By Dr Fatimah Arshad, Professor of Nutrition, Dietetics & Health, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia

Our health is in our hands. It is our responsibility; making it or breaking it depends on us. Everyone wants good health but the sad part is there are many people who take it for granted. We don’t fully realize that like all good things, attaining and maintaining it are continuous processes that we cannot neglect if we want positive results.

Good health is not just the absence of disease. It encompasses the mental and spiritual states (WHO, 2000). Therefore, good health comprises many components including stress management, weight management, physical activity, correct diet and proper nutrition, among others.

Stress is often considered a big bogey, hence the need to manage it. Strange as it may seem, however, we all need stress. Stress is the normal response of an individual towards behaviour and all things mental and physical. It is meant to check whether an individual is mentally capable of undergoing the normal processes of life.

While stress is a benchmark and helps us to mature into thinking, capable, responsible adults, the “down” side is that its effects on individuals vary. Some individuals cope very well with stress; others don’t. While stress can increase blood pressure by increasing your heartbeat, both pressure and heart rate revert to normal once the individual is no longer in a stressful situation.

Stressful situations vary. Meeting work deadlines, trying to cope with problems in the workplace or with difficult family situations, and strained financial resources are all stressful. Every individual perceives his/her respective situations differently and reacts accordingly. Take this quick “Stress Test”:

Do you often experience: Yes No
1. Headaches    
2. Insomnia/restlessness    
3. Loss of appetite    
4. Lethargy/tiredness    
5. Constant backaches    
6. Frequent angry spells/ loss of temper    

If your response was “Yes” to any of the items above, you probably are under stress.

Research in relation to nutrition, dietetics and health, has found that self confidence is an element integral to the prevention of stress. Being unsure of our capabilities or fearing criticism will dent our self confidence and create stress in our lives. But once we realize we are under stress, we need to understand what causes it, and decide how we are going to tackle the problem.

Stress cannot be completely eliminated from our lives because it is an indicator of how we are adjusting to inevitably dynamic environments. Seen from the positive perspective, stress moves us to action. On the opposite end of the scale, it can create anger and depression that could impact negatively on our health. So what can we do to avoid these “stress traps”? Think about these:

  1. Admit that you are under stress.
  2. Calm down, don’t panic.
  3. Find a comfortable place and try to determine what is causing your stress.
  4. Record the factors that cause your stress, eg: financial commitments, family problems, loneliness, feeling unpopular, left out or unwanted by your peers.

Besides identifying what stresses us out, we need to recognize the factors we can change. Regular exercise, moderate eating habits and healthy lifestyles without nicotine, alcohol or drugs are still some of the best ways of dealing with stress. The role of adequate rest and nutrition, too, cannot be ignored. You can’t have a strong body if you’re not sleeping or eating right.

Moderate eating habits start from your mind. You could start by making a commitment to being healthy. Once you decide on healthy food choices, you need to reinforce this everyday. Most of the carbohydrate intake should come from complex carbohydrates such as wholemeal bread, brown rice, bran, corn and wholegrain cereal products. Be aware that some product names could mislead you into thinking that they are nutritious. Always look at the nutritional facts table on the packaging when selecting carbohydrate foods:

  • The fibre content of the wholemeal bread in the Malaysian market is between 4.5g to 9.0g per 100g serving. Always choose the bread with higher fibre content to meet your daily fibre requirement of 25 to 30g per day.
  • Compare the energy (kcal) of the same food, e.g. bread, some have lower carbohydrates and calories, the lower calories bread and products are more suitable for weight reduction?
  • Low Glycaemic Index to ensure slow release of glucose into your blood to stabilie your blood glucose level?

Just as we need to recognize the factors that we can change, we need to realize that some things won’t change no matter how hard we work or wish. We should always expect frustration, failure and sorrow. These are a part of life. We won’t know smooth sailing if we don’t experience frustration first; we cannot value success if failure has never crossed our path; nor can we understand joy without the context of sorrow.

Above all, remember to always be kind to yourself. No one can love you, like you.


Loving yourself is the heart of the matter, and it starts with loving your health. “Love Your Heart, Love Your Self” is a series of articles brought to you by Gardenia on your health, with some practical ways to stay on the right track through stress management, proper diet, weight management and nutritional choices. Dr Fatimah Arshad, Professor of Dietetics, Nutrition & Health, is a respected Dietitian in academia, and was extensively involved in the development of Gardenia’s low-G.I, low-G.L. bread, Breakthru.

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