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hiking in uae

Safety First: Read This Before You Hike in the UAE

The scenic mountains of Hatta await.

Hiking is one of the UAE’s most popular outdoor activities during the winter months, more so now than ever. When the onset of the pandemic forced gym doors to close and team sports to go on hiatus, fitness-focused UAE residents gravitated towards Mother Nature for their workout wants – and many of them have never looked back.

While hiking is a brilliant way to get in shape, and stay that way, inexperienced hikers face a variety of pitfalls (both literally and metaphorically) from not preparing adequately, getting injured, getting lost, or finding themselves on an unmarked route.

hiking uae

The number of inexperienced hikers who had to be rescued, especially in Ras Al Khaimah, has risen dramatically during the recent past, prompting authorities to bring in tough new regulations for the emirate. These new measures require companies, tour operators, and individuals to obtain a permit before organising treks – with failure to do so resulting in a AED 10,000 fine. Since hiking is very much a part of our weekend plans until the hot weather kicks in, we caught up with Laura Brown from Hike UAE to find out everything you need to know before embarking on your very own hiking adventure, as we hit the beautiful mountains of Hatta.

Watch the Video: How to Hike Safely in Hatta

Ready to Start?

The 10 hiking essentials you cannot be without are:

  1. Appropriate footwear
  2. Map, compass, navigation
  3. Water (And LOTS of it!)
  4. Food
  5. Appropriate clothing
  6. Safety items
  7. First aid kit
  8. Multi-tool
  9. Sun protection
  10. Shelter

And don’t forget to bring a bag for all your rubbish.

Leave No Trace

The seven principles of enjoying the great outdoors are:

  1. Plan ahead and prepare.
  2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
  3. Dispose of waste properly.
  4. Leave what you find.
  5. Minimise campfire impacts.
  6. Respect wildlife.
  7. Be considerate of other visitors.
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Alkaline Water Health Benefits

Is Alkaline Water the Superior Water?

Short answer? No.

The marketing trend that promotes alkaline water as a product that slows ageing, helps digestion, improves immunity, prevents chronic diseases like cancer, and more is quite an old one. But what’s alkaline water anyway? And does it have any benefits? Let’s explore.

What Does ‘Alkaline’ Even Mean?

When your body breaks down food, the process produces waste. These chemicals (or waste) can be either alkaline or acidic, and is also often referred to as ‘ash’. This ‘bit of science’ was used as the basis for the acid-alkaline theory of disease. The claim was that this acid /alkaline ash can have a direct effect on our health – the acidic ash being disease-causing, the alkaline ash being health-promoting. The hope was that by eating certain foods or drinking certain kinds of beverages like alkaline water, you can change the body’s acid level – also called its pH levels – which in turn can improve health. 

To help gauge this, there is the pH scale that measures how acidic or basic (alkaline) something is on a scale of 0 (very acidic) to 14 (very alkaline). Something that is alkaline is on the basic end of the scale, or greater than seven (neutral pH). The pH of regular water is around seven, whereas alkaline water has a higher pH level than regular drinking water (typically eight or nine), with the addition of minerals like calcium, magnesium, and potassium, making it a perfect fit to market as the superior water

Benefits of Alkaline Water

How Did ‘Alkaline’ Become a Diet? 

This entire school of thought was picked up by Robert O’Young to whip up the Alkaline Diet, which included alkaline water in its list of elixirs to disease-free longevity. The naturopath went on to publish several books on the topic that have sold millions of copies worldwide with celebrity endorsements from the likes of Victoria Beckham, Elle Macpherson, and Gwyneth Paltrow ensuring its position as a popular diet. It is also worth noting that he was sentenced to jail time in 2017 for illegally treating people at his ranch without any medical training. 

What Is the Flaw in This Diet?

The diet per se is not too bad considering it prompts people to include more fruits and vegetables, drink water, and reduce intake of foods high in calories from ingredients like sugar, fat, etc. It is the claims about the mechanism of how alkaline water (or food) works that are widely criticised since it is not supported by evolutionary evidence, human physiology, or any reliable study on humans. The suggested mechanism is flawed because it’s a fact that our body has a tightly controlled inbuilt regulatory system (involving the lungs and kidneys), which keeps the blood pH in the normal range (7.35 to 7.45) – and it is not possible for diet or water to change this. 

To reiterate, food and drinks can’t influence the pH of your blood. It is critical for health that the pH of your blood remains constant and can be fatal if untreated – this only happens during certain disease states (e.g., kidney disease) and has absolutely nothing to do with the foods or water you eat/drink every day. Now, food can change the pH value of the urine, but it’s temporary. Eat a large steak and several hours later, your urine will be more acidic as the body removes it from your system. Urine pH is a very poor indicator of overall body pH and general health.

In my opinion, people who promote alkaline water are most likely confused between blood and urine pH. Excreting waste through your urine is one way your body regulates its pH level. It is also interesting to note that the pH levels throughout your body vary – and they need to. Your stomach is acidic (pH 2-3.5) to break down food, while your blood is always slightly alkaline (pH ~7.3-7.4). You don’t need alkaline water to ‘detox’ – your kidneys, liver, and other organs do that for you for free. 

To state it explicitly, alkaline water is a scam. While some small low-quality studies have been done (many in test tubes or mice), the claims simply haven’t been backed up by reliable human studies and the evidence for drinking alkaline water to help any health condition just isn’t there. While I can’t comment on specific brands, most so-called alkaline waters are just bottled mineral waters. Just like food, this water could change the pH levels of your saliva or urine – not your blood (thankfully). 

Does That Mean Alkaline Water Is Unsafe?

Water that’s naturally alkaline occurs when water passes over rocks – like springs – and picks up minerals, which increase its alkaline level. This type of natural alkaline drinking water is generally considered safe as long as it is clean and potable. 

A narrow spring with tocks and trees on both sides.

However, many people who drink alkaline water buy alkaline water that’s been through a chemical process called electrolysis. This technique uses a product called an ioniser to raise the pH of regular water. Makers of alkaline ionised water say that electricity is used to separate molecules in the water that are more acidic or alkaline. The acidic water is then funnelled out, leaving you with water that is alkaline in nature. 

People also attempt to make alkaline water at home. One way is by using water ionisers that are sold in many large chain stores. Adding baking soda is another way to make water more alkaline. If the water is properly filtered to remove contaminants, ionised and re-mineralised, or purchased from a quality source, there’s no evidence to suggest a limitation on how much alkaline water can be consumed daily. You should use caution with artificial alkaline water, however, which likely contains fewer good minerals than its high pH would have you believe – and may even contain contaminants. The water quality of the original source, before ionisation, is crucial to ensuring contaminants aren’t present in the drinking water.

2014 study cautions against drinking water with low mineral content, which is created by reverse osmosis, distillation, and other methods (without additional mineralisation) on a regular basis. Some scientists advise using reverse osmosis to adequately purify water before connecting an alkaline ioniser, which can raise pH and add minerals. The health claims around this aren’t backed by quality research and more research is needed to determine its benefits. So, if you find labelled alkaline water expensive, don’t worry – you’re not missing out on anything! Just drink enough regular water and make sure it’s clean. 

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Pelvic Floor Physiotherapy

Are You in Need of Pelvic Health Physiotherapy? 

Perhaps, especially if you have a vaginal prolapse.

When you have a painful back, neck, or knee, you most likely seek a physiotherapist’s help. However, have you ever considered seeing one if you have pelvic floor symptoms? These symptoms can include leaking with cough, sneezing or exercise, heaviness vaginally, bowel symptoms, or pain with intercourse. Such symptoms are less talked about – they can even be taboo – and yet, they commonly occur throughout a woman’s lifetime. Pelvic health physiotherapists are experts in the treatment of these pelvic floor symptoms. They undergo extensive post-graduate training to help manage these personal, often complex, and emotional issues. 

Pelvic Floor Physiotherapy in Dubai

What Led Me Down the Road of Pelvic Health?

