[Editor’s note: Over the quarantine, some individuals took the time to embark on their own personal health journeys. Through proper eating – some adopting a Mediterranean diet – and exercise, many achieved healthy weight loss. Doña Elena presents their stories. Below is their press release.]
MANILA, Philippines – The three-month lockdown in Manila may have drastically limited people’s mobility, but it also gave many the space and time to reflect and take better care of themselves during this forced pause in their lives. A commendable result for many: healthier eating and more physical activity, leading to a welcome weight loss.
“When the lockdown was announced, I realized this was the perfect opportunity to do a balik alindog program and come out of the quarantine with a new look—a thin version of myself, with a beard—and be an influence for healthy habits,” said Anton Diaz, the man behind the popular blog Our Awesome Planet. “When I interviewed COVID survivors on my show, it was very clear that the virus is detrimental to the elderly and the overweight. I want to be able to play basketball with my sons as they grow, and to see them with their girlfriends and eventually get married!”
“I didn’t want to be a couch potato, and it was also a very stressful time, with all the uncertainties,” expressed grief counselor and writer Cathy Babao. “There was a lot of time to pray and reflect, but I also wanted to do something for my body. The lockdown gave me an opportunity to slowly get back into exercise.” Babao had lost weight in late 2017 and early 2018, but had gained some back in 2019 – which she described as a “stressful year.”
For restaurateur Cheryl Rafael, weight loss was a planned family affair with her husband Ryan, cousin Mary Janelle Parungao, and sister-in-law Ritchelle Rafael, after another sister abroad challenged the lot to lose 10 kg (22 lbs). “A few years back, we actually tried to lose weight, but we failed. So during the ECQ, we decided as a family that this was the best time to make it happen,” she said. Other than issues like a fatty liver, their other reason to lose weight was “to build self-confidence and improve our individual health conditions.”
Graphic artist Jaron Nepomuceno, meanwhile, was simply worried about getting sick. “I wanted to get healthy because of the pandemic. I decided to exercise every day, eat nutritious food, and change my lifestyle, including removing vices like smoking and drinking to fight anxiety and keep my immune system up.”
The Mediterranean diet and other healthy food tips
According to everyone interviewed, the ECQ somehow made a weight loss program easier to stick to.
“You are not going out to eat in restaurants, and generally, home-cooking is healthier,” said Diaz. “It was easy to stick to a routine that did not get disrupted by work or events. Plus, there is a sense of urgency because of the virus, which won’t have any cure or vaccine any time soon.”
“It was easier during ECQ,” agrees Rafael, “as we could not go out as often as we wanted to buy fast food!”
All took the effort to manage their food intake. “I lessened my carbohydrates and meat; we ate more vegetables and fruits, plus Filipino dishes like sinigang, tinola, and nilaga, and sautéed vegetable dishes,” said Nepomuceno. “We tried to eat less and cut out all the sweets,” added Rafael. “We just had fish, vegetables, and fruits.”
“They say that it’s 80 percent diet and 20 percent exercise for a successful weight loss program, and I can believe that,” said Babao, – who ate lighter, replaced unhealthy fats with olive oil for cooking, and did intermittent fasting on some days.
Diaz also practiced fasting, although he kicked off his health program with a 28-day detox and health regime to flush out toxins and burn fat. “I also followed a healthy Mediterranean way of eating more fish and seafood, vegetables, eggs, cheese, kombucha, and lots of olive oil, and vitamin D from the sun.”
Indeed, food intake is the cornerstone of an effective weight loss program, and these success stories underscore the fact that it’s not about depriving oneself but eating the right food. The Mediterranean diet mentioned by Diaz is, in fact, an example of an eating system that includes all essential food groups, including formerly demonized fats.
Necessary and beneficial
According to the Harvard School of Public Health website, “When it comes to dietary fat, what matters most is the type of fat you eat….Contrary to past dietary advice promoting low-fat diets, newer research shows that healthy fats are necessary and beneficial for health.”
