Like everything else, wellness has its trends. There’s fasting and Fitbits and every kind of diet under the sun, all claiming to transform your health and your life. But which are the ones that work and which are the ones that disappoint?
Earlier this year at the first-ever Livehealthy Festival, three experts assessed three of the most popular current wellness trends.
To fast intermittently means you must consume your daily calorie intake within a set timeframe, usually eight hours. Whatever your eating habits – whether you’re a three square meals a day person or a snack-and-graze type – you must do all your eating within that time window.
Intermittent fasting may be a hot new buzzword in the wellness world, but there is nothing new about it – and it is a perfectly normal process for our bodies, explains Dr Nasr Al Jafari, specialist in functional medicine at the DNA Health and Wellness Center Dubai.
“Fasting has been a normal part of our lifestyle for 99.99 percent of our time on this earth,” he says. “It’s only in the last 100 years that we’ve been led to believe that we need three meals a day.”
The benefits of fasting include the stimulation of the body’s renewal processes. Dr Al Jafari says the aim is to reach a point where the liver has run out of glycogen (the form of glucose in which we store energy] and the body enters a state of ketosis (burning fat for energy instead of carbohydrates).
“That’s when a lot of signaling happens, including regulations of your growth pathways and boosting of stem cell production,” he says.
Experienced fasters can go 24 hours without too much trouble but for novices, a good way to ease yourself in is with one of the guided programs now available in the region, such as the Prolon Fasting Mimicking Diet (FMD). On an FMD, rather than undertaking a full-on fast, you eat very small meals.
“If you’re nervous about doing a water-only fast, it’s a nice way to break yourself in,” says Dr Al Jafari.
Fasting can ‘clean out’ the mind as well as the body.
“People are tied to their food and one of the benefits of fasting is that you lose those emotional ties,” says Dr Robin Tauzin, a naturopathic doctor and the chief wellness officer at Al Mansoori, the engineering company.
Fasting should only be undertaken under the guidance of a health professional and not at all by anyone who is, or ever has been, affected by an eating disorder.
This low-carb, high-fat diet is hugely popular in the UAE, where online searches have shot up 1,000 percent in the last three years. It promotes ketosis (see above), but it is easy to get it wrong, says Dr Al Jafari.
To go into ketosis, people generally need to eat fewer than 50 grams of carbs per day and sometimes as little as 20g. This means eliminating grains and sugar and cutting back on legumes, potatoes and fruit.
“People are accidentally depriving themselves of the natural benefit of carbs and there’s also the quality of fat and nutrients to consider,” says Dr Al Jafari.
Then there’s the question of sustainability, he adds. Very few populations – even those who naturally eat a diet high in fat, such as the Inuit of Arctic regions – remain in ketosis for a long time.
In short, approach the keto diet with some caution but let your own experience be your guide.
“If it works for you and it’s not causing problems, don’t let anyone tell you it’s the wrong way to eat,” says Ann Marie McQueen, editor of livehealthy.ae.
Gadgets and gizmos
From devices that track your heart rate and count the steps you’ve taken, to mirrors that correct your body position during workouts, getting fit has gone truly high-tech.
But devices can also cause anxiety, prompting worries about inadequacy or physical performance.
And what devices can’t provide is the companionship, encouragement and banter you get from group exercising.
“They [devices] are great but you’re losing camaraderie, “ says Dr Al Jafari. “We’re socially isolated as it is and these high-tech devices mean we’re losing our communication skills.”
Instead, he advises visiting a clinic that offers high-quality professional screening.
“You can get a treadmill test in a standard hospital and drop dead the next day,” he says. “It’s about doing a proper, targeted, preventative screening.”
• Dr Nasr Al Jafari, Dr Robin Tauzin and Ann Marie McQueen all took part in a panel discussion on Wellness Trends at the first Livehealthy Festival on January 24-25, 2020 at Manarat Al Saadiyat, Abu Dhabi.
Danae Mercer is a freelance health and travel journalist. In addition to working as editor-in-chief of Women's Health Middle East and Men's Health Middle East, Danae has written for The Sunday Times, CNN Travel, Dubai Tourism, The Guardian, Afar, Bloomberg and many more. She's based in Dubai and is a trainer at Crank. instagram.com/danaemercer