The holidays may be behind us but the physical effects, among others, will linger a while. Medically speaking, it is actually time for “damage control” for those of us who have overindulged during the festivities. And I plead guilty to have succumbed to the temptation myself.
The post-holiday “makeover” is just a healthy pre-emptive measure, more so for those who really want to maintain their normal weight or those who have diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, etc.
As with anything else, damage control is best as a preventive strategy. However, special celebrations and holidays, like birthdays, a wedding reception, Thanksgiving Day, and especially Christmas and New Year festivities, which could go on for more than a week, expose us to irresistible gastronomical temptations.
For dieters, those who are watching their weight or counting calories, these occasions are tough. Blessed are those strong-willed souls, whether or not they carry a calorie counter on one hand and a scale on the other. These health conscious individuals will reap their rewards in terms of stamina, energy, a stronger immune system, and even longevity, as shown by medical statistics.
Yoyo dieting is harmful
Our physiology is at the optimum when we consume just the right amount of calories to maintain our normal weight and when our glucose (blood sugar) level is on an even keel most of the time. When we overeat and then try to starve ourselves to compensate for our indiscretion, our blood glucose spikes up and down, described as yoyo dieting. This severe fluctuation in our blood glucose level has adverse effects on our body and on our immune system, and poses even greater danger for persons with diabetes.
Eating several times a day, even 5 or 6 times a day, NOT exceeding the total 24-hour caloric need of our body, is a healthier habit that helps maintain our blood glucose level in a more stable, less erratic pattern during the day. But the key is calorie control, especially from carbohydrates, combined with daily exercise.
The “fat hormones”
The urge to eat (hungry or not) is, to a large extent, controlled by hormones in our body. These hormones fluctuate depending on how much sleep we get, what types of food we eat and how much calories we take in, and on how much physical activities we do daily. Scientific researchers are focusing on four specific substances they call “fat hormones,” which our own endocrine glands in the body produce. There are hormones that make one eat and there are also hormones that signal the brain to tell the person to stop eating. These substances control hunger and satiety.
The hunger hormone is Ghrelin, which is secreted by our guts (stomach and intestines). When its level goes up, we feel hungry and have the urge to eat. The level of Ghrelin goes up when we get less sleep or not enough sleep. This is the reason why those who are trying to lose weight should get adequate amount (about 8 hours) of sleep. An unbalanced meal and stress also elevate the Ghrelin level. Food deprivation obviously increases the Ghrelin level, hence it is better to keep the level of this hormone on an even keel and not fluctuate too much by eating regularly (or even more than 3 times a day) but at a controlled total calorie ceiling, to maintain health and body weight. So, starving oneself is not a good way to lose weight, since this will lead to a Ghrelin “boomerang” in the latter part of the day.
The opposite or counter hormone, which is called Leptin, signals the brain when to stop eating. It controls the appetite. This “satiety hormone” is produced by fat cells in the body. When a person loses weight, the leptin level in the blood stream also goes down. As a result, there is a “rebound” weight gain. The best strategy in losing and maintaining a desired weight level is to lose in a slow and steady pace, about one to two pounds a week, and not more. In this manner, there will still be an effective level of leptin in the body to control the urge to eat.
Appetite suppressants: Dangerous!
Most appetite control pills, juices, solutions and powders on the market are not physiological and unnatural way to suppress (by force) the appetite for weight control. While they are readily available and very popular, they have potential adverse side effects on the heart, liver, kidneys and brain in the long haul. Some serious complications, and even deaths, have been reported from the use of these diet substances. Taking potential “poison” to be healthy does not make sense. Since greater calorie intake than output is the cause of increase in body weight, the safest, most natural, strategy is to eat less and burn more calories with physical exercises, making the output of calories (energy) greater than the intake of calories (food). The use of appetite suppressants could be dangerous.
The healthier “makeover” for our post-holiday misadventures includes daily gradual incremental reduction in the food we eat, daily physical exercises, as simple and easy as brisk walking for about 30 minutes a day, and hitting the scale daily (yes, daily) to check on any progress. This will aid you greatly in making you more religious to your overall personal health program. Drinking a lot of water (not fruit juices, and especially NOT soft drinks, which are toxic) can help a lot. Excess weight that does not come down only means a greater reduction in food intake is needed. The excess weight gained over the holidays could be safely eliminated within a week. There is really no need to buy expensive prepared “diet” foods, which are nothing but high protein-low carbohydrate, calorie-portioned, meals. Rice, bread, soft drinks, and sweets are the top culprits that cause weight gain fast and increase the risk for diabetes and cardiovascular illnesses. With discipline and resolve, and daily exercise, anyone can achieve the same weight control by counting calories. You can shop for smaller sizes clothing later from the money you save with this DIY dieting strategy. For those really overweight to begin with, the same strategy (output of calories must exceed the intake) works like wonders. Simply put, more exercise and less food, until the scale tells you that you have achieved your dream weight (and body!) for the NEW YOU in the exciting new year.
Philip S. Chua, MD, FACS, FPCS, Cardiac Surgeon Emeritus in Northwest Indiana and chairman of cardiac surgery from 1997 to 2010 at Cebu Doctors University Hospital, where he holds the title of Physician Emeritus in Surgery, is based in Las Vegas, Nevada. He is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, the Philippine College of Surgeons, and the Denton A. Cooley Cardiovascular Surgical Society. He is the chairman of the Filipino United Network – USA, a 501(c)(3) humanitarian foundation in the United States. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org