During my physiotherapy degree and after, when I began working, I knew very little about pelvic floor issues. It wasn’t until the birth of my first baby 10 years ago that I delved into the world of pelvic health physiotherapy. After a difficult birth and a slow recovery, I started to feel symptoms of heaviness vaginally, and that something was just not quite right down there. Scared and unsure, I went to see a pelvic floor physiotherapist who diagnosed me with vaginal prolapse.

If I’m honest, I didn’t even know what a prolapse was until that point! This diagnosis and my subsequent recovery journey catapulted me into the world of pelvic health. I felt a need to educate myself and women about these taboo and stigmatised issues – to spread the word that there is help and support out there. Pelvic health is now my passion! I travelled to Melbourne University to complete my post-graduate education in this area in 2015 and I haven’t looked back since. All my work and education is now in this area. 

What Is a Vaginal Prolapse or Pelvic Organ Prolapse (POP)?

POP is when one or more of the pelvic organs (bladder, bowel, uterus) descend into the vagina. The pelvic organs are supported by connective tissue and the pelvic floor muscles. This support system can be affected by many lifestyle factors. Pregnancy and childbirth injuries (as in my case) are probably the more well-known. Other factors such as chronic constipation, genetics, menopause, being overweight, and chronic cough can also contribute to it. It’s quite prevalent, with about 50% of women (over 50) having some degree of prolapse, but only 3-6% of women are symptomatic. Despite this, very few women know what a prolapse is unless they experience symptoms.

Pelvic health Physiotherapy in Dubai

What Are the Symptoms? 

Vaginal dragging or heaviness, and visually seeing or feeling a bulge vaginally is the most common symptom. Others – bladder or bowel symptoms, difficulty inserting a tampon, pain with intercourse, and pain in the back or abdomen – may also be present. These symptoms can vary in intensity and be influenced by many factors, including fatigue, menstrual cycle, stress, menopause, and pregnancy. The good news is it’s not all doom and gloom! Physiotherapy can help manage symptoms and get you back to doing what you love.

What Should You Do If You Suspect POP? 

I highly recommend seeing your OBGYN and a pelvic health physiotherapist – and the research agrees! The guidelines recommend pelvic floor muscle training for at least 16 weeks, supervised by a professional as first-line treatment of women with mild to moderate POP. One large study found that individualised pelvic floor muscle training is effective at improving prolapse symptoms.

My Journey to Recovery

When I first developed symptoms, I will admit I was devastated. I felt a vast spectrum of emotions from sadness to fear, grief, and rage. Exercising was a massive part of my self-care, and I felt my symptoms every time I tried to work out and even when lifting my baby. I felt like my body was failing me, and it took me time (and a lot of tears!) to accept my prolapse and come out of this mindset. 

My pelvic health physiotherapist supported and empowered me, and with treatment and a progressive exercise programme, I was back doing the things I love. Yes, it took time, effort, and commitment, but seeing the results inspired me to continue. My recovery was much more than kegels/pelvic floor exercises – but they played a large part! It included whole-body conditioning, education, manual release of scar tissue internally, progressive loading of the pelvic floor and surrounding muscles, maintaining good bowel habits, and managing stress and sleep. Plus, a great friend, family, and professional support network was key. It’s not just the physical part that needs to heal, but also the emotional. This experience opened my eyes and was the main driver for me to educate myself and others on pelvic health issues.

What Happens When You See a Pelvic Health Physiotherapist?

I know it can be daunting initially and, rest assured, we are here to put you at ease. Being informed is vital, and all aspects of the session are explained in detail so you can make an informed, autonomous decision in your care. Firstly, we have a chat discussing your main concerns, what you want to achieve, and your goals. 

Next is the physical assessment based on your goals and issues. For example, assessing movements that you find difficult or symptomatic and finding ways to make these more manageable for you. We may also look at certain muscle groups or specific joint and nerve tests. Then, we move to the internal vaginal assessment where we assess pelvic floor muscle strength, endurance, coordination, and relaxation, as well as the position of your pelvic organs and scarring if present. This assessment is performed privately and at your pace. 

We check how it is by lying first and potentially in standing or during functional movements, such as squatting. After the physical evaluation, you are provided with education and an individualised programme. The session might also include a manual, hands-on treatment of the pelvic floor or other areas of the body and, of course, time to answer any questions you may have. Let’s break the taboo and begin talking about these issues candidly and openly!

Neasa Barry is a pelvic health physiotherapist at Heal Hub Rehabilitation Center in Dubai. Visit @herphysio for more information.

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Effect of Casual relationship on Mental Health

Can Casual Relationships Be Good for Mental Health?

It’s complicated.

A casual relationship can be applauded, cherished, criticised, envied, or considered taboo depending on the situation, social group, and public perception. Some people may carefully consider its advantages and disadvantages, while others take the idea of a casual relationship – well, more casually. For some, the humiliation connected with physical intimacy runs deep, while others dismiss it and enjoy the pleasure. 

Though many people have strong feelings about whether it’s a good idea or not, these feelings tend to vary when life circumstances – and relationship statuses – change. Whether you prefer to go with the flow or delve into the details, it’s helpful to examine the cultural context and potential mental health impacts (both positive and negative) of a casual relationship when choosing whether it’s right for you.

Casual relationships are now more accessible than ever. There’s no shortage of people looking for a physical relationship, with the option of meeting potential partners both in-person and through various dating sites and apps. But that doesn’t mean these relationships are not without critique. 

The Risks and Benefits 

The pros and cons of a casual relationship are entirely dependent on the circumstance. People lament the prevalence of hook-ups – particularly the lack of commitment and emotional connection and the mental toll it takes. At the same time, however, it can have many advantages like sexual satisfaction, attractiveness, maybe even finding a future partner, and so on. 

The disadvantages, which include emotional pain from desiring more or regretting it, are often attributable to your expectations and history of relationships. It would help if you evaluated whether you can embrace or reject any shame, negative sentiments, or trauma that you may have encountered. 

Benefits of Casual relationship on Mental Health

It should be kept in mind that a casual relationship offers considerable health risks if you do not follow safe sex practices (including the possibility of STIs and pregnancy), thereby requiring caution and awareness. Individuals interested in a casual relationship should consider their wants and seek medical advice about safe sex practices. On the other hand, the emotional implications can be devastating, primarily if a casual relationship is used to bury or escape your feelings or hurt someone else’s. 

Thus, it’s crucial to consider how likely you are to enjoy yourself as some societies are more accepting of or enthusiastic about casual sex, while others consider it taboo. There can also be a strong stigma attached to sexual agency and expression. But what if consenting hook-ups aren’t necessarily bad? What if you are told that a casual physical relationship can benefit your mental health? What if you didn’t have to let casual physical relationships ruin your mental health? 

Exploring Yourself 

From experience, we know that many people enter these partnerships expecting to have fun. However, they may become disappointed, connected, deflated, and disturbed. Others may be pleasantly delighted by the experience and their capacity to enjoy a physical connection. Casual relationships therefore have the potential of a beneficial influence on most people’s mental well-being. What’s the key? The correct preparation and a respectful and compatible partner. 

If your intentions for physical intimacy are to get even with a former partner or satisfy someone else, this could negatively influence your mental health. However, if your motivation is for pleasure or to explore yourself, you may be less likely to experience negative feelings afterwards. Exploring oneself may have beneficial effects on your mental health because physical contact releases ‘feel good’ hormones. Hence, if the deed is done with positive intentions, you will feel pleasure and self-satisfaction without any negative thoughts lingering in your mind.

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natural deodorants Dubai

Why It’s Time to Take a Whiff of Your Armpits

A detox might be in order.

The wellness world is obsessed with detoxes – detox teas, detox diets, detox face masks, detox scrubs – so it was only a matter of time before the armpit detox craze took over the internet. Editors, YouTubers, influencers, and natural living enthusiasts the world over have been slathering their pits with green sludge-like masks in the name of sweating less and smelling better. And yet, not a lot of people in the Middle East seem to have jumped on the bandwagon – is acknowledging that women sweat still considered taboo? In a city where temperatures hover above 40ºC on a daily basis every August, we figured it was time to talk armpits.

