Understanding Various Weight Management Programmes

There is an interest group for seniors at the Toa Payoh Public Library called Lim Kopi, Let’s Talk. I’ve attended a couple in the past, to discuss current topics such as transport and environmental change. Yesterday’s session was comparing the pros and cons across a range of strategies with a health coach from a social enterprise championing healthy eating in schools and at home.

The first thing the speaker said was that we can lose weight by eating good fat and one of the ways is to maintain a healthy lifestyle, use the right cooking method and the right ingredients. Our body weight is composed of three main components: fat, lean body and mass weight. (Fat would include visceral fat which will penetrate into our arteries, resulting in clots, the result of which could be fatal.) We were then shown a video about visceral fat in the body (taken from the National Geographic Channel) where we saw how less muscle means the body burns fewer calories and surplus food get converted into fat. Too many calories and fats make a lethal combination. Examples of fats are from bad oil and processed food.

A few types of diets were discussed: The Paleo Diet (a ‘hunter lifestyle’ advocating lean protein), The Vegan Diet (which no one was interested in), Intermittent Fasting (which includes the 5:2 Diet whereby one restricts intake to 500-600 calories on two non-consecutive days in a week and eats normally on the other five days), The Low Carb Diet and The Ultra Low-fat Diet. The last two are the most popular :

The Low Carb Diet – Consume more fats and protein while severely limiting carb intake. When carb intake is very low, fatty acids are moved to the blood and transported to the liver where some of them are turned into ketones. (We’re supposed to find out more about ketones on FB on our own.) Deep fried items are out, so are peanuts which have very high fat, and no rice or porridge. Even starchy vegetables are considered carbs. Carbs stored in the body become visceral fats, so one can really lose weight if the quantity and frequency of carbs are reduced. The downside of this diet is that it does not suit everyone (like me). So we’ll just have to be mindful of “calories in and calories out”.

The Ultra Low-fat Diet – Limit the intake of animal fats. This diet is very high in carb and low in protein. Benefits include improving risk factors for heart diseases, inflammation and type 2 diabetes. The downside include problems in the long-term, limits the intake of many healthy fats, lacks variety and extremely hard to stick to. This diet is only feasible for the short term.

The speaker also mentioned two programmes called Herbalife and ageloc TR90. The former works, but the downside is that the effectiveness is short-term. The two conditions for the latter to work are discipline and determination. But it is a rich person’s weight management programme. (So neither suits me.)

The take-home message is that there is no such thing as a “best” weight loss programme. Different diets work for different people and the best diet is one in which we can stick to in the long term. Besides making daily healthy food choices and knowing the various ‘protecting’ foods (fruits and vegetables), ‘storing’ foods (whole grains and brown rice), ‘burning’ foods 1 (high protein vegetables) and ‘burning’ foods 2 (steamed fish, chicken), regular exercise is important if we want to maintain a healthy weight.

A Body Composition Analysis was offered to all present. As what I already suspected, I’m not only classified as obese (having a BMI between 24 and 25) but also have a higher percentage of body fat (including visceral fat) compared to skeletal muscle and a low resting metabolism. However, my skin carotenoid score is good (in the blue zone).

Already, I’m very disciplined with my exercise (I go the the gym for an hour every morning but the exercises are low intensity because – this is not an excuse – of osteoarthitis); so I’ll have to be stricter with my diet which is an uphill task in Singapore because there is so much yummy food around!



Textures : A Weekend With Words by The Arts House is about celebrating the power and beauty of words. The programmes include Performances and Readings (one of which is yesterday morning’s Just Write Your Legacy : Guided Autobiography for Seniors), Workshops, Talks and Panel Discussions and Exhibitions.

Yesterday afternoon’s The Witness of Poetry : Emotions, Trauma and Healing was conducted by Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingde and Eric Tinsay Valles. I had signed up for this workshop because I wanted to “discover how poetry may offer a powerful means of healing as they excavate buried emotions and express them in crafted language – and how the truth of one’s experience may articulate itself through captivating image and sound”.

