Category Archives: Fitness and Health

The Problems with Hospitals and the US Medical System

I am drafting this blog while in a hospital feeling frustrated and angry. I am attending to my mom who needs a back surgery. And as part of the condition she needs to do pre-testing admission. While I understand the precautions that needs to be taken but the test and procedures that my mom has to go through are not necessary.

Before I deep dive into the test she has to go through, I want to point out that hospital is a terrible place to be in. Not because it houses sick people but the amount of time wasted in a hospital is unnecessary. This visit alone took us over 2 hours to complete. I remember I brought my son to the emergency room at a pediatrician hospital for food poisoning. A simple visit took us over 6 hours. I recall seeing a boy entering the emergency room before us due to injury sustain playing sport. 6 hours later, the boy was still on a stretcher in the hallway of the emergency room.

Fast forwarding to this visit with my mom. We were brought in a waiting room with just 3 patients. We have to wait for an hour before we were even brought in to get the test done, and it was also due to my mom complained to one of the nurses.

Once we brought in to one of the test room, we were asked a lot of questions of her visit. Everything is recorded in the computer. My mom’s condition and diagnosis are clearly written on the computer and they were recent too. She was admitted to the hospital last year and had every test done. She went to the hospital and saw two specialists and had several tests done, including multiple blood tests. For this visit, she had to do another blood work and EKG tests.

The most ridiculous part of the entire visit was we need to go through everything again with the resident nurse. Not only she was useless, she asked us the same questions again and again when everything is clearly written in my mom’s medical record. To make herself useful, the nurse recorded her notes on the computer for no apparent reason. This meeting alone wasted us half an hour with no benefits.

Hospital is abusing the medical system by having patients going through unnecessarily tests and charge all these costs to the insurance companies. For example, when my mom was hospitalized last year the bill came up to 70 thousand dollars charged to medicare. She was also hospitalized once about 10 years ago because she passed out unexpectedly. The hospital bill came out to almost 100 thousand dollars paid by Uncle Sam. When my eldest son was born 20 years ago, we received a bill for 12 thousand dollars paid by my company’s health insurance. The bill was 16 thousand dollars when my second son was born. The final bill of 26 thousand dollars when my daughter was born 14 years ago.

A lot of hospitals today are for profit and are owned by large corporations. It is well known that US medical system is perhaps the worst in the world because it is being abused by these corporations. At the end we consumers have to foot the bill. There are discussions for years to reign in these medical costs but as far as I know nothing has been done.

This is my of venting my anger. I believe most of us have to deal with hospitals one way or another and I’m sure some of us have trouble with hospital billing. Feel free to vent your anger if you believe my points above are accurate.

Stressed? Here are 5 ways to De-Stress…

My masterpiece – a scale model for stress relief

When my second son was born, both my wife and I had difficult time taking care of him. Although he wasn’t colicky but he was definitely gave us a hard time particularly during feeding. At some point I questioned why did we put ourselves through it. But being parents it was something that we both have to learn how to be patient. I can tell you that I was so stressed that I felt hopeless and angry most of the time.

My son just turned 17th and he just passed his driving test. Looking back while he was growing up I can tell you he is a joy in our family because he is always happy and has tons of “fun” energy. He is a blessing to us and I wouldn’t change a thing if I can turn go back in time.

Now you may asked how I was able to go through such hardship (if you want to call parenting hard) and come out victorious. I think it has to do with how I see myself and how I deal with the stress. Some stress is healthy but if you are burdened with stress then it could become suicidal.

Today I’m going to list 5 ways to deal with stress that I find useful. There are other ways as well but I’m not going to list everyone of them as it may take more than one post.

Enjoy Something that Takes Time to Complete

Invest time in doing something you really enjoy. I’m not talking about something that can be completed in an hour. I’m referring to a project that can take hours or days to complete, and it has to be something that you enjoy. For example, you can try putting a 1,000 pieces of jigsaw or maybe try building the dog house. For me, it is spending hours building the perfect scale model. As my kids are all grown up I have been spending more and more time in this hobby. It takes a lot of patience and at times frustrating if I don’t get certain parts correct. However, I can tell you that it is the best way for me to de-stress.

