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Controlling your Christmas cravings

Prevent the pounds from piling on by balancing restraint and smart noshing.

By Liss Mariano, M.D.


Filipinos love food. A veritable melting pot, we are a culture famous not only for the variety of our dishes, but also for the frequency of our meals. The typical Filipino starts off his day with a hearty breakfast, followed by a midmorning snack, lunch, merienda, dinner, and a midnight snack, which can come as early as 9:00 p.m.

Apart from everyday meals, Pinoys gather in groups and families to eat during big occasions—and this makes Christmas a potential threat to our weight and waistlines. Love for food and family, together with our predominantly Catholic upbringing and national devotion to Christmas, combine to make the “ber” months an extended fiesta season. But these holiday indulgences eventually take their toll. How many times do we hear or say, “Sa January na ulit ang diet”? And, several months after, “Kailangan na talaga mag-diet, malapit na ang summer.” For many, this becomes an annual cycle of bingeing and fasting. The bad news is that the holiday pounds tend to linger longer than the summer diet, leading to inevitable waistline expansion. The good news is that it’s easier to prevent the pound pile-on than to starve it off.

Pay the toll

The body works in a simple system. To maintain your weight, the calories in the food you eat must be equal to the calories you expend. Anything consumed in excess will be stored by your body in an evolutionary mechanism designed to keep itself alive should starvation occur. This is why it’s so difficult to lose weight—your body has already tucked it away like an untouchable emergency fund in preparation for starvation. Next, as a throwback to the hunter-gatherer era, our bodies have been designed to function best when given foods that are acquired and prepared naturally. These usually include animal foods, plants and other root crops—no doughnuts or fancy peppermint mocha lattes! While there’s nothing wrong with carbohydrates per se, the problem with processed foods and simple carbohydrates is that our body easily breaks them down into sugar, causing significant spikes in blood sugar levels. This leaves us contented for a short time, but after an hour or two, our blood sugar levels drop and off we go to the dessert table again.

Our ancient diet often consisted primarily of protein and complex carbohydrates, which take time to metabolize, offering us a continuous supply of energy. This means we don’t get a sugar high, but we don’t get the crash and crave either.

A final point to consider is that the brain regulates everything our bodies do and feel, including hunger and thirst. Current research mostly focuses on neurotransmitters or brain chemicals that are genetically influenced and difficult to change. These neurotransmitters, which act on the part of the brain called hypothalamus, include leptin, which promotes satiety, and neuropeptide Y, which promotes hunger. Hence, decreased leptin or increased neuropeptide Y levels will almost certainly result to obesity. The heritability of these neurotransmitters explains the similar body types within families.

Discover the science behind our food cravings plus get tips to resist tempting treats in HealthToday’s December 2013-January 2014 issue available in bookstores, newsstands and Watsons Personal Stores.

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