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Can you believe it'll be 2018 soon? I can't even imagine writing the numbers down: 2018.
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I remember it well. The heavy weight on my soul as I neared the end of the month and I ran out of money for food or gas. The painful sensation of running my credit card down that slot in the machine, knowing that it'll only make the debt situation worse the next monthRead More
I've had a weight problem all my life. I never ever, ever thought I'd ever get a handle on my weight. I could never understand why I balooned so much. I ate and exercised the same like the thin folks. In fact, I would work out six times a week, doing RPM (spinning classes) and the weight would not budge.
Around 2012, I began researching aggressively about why weight loss wasn't happening for me despite implementing all the 'right advice'. At that time I was at my worst -- nearly 95kg in weight and I was tired all the time.
What I discovered was this: All the diet advice out there was wrong. I realised that weight loss was all about the hormones, and what we eat influences our hormones to a huge degree.
Following the Paleo diet helped me shed significant amounts of flab, but not enought to get me out of the chubby zone.
Truth was, I liked food too much to control my carbs 100% or eliminate wheat from my life, so my weight would yo yo depending on how strict I was. I briefly was a svelte 65kg in 2012, but gained almost 15kg by the time I returned to Malaysia in 2015. I wasn't as bad as I was in 2012, but I was by no means in my best shape. By 2016, I more or less resigned myself to forever having to watch what I eat.
How I ate
But in Sept 2016 I started experimenting with Intermittent Fasting. Now, I didn't do this to lose weight. I mostly wanted to prevent diabetes, which haunts my family, and I heard that it was a great way to do it. The idea was to eat in a small window of time instead of throughout the day (say 12-14 hours like many Malaysians would!).
Initially, it was tough. I was ravenous by 10am. But over time, my body seemed to get used to it and I only got hungry by 1pm. I didn't change my diet at all, however. I just changed the time I ate.
I was pleasantly surprised when my waist started shrinking. In fact, I would steadily lose an inch a month, a feat that was startling to me as I didn't really change what I ate.
The only thing I changed was to stop my midnight binges at McDonalds. I made my last meal at 8pm, and only starting to eat around noon or 1pm. I didn't purposely set out to eat at 1pm either - it was just my current schedule.
However, I think I didn't do IF properly in the early days. For one, I didn't feed my body the nutrients it needed but instead binged on cakes and sugar-laden deserts on my "feeding" day (a day where I purposely overate). It's important to eat nutrient-rich food during IF because since you eat in a compressed window, you have less opportunities to eat food. You could easily end up starving your body, and if you give it empty calories, well ... it won't be happy. Also, I carried I didn't listen to my body. I sometimes forced myself to fast until 4pm to 5pm. Doing this was not beneficial - not for my sanity, not for my body.
I wasn't sure if this sparked a storm in my body or not, or was this a pre-existing condition, but around December I suddenly started having digestion issues. In January I decided to really get serious with nutrition and began what my colleague describe as the "no wheat, no sugar, no soy, no joy diet" - mostly to get rid of the joint pain. (It's really not as terrible as it sounds, though initially I thought the same lol.)
My joint pain improved a lot, but it took some tinkering to eat in a way that would not upset my way-too-sensitive tummy. And because my tummy was so sensitive to nearly everything, I found myself eating rather unadventurous foods. I ate a lot of rice porridge, for one. Yes, my diet wasn't low carb high fat (couldn't digest loads of fat well), or even strict paleo. I suppose it was Perfect Health-ish (developed by Paul Jaminet). (In fact, I became really comfortable with Perfect Health way of eating during this time and am now eating this way.)
So, needless to say, from January to June, I wasn't focused on weight loss at all. I was more concerned with getting rid of pain and to get my digestive health back. I wasn't tracking my weight, nor was I really taking a look at the mirror, believe it or not. So when I started getting compliments and questions about my "huge weight loss" I was frankly baffled and a bit freaked out. (Am I sick?) When I finally weighed myself, I discovered that I had lost 15kg-17kg since September last year and I didn't even realise it!
But you know, I think when you cut out all the harmful stuff and add the good stuff into your diet, and you implement IF correctly, weight loss will happen. It should!
What I do now
I no longer do 'radical' IF now. I start eating at 12pm, and end my meals at 8pm. If I feel hungry earlier I eat. If I am still hungry at 10pm, I eat. I just listen to my body now. My only rule is not to eat four hours before bed time. My tummy hates it. (Goodbye McD midnight binges!)