Start a Work-out Regime

This is an easy thing to start and complete. However, it requires commitment. If you set a SMART goal, getting into the groove can help de-stress. Imagine have a workout regime with the goal to run 5 miles within a month time. Having a goal not only helps you focus, but it also helps you de-stress. It would be even better if you can join a group of friends with the same goal in mind. This will put you in the competitive mode and further help in keeping the stress level down.

Reading a Book, Listen to Music or Write a Blog

Before I started working on my hobby, I would go to the local library and borrow the new books which only have 2 weeks lending period. It helps me de-stress as I had a separate deadline to complete. I find that if I enjoy the book time flies and I would not even notice the 2 weeks deadline. Nowadays I would have a music playing while I’m working. It helps me focus more and reduce the stress with the multitude deadlines that I have. At the end of the day (like right now) or end of the week writing a blog also helps refocus my thoughts.

Take a Walk

I still remember vividly when I started working for HSBC. The deadlines and the workload was unbearable that I always went home angry after work. It was definitely not healthy to my family and myself. One day during work I decided to drop everything and step away from my desk. I took a two hours walk around my office coming refreshed. Since then I learned to remove myself from my laptop when I feel stressed.

Spending Time with Family

If you read my earlier post, my daughter is having difficulty with her anxiety. I have begun to spend more time with her and talk to her more often. I find that not only it helps me understand my daughter more I also felt more relaxed. Having someone to talk to is important, especially with someone you care. If you feel overwhelmed do not feel bad or ashamed that you need to talk.

Do not less stress get the better of you. Some stress is healthy but if it becomes overwhelming, it can cause more than just losing sleep. It is extremely important that you take care of yourself by knowing yourself. Learning to de-stress is different for everyone. You need to search within yourself to see what works for you. As long as you can do something you enjoy, you are one step closer from being burnt out.

Simple 10 Minutes Lunch

One of the biggest challenges working remotely is to make lunch everyday for the family. There comes a time when I just run out of idea.

Here is an idea if you run out of options. Simple, inexpensive and just take 10 minutes. Baked ham and tater tots, a mini croissant, sweet corn with light butter, an over easy egg and home grown fresh cucumber. And finally a cup of Earl Grey tea. Believe it or not, this is quite fulfilling and not heavy.

Mental Health Issues Today

I have the privilege of working for a one of the major corporations in the world who cares of mental health, particularly the well-being of its employees. HSBC, is a global bank located in the UK and Asia, tackles this public issue head on.

For the past several years there is an increase concern as mental health is taking the forefront of public health issues. The pandemic accelerates this concern as majority of the world went into lock down. As of today, the pandemic continues to impact a large portion of the world. Most people will not be handle the isolation well and the pandemic causes tremendous damage to the mental health. If you do a news search today there are multiple instances where some decided to take their own life rather than be a hermit.

Most companies consider human capital as an important asset for them. HSBC is not any different. For the last several years the company pivot towards ensuring the employees’ well-being. There were a lot of internal communication on the issue and what the company is doing. Some of the things that the company offers include workshop, trainings and outside programs to assist the employees. I recently joined a program called Headspace, offered by HSBC. I haven’t had the chance to use it yet but I do appreciate what the company is doing.

Unfortunately, mental health cannot be solved if the victims do not acknowledge that the issue exists. Regardless what the company does, if the victims are not taking advantage of the options available, the problem will only get worsen. There are may symptoms of mental health. However, I’m not licensed to identify any of them but I can only provide my observations and how I personally address the issue.

Mental health issue really hits home when I had a chance to talk to my daughter recently. She has always been doing well at school. The pandemic forced the school to use remote learning. On top of some of the issue she had with a friend, she hit a wall last year. I knew she was at risk but I never knew how serious it was until I had a lengthy heart to heart talk with her. I felt I failed my job as a parent for not identifying her issues sooner. With that being said, I am spending more time with her now to ensure she feels she is being supported. It has been a week now and she is feeling a lot better. If you are interested in how I helped her in the addressing her issues, do follow my blog. I plan to share them with you.

