Ever since that year I’d uncannily gained 15 extra pounds (it took a year to shed them), I thought I’d completely resolved my body issues and have learned to be happy with what I weighed. Because when I did get fat, only then did I realize I was thin before after all.
Except that from time to time, I still get bothered by superficial concerns like how my belly spills over my jeans, or how my already chubby cheeks have become more pronounced in the last few years.
I understand with women, it’s a constant struggle to accept and appreciate—or even love—what we were born with, all the physiological facets and contours that make each form unique.
I’ve picked up some strategies throughout the years to help combat the body blahs, whether it’s that puson that makes you look pregnant, or those stubborn five pounds that seem more noticeable during that time of the month. I’ve learned to turn to them whenever I need a nudge or just overall accept the present and, as much as I would like to look (and weigh) like my 22-year-old self, my priority these days should be to be healthy and enjoy life and its multitude of culinary delights. And if you’re lazy like me, scanning—and following—these tips should be a piece of cake.
1. Start Small
I was a former athlete and I now live a sedentary life. And the thought of exercising just makes me want to be even more sedentary. I bet this is a common dilemma. My solution is to start really small: as in something so miniscule and seemingly irrelevant that it doesn’t put pressure on you to charge full steam ahead in terms of going to the gym and getting on the fitness bandwagon.
The other day I decided to get on a treadmill for exactly five minutes. That's right: five minutes of leisurely walking, no more, no less. I was literally still in my sleepwear and just slipped on my rubber shoes.
It doesn't even have to be a treadmill: you could grab a jump rope, do one push-up here, a crunch there. As the days go by and at your own pace, add little increments to your routine of choice. Before you know it, five minutes on the treadmill becomes seven, and then 10; one crunch and push-up becomes a set of 12. And surprise! You're actually…working out!
But if you’re still not ready to get off the couch just yet, skip to the next step…
2. Make Like The French
I had a Parisian colleague who stayed thin throughout the time I’d worked with her. And no, she didn’t obsess about what she ate or how often she exercised. In fact, she signed up for the company gym but only ended up going once a month. She would eat a croissant for breakfast at her desk daily, and almost everyday, she and I went to the same lunch buffet line in the cafeteria. One time, she even invited me to her apartment to dinner where she made pasta with cream and salad, which we enjoyed with glasses of wine and hunks of bread.
I know genetics plays a big part in how our body morphs (or dismorphs), but what I noticed with the French (at least from this one person I’d befriended) is that they eat in moderation and enjoy exquisite things and aren’t likely to binge on them. They have cheese with every meal, but not slabs of it. They have dessert with lunch, but not the whole cake. Realizing—and then copying—this manner of eating, I noticed that I rarely feel deprived (or worse: guilty) for indulging.
So if you’re craving for ice cream and cake, don’t skimp by going low-fat or diet. Get the real thing and don’t torture yourself into thinking that you’re never ever going to have more of it afterwards. Just feel welcome and entitled to the food you love to eat. You’ll be surprised that this tactic actually makes you eat less.
3. Take It From Chin-Chin
I met the actress, Chin-Chin Gutierrez, at a shoot a few years ago. Both vegetarians at the time (I now eat chicken; I think she’s still vegetarian), we got to talking about food and nutrition. She mentioned a particular sequence of eating and a theory that made sense and to this day I still try to follow: She said to start a meal with something raw, like fresh fruit or a crisp salad. Since these are natural products, our bodies recognize them easily and our stomachs produce enzymes that help digest food and whatever comes next in the meal.
That versus the usual way of eating something hot and cooked, and having fruit for dessert. From what I remember, this is how she explained it: “The hot meal has already been processed so it ‘surprises’ your belly. So by the time you introduce fruit for dessert, the enzymes go into overdrive and that’s when you get gas.”
Again, this is just a theory, but I like the idea of prepping your belly to digest food more efficiently (and well, yes, have less gas in the process).
4. A Little Green Tea (Goes A Long Way)
I’ve heard before that Oprah was a staunch believer in the metabolism-boosting benefits of green tea. And I’ve seen people lose weight from taking concentrated green tea supplements. Now, I’m averse to anything in pill form unless it’s Claritin, Tempra, or Vitamin C, so freshly-brewed green tea is fine by me.
I actually started drinking tea not because of Oprah or those people who have lost weight, but rather, I quit going to Starbucks that year I started paying rent. I had to improvise and budget my money strategically, so home- (or office-) made green tea it was for me.
