Tuesday, November 25, 2008

How to be fit, lose weight, and keep it off -- Part 2

This is the part 2 of a series of my thoughts and knowledge on fat loss.
[Part 1, Part 2]


Diet plays the main role in any fitness program. The main belief is:

"A calorie is a calorie"

Which means no matter what you take, be it fats, carbohydrates or proteins, they will eventually be the same.

Well, it is both right and wrong. A calorie, by its simplest definition, is a unit of energy and is equivalent to 4.184 absolute J.

Our body metabolise fats, carbohydrates and proteins differently. The energy yield from a gram of fatty acids is approximately 9 kcal (39 kJ), compared to 4 kcal/g (17 kJ/g) for proteins and carbohydrates.

The composition of meals we eat is important:

An example of French Fries
French Fries are considered "poison" because they consists of mainly carbs and fats. Let us not consider the unhealthy trans-fat in French Fries yet.

When the carbs enter your body, insulin is released. However, a major effect of insulin on fat is it prevents you from burning it. Imagine eating french fries: the carbs enter your body -> insulin levels rise -> fats from french fries is prevented from burning and stored. Essentially, this is going to add lots of energy into your body without you realising it!

Adding protein into meal
Amino acids are the building blocks of muscles in our body. Without it, we cannot function. There are a few advantages of ensuring there are some protein in your everyday meal.

1. It helps you to recover from workouts.
2. The body uses more energy to digest protein.
3. Protein supposedly helps to slow down the rate of digestion of carbs, lowering the insulin spike after meals.

However, it is important to note that too much protein is also harmful. Urea is produced when excess protein is broken down into usable energy, giving more stress to the liver and kidneys. How much protein to take will depend on how much you have exercise, the nature, and the intensity of it.

Effects of fibre in meal
Roughage helps you in the following way:

1. Easier bowel movement.
2. Makes you feel fuller during meals.
3. Actually slows down your digestion, ensuring a more even release of energy from food
4. I have heard that it helps to reduce the amount of fats being absorbed by the body... Not so sure about it though.

The easiest way to get fibre is from vegetables, fruits and wholemeal bread.

Glycemic index
Not all carbohydrate foods are created equal, in fact they behave quite differently in our bodies. The glycemic index or GI describes this difference by ranking carbohydrates according to their effect on our blood glucose levels. Choosing low GI carbs - the ones that produce only small fluctuations in our blood glucose and insulin levels - is the secret to long-term health reducing your risk of heart disease and diabetes and is the key to sustainable weight loss.

What are the benefits of a low GI diet?

1. Low GI diets help people lose and control weight
2. Low GI diets increase the body's sensitivity to insulin
3. Low GI carbs improve diabetes control
4. Low GI carbs reduce the risk of heart disease
5. Low GI carbs reduce blood cholesterol levels
6. Low GI carbs can help you manage the symptoms of PCOS
7. Low GI carbs reduce hunger and keep you fuller for longer
8. Low GI carbs prolong physical endurance

Eating too much high GI food helps can be detrimental to the body, and this is especially so for obese or sedentary people. However, it is still worth to note that high GI carbs help re-fuel carbohydrate stores after an intensive exercise.

As we know, there are four types of fat: saturated fat, monounsaturated fat, polyunsaturated fat and trans fat. It is however unnecessary to go too deep into details.

Do we need fats in our diet?

Yes! Fats have many important roles to play in the body:

1. Fat is the main energy store in the body.
2. Fat deposits act as a cushion for vital organs and help to insulate the body.
3. Fat is a carrier for the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, and helps in their absorption by the body.
4. Fat is a source of essential fatty acids, such as omega-3, which cannot be made in the body and must be obtained through food sources.

Essential Fatty Acids
Essential fatty acids, or EFAs, are fatty acids that cannot be constructed within an organism from other components (generally all references are to humans) by any known chemical pathways; and therefore must be obtained from the diet. EFAs play a part in many metabolic processes, and there are evidences to suggest that low levels of essential fatty acids, or the wrong balance of types among the essential fatty acids, may be a factor in a number of illnesses.

They are classified into omega-3 (ω-3) and omega-6 (ω-6). Some of the food sources of ω-3 and ω-6 fatty acids are fish and shellfish, flaxseed (linseed), hemp oil, soya oil, canola (rapeseed) oil, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, leafy vegetables, and walnuts.

Trans Fats
Trans fat raises LDL-cholesterol ("bad" cholesterol) and reduces HDL-cholesterol ("good" cholesterol) in the body. As a result, trans fat increases the risk of developing heart disease.

Our body does not require trans fat, so we should try to keep trans fat intake to a minimum.

