The importance on keeping healthy during lockdown!
GIS Alumni Spotlight: Ashley Toh, Nutrition and Dietetics Specialist for the National Health Group Singapore
Did you know that our diet plays an important role in our mental and physical health? This is especially important right now, during a time when we are dealing with many different things. Eating healthily and knowing what to avoid can be very helpful in managing our health and sense of wellbeing, which is why we reached out to Alumna, Ashley Toh (Class of 2009), who works as a Nutrition and Dietetics Specialist in Singapore for her advice.
Read on to get Ashley’s insights on the positive impact a healthy diet can have on our health.
Ashley, can you tell us your journey after GIS?
After graduating year 11, I moved to Brisbane, Australia to complete the foundation year program for the University of Queensland. I subsequently moved to Melbourne and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Nutrition and Dietetics at Monash University.
After my studies, I started off my career as a paediatric dietitian in Singapore specialising in weight management and eating disorders. At the time of graduating GIS, I aspired to become a paediatrician (evidence found in the 2009 yearbook) and although my plans had changed, my passion in the field of paediatrics remained the same.
Currently, I use my nutrition expertise to guide government initiatives to enhance health promotion within the school setting by shaping the environment and planning nutrition education.
The current situation and the changes in our lifestyle
It has been trying times for everyone globally with many countries implementing lockdowns. As many of us are now required to stay at home most of the time, this has been a drastic change from our usual lifestyle habits. Inevitably, there is an increase in sedentary behaviour as we spend most of our days sitting while working or studying and engaging in indoor entertainment such as Netflix or gaming.
In terms of our diet, we may be snacking, baking or getting takeouts/delivery more often to satisfy food cravings. Though I’ve highlighted many of the cons, there are a lot of positives we can take away from this experience too! Staying at home means that we can be more in control of our diet with less external distractions. We are able to enjoy quality family time, focus on cooking healthier meals and complete home workouts with almost no excuses. All in all, we are given the opportunity to be more mindful and appreciative of being safe at home amongst the pandemic.
How does the changes in diet and physical activity impact our health?
Sedentary behaviour is actually directly linked to increased health risks such as heart disease and diabetes! While it may not be possible for some of us to go for long walks outdoors, remember to break up the time that you stay sedentary. You can do this by standing up every 30 minutes and have a quick 5 minute walk around the house (e.g. get some water to drink, grab fruit from the fridge or go to the toilet).
When we stay home, we may fall into the trap of mindless eating. We could eat more than we need to due to a number of reasons such as boredom, stress or habitual eating. Eating more than we need to during this time when we are likely to be less active, could lead to unhealthy weight gain.
We also need to consider the quality of the food we are eating. Discretionary foods such as cakes, chips and confectionery should be kept to a minimum, or no more than 2 times a week. Discretionary foods are often low in nutrition and high in sugar, sodium and/or saturated fats. Having these in excess can raise our cholesterol levels, blood pressure and contribute to chronic diseases.
Ashley’s top ten tips for eating healthily at home:
- Plan all meals and snacks ahead of time and stick to a regular meal time schedule.
- Don’t stock up on discretionary foods at home. If you see it, you will eat it! Choose just one item in the smallest packaging if you really have to.
- Go grocery shopping after you’ve eaten. We tend to crave foods higher in fat and sugar when we are hungry. This means that the likelihood of chips and ice cream in your shopping cart is much higher.
- Shop on the perimeter of the supermarket. This is where you can find fresh, minimally processed foods such as fruit, vegetables, poultry and seafood.
- Schedule in your food craving/snacks for the week. Not having a plan means that you’re more likely to have them more frequently.
- Frozen fruit and vegetables are just as nutritious as fresh ones. They usually undergo flash-freezing right after harvesting and this helps to retain the nutrients.
- Choose lean meats, skinless poultry, fish, seafood, tofu and beans as your main source of protein.
- Choose healthy snacks such as fruit, low-fat plain yoghurt, popcorn and vegetable sticks.
- Eat your meals with no distractions such as the TV. When you eat while distracted, your brain may not register that you are full or that you have eaten at all, leading to eating in excess or feeling peckish even after you’ve eaten your meal.
- Serve food on smaller plates to give the illusion that you’re having more while maintaining the right portions.
Message for GIS community?
The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on all of us but let’s take this opportunity to set lifelong healthy habits. Together we can conquer this challenge and emerge a better version of ourselves.