Since I also happen to love dessert, I try to make it a point to wash it all down with tea—hot or cold, with little or no sugar especially when I’m already eating something sweet. I go as far as carry my own packets for when I’m being a cheapskate and just order hot water in restaurants.
5. Look Up!
Just like those ballerinas and dancers: It’s all about posture and form. Standing tall gives the illusion of a leaner, longer body. So if you find yourself staring at your belly, that means you’re not holding your head up high and you’re most likely slouching. Remember: It’s also about confidence. And the neatest part about confidence is that you can "fake it ’til you make it."
6. The Abs Diet
Some people have found fitness success in the South Beach Diet, or even Atkins. Personally, these programs have failed for me for the sole reason that they require one to give up sugar (and carbohydrates) for the first two weeks.
Now, I live and breathe sugar. Not a day goes by when I don't have a piece of chocolate or anything sweet. During previous Lenten Seasons, I chose to abstain from dessert or chocolate on Fridays, only to find myself waiting for midnight to have a piece of chocolate. I know it defeats the whole purpose of sacrificing and abstaining from something. But you get the drift.
Anyway, what worked for me that year I gained all that weight (that I still try to follow to this day) was the Abs Diet [Rodale] by US Men's Health editor, David Zinczenko. I went straight for the spin-off book, Eat Right Every Time Guide, because it was so small and undaunting. But boy, was it a treasure trove of easy, practical information that has helped keep the weight off, give or take a few pounds.
What I love about the Abs Diet is that it isn't really a ‘diet,’ but more of a lifestyle program that tells you what you have to eat MORE of, not the other way around, as in the case of other eating plans. The core of the program is the ABS DIET POWER 12, which stands for:
Almonds and other nuts
Beans and legumes
Spinach and other green vegetables
Dairy (fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt, cheese)
Instant oatmeal (unsweetened, unflavored)
Turkey and other lean meats
Whole grain breads and cereals
Extra-protein (whey) powder
Raspberries and other berries
You only read the book once and you're pretty much set. No need to count calories or remember certain carbohydrates that are allowed or not allowed. Just eat often (Zinczenko recommends six times a day) and sensibly from the list above. Easy, right?
The small book also discusses fastfood options for when you’re on the go, plus easy MICROWAVEABLE breakfasts you can take with you to work or for those hectic days when the last thing you want to think about is your diet. After all, diet culprits are triggered by those hunger pangs when you can't think straight that you just reach for the next sugar bomb or grease grenade to quell the hunger…or mindlessly chow down lunch in front of the computer.
Zinczenko also addresses the issue of belly fat in the book (as the title suggests). “[This] is the most dangerous kind of fat. That’s because belly fat often comprises both subcutaneous fat (fat that’s under your skin) and visceral fat (fat that lies beneath your stomach muscles, snug up against your internal organs). It’s this second type, visceral fat, which can cause some long-term harm,” he explains.
“In one report, researchers concluded that visceral fat is the single-best predictor of diabetes.” Other studies also link that extra fat on your midsection as an indicator for high cholesterol and heart problems down the line. “Shedding fat from your frame is essential to living long and healthy,” say Zinczenko. So beware.
Anyway, if that doesn’t get you picking up the Abs Diet, just know that on it, you get to eat ice cream(!) AND lose weight at the same time! Not kidding.
7. Celebrate The Non-negotiables
Now, back to genetics: there are some things you can’t change unless you’re willing to go through the hassle of plastic surgery. In my case, I’ve always had a belly and paunch, even way back in high school when I only weighed as much Nicole Richie. The puson is just in the family.
It has crossed my mind several times to get liposuction (or mesotherapy), even on my cheeks or arms. But then again, I know that after lipo, the fat you do accumulate could show up in really odd places—like the armpits. I don’t think I’m ready to hop on that roller coaster. Plus, over the summer I’ve had some lumps on my breasts surgically removed; it wasn’t the most delightful experience and I promised I’d never ever go through surgery for the sake of vanity: It’s just not worth the pain and stress for me.
Besides, understanding your own unique contours and lovely lady parts makes fashion a more enjoyable undertaking full of promising surprises. Can you imagine what fun it is to find the perfect floral dress that accentuates your curves, or that skirt that emphasizes your behind in the most flattering of ways? If you’re considering cosmetic surgery, I suggest splurging on a new wardrobe instead and a night on the town with your best girlfriends. (And don’t forget the cake!)
Disclaimer: Before trying any new diet, eating plan, or exercise regimen, consult with your physician.
Mariel Chua is the former beauty editor of Cosmopolitan Magazine Philippines. Visit her personal blog at http://nyminutenow.com.