We seem to be in the midst of an era of excess that is making us reflect on the importance of wellbeing. Advances in medical research mean that we know a great deal about the causes of physical and emotional diseases such as obesity, diabetes, strokes, heart disease, stress and loneliness. Our knowledge is vast, and is evidence- based; we understand the methodology of prevention, YET ironically, we are seeing unprecedented levels of most of these diseases on a global scale. It seems as though we are self-sabotaging, testing our luck, convinced that our health issues must be the fault of others. We blame the fast food companies with their incessant marketing that takes advantage of our vulnerability and seeming inability to resist temptation, we put it down to the omnipresence of sugar-rich foods and drinks that are presented to us in glossy advertising campaigns as the harbingers of the perfect life we all crave.
We cannot blame anyone for the state of our health. It is for us to manage.
The mind tells us we need to feel secure. Our memories of the first few years of our lives when our parents, especially our mothers, nurtured and held us, stay with us forever. According to experts, it is apparently this memory that everyone wishes to hold onto in life. Of course, sadly, we know that many people do not necessarily experience this period in a positive way. Some of us may have parents who were unable to show us love, possibly because they were physically or mentally unwell during our first few years, or unable to cope with the responsibility of being parents. If something caused them to be distracted from nurturing us, we may never have been given the crucial experience of early life security.
The huge hole that is left needs to be filled, and constantly topped up. We feel emptiness is not good in every sphere of our lives, be it in our hearts, in our fridges or in our stomachs. If this emotional need for security is not met through healthy, loving, fulfilling relationships with others, we may try and find it through food. Many people with health issues caused by overeating explain that they began to eat excessive amounts at a time when they felt lonely, hurt, unloved and depressed.
The current media reports about the huge rise in childhood obesity, the rise in strokes in younger people, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (caused by overeating the wrong foods) are alarming; we need to take action now, while the stories are fresh in the public’s minds. We must act by removing the easy access to sugar -rich snacks and drinks; vending machines filled with drinks, chocolates and sweets should not be seen in school tuck shops, and sports halls, in public swimming pools, and especially in hospitals. The message must be clear, these foods should not be seen as part of our everyday diets, but rather as an occasional addition.
However, I believe that this is not the whole picture. If we are taught how to manage our eating habits, this may work well for a time. What we require in equal measure are the tools to calm the mind, to see beyond the emptiness we feel, to accept what is, and avoid blaming others. We must learn how to take back the control of our own health, rise above any adversity we may have experienced as children or young adults, and forgive those who perhaps for all kinds of reasons, were unable to give us the emotional foundation we all need in order to make the correct nutrition and lifestyle choices.
Ayurvedic medicine knew thousands of years ago the causes, symptoms and treatment for sthula ( obesity).Eating too much madhura (sweet) food, is stated in the Ayurvedic texts as the main cause, and is in itself a sign of Kapha vitiation. Symptoms are seen not only as excess folds of fat on the body, but also in the colour and texture of the skin, excessive sweating, lethargy, sleepiness, attachment, heaviness, depression. Nothing new has been idenitfied today regarding obesity, in fact, experts are now stating that eating the wrong foods is the primary cause, more so than lack of exercise.
Reasoning is the gift in human beings that sets us apart from other animals. We seem to be losing this ability when it comes to our wellbeing. If we act now, and acknowledge we are in a precarious situation regarding our health, we can move into a new era of balanced living that will benefit us individually and collectively.