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Commentary: I jogged 15km a week, so why did I keep getting fatter?

SINGAPORE: I found myself becoming part of the overweight statistics in the early 2010s. I was gaining weight every year and I had to keep buying bigger work pants.

It was puzzling. I jogged 15km a week, so why did I keep getting fatter?

After some research and ruling out genetics, I discovered that my weight gain happened because I had never questioned the popular narratives around health and nutrition.

For example, like many people, I believed that exercising regularly was enough to burn off excess weight gain. I also believed that getting heavier was part and parcel of ageing.

It was only when my waistline went from 30 to 34 inches in five years that I started to question my deep-set beliefs.

In 2013, I changed my diet, reduced my weight from 74kg (BMI 25.3, “overweight”) to 63kg (BMI 21.5 “normal weight”), and I have maintained my weight since then. 

I did not discover any miracle diet. I simply dealt with the narratives that were making me fat.

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IS SINGAPORE HEADED TOWARDS BECOMING A FAT NATION?

The topic of obesity has come under the spotlight lately, emerging as a pressing concern necessitating action and greater public awareness.

According to the World Obesity Federation, around half of the world’s population (over 4 billion people) will be overweight or obese by 2035 if action is not taken. This could cost the world US$4.32 trillion annually by 2035 – nearly 3 per cent of global GDP – on par with the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

Individuals who have a body mass index (BMI) of 25 and above are considered overweight, while obesity is defined as having a BMI of 30 and above.

Right now, about one in seven people globally are obese; this number is expected to rise to one in four by 2035.

Compared to other countries, Singapore has a relatively low obesity rate, but it is creeping up. According to the National Population Health Survey 2022, the obesity rate in Singapore last year was 11.6 per cent, up from 8.6 per cent in 2013.

One common misconception about obesity is that it is solely the result of poor personal choices and lack of willpower. But it’s not only about overeating or being too lazy to exercise; obesity can also be caused by genetic factors.

It’s essential to note that addressing obesity is not about shaming individuals but rather promoting health and well-being as it can increase the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases and certain cancers.

To turn the tide on this, it helps to rethink the common narratives about health and nutrition.

“I SHOULD EXERCISE MORE TO LOSE WEIGHT”

Regular exercise is critical for building strength, stamina and improving blood circulation.

Many people believe that if they exercise regularly, they will not gain weight. However, we may not realise how hard it is to burn off excess calories from a heavy diet.

For example, if you run 2.4km, you will only burn about 150kcal, or the equivalent of a can of soft drink.

It has been said that “you cannot outrun a bad diet”. Indeed, it is difficult to burn off the excess calories from a night of drinking and eating.  

I also discovered that after years of jogging three times a week, my body has acclimatised and no longer burns as many calories with each run. So, it is primarily my diet that decides my weight now.

We must exercise regularly, but first, we must eat healthily.

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