Sunday, November 23, 2003


The body does not obey the copyline of the slimming centres but the inalienable laws of nature, writes Amar Chandel

The advertisements are too alluring to be resisted: "Lose 5 kg in 10 hours with guaranteed results!!! No dieting, no exercise, no medicine, no side-effects." An obese person's dream come true? Not really. They only lighten your purse.

It is necessary to be extremely wary of the assertions made by these dream merchants and not be taken in by the publicity hype. Sorry friends, but no magic cream, pill or wrap works. If the claims appear to be too good to be true, be sure that these are untrue. The body does not obey the copyline of the slimming centres but the inalienable laws of nature about which we must be aware.

While losing 5 kg in 10 hours is simply not in the realm of the possible, even the weight that you do manage to take off through drastic measures like starving for a week or two comes back. What you lose is mainly glycogen, liquid or even muscle. Less muscle means a lower metabolism as muscle uses more calories in maintenance than fat. So starving yourself could contribute to putting on more fat in the future - and contracting numerous diseases in the bargain!

What every obese person should realise is that weight cannot be shed as if it is hair or nails. It has to be gotten rid of gram by gram. The maximum that one should think of losing is 500 gm in a week. Any loss beyond that is prone to leave you with sundry complications in later life. Fat is something which comes easy but goes away with great difficulty. Not only that, the kilos you shed through unscientific measures will come back to you sooner rather than later.

Another popular misconception is spot reduction. Some slimming centres offer to reduce your waist, thigh or breast measurement by 25, 50 or even 75 cm. That's humbug! The body statue cannot be chiselled in bits and pieces. The reduction has to be overall. The body is not a combination of parts but an organic whole. If you have been led up the garden path to believe that you can have shapely thighs without having an abdomen to match, perish the thought.

Excess weight is not a divine curse. We ourselves are to blame. Nobody admits he or she is eating too much but the fact is that one gains weight mainly if one is taking in more calories than one can dispose off. In other words, you cannot gain weight out of thin air (or water), although many believe so. So, anyone who tells you that he can help you shed weight without rationalising your food intake or doing exercises is pulling wool over your eyes.

By practice, you can learn to run faster or lift more weight, but you can't programme yourself to eat more than the prescribed limit. Every extra morsel that you take means you are inviting obesity or illness, whether you realise it at that time or not.

It is true that some people do not seem to put on weight even if they hog. That capability depends on one's heredity, age and physical constitution. By having a bad lifestyle we gradually lose this capacity to take some dietary excesses in our stride. Sedentary life, slow metabolism, advancing age and certain drugs increase our tendency to put on weight. But in the normal course we expand only because we eat far more than what our body is designed to handle. You need to use more calories than you eat to lose weight. As such, the best slimming centre for you is your own home. Eat only what your body requires and see the fat melt away. Again, let me remind you that the decrease should not be more than 500 gm per week or about 2 kg per month.

The only safe and scientific way to control obesity is to eat sensibly. This should not be misconstrued as dieting. You have to gradully bring yourself to a judicious regime of right food and right exercise. This is especially necessary for those past 30. Before that age, you may eat what you like—at least occasionally. After you have blown off 30 candles on the birthday cake and relished a large chunk of it, be sensible enough to eat only what your body likes. This rationalisation, call it reduction if you will, has to be a long-term exercise. Yo-yo kind of dieting in which you eat right for a week or 10 days and then binge maniacally only worsens your condition.

Even those who join genuine slimming centres do so as a desperate measure. While shedding weight through extreme steps like going on a liquid diet, they make a major mistake. Instead of realising that after they are through with the laboratory conditions in the slimming centre to shed weight, they will have to bring about many far-reaching changes in their lifestyle to keep it off, they consider that once they have come down to the optimum weight, they have nothing more to fear or do.

The experts of one such reputed centre shared with me many instances when people started eating junk food the very day they went out of the campus. Next year, they were again back at the health centre with the old weight and new ailments. Unless you can eat and exercise diligently on a regular basis, going to a slimming centre or health resort is sheer waste of time and money. Anyone who says that he cannot control his tongue is like a car driver who confesses that he cannot control the steering wheel.

Human machine is remarkable in adapting itself to the food input that we provide it over a period of time. It starts craving for items which are given to it on a long-term basis, whether these are good for it or not. Those addicted to liquor or drugs feel miserable when they are denied these.