A quote from Kon: “Poetry can be deeply moving. As we read or write our lines, the mere activity of attending to our emotions can offer respite and healing. This is a poetry of therapy, where language helps the self do the work of retrieval, engagement, and contemplation. It’s about sitting with our personal history, and allowinig our small stories to freely relate themselves on the page.”

A lot of material were printed and given to the participants, but Kon and Valles only had enough time to go through them cursorily. Kon introduced works by Gertrude Stein and Bertolt Brecht (World War II), Miklos Radnoti (The Holocaust, The Shoah), Edmond Jabes and Fadwa Tuquan (War in the Middle East), and Bei Dao (Revolution and the Struggle for Democracy in China). Valles shared the philosophies of Katherine Schafler (‘all trauma arises from loss and the four ways to deal with it are to understand brokeness, recognising symptoms of brokeness, touch grief and move on’), Carl Sandburg (‘Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance’ – giving witness to hope amid chaos and human frailty), poet Whitehead (‘Trauma survivors face the paradox of describing in language something that exists outside of language’), St Augustine (religious and ethical viewpoints) and Walter Benjamin (scientific pirnciples).

Valles also spoke on the Craft of Poetry – use of figurative language and imagery as a response to trauma, condensing a mysterious experience to an image (sight) in language and setting it to music (sound) through a unique voice (a distinctive lyrical speaker). Boey Kim Cheng’s Kelong is used to illustrate a trauma poem.

I perked up at Kon’s poem, The East Is Red, an ode to inevitability. (The East Is Red, /The West Is Blue, /Elvis is dead, /Confucius too.) In discussing the element of craft for trauma writing where language is the heart and soul, Valles also pointed out that nowadays rhymes are considered old-fashioned and poems can even be in prose form. After sharing Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi, the participants were asked to do an exercise. After drawing blindfolded a picture of a plant, participants are to write a poem about a person.

This was challenging: I can’t draw for nuts, not even with my eyes open, so how was I going to draw with my eyes closed? Out of desperation, I scribbled what I thought were circles anti-clockwise and two straight lines below and a horizontal line right at the bottom without lifting my pen. Surprisingly, when I looked I did see a tree.

I’m not one who can write poems spontaneously, so again out of desperation, I thought long and hard. I panicked when I saw everyone writing away (some even filling one whole A4 sheet). We were given ten minutes and I think more than 5 minutes had passed. I thought of the image, alliteration and rhythmic pattern and came up with one of the shortest poems (another lady’s was one word less than mine): Lush leaves, /Thick trunk; /Providing shade, /Giving shelter. When I looked up, most poeple were still writing. Every participant had to share both picture and poem, and I was really surprised that before I started reading my poem, Valles correctly guessed who I had in mind!

Before the workshop ended, participants were urged to read Rudyard Kipling’s poem A Child’s Garden, Hart Crane’s Logic of Metaphor, poems by Ezra Pound and books by David Brooks.That’s quite a tall order.

A handout on the new local poetic form, invented by Kon and Valles, called Anima Methodi, was also given out.

This has indeed been a heavy, though fruitful, workshop session!


Brunch with Dr Azariah Tan

I was excited to find out that a veteran piano teacher  (Dorothy Chia, Forte Music Training and Singapore Piano Teachers Meetup) has organised a brunch with Dr Azariah Tan today. Foremost in my mind was to get Dr Tan’s autograph for his album, Azariah Tan plays Chopin

which his parents gave me soon after it was released in late 2016. And to congratulate him on being awarded the NUS Outstanding Young Alumni Award 2017. I did not expect, but am so privileged to end up seated next to him!

As an introduction to today’s event, we are told that this intimate gathering is a precursor to another event scheduled for May. Dr Tan also said he would like to get to know the present local music situation better, as he has just returned to Singapore for good after being based in Michigan for the last few years. Among those present are a writer for The A List magazine, a monthly guide to arts and culture in Singapore, available free at more than 200 places islandwide, including all public libraries (where I get my copies). She and a colleague recently conducted an email interview with Dr Tan (to appear in next month’s issue), so today was the first time they met face-to-face.