What?

This trending treatment is essentially about transitioning from antiperspirant to natural deodorant with the help of a DIY mask that contains bentonite clay and apple cider vinegar. For the uninitiated, ‘antiperspirant’ and ‘deodorant’ are not interchangeable terms. The former is designed to stop you from sweating – hence the name – through the use of aluminium, which physically blocks sweat from coming out of your pores. In contrast, deodorants prevent odour by targeting bacteria and/or masking it with fragrance. 

Who?

Anyone seeking a more wholesome lifestyle should give it a try, especially as an armpit detox will speed up the transitory phase of sweating and stinking more when switching from traditional antiperspirants to natural deodorants. And there’s plenty of reasons to make the switch. For starters, conventional antiperspirants often contain ingredients like aluminium, fragrance, parabens, and phthalates – all nasty and harmful in their own way. Furthermore, anyone who feels like their armpits stink (it’s okay, it happens!) or their deodorant isn’t working as well can benefit from a detox.

natural deodorants

Why?

First and foremost, it eliminates odour – apple cider vinegar has antibacterial properties and can therefore eliminate odour-causing bacteria. It is also believed to bring the natural bacteria that live on the skin back into a balanced state, thereby curbing odour and creating a more natural scent. An armpit detox removes the toxins that build up over the course of antiperspirant use, courtesy of bentonite clay. Drawing out impurities will give the area a break, increasing the effectiveness of natural deodorant in the process. Even better? You may also notice that any skin irritation caused by antiperspirant ingredients is soothed, especially as conventional antiperspirants dry the skin in an effort to reduce sweating. Bonus: armpit detoxes are easy, inexpensive, and take next to no time.

How?

Simply mix a tablespoon of bentonite clay with a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar and enough water (roughly one to two teaspoons) to form a mixture that’s not too thick, but not too runny either – you want to reach the consistency of sour cream. Avoid using a metal bowl and/or spoon. Next, evenly spread the mask on your armpits for 5-20 minutes, sticking to the lower end of the spectrum if it’s your first time. Allow the mixture to dry before washing it off in the shower or with a wet washcloth. For best results, repeat this process weekly or biweekly for a month. And like any other skincare product, discontinue use if any irritation occurs. Happy detoxing!

Was this helpful? Learn more ways to improve your health and well-being in our Wellness section.

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Menstrual Disorders Information

8 Common Menstrual Disorders You Need to Know About

Let’s break the silence.

Menstrual disorders are problems that affect a women’s normal menstruation cycle. There are several types of menstrual disorders, and problems can range from heavy, painful periods to no periods at all. There are many variations in menstrual patterns, but in general, women should be concerned when periods come fewer than 21 days or more than three months apart, or if they last more than 10 days. Such events may indicate ovulation problems or other medical conditions. These are some of the most common menstrual disorders.

Dysmenorrhea

Dysmenorrhea literally means painful menstruation. Pain occurs in the lower abdomen, but can spread to the lower back and thighs. Dysmenorrhea is usually referred to as primary or secondary: 

  1. Primary dysmenorrhea (spasmodic): Cramping pain caused by menstruation. The cramps occur from contractions in the uterus and are usually more severe during heavy bleeding.
  1. Secondary dysmenorrhea: Menstrual-related pain that accompanies another medical or physical condition, such as endometriosis or uterine fibroids.

Menorrhagia 

Menorrhagia is the medical term for menstrual periods with abnormally heavy or prolonged bleeding. If you have one or two periods with heavy or prolonged bleeding, there’s probably no reason to worry. Although heavy menstrual bleeding is a common concern, most women don’t experience blood loss severe enough to be defined as menorrhagia. 

With menorrhagia, you can’t maintain your usual activities when you have your period because you have so much blood loss and cramping. If you dread your period because you have such heavy menstrual bleeding, talk with your doctor. There are many effective treatments for menorrhagia. Signs and symptoms may include:

  • Soaking through one or more sanitary pads or tampons every hour for several consecutive hours
  • Needing to use double sanitary protection to control your menstrual flow
  • Needing to wake up to change sanitary protection during the night
  • Bleeding for longer than a week
  • Passing blood clots larger than a quarter
  • Restricting daily activities due to heavy menstrual flow
  • Symptoms of anaemia such as tiredness, fatigue, or shortness of breath

Do call your healthcare professional if the heavy bleeding is accompanied by pain that is not relieved by ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Avoid taking aspirin because it could worsen the bleeding problem. If you have bleeding after menopause, or the abnormal bleeding is accompanied by fever or other symptoms, again, consult your healthcare professional. 

Amenorrhea

Amenorrhea is when you don’t get your monthly period. It can be temporary or permanent. Amenorrhea can result from a change in function or a problem with some part of the female reproductive system. There are times when you’re not supposed to get your period, such as before puberty, during pregnancy, and after menopause. If amenorrhea lasts for more than three months, it should be investigated. There are two classifications of amenorrhea:

  • Primary amenorrhea: This is when you haven’t gotten a first period by age 15 or within five years of the first signs of puberty. It can happen due to changes in organs, glands, and hormones related to menstruation.
  • Secondary amenorrhea: This is when you’ve been getting regular periods, but you stop getting your period for at least three months or you stop your menses for six months when they were previously irregular. Causes can include pregnancy, stress, and illness.

Having regular periods is an important sign of overall health. Missing a period – when not caused by pregnancy, breastfeeding, or menopause – is generally a sign of another health problem. Some examples include anorexia nervosa, hyperthyroidism, and excessive exercise, which affects the menstrual cycle. If you miss your period, talk to your healthcare provider about possible causes, including pregnancy. A complete medical history and blood tests will be the first steps your healthcare professional takes to identify the cause of your amenorrhea and develop a treatment plan.

Common Menstrual Disorders

Hypomenorrhea 

Hypomenorrhea, also known as short and scanty periods, is extremely light menstrual blood flow. In some women, it may be normal to have less bleeding during menstrual periods. Less blood flow may be genetic and, if enquiries are made, it may be found that woman’s mother and/or sister also have decreased blood flow during their periods. Pregnancy can normally occur with this type of decreased flow during the period. The incidence of infertility is the same as in women with normal blood flow. 

Hypomenorrhea can occur normally at the extremes of the reproductive life – just after puberty and just before menopause. This is because ovulation is irregular at this time, and the endometrial lining fails to develop normally. But normal problems at other times can also cause scanty blood flow. Ovulation due to a low thyroid hormone level, high prolactin level, high insulin level, high androgen level, and problems with other hormones can also cause scanty periods.

Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)

Premenstrual syndrome, or PMS, refers to the physical and emotional symptoms that many women experience in the lead-up to menstruation. Although the cause of PMS isn’t clear, you can manage it with medication and other strategies. Additionally, symptoms ease during the woman’s period and there is usually at least one symptom-free week before the symptoms return. PMS is a complex condition that includes physical and emotional symptoms. Research shows that:

  • women with PMS are hypersensitive to their own normal cyclic hormones (progesterone and oestrogen) during their menstrual cycle
  • brain chemicals (specifically the neurotransmitters serotonin and gamma butyric acid) play a role
  • symptoms do not occur during pregnancy or after menopause

PMS differs from one woman to the next, spanning physical and mood symptoms. They can include:

  • abdominal bloating
  • acne
  • clumsiness
  • digestive upsets, including constipation and diarrhoea
  • fluid retention
  • weight gain
  • breast tenderness or swelling
  • joint or muscle pain
  • tiredness
  • poor sleep or sleepiness
  • food cravings
  • headache and migraine
  • hot flushes or sweats
  • increased appetite
  • increased sensitivity to sounds, light, and touch

Menstrual Disorders Every Woman Needs to Know

Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PDD)

Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is a severe, sometimes disabling extension of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Although PMS and PMDD both have physical and emotional symptoms, PMDD causes extreme mood shifts that can disrupt daily life and damage relationships.

