5 easy steps to control weight gain

Tuesday, December 20, 2016 Stef dela Cruz, MD 0 Comments

You just got off work. You were having a bad day at work, which would explain why you ate too much ice cream and drank more coffee than usual. Tired, you’re not looking forward to the 7PM traffic. You’re looking particularly stressed: People have been asking you why you look older, not to mention heavier.

This is your life. These are your choices. Nobody is twisting your arm to do things you don’t want to do.

So, why do you feel like you’re not in control anymore?

Julian Alvarez Garcia“We get the feeling that our life doesn’t belong to us [if we live unhealthy lives],” said Dr. Julian Alvarez Garcia, founding member of the Spanish Association of Specialists in Sports and Physical Education Medicine, during the Philippine leg of the 2016 Herbalife Asia-Pacific Wellness Tour.

He also said gaining unwanted weight was a sign that a person was losing control of his own life.

Ouch. That hit home for me. How about you?


Fat: the controlling, manipulative alien b*tch

Kaway-kaway to everyone out there who is also allergic to exercise! So, moment of truth: How many times do you exercise in a week? Not as often as you want, because you’ve been busy?

And how many times do you eat vegetables in a day? Let me guess: You’ve been telling yourself to do it – you’ve had plans to go to the supermarket and buy a whole assortment of greens, in fact – but for some reason, you haven’t gotten around to it yet.

I feel you. Just like you, I’ve been trying really hard not to reach for that bag of Ruffles, but it’s just so hard.

Why are we so bad at staying healthy? Arrrgh! *pulls hair*

Rhetorical as my question seems, Dr. Garcia has an answer. “Fat is deciding instead of us. Fat is like an alien waiting for food and as soon as we eat, it takes the food.”

Come to think of it, the whole “alien” analogy is apt. You look at the mirror after gaining 50 pounds and you look almost… foreign. You can barely recognize the person looking right back at you – have you really allowed an alien to control you? – and you feel like someone else has taken over the reins.

So, our own fat is controlling us?

“The fatter people are, the less control they have. When they eat, they feel less satisfied. Even when they eat enough, the fat says, ‘No, it’s not enough.’ So, find strategies for the alien [not to take over]. And whenever you want to eat, stop and ask, ‘Is it for the alien or is it for me?’”

Easier said than done, but not impossible.


Take back control: 5 steps

I sat down with Dr. Garcia to talk about exercise, health, and being helpless despite all of the health information we read online. Based on what we discussed, here are five easy steps we can take to tame our “aliens” and take back control over our health, no matter how busy we are.


Step 1: Start now

Seems obvious enough, but a lot of us refuse to take this first step because all the next ones seem almost impossible, yes?

Here’s some good news to motivate you: If you’ve been quite the couch potato, you don’t need to do much in the beginning. (Hurray for minimum effort!)

“The exercise you need for you to see a difference is low in intensity [if you’re not fit].” On the other hand, people who are in better physical health have to train harder to see results.


Step 2: Start your day right

And by right, I mean early.

“Set your alarm clock thirty minutes earlier than usual. This half hour is the only time that really belongs to you.”

Waking up earlier than usual changes your mindset. You start the day feeling that you own your life; that you are in control.

“Don’t worry; if you wake up half an hour early, then you will sleep half an hour early, which means you won’t [deprive yourself of sleep].”


Step 3: Move before you munch

You know what might wake you up better – not to mention give your metabolism a better boost – than coffee? Say it like you mean it: Exercise!

“Exercise before eating breakfast. This energizes you for the rest of your day. Then, eat breakfast. Breakfast after exercise will bring protein to your muscles.”

But why should we exercise before eating breakfast? Supplementing with glucose can inhibit the oxidation of fats – and this inhibition can last for a few more hours.

In other words, when you consume food that provides your body with glucose as you exercise, your body won’t burn fats effectively.

Don’t deprive yourself too much of carbs the rest of the day, however. This can lead to lower energy levels, making you weaker… and less capable of working out effectively. It’s all about timing your meals, not depriving yourself of food.

Disclaimer: The above step works for people who simply want to burn fat more effectively. However, recommendations about what to eat during training and workouts depend on what you want to achieve. If you’re training for a marathon or a sport, or if you have an illness, consult your doctor before making any changes to your lifestyle.


Step 4: Stay active, even at work

“Don’t sit for more than one hour – [get up and] get a glass of water, or go to the bathroom. You’re not going to lose your concentration. If anything, this will improve your productivity.”

Just because you’re busy in the office doesn’t mean you have to stop being physically active.

A Facebook friend once introduced me to the Pomodoro technique – it allows me to take frequent breaks (five-minute breaks every half hour) while working, which keeps me from getting mentally burned out while also preventing me from living a sedentary lifestyle. So, install a Pomodoro timer app on your mobile phone and use it when you’re at your desk.

A sedentary lifestyle increases your risk for heart disease and weight gain. Repeat after me: We want to live long, healthy lives, so healthy that when people look at us, they think our hotness is NSFW.


Step 5: Get enough sleep

Honey, it ain’t called beauty sleep for nothing.

Sleep deprivation is a form of stress, which can lead to unhealthy weight gain. “When we are stressed, our body produces cortisol, which increases fat. When we are stressed, we reach for bad types of food, such as cheap [junk] that gives us energy, and we do not care about nutrients.”

If you don’t get the sleep your body needs, you tend to gain weight.

Keep away from all screens (television, tablets, phones) an hour before bedtime. Don’t work out too hard in the evening if you don’t want to stay up all night. Taking a hot bath at home might also help you sleep even after your late-night gym habit. Whatever you do, make sure you get enough hours of sleep each night.


The challenge:
Do all the above… for more than a month!

“The most important thing after one month is not to develop strength or flexibility, but to [stay the path].”

Did you know? Most people leave the gym or stop exercising after the first month.

Do you think you can follow the above steps for more than a month? Just five steps, plus none of them are over-the-top. (I’ll follow these steps myself – let’s see if I feel and look healthier after a month!)

Dr Julian Alvarez Garcia“Exercise should be part of life, the same way brushing your teeth is. We should feel bad if we can’t exercise everyday.”

It’s time we all started thinking of our health as second to none. “Your body is like a car. You have to take care of your car, especially if it’s the only car you will ever have.”

Are you up to the challenge? Let’s do this – and let’s see how far we’ve gone after a month. We deserve to gain back control. Good luck to us!

Stef dela CruzAbout the blogger
Stef dela Cruz is a vegan doctor and writer. She received the 2013 Award for Health Media from the Department of Health. She is the editor of The Manila Bulletin's Animal Scene Magazine. Get in touch if you want to invite her as a speaker!