There is no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ food; it’s eating habits that matter: Pav Kalsi on diabetes awareness

There is no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ food; it’s eating habits that matter: Pav Kalsi on diabetes awareness

Reena Ranger, Chair of Women Empowered, is In Conversation with Pav Kalsi for her regular series for ‘iGlobal’ to explore some inspirational facets from the life and achievements of prominent Global Indians.

Pav Kalsi is an award-winning healthcare professional, with two decades of experience working in the National Health Service (NHS), private practice and charity sector. Pav’s key achievements include leading on a pivotal charity and food industry partnership, growing Type 2 diabetes prevention policy and developing content for an online diabetes learning platform. Alongside inspiring individuals to lead full, happy and healthy lives, Pav is passionate about both South Asian health and behaviour change.

Q

You worked for Diabetes UK, advising people on how to manage their diabetes, and then unexpectedly you were diagnosed with it. Please share your experiences being on both sides of the conversation – being impacted personally and giving advice professionally.

A

Having worked as a specialist diabetes dietitian for over 15 years, first in the NHS and then in the charity sector at Diabetes UK, my work has ranged from advising individuals with diabetes, to working on projects to help raise awareness of diabetes and help ensure there is good diabetes care. I thought I knew diabetes pretty well. That was until I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes myself at the end of 2019.

Even though I had an appreciation of what it’s like to live with diabetes from working with people with the condition, I now have a whole new level of understanding of how it affects every moment of every day – and it’s exhausting! From checking your blood glucose levels several times a day, to taking insulin, to going to multiple appointments and to worrying about the future. Having said that, I do feel lucky to understand diabetes and it has further strengthened my determination to help others living with the condition.

Q

What are some of the misconceptions about diabetes and some of the things that you wish were better understood?

A

One of the most common misconceptions is the confusion between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes – in essence they are two quite different conditions. Type 2 diabetes is strongly linked to lifestyle, tends to run in families and is usually treated with diet and tablets initially. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition, not caused by lifestyle and is managed by taking regular insulin injections.

Another misconception is that Type 2 diabetes is caused by consuming too much sugar. There are many risks that increase the chance of developing Type 2 diabetes, most notably, if you have a family history of diabetes, if you’re from a South Asian background, if you’re over the age of 40 (or 25 if you’re from a South Asian background) and if you’re overweight, especially if you carry a lot of that weight around your middle.

When it comes to food and diabetes there are many myths and contradictory information that exists. What’s important to remember here is that there is no ‘good’ food or ‘bad’ food and the overall picture of what you eat is what matters. As eating habits and lifestyles are so varied, it is important to seek individualised, tailored advice from a specialist healthcare professional.

Q

What has been the lesson you have learned during the Covid-19 lockdown?

A

The pandemic has been a reminder to value every day and not take life and people for granted. We really don’t know what’s around the corner.

I’ve learnt to slow down and enjoy the simple things in life such as going for walks, enjoying nature and spending good quality time with your family. It’s also been a time to focus on improving my health – mental as well as physical health.

On a practical level, lockdown has forced us to plan our meals more and get creative with cooking with what food we had left in the freezer and cupboards!

Q

What is the one lesson or words of wisdom that you try to live your life by that you would recommend to the next generation?

A

Learning is a continuous process. Working in health encourages you to constantly read journals in order to keep up to date with the latest evidence and I enjoy the feeling of learning something new.

Whilst undertaking my MSc in Public Health, I learnt to explore the reasons why people may behave in certain ways and how this might affect their health. I would encourage younger people to enjoy learning and challenge themselves to question why they hold a certain belief and what the opposite view may be. I think this keeps you humble and open-minded.

Reena Ranger is the Chair and Co-Founder of Women Empowered. In this exclusive “In Conversation” series for ‘iGlobal’, the dynamic entrepreneur-philanthropist catches up with high-achieving Global Indians across different fields to spotlight some insightful life lessons.

*The views expressed in the answers are of the interviewees.

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