#1 Gastrointestinal disorders
Is your body screaming with bouts of stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhoea and/or constipation? It’s time for toilet talk! Gastrointestinal disorders are the most common problems affecting the colon and rectum, and include constipation and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) – a common, long-term condition of the digestive system. Some of the primary causes for these functional disorders include eating a diet low in fibre, not getting enough exercise, travelling or other changes in routine, eating large amounts of dairy products, being stressed, and taking certain medicines (especially antidepressants, iron pills, and strong pain medicines).
What to do about it:
Symptoms can often be managed by making changes to your diet and lifestyle. Intense emotional states such as stress and anxiety, as well as certain foods, can trigger chemical changes that interfere with the normal workings of the digestive system. Triggers vary from person to person, but common ones include alcohol, fizzy drinks, chocolate, drinks that contain caffeine such as tea, coffee or cola, processed snacks such as crisps and biscuits, and fatty or fried food. It is therefore wise to identify and avoid foods or drinks that trigger your symptoms, alter the amount of fibre in your diet, exercise regularly, and reduce your stress levels. Keeping a food diary may be a useful way of identifying possible triggers in your diet.
#2 Weight gain and bloating
Do you feel comfy in your own body or do you feel bloated and oversized? There are tons of factors that play with your weight and make you bloat; it could be psychological factors such as stress, anxiety and depression, or it could be a host of medication culprits. It could be your thyroid, hormones and of course it could be the nasty things you’re eating and the exercise you’re not doing.
It’s wise to interrogate the factors that are inherent in your lifestyle because the chances are that your food portion sizes are unconsciously oversized, or your workouts may not be quite as intense as you think (check that heart rate). Chronic stress is probably one of the most insidious weight-fiddler and tummy-bloater. When you live with anxiety, stress, or grief, your body can produce chemical substances, like the hormone cortisol, that make your body more likely to store fat, especially around the waist. It is this type of weight gain that really increases your risk of serious health problems.
What to do about it:
Dietician Alex Royal recommends starting an elimination diet to see what is causing the bloating or discomfort. Often wheat is the culprit or a combination of dairy and coffee and sugar. For body fat, cutting sugar and reducing alcohol is a big help. Drinking alcohol in moderate to excessive amounts can sabotage your efforts to lose weight. That’s because alcohol is a refined carbohydrate, similar to sugar, candy, and white flour. Besides adding calories, alcohol may raise blood sugar and insulin levels, which can contribute to weight gain. By creating and abiding by an individualised eating and exercise plan, you can gain more control over your weight.
#3 High cholesterol
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that is manufactured by the body but can also be taken in from food. It is carried around the body in the blood by lipoproteins (fatty proteins) of which there are two types; low-density lipoprotein (LDL – known as the ‘bad’ cholesterol) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL – known as the ‘good’ cholesterol). When there is too much LDL cholesterol in your blood, it builds up on the walls of your arteries. Over time, this buildup causes hardening of the arteries so that they become narrowed and blood flow to the heart is slowed down or blocked. The blood carries oxygen to the heart, and if the blood supply to a portion of the heart is completely cut off by a blockage, the result is a heart attack.
What to do about it:
High blood cholesterol does not cause symptoms, which means many people are unaware that their cholesterol level is too high. Therefore it is important to find out what your cholesterol numbers are because then you can lower cholesterol levels and lessen the risk of developing heart disease, the chance of a heart attack and most critically, a premature death.
Sleep is so important, especially for cholesterol levels. It’s been proven that people who experience sleep deprivation may have fewer high-density lipoproteins (HDL) – the ‘good’ cholesterol – than those who have sufficient sleep. Additionally, limiting the intake of fat in the diet can also help hugely with managing cholesterol levels. In particular, it is helpful to limit foods that already contain cholesterol, such as animal products like egg yolks, meat and cheese, as well as saturated fat and trans fat found in some meats, dairy products, chocolate, baked goods, and deep-fried and processed foods. And naturally, a good, solid, heart-racing, blood-pumping, sweat-inducing workout will do wonders too. Some people suffer from high cholesterol levels that have a genetic component, in which case you may need meds to lower them even if your diet gets an A+ from a dietician.