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Key to weight loss: Proper diet, smaller portions, regular exercise

LINDA Chen stands 167 centimeters tall and weighs 58 kilograms. No one would call her fat - but she's obsessed with body image. She can pinch a little fat at her waist. She's on a crash diet.

For the past two weeks, the 26-year-old white collar has been eating a slice of whole-wheat bread and a cup of milk for breakfast, an egg white and an apple or two tomatoes for lunch and two kiwi fruits (kiwi is very nutritious) for dinner before 7pm. She occasionally jogs, but doesn't exercise regularly.

So far she has lost 2 kilograms and hopes to lose two more in a few weeks.

"I want a slimmer waist and sharper chin so that I can confidently wear fitted light-weight clothes in summer," says Chen, who periodically diets.

Experts say that Chen's choices are not bad, though they should be varied ?? but she's eating far to less for a working person.

"I want to lose weight" seems to be every young woman's mantra these days, especially as spring approaches with it tantalizing fashions.

They want long slim legs, a wasp waist, defined collar bones, a nice bottom and narrow chin, like models on runways, TV and in advertising.

They may starve themselves, try fad diets, take all kinds of pills, eat spicy food, take laxatives, drink black coffee after meals. They usually don't exercise regularly.

Around this time of year, doctors and nutritionists routinely warn against crash diets and losing too much weight. Trim and fit is the idea; lose fat, not muscle. Keep your body fueled and drink lots of water to burn fat efficiently.

Volumes have been written on body image and the trend toward rake-thinness by young women who want to be fashionable.

Chen has gone on diets in the past, but it's hard to resist delicious food, and she envies those girls who never seem to gain weight. She vows to stick to her diet this time.

"Getting a slim figure is hard work. I'm already sick of the smell of kiwi," says Chen. "But beauty is a slim figure in most men's eyes, right?"

There's truth there.

But recent online research in Shanghai yields a somewhat different finding.

Most men do look first for a nice figure, but none like skinny girls, according to an online survey early this year by the Shanghai Evening Post and

Around 700 men took part. The results: 46 percent said they would look first at a girl's body, 40 percent the face, 7 percent go for hair and 6 percent check the skin.

As for the ideal figure: 60 percent said they liked a girl with "a soft figure with a beautiful body line," 25 percent prefer "fit and trim," 13 percent like girls "with plump breasts and bottom or a wasp waist and round bottom." Only 2 percent chose "skinny" girls.

Bryan Wang, 24-year-old financial analyst, likes sporty girls who are fit and trim.

"They look energetic and I like the way they walk," says Wang. "Skinny models are just beautiful on the runway. Few guys like that style in real life."

Extremely thin girls seem unhealthy, according to 27-year-old Jeff Jiang, a bank employee.

"A skinny girl colleague of mine has legs as thin as my arms," says Jiang. "I'm always afraid she'll get blown away in strong wind."

And in fact, the skinny girl often calls in sick, he says.

"It is well-known that overweight people are more vulnerable to the 'three highs' (high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high blood sugar) and other ailments, including diabetes," says Dr Yang Kefeng of the Nutrition Department of the Medical School of Jiao Tong University.

So taking off the extra weight is important for health.

BMI (body mass index) is an internationally accepted measurement for fitness ?? it compares height and weight.

According to the World Health Organization, people with a BMI from 18.5 to 24.9 are fit, those with a BMI over 25 should lose weight; a BMI below 18.5 is too thin.

Dr Yang says he sees many young women with a good BMI who still want to lose weight. Their ideal is not within the BMI healthy range.

Considerable research shows that women become overweight and obese more easily than men. In China, however, that's not the case and the difference is only a few percentage points, says Yang.

The reason why so many more women try to lose weight is because they are highly self-critical and influenced by advertising with unrealistically thin models, say most nutritionists and women themselves.

Though the rate of cancer is lower among lean or thin older people than among the obese, too-thin teenagers and young women may have health problems, says Dr Yang.

"They tend to have lower immunity and the lack of nutrition can lead to physical problems and illness," he says.

The problem is not ordinary thin or slim ?? it's ultra-thin.