In the meantime, take care of yourself and do seek help if you feel helpless. No one will think you are weak; admitting that you have a problem actually makes you stronger.

Why is it so Difficult to Lose Weight

I would be lying if I say losing weight is like a walk in the park. All of us know full well the it is like putting on a battle gear and facing off a formidable giant. However, like David and the Goliath, you just need to find the achilles heel.

I have been trying to lose weight for the past several years. I am by no means overweight but I need to maintain my diet due to my overall health condition. I can tell you that it u is not easy. There are too many temptations and too many convenient food around us.

My wife is a fitness instructor for the seniors and sometimes it seems she is also fighting a losing battle. In the past year she actually gained weight instead of losing it even though she teaches virtual fitness classes. On the other hand I was able to maintain my weight even though I sit at my desk working virtually. Why?

After giving much thought I believe there are a few reasons and all of them are due to motivation and personal drives.

Sacrifice

My wife’s weakness is her love of chicken wings and snacks. Given the opportunity she could eat a few of each. On the other hand I consciously avoid eating these food because of high saturated fat and low healthy contents. While I don’t deny that I like certain foods fall in these categories I vehemently avoid them at all cost.

Activities that Pay

Once every two days I would use the elliptical machine and focus on working out my arms and abs. My wife is an instructor who mainly focus on aerobic exercises which is good for the heart and breathing. She is not strong on arms or abs. To effectively loose weight we need to have both aerobic and strength exercises.

Be Conscious of Self

Knowing that you are overweight is really the main driver in losing weight. Looking and the mirror and realizing there is a problem will help with the motivation. Some people who knows they are overweight make conscious decisions not to have mirrors in the house. I personally would use the mirror and tend to focus on getting the six pack and I realize that the journey is far from over.

We’ve been thought that we should never fight a losing battle. However, if we equip ourselves with the right tools and with the right mindset nothing is impossible. The real question how driven are we in losing the weight.

When You Eat Matters!

Trying to lose the extra pounds? Or maybe thinking of getting ready for the summer? What you eat is important. When is you eat is also important.

Sometimes when we so focused on our food we tend to have a narrow view. We always count calories and constantly trying to figure out what to eat. Because of that we tend to overlook important success factor when it comes to losing weight: when to eat.

When my kids were growing up, we built their habits by reinforcing certain rules. One of the rules was keeping a set daily schedule. My wife and I followed a strict regimen when our kids were young. For example, we would woke them up at a certain time; we would prepare meal at the same time and we would getting them ready for bed around the same time. The reason is we as human are habitual beings; we tend to thrive if we follow certain rules.

That is the same for our bodies. Our bodies are more efficient if they follow certain rules and know what to expect. Over the years we conditioned our bodies to metabolize the food at the same rate; our bodies would become well oiled machines. However, if we introduce certain food at different time, our bodies would need to adjust to the new regimen and the efficiencies that we spend years building would need to be rebuild.

Why does this matter? Simply put, our bodies would metabolize the food intake at different rate. Any food that is no longer needed would be converted into fat and stored in body cells. That is when we start putting in more weight. Let’s take one great example from Covid-19 pandemic. Majority of us are staying at home when the pandemic hit. Our daily activities ceased to happen and most of us would eat at different times as there is no longer a need for us to follow the set schedule. Compounding with the extra food that we eat, the weight starts to add up.

Another major reason that we gain weight is eating after the last meal of the day. Dinner is considered the last meal that anyone should consume before they go to sleep. Experts agree that prior to eating, we should refrain from further eating at least 3-4 hours before resting. This would allow our bodies to properly digest the food within limited activities during the night. During this period our bodies will continue to require energy and in turn continue to burn the excess calories. However, if we go to sleep immediately after eating our bodies would continue metabolize the food but instead of converting the food into energy, all the food would become fat.

Next time if you are wondering why you are not losing weight, consider the time when you eat. Keeping a strict schedule is as important as what you consume.