All in all, I'm grateful that I was able to lose the weight I thought I'd never be able to lose. I now know exactly what to do to control my weight. How ironic that all this happened when I stopped expecting it to happen!
We're spoiled by the availability of cheap food in Malaysia. There's food served at every street corner, so it's really easy for the busy, overworked urbanite to abandon the home kitchen and eat at the local economy rice restaurant instead.
I was that person. I visited the economy rice store ("chap fun" in Cantonese) across the street. For RM5-6, I'd get a plate of white rice, vegetables and protein. Healthy, I thought. (Nope, not always.) On a more indulgent day I would visit the numerous restaurants in my area and eat Thai, Vietnamese, Western or Indian food. I definitely won't starve where I live!
All that came to a screeching halt when I started developing gut issues late last year. After much research and consultations with a naturopath and a functional medicine doctor, I realised that I had to stop triggering my gut with foods such as dairy, soy, preservatives, gluten/wheat, sugar, recycled oils and vegetable oils.
At first I thought I could still eat out and eat clean. I just have to be very careful and selective, right? Nope. It became a game of Russian Roulette instead.
That chap fun I took for lunch could've been slathered with recycled vegetable oil. That bowl of yummy pho probably had a tablespoon or two of MSG. And the crispy sweet potato fries I loved so much were probably dusted with flour before being placed in a vat of vegetable oil. Worse, maybe the person who prepared the meal didn't wash his hands after visiting the loo...
Because I didn't know what was in my food, I would sometimes be down with an aching tummy for days. Nausea and bloating was a constant companion.
So, in April,I had to concede defeat: I will start cooking all my meals.
I fell into a deep funk. I cannot stress how much I hate cooking: I would Netflix something on my iPad while cooking to distract myself from the task!
Also, eating out wasn't just convenient for me. Being a foodie, dining at restaurants was a source of joy and socialisation for me.
I grudgingly began. The meals I cooked was worse than gagh. An excellent chef, I was not.
I fell into a deeper funk, thinking that I was now condemned to a lifetime of joyless, bland, food.
But over time, I not only embraced my new lifestyle, but am sometimes even excited to cook!
Here's how I transformed from a cooking-phobic person to an amateur cook:
I found a "partner in crime"
The thing that helped me turn around the most was when my best friend Marlene told me that she, too, was cooking all her meals. Only, she was really loving it! Why? Because it saved her a tonne of money and her health improved so much doing so. She also had a sense of accomplishment each time she cooked.
Her joy and happiness was infectious. (Also, knowing that I wasn't the only weird one cheered me up. Believe me, I get so many strange looks from Malaysians when I tell them I cook all my meals.)
Now, we exchange photos of what we cook for the day. Cooking my meals has become a fun, social affair, imagine that!
Changed my mindset
I have to admit, the idea of saving money was very appealing to me. Shockingly, I can eat an RM50 lunch without batting an eyelid. Now, RM50 buys me supplies for a week's worth of food.
I went on a Youtube recipe hunting binge and bookmarked favourite recipes. Have a look.
Meal prep in advance
This was the one that did it for me! Initially, cooking was such a tedious affair for me because I had to cook two or three times a day. All that cleaning up I had to do was driving me insane. Then I discovered the magic of once-a-week cook-ups.
So, on my off day, I'd set aside two to three hours to cook meals for the entire week. It saves me time and it certainly saves me all that washing up which I loathe. At the end of each session, I'd have five-six boxes of read-to-freeze meals each week.
I only cook my dinners, however. I do very light cooking for lunch.
Remind yourself that it's for your health and well-being
After just two weeks of eating meals I prepared for myself, I noticed a marked improvement in my gut health. I no longer had stomach pains, and if I do it's almost always because I took something I didn't prepare for myself. Plus, I lost weight (yay!), and my skin cleared up. I'm still healing, but I'm on the right direction at last.
Stop being a perfectionist about this
I'm Type A, a perfectionist to the core. I had to remind myself that it's not the end of the world if my meals are awful or if I strayed and eat out only to suffer the consequences later. I'm only human, and one slip up is not going to set me back to zero. The point is to keep on going forward.
While I may not be a happy chef yet, I can definitely say that this "cooking most of my meals" thing is here to stay. I actually feel so much better health wise, and it's actually fun to come up with a meal plan for the week and to strategise how to cook a week's worth of food in two hours. (What can I say, I can never stop being Type A, even in the kitchen...)
So, do you cook most of your meals? Do share tips and strategies, and how you came to do this.