Every day, Madhavi Malhotra, 32, negotiated two hours of heavy traffic to work and back home. Each day, she felt "drained and dispirited, with vague aches and pains". "Stress is a fact of life and I did exercise and try to eat and rest well, but with two small children and a house to run, obviously it wasn't good enough," she recalls.
When Madhavi met the doctor, she was told she suffered from Irritable Bowel Syndrome - a condition caused due to taking meals in a hurry and leading a stressful life. She felt tired all the time because of vitamin and mineral deficiencies in her body. She was prescribed multi-vitamins and iron tonic, which helped her feel better.
While chasing multiple roles, many working women ignore their health or the signs that indicate that they are not in good shape. Most go to a doctor only when their routine gets disrupted.
According to Dr Shikha Sharma, Managing Director, Nutri-Health Systems Pvt Ltd, "Due to deficiencies, women can suffer from skin disorders (vitamin B complex deficiency); anemia (iron deficiency); brittle bones (calcium deficiency) and chronic fatigue syndrome (mineral deficiency)."
Seema Singhla, 30, a busy sales executive chasing targets, felt tired every day. "At first I ascribed it to the hot weather and my being on the move almost all day. But after a week's holiday, when I still did not feel better, I went to the doctor." The diagnosis: Anemia and imbalance of salts in the body due to excessive sweating. Seema was prescribed an iron tonic, multi-vitamins and sweet and salty lemon sherbet in her daily diet.
One reason for such problems is the changing lifestyle of working women, who neither eat enough nor eat right. Kansans City-based Cardiologist James Okeefe and medical school professor Joan Okeefe say in their book 'The Forever Young Diet and Lifestyle' (published by Andrews McMeel Publishing, November 2005): "We live in an environment that is in some ways toxic to our genetic make-up. Synthetic, high-calorie food is everywhere."
They say that humans have moved away from natural rest and food consumption patterns: "We move when we have to; rest when we find the time, not when we are tired; eat when food is available and we have the time, not when we are hungry. Besides, most of us have 'unbalanced lives' - too much work, not enough play, excessive calories and not enough fresh foods, too much stress, not enough fun, too much rushing around and insufficient restful sleep."
With such lopsided lives, women tend to eat less, and tragically, less nourishing food too. Packaged and processed food, usually deficient in vitamins and minerals, often constitutes the main chunk of meals for most working women today in big cities and metros.
It is not that health and nutrition awareness is low. If anything, there is a bewildering flood of information on what constitutes a good diet, with many diet plans and charts available. But, ironically, "the more nutrition-conscious we become, the more we are making not-so-healthy food choices," says Elizabeth Somer, nutrition correspondent for Good Morning America. More than a decade ago, Somer wrote in her book 'Nutrition for Women: How Eating Right Can Help You Look and Feel Younger', about these problems.
Most women opt for fad diets, or think they eat enough, but the truth is that their diets are not providing them with all the calories and vitamins they need. Wafers, cookies, aerated drinks have replaced traditionally consumed healthy snacks and fruits. Meal times vary greatly, with late dinners being the norm rather than the exception, often leading to poor digestion and weight gain. For most urban women, mealtimes are rushed affairs, where convenience overshadows nutritional aspects or quantity of food consumed. Most eat their breakfast - usually a fruit - while driving to office. Lunch is rushed and rarely has all the nutrients. When they return home, many are too tired to cook a full meal and often opt for one-dish meals.
This unbalanced diet, together with high stress and lack of appropriate physical exercise, is leading to health problems - both under-nutrition and obesity. Sona Anand, 35, went in for densitometry to discover she suffered from a mild form of osteoporosis. Worried, she consulted a nutritionist and got a diet chart which forces her to eat cereals with lots of milk, vegetables with low-oil paranthas, snacks and a full dinner. "I didn't want to end up with brittle bones at 45. I realized that if I don't take corrective action, I'll pay a heavy price later."
"Just about every aspect of ageing - from sun spots, wrinkles to hypertension, osteoporosis...can be slowed, halted and in some cases even reversed by making a few simple changes in what we eat and how much we move," Somer claimed in her book.
Sharma recommends a diet rich in "brown rice, oat porridge, lots of leafy green vegetables, fresh fruits, fresh chutneys for enzymes, soy and seasonal seeds and nuts (like flaxseed in summer and sesame seeds in winter). Cut down on processed and refined food, replace white sugar with other natural sweeteners like honey, raisins etc.