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Adulting 101: I’m 27 and still eating like I’m 21 — is it time to cut back on large meals and suppers?

SINGAPORE — It’s midnight and instead of winding down before bed, all I can think about is how to satisfy my late-night hunger craving.

Adulting 101: I’m 27 and still eating like I’m 21  — is it time to cut back on large meals and suppers?

The writer's philosophy has always been that if there’s any time to feast on excessive amounts of food, it’s now, while he's still young and have no observable health issues.

Adulthood is an invigorating stage of life as young people join the workforce, take on more responsibilities and set their sights on the future. But its many facets — from managing finances and buying a home to achieving work-life balance — can be overwhelming.

In this series, TODAY’s journalists help young Singaporeans navigate this stage of their lives and learn something themselves in the process.

 

SINGAPORE — It’s midnight and instead of winding down before bed, all I can think about is how to satisfy my late-night hunger craving.

My hand reaches for my phone and I start scrolling through food delivery apps.

My favourite options? Prawn noodles, roti prata and fast food — in all forms and of course, upsized.

This isn’t an unusual situation for me. It happens at least four to five times a week and without fail on weekends. 

I could blame my late-night habit on my younger brother, who is fully embracing the life of a typical university student — suppers, little sleep and lots of gaming.

We conspiratorially order food together and then have a long chat about football.

The oilier or more carbohydrate-heavy the food, the better the conversation.

But unlike my brother, I’m no longer in my early 20s and am inching closer to the big 3-0.

So far, I have seen these extra calories as justified, even necessary, given I exercise fairly regularly by going on runs.

Even for other meals, I never shy away from extra carbs — piling my plate with rice or adding an extra serving of noodles to my order.

My philosophy has always been that if there’s any time to feast on excessive amounts of food, it’s now, while I’m still young and have no observable health issues.

Recently though, I have felt some unease at my free-for-all attitude. 

It has become a habit to look forward to supper, sometimes even right after I’ve had my dinner. 

On occasion, I’ve also had trouble sleeping after a full supper.

While I haven’t gained weight, I’ve noticed that many of my peers — some of whom have been trim since university — have started to put on the pounds. 

Will my overindulgent ways catch up with me suddenly? Or are my late-night suppers already hurting me more than I know?

Several dietitians and nutritionists, with whom I spoke about this, gave some insights on how to adjust my eating habits as I move into my 30s.

EXERCISE IS NOT ENOUGH

Dietitians said that although exercise is important, it does not justify a no-holds-barred attitude towards food. 

Ms Jaclyn Reutens, a clinical and sports dietitian at Aptima Nutrition and Sports Consultants, said that it is not possible to “out-train a bad diet”.

She said, for example, that 45 minutes of jogging burns about 300 calories.

“If you talk about supper, that’s easily about 700 calories,” she said. “Do you have time to run two hours a day?”

“You can’t out-train a diet and the excess calories, and that’s not including extra calories between meals such as snacks,” Ms Reutens added.

She also said that as people enter their late 20s and beyond, they are not able to burn calories as effectively as when they were teenagers, when the metabolism rate is “one of the highest in our lives”.

And while an increase in weight may be an indication that a change of diet is in order, she said that one should also gauge this using their waistline measurement, since weight gain may also be due to increased muscle mass, for instance.

I have not had weight problems but I acknowledge that I am living a much more sedentary life as a working adult now compared to when I was in university in my early 20s. 

Back then, I was walking around for different classes and trained with a cross-country running team at an intensity that I can only dream of replicating now.

Still, could I be too young and healthy yet to care about what I eat? After all, I’m still a few years shy of 30.

THE TIME TO START IS NOW

One can never be too young to start caring about their diet, the dietitians said.

Because some habits, if left unchecked, can have long-term, irreversible consequences.

Mr Derrick Ong, director and dietitian at nutrition consultancy Eat Right, said that there are long-term ailments that can be prevented with early dietary intervention.

One example is osteoporosis, a disease that weakens bones, which is linked closely to bone mass.

