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Guide To Dieting in Singapore

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Dieting in Singapore – you can have your cake and eat it you know. Just know how many calories are in each slice. (About 100kcal)

When I first started counting my calories this year to lose weight, I got quite a few responses from my friends. Some feigned mock horror, others said they couldn’t be bothered as it was a chore.

To amuse myself and to annoy my Facebook friends, I posted regularly on the horrors of high calorie content in our local foods, and what do you know, some of them started calorie counting too. Sadly, most gave up after a while.

Anyway, in the past four months (Jan to Apr 2013), I’ve dropped about 5.5kg from the time I swore to change my diet. On the bright side, I can see my jawline again, most of the spare tyres around the tummy and chest has disappeared and my waistline has contracted by over an inch, reversing a 15-year trend.

The bad part is now most of my usual work and casual clothes are now baggy and I have to buy new clothes.

To some people that isn’t a bad thing at all.

Update 2015: Some friends have asked me to share my diet plan and other tips. I’ve compiled them into a handy ebook “Anyone Can Lose Weight” which shares everything I’ve learned over three years of dieting and exercise. Below are excerpts from the book that you can buy and download on any device you own.

1. Be completely honest about yourself first.

We’ve heard it all before – “Muscle weighs more than fat!”, “Don’t believe the BMI chart, doesn’t apply to everyone”, “It’s ok to be bulkier when you age.” I’m sorry if this hurts you, but they are all rubbish excuses. If you fall outside of the healthy BMI range, you have to accept that no matter your body shape or bone density.

Now our Health Promotion Board has pretty harsh BMI benchmarks compared to the West. Where healthy is up to 24.9, our SG standard is up to 22.9 (which means I have one more kg to lose)

BMI (kg/m2) for Adults Health Risk
27.5 and above High Risk
23 – 27.4 Moderate Risk
18.5 – 22.9 Low Risk (healthy range)
Below 18.5 Risk of nutritional deficiency diseases and osteoporosis

Unless you are a bodybuilder, below 18, a senior citizen, pregnant or suffering from illness, you can’t run away from this objective chart. The biggest hurdle in dieting, in my opinion, is our perception of what our ideal weight should be.

2. Dieting doesn’t mean bland food.

You can have your cake (butter or pandan?) and eat it. Really. The only condition is that you need to moderate how much of fatty, oily and rich food you are going to take in a day. It’s common sense, you know it lah, but the only way to know is to count your calories religiously. I still have regular treats of ice-cream, cakes, Twisties and some chocolate weekly, and I’m still losing weight.

I walk into foodcourts today and feel like a war refugee. There are so many stalls that I don’t wish to eat from, because my palate has changed permanently. Once your new dietary habits kick in after a few weeks, you don’t even need to avoid the rich foods – you will have NO DESIRE to eat them at all.

This is because Singapore is a food paradise, yet we have sinned too much from the time we are young. Switching to a healthy diet is like a baptism of fire, suddenly your eyes are opened and you see the truth of our country’s unhealthy living.

3. What to eat.

It’s very simple, just think of the following key words – Soupy, High Fibre, Less Fried, Low Gravy and try not to bust 500kcal per meal.

For guys, don’t bust a total of 1800kcal a day (to maintain weight) or look to have a deficit of 300kcal (ie. eat 1500kcal a day) to lose nearly 1kg in 25 days (The method of calculating this is in my ebook)

Be it wanton soup noodles (300-350 kcal), economy rice with more vegetables and some meat (500kcal), porridge (400kcal), fish soup noodles (300-400kcal), it’s all ok. Now some of you might think it’s boring and bland, but you don’t have to eat from lousy foodstalls. Eat from good foodstalls and a simple wanton noodle tastes terrific.

This doesn’t mean you can’t eat slightly higher calorie food like fried rice (600-700kcal) or dry minced meat noodles (400-500kcal) regularly. You can have it once a day but make sure your other two meals in the same day are healthier dishes.

4. What to stop eating

There are some foods that are definite red flags and you need to consider if you should eat them even once a week if you aren’t exercising regularly. They contain too much calories per dish, and some of them don’t even make you feel full.

