Be Healthy. Be Happy.
I don’t know a lot of Ghanaians that are particularly health conscious. And I’m not talking about those who lament their increasing waist sizes, or those who order salads to please a date or even those who seem obsessed (and lie) about clothes sizes. I am referring to the genuinely health conscious individuals who are sincerely interested in the path to health and happiness. My friend Yvette is one of them. I remember Yvette threw a girls-only slumber party once and almost all of the magazines in her stack were on running and keeping in shape. I was a little surprised. She also had other resources on nutrition and overall health. I was honestly fascinated and inspired. A few months later, I took up walking and running but that didn’t quite work out.
So I was even more excited that Yvette decided to launch a healthy lifestyle blog (http://ahutoville.com/)! Finally, she’s sharing her passion online. I’m really hoping she’ll have tips on how to gradually get into running. I’m really interested in running, but – okay, okay, enough excuses!
The Ghanaian culture isn’t really focused on health and fitness (we can’t deny this). In the U.S., it’s a $20 billion industry and experts say it will continue to explode. So did Yvette’s life in the U.S. influence this blog? Can Ghanaians ever be more health conscious? And are our carb-heavy foods our main downfall?
Let’s ask Yvette!
Ahutoville! I like the name. I understand the name, but tell us a little bit about your newly launched blog.
Ahutoville is a word my girlfriends and I use a lot. It comes from the Twi word ahuto – which means to be at peace. This blog is really me hoping people will join me as we try to find fun and effective ways to live a full, fabulous life without compromising on our health and well-being. So on the blog, I’ll have info on how to get started on a fitness routine, give tips on nutrition, and provide general information and resources on overall well-being. I believe strongly in peace of mind – one that comes from being in a good place – physically, mentally and spiritually.
What prompted this blog?
A few years ago I fell ill and I got really interested in how food and nutrition and even your lifestyle can impact how you feel, and how you heal. And I’m not just talking about food and exercise. I mean your entire well-being. From that point on, the more I read the more fascinated I became. Just as I got to learn more about healthy living, I think it’s important to share the same information with people. There are a lot people who just aren’t aware of what health and wellness truly means.
And in Ghana, as much as we’ve made a lot of progress when it comes to health – people are aware of cholesterol and there are a few gyms – there’s still a big gap. Information about health and fitness is not easily accessible and people can’t even relate to it. So from what I’ve read and researched, I want to bridge that gap. I want to share the word, educate people and provide information.
What is this gap you’re referring to? Is it a cultural or informational gap?
Healthy living is just not something we are conscious of. I think we take our health for granted. Some people sort of lobby their conditions like it’s a badge of honor; (in a typical Ghanaian ‘local’ accent) oh me I have diabetes oh; is that so, hmm me I have blood pressure, and so forth. Living in the US has influenced me for sure. I have realized that as much as medications help, lifestyle is also key – relaxation, exercise, food and reducing stress. You can’t rely only on medicine. That can bankrupt you and won’t tackle you whole well-being.
It’s good that you’re going at this from the overall health angle. Most people don’t. In my opinion, I think health or fitness is usually discussed in a superficial way, often based on size and weight. Why do you think that happens?
People have a short term mentality when it comes to health, e.g. they set goals like losing 5lbs for a party, or losing weight for a vacation, things like that. That is one problem or misconception I’d like people to lose. Healthy living has to be for life. So it’s about taking gradual goals, and not just for a couple of weeks. We have to realize health is a lifestyle change. That is so key.
Any other misconceptions?
There seems to be a love and hate relationship with food. We have this continuous struggle with food but we have to realize food isn’t the enemy. I want to get the message across that you can eat almost anything in moderation and have a pretty healthy life. It’s not about restriction. How many people of African descent can say they can’t eat rice?
I’m glad you mentioned rice. Ghanaian foods are typically carbs heavy, are you sure we don’t need to stop with the mega carbs and declare Atkins (no carb diet) on ourselves?
No, I don’t think so. When I got to Ghana, I lost 7lbs, eating the same things. The issue, I believe, is our portions, not the food itself. Our portions are huge! They fill your whole plate. We need to be more conscious about portion control.
