One out of two Pakistanis are at risk of dying from non-communicable diseases like diabetes, cardio-vascular ailments or cancer
By Dr. Rezzan Khan
In Pakistan, according to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) 2018 data, non-communicable diseases (NCD) now account for 58 percent of total deaths in Pakistan before the age of 70. One out of two Pakistanis are at risk of dying from non-communicable diseases like diabetes, cardio-vascular ailments or cancer. These deaths can easily be prevented by lifestyle modification. Lifestyle modification involves altering long-term habits, typically related to eating or physical activity, and maintaining the new behavior for months or years. It empowers individuals with the knowledge and life skills to make effective behavioral changes that address the underlying causes of disease.
Over my 40-year career, I have advocated the “food as medicine” approach to lifestyle modification as the platform for all effective nutrition intervention therapies. While we don’t have control over genetic factors, gender, age, and race, we have control over what we eat, if and how much we exercise, whether we smoke, our sleep habits, and how we handle stress. Helping patients with these controllable factors empowers them to take ownership of their health. Treatment of NCDs requires adoption and maintenance of lifestyle behaviors.
The patient should have a one-on-one counseling session with a Dietitian Nutritionist and learn about possible lifestyle changes and receive guidance on how to incorporate them into everyday life with an appropriate meal planning.
One key method that we advocate is that you maintain a nutritional diary with information on food intake, sleeping record, travelling, hormonal changes craving etc recorded. You should also continuously write down the weight, glucose, lipid profile monitoring or whatever is necessary to follow up according to your health condition. This practice will help you notice which meals, ingredients or lifestyle choices results in unfavorable weight change glucose excursion, or lipid profile. This practice will help you to have particularly damaging meals less often, change some of the ingredients or change the amount of some foods that you consume. You should also be able to notice sleeping, exercise, salt intake, and hormonal effects on weight and heath condition.
You could very well carry out the exercise described above yourself, however, it may be worth it to consult with a dietitian to have a chart tailored for you according to your requirements and scientific standards. You can then compare the information that you record in your nutritional diary with the chart to see the impact on your health of your lifestyle choices and make improvements early.
Nutrition education and information campaign is held annually in March, focusing attention on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits. The Dietitian Nutritionist Day is also celebrated during National Nutrition Month, on the second Wednesday in March. This year, March 13 marks the World Dietitians Day in Pakistan.
Dietitians help patients correct their cognitive errors. By effectively using cognitive behavioural therapy, the dietitian creates logical lifestyle changes that are helpful in preventing and treating NCDs and in maintaining good health.
The author, Dr. Rezzan Khan, is a Consultant Nutritionist at Shifa International Hospital in Islamabad.