For someone who has been battling obesity, type 2 diabetes, liver disease and depression for years, trying to stay fit is a constant challenge made more difficult as I grow older—and simply because I love to eat.
Being overweight isn’t the same as being obese. The World Health Organization defines both overweight and obesity as “abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to health,” but it also considers individuals with a body mass index (BMI) of over 25 overweight, and more than 30 BMI obese. Now, you only need to look at the excess body fat around my waist to know that I’ve reached a BMI under the obese classification.
Years ago I joined a P10,000-challenge among office mates, which motivated me to shed some extra pounds. The goal was to lose or gain a specific amount of poundage in six months. I weighed 145 lbs. then and was required to lose 20 lbs. Since I had no intention of coughing up P10,000 for the winner, I immediately gave up all kinds of carbonated drinks and came up with a meal plan that consisted of steamed chicken breast for breakfast, and oatmeal and boiled eggs without the yolk for lunch and dinner. I also jogged every morning, played badminton in the evening, and biked 10 kilometers on weekends.
Three months into our “fitness bet,” I invited one of my office mates to watch a remake of “House on Haunted Hill” in Greenbelt, Makati. She was part of our group of seven who were all bent on winning the P10,000, but unlike the rest of us who needed to go on a diet, she had the enviable goal of putting on much weight.
In the movie house I was like a soldier unprepared for the challenge that faced me: While my office mate was armed with her burger, fries and soda, I had only my will power, which gradually waned as she munched on her food. We had a good laugh about it.
Then, within months, along with our five other office mates, we went on to achieve our respective weight goals. We were all winners.
A few years and many buffet meals later, I was back to being obese, and this time the unwanted pounds came with serious medical issues. My doctors ordered me to lose weight but I still couldn’t bring myself to go on a diet — until one of the results of my monthly medical examination made me realize that, this time, my love for junk food and unlimited servings of rice had to end.
The first thing I did was buy a notebook. I wrote down everything I ate and drank for the day and described how I felt. It helped me focus on my goal, which was to be mindful of my food intake and be able to express in writing the frustration or satisfaction I experienced.
Exercise was also recommended so I bought a new bike, thinking it would compel me to wake up at 5 a.m. and join the other bikers in the neighborhood. When getting up early didn’t work, my husband suggested that we try biking at night. We were able to do 12 kilometers but by the time we got home, I was so tired that I thought I would pass out. It was the first time it happened to me, and I reluctantly acknowledged that my age (mid-40s), my unhealthy eating habits, and my illness had caught up with me.
I was having a difficult time, but I never thought of quitting. I gave up fried food and everything else that’s bad for my blood sugar and liver. It was a tough decision, but when you’re faced with the possibility of kidney failure due to unmanaged diabetes and a nonfunctioning liver, you have no choice but to try your best and shift to healthy food and beverage choices.
Emotional wellbeing, too
Nowadays I still avoid strenuous activities, but I make sure I’m physically active every day by doing house chores and walking exercises. Engaging in physical activities that my body can handle is also a big help to my emotional wellbeing. Whenever I start to experience feelings of hopelessness and dread, I take a walk around the neighborhood or make a trip to the mall where I do a lot of walking.
I would prefer going to a park but since I live in a part of Metro Manila where the creation of green spaces isn’t a priority, I decided to turn malling into something worthwhile.
I have to point out that my doctors have always been part of my fitness journey. Recently my endocrinologist prescribed a semaglutide injection to help improve my blood sugar level and reduce the risk of a heart attack or stroke. One welcome side effect of this medication is weight loss, and I’m hoping that it will help me shed a significant amount of weight in a month. I still take my antidepressant every morning and go on a monthly session with my psychiatrist.
Let me emphasize that it’s always best to regularly consult with your doctors and involve them in any fitness plan that you are considering, especially if you have a medical condition that needs constant monitoring.
I now weigh 180 lbs.—still 60 lbs. away from achieving my target weight. But let me say that even with illness and depression, we can still try to stay fit. There will be setbacks and frustrations but also long-term health benefits, not to mention hopeful loved ones always there for us and rooting for us to succeed.