Updated: Mar 27, 2021
Transform Yourself & Achieve Fitness from the INSIDE OUT.
COVID-19. Or shall we call it "Quarantine-19?"
Over the past year, our lives have been massively disrupted--from physical and mental health, non-essential careers, to social relationships, we've suffered drastic changes. Being stripped of societal constructs (we've always been a part of) has forced us to really engage with ourselves, for better or worse. Some have discovered a colorful world of introspection, discovering tremendous interest in novel hobbies and ideas, while learning to set healthy boundaries with loved ones in quarantine. For others, isolation and stress have prompted them to cope/attempt to escape their pain via maladaptive behaviors, further propelling themselves into a vicious cycle of bad habits. How do you think these bad habits often manifest? You got it. Quarantine-19 and weight gain. We often don't notice ourselves spiraling (i.e. sleeping less, stress eating, exercising less, turning to alcohol/marijuana, feeling isolated/irritable, etc.) until we realize that our clothes don't fit anymore.
Despite being the chief complaint of many patients, weight gain is often the by-product and culmination of numerous habits gone awry. Patients often complain that they're feeling "so stressed," that rather than "working from home," they feel like they're "living at work," munching all day, exercising less, drinking/smoking more, etc. Many have already struggled for months (or years) to lose weight, even working with personal trainers or nutritionists to no avail, before seeking my expertise. As a plastic surgeon, I recognize that transformation must start from the INSIDE OUT in order to effect long-lasting change. A quick surgery may transform one's physique overnight, but beautiful, long-term results and overall health can only be achieved through foundational lifestyle changes. So how do I bridge this gap?
BACK to the BASICS.
As there is a deluge of fitness, diet, and mental wellness content available online, my goal here is to shift your focus away from nitty gritty details and get back to the basics. Instead of inundating you with endless cardio, muscle-building reps, magic/fad diets, calorie/macro counting, or psychotherapy, I will provide a simple guide to help you face your demons.
4 Tips for Weight Loss:
Aim for 7-9 Hours/Night.
Sleep is one of the most underrated essentials for wellness of the mind and body. It's often the first thing we skimp on in order to create more actionable hours in a day. I've been guilty of this myself--during residency training, I would often work 24 to 30 hour overnight shifts, and then utilize my post-call day off to "catch up" on workouts, errands, and studying/ research projects. The worst part of chronic sleep deprivation seemed to be chronic dozing--I always wondered why I could never stay awake during lectures after I sat down.
What we don't realize is that sleep deprivation has profound effects on our mental and physical health--it leaves us vulnerable to reduced attention/cognition, memory lapses, delayed reactions, and mood shifts. Studies have also linked sleep deprivation to a higher risk of medical conditions, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and poor mental health. Sleep plays a vital role in regulating hormone levels, such as leptin and ghrelin, key regulators of hunger and appetite. Without sufficient sleep, we may fall victim to hormonal imbalance/excessive hunger, mood shifts, and impaired judgement with food choices, spiraling into a vicious cycle of stress and weight gain.
Therefore, take the FIRST step to healing from the INSIDE OUT by fulfilling your SLEEP requirement.
2. Engage Yourself.
Identify your Emotions. Meditate. Journal. Ask yourself: "What do I want?"
You might be thinking,"I'm constantly being pulled in so many directions--from my job, kids, spouse, to family/friends--what do you mean engage myself?!" When you feel overwhelmed and spread too thin, you may feel that everything you're doing is half-assed, perpetuating a feeling of inadequacy. Recognize your emotions, and find ways to directly comfort, nurture, and resolve them. Feelings of frustration, anxiety, loneliness, and anger may be temporarily alleviated, but food won't solve underlying problems. Put your oxygen mask on first, before assisting others. By prioritizing yourself and finding inner balance, value, growth, fulfillment, and source of pride, you're better equipped to support and help others.
Structure your Life. Act with Intention.
Pre-COVID, many of us were able to compartmentalize aspects of our lives. We commuted to work, met up with friends for fun workouts/social activities, and came home to our families. Under quarantine, our once multi-faceted lives have turned into chaotic monotony. Now, we live where we work, eat, and sleep. Without structure, we lose boundaries between time alone/with others, work/rest hours, and meal times--by working through our lunch hour/into the night, or constantly grazing throughout the day, we actually lose productivity. In our distracted state, we also lose track of our total food intake. I encourage you to act with intention--to reinstate structure back into your day and dedicate 100% attention to your daily activities, whether it be meditating, working, eating, exercising, relaxing, etc. In this way, you may feel more fulfilled, in all aspects, respectively.
3. Intuitive eating.
Honor your Hunger. Feel your Fullness. Ask yourself: "Am I still hungry?" Simple.
If you're interested in science and nutrition, there are plenty of diets you can delve into and research, i.e. Keto, Mediterranean, Vegan, etc. If you love math, you can also indulge in weighing your portions and tracking/counting macronutrients. In my experience, it takes much more mental energy learning the rules, purchasing the right foods, and logging each item. I've ended up gaining weight because my App told me I needed more calories.
For those of you who prefer a SIMPLE mindset shift to guide your diet, consider intuitive eating. Embark on a journey to recalibrate your system and TUNE IN to your mind and body. Forget all the rules you've heard i.e. breakfast is the most important meal of the day, carbs are bad, fat is bad, you must eat often to prevent falling into starvation mode, etc. Embrace your core feelings of hunger, that rumbling, physiologic hunger arising from your gut, and distinguish them from mental compulsions to ease emotional stress. Relish the full experience of eating, from your food choices, environment, to your company. Listen closely to your body for signals as you begin to feel full and reassess as you eat,"Am I still hungry?"
4. Be Active
Walk. Move. Hike. Take the Stairs. Get Outside. Break a Sweat.
Again, keep it SIMPLE. Forget about new, expensive gym memberships, endless reps lifting weights, fitness challenges, and other militant HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) workouts. Start by taking a daily walk outside. You can even combine this with Tip #2, and dedicate this time to Engage Yourself. Breathe in fresh air. Speed up to break a sweat. Bask in sunshine to make vitamin D, a key component of bone health and mental health. And remember to always wear sunscreen (SPF>30)!
If you're inspired to find workout buddies, join fitness classes/programs for motivation, or pursue a rockstar physique, by all means, do it! However, minimizing your action potential (obstacles) to fitness will help you sneak in that extra 30 to 60 minutes of exercise every day. Instead of getting overwhelmed by researching the massive fitness industry, and making major financial/time/social commitments, start with baby steps, and you will soon FEEL the difference in your body as you get stronger, more energetic, and begin to up the intensity. With time, you may begin to rely on and even crave exercise for physical/mental catharsis.
In this digital age with information overload, it's easy to get overwhelmed and not know where to begin your journey to better health. I encourage you to KEEP IT SIMPLE. Start with these 4 small mindset shifts to transform your body from the INSIDE OUT:
2. Engage yourself and identify your emotions.
3. Eat intuitively and listen to your hunger cues.
4. Start with a daily walk. As you get going, feel free to take it up a notch.
As your mind and body begin to recalibrate, you'll FEEL the improvement, become more attune to the nuances, and CRAVE more of it! Enjoy yourself...and have FUN!