In both PMDD and PMS, symptoms usually begin seven to 10 days before your period starts and continue for the first few days of your period. Both PMDD and PMS may cause bloating, breast tenderness, fatigue, and changes in sleep and eating habits. In PMDD, however, at least one of these emotional and behavioural symptoms stands out:

  • Sadness or hopelessness
  • Anxiety or tension
  • Extreme moodiness
  • Marked irritability or anger

The cause of PMDD isn’t clear. Underlying depression and anxiety are common in both PMS and PMDD, so it’s possible that the hormonal changes that trigger a menstrual period can worsen the symptoms of mood disorders.

Uterine Fibroids 

Uterine fibroids are benign (not cancerous) growths that develop from the muscle tissue of the uterus. They are also called leiomyomas or myomas. The size, shape, and location of fibroids can vary greatly. They may be inside the uterus, on its outer surface or within its wall, or attached to it by a stem-like structure. A woman may have only one fibroid or many of varying sizes. A fibroid may remain very small for a long time and suddenly grow rapidly, or grow slowly over a number of years. Fibroids may have the following symptoms:

  • Changes in menstruation
  • Longer, more frequent, or heavy menstrual periods
  • Menstrual pain (cramps)
  • Vaginal bleeding at times other than menstruation 
  • Anemia (from blood loss)
  • Pain during sex
  • Difficulty urinating or frequent urination
  • Constipation, rectal pain, or difficult bowel movements
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Enlarged uterus and abdomen
  • Miscarriages
  • Infertility

Fibroids also may cause no symptoms at all, and may be found during a routine pelvic exam or tests for other problems.

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)

Polycystic ovary syndrome (or polycystic ovarian syndrome – PCOS) is a complex hormonal condition. ‘Polycystic’ literally translates as many cysts. This refers to the many partially formed follicles on the ovaries, which each contain an egg. These rarely grow to maturity or produce eggs that can be fertilised. Women with PCOS commonly have high levels of insulin that don’t work effectively or male hormones known as ‘androgens’, or both. The cause is not fully understood. However, family history and genetics, hormones, and lifestyle play a role.

Insulin-resistance is present in up to four out of five women with PCOS. Women who have a mother, aunt, or sister with PCOS are 50% more likely to develop PCOS. The condition is also more common in women of Asian, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, and African backgrounds. PCOS is relatively common, especially in infertile women. To be diagnosed with PCOS, women need to have two out of three of the following: 

  • irregular or absent periods
  • acne, excess facial or body hair growth, scalp hair loss, or high levels of androgens (testosterone and similar hormones) in the blood
  • polycystic ovaries (many small cysts on the ovaries) visible on an ultrasound

Women who have PCOS may experience the following symptoms, but you don’t have to have all of these to have PCOS:

  • irregular menstrual cycles – periods may be less or more frequent due to less frequent ovulation (release of an egg)
  • amenorrhoea (no periods) – some women with PCOS do not menstruate, in some cases for many years
  • excessive facial or body hair growth (or both) 
  • acne
  • scalp hair loss
  • reduced fertility (difficulty in becoming pregnant) – related to less frequent or absent ovulation
  • mood changes, including anxiety and depression
  • obesity
  • sleep apnoea

Treating Menstrual Disorders

Treating Menstrual Disorders

Treatments for menstrual disorders range from over-the-counter medications to surgery, with a variety of options in between. Your treatment options will depend on your diagnosis, its severity, which treatment you prefer, your health history, and your healthcare professional’s recommendation.

3 Lifestyle Tips to Manage Period Pain

1. Don’t put up with painful periods. If your menstrual periods cause mild to moderate discomfort, relief may be as close as your medicine cabinet. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) often relieves mild menstrual pain. Ibuprofen, naproxen, and mefenamic acid (brands such as Motrin IB, Advil, Bayer Select Pain Relief Formula, and Midol IB) can relieve moderate to more severe pain. These medications work best when symptoms first begin. If menstrual pain lasts several days, your doctor may prescribe another type of pain reliever. Discuss your symptoms and treatment options with your healthcare professional.

2. Relax yourself to ease painful menstruation. Next time you get painful menstrual cramps, lie down with a heating pad on your abdomen. Then, use your fingertips to lightly massage your belly in a circular motion. Drinking warm beverages that aren’t caffeinated, taking a warm shower, performing waist-bending exercises, and walking can help.

3. Oral contraceptives or contraceptive patches often alleviate menstrual pain. If you have menstrual pain, your doctor may offer to put you on an oral contraceptive as a means of treating your discomfort. Unless you wish to stay on the pill for contraception, you can discontinue taking it after six to 12 months. Many women report continued relief from menstrual pain even after they stop taking oral contraceptives.

Discover more about your body by following OBGYN Dr. Amna Raees Khan on Instagram.

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A closer look at International Childfree Day

It’s Time to Talk About International Childfree Day

Let’s live and let live already?

As someone whose pre-pandemic life was dominated by travel, it was unusual – rare, even – for a country to leave behind an emotional imprint. Until Vietnam happened. I found myself on the unassuming island of Phu Quoc in 2015 after a traumatic series of events left me without a plan for the first time in years and, almost on impulse, started exploring the country from south to north and falling in love with just about everything along the way. However, it wasn’t until I reached Hanoi that I found purpose again – volunteering at a non-profit that serves children born with birth defects as a result of Agent Orange.

Spending my days with children suffering from severe autism and Down syndrome changed me forever. Between my heartfelt connection with them and seeing their everyday realities up close, I vowed that I would dedicate any surplus time, money, and energy to institutions that cater to children who are already here and in need of help. And with whatever is left of my limited resources (yes, there’s truth to the term ‘starving artist’), I’d rather pursue the travel experiences on my bucket list: sleeping in a yurt by Issyk-Kul Lake, hiking to Everest Base Camp, practising sunrise yoga in Bali, exploring the undiscovered corners of Balochistan, taking a hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia, and capturing a rainy day at Salar de Uyuni. And I don’t feel the need to apologise for my priorities – or do I?

The subject of childfree women, such as myself, is a prickly one. Just setting out to write this article in celebration of International Childfree Day, today, led to everything from uncomfortable debates to downright judgemental reactions. For the uninitiated, this annual event created in 1973 recognises “couples who have faced criticism, ridicule, and rejection because they chose to be childless”. And it’s due to the stigma around what is an incredibly personal decision that I felt the need to speak with three resolutely childfree women in the UAE. What I never could’ve predicted is how similar they are – despite their differences. These are women who dote on their nieces and nephews and feel passionately about animal welfare, thereby disproving the stereotype that childfree women are ‘selfish’. Here are their stories.

Deborah

Born in the UK to an English mother and Iranian father, Deborah works in marketing and moved to the UAE 11 years ago. A few things that she’s passionate about? Animals, the environment, global warming, and everyday compassion. “I’ve become vegan over the last couple of years and, as a result of changing my diet, I think about a lot of things very differently now, including how we use the Earth’s resources and how we treat each other. More than the UK, you see stark differences between rich and poor in Dubai, and I’ve become more aware of that recently – how we treat those most vulnerable in our society, which includes animals that are completely dependent on kindness from others.”

Deborah says that it was a series of events – as opposed to one aha moment – that led to her decision not to have children. “Growing up, I never questioned that I wouldn’t have children. Like a lot of people, I thought I would get married by 27 and have probably two or three kids in my 30s. That was my plan and I never really questioned it, but there were a few different things that happened,” she says. “Firstly, I didn’t really meet anyone that I could see myself marrying. I spent a lot more of my adult life single than in a relationship and, while the relationships that I was in were very much by choice, they weren’t necessarily going to end in marriage.” Like so many of us, her light bulb moment happened in the shower.