“It used to be that all types of dietary fat got a bad rap,” said Barbara Gordon, RDN on the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website. “The effects of different fats on health varies. And, some fats have been shown to have positive health benefits…A nutritious eating plan doesn’t mean cutting out all fat, just focusing on healthier varieties.”
The key, experts say, is to distinguish between monounsaturated fats –healthy fats that increase good cholesterol in the body and reduce the bad cholesterol that clogs arteries – and saturated fats, which block arteries and increase the risks for many other illnesses.
“Monounsaturated fats can help reduce bad cholesterol levels in your blood, which can lower your risk of heart disease and stroke,” explained the American Heart Association. “They also provide nutrients to help develop and maintain your body’s cells. Oils rich in monounsaturated fats also contribute vitamin E to the diet.”
Olive oil, that staple of Mediterranean cuisine, is a prime example of monounsaturated fat. “Why should I choose olive oil over other types of fat? The main type of fat found in all kinds of olive oil is monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs). MUFAs are considered a healthy dietary fat,” noted the Mayo Clinic on their website.
Fortunately for Filipinos looking to add healthy fat to their diets, premium olive oil brand Doña Elena is available nationwide. Doña Elena is made from olives grown in Andalusia, Spain, the world’s largest olive oil-growing region, where harvested fruits are pressed in state-of-the-art production facilities to create what has been the Philippines’ top-selling olive oil since 2011.
While the oil continues to be produced with the highest quality standards in an exacting and highly regulated global industry, the brand has recently opted for an upgrade in its packaging. Doña Elena commissioned a French designer for new bottles made from European glass, a design which has now been internationally copyrighted.
Fine engravings of Doña Elena’s initials and of the olive fruit, as well as a brighter color palette for the new labels, are seen on the bottles, which remain easy to grip and store. For added convenience, usage recommendations for the different varietals also appear on the labels. Thus, anyone looking to add more olive oil to their diets can easily distinguish which kind is best to use for dressings and dips, for pasta, or for frying and roasting.
Each one found the ideal workout to complement their fitness journey. Nepomuceno ran outdoors for at least an hour each day, which helped manage his anxiety. At the same time, Babao discovered American online walking guru Leslie Sansone, whose free YouTube workouts have gained many Filipino fans during the lockdown.
The Rafaels diligently worked out not once, but twice a day—“a mix of cardio exercises plus Zumba,” said Cheryl Rafael. “If we’re busy, we do a minimum of 30 minutes. It really helped in burning those fats!” Diaz, meanwhile, chose a nitric oxide dump sequence, a brief burst of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) done a few times a day, plus push-ups and an occasional game of basketball.
For these happy “losers,” their results were worth celebrating. The Rafaels all lost 10 kg each, with Cheryl ending at 46.1 kg (101 lbs), her husband Ryan reaching 83.9 kg (185 lbs), cousin Mary Janelle Parungao hitting 53.1 kg (117 lbs), and sister-in-law Ritchelle Rafael finishing at 62 kg (137 lbs).
“Self-discipline is the key,” says Cheryl Rafael. “Choose healthier, wholesome food, and don’t forget to exercise, too.”
Nepomuceno says it was his wife who began noticing his looser shirts, as he went from 185 to 172 lbs. “Begin with baby steps,” he advised. “Eat healthier food, more plant-based and with healthy fats; drink lots of water, exercise, and get enough sleep.”
Babao lost a total of 12 lbs. “Use this time to get into an exercise program that you can follow on YouTube. Strive to eat healthy and clean, but choose to reward yourself, too. Exercise has so many benefits—it boosts your mood, increases your energy, raises your happy hormones.”
Diaz lost 20 lbs, as well as 3 inches from his waistline. “Start with a detox to prepare your body to receive healthier nutrients that the body can absorb, and simply follow a healthy Mediterranean diet—fish and seafood, vegetables, olive oil, and lots of sun.”