Dr Frans van der Westhuizen has lost 16 kg since the start of 2019. He also recently won a R5 000 voucher for his efforts, through the Vitality Active Rewards for Doctors programme. How has he managed to succeed in changing his lifestyle?
Paediatrician Dr Frans van der Westhuizen is part of Kidimed Associate Paediatricians at the Netcare Pretoria East Hospital. “There’s such happiness and positive energy in children and I love that that’s a key part of my daily work,” he says. However, as a doctor, and also a father of a seven-month-old daughter and three-year-old son, he remains sensitive to the psychological dynamics that accompany a child feeling unwell.
“We need to manage the stress faced by the child, as well as the very concerned parents and extended family. So, constant compassion and engagement are key to our work. And, we need to ensure we have boundless energy as doctors. Children get sick often, sometimes very sick, and at any time of day. I share the 24-hour, on-call roster with three paediatrician colleagues in our practice. It can all catch up with you,” says the 33-year-old.
Proactively managing his own mental and physical stress has become central to preventing episodes of burnout. “After years of putting my health second, I started exercising again this year. For me, those 60 to 90 minutes of exercise – five days a week, before work – are a way to unwind and switch off. It’s the only time when my mind clears,” he says.
Dr Frans van der Westhuizen has lost 16 kg since the start of 2019
Baby daughter’s allergies change family’s approach to healthy living
Between January and July 2019, Dr van der Westhuizen shifted his focus back into health drive, all thanks to his seven-month-old daughter. “We discovered that she had a cow’s milk protein allergy. This protein is abundant in a wide variety of processed food products, as it’s used as a stabilising agent. Her allergy forced us to look at what we had in our kitchen and face up to what we were eating as a family. We were not cooking from scratch very much and often eating convenience, ready-made meals. They seem healthy but, when scrutinised, reveal an abundance of salt, sugar, calories, fats and allergens.
“Going back to cooking at home and using whole ingredients prepared from scratch, has made a huge difference. We cut out a lot of meat – especially fatty cuts, steaks and chops – and added in far more fruits and vegetables. We also cut out snacks – sweets after dinner or crisps while we were watching television and really unhealthy cafeteria food at work for me. Now, I eat the Vitality-approved Woolworths salad bowls for lunch and include bulgur wheat and beans as my healthy protein,” adds Dr van der Westhuizen. “Though tricky with young children around, I also really try to get seven to eight hours sleep, which is also part of my effort to get healthier.”
Vitality Active Rewards for Doctors recognises quarterly winners
Dr van der Westhuizen is a member of the Vitality Active Rewards for Doctors (VARD) programme. Dr Maurice Goodman, chief medical officer for Discovery Health, explains the benefit: “Doctors who are members of VARD are ranked on the quarterly VARD leaderboards, where they compete to become VARD ‘Top’ and ‘Most Improved’ performers. To feature as a winner, a doctor needs to consistently achieve their weekly VARD goals over the qualifying three months. The highest performing monthly achievers are considered in the quarterly round-up and winners receive Incredible Connection vouchers to the value of R5 000. Dr van der Westhuizen recently won such a voucher in the ‘Most Improved Specialist’, in the national category.”
To track his physical activity, Dr van der Westhuizen uses a Garmin Fenix 5x multisport fitness watch and uploads his training data to VARD through the Discovery app, so accessing Vitality Active Rewards. He adds, “The voucher was a lovely bonus for my efforts and winning it has inspired me to do even more.”
“We are seeing more insulin resistance and overweight in children.”
Dr van der Westhuizen hastens to add that chronic diseases of lifestyle such as diabetes and obesity are on the rise in young children. “We are seeing more insulin resistance and overweight in children. This not only affects their quality of life by introducing the seeds of chronic illness at a very young age, but also brings in psychological dynamics such as poor self-esteem, which affect so many areas of life. A parent’s lifestyle choices – from physical activity to nutritional intake – are fundamental to determining the health of their children. And, any healthy habits you can instil in children at a young age will equip them for years.
Dr van der Westhuizen hastens to add that chronic diseases of lifestyle such as diabetes and obesity are on the rise in young children. “We are seeing more insulin resistance and overweight in children. This not only affects their quality of life by introducing the seeds of chronic illness at a very young age, but also brings in psychological dynamics such as poor self-esteem, which affect so many areas of life. A parent’s lifestyle choices – from physical activity to nutritional intake – are fundamental to determining the health of their children. And, any healthy habits you can instil in children at a young age will last them for years.
“My advice to parents with children who are headed for chronic diseases of lifestyle is always to adjust the family diet – we need family-wide interventions. The whole family needs to take part in physical activity. My family and I do our parkrun on weekends – granted, more like a park-walk with the prams in tow.
Any 2020 health ambitions?
Dr van der Westhuizen is considering a marathon in 2020 but won’t give away which event he has in mind until he feels more prepared. “I will focus on maintaining my current state of health through good nutrition, gym before work, and my weekend parkruns with the family and longer road-runs on my own. I couldn’t ever go back to my old habits. I feel better than I ever have before!”