That time of the year which many were eagerly expecting has, by now, long come and gone. However, the consequences of our actions or inaction during the Yuletide season will be with us for a long time to come.
I am a doctor by profession so let us start with the obvious ‘white elephant’ in the room – excess… overeating. It is a well-known fact that there was an abundance of food and drink over the past week. Bread could not be found on the supermarket shelves, the lines in said supermarkets snaked through the aisles and the looks of fatigue on the customers’ faces evoked sighs of pity from onlookers.
I can understand the need for shopping and stocking up as there were two public holidays. However, the problem exists well outside the realm of being prepared for eventualities. If we are honest with ourselves, we would readily agree that the mountains of food on Christmas lunch plates would put Mount Hillaby in the shade. Most plates would have consisted of rice and peas, macaroni-pie, sweet potato pie, jug-jug for the brave amongst us, chicken, probably both fried and baked, fish and ham. On the second floor, there would have been an assortment of creamy salads such as coleslaw and potato salad and the ‘for-conscience’-sake’ smattering of greens would also have been laced with creamy salad dressing.
Forgive me for stating the obvious, but that really is too much food for one person. And how could I forget dessert and drinks, both non-alcoholic and alcoholic? In addition, in direct contrast to decades past, the fast-food restaurants were also filled to capacity whilst they were opened. Years ago, it was an unspoken sin to be seen in these places on sacred days such as bank holidays and Sundays. Times certainly have changed.
The non-communicable diseases remain a topical issue in many countries around the world and our little rock has not escaped the effects of modernization. We have alarmingly high rates of obesity, hypertension and diabetes and, just for emphasis, we have alarmingly high rates of the complications of these diseases. For the most part, these diseases are silent, meaning that they tend not to produce symptoms until the damage to the individual has been done. Some experts report that by time a patient has been diagnosed with diabetes he or she has had the disease for about ten years. Is that not a scary thought?
Sad to say, there is still a significant number of persons who try to trick the system. At times such as Christmas or for others it could be a regular Sunday where caution, restraint and common sense are thrown to the wind, and food in excess is consumed. Then, a few days prior to a doctor’s visit regularized eating habits are resumed, as though they can be treated like an article of clothing- discarded then donned again at will. Such persons will find that whilst they do not immediately feel ill and some test results do not set off alarm bells, the damage has already been done.
Let us briefly examine obesity as an example of painless peril. Experts now posit that obesity is not only caused by eating in excess but there are other complex hormonal interactions and genetic factors acting in concert to contribute to the excess weight. Be that as it may, overeating at Christmas surely is not a step in the right direction for curing this illness. Obesity itself does not cause immediate pain, but it is one condition that makes any other coexisting condition worse. Depression, hypertension, diabetes and elevated cholesterol are all seemingly more challenging to treat in the obese patient.
We turn our attention to those patients with diabetes. Initially another silent killer, but in time, symptoms such as excessive thirst, weight loss, visual disturbances and impotence make themselves known. I tip my hat off to the many doctors and nurses who continue to drill into the heads of patients suffering with diabetes the long-term consequences of their actions. I consider it an insult (and this is my personal opinion) for a patient, knowing that he or she has been diagnosed with diabetes, to sit in front of me vigorously dusting off the crumbs of a jam-filled pastry and replacing the cover on a bottle of a sweetened carbonated drink. And if that was not bad enough, the person would try to explain that within our 166 square miles nothing else could be found to eat!
When we seriously think about it as rational human beings, are the long hours in the artificial kidney unit worth it? Is it fair to those medical staff members left to try to figure out how to help you enjoy a reasonably good quality of life? Is it fair to the taxpayers who have to feed you and provide medications and wound care supplies whilst you rest on a medical or surgical ward at our local hospital? Is it fair to your relatives who now are left to retrofit the home to accommodate you after your third disabling stroke? What about those who are left to manage household affairs with limited finances because a massive heart attack left you with heart failure or very likely, ended your life?
I will not be a hypocrite and say that I eat the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables per day, and that I get the prescribed amount of exercise that I should. I don’t. However, I make the effort. I try to walk rather than take the elevator, or drink water instead of carbonated beverages. These small changes do add up.
I propose that for the remainder of the season, we have an excess of positive, healthy behaviours. We should not berate ourselves for falling off the wagon but immediately refocus and try again. Replace bad habits with good ones and be consistent. It will pay great dividends in the end.
(Rénee Boyce is a medical doctor, a wife, a mother and a Christian, who is committed to Barbados’ development. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org)