The second thing we need to be more aware of is our ingredients. So for instance, we can substitute pig feet with fish, and palm oil with vegetable oil It’s all about making sensible choices about our foods. In the morning, instead of milo and sugar bread, have a bowl of pineapple. For lunch, you can eat your ampesi, just go easy on portions and go easy on the oil. We really use too much oil. Our foods are usually swimming in oil. Another crazy thing is our salt usage. We literally go all out on everything. That’s the biggest thing – the quantities of ingredients, like salt and oil, and portions.
Great ideas, but some people may say a challenge they have with maintaining nutritious diets is cost. I’ve heard people say not everyone can go to grocery stores like Koala and get healthy ingredients.
That’s false, I think most of the alternatives are cheaper. For instance, one pineapple is way cheaper than a tin of milo. Our local fruits are super cheap and you don’t need to go for things like grapes. Oranges and mangos will do just fine.
So I heard this statistic that the average waist size for men in Ghana is 29 inches. This makes you realize that the ordinary person on the street is not fat. It’s usually the rich bosses who are big; they have access to the beer and kebabs. When you’re on the daily grind, like a mechanic, you’re burning your foods constantly. And you’re not eating big portions, you’re sharing two balls of kenkey with someone else. It’s not the wealthy who eat healthier – it’s the less fortunate who eat healthier. The rich indulge, the poor don’t.
Totally agree with that one. It’s almost the inverse for America. The bad foods are cheap and it’s the poor who eat the burgers. In Ghana, it’s mainly those who are well-off who can afford burgers and pizza. Anyways, another thing is discussing health and wellness can be a bit uncomfortable for people, what’s your take on that?
I think that’s also a problem I’m hoping to tackle with the blog. I am definitely not like Jane Fonda. I am not an exercise guru. My intention is to make the blog an honest account of what I go through and how I also struggle with exercise and eating healthy. I really hope that openness will let people realize they’re not alone. I want Ahutoville to be an online community of knowledge sharing. I want to get that support going. I think Ghanaians are sometimes too private, especially about stuff that we don’t need to be private about. I want to demystify that whole thing. I want people to feel comfortable discussing health and fitness. It’s nothing to be ashamed about.
I think the open and honest accounts you provide will be key. So on the note of openness, can you share your key tips for nutrition, exercise and overall well-being?
- I always eat breakfast – I try to never skip breakfast. When you starve your body, it doesn’t have a positive effect on you. The next time you eat, you end up eating more and your body goes into starvation mode. When you have a tendency to starve, your body recognizes that and so it holds onto any food supply that comes in including fat supplies.
- I try to remember to eat until I’m not hungry – not until I’m full. As soon as I feel satisfied, I stop – except if it’s jolloff, yoko gari or kelewele. Those I find harder to stop.
- One mantra that works for me is drawn from Jay Z’s ‘brush your shoulders off’. When something is stressing me, I brush my shoulders off. I don’t sweat the small stuff.
- I laugh hard – really hard with my friends and family
- I have fun exercising. I do things I love, so it doesn’t feel like a chore. I like to dance so I like taking aerobics classes with music.
- I like to switch it up too, so I don’t get bored. I alternate between several activities like running, walking or doing the treadmill.
So what is Yvette gunning for? What is the end goal?
I am hoping to get people, particularly women, to make their health a priority. My philosophy is if you empower a woman, it will be felt in her house, her family and her community. That’s key. From there, we can get everyone thinking about health. That is my lofty goal.
Thanks Yvette! Looking forward to checking out Ahutoville on a regular basis!
Yvette Ansah has a background in law and international relations. She moved from Atlanta to Accra a year ago to help her mother run her nursery school. She’s extremely passionate about life, health and wellness and eventually hopes to impact a new generation of health-conscious Ghanaians. Currently, Yvette just launched her healthy lifestyle blog that will serve as a platform to share information and resources on living healthy. In addition to regular posts on a variety of health topics, her blog has information on how to get started on a healthy lifestyle, fitness programs as well as tips on nutrition.