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  • Weight loss, a personal journey

    According to the World Health Organization, over 67% of Australians were considered overweight in 2007 (BMI greater than 25), doubling the figure in 1995. Being overweight and obese can lead to many health-related complications later in life and is costing the government tens of billions of dollars a year. On the other hand, people are spending billions of dollars each year on weight loss/maintenance related products and services and yet, the society as a whole is still getting fatter, with many failed to lose weight and reaching their targets.

    Even though the theory of weight loss can be simply put into one little equation of balancing calorie intake and calorie expenditure, it is not that easy to achieve. I know what it feels like, being handsomely overweight back in my early undergrad years and had experienced several failed attempts of shedding any fat. I eventually lost about 20% of my body weight aided by: the desire of wanting to feel good about myself and my health; a friend Jay (the now owner of AminoZ) who suggested to me that may be I should do a 12-week challenge with him; and being a scientist to be, my own version of the 12-week challenge.

    I lost 13kgs during the first 12 weeks and my weight continued to decline for a further 10kgs in the next 3 months even after reverting back to a normal everything-rich diet from a somewhat high-carb, low-fat diet that I initially employed, which was not the best diet for losing weight as we now all know. My weight has since plateaued and remained stable and I have been enjoying the rewards of a new life since, feeling healthier, more energetic and fitter than ever. That was my third try at losing weight, both previous attempts had resulted in failure. So what did I do differently the third time around?

    I've never really thought about this question until recently, after seeing people going out of their ways practicing different diets and trying out varieties of exercise regimes in an attempt to shed fat and fail. I never bothered with what types of exercises I did nor did I care much about the contents of foods I ate, as long as they were "low fat". In fact, I was so unfit at the beginning, 10 minutes on the treadmill at the speed of 8km/h was enough to exhaust me for the rest of the day, that was pretty poor for someone who's close to 190cm in height, 8km/h almost feels like walking. I did try my best to avoid the obvious "unhealthy" food though, stuff like pizzas, KFC, creamy sauces and deserts, and tried to eat at home for as much as I could. However, one of my staple "healthy" diets at the time was to have an entire pack of pasta with an entire can of meat sauce from Coles in one meal…well, you get the idea.

    So here we go, no specialized weight loss exercises, no ultra scientific-diets, no pills and no ultrasonic fat busters (trust me, been there, done that), I became one of the privileged few who managed to lose weight effectively and stayed light. You might think I'm a special case, but I think not. There are others I know of who had also lost weight in a similar fashion and stayed there. This is not luck, as there are really no short cuts in weight loss, it is something else. What was different for me the third time around was that, this time, I took it personally.

    That's right, weight loss is a very personal journey. In order to be successful, one needs to go through the following eight stages:

    1. Recognition (wholeheartedly acknowledge the weight issue)
    2. Desire (the strong desire to lose weight)
    3. Justification (to understand the precise reasons for wanting to lose weight)
    4. Vision (to imagine yourself at where you want to be, in this case, after you achieved your weight-loss goal)
    5. Hunger (to crave about achieving the goal, enough for you to do something about it)
    6. Action (autonomous action driven by own desire)
    7. Discipline (continuously driven by stages 1-5)
    8. Reward (enjoyment of everything about yourself and life)

    As you can see, weight loss is a journey of self-acceptance, self- discipline and self-empowerment. It is all in our own psychology, and it is our own responsibility. The problem with many who tried but failed to lose weight, my old self included, is that, with so many products and assistance available to aid weight loss, we are squandering this responsibility to something/someone else. For many, this is the recipe for failure. Personal trainers, gym equipment, diets, even pills are there to assist you to lose weight according to your own personal circumstances. However, they are not the reason that you can/cannot lose weight. I've seen many complaining about certain weight loss products "doesn't work", and then the same people would move on and searching for weeks to find the next magical product that still "doesn't work". It's a vicious cycle. One cannot rely on anything else other than themselves to lose weight.

    Researchers from Cornell University conducted a simple study to investigate just how important a role phycology can play in weight loss. The study found that people who saw exercise as a chore were more likely to eat more fattening food to reward themselves post-exercise, and consequently rendered the exercise ineffective for weight loss. On the other hand, people who saw exercise as being "fun" were more likely to eat less and eat healthier. The findings of this study substantiated the notion that successful weight loss is a personal journey, and it's a difficult journey. Once the responsibility of this journey is in others' hands, you are likely to lose your focus in the face of difficulty, which would eventually lead to failure. You don't need to find exercise "fun", but you need to do it on your own terms, be proud about it and embrace stages 1-5 of weight loss as listed above.