The session was very informal, beginning with the organiser’s question: How true is the statement that “the best feeling is when there’s nothing in the brain”, as expounded by a student of hers? Have piano lessons become therapy sessions of sorts? This brings forth a lively discussion on the number of piano students who only practise half an hour before the lesson (some not even that).

Dr Tan recounts that he has also had a wide range of students in Michigan; and this also spurs his wish to understand the challenges local teachers are facing in Singapore. He worked with Randy and Nancy Faber as a clinician teaching students according to the Faber Piano Method at the Faber Piano Institute, which is in the same town as the University of Michigan. The Faber Piano Adventures are not only about learning to play music but to imagine and express music, with a fun element; this is so important because learning takes place when there’s fun! Some parents may think having fun is wasting time, but this is totally not true. Examples are pieces that imitate the clock (repetitive movements), or sudden forte or stray notes.

Good teachers, therefore, are of paramount importance. Also important is the chemistry between teacher and student. For instance, Dr Tan himself decided on a career in music when he was 11 years old partly because he enjoyed the humour in his piano teacher, though he had started lessons at the age of 4 (and had to be prodded by his parents to practise at times).

Then, there are teachers who feel demoralised and others who would like to stay updated and try new ideas. The present generation of ‘durians’ (prickly on the outside but soft on the inside) and ‘strawberries’ have to be constantly praised and motivated. Students these days are also getting lazy about practising, so what the Faber Piano Method advocates is to introduce adventures and feelings into every piece; eg. imagery or something that is happening, then the children would become enthusiastic.

What does Dr Tan think about students (sometimes it’s even the parents) who think all they need is to learn/practise the scales and three pieces required for the exams? Well, perhaps the only saving grace is that at least they have been exposed to (a little) appreciation for music and the arts. Here again, good teachers are key – it is important to make every lesson different, and change the activity related to the piece in concentrating on the different aspects llike techniques, phrasing, textures and colours. A good teacher would guide students through the practising process by going through the pieces.

How is this done?

  • Break down all their blocks and handling one block at a time.
  • Fingering is important. Wrong fingering will damage the hands (eg weird fingering or uncomfortable fingering). There are usually 2, 3 or 4 different possible fingerings for the same passage,  so what is needed is to try and see which one the student likes best.
  • Something that is difficult to play with one hand can be split between the two hands. The fingering can be rearranged so that it’s easier and musically it can be better too. Sometimes composers want certain things but usually rearrangement is possible. Sometimes composers write certain things for a specific reason, for eg the 2nd movement of Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata – awkward shifts of the hands could mean that the pianist can’t focus on the melodic line.
  • If anything feels uncomfortable, it will not get the best out of the pianist. This works differently for different people. At this point, Dr Tan shared that it is so good that Prof Logan (his teacher at the University of Michigan) worked on fingering on every piece to make it better!
  • Many pianists incur injuries because things are not always done in the most efficient ways because sometimes they are forcing things together. Dr Tan has come across many such pianists in his career. Hence, he reiterates: If something is uncomfortable, there is always a better way.
  • People who work on the nitty-gritty – like fingering – are a rare breed; they have a different type of psychology.
  • Much also depends on the age of the students: how able or willing are they to communicate to their teachers on how it feels and why certain parts don’t feel so good.
  • Doing things in steps: for eg, how to make music out of scales? Scales could be played from forte to piano; scales are running notes and beautiful melodies. Imagine the hands and arms flying! This is also where body positioning comes in.

One question that came up was: Is it advisable for students to participate in competitions? Dr Tan’s response is: talk to the parents. From his experience, competitions are very demanding and emotionally draining too. The first step is for the student to get used to playing for friends and family and enjoy the experience. He also gave little snippets of how he warms up before a performance (such as whooshing up scales in the left hand, conducting the music, certain gestures – easier to do when alone – in the way music is played, to illustrate things, the movement, the focus on the eventual sound rather than the technique (which of course must have been pre-worked out), focus on shaping the line, having a very clear idea of the exact ideal sound in the head what the piece is like, how to shape the phrases (and how technical limitation will affect the sound produced).

