of one’s daily diet is worrisome.
Azmeh is an example of those people whose daily meals would only consist of unwholesome food in the past. “I was dependent on fast food in college, which was the root cause of most of my health problems,” she says. “Instead of drinking water, I would sip carbonated drinks, munch on Skittles instead of fruits or nuts and eat out every other night.”
Many people, especially teenagers and young adults in their 20s, follow the same diet which Azmeh followed years ago. As a result, they develop different medical problems like stomach ulcers, kidney and liver problems, high blood sugar and blood pressure. Those who are obese are at a high risk of heart diseases and might even experience episodes of mild depression.
Only when they begin to face serious medical problems or when their physical appearance begin to affect their social and romantic lives, junk food lovers realise that they need to start eating better. Typically, women eat healthy food because they want to lose weight and get married, though men too wish to lose weight, look younger and appear more agile and hence revert to fruits and vegetables.
However, these reasons don’t last long.
Eating healthy food should be one’s lifestyle not a compulsion. It shouldn’t be the last resort, but a conscious choice for a better and active life independent of any medical or other reasons.
This life-changing alteration might seem a bit difficult at first, but once you start reaping the benefits of a healthy diet, you wouldn’t want to revert back to your old habits!
The best way to quit eating junk food is to gradually cut one unhealthy food item from your diet every week. If you try to eliminate two or more items simultaneously, chances are you won’t be able to stick to your resolution.
Dr Sana Azfar, a nutritionist, advises the same; in fact, Azfar believes in starting by substituting only one, small unhealthy snack with a nutritious food option, for example, substitute a mini-pack of biscuits with an apple. “Once you develop a taste for an apple, you will instinctively start avoiding the sugar-laden biscuits,” Azfar elaborates.
The best way to quit eating junk food is to gradually cut one unhealthy food item from your diet every week.
“Then, gradually you can start swapping mid-day snacks and complete meals with healthier options. You might experience some untimely temptations, frustration and mood swings in the beginning, but don’t abandon the ‘meal replacement strategy’ mid-way. Stay firm and motivated; think about the benefits you will reap in the long-term. Your internal and external organs will thank you in advanced ages of life.”
Besides this, other minor but significant changes like drinking more water, reducing stress, sleeping at least eight hours every night and taking small portions of nutritive snacks every two to three hours complement the replacement method well. Physical exercise can greatly and positively affect your health and mind. Until and unless you workout, no amount of healthy diet can benefit you.
“But these are merely diet and workout alterations,” Azfar adds, “first things first, you need to change the way you feel about yourself. You must start loving yourself more. You are beautiful, handsome, radiant and absolutely worthy of all the good things in life. When you love yourself, you will automatically want to take care of your health and appearance. You will want to quit eating unwholesome food and shift to healthier options as Azmeh did.”
Azfar’s comments have substance — after all, motivation to quit junk food will only seep in when we love ourselves enough to take care of our appearances as well as our physical and mental health.
Let’s start by loving ourselves — sooner or later, we will start eating better too!
Originally published in Dawn, EOS, August 5th, 2018