Girls who are too thin may be low on estrogen, which has many consequences, including poor calcium absorption and brittle bones.

People, especially the elderly, who are very thin tend to have more memory problems than their heftier peers, as fat comprises 50 percent of the brain. Brain cells need fat for nutrition, metabolism and cognition.

Growing children and teenagers need a healthy diet for proper physical and mental development.

Of all the ways to lose weight, Yang recommends the traditional way: a balanced diet, smaller portions, lower fat, carbs and sweets, and regular physical exercise.

All food groups provide important nutrition, so do not eliminate any group. To lose weight, the body needs to burn carbohydrates ?? a favorite target of dieters. So reduce, don't eliminate. A long-term diet without carbohydrates can lead to metabolic disorders.

If you're trying to lose weight, eat a balanced diet with smaller quantities in each category, says Yang.

He suggests at least 30 minutes daily of aerobic exercise, like jogging and brisk walking. Heavy exercise burns more glycogen (a polysaccharide that converts to sugar) than fat, he says.

That's why after you have warmed up at the gym, steady walking on a treadmill is a good way to burn calories.

The TCM take

Traditional Chinese medicine has a different take on weight loss. Not only is it caused by eating too much, but it also can be caused by spleen problems ?? spleen in TCM refers to the entire digestive system.

"A well-functioning spleen not only helps in absorbing nutrition but also in expelling excessive fluid," says Dr Zhang Zhongyi, chief of the Acupuncture Department of Yueyang Western and Traditional Chinese Medicine Hospital.

Spleen problems mean excessive fluid collects and turns to fat.

Many middle-aged people gain as their spleen function declines with age. Not eating regular meals but frequently snacking can cause digestive problems leading to overweight, especially in young women.

Exercise regularly and eat spleen-reinforcing foods. They include Pu'er tea, chen pi (dried orange peel) tea, pearl barley, yams and white gourd.

Acupuncture to improve the spleen/digestive system is popular and effective and can help girls of normal weight who insist on losing more, Dr Zhang says.


BMI = weight (kg) / (height (m) * height)

Body mass index is the most widely used diagnostic tool to identify obesity problems in adults.

BMI is a measurement of body weight based on height and weight. It applies to both adult men and women. There are many calculators online.

By WHO standards, a BMI of less than 18.5 is underweight and may indicate malnutrition, an eating disorder, or other health problems. A BMI over 25 is consider overweight and above 30 is considered obese.

BMI does not predict health.

Unhealthy ways to lose weight

Going hungry

Not eating enough food, eating a little low-calorie foods like vegetables and fruits. Don't deprive your body of what it needs.

Over time, this leads to malnutrition. Each food group provides essential nutrition. Lack of carbohydrates means you lack fuel and energy.

In the extreme, it can result in ketone (an acid) poisoning. Cutting out fats in the extreme can reduce linoleic acid and alpha linoleic acid, essential for hormone production.

Eating the same foods is boring and unsatisfying and you will crave other foods. This can result in overeating.

Taxing laxatives

Trying to lose weight by eliminating food isn't effective ?? you have to eat right and eat less. Over-use of laxatives will damage the stomach and intestine lining. Long-term use causes dependence and constipation, as intestines no longer work naturally.

Popping magic pills

There are no magic pills.

Most weight-loss drugs have side-effects. Many contain diuretics and lipase inhibitors (fat blockers). Others are appetite suppressants.

They help you lose weight quickly, but you may regain it quickly. Some are touted as metabolism boosters, but the best way to boost metabolism is to exercise.

Overdoing physical exercise

Don't exhaust yourself with too-strenuous exercise or exercise for extremely long periods. Heavy exercise is anaerobic which only consumes glycogen, rather than fat. If exercise is exhausting, you will get very hungry and eat more.

Suggestion: Do aerobic exercise, like jogging or brisk walking, at least 30 minutes daily, or as often as possible, working up to longer stretches.

Eating spicy food or hot pepper

There's no research showing that capsaicine (the ingredient in hot peppers) can aid weight loss. Eating too much spicy food can damage the mucus lining of the digestive system. Some say it can cause rough skin and acne.


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