“I got to a point where I was in my mid-to-late 30s and asking myself, ‘What if I don’t meet someone in time to have kids?’ And I’d never really thought about that before. I remember feeling a sense of shock that all of these things that I’d assumed would happen might not happen. But after taking a few days to really ponder it, I came out the other side feeling like it’s not the end of the world if I don’t have kids. I didn’t feel like I was going to be missing out on some universal life secret. And I was a little surprised by my indifference,” she explains. Her priorities were more rooted in meeting the right person.

“If I had to make a choice between meeting the right person and having children, I would always choose the former. I knew that I wasn’t going to do sperm donors or adoption if I hadn’t met anyone. And if I met someone who I wanted to spend the rest of my life with and they didn’t want kids, I knew that I would prioritise them. I also didn’t want to have kids within a few months of meeting someone – that’s a huge commitment and you need to be really sure about the relationship. I was around 36, 37 at the time and starting to edge towards a point where it may not be suitable for me to have kids anymore. I never wanted to become a mother in my 40s,” she explains.

It was around this time that Deborah underwent a post-breakup period of emotional recovery that entailed both spiritual work and adopting cats. “I also started looking at life from all kinds of different aspects, including spirituality, which helped shake off the need to leave a legacy in this life. At the same time, fostering and adopting cats made me realise that I could unconditionally love something that I wasn’t connected to by blood, and it freed me from this idea that I needed to physically have a child. It also introduced me to the idea of other options, like I could adopt a five-year-old if I suddenly felt the need to catch up with everyone else. It sort of released from the fear that I couldn’t love a child unless it comes from my own body.”

As fate would have it, she ended up meeting her now-partner a few years after this phase of healing and introspection. “I was 41 when I met him, and we had the conversation about kids early on. He said he would be supportive of my decision either way, but admitted to feeling relieved when I told him that I didn’t want children,” she says with a laugh. “He has children from his first marriage – two teenage boys – and it’s really nice in many ways. We get along really well and, while I’m not their mother, we make a nice family unit when they visit. Those few weeks of activity drop-offs and cooking for them and family time together leaves me feeling like it’s enough.”

Elsewhere, family time comes in the form of nieces and nephews, who helped take some of the pressure off Deborah – not that she ever felt pressured. “Both of my older sisters have children, so I wasn’t depriving my parents of having grandchildren. They have six grandkids and that’s plenty,” she says. Explaining her stance on connections, she asserts, “If you are supposed to be part of somebody’s nurture, it doesn’t matter whether you gave birth to them or not.” While Deborah says she has never felt the need to explain her decision to people, she does occasionally address the proverbial elephant in the room – just in case they’re wondering.

“But I tend to find that people who have kids never really question me on it,” she tells me. “And people who’ve known me a long time understand that it wasn’t a snap decision. It’s just the way that life unfolded, and you go with it.” As for what advice she’d give to women who are facing pressure or judgement as a result of their choices? Two words: dog mentality. “My advice is the same as it is for a lot of stuff. I understand that people have opinions or beliefs based on where they’re from. And that’s fine. But the best way that you can ever address anything is with a bit of kindness and empathy – even if they’re not kind and empathetic towards you.”

Being an animal lover, Deborah says she always asks herself what a dog would think of a particular person. “Dogs don’t notice your designer shoes or the size of your apartment or your body type. They’re just going to go, ‘Oh, this person is lovely! Do you have something nice in your pocket? Do you want to play with me?’ Dogs – and animals generally – give people the benefit of the doubt and approach people with positivity. Humans on the other hand? We’re the exact opposite. We care what you wear or what you look like. Along those same lines, dogs are completely unaware of the vehicle they’re in. All they care about are the simple things – who will feed them and who will be friends with them. And that would be my advice to such women, you know? People are always going to have opinions that you can’t change, so be who you are and be really comfortable with who you are.”

International Childfree Day

Mia

Mia, who works in business administration and marketing, hails from the UK and has lived in Dubai for eight years. Her parents migrated from India to England back in the 60s, and she says that her mother (who she describes as a go-getter) has been instrumental in her ability to question social norms. “My mum broke a lot of barriers in her time. She was the first woman in the community to learn how to drive, for example. And it was her strength and courage that has not only inspired me achieve a lot in life, but also influenced where I am today – getting married and having babies feels like a bit of a social institution.”

As a result of witnessing the breakdown of several marriages around her, Mia started to look within at a relatively young age. “I started questioning the decision when I was 21. Why should I have kids? Because society tells me to? And getting married and having children is the be-all and end-all? Is it an expectation from my parents? Or is it because I don’t want to feel lonely when I’m old? None of these reasons felt meaningful enough.” She tells me that she was a serial dater in her late teens and early 20s, but that changed after some key realisations. “When I was younger, I had to be in a relationship because there was this kind of urgency – I need to get married, I need to have children. And then I realised that I didn’t have to get married if I didn’t want to. I’m not going to settle. And I don’t really need to have children. That was a real wake-up call and it enabled me to have quite a healthy relationship with myself.”

Like many women who are childfree by choice, Mia says that seeing friends and family members with children doesn’t stir up anything. “I love children. I’ve got lots of nieces and nephews who I absolutely adore, but it doesn’t make me feel broody. I’ve got friends who hit 30 and panicked about their body clock ticking or being unmarried. I don’t have that feeling. I never have.” Mia says she gained newfound wisdom when she turned 30 and became a lot more accepting of her decisions, but not everyone followed suit. Over the years, her choice to remain childfree has been met by everything from incredulous gasps to patronising comments like, “You’ll regret your decision when you’re older and it’s too late.”

Like Deborah, Mia is the youngest of her siblings, all of whom went down a more ‘traditional’ route. “My siblings conformed to society, getting married and having children, which gives my parents the enjoyment of grandkids. But it didn’t spare me from the incessant questions about my future. There was this whole ‘it’s a part of your religion’ argument. But I’m Muslim, and part of my religion is also to give back,” she says emphatically. Between rescuing cats and educating children – tomorrow’s animal owners – on more humane treatment, Mia is determined to bring change in the future. 

“Look, I go around picking up all the disabled ones that really need help, so what’s stopping me from going to an orphanage and adopting a child that really needs help? That’s kind of my motto in life – giving opportunity. And I’m very fortunate to be able to do that. For me, having children is about bringing someone into this world with the intention that you’re going to create the best version of that person and give them the best kind of chance in life. I feel I can do that through adoption someday. I don’t necessarily need to give birth to be able to do that.”

Despite observing a move towards a slightly more tolerant mindset in general and across Indian-Muslim communities, Mia says there’s room for improvement when it comes to respecting one’s decisions. “I’m quite open about why I’ve chosen not to have children. And it’s not something that has come about recently, you know? I’m 35. This is a belief that I’ve been carrying for 15 years. I’m not going to start conforming just because I’m the only singleton at a dinner table with couples who are married and have children. And people need to respect that. We just have to respect how a woman chooses to use her reproductive organs, really,” she says wryly.

As for women in the Middle East? “We are entering into an era where women are able to challenge the longstanding limitations on their freedom. I think it’s crucial for women to be vocal, especially for those who are unsure of their decision or feel they aren’t allowed to think the way they do. This is a fundamental move to be liberated from the patriarchal system. Don’t be ashamed to speak up. I mean, we’re becoming more and more tolerant about people’s choice of gender identity and sexual orientation – why should it be any different for what a woman decides to do with her body? This particular subject doesn’t get as much publicity as it should.”

A closer look at International Childfree Day, 01 August

Pranjal

A homemaker and long-term expat, Pranjal has lived in Abu Dhabi for over 19 years, but what our chat reveals first and foremost is how her upbringing in India has shaped her into the real-life Dr. Dolittle. “I got my master’s degree in Marine Zoology from the University of Mumbai. I’ve always been a science freak and wanted to be a researcher, but I got married and moved here with my husband. As a child, I was a rescuer before the term was even coined. We had a house full of rescued animals – everything from dogs and cats to snakes, squirrels, and birds like egrets and cuckoos. In fact, if anyone ever found an injured animal or a baby animal in need of help, they would bring it to us. I was used to being around animals all the time,” she says.

