Okay, don’t worry I will NOT make any promotions on health supplements, diet strategies, gym memberships or personal training. What I would like to share is the story, the long process of my increasing awareness that my physical body needs and deserves care, respect and appreciation.
Immigrating to Canada has been a continuous blessing in small and big ways. One of those small and big positive advantages is there is so much more food available! You don’t need to have such a high income to get decent grocery items. Milk, orange juice, eating two pancakes with lots of syrup and butter is not a luxury anymore, it’s a daily item you can consume. Being in a Filipino household is a big plus as well. Homesickness is not as bad since we have a designated chef who loves cooking as is really good at it. We get fried pork chops and chicken, sinigang (sour soup), adobo (meat cured in soy sauce and garlic), chow mien, and going for seconds or third servings is the norm, if not expected. I remember my uncle and aunt say “magtipid ka na sa ibang bagay, ‘wag lang sa pagkain” (be thrifty in other things, just not on food). It’s a good way to enjoy the fruits of your labour after all, having it in food that will give you nourishment and energy for your work or school the next day. Even as I started doing the work-school arrangement during university, pitching in money so that it’s easier to buy grocery items in large quantities for a large household helped a lot to ensure that my tummy is full and my taste buds are happy.
One drastic change I experienced was how so much more sedentary my lifestyle has become, just like a lot of individuals I know. During my first year in the country living in Ontario, being ravenous in the kitchen was balanced by long walks in parks and using this small StairMaster-like equipment I found in the basement.Those physical activities though is mostly because of boredom at home, until I had a chance to participate in the local Filipino-Canadian Association performing folk dances. Moving to Edmonton for jobs and university, physical activity is out of the window. Between being in front of a computer for studying, entertainment and staying connected to the other side of the world, standing all day at my retail job, and sitting all day during my classes and work terms, at the end of the day you just try to eat well and catch sleep whether lying down at home or with your head tucked in during your bus trip.
We all know the equation, more food and less physical activity than your body needs causes weight gain. I started to notice that more and more over the years. At first I even hem the waist of my pants that I brought from the Philippines for them to fit, then I inherited clothes that my cousin have out-sized, and I eventually have to buy clothes each year in increasing sizes. For comfort and flexibility, buying tights and slacks with stretch waistbands really helped a lot. Not for the tops though. Purchase, use, outgrow, dispose is a common trend for quite a few years.But I didn’t take it too seriously, as most of the ladies in my household go through the same thing. Well, food at home is enjoyable. It’s just the way it is.
I would say in 2009 was when in small ways I started realizing that my physical state needs to be changed, for not the best reasons. I asked the guy I was dating at the time whether he thinks I’m too fat and how will he react if I gain weight. You know, it’s one of those questions you ask when you are still maturing and learning about things in life. He responded “I think you look fine, but if you gain more weight… I think I’ll find it less attractive.” At least he is honest I suppose. With the guy I was dating in 2010 ( until now) I didn’t ask that question anymore, although I expressed my concern with my weight in a different way. I checked my weight in the scale by his bathroom and watched the number creep up little by little. It was really upsetting and I whine about it all the time. One day in early 2012 he did bring it up in a more gentle way, that he did observe that I am gaining a lot of weight, that he wanted to help me be more fit and he is concerned because while it’s true that it’s not as attractive, he is most concerned with the long term health implications. He said he wanted me to be healthy so that I’ll be around for longer and we’ll be together for longer as a result. We’ll that’s quite a romantic twist right there.
One day when we were about to go to his parents’ place there is a nice, large pile of fresh snow everywhere. I was walking on the driveway then wham! He started throwing snowballs at me. He didn’t get away with it and we threw snowballs at each other, laughing and running but it was cut short. I ran out of breath after ONE minute, I actually needed to sit on the ground and settle down. I was so embarrassed that my first snowball fight went down like that. It’s when I realized how weak my body is, on top of the fact that I feel fat. That’s an incredibly low amount of endurance for a 19 year old for such a minor activity.
I tried the odd time or two of swimming lessons, using the condo gym, jogging but it was really challenging to include it in my work-school-extracurriculars schedule. I promised myself though that when I have more free time, I will make it a priority. After finishing school in December 2012, I signed up for a gym membership, with physical training included. I had no experience, no expectations about the cost so I just decided to go for it.
January 2013 is when I started being serious about losing weight. It was my sole goal at the time. My trainer informed my the diet and exercise is the key to weight loss and I thought that made sense. I downloaded an app to track the calories I ate, worked out 2-3 times a week with one physical training session leaving me sore for days. I was so focused on the total calories for the day and really struggled with how painful it was at times. I don’t cook the food at home so that doesn’t help with the calories I was aiming for. The time between breakfast and lunch and between lunch and the end of work is the worst. I can hear and feel my tummy grumbling, have painful sensations sometimes. The strategies I read online include drinking more water or soup broth didn’t seem to help. Until I checked the weighing scale. The numbers are dropping and I was excited. I keep pushed doing longer cardio times such as one-hour Zumba Sessions or a combination of treadmill, bike and rowing and reward myself with a half a sandwich of peanut butter and Nuttella.
