Battling the Bulge


FEATURE STORY

The excess pounds stealthily crept in with the soft drinks, Oreos and other junk foods serving as comfort food during anxious years in medical school and internship, peaking during the review for the board exams. Tipping the scale to borderline obese level, with a high-normal HbA1c serve us the wake up call for a serious weight reduction program

TEXT AND PHOTOS BY THADDEUS C. HINUNANGAN, MD


Like most regular people I know, once they reach their thirties, they mellow down. Gone are the hyperactive party-all-night-Fridays or swim-all-day-weekends. Instead, most prefer to stay home to read or maybe work on a presentation.

I was never the “fat” person (sorry, for the bluntness), I have been thin all my life without meaning too. In fact, I was barely over 110 pounds or 50 kilos during my college days. My metabolism during my twenties allowed me to eat what I wanted and I never thought that one day I would struggle with my weight as my age caught up with me.

As I soldiered through medical school during my early thirties, I started gaining weight. I’m not sure if it were the Oreos and chips I ate during all-night study sessions or the fact that I drank soft drinks (Coke zero, I mistakenly reasoned, ergo no calories or sugar) morning, noon and night to cope with the stresses of school. Food was my reward, and at the same time my comfort measure when I was feeling down.

By the time I graduated, I was a solid 64 kilos. At 164 cm height, I had a Basal Metabolic Index (BMI) of 23.7 which was still within normal limits in the World Health Organization (WHO) classification.

Internship stress

Enter the era of my training at the Philippine General Hospital (PGH), the mecca of medical internship. The stresses of adapting to the environment and the inherently toxic duties had me reaching for more comfort food, which were unfortunately junk. Except for pushing stretchers and wheelchairs of patients, or running to the third floor to assist on an operation, I never exercised. This was the time I exceeded my ideal weight and reached 70 kilos. I was officially overweight. My cheeks puffed. My old clothes failed to fit, but luckily my scrubs accommodated my extra bulk (especially on my belly).

My brother always joked that I looked pregnant
My brother always joked that I looked pregnant

It all peaked during medical board review. Once again, I was studying from sun up to sun down, resorting to food for comfort. I slept only four to five hours every night. I had anxiety attacks because of the impending exam. Once the results were out and I was officially a licensed physician, I had the courage to weigh myself one morning. The scales tipped, went past 68… 70.. 72 kilograms! Not only was I overweight according to WHO but in the Asian classification, which had a lower threshold, I was borderline obese!

Wake up call

It was a wake up call for me. But heck, I reasoned, I am a resident physician, not a male model who had no other things to do but spend all day at the gym. Besides, I had two jobs–as a Pathology resident and as a contributor for both H&L magazine and the Philippine Daily Inquirer opinion section. Every day my routine was: cut, section, describe specimens, read slides, and sign out the diagnosis. Conferences and trainings filled our mornings and during weekends I allotted some time to write, but deep down I really wanted to do something about my weight.

My family has both a history of hypertension on both sides, plus diabetes on my paternal side. My parents both died in their early fifties, which puts me at very, very high risk. When my glycosylated hemoglobin (HbA1C) came out almost borderline for diabetes, and had one episode of palpitations while on duty in PGH, I was officially scared. I was 37, overweight, and started having symptoms of polyuria (frequent urination). That was the last straw.

First gym membership

When I got my paycheck from H&L, I decided just for once I will splurge it on a gym membership. I went to Slimmers World, a flashy gym a jeepney ride away from PGH and got a six month membership. They also assessed my diet and the changes I needed to do with my eating habits.

At first, I went to the classes. I tried yoga and liked it very much. I had my first sessions with the Slimmers instructor, but due to the high volume of people, I had to wait an average of 20 minutes for a machine. I also had no idea of what I was doing, since the instructor had over ten different students doing their exercises at the same time in different areas.