    Please allow me to stress that it is absolutely fine if you seek help or use products, but only at your own volition. Consider helps and tools as mere assistants to your success rather than necessities. Remember, weight loss is a personal journey, and you will only succeed if you take the full responsibility yourself. One might ask if I was going to lose weight again would I employ a more scientific exercise regime accompanied by a more clinically proven diet? The answer is yes, only because I know better now and one should always make the most of their resources to maximize their success. However, following a better regime doesn't necessarily translate into getting better results. Many failed to lose weight even with all the help in the world while many others, myself included achieved our goals by following rather flawed exercise regimes and diets. I took the responsibility of my health into my own hands and did it because I wanted it and I did it on my own terms and it worked, it was personal and it is sustainable. I wouldn't want it any other way.

  • An update on aspartame

    I've written an article about the artificial sweetener aspartame a couple of years ago published in the Australian Fit Lifestyle magazine. In the article I listed a number of scientific studies that showed the possible harmful effects of the long-term use of aspartame and encouraged the readers to reduce or avoid aspartame consumption until the results of a safety re-evaluation conducted by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) are released. Well, three years after the EFSA launched a public call for the submission of studies concerning the use aspartame, the European organization finally released their findings in December 2013 and the verdict about aspartame remains unchanged. The EFSA recommends that the current acceptable daily intake level for aspartame at 40mg per kg of body weight per day is safe and does not cause neurological damage, pregnancy issues and cancers in healthy people. However, the acceptable daily intake level is not applicable for people who have phenylketonuria, a genetic disorder that causes the accumulation of phenylalanine in the body, one of the metabolites of aspartame, which can lead to a number of serious medical problems.

    Being an avid Coke Zero drinker, I welcomed the newest evaluation that deemed aspartame consumption safe. While there's no reason to question the the experts' ability to review literatures available to them and to process the scientific data in an unbiased fashion, it does make me wonder why only a few of the studies reviewed suggested the potential harmful effects of aspartame, with almost all of which were discounted for being scientifically insignificant.

    A quick search in www.pubmed.org (US National Library of Medicine, National Institute of Health) indicated that 9 papers were published and indexed in 2014 with a key word "Aspartame" at the time this article was written. Three of the articles were about the formulation of compounds/goods, one was about sewage contamination and one investigated the use of fructose instead of aspartame in very low calorie diet for obese people and found that the subjects lost an average of 8.2kg after 4 weeks of eating fructose (Noren and Forssell 2014, Nutrition Journal). The rest of the 4 studies focused on the physiological and biochemical effects of aspartame in animals: Kim et al (2014, Cardiovascular Toxicology) showed that high-dosage treatment of aspartame can negatively affect the antioxidant and anti-atherogenic activity of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) in Zebra fish; Nosti-Palacios et al (2014, International Journal of Toxicology) found that the administration of aspartame and insulin may induce toxicity in the brain and liver in diabetic rats; Ashok and Sheeladevi (2014, Redox Biology) suggested that long term aspartame exposure can alter the antioxidant status of the brain and could induce apoptotic (programmed cell death) changes in rat brains; Finamor et al (2014, Neurochemical Research) stated that the chronic exposure of the human acceptable daily intake level for aspartame at 40mg per kg of body weight in rats can cause oxidative damage in the animals tested.

    I stand to be corrected but based on my brief and limited literature research, almost all relevant studies published in the first 9 months of 2014 depicted a grim picture on the long term use of aspartame in animals. The published summary of the EFSA findings on the other hand, only mentioned a few studies stating the negative effect of aspartame while the majority of the studies received and reviewed by EFSA for this re-evaluation seemed to suggest that aspartame use has no measurable effect on humans and animals. I have no doubt that 40mg per kg of body weight per day of aspartame is generally safe for human consumption, because otherwise we would all have brain damage by now. However, the real long-term effect of aspartame consumption in humans has not yet been established. Moreover, the food and beverages containing aspartame are generally not very healthy. So my advice to you about aspartame use remains the same: reduce your intake, and avoid if possible.

  • Valentine's Gift Ideas For The Fitness Buff

    Valentine's Day is a good opportunity to give the gift of fitness to your loved one!
  • 3 Great Books for Personal Development

    What are you doing right now to keep yourself growing physically, mentally or spiritually? Here are three book recommendations to help you to develop yourself further!
  • Choosing The Perfect Shaker Bottle

    Your shaker bottle is a big part of your fitness lifestyle. You would be wise to choose one of the best quality!
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