  • Char Kway Teow (over 900kcal)
  • Nasi Lemak with the works (over 1000kcal)
  • Any fast food burger with two or more meat patties (easily over 1000kcal)
  • Chocolate bars like Snickers (300kcal per bar)
  • Nuts (Cashew nuts are 1000kcal per cup!)
  • Duck Rice (Such fatty birds lah, over 700kcal for roasted versions)

Yeah, you can say “How can we not enjoy good food in Singapore?” Yes you can, but many of us have gone overboard on a daily basis and it’s become the norm. Yet we are less active than our forefathers and the food industry spends billions convincing us to spend on unhealthy food.

5. Exercise will accelerate weight loss, obviously.

I would say 60-70% of the weight loss comes from changing your diet, and the remaining 30% comes from exercise. You can always lose weight without exercise, but it’s going to take much longer and you don’t exactly become the toned looking person you desire to become.

Rapid weight loss without exercise may just lead to saggy skin, low energy levels and sallow circulation (that’s my theory). Exercise also clears up the complexion rapidly and removes toxins from the body regularly (that’s true).

We are who we eat, and unfortunately, as Singapore has gotten more affluent over time, we’ve piled on the calories without understanding that our bodies don’t need the excess.

We go for high teas, regular restaurant meals and fast food, only because we think it’s the middle/high class lifestyle we should aspire to. We appreciate good tasting food, but we don’t measure their impact on our bodies.

Like I said, it’s ok to enjoy good food while we are alive.

But moderate yourself and suddenly you’ll find yourself looking and feeling much better.

I have compiled my writings and learnings over three years on weight management into a e-book called “Anyone Can Lose Weight”. Buy it now.

Published by

Ian Tan

Ian Tan was an editor, journalist and photographer at Singapore Press Holdings, and later, a marketer and consumer business leader at Microsoft. He is currently working at Andios, an e-commerce startup. He is the author of "Anyone Can Lose Weight", and gets easily distracted by beautiful motorcycles.

10 thoughts on “Guide To Dieting in Singapore”

  1. Could I ask you what are the calories for the Singapore Fish porridge (rice porridge/porridge/congee – i dont know which one), but it is the one that we always order from the fish soup stall where they add slightly less than a bowl of rice and pour the whole fish soup inside, just without the tofu and some tomato?

    I have been rather puzzled because most of the calorie content that I looked up on, I believe that they are referring to the fish congee the one that is watery and not the one that I usually eat, with rice grains that are visible? Are they higher in calories in that sense?

  2. Agree with you Ian , especially on “Soupy, High Fibre,
    Less Fried, Low Gravy and try not to bust 500kcal per meal.”

    I do recommend reducing on sugar / sodium. I reduce my carbo intake generally. This guidelines help
    the waistline and weight lost faster.

    I do daily workouts and calorie count, adhering to the above
    principle on type of food in sg, and never starve myself – I lost 25 kg, 8
    inches off my waist within 5 months after changing the type of food I eat. I am still loosing weight (and fats count
    occasionally) every week even though I am around HPB “BMI healthy guideline”.

  3. Love this post! Was nodding my much! Especially about the baptism of fire and ermine my change of palate parts.

    Great that you preempted many reader reactions throughout the post. 🙂

  4. Great post! I’m starting my first week here but am having trouble finding breakfast options cause I start work at 4.30am… Any good suggestions? Appreciate any help!

  5. Hey I’m quite curious where do you get the nutrition information for porridge etc from? I’m a bit confused… Some sources say a bowl is about 200+calories. Thanks!

    1. Sarah, when you have different sources of calorie info, you need to define the exact dish, and then get to basics by knowing the calories in each basic type of food ingredient. For example, a bowl of rice has 200kcal and one serving of meat is 100-200kcal. So a bowl of porridge sold in food centeres usually contains one serving of rice and one serving of meat/other ingredients. I put 400kcal as the average amount of calories. If you are eating very plain porridge, then it’s 200kcal.

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