What does it really take to maintain a healthy weight? A bariatric surgeon shares his insights.
The average Singaporean today is 3kg heavier than he was 15 years ago. That’s sobering news from a study published by the Health Promotion Board last year, made more alarming by the fact that obesity rates could hit 15 percent in six or seven years. That’s where people like Dr Ganesh Ramalingam come in. As a surgeon specialising in gastrointestinal, bariatric, advanced laparoscopy and endoscopic surgery, his mission in life is to help patients shed pounds so they not only look better, but feel better, too.
SO WHAT’S THE FIRST STEP?
The ﬁrst thing I always tell my patients is that they need to change their diet and lifestyle. While their priority is to lose weight in order to look slimmer and sexier, my priority is to improve their health and build good habits. Exercise accomplishes both: The more you do it, the better you will look and the ﬁtter you will be. So my basic recommendation is to do at least 30 to 40 minutes of continuous aerobic exercise at least three times a week.
WHAT ABOUT PEOPLE WHO SAY THEY’RE TOO BUSY FOR THAT KIND OF COMMITMENT?
It’s true that many Singaporeans work long hours and are very tired. But there are many alternative ways to work exercise into your routine. If you take public transport, get off one or two stops earlier and take a brisk walk home. If you like shopping or often get groceries, walk up the escalator instead of taking the elevator. When you’re watching TV or movies at home, hop on a stationary bike or do some squats. Aerobic exercise doesn’t just mean running or Jane Fonda workouts. There are more pleasurable forms like dancing, spin classes or mixed martial arts. Having a group of friends who enjoy exercise will help push you, too. If all else fails, you’ve got to ask yourself if money or health is more important. Money comes and goes, but your health will just deteriorate permanently.
DO YOU PRACTISE WHAT YOU PREACH?
I used to enjoy going to the gym regularly, and I would play four or ﬁve games of football every week. But these days, my work can start as early as 6am and end around 7pm or 9pm. One time, my shift ended at 3am and I was back at work by 7am. But I cannot totally lose my diet or lifestyle habits; you can’t have an obese doctor telling you about weight loss. So I still play football about twice a week and my wife pushes me to go to the gym or get new running shoes. At the bare minimum, she will drag me to the park for a walk. Surround yourself with people who have good habits.
WHAT ABOUT DIETING? HOW DO YOU HELP PEOPLE FILTER THROUGH THE ENDLESS TIRADE OF NUTRITIONAL FADS?
“Eating right” has a lot of permutations, so it depends on the person and what they’re trying to achieve. If you already have fairly good eating habits, then I would simply emphasise quantity. Keep eating the nutritious foods you’re already enjoying, but cut it down by half or a third. Things like alcohol and sugar are all unnecessary and if you’re serious about weight loss, these two have to go. There’s only one beneﬁt to sugar, and that’s to make the guys selling it rich. The next thing would be to reduce fat intake. Remove the skin and fat from your meats and don’t eat anything fried. Lastly, and the most difficult to achieve, is to cut down on carbohydrates. When you do, your weight plunges. But take note that the surest way to fail is if the people you share meals with, like your family, are eating differently from you.
“While the patient’s priority is to lose weight in order to look slimmer and sexier, my priority is to improve their health.”
WHAT’S YOUR DIET LIKE?
I personally believe a healthy diet has to have very little carbohydrates, oil and sugar. But I also try not to eat much animal protein. I used to eat cheese almost every day, and I love yogurt, eggs and red meat. But I’ve switched to a more vegetable-based diet with almost no dairy or eggs. I think animal proteins are tied to a lot of immunological issues like irritable bowel syndrome and eczema. Not everyone believes that, but this is my philosophy.
WHAT’S THE BEST PART OF BEING IN THIS SPECIALITY?
I love the education aspect of our weight loss programme. I tell the patient that weight loss is more than just dropping the kilograms. It can reduce the risk of heart attacks, diabetes, hypertension, stroke and high cholesterol. You can even reduce your insurance premiums when you don’t have these ailments. I am also constantly reminded that the patient is not just a stomach or a colon. The patient is a whole person, so I have to treat them holistically. I need to understand everything from their psychology to their diet, from their skin to their pancreas, to know them inside and out because it’s a long journey. In this practice we don’t look after the organ, we look after the person.
For more information, visit G&L Surgical clinic at #05-23 Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital Specialist Centre, 38 Irrawaddy Road, tel: 6255-1234. http://www.glsurgical.com.sg