Why Calories Counting is Not Effective in Losing Weight

One of the most given advice when one wants to lose weight is to count how many calories he or she is consuming in a day. However, it becomes one of the most misused unit of measurement in the past several decades. Calories counting became the fad and became the de facto if you want to lose weight. The question is: does calories counting actually works?

Nowadays calories count appear in all kinds of food labels to help consumers in making informed decision. Not only it appears in nutritional label, it also shows up in restaurants menu. However, I’m here to tell you that calorie counting does not help in losing weight. Calorie counting should only be used as a guide and you should not follow it to the letter.

According to Wikipedia, the calorie is a unit of energy defined as the amount of heat needed to raise a quantity of water by one degree of temperature. It was invented in the early 1800s to help measure unit of energy and became widely used by chemists during that century. Fast forwarding to the 20th century it was adopted in the 50s to help identifying the unit of energy as part of food consumption. When the calorie was invented, it was not intended to help with losing weight.

Last year I tried to track my food intake and to find out if it helps me in my quest for a healthier lifestyle. After tracking my diet for 2 months, I noticed that it was totally useless. Using one of the most popular app, MyFitnessPal, I found out that I was deficit by at least a thousand calories based on my body build. I thought it was great but over the two months I did not feel any hungrier than before and I did not lose the weight I was hoping for.

After some thoughts I realized that there are several problems with using calories as the tool for losing weight. While I do agree that using calorie counting has some use, it is by no mean accurate.

Everyone is Different

How one metabolizes food is different from one over the other. It has to do with a lot with lifestyle and if the person has adapted to the environment. A person who lives in Norway who eats fishes all his life can metabolize seafood better than someone who lives in a desert. Alternatively Japanese can consume raw meat and not get any fatter while someone who eats an ounce of meat would feel bloated. Eating the same portion of food with the same amount of calories may have different effect on everyone.

Calories is Manmade

The calorie was coined by chemist to allow easier calculation of energy unit. It was not meant to help the 20th Century citizens to help them lose weight. The calorie has been widely used today that it loses its purpose. If you ask 100 persons on the street today about the definition of calorie, 95 of them will tell you that it helps you lose weight. Another problem is total calories for each food category are pulled out of thin air with no real scientific method used to calculate them. As an example, the calorie count of one bowl of teriyaki chicken varies widely between one app over the other.

Misconception of Bad Calorie

Some food supposedly store more calorie than another and hence the use of calorie to determine the value of the food varies widely. As an example, an avocado has good fat calorie while a slide of steak may have the same amount of calorie but it contains bad fat. Both food are metabolizes differently when consumed and the amount of nutrition they provide differ too.

False Sense of Security

Calorie counting gives us a “good feeling” that we consume less calorie. However, it does not address the underlying problem, which is burning the fat and lose weight. One person may eat less but that does not mean that he is losing weight. Losing weight has to do with change of lifestyle and the food we consume. Eating half of the portion while sitting down on the sofa whole day will not likely to lose any weight. Our body is smart enough to store the food we eat as fat as our body does not need the energy to be active.

There is no magic bullet when it comes to losing weight. There is no pill or any special food that will help burn the fat away. Calorie counting is not the magic bullet either. It may help in the process but should not be used to determine what is right or wrong. To lose weight the right way is simply change in lifestyle (includes exercise) and make the right choice when it comes to the type of food we eat.

Real Reasons for Overweight

Too much choices

We all have challenges when it comes to keeping our weight in check. And usually when we fail to lose the weight, we tend to find excuses to rationalize our weight gain or we find reasons or someone to blame. For example, it is not uncommon for us to gain a few pounds after the holidays. And there are others who would blame their weight on heredity.

I’ve never been overweight. However, I have dealt with certain health issues that made me reassess what I did wrong. I dig further to find out what I could do better. As I consider some of the problems, I realized that weight gain usually fall into several categories. Hopefully after you reading them you could understand them and find tactical solutions to help you in losing weight.