Pranjal credits her paternal grandmother – who was an avid animal lover – for her penchant to rescue animals, but says animals were in much better shape back then. Her parents, like many, thought she would simply outgrow her tendency to pick up an orphaned puppy or injured cat on the way back from school. But luckily for the animal welfare scene of Abu Dhabi, she didn’t. “I remember people warning my husband that I was a bit mental about animals when we were getting married,” she chuckles. “But then it happened. I found my first rescue here. Being passionate about helping voiceless creatures, I picked up a poor cat helplessly lying on the asphalt in the summer. And that’s how my story in the UAE began. I’ve since been involved in areas like rescuing, humane trapping, and neutering. And I won’t stop unless I’m really old and unable to do things anymore.”

While I think of the capital’s stray cats as Pranjal’s unofficial family members, I can’t help but ask about her pets at home, and her reply is nothing short of fascinating. “Right now, I have a dog that I found in the street about nine years ago. He’s a big Saluki – and who throws a Saluki out in the street? But they do here. They’re thrown out once they’re considered no good for racing. He’s a hunter and an ex-racer, but he’s a submissive chap and became friendly with my five cats soon enough.” Her next anecdote is just as endearing as she recalls a puppy that she once rescued. “She used to collect shoes from all the villas around our house, and would dump them in the garden.  And in the middle of that, she once deposited a baby tortoise at my kitchen door. I remember being puzzled at the time, like, ‘Okay, this isn’t a shoe.’ That’s how I got Ninja, my tortoise.”

Pranjal goes on to recall more incidents – a 47-gram owl that needed to be force-fed by a vet before being released back into the wild, a sunbird that she found lying outside after it hit glass, and countless cats and dogs in need of help. The more I hear, the more I’m moved by her life purpose. Selfish? Childfree women are selfish? What’s more selfless than tending to an innocent animal that can offer nothing in return? Explaining the thought process behind her decision, Pranjal says the ever-growing human demands on natural resources was a big factor.

“I always was and still am a voracious reader, which is how I started learning about ecology and human encroachment on nature while I was in school. The Discovery Channel came to India soon after, which got me into all these wildlife documentaries. And then it just didn’t make sense – if this planet has finite resources and we are clearing things up for the sake of humans to exist, where will these animals go? They shouldn’t be in zoos for us to gawk at. Oh, and that owl I found? That’s because a new community was built in the middle of the desert, and wild animals were suffering. This is what human demand does to the environment. Forests everywhere are dwindling and, whether the land is cleared for livestock grazing or concrete jungles, the animals lose their habitat either way. I started asking myself what we should be doing as responsible humans.”

But while there are responsible humans, there are also nosy humans. Pranjal has been on the receiving end of both positive and negative reactions, some of which are just downright appalling. “I’ve never experienced a friend being judgmental – in fact, I met my best friend here because of our dogs. But I’ve also had women proactively give me phone numbers of fertility specialists. And then there are those who react to the fact that I don’t have kids by saying, ‘Oh no, I’m so sorry.’ At times like that, I ask myself if I should explain, but then I just let them assume what they want,” she says with a shrug. And in case you’re wondering, yes, she has also been called the S-word. “I’ve been called selfish, I’ve been called a child-hater, which I’m not. I love my cousin’s kids and I love kids generally – unless, you know, I’m on an airplane and the kid behind is kicking me,” she confesses with a laugh. Another classic? “You must have at least one child – who’s going to take care of you when you’re old?”

I ask Pranjal what advice she’d give to women who are on the fence about having a baby, but feel pressure in light of societal norms – particularly in this part of the world. “I would say to them what I said to myself: it’s your choice and nobody can make it for you. You should have a child only if you feel driven by your maternal instincts,” she explains, asserting that it’s not an experiment. “You cannot just have a baby and then see how you feel. But if you have made up your mind, like everything else in life, stand by your decision and know that your family will eventually come around. There’s no point making yourself miserable just because somebody else wants you to have a baby. Back then, a 20-year-old girl sitting at home was considered unacceptable, but it’s not like that today. You shouldn’t be pressured into becoming a parent.”

International Childfree Day may have been created nearly 50 years ago, but Pranjal (rightfully) feels that the overall mindset towards childfree women hasn’t changed much. “Honestly, I think that the you-must-have-children camp is much bigger than this small percentage of us who have decided to take this path. People simply need to respect others’ personal decisions – I mean, my neighbour has nothing to do with whether I have children or not. I’m happy there’s a specific day that recognises people like us, but I don’t think a discernible shift will happen anytime soon, especially in this region. Things are totally different in the West, but here, a husband and wife alone cannot be a family. There has to be a child in the equation.”

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gut health dubai

Understanding the Gut-Mood Connection

A gut health expert on our second brain.

Are you the type to ignore your gut feelings? It’s time to tune in – health experts say that your gut health plays a profound role in your mental health. Translation: there is a close and vital connection between the mind and the microbes that reside in your gut, thereby affecting your mood, sleep, and even stress levels. It’s no wonder, then, that our gut is often referred to as the ‘second brain’. Here, we tap Ahlaam Ali, a Certified Nutrition & Weight Loss Consultant with a specialty in gut health, to learn more about this two-way communication system. Listen in.

Ahlaam Ali, Certified Nutrition & Weight Loss Consultant

Q

Everyone’s talking about the gut-mood connection, but how exactly do the brain and the gut communicate?

A

The vagus nerve wanders throughout the body, hence its name – ‘vagus’ is the Latin word for wandering. It not only connects your brain with your gut, but it also connects to every part of your body. That is why what goes on in the gut does not stay in the gut. It gets transmitted throughout the body. And the amazing part is that the gut-brain connection through the vagus nerve is a two-way communication – what goes on in the gut gets transmitted to the brain, and vice versa. Generally, when you are stressed or anxious, your vagus nerve is distressed, and you, therefore, feel the repercussions in your gut as well.

A lot of very anxious people will have significant gut issues due to the vagus nerve passing on the neural impulses of stress, anxiety, and a general feeling of malaise. Hence, it is important to keep the vagus nerve well and healthy i.e. improve the vagal tone by practising various relaxation and meditative techniques. Practices of yoga are also highly beneficial to calm the vagus nerve and help the entire body to relax, which then helps manage cortisol levels as well as other hormones. Essentially, your gut manages the entire body, including the hormonal and mental balance of the body!

Q

The gut is often referred to as the ‘second brain’. Why is that?

A

The enteric nervous system in our gut consists of the same sort of neurons and neurotransmitters as those found in our central nervous system. It is therefore known as our second brain. This second brain in our gut, in conjunction with the brain in our head, is responsible for playing a key role in various diseases in our bodies and our mental health. This is why it’s said within functional medicine circles: “Your gut is the queen of the castle. If the queen is not happy, she will tear the castle down.”

Q

Prebiotics and probiotics – overrated or a staple in optimising gut health?

A

Very important to maintain the delicate balance of our microbiome. However, the quality and type of prebiotics and probiotics that we have are critical to our gut health. There are literally thousands of brands and strains with different functions out there. Knowing the right one can make all the difference to your specific health concerns.

GOOD SKIN CLUB  , Biome Balance

Q

What is the gut microbiome, and what role does it play in one’s physical and mental health?

A

A whole community of bacteria, fungi, and other microbes live all over our skin, hair, and body. In the same way, this symbiotic community also lives in our gut. Now, not all bacteria are bad for you. Some can be very useful. There is a delicate dance of the good and the bad going on in our gut, and we need to be on top of this game by keeping our diet full of clean and healthy produce. These serve as prebiotics (food) for the good bacteria. Hence, it is a good idea to introduce a daily dose of good bacteria (probiotics) into your gut. These can be ingested in many ways – food, drink, and supplements. And it’s critical to identify the right type of probiotic for you!

Q

What are some signs or changes to mood/overall mental health that can indicate an issue or imbalance in the gut?

