Life

Q&A: Sir Walter Raleigh has much to answer for when it comes to health and fitness

Gail Bell asks experts and people in the public eye what keeps them going. This week: Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People, Koulla Yiasouma

Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People (NICCY), Koulla Yiasouma: "As a Greek Cypriot, a lot of our social activity is centred around food"

1. Up and at it – what is your morning routine?

I generally wake up at about 7am and listen to Radio 4 for 30 to 45 minutes before I get up. I have a quick look at the phone to see if there are any messages from family or friends, then it's a quick shower and breakfast with my 17-year-old daughter, as my husband leaves the house a lot earlier than us.

2. What might you eat in a typical working day for...

Breakfast? During the week, it's either porridge or a banana. I will always buy a cappuccino from my favourite local coffee shop in Botanic (always using my reusable cup). The froth-to-milk ratio will have a significant impact on my day.

Lunch? Either a salad or a soup and, once or twice a week, a wee treat from the amazing food outlets near our office.

Evening meal? I am a pescetarian, so it'll either be fish or pasta or something made with Quorn.

3. Is nutrition important to you?

I wish I could say yes, but not really. Since the girls were born, I have tried to ensure that our diet as a family is more healthy, but we slip.

4. Best meal ever?

I love food, so that's an incredibly difficult question as there are so many meals. As a Greek Cypriot, a lot of our social activity is centred around food. My mum is an amazing cook, so anything she makes is fantastic – she has even adapted my childhood meaty favourites to vegetarian. I am a big fan of the aubergine, so a good aubergine parmigiana would be a favourite.

5. Do you have a guilty pleasure?

Chips and crisps – I believe that if Sir Walter Raleigh had not discovered the potato, my shape and size would have been very different. I also have a weakness for good, dark chocolate which is apparently quite healthy if it has a high cocoa content.

6. Have you ever been on a diet? If so, how did it go?

The 'every day with a y in it' diet – I have been what society might term as a bigger woman. I have, though, been on a serious diet twice. The first time was before I got married which went OK, but the weight piled on quite quickly after, and then again,10 years later when I turned 40. I spent six months on a sensible diet and lost three stone. I work quite hard to keep this off and, generally, my eating and exercise habits have been much healthier since.

7. Do you take health supplements?

Not at all; I genuinely believe that a balanced diet should be enough.

8. How do you relax?

Spending time with friends and family and going out for meals. I quite like cooking when in the right mood and am a bit of a knitter. I am also part of a singing group which is great. There is rarely a time when there isn't a play or an exhibition coming up, but this is mainly because I have a friend who has taken on the role of being our social and cultural secretary, so we rely on her to point us to various cultural events.

9. Teetotal or tipple?

Generally teetotal during the week, with a Prosecco or two at the weekend.

10. Stairs or lift?

I wish I could say stairs, but there are quite a lot of people in Equality House who share the lift with me every day, so stairs going down and lift on the way up.

11. Do you have a daily exercise regime?

Until recently, the answer would have been no, but a group of us are planning to walk a marathon in March, so we are in training. I will generally try to do a long walk (minimum 10 miles) at the weekend and a few shorter ones during the week.

12. Best tip for everyday fitness?

Don't fall over! I really like the 10,000 steps-a-day rule. It's something most of us should be able to do, but I am no expert.

13. On a scale of one to 10, how fit do you think you are and how fit would you like to be?

I am about a five and would like to be a 7.5.

14. Have you tried, or would you try, alternative therapy?

I am generally quite healthy, so medicines are not a big thing for me. I believe that if it works for you, keep doing it, so I would never say never.

15. Were school sports happy times or do you have a memory you would rather forget? I was never the first person picked and, by the time I got to secondary school, I was the last. But our PE teacher was great so I never felt particularly excluded. By the time I got to university I discovered rugby, which I loved, as there was a position for someone of my size.

16. Did you ever have a health epiphany which made you change your lifestyle?

There is history of heart disease in our family and so, when I had my 40th birthday, my mantra became: ‘You might get away with being young and fat, but not old and fat', so I made the decision to adopt a more healthy lifestyle and actually lose weight.

17. Best health/lifestyle advice you were ever given and would pass on to others? There are two: Life is too short to deny yourself the good things in life and everything in moderation. They are clichés, but true.

18. Who inspires you or who would you try to emulate in terms of fitness / attitude to life?

A friend died recently after receiving the diagnosis of terminal cancer six years ago. Her quiet, but determined strength was awesome. She packed in so much family life into those six years while availing of every treatment. She didn't live every day as it was her last, but she did made sure every day had meaning.

19. What time do you normally get to bed and do you get enough sleep?

I get to bed around 10pm but it takes a while to go to sleep. Since the menopause hit, I rarely sleep all night, but over the week it all evens out. I do love my sleep.

20. Would you say you have a healthy attitude towards your own mortality?

Not at all, even though I know it's inevitable for us all. It's something that I need to work on…

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