After the next couple of weeks I stopped going because either I had some slides to read or I needed to finish something in PGH. The gym was too far, with nothing else to motivate me except sheer willpower. When I checked my weight again, there was barely any difference. Now, I was doubly depressed. Not only did I regret spending thousands on a gym membership, but I seemed like a hopeless case.

Some exercises at the gym.
Some exercises at the gym.

No-frills gym

Then one day, as I was having a book photocopied along Pedro Gil street, I noticed a no-frills sign which said “Jimmer’s gym” on the second floor. They had no fancy elevator or swimming pool, no nutritionist in a white coat to convince me to throw thousands of pesos on a membership. They told me the monthly fee was only Php 1,200 and there was even a daily rate with discounts for students.

That day I also met Japs, my would be trainer. I asked how much the rate was for a personal coach, because after a busy day in PGH, the last thing on my mind is devising a workout routine. A trainer will help me with the exercises and planning my meals. The fee was a reasonable Php 4,000 a month, but it was worth it since my trainer will instruct me through all my sessions.

During my first few sessions, Japs was mindful of the mistakes I made while working out. He devised workout routines and combinations like back and biceps or chest with triceps, shoulder workouts were also separate from mySaturday workout which is devoted to leg exercises. We started with lighter weights which I could handle while performing the correct angle and working that specific muscle group. As weeks went by, we added some weights. Doing it right was more important than lifting heavier weights immediately. The fact that the gym was a stone’s throw from PGH meant I could work out for an hour or two before going home.

Weight lifting with no discipline with food is pointless, I realized. So, no more hospital duties with hordes of junk food. I tried slowly but surely avoiding carbonated drinks and artificially sweetened beverages and just contented myself with water. A typical breakfast consists of two boiled eggs, coffee, and any viand. Lunch was boiled banana and any protein rich viand, and dinner consisted of either beef wanton or shawarma with another egg.

Almost ripped.
Almost ripped.

Shedding the pounds

I started losing weight rapidly. I was 72 Kg during my heaviest, down to 67.5 Kg during my first month at Jimmer’s gym. Down to 65.6 Kg in my second month, all the way to 63.9 Kg during my third month. Then Japs wanted me to bulk up by starting to eat rice again, he said only after I gained more mass will we “cut” again.

I was hesitant because the diet had helped shed the poundage, but I wanted a more shapely and toned body and that involved gaining more mass around shoulders, chest, back, and legs and work on trimming the abdominals later. I followed his advice and saw a lot of improvement in my shape.

One day while I was preparing for work, I realized I needed a new belt. My old belt I wore throughout internship had become too big. During the first few months I only lost weight and looked thin, but as I started putting in bulk, I noticed the shape of the pectorals and my shoulders stretching my t-shirts.

The author presently after a lifestyle change.
The author presently after a lifestyle change.

People had also started remarking at the change. By now I had stopped obsessing about my weight. I don’t even know my current weight since I do not check it daily anymore, unlike before when even a rise of one pound was enough to put me in the pits of depression.

Fit body and mind

Working on having a fit body and a fit mind needed a conscious decision every single day. I realized we always have a choice, a choice between fried processed pork over grilled chicken, or getting a bowl of fruit over cake for dessert. Making fitness as a choice was also made easier because my gym was closer to where I worked and lived, and my trainer not only instructed me but also encouraged me to complete every single routine.

Recently I had my glycosylated hemoglobin taken again, and it was 5.2 percent–within normal limits. It meant that my sugar levels within the past three months had not been excessive. Nowadays I rarely drink softdrinks or eat sugary food, but of course allow myself a chocolate bar or two on Sundays for a treat.

Losing weight wasn’t just about looking good, it also taught me about being determined and consistent with working towards your goal. It does not take someone extraordinary to get back in shape, and age should not be an excuse. I think I may even be in better shape now than I was in my twenties.

So this is my take-home message to anyone aspiring to lose weight for health or any other reason: if I can do it, anyone can!

“Working on having a fit body and a fit mind needed a conscious decision every single day”

December 2017 Health and Lifestyle

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