Then I traveled with my boyfriend to the Philippines for three months. We both accepted that dieting is completely out of the question, we just need to focus on eating well and luxuriously because I worked so hard for years to save for the trip and that the stress might be enough to initiate weight loss. So we did exactly just that, we ate at restaurants a lot, we appeased the relatives we visited by eating heartily and we commuted or walked everywhere we went. Surprisingly I gained not as much weight as I expected. I realized that walking for a total of two hours per day probably helped a lot in keeping some of the excess food from staying as body fat.
During the vacation, I observed my relatives and just around us the lifestyle that I used to live in. Filipinos do love to eat heartily which is not a bad thing in itself, but the choices and options are pretty concerning. Eating 2-3 servings of rice extra per meal is the norm, there is preference to really sweet or starchy food, soft drinks and juices are consumed more than water, and large amounts of animal fat, cooking oil and salt is used in cooking. I learned that more of my older relatives have confirmed conditions of hypertension and Type 2 Diabetes and I was concerned that there is a genetic link there. I also knew that I have a family history of asthma and ladies’ cancers (ovary, breast, uterus). It gave me a real scare. I realized that I have to work hard at fixing the things I can control, sooner than later.
Upon returning to Canada in July, things happened really quickly. A new job, new living arrangements and new opportunities to take control of my life have opened. Moving out means I have to make the meals, not only for me, but for the two people I love dearly and have no interest in preparing food, my brother and my boyfriend. Feeling inspired by my late dad, uncle and grandmother who are all good cooks and enjoy the task, I thought I should be able to do it too. I started to calorie-count again, got angry at it and stopped for a while. I just found it too restrictive. I started learning cooking basics, not worrying too much about calories but learning basic skills, dishes that are easy and some that I like.
September came and I started being more serious about getting fit. I used my remaining sessions for a new trainer and quickly built a good rapport with him. He was informative, relaxed and challenging, which was exactly what I needed. He informed me about something that really changed my view on the weight loss goal. What people refer to as weight loss that they want to achieve is actually fat loss – losing excess fat in the body. He used this cool device called a Body Composition Scale which showed how much muscle and fat mass I have, and how much fat I need to lose and also how much muscle I need to gain. He gave tips on diet changes to encourage the muscle mass increase, because more muscles means more calories are burned even while doing nothing.
So I used the calorie-tracking app again, but this time, to track not only calories but also protein and nutrient intake. During our first re-measurement after the first assessment, I complained, thinking I didn’t lose weight at all. This is debunked by the results, when I gained muscle and lost weight by the same amount. I was awed. I did feel stronger because he has been pushing me to lift heavier and heavier weights, I was enjoying the Zumba instructor on Thursdays and I’m learning that with workouts, I can do things my way, any way, as long as it’s safe and I factor all the body’s range of motion. The same trend occurred until the last training session and final review. My net weight didn’t change much, but I gained 5 pounds of muscle, lost 10 pounds of fat, have increased endurance and strength that I can outrun and wrestle my boyfriend. That’s a win right there! Now, even without the structure of a physical trainer, I aim to use the wisdom I learned and expand it: finding physical activities I enjoy, integrating physical activities in daily living from walking to volunteering, and setting my pace and understanding my body.
I read a lot about body image issues that women face, especially when it comes to the waistline. I learned about how unrealistic it is to conform to a lot of them and it can even be dangerous, psychologically and physically. When I got involved in getting healthier I noticed that there isn’t that much change in my body when I look at it in the mirror. My pants and shirt size is the same, and it looks like the fat loss is in my midsection, but I still have the so-called “muffin top” in there. I have accepted that my height won’t change as much as I wanted it to just reach the 5 foot tall mark. But I stopped worrying about it so much. Size is just a number, and the system keeps on changing over the decades. In the future I hope it changes in a way that makes everyone not care if you’re not a ‘zero’ which is an outrageous size in the first place.
My current focus right now is this piece of wisdom I found: “eat well, not too much, mostly plants.” Do you know how cooking food from scratch is more delicious, more educational and healthy as well? It’s also rewarding to eat something you chopped, mixed and cooked without burning the kitchen to the ground. My guilty pleasure is whole-wheat chocolate chip cookies I bake at home, in moderation of course. I am learning to bake bread and pastries and I started to make food substitutions to accommodate healthier ingredient alternatives, my brother’s food finickiness, my boyfriend’s allergies and our household’s diverse taste preferences.
I realized that my body deserves good stuff, from the outside and the inside. I am happy with my body now, mainly because of this change in perspective. I’m happy with the fact that I can carry lumber and work heavy power tools and knead dough for a long time. I’m very convinced that I look dang good wearing a corset, a business suit, sweats or nothing at all, no makeup required. And a diet of fruity smoothies, indulgent home-made chocolate chip cookies, whole wheat items, fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, occasional junk food and self-made desserts is favourable to my tongue and my nutrition requirements. I am also working on other life aspects that will directly affect my physical body and more. A more positive outlook, allowing myself to be happy and letting go to guilt and angst, giving generously to the community and being more assertive are important to make life much fruitful and happy for yourself and the people around you.
Aim to be fit: to be able to run faster, jump higher, lift stronger, dance longer, and push with power. Being healthy is a matter of continuous positive behaviours and how you feel, as opposed to how you look at the end of the day. Resist using and reacting from the greeting ‘you gain/lost weight’ because what’s on the outside is always not an accurate measure. Health is indeed wealth, physical, mental and emotional, and I hope that everyone at any age and circumstance start on focusing on all these aspects because it pays off in the short and long term.