Mindset

One of the major reasons that one is overweight is “Denial”. My family came from Malaysia and it is not common to have wellness check up. Most Malaysians (even today) would only visit doctors only when they are sick. Getting a wellness check up is unheard off. One reason is they don’t want to hear the bad news; they don’t want doctors to tell them they have high cholesterol or they have high blood pressure. They know that the bad news means they need to change their lifestyle.

That goes to show the same mindset is in this country as well. Most overweight people do not like to look in the mirror because they are afraid to see what they look like. Even if they “glanced” themselves in the mirror, they rationalize that they are either not too bad or they will lose weight starting tomorrow.

Solution: We just need to reconsider what is important in life. Is it food or our health? If it is health we need really sit down go over our diet, our lifestyle and our goals. Set SMART goals and go through one by one.

Lifestyle

We’ve heard this time and time again every time we visit our doctors – we need exercise. The more active we are the better we will be in losing our weight. Obviously this is easier to say than actually doing it. Believe it or not, eating a muffin will need an hour of exercise to burn it off. This is not easy task consider that there is very limited time in a day. A lot of us fail in losing weight because of this – how do we balance our lifestyle when there are so many other things in life require us to focus on?

Personally, I have the same problem. Working remotely for the past year seem like a luxury but the truth is I sometimes can’t separate work and personal life because there is no commuting. Taking the train to and from work is the indication that tells me when to start and stop working. Working life starts to bleed into my personal life that I rarely have time to workout.

Solution: Consider come up with a plan on how to put several hours of workout in a week. Gradually add more and more time to the plan. One option is to reduce the amount of time watching tv or using the smartphone.

Unhealthy food

Our lives revolve around food and with limited time available in a day we tend to resort to fast food. I’m guilty of that too. Besides fast food, we tend to buy convenient food that we can easily put in the microwave. Unfortunately these options to not go well when we need to lose weight. We tend to overeat and many consume food that is tasty but not healthy. Combining with lack of time to exercise, the end result is we add more weight instead of losing it.

Solution: It is unavoidable if we don’t have time to cook healthy food when there are other important priorities. One solution is to limit certain food (i.e. fast food) only once a week. Other solution is to select food that are low in sodium, saturated fat and chemicals. I find that this is hardest to maintain because there are so many options of convenience food at supermarket. Finding the right mix is like looking for a needle in a haystack.

Surplus of food

We gain weight during the holidays because we tend to overcook. The more food we cook the more merrier the event is. Instead of cooking for 5, we would cook for 20. Why? Because when we take photos, the food on the background “make” a memorable moment. Also, we would stuff ourselves as much as possible because we can. What we don’t realize is we also make ourselves overweight. Usually when we are unable to finish the food, we either divvied up the food or we put them in the freezer as leftovers. None of the options are healthy.

Solution: We need to break from “tradition.” This tradition is man-made and never existed prior to early 20th century. There is no reason for us to cook so much when there is only so much space in our stomach. We need to consider small portions and avoid having any leftovers. Healthy food is something that we eat on the same day. As we stored the leftovers, the nutritional values of the food deteriorate.

Lazyness

The “tomorrow” excuse is used quite often. We feel like getting up and exercise every time we sit down and notice extra bulge on our waist. However, that rarely happens because we starts to rationalize that you will work on in tomorrow. Why is this separate from the lifestyle I listed above? Because this is something that we can tackle today. When we have this feeling that we feel overweight, get up and pick up a pair of sneakers and walk around the neighborhood.

Solution: Don’t procrastinate. Place a pair of sneakers next to your sofa to remind you what is important. Every time you feel “heavy” after a big meal, look down at your sneakers. Either they make you guilty or make you move.

The reasons I listed are not new. It’s just that we rarely think about them when we have other distractions. However, none of us can avoid the fact that we’ve outgrown our clothes or we look different in the mirror. If you are on a quest to a better you, rethink your priorities and come up with a plan to make the quest a reality.

Dieting? Don’t skip breakfast!

Recently my wife received an advice from a friend on Facebook that she will start a dieting regime she learned from some “experts”. The first thing to do in the morning is to drink two full cups of water and skip breakfast altogether. The belief is that by filling your stomach with fluid instead of food, our body will start burning fat and calorie thus better chance of losing weight.