A

The main signs to look for are: a general feeling of sadness, feeling low on energy and chronically fatigued, bloating, gas, constipation, depression, ongoing anxiety, brain fog, aches in your joints and muscles, moodiness, and being short-tempered. All of these are signs that your gut is not happy. There are ways to test your gut microbiome, which will give us a complete picture of what is going on in your gut.

Q

Do genetics and other factors, like mental disorders, impact the state of gut health? Or is it dictated by one’s dietary choices?

A

Stress, constant anxiety about the future, genetics, and some mental disorders can directly impact the state of our gut. Studies in genetics show that not only do we inherit some microbiome tendencies, but the type of birth we had also plays a role. A regular birth ensures we get our dose of beneficial bacteria through the birth canal. The parents’ state of health during conception is another factor that affects one’s gut health. However, studies have also proven that we can turn the effects of genetics around and defy nature through nurturing our bodies and making significant lifestyle changes.

Q

Lastly, what food recommendations or practical tips can you share for a healthier gut?

A

Here are the things that I include in my daily diet:

  • Lots of seasonal fruits and vegetables
  • Fermented foods and drinks like kombucha, kimchi, kvass, and kefir
  • Good-quality probiotics
  • Smoothies made from fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Clean, gluten-free grains such as quinoa, brown rice, and teff

And here’s what I eliminate:

  • All refined sugars and sugar-laden foods – avoid sugar substitutes, too
  • Dairy
  • Gluten
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8 Takeaways from Our Chat with a Text Whisperer

Psychiatrist Dr. Mimi Winsberg – aka the ‘text whisperer’ – has taken a deep dive into the nuances of texting for her first book, Speaking in Thumbs, in order to help us master today’s most dominant mode of communication. After all, when it comes to communicating in the 21st century, it’s our thumbs that do the talking. By combining behavioural research with real-world text exchanges, she has helped readers recognise red flags in the early days of online dating, examine the personalities and attachment styles of prospective partners, and avoid misunderstandings in romantic relationships. Here, we share the key takeaways of our conversation with this ‘text whisperer’.

1. Early text exchanges can cloud your judgment.

“I think it’s important to note that as we’re getting attached to somebody early on, we’re telling ourselves a story – first about who this person is, then about the kind of relationship we have. And there’s a fair bit of projection that goes into that story sometimes. We’re not necessarily looking at the data that’s in front of us, and that’s where people can get into trouble. Our early text exchanges can therefore betray important clues about things like an individual’s personality traits or attachment style, so it’s not so much about looking for red flags – although I do advise on that, too. It’s more about looking for clues as to who this person really is and whether they’re right for you.”

2. Fluency in texting is essential in modern-day communication.

“Texting is a relatively new language; we’ve only been texting since 2007 and, in some ways, our brains are still struggling to catch up with this notion of asynchronous communication – even though it’s how we conduct most of our lives. It’s certainly the primary form of communication in our romantic relationships. As I was sifting through all these real-world exchanges for the book, I was struck by how profound some of the conversations were. They were emotional, stirring, romantic, but also conflicted at times. That’s why we must acknowledge that our brains skip a few steps sometimes. We don’t read the message exactly as the person intended it. And as we type quickly, we hear the message in our head, but don’t really think about how it’s going to be received.”

3. You can use your text threads to your advantage.

“Our text threads are the electronic medical record of our relationship – there’s this whole history that you can see unfold from beginning to end. Are we supposed to have that? No. And is it doing us a disservice? Perhaps. But it’s here to stay, so I propose that people use it productively. Reviewing texts can help learn something from a relationship, perhaps one that has soured or ended. You want to track the inflection points as the relationship progressed, so by reading past text exchanges, you can see your partner’s patterns of communication and your own. If you tend to get defensive, for example, it will be obvious while reviewing the thread in a way that you couldn’t have seen in the heat of the moment.”

4. The absence of visual cues brings with it both advantages and disadvantages.

“The disadvantage of texting is that everything is distilled down into one bubble, but the advantage is that you can take your time and maybe take a deep breath before responding – and edit before you send. I give plenty of practical tips on how to avoid misunderstandings in the book, but I’d say the first is what John Gottman discusses, which is cultivating attunement. When we like someone in person, one of the characteristic things that we do is make eye contact, pay extra attention to them, and match their body language unconsciously. I think the same kind of thing can happen asynchronously, too – you’ll develop better rapport if you really pay attention to the person and what they’re writing.”

5. There are tell-tale signs of lying over text.

“There are certain linguistic features of people who are being deceptive, and the first is the tendency to drop the first-person pronoun, the ‘I’. Why is that? Because when we lie, we try to emotionally distance ourselves from the statement. It comes off more easily that way. As opposed to something like ‘running late’ – which is such a common abbreviation – an example would be something more personally descriptive. So, instead of saying, ‘I was out with Martin last night’, they’d say, ‘Was out with Martin last night.’ Liars also tend to say the same thing over and over again, hoping that makes it seem truer. It might be repeating the same thing three times about how the car broke down.”

6. It helps to understand your partner’s texting language.

“There’s been a lot of lip service given to Gary Chapman’s love languages and, in the book, I argue that there are five love languages of text, too – different ways to express and receive love over text. Get to know your partner’s preferred method of texting. If they don’t like getting memes or GIFs or article links throughout the day, maybe don’t do that. But if they like you to share such things without necessarily initiating a conversation, then great. I call that love language ‘spoon-feeding’. We’ve observed that various ways of expressing ourselves over text may or may not be compatible with another person.”

7. Instant intimacy can be a red flag.

“I coined the word ‘instamacy’, which of course is instant intimacy. And it’s not to say that I discourage it, per se, because I think one of the key indicators of chemistry is this feeling that it’s so easy to be with the person and you’ve known them forever. But I do think that when it’s too much too soon, it can also be a sign of poor boundaries or an insecure attachment style. Creating a sense of intimacy too quickly can be an exploitative technique. Somebody talking about meeting your family or getting married or going on honeymoon after the second date – those are all warning signs. It overloads the relationship, and it’s a presumption of intimacy that has not yet been built.”

8. Men and women text (very) differently.

“Women tend to perceive a lot of texting as a good sign. In contrast, men feel that things are going really well when there’s less texting going on – that no news is good news. I think that’s an interesting discrepancy. Women tend to favour more communication, and it goes with the volume of texting, too. We’re also more inclined to type longer texts and want frequent texting, whereas men prefer less communication in general. They get overwhelmed easily and can’t handle multiple questions within the same text bubble, so women, keep it short. Men, be metaphorical when you give compliments. Women don’t like reading texts that say, ‘You’re hot.’ Try to be a little bit more poetic in your delivery.”

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A plus sized woman sitting on a stool, leaning forward with her hand underneath her chin and smiling confidently.

Why Your Body Type Shouldn’t Dictate Your Self-Esteem

Loving yourself has no boundaries.

The body positivity movement has grown in popularity on social media over the last few years, aiming to increase self-esteem and promote general body acceptance. It encourages love and acceptance of the body to enhance body image. This differs from the body neutrality movement, which emphasises the body’s function over its outward appearance. 

Body Image and Self-Destruction 

Body image refers to how you see your body in your mind – not merely in mirrors or pictures. Body image is the sum of a person’s ideas and feelings about their physical appearance, including how it feels to move in their body, how they perceive their body form, and how they think about how they look. These beliefs regarding physical appearance are frequently linked to one’s sense of self-worth and capacity for self-love.

Sometimes, having a negative body image can ruin your self-esteem, thereby negatively impacting your general health. Media portrayals of unrealistically thin bodies as being beautiful feed our imaginations. Additionally, it gives individuals an erroneous impression because these are the body types praised by the media and deemed attractive.

We develop a mental image of ourselves as being petite, and we want that body type in order to be desirable and meet beauty standards. However, doing so could be harmful to oneself. People who follow strict diets to achieve this unrealistic body shape lose vital nutrients from their bodies. In the long run, this may lead to significant health conditions.

