The CEO Malaysia has the pleasure of interviewing Melanie Jessica, a Diet Consultant at HealthifyMe, a digital health and wellness platform that provides services such as calorie tracking, one-on-one nutrition and fitness coaching, and diet and workout plans.

“We can only be as healthy as what we consume after all”.

Melanie joined the organization in 2018 to pursue her passion in making a difference in people’s lives and to create awareness in leading a healthy and sustainable lifestyle.

Malaysia has one of the highest obesity rates in Southeast Asia, why is that?

Malaysia has become the “fattest” country in Asia with nearly half the Malaysian adult population now overweight or obese. There are various factors contributing to this phenomenon and can be classified into four main categories. These categories are, food, physical activity, environment and genetics. Other factors that might contribute to this are diseases, stress and medicines.

Focusing on two major modifiable risk factors which are food intake and physical activity, it is found that Malaysians’ food habits and sedentary lifestyle reported to be among the major reasons for this alarming phenomenon. As for food habits, energy (calorie) intake and output vary with individuals according to their age, sex and activity factor. Most Malaysians did not know how much exactly they have to eat in a day and thus this will increase the risk of over-eating/over-indulging way exceeding their daily requirements. This will in turn make an individual gain extra weight and thus will increase the risk of developing chronic diseases later in life.

With regards to physical activity, Malaysia National Health and Morbidity Survey 2015 stated that 40% of Malaysians are physically inactive. Among the reasons include environmental factors resulting from urbanisation and modernisation such as high-density traffic, air pollution, unsafe environment due to crime are some of the examples that may discourage participation in physical activity.

Therefore, it is not surprising that physical inactivity coupled with abundance of unhealthy food choices and poor eating habits among Malaysians, that we are ranked first for nations with the highest number of obesity incidence in Asia.

What are the most common mistakes done when it comes to trying to keep a healthy lifestyle?

Deciding to make a change in your life is never easy. Breaking old habits and creating healthy ones can be challenging and even discouraging at times. These are the most common mistakes done to stay healthy.

Being restrictive is not sustainable because it will not be practical for the long haul. A quick-fix diet might help to lose a few kilograms fast in a short period of time, however in the longer term there is a very high chance the lost weight might creep back on. A sustainable diet on the other hand, we can easily sustain for a long term with balance and less stress. Restriction also causes a vicious cycle of dieting; restrict, binge, restrict, binge and the cycle go on. We feel the need to eat healthy, we restrict our diet, craving occurs, we stop restricting, the weight piles back on, and then we end up feeling even worse about ourselves, and finally we start again.

Not making sleep a priority is another common mistake we tend to make. Numerous studies have suggested that restricted sleep and poor sleep quality may lead to metabolic disorders, weight gain, and an increased risk of obesity and other chronic health conditions. When we don’t get the recommended 7–8 hours per night, it can have a significant impact on our immune system and mental health, not to mention work performance and social life

Many underestimate the power of coaching, a lot of people do not understand the value-add about coaching as they seem to already know everything about health and what’s the right approach for them. Making a lifestyle change is a hard process to go for on our own. This is how coaching helps, to guide us the challenging way to really make a change and reach our goals. One approach fits all doesn’t work in making lifestyle changes as every individual is unique and has different health goals.

Is there any country that we can/should model after (policy wise, etc) in regards to living a healthier and better lives? Or what can the Malaysian government improve on?

The quality and efficiency of a country’s healthcare system can have a massive impact on its citizens’ quality of life. Healthcare is a global industry encompassing both physical and mental health. It covers a range of functions, from the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease, illness, and injury to long-term recovery. According to the World Health Organization, a well-functioning healthcare system requires a steady financing mechanism, a properly trained and adequately-paid workforce, well-maintained facilities, and access to reliable information to base decisions on.

France has one of the best healthcare in the world. When compared with people in other countries, the French live longer and healthier lives. France has a longer life expectancy, a lower infant mortality rate, and a higher doctor-to-resident ratio. A study has reported that good care in France starts at birth. There are months of paid job leave for mothers who work. New mothers get a child allowance. There are neighbourhood health clinics for new mothers and their babies, home visits from nurses and subsidised day care.

The French system combines private and public sectors to provide universal health coverage to all. Most citizens receive their insurance through their employer and almost everyone has supplemental private insurance. The majority of medical bills are paid for by the government (funds from payroll and income taxes) and the remainder is footed by individual’s supplemental private insurance. In France, the sicker you are, the more coverage you get. For people with one of 30 long-term and expensive illnesses, such as diabetes, mental illness and cancer, the government picks up 100% of their health care costs, including surgeries, therapies and drugs.

Any recommendations that people can follow to live a healthier lifestyle?

Living a healthy lifestyle is to live a vibrant, active life with a healthy body and healthy mind. Creating a healthy lifestyle doesn’t have to mean drastic changes. Making gradual small changes to your daily routine can have a big impact.

It could be as simple as start moving more, as per our Ministry of Health recommendation to reach 10,000 steps a day which would help to burn 200-300kcal and improve on our cardiovascular system too.

Eating a healthy & well-balanced diet is another part of a healthy lifestyle. Not only can a nutritious diet help with weight management, but it can also improve your health and quality of life as you get older. Identifying our calorie & macronutrient needs will help us to make better choices. Substitute sugary drinks with plain water or water flavoured with fresh fruit or herbs. It’s a great way to stay hydrated and still get a burst of flavour.

Getting enough sleep and managing stress also plays a major role in adapting a healthy lifestyle. A good night’s sleep makes us able to tackle the day’s stress easily. When we’re tired, we’re impatient and easily agitated, which can increase stress. Practicing good sleep hygiene along with stress-lowering tactics can help improve your quality of sleep.

Lastly, how do you envision, or what can you foresee in the future of Malaysians if they do not make the lifestyle change now?

Since 2000, Malaysians have been facing issues of obesity and eating disorders. Diet-related diseases are on the rise in Malaysia, and scientific evidence shows that unhealthy and unbalanced food increases the risk of hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, and diabetes

If poor eating habits and insufficient physical activities are not rectified soon, we can expect a further increase in obesity and non-communicable diseases (NCDs) among Malaysians which will also increase the socioeconomic burdens on middle-income households. Rapid socio-economic development and urbanization has influenced the Malaysian lifestyle and contributed to the rise of NCDs.

HealthifyMe Apps

Mental health concerns have long been a neglected part of well-being. This is a wake-up call to do more for the mental health of all in Malaysia and give it the investment it deserves. A proper stress management is essential for a healthy wellbeing.

HealthifyMe provides comprehensive solutions for diet & fitness and disease reversal, powered by cutting edge AI and qualified Dietitian, Nutritionist and Fitness Trainer. Its vision is to ‘Healthify’ a billion people worldwide and become the world number one AI consumer Health App in five years. HealthifyMe now has a user base of 1,000,000 in Southeast Asia and over 50 personal dietitians and fitness trainers.