While I’m not a nutritional expert I can tell you that common sense says this is all wrong. There are multiple articles published on this subject showing the pros and cons. One article that debunked this idea was from Time that states it may not help with dieting but could potential cause more harm.

Everything we read on the internet should be read with caution. Not everyone of them can be cited or supported with studies, including what I am writing now. What I intend to do today is to give a few common sense arguments and hope you can make proper decision if skipping breakfast helps with dieting.

One of the most important things I learned while taking biology course in college is that human body is a well oiled machine. It learns to adapt to its environment and adjust its metabolism accordingly. Prior to the turn of the century before the invention of electricity, the world was dark and the citizens of those era had different meal cycle. Because of lack of lights, eating dinner at 6 or 7 PM was rarely practiced and eating breakfast was not something that is being done consistently. Fast forward to today, a lot of our habits were shaped by commercials we seen on the TV. “As part of the healthy breakfast” selling point could be heard on TV even today. The point I am trying to make is we can skip breakfast and be healthy but at present times our body has already adapted to current habit and changing it could take time and may not work for everyone.

Breakfast is a word coined in the 15th century which refers to first meal after rising from a night’s sleep. Essentially it means that we were fasting after yesterday meal and we break the fasting cycle by eating the first meal when we wake up. During the sleep cycle (between 8 to 10 hours depends on your age), our body went through a rest with minimal activity. The first meal is supposed to fill our body with enough nutrients that will help our body getting the energy to start the day.

Skipping breakfast means we exhaust our body the necessary energy. Our body is smart enough that it stores what we ate before in other cells in our body as energy cells (as fat cells). However, it takes time for our body to convert those energy into usable source of power. By not feeding our body with the essential fuel we could cause harm. Let’s take a car as an example. Could your car start if you pour water in the fuel tank in a cold winter morning?

Once our body is awake it would constantly need to have enough fuel to continue its activities. The same fuel is needed for the brain cells to function properly. Without the necessary nutrients, our brain becomes lethargic and becomes sleepy. If you are attending school you will have difficult time in concentrating. If you are driving to work it could have a disastrous consequences when your brain starts to feel drowsy.

Skipping breakfast does not necessary help with losing weight. I noted earlier that our body can adapt to the environment. That includes how much we eat. If we starve our body in the morning, it will automatically adjust itself to ingest the necessary nutrients to supplement the energy it lost. One of the ways for our body to do that is our brain will instruct our appetite to increase. Instead of feeling satisfied during lunch or dinner, one may feel the need to eat things that are sweet (sugar is the main source of energy).

One of the best ways to successfully diet is to light breakfast or eat small portion. Instead of skipping breakfast, I recommend that you eat something that has protein (an egg) is starchy (such as oatmeal) and sweet (such as a banana). These are the several ingredients that our body can metabolize easily and be turned into energy that is essential for our body to function.

Breakfast is sometimes considered the most important meal of the day. It can either make or “break” what lies ahead. If you want to diet successful, skipping breakfast is the last thing that you want to do.

Sweet Onion Tuna – a 5 minute dish anyone can make

The pandemic is going into second year and it forces our family to be creative when it comes to making meals. While working remotely has its benefits, it definitely put a twist on my schedule. Not only I have to make my own lunch, I have to prepare lunch for my kids too who are attending school remotely.

This dish is perfect if you feel that you don’t have time to make lunch. It is very simple to make and all it takes is 5 minutes. All you need is canned tuna and sweet onions.

The tuna that I use is the tuna that I bought from Korean store. This particular tuna is soaked in light oil and it is also lightly salted. The onions that I use are medium size orange onions. They are sweet and not too strong.

Prepare the onion by cutting across into strips.

Put the onion into the frying pan and cook it until soft.

Add the tuna and stir fry for about 2 minutes.

You can add any seasoning you prefer. For seasoning, I add some oyster sauce and sriracha.

Combine it with baked vegetable you have a light, healthy and fulfilling lunch for the family. You can eat it as is or with brown rice.