What is less known is that sugar, fat, tea, coffee and cola drinks are also habit forming. You get so used to them so quickly that you feel you cannot do without them. Banishing them from your diet brings in withdrawal symptoms. The person concerned feels so wretched without them that sooner or later he starts taking them again. That is why it is very important to cut their use very slowly. The slimming centres bring about a sudden reduction of weight. Since you are functioning in a laboratory condition there, it is not possible to fulfil your cravings. But the first opportunity that comes your way on being free from the "prison", you make up for the missed sweets, pastries and shakes.

The only way out is to take the advice of professional nutritionists and lifestyle experts and follow it religiously. Remember, the food that you eat today is going to affect you 20 minutes, 20 days and even 20 years hence.

And you don't need to starve yourself either. All that you have to do is to replace fatty foods, such as cakes, biscuits, chocolate, crisps and mithai with energy foods—fruit, vegetables, potatoes, pasta, rice, whole bread, etc.

Occasional consumption of your favourite foods won't make heavens fall. Just make sure that you take very small portions and also incorporate some kind of activity into your daily lives as much as possible.

What must also be remembered is that food is not your enemy. Fat is. Food is necessary to get energy. Skipping breakfast, lunch or dinner results in low blood sugar. It is fat which makes us fat. Use more tomato-based sauces and fresh spices in your cooking and soon you will start hating those oily treats. Chocolates, dairy products, butter, cooking oils, pastries, cakes, etc. that we pile on day after day add up over weeks, months and even years until we eventually have a weight problem.

The wisdom of two square meals a day has done much harm. Eat five to six smaller meals throughout the day. Include nutritious, low-fat, and low-calorie foods in every meal. Small but regular meals will ensure that your blood sugar remains constant and that you feel satisfied. Don't allow yourself to go hungry. You may end up bingeing on all the wrong foods.

Increase your fibre intake. It increases bulk and helps reduce appetite, producing the feelings of satiety. By slowing down the release of carbohydrates into the bloodstream, fibre also helps keep energy levels consistent and high. Sufficient fibre supports good colon function and helps to eliminate wastes that are released during weight loss. It also helps to bind and flush out excess fluids and estrogen, which contribute to fatty deposits in women. But increase your fibre consumption gradually. A sudden increase will make you feel bloated.

Maintain a food diary. You will be surprised how much unnecessary food you are taking. Don't eat in front of the TV. Limit your salt, alcohol and soft drink intake and increase your water consumption.

Regular activity, at least three times per week, which makes you a little out of breath, is equally necessary to produce fat-burning results. Exercise helps in a number of ways. Increasing muscle mass can increase your metabolism and use up calories. However, exercise should not be seen as a short-term weight-loss solution, but a way of life! If you are fond of good food, you just cannot afford to skip a heavy workout. But remember to warm up and cool down properly.

Exercise whets your appetite. Don't pig out just because you are working out. A candy bar alone will take 5-8 km of brisk walking to leave your system. The leisurely morning walk that you take burns mostly carbohydrates, not fat. To pull down, you will have to try much harder.

Those who give up smoking must have noticed that it increases their weight. They must understand why this happens. Nicotine in cigarettes speeds up your metabolism and keeps your weight down. When you give up smoking your metabolism slows down and you gain weight. To get over this problem, get more active and change your eating habits before you quit smoking, so that you reduce your chances of gaining weight.

And for God's sake, don't blame your obesity on your parents. Genetics is rarely the real cause. It is just that we make the same mistakes that our parents did. If you eat lower-fat foods than your parents do and are more active than they are, there is no reason why you should be rotund like them.

When your body loses fat it produces water which may increase your weight during the first week or two of a new diet. Measure your success in centimetres, not grams. Your scales may not indicate anything but your clothes will tell you that you are on the right track. If at all you have to weigh yourself, do so only once a month or so.

Anger, depression and anxiety can play havoc with our eating habits because we seek comfort in eating. Identify emotional issues that cause you to overeat. Plan the time, portion and content of your meals each day and stick to it.

Metabolism is the speed at which your body burns calories. The faster it is, the quicker you will lose weight. You can speed it up by aerobic exercises, body conditioning (with weights) and eating plenty of low-fat good, balanced food. In reverse, lack of exercise or activity, skipping meals, very low-calories diets, starving yourself and alcohol will slow it down. The accelerator and the brake pedals of the body vehicle are at your command. Make the right choice.