All too soon, two hours have passsed and the session has to come to an end. I look forward to more such sessions, and am especially curious about the upcoming event in May.


Another Unexplained Death


Fans of the famed The Cranberries’ frontman

Were shocked to learn the news

Of the singer’s sudden death.

An Irish icon with unique vocals,

Dolores O’Riordan has

Succumbed at age 46.

With legal probles and drug addition,

Biploar disorder

Could come to be depression.

A complicated life not free from pain –

Childhood sexual traumas,

Anorexia and divorce –

They finally swallowed her


30 Beats

I was surprised this 2012 DVD, with such a “scintillating” cover, was available in the library so I decided to borrow it to find out more. In the end, it took me less than 45 mins to go through this 88min movie. This is why –

The plot is about an ensemble of 10 New Yorkers whose lives interconnect through a series of encounters over three days during a summer heat wave. The first couple involved is virginal Julie (Condola Kashan) and anthropologist Adam (Justin Kirk). Adam is Julie’s sister’s boyfriend who has had many meaningless affairs. He goes to a psychic Erika (Jennifer Tilly) to analyse his problem. They have a fling. The next day, she meets a bike messenger Diego (Jason Day) who inexplicable stalks the girl with a scar Laura (Paz de la Huerta), whose chiropractor Matt (Lee Pace) subjects her to a series of spinal adjustments that crash her bones. Diego then goes for Kim (Vahina Giocante), a switchboard operator in a hotel, who makes a blind date with a guest Julian (Thomas Sadoski), a speechwriter, but sends a friend. He then turns to Alice (Ingegerga Dapkunaite), a call girl. She hits on an innocent boy named Sean (Ben Levin) in a steam room. He shares his experience with his best friend, who turns out to be Julia from the first scene. They decided to have a fling for the experience.

I do not think much of this movie. The dialogues are the worst; for eg, a character says “What you think you feel for me is not really what you feel. What you feel are projected indirected feelings that you shouldn’t feel like feeling. Not real feelings. The feelings from your past that you are transferencing to me, on me, into me –  but not into the real me, into some idea that you have of me. It’s all about the fludity of sexual energy and self-control.”

The pace of the movie is so slow that I had to fast forward many times! The only nice thing is the song Sea of Love (by Philip Baptiste and George Khoury) towards the end of the movie. The other dozen or so songs didn’t leave much of an impression on me.

I also wondered why the director (also one of the producers) chose to dedicate this movie to his father.


Open Homes Workshop

The Open Homes Workshop I attended at the Tampines Regional Library yesterday  is one of the programmes organised by the National Arts Council for the Silver Arts, a festival that offers opportunities for seniors to share their stories that shape our collective memories. This practical workshop is based on the methodology of Open Homes, a theatre-in-the-home experience, first commissioned by the Singapore International Festival of the Arts in 2015.

The workshop leader is Jeffrey Tan Chye Leng, a theatre director , drama educator and arts producer.

This workshop focused on what Open Homes is, how to Open our Homes, how to tell stories about our homes and how to share with others. To start off, Jeffrey got us (the participants) to introduce ourselves and then play a game with him, a version of ‘blow-wind-blow’ (supposedly popular with children but which I’ve never come across). This was very interesting and set the right tone for the rest of the workshop – doing what we were comfortable with, with Jeffrey asking questions and leading us.

Yesterday’s workshop was the first compressed workshop in three hours; normally, there would be three rehearsals of three hours each for four shows so that the participants would gain more confidence interacting with people and go wider and deeper into the experience.

We were then shown a Trailer (2015) , a one-minute clip. Back then, 25 families took part, including a mixed-race couple and a couple who had an arranged marriage. There is a vulnerability in opening up your home to so many people and sharing the stories : how do we take the strangers and get them to be friends? How do we find the time? What is the story that we want to share? What does it take to present an Open Home? Next, we watched the Trailer for 2017.

