Live not to eat, eat to live!

If only we correct our eating habits then not only we would have perfect body weight, but also we can get rid of most of the diseases.

– Subodh Gupta, Indian artist

Are Malaysians eating to live or are they living to eat? Now, pause and consider this question.

I won’t fall off my chair if the answer is that we live to eat. That’s what we are doing — eat, eat and eat — from the time we wake up in the morning till we hit the sack! This has become our lifestyle.

This week I am compelled to write on the unhealthy eating habits of my fellow Malaysians after a long-time colleague was struck by stroke one morning last week. Fortunately, except for a slight restricted movement of his left arm, he survived. Since his job requires him to use both arms, he might have to opt for an early retirement. I am not going to speculate on the cause of his stroke; I will leave that to his doctors.

A video clip, ‘Laugh Your Mask off’ by one of the country’s leading comedians Allan Perera caught my attention. Perera was taking a poke at Malaysians’ eating habits.

I reproduce here his (unedited) joke:

“There is no place I think on planet earth that has so many 24-hour restaurants as we have in our country. Why? Because of Malaysians’ lifestyle. Early morning, wake up, breakfast eat; 10am coffee break eat; 12 noon lunch eat; 3pm tea time eat; 6pm happy hours drink and eat; dinner time 7.30 to 9pm eat; 10.30pm supper, thosai, milo ice, eat.

“And if there is a football live telecast whole night till morning, eat, eat, eat. No wonder we are dying of diseases.

“There is no time left to exercise. The only exercise is to watch football on TV. You all are greedy pigs!

“And we are the only military service in the world that gives you a holiday if you are overweight.

“If you are going to get down to the root (of the problem), start by closing down all those 24-hour restaurants. Or impose a food curfew. Make Malaysians eat during designated times.

“And open up 24-hour gyms. Make it compulsory for all these fat military fellas to jog 10 miles a day. You must respect your body.”

That, in a nutshell, is a description of our lifestyle! 

I had (yes, he is long gone) a weightlifter friend who would go to the mamak and eat anything under the sun — including his favourite tandoori chicken and naan, mutton curry, etc and finish off with a glass of teh tarik — after his workout at the gym.

We used to advise him to go slow, but he thought it was okay as he had a clean bill of health from the doctors. One afternoon while at work he collapsed and died on the way to hospital.

Post mortem results showed he died of a burst brain vessel. It was a stroke.

Yes, doctors agreed it was his lifestyle that led to his untimely death. He was 48.

Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, the 18th century French lawyer, once said: “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you who you are.”

Very true! We are what we eat. The food that we take determines our physique and health. Which also reminds me of Greek philosopher Socrates’ famous quote: “Thou shouldst eat to live; not live to eat.”

Some time ago, the country’s deputy chief statistician, Dr Mohd Uzir Mahidin, revealed that an increasing number of Malaysians are dying due to unhealthy eating habits and diabetes.

He attributed the hike in fatalities to the easy access to food and the frequency of meeting up for late-night meals. 

In late 2017, health authorities released findings that 73 percent of deaths were linked to unhealthy lifestyles, caused by poor eating habits and lack of exercise. These deaths might have been avoided if we practised healthier eating habits.

Out of the 73 percent, almost half of them were heart diseases. And what causes heart diseases? Unhealthy eating habits. So much so that the then deputy prime minister Datuk Seri Zahid Hamidi announced that restaurants would have to close at 12 midnight, meaning that our ‘mamak sessions’ would be cut short.

But the decision was not fully implemented for reasons only best known to the government.

If you asked me, I would say the high number of 24-hour eateries is directly contributing to the rising number of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, stroke and heart diseases. And the presence of these outlets is tempting Malaysians to continue their bad habits.

My dear Malaysians, again I say that you are what you eat. The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.

We need to address our eating habits. But for us, this might be the hardest habit to break. After all, we all love our teh tarik along with our nasi lemak or roti canai to start the day, don’t we?

Anyway, I am not saying we starve ourselves; perhaps moderation might be a wise move.

Remember, don’t live to eat, eat to live!