Gaining 50 pounds during pregnancy is not normal for my size. In fact, it's not normal for any woman," declares beauty queen-turned-actress Lara Quigaman-Alcaraz.
But that was how much she gained while pregnant with firstborn son Noah, now eight months old. And like any proud mother, she brings out her iPhone and shows us a picture of her baby boy, whom Lara's friends now say is looking more and more like her tall and hunky actor-husband Marco Alcaraz.
Thanks to Marie France, Lara is slowly but surely regaining her whistlebait figure. Almost four months after she signed up as its newest beauty queen endorser, Lara has slimmed down to 115 pounds.
Months after being obscured by her bloated visage, Lara's winsome cheekbones and jawline have begun to reappear. She has also made tremendous progress around her erstwhile problematic upper arms. She has yet to fully regain her flat tummy, but she's getting there.
"But I think the best part is I've regained my confidence," she declares. "I'm also more energetic during the day."
When Lara won Miss International in 2005, bagging for the country its fourth crown from the Japan-based beauty contest, she was in fighting form at 110 pounds. At 5'5½", she was also one of the smallest contestants then. Her height, or lack of it, she says, worked to her advantage.
"In a field of tall women, I think I was the shortest," she says with a laugh. "And I got noticed for it."
But when she tipped the scales at 160 pounds a week or so before giving birth to Noah, there was no way Lara could hide how huge she had become. Even if she were 5'11", she'd still end up looking disproportionately big after gaining all that heft.
During her entire pregnancy, she often got hungry, which led her to binge on fattening snacks. It didn't help that Lara had always been a binge eater with a sweet tooth, who usually skipped breakfast while snacking on syrupy taho and bars of chocolate throughout the day.
"After a day of taping a teleserye, I was so hungry that I would cap it off with a huge meal," she says with childlike amusement. "I never stopped working even while I was pregnant. It had always been like that even when I was single. And I brought that bad eating habit with me after I got married."
After giving birth to Noah, Lara lost a mere 10 pounds. Weeks after bringing Noah home, her face, arms, legs and feet were still bloated. And even as she managed to slowly shed off some of the pounds, her jellylike belly pouch jiggled and seemed likely to stay.
"Breastfeeding and going up and down the stairs during the course of the day helped me lose some of the inches," she says. "But no matter what I did, my belly pouch was still there. It was so unattractive that I didn't even want my husband to see it. I'm not kidding."
Since she delivered through Caesarean section, going to the gym, pronto, wasn't an option. Besides, unlike Marco, Lara was never a big fan of working out.
Apart from letting her go through all sorts of standard wraps and machines designed to zap, freeze and break down body fat such as the Fat Mobilization System, TriPollar and Endermologie, doctors and nutritionists at Marie France taught Lara to overhaul her lifestyle and eating habits.
In keeping with Marie France's trademark approach to beauty and fitness, Lara underwent a "relaxed and steady" weight-loss programme without her resorting to crash dieting, fad diets and invasive procedures.
Instead of eating three square meals, for instance, Lara now eats four to five smaller meals throughout the day to keep her from bingeing, especially at night. She's not prohibited from eating anything, but she's encouraged to make the right choices and portion sizes.
"It's working because unlike before, I no longer feel famished by day's end," she says. "It takes some getting used to at first, especially for someone like me who used to skip breakfast. During the three-day booster stage, for instance, I had to eat lots of raw greens, which I really don't like. But once you get used to it, it becomes automatic, even enjoyable."
Even when she's out on the set all day taping, Lara is able to stick to Marie France's nutritional programme. Even the caterers of "Juan de la Cruz," where she spends at least two hours getting made up to play queen of the enchanted world, now know what to give and not give her during mealtimes.
"The only time I cheated, if you can call it that, was when I ate a big chunk of chocolate," she says before breaking into giggles. "I still buy taho, but unlike before, I no longer buy a huge syrupy bowl worth P30, which I finish off in one sitting."
Lara, if she so desires, can engage in almost all kinds of sports activities. But no force on earth, it seems, can make her put on her running shoes and hit the gym.
"I'm not saying you shouldn't exercise and leave everything to diet and Marie France," says Lara. "I also used to work out religiously, especially when I was set to compete in Miss International. But these days, I'd rather spend every minute of my downtime at home with my baby."
In hindsight, Lara believes she couldn't have gotten her old body back even if she had spent long hours at the gym lifting weights and doing the treadmill. Melting away fat while firming up flabby arm and thigh muscles, she says, requires a great deal of science.
She first heard of Marie France's special programme for mothers who have just given birth through friend and fellow beauty queen Carlene Aguilar.
"Carlene was quite huge when she came home after giving birth to Marcus in the US a few years ago," she says. "She asked me to be one of the boy's godmothers. When we saw each other a few months later during his baptism, I was pleasantly surprised to see her looking sexier than ever. Her secret, she said, was Marie France."
It so happened that Marie France was also looking for the perfect endorser that would fit their campaign promise: trim down and lose weight in 100 days (or a little over three months), or get your money back.
Lara first underwent a thorough medical checkup before she was asked to sign up. After passing her medical exams, people at Marie France's Alabang branch, led by nutritionist Catherine Santos, interviewed her about her lifestyle and eating habits. They then devised a nutrition and fitness programme for her based on what they had gathered.
In less than three months after signing up, Lara started seeing dramatic improvements. Before she reached her fourth month, people at Marie France's ad and promo department scheduled her to do an "after" photo shoot with Raymund Isaac.
"I still have five more pounds to shed off," she says. "I always tell women, especially mothers, that they owe it to themselves, not even their husbands, to look slim and beautiful. I intend to maintain my weight and keep my figure for as long as I can."
After going through the headache of signing up an actress, who, after failing to shed weight in three months because of her stubborn ways, reportedly promised to do so in three years, Marie France has clearly scored a dream endorser in the person of Lara Quigaman-Alcaraz.