The main sources of trans fat in our diet are pastries, cakes, cookies, biscuits, commercially deep-fried foods as well as products containing vegetable shortening and hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils. Do take note to consume less when indulging.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

How to be fit, lose weight, and keep it off -- Part 1

This is the part 1 of a series of my thoughts and knowledge on fat loss.
[Part 1, Part 2]

How to be fit, lose weight, and keep it off

The easiest way to lose the extra weight is.....
to Chop off a limb

okok just joking... Being fit, losing weight, and keeping the extra weight off requires a change of lifestyle. It is not achievable by short term slimming programs, slimming pills, or even short term dieting. To me, losing fats (not lean mass or muscle) is important in our quest for fitness and health.

One should not focus purely on losing weight. The simple reason is because weight loss can be both healthy and unhealthy. The way that you want to lose weight plays an important role in how long you can keep that extra flab off.

In this topic, I will attempt to write what I know and what I have gathered about being a healthier and fitter person. The following topics will be covered:

1. Diet
2. Exercise
3. Weight Loss Centres

These two areas to be focussed are common sense to everyone out there who aims to lose their flab. I would like to point out these two areas because there are a number of misconceptions about them. I wouldn't say I'm good in these areas, but I have read widely about them, and I would like to share my knowledge here. Please help point out any errors that I may have made... Thanks.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

How much should one invest?

Many newbie investors (including me at first) think that they should invest all of their savings (or almost all in my case). This is a mistake; it is not necessary true. To determine how much money you should invest, you must first determine how much you actually can afford to invest, and what your financial goals are.

In a previous post, I mentioned that one should invest with money one do not need in the near future. Take a look at how much money you can currently afford to invest. Make sure you don't cut yourself short when you lock your money into investments. It is important to have a few months worth of savings left to survive for a few months (in case you lose your job, or etc). This amount varies depending on your age. Of course, the younger you are, the smaller this amount.

Begin by planning your own finance. How much should remain as liquid as possible? How much can be used for long-term investments? How much of your income are you going to spend/save/invest every month? Every little things count. Investment portfolios are built over time, not overnight.

With a financial planner, you could/might plan your finances better. But, in my opinion, I would rather learn to be the financial planner of my own finances. Learning, to me, is additive. It's hard to find a financial planner who bothers more about your financial health than the commissions he/she will be getting. Just see the recent Lehmanns' Minibond saga.

In my case, I'm 25 years old. Putting aside $100 for transport a month, $600 for food, and probably $300 for misc stuff like hp bills, etc (I'm the type that has very little craving for anything hip or in fashion anyway), that's about $1000 a month. I stay with my parents, so no housing loan to settle. No car since I stay very near my workplace. So, together with $500 household contribution, my monthly expenses totaled up to around $1500. Let's be more generous with myself and round it up to $2000 a month. That would be $12k I need to have liquid or in fixed deposit, which can be easily withdrawn. Since I have more than that amount (accumulated from army and tuition assignments) in fixed deposits and money market funds, I have little worries investing the rest of my income.

No matter what, remember: Never ever borrow money to invest, and never ever use money that you have not set aside for investing. It is a deadly sin, a sin that could bankrupt you.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Why you should invest

Investing for retirement gets more and more important as time goes by. Yes, in Singapore, there's a safeguard against old age by the government named CPF. However, it is only sufficient for the bare essentials and should only be relied on as a last resort.

When is the best time to start investing for retirement? I would say, right now! The earlier you start, the better. Yes, I'm already thinking and planning for retirement at the present age of 25. That's because I don't want to wake up one day and discover that I have little cash/assets, and yet no longer have the ability the earn a steady income to support myself.

About a year ago, I was still putting money in fixed deposits at a rate of around 2% p.a. Happily, I thought my money was growing. How wrong I was! Inflation was at around 3%, and so I was losing money at a rate of around 1% p.a. to inflation! If I spend the money, I would have little left; yet if I save and put it into fixed deposits, I would still lose it to inflation.

This is where investing comes in. We invest for higher returns. Invest to match or beat the inflation rate. Invest for a comfortable retirement nest egg. Investing is a way of attaining the things that you want, such as a new home, a college education for your children, or expensive ‘toys.’

Of course, your financial goals will determine what type of investing you do. The final destination when we embark on investing is to create wealth and security. It is of utmost importance to remember that you will not always be able to earn an income; you will want to retire eventually.

An investment is a plan, a plan for the future, a plan for retirement, a plan to enjoy life and live it to the fullest. My plans and strategies have been discussed earlier; I invest in blue chips, and I invest my time in creating websites (virtual assets). It is a plan/strategy that should be refined, tweaked, and optimised as we go along.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Multiple Streams of Income

We are living in a world where it is tough to get wealthy without having more than 1 stream of income. Most people thinks that it is least risky to get a full-time job, and slog for your company till you retire. But in fact, that is an extremely risky move! The current recession shows it: retrenchments are everywhere. There's no guarantees that you will be able to work till you retire at your current company.

Let me tell you a short story of my friend. He was working in Company A. Recently, he switched job (perhaps it seems like it has better prospects) and started working in Company B. One month after he started work (which is about 2 days ago), he received a letter of termination. He got retrenched due to company downsizing. Right now, he's busy sending out resumes and hoping someone will employ him, although not much hope is harboured given the current economic situation.

