For some of us, losing weight – and keeping it off – is an endless struggle. Even if we are careful about what we eat and exercise regularly, we find it near impossible to shed those last few kilograms. As we get older and our metabolism slows down, staying slim gets even harder.
But, beyond our eating and exercise habits, our modern lifestyle also influences our ability to maintain a healthy weight. Dr Cheryl Kam, a family physician at Mint Medical Centre says that our busy work and personal lives, our dependence on technology, and our reluctance to spend time outdoors, are just some of the problems that are standing in the way of our staying slim. These problems affect us metabolically, causing our bodies to hold on to fat and making it difficult for us to process energy efficiently.
If you’re struggling to get to a healthy weight or maintain your ideal weight, you may want to see which aspects of your lifestyle need a change.
1. YOU DON’T EAT BREAKFAST
It’s totally worth waking up a little extra early in the morning to prepare a decent breakfast. Dr Kam says that missing out on the first meal of the day can set you up for an energy deficit, and by mid-morning or lunchtime, you are so famished that you tend to make unwise food choices or end up eating a lot more than you should. Breakfast need not be a complicated or time-consuming affair: It takes only a few minutes to spread peanut butter on some toast, soft-boil an egg, or tuck into some Greek yogurt with fruit. If you’d rather not do any food prep first thing in the morning, you could always boil a couple of eggs the night before and munch on them at your desk or on the way to work. Avoid stodgy breakfast dishes like fried noodles, prata and nasi lemak – these are nutritionally deficient, not to mention, carbohydrate-heavy and can cause your energy levels to spike and crash.
2. YOU ARE CONSTANTLY STRESSED
Stress is the price we pay for working long hours and doing more than we are capable of. While a little stress is good – it keeps us on our toes and motivates us to do better – many of us have allowed work and personal pressures to dominate our lives. According to Dr Kam, leading a stressful lifestyle, or not being able to manage stress properly, can lead to hormonal imbalances. One hormone in particular, cortisol is triggered by stress. A persistently increased level of cortisol in the body can cause weight gain in your midsection and put you at risk of developing cardiovascular problems. There are numerous ways to get a handle on stress, including meditation and exercise. Find one that suits you and make it a priority to keep those mental and emotional pressures at bay.
3. YOU SIT AROUND A LOT
Sitting at your desk for eight or more hours a day, driving or taking public transport everywhere, and then plonking yourself in front of the TV when you get home, all translate to insufficient physical activity, which can lead to weight gain. Even if you work out a couple of times a week, you can help your body expend extra energy by fitting incidental exercise into your day. Some examples: Taking the stairs instead of the lift, walking short distances instead of taking the bus or train, and speaking to a colleague in another department in person instead of phoning or emailing her. Every little bit helps.
4. YOU ARE ADDICTED TO YOUR SMARTPHONE
Do you love playing Candy Crush before drifting off to sleep? Dr Kam says that the unnatural light from your phone screen suppresses melatonin levels in your body, resulting in poor quality sleep. Melatonin is a hormone that helps control your sleep and wake cycles.
Chronic sleep deprivation not only slows your metabolism, it also increases the level of ghrelin in your body while reducing the level of leptin. Ghrelin is the hormone that instructs your body to eat, and leptin tells you to stop eating. If you wake up less-than-refreshed and cranky, and crave unhealthy foods during the day, it’s possible that your smartphone addiction is to blame. Make it a point to stop using your devices at least half an hour before bedtime, for better quality sleep.
5. YOU DON’T GET ENOUGH VITAMIN D
For years we’ve been told to stay out of the sun to avoid getting skin cancer and wrinkles. But Dr Kam says that Asians in particular need at least 15 minutes of direct sunshine a day, to enable vitamin D production through UVB rays. Vitamin D is essential for healthy bones, cardiovascular health and cancer prevention, and, if you suffer from a deficiency, you may experience lethargy, moodiness and muscle aches. “You won’t ever feel like exercising if your body has low levels of vitamin D,” she explains. “It’s a self-perpetuating cycle.”
6. YOU HAVE AN UNHEALTHY SOCIAL LIFE
When we were younger, being with friends meant going out to play and running around the neighbourhood. Today, it means eating at restaurants and drinking in pubs together, and doing everything other than being physically active. It might be a good idea to schedule a group power-walk or run with your buddies once a week instead of pigging out at your favourite cafe, says Dr Kam. If your pals are not into working out, find people who are, and make a fun gathering out of it!
7. YOU EAT A LOT OF PROCESSED FOODS
Our soil today is so depleted of nutrients – the result of over-farming – that even if we eat more fruit and veggies, it’s likely that we would be consuming food that is nutritionally deficient. And when we don’t take in enough nutrients, our bodies tell us to look for them in other, often unhealthy processed foods. But, Dr Kam says that many processed foods contain undeclared chemical emulsifiers that interfere with the health of our gut. “Certain emulsifiers are known to upset the balance of good bacteria in the body, leading to metabolic syndrome and obesity,” she explains. To ensure you’re getting the nutrients your body needs, buy the best quality organic produce you can afford, and minimise your intake of processed meals and snack foods.
8. YOU GENETIC MAKEUP MAY BE A CULPRIT
Dr Kam says that more people today suffer from inherited metabolic disorders such as insulin-dependent diabetes, non insulin-dependent diabetes and insulin resistance. Health experts argue that it is an epidemic, largely driven by the excess consumption of sugar and grains. These genetic disorders are augmented with each generation, Dr Kam adds, and can make it very difficult for some people to keep their weight in check. If you have a family history of these diseases, speak to your doctor about weight management strategies.
If you’re looking to shift those extra kilos, read our story on 7 fun, free dance classes you’ve always wanted to try!; watch what you eat if you’re dieting by reading our story on diet saboteurs; or you can try these 6 fun and easy tricks to get a slimmer waist!