The health world has been telling us to pay attention to our eating habits for quite a while now. Sometimes we listen, often we don't. It's easier not to - we're too busy at work, we can't remember how to cook, we have no self-discipline, we've run out of time. But what happens if we get very sick? Do we pay attention then? That is the case with an increasing number of UAE residents, who are inspiring their friends and families to slow down and change the way they eat after discovering the Mayr method of health.
Dr Harald Stossier, the director of the Viva Centre for Modern Mayr Medicine in Austria had the idea of setting up the Mayr clinics at the Dubai Herbal Treatment Centre after seeing an increased local interest in the metho.
"We were at one stage treating just a handful of clients from the UAE, but they had very serious health issues and we were able to help them a lot," he says. "They saw such a real and dramatic change, that they went home and told their friends."
The Mayr method is not new - it was devised early in the 20th century by the Austrian physician Franz Xaver Mayr. After years of research, Mayr theorised that the root cause of most illnesses lies in the gut. You are what you eat, in other words - or rather, you are how, when and what you eat.
How comes first. As the digestion process starts in the mouth, Mayr noted, food should be chewed thoroughly to break it down and ensure we get a good dose of the saliva that we need for effective digestion. After that comes when. Our bodies digest food much more easily in the morning, Mayr found, but struggle to process it after 7pm, which is usually when most of us eat our biggest meals.
"People need to take the time to eat much more slowly, to chew their food as intensively as possible and to ensure that when they eat during their day follows a healthy rhythm," says Stossier.
What we eat is intricately linked to this process. We need a well-balanced diet that contains far fewer "acidic" foods (red meat, wheat, cheese, milk, coffee, cake) and far more "alkaline foods" (leafy green vegetables, grains such as quinoa and lentils and fatty fish). At a Mayr clinic you're likely to eat a third acidic, and two thirds alkaline.
Mayr's approach has put him at the forefront of a movement pushing the benefits of alkaline eating that has gained traction over the past year. Based on the simple truism that the foods we eat have an important effect on our body's acid-alkaline balance, it was first extolled by the American Robert Young in his bestseller The pH Miracle. Young claims to have seen people reverse Type 2 diabetes as well as breast and prostate cancer by changing the way they eat.
"The human body is alkaline by design, but all its functions produce acid," he explains. "We need what we eat and drink to constantly buffer the acids we produce."
It's a way of life now for Anura Leslie Perera, a Dubai businessman who first heard about the pH diet from an investment banker friend who had used it to control his diabetes.
"I took my wife and eldest son to try out Dr Young's methods on one of his retreats in Spain," says Perera. "We all lost weight, felt very energetic and found a way of eating that was easy for us to follow once at home."
Mayr's how/when/what rules of eating are designed to ease the burden on our intestines, giving them the time and space they need to do their real job, which is to rid the body of toxins.
"Eating too much of the wrong foods, too often, too quickly, at the wrong end of the day and under stress puts the body in danger of producing the over-acidity that leads to chronic health problems," says Peter Gartner, the head physician and medical director at Parkhotel Igls, which has also seen an increase in patients from the UAE in recent years. "We treat problems that blight contemporary lives, from obesity, diabetes, heart disease and allergies to depression, hypertension, insomnia and burnout."
Detoxing is a central part of the Mayr approach, which often involves a stay of one or two weeks. Gartner says the resulting weight loss helped one patient reduce his diabetic medication; the method helped another with chronic hypertension get back to normal blood pressure.
The approach is holistic, with ontemporary Mayr practitioners taking into account a person's lifestyle rather than just his or her digestive system. Stossier, for example, uses applied kinesiology to diagnose deficiencies and imbalances, something to which one of his Dubai patients, the PR manager Lily Mueller, was drawn.
"I was amazed just how much he could tell me just by looking at and talking to me," she says.
Mueller was impressed enough to book a stay at Viva Mayr, where she discovered that the raw food she was partial to did not agree with her digestive system.
"Instead, I was put on a mild clearing diet which agreed with my tummy so much better," she says. "The food was absolutely delicious, and once home I found the healthier diet easy to stick to - I now get up 15 minutes earlier so I can really enjoy a big, nutritious breakfast, and I never eat anything raw after 4pm, not even a slice of tomato."
Harald Stossier runs a clinic in Dubai three times a year. His next visit is on February 13, 14 and 15. Dubai Herbal Treatment Centre, 04-3351200 www.dubaihtc.com. For more on the Mayr movement, visit fxmayr.com. For more on Robert Young, visit www.phmiracleliving.com
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