Being OPEN means: an invitation to share stories that are meaningful to us, that will inspire others, to be engaging, with a vision that life must be better; there must be a reason to share certain things.

LISTENING means quick-thinking. For this exercise, we played a game called 1-2-3: we had to really listen for the groups and know what to ask in order to help clarify the story. The stories are all real; not fictitious, because life is too short.

ACCEPTANCE: If we don’t want others to judge us, we shouldn’t do the same to others. For this, we played a game called “Yes, let’s”, all about accepting an idea and agreeing to it.

IMAGINATION: A simple exercise – what if a chair is not a chair? Each of us came up with different ideas of what it could have been (eg an exercise bar, a ballet bar, a notebook/computer, a table, a piano…)

What story would we tell? Jeffrey listed five examples, and there was an activity/game for each one:

Story 1 – Story of your name (to learn about life, philosophy, vision and  aim; having a different purpose in life and to play it forward; a sense of time being captured; feelings, acceptance and finding a way out; humour; twist in the story; intrigue; background; culture; decision-making; family relationships etc)

Story 2 – Memories of growing up, first job, friends; i.e. location of the story. For this, we had an exercise in drawing a map of our home and bringing the members of our small groups on a tour; here, we learn about similarities, differences and choices.

Story 3 – Highs and lows of life

Story 4 – Inspirations in your life

Story 5 – Story of your family, eg support

Due to time constraints, there was no game/exercise/activity for the third, fourth and fifth stories. Before the workshop came to a close, the participants shared their reflection on what they learnt and the one thing that they would take away. Among these are: we all have stories to tell, these could be challenging, relationships are important, it is an interesting as well as stimulating experience, it is good to have an opportunity to share experiences and learn and appreciate each other and make improvements.



Mindfulness Based Stress Management 4


Perhaps because she spent too much time on activities and recapitulation in the last two sessions, the facilitator did not spend much time recapitulating today (maybe 5 minutes) but went straight into the topic for the day. After all, in the overview, there is a lot of reference to the previous materials when the discussion is about Negative Interpretations, Your Authentic Self and Further Benefits of How Mindfulness Reduce Stress.

Negative Impressions would involve the topic of  Choices in respect to People, Places, Position and Possessions. Negative Impressions are unhelpful (eg making assumptions, when in most times these are unfair and not true, as what happened is what happened). This in turn is related to the A.C.T. of Mindfulness (Acknowledge/Accept, Choose, Take Action) mentioned last week.

Your Authentic Self : “Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go who we think we are supposed to be and embracing who we actually are” (Brene Brown, author & researcher). Some questions for authenticity are: What am I afraid would happen if I share my experience with this person right now? How will I feel if I don’t share what I am thinking and feeling? If I weren’t afraid, what would I most want to say to this person right now? How can I share this with even more vulnerability? There are several ways to Be True to Yourself : Speak up for yourself, Maintain alignment between what you feel & need and what you say & do, Don’t put up with abuse of any kind, Give up designing your behaviour to be liked, Do something each day that reflects your deepest needs, wishes & values, Forgive/encourage yourself, Laugh with others but laugh at yourself.

Wrapping up, Mindfulness Based Stress Management not only reduces stress but helps to build an inner strength, Future stressors have less impact on our happiness and well being, We become more aware of toxic thoughts, Helps us be more sensitive to the needs of our body, We don’t immediately react or overact, Our “being” mode is activated, We are better able to focus, and We become more relaxed, calm and at peace.

Finally, we are given “homework” (which need not be handed up) – four pages on which we’re supposed to write about / reflect on how Negative Feelings  impact on others & ourselves , and Love Notes to others (‘action plan’ /something nice to others) & ourselves (say something nice & good).

I hope to attend a similar course in the near future as I found I’ve not only learnt something, but enjoyed myself in the process.