“People don’t realise the foundation of good bone health starts before you’re 30, as your peak bone mass is around 30,” he said.

“During the years leading up to that, increase your bone mass as much as possible by having enough calcium, vitamin D and exercise.”

The foods that can contain calcium include dairy products such as milk and yoghurt, soy products and vegetables such as spinach.

Vitamin D is largely absorbed from exposure to the sun, but it can also be found in some foods — for example, egg yolks and oily fish such as salmon or sardines.

Mr Ong said that beyond 30, bone mass typically declines, and this means that people who did not build up enough bone mass before that face a greater risk of osteoporosis when they age.

Genetics also play a part, he added.

“You have to look at your family history of chronic disease like heart disease, high cholesterol or high blood pressure,” he said. “That could potentially pass down to you, and you don’t see it now but it may come up later.”

The dietitians said that due to the above factors, starting early is key.

“Let’s say you have a heart attack or diabetes,” Ms Reutens of Aptima Nutrition and Sports Consultants said. “It’s not caused by something you ate or drank yesterday, but over a period of time — 10 years, decades.

“If you’re thinking about the faraway future, you can’t wait until you are 30 years old to improve your diet.”

A BETTER DIET ‘DOESN’T MAKE YOUR LIFE SAD’

Ms Reutens said that moving to a healthier diet should not involve a major overhaul but rather an accumulation of small changes.

Those looking to improve their diet could start by trying to incorporate at least two servings of fruits and vegetables each into their daily meals.

One serving is the equivalent of 10 to 15 grapes or a three-quarter cup of vegetables.

These are high in fibre and will “take up space in your stomach”, she said.

All these might seem like common knowledge, but only one in four Singaporeans meet this serving requirement, she noted.

Get in the habit of storing an ample supply of fruits and vegetables at home to pair with every meal, she suggested.

“People feel that the changes that they make will be so drastic that their life is going to be sad, but how can adding one to two pieces of fruit a day make your life sadder?”

CUT DOWN, BUT DON’T ELIMINATE

Agreeing, Mr Louis Yap, a senior dietitian at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, said that it is a matter of “plus and minus” when it comes to a healthy diet, where eating unhealthy foods should be minimised but need not be eliminated.

Other than the usual suspects such as oily and deep-fried foods, sugary drinks, and processed foods, unhealthy foods may also include red meat — such as mutton, pork and beef — if taken in excess.

These meats have a much higher fat content than white meat such as chicken and fish.

However, Mr Yap said that it is all a matter of proportion.

For instance, those who lead a more sedentary lifestyle should consider eating smaller portions of carbohydrates but need not stop taking them altogether.

“Cut down, but don’t eliminate,” he advised.

For instance, at restaurants, it is in our control to order smaller and healthier portions, and it is also okay to have “cheat” meals such as supper occasionally.

“We are already so stressed with work at the Covid-19 (situation), so we should enjoy ourselves when we are eating out,” he said.

EXTREME DIETS ARE NOT ADVISABLE

These small changes in my routine would help, but what if I want to go for a drastic change in my diet that could produce instant results, like a ketogenic diet?

Mr Ong said that a keto diet — which involves drastically reducing carbohydrate intake and replacing it with fat to condition the body to efficiently burn fat for energy — is both “sinister” and unsustainable.

He added that many also find it difficult to keep to the strict and radical diet and they then start eating carbohydrates normally again, thus rebounding quickly to their previous weight.

“Keto impairs your body’s ability to utilise carbohydrates effectively, so you can’t go back to eating a normal amount of carbohydrates because the body’s ability to process it goes down,” he explained.

Agreeing, Ms Reutens said that the lack of carbohydrates can make some moody and irritable, and the long-term effects of the diet is not well-established.

Ultimately, it is better to make small adjustments over a longer period of time.

“Don’t think of (healthy eating) as a radical change,” she said. “You can make small changes and still eat at your favourite restaurants.”

ABOUT THE WRITER:

Justin Ong is a journalist at TODAY, where he covers manpower, housing, finance and sports.

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Adulting 101 health Diet food exercise

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