Many of us view our health journeys as a solo endeavour: we see a doctor, receive a diagnosis, and live with the prognosis, usually along with a course of pills. Yet as health changes and we live longer, many seek a more holistic approach to health. Thankfully, a number of skilled professionals are entering the health space, eager to make the conversation around health more proactive, and hopefully less daunting.

One such company The Whole Health Practice brings a variety of proven skillsets to the health coaching space. Alastair Hunt came to health coaching from a life that has included the United Kingdom’s Parachute Regiment, music label management across Asia-Pacific, and an events career bringing artists to Asia such as The Police, Green Day, The Eagles and The Stone Roses. For nine years, Hunt was the Circuit Park Manager for the Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix, planning and coordinating the off-track event patron experience of up to 250,000 persons per race weekend.

Shortly before another action-packed weekend kicked off in Singapore, he sat down with CP5’s co-owner Luke Clark to talk about career transitions, health storytelling – and the future the food we eat.

Hi Ali!  Tell me first up, when you speak about health, how good does it feel two days out from a Singapore GP to be feeling hydrated, well-slept and free of dreams of traffic barriers and portable loos?

Alistair Hunt: Hi Luke. Everyone who has worked on a large scale event or on any time sensitive and no-fail project can get addicted to the launch vibe. That being said, its nice to be at an arm’s length and able to experience the event without carrying a radio.

The joy of spectators indeed. What made you interested in this latest career chapter? After a lifetime spent in music, skydiving and fast cars, you’re doing your bit for longevity and balance. Does the change of pace (and lowering of volume) agree with you?

AH: I had always been interested in health and in my 20s was very fit. However, same as for many, work and life catch up. Before I knew it I had my share of health problems: creeping weight gain, stress, poor diet, lack of exercise and sleep issues. That being said I turned around my health, found new purpose, went back to school and am keeping the pace up albeit being in a different sector.

Sounds like a great journey. Aside from your own interesting background, your wife Felicia Koh (MA Human Nutrition and an SNDA accredited nutritionist) has an impressive health background too, blending Western biomedical practices and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Do you see a lot more integration happening now and in the future between Western and traditional medicine?

AH: Absolutely yes. I see that there are more similarities between the two than differences. For one it is a matter of language, this can place a barrier in the way of finding common ground in concepts, science and practices. In very broad terms Western medicine is now hyper focused, it looks at health on a granular level. This has paid huge dividends in scientific discovery. Chinese medicine is holistic, incorporating effective techniques and practices that Western medicine has yet to understand and label. Recent research on the balances of the gut microbiome corresponds to Chinese medical principles for body types. TCM’s use of herbs is entirely in keeping with Western medical principles. There is room for both philosophies to work in conjunction and increasingly they do.

I know that you’re a keen runner. How hard is it in a tropical climate to maintain a regular long-distance habit? What health lessons does ‘running in the time of covid’ teach you?

AH: Running consistently can be tough wherever you do it. The heat doesn’t make things easier until you run in the cool and find additional power! One word that we became familiar with during the pandemic is comorbidities. Those that caught covid and had other, usually chronic, illnesses died more than those without.  Richer societies, nations, are plagued by chronic illness, often related to being overweight. Good lifestyle practices and self-care are essential to being healthy. This is where most people struggle, not through lack of knowledge but with difficulties with implementing change.

In many ways, we both tell stories for a living. How important is sharing stories and active listening to the health coach’s practice?

AH: Active listening is a vital skill. Health coaching involves listening to the client, understanding them and supporting them to find solutions to their own problems. The coach doesn’t share stories, however, with additional training and experience the coach can bring more value to the client. Being able to ask insightful questions is as important as listening.

AH: As a writer and editor, do you have any skills or insights related to drawing out inner truths from your interviewees?

Yeah, in terms of what we do, CP5 tries where possible to get people to describe their projects in their own words. In fact, our recent storyteller training courses spend time on ‘re-finding’ your personal tone of voice, which we’ve often lost, thanks to too much formal writing, or even over-zealous teachers. Then in day-to-day interviews, we’ll always include the ‘added colour’ questions such as “what was that experience like for you?” Or finishing off with a question like “anything I’ve missed?” The more personality that comes through, the better it will be to read.

So Ali, our company, like mine, is proudly independent. How important in your view is it for people in 2022 to seek out health advice that is free of the links of big pharma and other vested interests who, arguably, may not entirely have our health as their only priority? 

AH: There are structural problems with our politics and healthcare systems. Most practising doctors are doing the best job they can, the job that they are trained for and skilled at. Our own health practice takes care of the patient where the doctor is unable to, often after they have received their pills and been told to ‘eat right’ and ‘move more’. This is why integrative healthcare is so powerful, providing patients with multiple resources to improve their health and ultimately to get well.

Yeah, sometimes it’s just about having that sounding-board, right?

AH: Yes, exactly.

Ali, many of us like me look to beef as a good sources of protein: but as global beef prices soar and concerns are raised about its carbon footprint, many look for different meat and protein options. From options like turkey, venison, kangaroo and emu, alternative-proteins like crickets, ants, snails or termites, what are your views on not-beef protein sources?

AH: In richer societies we eat too much protein: most people eat well above the recommended daily amounts. If you eat animal protein, it comes packaged with primarily saturated fats and other chemicals from the food supply chain. If you eat plants, organic if possible but this can cost, the protein is packaged with fibre and health promoting plant chemicals. Game meats can be leaner and have a better ratio of healthy fats than commercially raised animals but game is not available to most people. Bugs and insects are already part of many cultures cuisines and now being seriously looked at in the West. Personally I eat some meat and fish, primarily following a whole food plant based eating pattern.

For those looking at plant-based meat substitutes, are there any health issues to look out for?

AH: While I appreciate that plant based meats prevent animal cruelty and create less pollution than famed animals they are not necessarily health promoting. Levels of fats and salt can be high. As with any processed food, read the label. Try making a plant based burger at home using whole food ingredients, there are some good recipes online.

It wouldn’t be an interview with Ali without mentioning the f-word.

AH: I beg your pardon!?

How important is bringing more fibre into our diets?

AH: This is a key issue for any developed society. Unfortunately, as nations develop economically, they consume more processed and ultra-processed food, or, food-like-products. This is happening across Asia and chronic illness rates are growing fast. Most of us do not eat even half the recommend daily amount of fibre.

Holistic health also encapsulates the importance of sleep and a lowering of stress. Do you help corporate executives to adjust their “go-go-go” lifestyle to be more sustainable, and less prone to burnout?

AH: Many people are out of balance. This often relates to work-life balance or simply their own health and lifestyle practices. Diet and nutrition, exercise, sleep and work-life balance are common areas that we work on with our clients, these are all interrelated with mental and social health. Interestingly we have clients ranging from those with chronic health issues to those looking to improve their performance both at work and at play.

That’s about it. Many thanks Ali!

AH: You’re most welcome! We appreciate the interest. 

Anything I’ve missed?

AH: Just like in your industry, writing is key to ours too. We recommend our clients to journal, actively recording details about their health on a regularly basis. This is not only to log statistics like weight changes or if they’ve exercised, but also to catalogue their thoughts and feelings. Reflection and writing is a powerful tool for improving health. Please feel free to download our Personal Health Ecosystem document (scroll down to ‘Downloads’) to help you reflect on your health, then try journaling.