It was great to see so many people out and about during the various restrictive stages of COVID-19. I think bicycle sales must have been at an all-time high! And even now, it’s good to see so many families and cyclists outside. However, there are many of us – especially those on our own – who over time have become more reclusive, more sedentary and, to put it nicely, a little “unkempt”. Becoming a coach potato affects mental health and confidence levels too.
Dr Ivan Puah, director of Amaris B. Clinic, has seen a rise in expat patients who need help with various issues – mainly due to a lack of social contact. He’s seen how social media and the internet have become leading communication portals and how this has affected physical confidence and health. On top of that, the impact of COVID on businesses and job security, along with general fear-mongering, has affected the mental health of many.
Dr Puah talks us through the various scenarios and what he recommends.
How has COVID impacted people physically?
COVID-19 has certainly impacted our lives in many ways, including lifestyle, social, health and others. Here are two interesting and contrasting observations that I have seen at the clinic over these two years:
- One group of people has suffered from self-neglect due to working from home, mask-wearing, reduced activity levels, accumulated stress from the uncertainties of the pandemic, the convenience of food deliveries and limited social interactions. Paying little attention to their personal appearance has caused many to put on weight, gain fat and lose body shape.
- Then there is a group of entirely opposite people. As video conferencing increases and e-meetings are conducted in close-up shots and sans makeup, many have become more self-conscious of their appearances. To look fresh during meetings and reduce noticeable facial lines and saggy jowls, they have continued with their aesthetic maintenance such as dermal fillers, wrinkle-smoothing injections and fractional lasers.
How do you think people have been managing nutrition through this period?
Between the two groups of people that I have observed, there is a vast difference in how each group manages their habits and nutrition. In fact, these two groups are at the extreme ends of a pole.
The first group have been more relaxed in managing their lifestyle. They stay up late to catch the latest Netflix series or late-night soccer matches with snacks and drinks in hand. Boredom eating and emotional eating – including seeking comfort food – have inevitably caused the waistline to expand. Stress eating is a frequent complaint I hear during this period. In short, these people have become “couch potatoes”.
The other group pays attention to the type of food, the nutritional values and the caloric content of the food they consume. They usually turn to home-cooked food, ensuring that their meals are nutritious.
Is weight gain generally from overeating or a lack of exercise?
Change in lifestyle habits, lack of exercise and overconsumption of calories are generally thought to be the leading causes of weight and fat gain. However, they are not the main reasons for weight and fat gain because genes typically affect where you store fat in your body.
Metabolism and hormones also differ for everyone, and they play a role in how much weight you gain. Emotional eating can lead to substantial weight gain. Those with poor sleeping habits and who regularly sleep for less than five hours are more likely to gain weight than individuals who get seven to eight hours of beauty sleep. Lack of movement among the couch potato ranks plays a big part in all aspects of their physical and mental health.
What are they mostly looking for?
Since the pandemic, I have seen many seeking advice and treatment options for weight loss; some have piled on 10 to 15kg unknowingly during this period.
The number of male and female patients who want to get rid of excess body fat through liposuction has also increased. This group of patients have tried diet, exercise, creams and even non-invasive treatments, but none of them can get rid of the stubborn fat.
Some have even opted for a total body makeover to improve or enhance their body contours or attain high-definition body sculpting. One example is ladies who want to have a more defined ‘hour-glass’ body shape; another is fit individuals who hope to attain the coveted ‘six-pack’ abs.
Gynecomastia surgery is also an in-demand surgery for us. This permanent male breast reduction treatment is gaining traction as more men become self-aware of their body image. This surgery is also becoming more highly sought-after due to the surge in the fitness craze, as more people run, do yoga and go to the gym. More men are removing their excess glandular and fat tissues for a sculpted and more masculine chest appearance.
What else are you seeing in their demeanour and other areas where they need help?
Weight gain can be distressing for many, affecting both their health and appearance. They can look tired, have low energy and appear older than their actual age. Due to a change in their body shape, some begin to lose self-confidence and hide in shapeless and oversized clothes. Although losing weight is not easy, it’s not impossible. A holistic approach is important; and, if they want to see a physical change in their body, making the first right move is essential.
Keeping a food and activity diary is useful for monitoring calorie input and output. At the same time, a person should be more aware of their eating habits, and the type of food they eat. Exercise is vital for keeping the weight off and for health, as it improves cellular respiration, metabolism and stamina. Incorporate cardiovascular exercises with resistance training such as weights to burn the extra kilos and tone the muscles.
Start off with achievable targets. For instance, if you are too busy for a daily workout, start brisk walking three to four times a week after your meals for about 15 to 20 minutes. Gradually increase the duration and frequency.
Losing weight may be stressful for some. Regular meditation and keeping a positive mindset will make the weight-loss journey easier. Do not compare yourself with others. Wanting to stay healthy, look good and be confident starts from within and not with anyone else.
What helps with mental health and confidence levels?
Looking good does tend to make people more happy and outgoing. It can lead to an improvement in self-confidence levels, and an improved motivation to continue to be healthy and in shape. In many instances, it improves personal relations and even career success.
What advice can you give people who feel they are becoming couch potatoes?
- Choose a workout that you like and will enjoy regularly doing.
- Find a partner or join a group, if you can. Social interaction and peer pressure can help to motivate you to work out regularly.