As conventional wisdom, risks can be spread out and reduced with diversification. Why not apply that same wisdom to our income streams as well?

For me, someone who was only 'enlightened' a few months back, this is my strategy:
  1. Full-time job
  2. Part-time tuition going to move to 'full-time' group tuition in the near future
  3. Dividend stocks like SPH and SingPost
  4. Blogs with adsense, in which I have now 2 blogs (including this)
  5. Fixed Deposits & Money Market Funds
  6. Just started with EmailCashPro as well
  7. On plans: Guide books to complement my tuition
(1), (2), (3), (4) and (5) are being done already.
(6) was just started 2 days ago.
(7) popped out as an idea during tuition, when students ask many questions in which I can explain and answer in ways different from those found in textbooks.

As life moves on, I try to think if I can come out with any other income sources in which me as a fresh grad (graduated June 08) can embark upon. Do you as well?

Friday, November 7, 2008

Simple and Brainless way of Investing

The current financial crisis has brought many economies down, along with their indexes. Dow Jones, S&P500, Nasdaq, Straits Times Index, Nikkei, Shanghai Composite Index, Bombay Sensex, Hang Seng Index, etc, you name it.

In particular, Straits Times Index (STI) has fallen from its high of 3900 to a current ~1800 situation, with expectations of 1500, 1200, or perhaps even lower. Many stocks are at a very low and attractive price. To invest and benefit from this recession, we should have a strategy.

As a newbie in the world of investing, and someone who has just graduated and started work just months ago, I wouldn't have much cash to invest in. My current strategy is thus a very conservative one.

My simple and brainless strategies:
  1. Buy and hold blue chip reasonably high-dividend stocks like SPH and SingPost.
  2. Buy STI ETF (Straits Times Index Exchange Traded Fund) when STI reaches 1200 and hold till STI reaches 3600.

Strategy 1
To me, SPH and SingPost are considered very 'safe' play. Reason?

SPH is the monopoly for local newspapers. It's also one of the main propaganda tools of the incumbent ruling party. It's long term trading price is around $4.40, and it is current trading at around $3.40. My average price is $3.905 at the moment, 4 lots.

SingPost is also the monopoly for local postage. Companies still have to send out financial reports by post (I just receive mine from SPH), we are still posting letters here and there. In any case, we still need to use SingPost's service. It's long term price is around $1+, and is currently trading at 78 cents.

These are two companies whose dividends are acceptably high (at least higher than fixed Ds), will likely still be around in the next 20 to 30 years, and are trading way below their long-term average price. The risks are near to zero in my opinion for these. My strategy would be to accumulate on these two as I earn more from my full-time job and part-time tuition.

Strategy 2
Economy goes in cycles, although on a long-term upward trend. It sort of follows a x sin x curve. At the moment, it is near the bottom of the curve, i.e. at a recession.

Previously, empirical statistics show that one cycle (between a boom to the next boom) lasts around 10 years. Recently, however, it seems like the cycle has shortened to around 5 years, perhaps due to the fact that we are living in the Information Age where news travel around the world in a matter of seconds. We can thus expect STI to crawl back to the 3000 level within a few years, before encountering the next recession.

With the above knowledge, it seems almost brainless that if we start to invest in STI ETF from 1200 and below, we will highly likely achieve a capital appreciation of at least 150% to 200% when STI reaches between 3000 to 3600. Suppose it takes 5 years (might be less) to reach that amount, we would have averaged off nearly 30~40% a year! This excludes the ~3% dividends we get from investing in this ETF.

What are the possible risks?
  1. If Singapore economy fails to recover, which would probably happen if the govt run out of funds to help steer it up, and in which case, fixed Ds cannot be 100% guaranteed anymore.
  2. If the issuer of the fund, StreetTracks, collapse, which to me is of extreme low probability.

It's time to be excited about making your dollars work for you, with minimal effort :D

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Invest with money you can afford to lose... Really?

Sometimes I just wonder... Why do people keep saying invest with money you can afford to lose?

To me, I would see it as: invest with money you do not need in the near term (~5 years).

You see, when we approach with the mindset that we are investing with money we can afford to lose, we are already preparing ourselves to lose the money. Think about it... Is that really investing? Let us look at Warren Buffet's rules.

Rules of Warren Buffet
Rule Number 1: Do not lose money
Rule Number 2: Do not forget rule number 1

I would suggest that we approach monetary investments, not with the idea that this is money we can afford to lose, but rather, money that we can afford not to use in the near future. The thinking, the mindset, is different between these two. To me, there's no money I can afford to lose in the stock market; there's only money I do not need to use in the near future. But of course, this doesn't mean you will not lose money in the stock market.

Afterall, small-timers like me dabble in monetary investments to make money, not lose money.