SAN FRANCISCO – Let’s begin the year on a light note by taking on a typical post-holidays obsession: losing weight.
I recommend a system that has helped me, more or less, lose and maintain my weight: turn the whole thing into a math problem.
Mainly that means counting calories. My magic number is 1,700, the number of calories
I typically try to consume in a day. I don’t always succeed. But with an estimated 2,100 calories that I need each day, setting that target means being able to burn off 400 calories in a day. That translates to getting rid of roughly a pound of unwanted fat in a couple of weeks. (A pound of fat is roughly 3,500 calories.)
I exercise. That’s important. I do push-ups and dumbbell curls. I used to run before I thrashed my knee with bad shoes and the bad choice of running on concrete around
Quezon Memorial Circle.
Now, I walk — a lot.
I like to say I power-walk which sounds more exciting. In fact, I simply walk fast. It’s a time-efficient, effective exercise, more forgiving on the joints and inexpensive. (I got tired for paying for gym membership that I ended up not using anyway.)
Walking uphill is what works best for me. Which makes working in San Francisco with its steep streets a big plus, as well as living in a hilly neighborhood in on the eastern side of San Francisco Bay. I walk a little over a half hour a day on weekdays, a little over an hour a day on weekends.
I’ve been working out regularly since my 20s. But I realized a decade ago that watching what you eat is the key to maintaining your weight. Exercise helps you burn calories – but it’s much easier to not take in the calories in the first place.
What to eat and when is also important. I try to stay away from starchy foods, especially for breakfast. A muffin or toast for breakfast? Nope. Loads of calories (roughly 300 each) and a sure way to feel hungry by mid-morning. Instead, I go with two hard-boiled eggs (160 calories) or two oranges (120 calories). Not so exciting, but more than enough to sustain me until lunchtime.
I can go on about my system. But I know weight and weight loss are touchy subjects for Filipinos. It was and still is to my mother.
In the past, she has managed to shock some of my friends by saying excitedly, “Oh, you’re very stout.” I’ve had to explain to friends that she meant well and was, in fact, offering a compliment. For weight and waistlines are important indicators for my mother. Fat or chubby means prosperous and affluent. Thin and scrawny means poor and impoverished.
That comes from her life experiences.
Her family in Ilocos Sur was relatively poor though they had enough resources to send her to Manila for college. In Manila, she and my father, who moved there from Naga City, had big dreams of higher education and promising careers.
But then World War II happened. Suddenly, their world collapsed. I imagine my mother saw a lot of hunger during those years and made her constantly fearful of suddenly not having enough and made her associate being thin with deprivation.
That became a problem when my wife and I brought our first-born son to the Philippines for the first time about 12 years ago. He was small and skinny as a baby. My mother loved him, though I could see that having an apo with not much fat on his little body was a little hard to take.
My son has visited the Philippines several more times over the past decade. He’s grown tall
and healthy so my mother’s happy. But then it’s my son who has struggled to understand
the realities of the Philippines, including the quirky interplay of weight, waistlines and
We’ve walked around Manila malls seeing other Filipino children, healthy-looking, chubby, even obese, sometimes a small towel sticking out of the back of their shirts, often followed closely by uniformed yayas. I suspect my son found such scenes curious. Yayas are rare in the Bay Area.
Then in the streets of Ermita, a stunningly different reality which drew a much more obvious reaction from my son.
We were walking on a busy sidewalk two years ago when suddenly there in front of us was a woman with deformed arms and legs. Next to her was a scrawny little girl in dirty clothes, begging for food, for change. On my son’s face, a look of surprise, mild shock and pity.
In 2012, a photo of a man scavenging at a garbage dump in Spain also shocked the world as it underscored the crisis now faced by many once-thriving nations in Europe.
Thankfully, there are some signs of an easing global crisis. As 2013 begins, the American
fiscal cliff averted, the markets are rallying, sparking some cautious optimism.
There’s much optimism among Filipinos, too. The year 2012 ended with projections for an even more robust period of economy growth for the Philippines and CEOs are predicting more prosperity.
Sadly, I suspect extreme poverty will still be part of the country’s reality the next time my son and I visit. There’s more work to be done.
So it is a good time to lose those holiday pounds, and to get ready for the new battles in the year ahead.
Mapayapa at Mapagpalayang Bagong Taon sa Lahat!
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