Body Image and Mental Health 

Negative thoughts about your physical appearance don’t necessarily convert into negative thoughts about your overall self right away – but they can do so relatively quickly. Mental and emotional well-being can suffer as a result of this negativity. Low self-esteem – which can result in problematic habits like obsessive exercising, excessive dieting, or social withdrawal – is frequently a result of having a poor body image.

Low self-esteem can create anxiety and loneliness, raise your risk of depression, interfere with your relationships, and negatively affect your performance at work or school. A study of 563 women found that 40% of those with severe depressive illness or any anxiety condition had at least one incident of disordered eating, compared to 11% of those with no history of depression or anxiety.

8 Ways to Achieve a Healthier Body Image 

Here are a few habits you can develop for a better lifestyle: 

  • Instead of trying to control your body shape, eat and move in a way that makes your brain and body happy.
  • Be in the company of supportive friends and relatives. Unfollow anyone on social media that shames others for their bodies and favours one body type over another.
  • Consider your feelings and the source of your emotions when you have negative thoughts about your appearance. Do you feel tense? Anxious? What’s happening?
  • Take care of yourself and constantly remind yourself that you deserve kindness and love.
  • Dress in comfortable clothing that fits the way you want it to.
  • Consult with friends and family for help.
  • Never evaluate yourself against others.
  • Recognise when you think negatively about someone else’s body and change it to good thoughts.

The Benefits of Body Positivity 

Let’s face it, we have all assessed a particular part of our body at some point in our life as not being good enough when we looked in the mirror. However, you risk developing a distorted body image if you start dwelling on your apparent imperfections. Your mental health might be harmed by a desire to be thinner, shorter, or taller. And that’s why body positivity is important.

1. It strengthens mental health.

Your mental health is impacted by how you feel about your physical appearance, which influences your self-esteem. The difficulty with negative thinking is that once you begin to contemplate one aspect of your life, it becomes much simpler to do so for other factors.

The next time you think negatively about your physique, take a moment to assess your emotional and mental state. Are you currently feeling stressed or overwhelmed? If so, what aspect of your life – and why – is making me feel this way? Work on the answers to these questions to build up your mental health. 

2. It puts social media beauty standards to the test.

Viewing a barrage of flawlessly sculpted male and female bodies when scrolling through Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter has become the norm. These idealised yet unrealistic representations now define the ideal body. Be cautious when seeing such photos online.

Social media content is not always accurate. In truth, many images are edited and tweaked to make subjects appear younger and leaner. To transform their bodies in the hopes of being accepted, many men and women end up paying for body modification surgery. Understanding this and accepting yourself for who you are is a brave disavowal of social media standards. 

3. It encourages self-love.

We live in a world that is fixated on the body and thrives on unrealistic ideas of what the ideal body should look like. Unsurprisingly, many people are led to believe that they should be embarrassed by their bodies. They embark on a lifelong quest to ‘repair’ themselves rather than learn to appreciate and accept themselves as they are. Accepting one’s body is a bold act of self-love. It extends past what the outside can see. Never believe that you need to alter a part of who you are to fit in.

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Parts of the Female Genitalia

This is Female Genitalia, Demystified 

It’s time to clear up the confusion.

Many people use the term ‘vagina’ to describe female sex organs. In reality, the vagina is just one part of the female genitalia. The terms ‘vagina’ and ‘vulva’ are often confused and used interchangeably, but they refer to two very different parts of the female anatomy. Vulva (a medical term) is the external part of female genitalia. The vulva has many tissues, each with different functions. They include the labia majora, labia minora, clitoris, clitoral hood, and urethral opening. The vagina is the internal part of the female genitalia. Here, we’re going to delve further into our own bodies to understand the female genital anatomy – beginning with our external anatomy. 

Labia Majora 

The labia majora, also called the outer lips, are the folds of skin that enclose other parts of external sexual anatomy. The inner surface of labia majora is hairless. The labia majora contains the sebaceous gland, sweat glands, and hair follicles. The shape and size of these tissues can vary from one person to another. It’s common for the labia majora to be darker than the rest of your skin. 

Labia Minora

The labia minora are two thick folds of skin, also called the inner lips. The labia minora are located inside the labia majora, and their appearance can vary. In some people, they’re very small, and not so small for others. During sexual intercourse, these tissues swell and become more sensitive. The folds contain connective tissues, numerous sebaceous glands, erectile muscle fibres, and numerous vessels and nerve endings. Unlike the labia majora, the labia minora does not contain hair follicles.

Clitoris 

The clitoris is located at the top of the labia minora. The visible portion of the clitoris looks like a pea-sized nub, but it’s actually much larger. It has a spongy shaft that extends into the body that can’t be seen externally. With a lot of nerve endings, the clitoris is a very sensitive tissue. Unlike other vagina parts, its only purpose is in creating pleasure. 

Clitoral Hood

The clitoral hood is the small flap of skin at the point where the inner lips meet. The clitoral hood surrounds and protects the sensitive tip of the clitoris. Glands in the hood produce a lubricant that helps the tissue glide across the clitoris. 

Urethral Opening 

This is the external opening of the transport tube that leads from the bladder to discharge urine outside the body in a female. The urethra (the urinary transport tube) in a female is shorter than the urethra in a male. The meatus (opening) of the female urethra is below the clitoris and just above the opening of the vagina.

Vaginal Opening 

The vaginal opening, also called the vaginal vestibule or introitus, is the opening into the vagina. It’s located between the urethra and the anus. The opening is where menstrual blood leaves the body. It’s also used to birth a baby and for sexual intercourse.

Female Sexual Anatomy: Internal Organs

The key organs for female reproduction are protectively located deep within the body. These include the following:

Ovaries

A female normally has a pair of ovaries that resemble almonds in size and shape. They are home to the female sex cells, called eggs, and they also produce estrogen or oestrogen (the female sex hormone). Women’s ovaries already contain several hundred thousand undeveloped eggs at birth, but the eggs are not called into action until puberty. Roughly once a month, starting at puberty and lasting until menopause, the ovaries release an egg into the fallopian tubes – this is called ovulation. When fertilisation does not occur, the egg leaves the body as part of the menstrual cycle.

Fallopian Tubes

The ovaries connect to the uterus via the fallopian tubes. Fertilisation usually happens within the fallopian tubes. Then, the fertilised egg makes its way down to the uterus.

Uterus

The uterus is located in the pelvis of a woman’s body and made up of smooth muscle tissue. Commonly referred to as the womb, the uterus is hollow and holds the foetus during pregnancy. Each month, the uterus develops a lining that is rich in nutrients. The reproductive purpose of this lining is to provide nourishment for a developing foetus. Since eggs aren’t usually fertilised, the lining leaves the body as menstrual blood during a woman’s monthly period.

Cervix

The lower part of the uterus, which connects to the vagina, is known as the cervix. Often called the neck or entrance to the womb, the cervix lets menstrual blood out and semen into the uterus. The cervix remains closed during pregnancy, but can expand dramatically during childbirth.

Vagina

The vagina has both internal and external parts, and connects the uterus to the outside of the body. Made up of muscle and skin, the vagina is a long hollow tube that is sometimes called the ‘birth canal’ because, if you are pregnant, the vagina is the pathway the baby will take when it’s ready to be born. The vagina also allows menstrual blood to leave a woman’s body during reproduction and is where the penis deposits semen during sexual intercourse.

Bartholin’s Glands/Greater Vestibular Glands

The bilateral racemes glands are located at the sides of the vaginal orifice. These glands secrete mucous that helps maintain the acidic pH balance of the vagina (pH 4.5 or lower) and acts as a lubricant during sexual intercourse. 

Parts of the Female Genitalia Explained

If you’d like to learn more about your body through a visual guide, I recommend The Great Wall of Vagina by Jamie McCartney. It’s a coffee table book that showcases hundreds of real women’s vulva casts. This intimate artistic exploration is supplemented with explanations by a sexual health advisor who aims to destigmatise and educate people on common misconceptions. 

Discover more about your body by following Dr. Amna Raees Khan, a specialist Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, on Instagram.

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