food / travel

How A Swiss Nutritionist Uses Whatsapp As A Weight-Loss App

Changing your diet is not easy, but the power of messaging service WhatsApp keeps you connected to help keep you on track.

Message while you eat
Message while you eat
Camille Destraz

LAUSANNE â€"The group members commit exactly one month to achieve their goal: to change their poor dietary habits that have led them to store fat in their bodies, have trouble sleeping, lose energy or develop gastric acidity.

The group or their goal is hardly unusual: Peer pressure has long worked to help keep members on track. But the manner in which this group now bands together is shaped by modern technology. The group uses WhatsApp, the popular messaging service, to reset their body to a healthier rhythm.

Olivier Bourquin, a Swiss neuro-nutrition specialist, is the brainchild behind this group. He forms three WhatsApp groups every month, each with about a dozen patients who want to improve their diet. Bourquin first meets each member to determine their state of health and level of metabolism, and then sets them goals and counsels them. The next day, he continues to offer them advice but on WhatsApp. And he does so for a month.

Pascal Meyer, the head of retail company QoQa, took up the challenge with 18 people from his office. “It’s fun, people challenge each other,” said the 35-year-old manager, who lost five kilograms (11 pounds) during the period.

Meyer, a wine enthusiast, remembers one night when he really wanted to open a bottle of good wine. So, he asked Bourquin, ‘If I run five kilometers, can I?’

“He said OK,” said Meyer.

Bourquin, author of the book La Performance Sur Mesure (“Made-To-Measure Performance”), said his philosophy “enables individuals to improve or maintain their health or performances, all the while enjoying themselves.”

That can't be ok? â€" Photo: M01229

The golden rule of the WhatsApp group is to constantly communicate about the ongoing challenge. Bourquin says group members exchange healthy recipes and share their thoughts on the difficulties they face.

The groups are similar to non-virtual groups, Bourquin notes. Sometimes, you share a lot, sometimes you don’t. There are always people who dominate the conversation but Bourquin said he also guides the exchange. “I used to not work in groups before. WhatsApp opened up great possibilities.”

But there are limits to the conversation. When a participant “describes the color of his poop to the whole group,” Bourquin steps in to set boundaries.

The goals of group members can vary. About a third of the participants don’t want to lose weight. Instead, they want to reset their habits because they have trouble concentrating, sleeping or have intestinal problems.

“And it’s OK to be part of the same group of those who want to lose 10 kilos. There’s such plasticity with the brain, you can easily regain control of your body and its organs,” said Bourquin.

But not all aspects of the new platform are perfect, especially for the man running it. Some patients ask Bourquin questions “on Sunday nights, at midnight,” hoping to receive an immediate answer. “During the day, I have consultations, I give lectures, I do everything to answer as fast as possible, in two or three hours. And when demands are a bit more personal, I tell people to write to me in private. But without exaggerating.”

What happens after the month-long challenge? Some continue, but even those who move off the program often stay in touch and keep on encouraging each other.

“The groups stay together," Bourquin says. "A small community is being created.”

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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