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Dr Alexandra Bernhardi

Medical writer & columnist

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Obesity is elephant in the room of healthy debate

Local doctor and TropicNow columnist Dr Alex Bernhardi sees the poor health outcomes from obesity every day. Here, she lists 10 ways we can all take better care of ourselves.


Obesity is a weighty issue and the fact is we are getting fatter and fatter.

If this would be an observation only - such as the fact that children are getting taller than their parents - it wouldn’t matter that much.

But the undeniable truth is that obesity is responsible for the majority of illnesses in Australia.

This is one of the main factors causing the unsustainable strain on our hospital system, and the fact that many overweight people are actually malnourished at the same time makes the situation worse.

They are lacking vitamins and trace minerals from natural unprocessed food sources but exposing themselves to unnecessarily high levels of chemicals from processed food.

So what can we do to lose weight and increase our health?

There are hundreds of diets on the market – all promising to achieve the perfect body. It can be confusing to decide what will work best for you.

Here are some easy but important rules:

1. Keep your life and diet simple

Do not add more stress to your situation with a complicated meal plan. Do not think you need to buy expensive exotic superfoods – there are always alternatives around the corner.

Your nutrition needs to fit to you and into your life. There is no single recommended diet that fits all.

2. Check with an interested health professional if your body shows any symptoms of deficiency and restore these first

Address any medical condition and learn how diet affects it and what you need to watch out for.

3. Learn some nutritional basics and gain an understanding of how your body and the metabolism works

Think of it as a car and how essential it is to choose the right fuel. Compare what your understanding of “1 serve” is against what your doctor thinks. Do not think your doctor is joking if he or she refers to the palm of his or her hand to demonstrate the size of meat you could have for dinner.

4. Try and include 5 serves of veggies and 2 serves of fruit every day, plus some protein from fish, chicken, meat and eggs

Do not overeat on fruit – it contains high levels of fructose and can cause abdominal symptoms, high blood sugar and fatty liver if consumed in excess. Moderation is the key.

5. Eat a wide variety of natural occurring food sources rather than focusing on a handful of favourites

Chances that you will cover all essential micronutrients is higher and you also limit the amount of problematic substances such as mercury in large fish.

6. Drink plenty of water – do not waste money on juice, soft drinks or alcohol

Drink before you get thirsty, make it a routine to have a glass of water every hour or so.

7. Buy food as fresh and unprocessed as possible

Only buy it if it looks like food. Crumbed chicken in the shape of a heart should not go in your basket.
Buy food that is either unpackaged or buy it in a glass. Avoid plastic bottles and other plastic wraps and containers. This helps to reduce the chemical toxins in your body. There is a theory that the body will store the toxins in the fat belt around your belly to prevent them from accumulating in the brain.

8. Eat regularly, eat slowly, sit at a table when you eat and do not watch TV while eating

It doesn’t need to be 5 times a day, 3 times is just fine for most. Allow your body a break of at least 10 hours to finish off the digestive process and restore the enzymes. Listen to your body.

9. Learn to check the nutritional value of your food and not so much the amount of kilojoules

An avocado might have more calories than a hot dog but it is a lot healthier.

10. Treat yourself well

Be kind and allow yourself a small amount of your favourite food occasionally, even if it is not so healthy. Enjoy it and don’t feel guilty.

Finally, it's important to remember to remain patient.

Your body needs time to adjust to this better treatment and might be suspicious to start with.

There is no rush because the changes that you are making will be your new lifestyle.

You will be rewarded with increased energy and life quality.

It is not the weight loss that makes us automatically healthier but the change in our lifestyle that will lead to improved health. The weight loss will follow.

We are so fortunate to live in an area where we have access to everything that we need – water, vegetables, fruit, fish and even organic meat is available from our region.

It is your choice. Please choose wisely.