With a recent survey extrapolating that the hunger incidence among Filipinos rose to 23 percent in June from just 19 percent in March, discussing dieting seems to be a bit callous.
In developed countries, certainly, obesity has become an epidemic, with 12 percent of humans—500 million—afflicted with what is medically defined now as a disease. Yet even in the Philippines, data show that overweight and obesity even have emerged as an alarming problem, as having excess fat leads to dread diseases as diabetes, heart diseases, and even cancer for which the poor don’t have a safety net.
The obesity rate here, according to the latest (2008) survey of the Food and Nutrition Institute, surprisingly is near the global average, rising from 7 percent among those aged 30 to 49, to 12 percent among those aged 50 to 59, and 18 percent among sexagenarians.
But that figure will almost certainly rise, since the percentage of overweight Filipinos have been rising, from just 20 out of 100, to 24 in 2003 to 27 out of 100 by 2008, the latest available data. (Technically, overweight people are those with Body Mass Index, or weight to height ratio, of 25 or more; obesity, a BMI of 30 or more. Probably in plain language, you need to diet if you’re overweight, but you need to see a doctor if you’re obese.)
It certainly doesn’t afflict the poorest of the poor, but just go to poor areas in the urban and rural areas (or watch television news), and you’ll find that there are as many overweight and obese women in them as there are in metropolitan Manila malls.
This is supported by data that there are twice more obese Filipinas than men. I suspect the popularity of high-calorie foods as instant noodles, sugary drinks, and other junk foods, the latter used as viands by the poor, explains the explosion of overweight and obesity among Filipinos.
Never in my scariest nightmare had I thought that someday I’d be overweight. I’d been a health buff most of my life, in my youth into karate and yoga, and even going vegetarian as my meditation sect required, for two years. Perhaps it’s because we all have a body image, that we have in our best years, which we hold on to even if that becomes a pale facsimile of our present physique. Why, I even enjoyed ridiculing my obese friends, and frightened them that they risk losing their sexual urge.
It’s only been two years ago, when returning to the country after five years in Greece, that reality dawned on me. Those who hadn’t seen me in that period couldn’t help themselves but tactlessly remark that I was fat. Why, even waitresses in my favorite restaurant would comment so, even if they knew that would likely reduce my tips.
I’m still several points far from being obese, but every few months or so, it seems I’m going there, with more and more of my pants no longer fitting me.
It was a shock to realize how difficult it is to lose weight, which I thought I could easily do since I wasn’t a voracious eater and a lover of lechon.
What I got to appreciate in my diet struggle is how marvelous the human body is.
We ridicule fat and obese people, but if suddenly Armageddon were upon us, they’d be the last to die, as they have their built-in stash of fuel. The human body is designed to store fat, a portable storage of fuel when food runs out.
No wonder that in certain cultures—ancient Greece, in the Roman empire as well as medieval Europe and even in India today—a beautiful woman is depicted a bit overweight: She is attractive since the male calculates that the extra fuel in her body would ensure that his offspring with her would have a better chance of surviving.
If the human body can reduce its weight in a few days or weeks just by reducing food intake, then our species would likely have gone extinct. There were periods in the very ancient past when our ancestors couldn’t find a single game to kill for weeks and even months. Thus, our body has this mechanism called starvation mode. At a certain point when calories taken are restricted, it automatically reduces its metabolism, rather than immediately consuming the fat it has accumulated.
That’s the big hurdle for us modern dieters. We drastically reduce our eating, yet the weighing scale hardly shows any improvement, and we give up.
Nature on the surface would seem to be a cruel joker. When we are just starting off in our working lives, our salaries are too small that we can’t dine on the best foods in town. Decades later when our salaries are fatter, we’re overweight that we can’t dine on the best foods in town.
But there’s an evolutionary reason for that. When a person ages, he can’t hunt as much as he used to. Nature though cares for him, by slowing down his body’s metabolism so that he doesn’t need as much food. In the modern era though, food is plentiful, and we continue the food-eating habits of our youth even as we move into sedentary lives, and forget our running shoes or tennis rackets.
Thus here in our country, the percentage of obese persons rises from just 7 percent among those in their 30s to 18 percent among those in their 60s.
The body we have has the structure it had 50,000 years ago, before humanity’s productivity exploded, and food became bountiful for most of society. This makes reducing weight, and avoiding obesity so very difficult. That’s the reason the weight-loss industry in the US has revenues of $20 billion annually. Some 110 million Americans are on a diet, typically making four to five attempts a year to drastically reduce weight.
It’s a losing struggle for many, that bariatic surgery (surgically reducing the size of the stomach so food is automatically rejected) is becoming more and more popular, with about 300,000 people in the US having that operation. Not much talked about for obvious reasons, but it is also becoming popular among the elite here, but for some reason mostly for men. Aren’t you surprised that two senators seem to have a 30-inch waist, when they were obviously obese just a few years ago?
It’s an uphill climb for dieters. A 2008 study in the University of California (Los Angeles) concluded that “several studies indicate that dieting is a consistent predictor of future weight gain.” While dieters do lose pounds in the first months they do the program, most return to their original weight within five years. About a third end up heavier than when they started their diet programs.
That’s exactly what happened to me. I tried the Dukan Diet three years ago, was very happy about it that I could tuck my shirts again. Until I returned back to the country, and added probably 10 pounds every year since.
I’m not giving up. Many studies on longevity show the thinner you (or the experimental mice) are, the longer you live. It’s down to the choice: Diet or die (early).
(I’ve started the latest diet now, called the “FastDiet” invented by Dr. Michael Mosely, which consists of drastically reducing one’s calorie intake twice a week to nearly a fasting level. I’ll keep you posted.)
www.rigobertotiglao.com and www.trigger.ph