Chemical Lessons

addingjuicetothebrain-800px

My body reminded me of something important today. Due to unusual circumstances I ended up drinking two cups of coffee (double stovetop Moka Pot and a large mug of French Press) this morning. Today is a busy day – I’m traveling on business, and will be in the air for much of the day. I was trying to get as much done between 0700 and 0900. Within 20 minutes of the second cup I was in a near panic – dealing with things that are routine for me in the course of my work. What the hell was going on?

Sitting at my (home) work desk, I tried my three minute mindfulness meditation. It did centre me mentally, but I could feel the panic in my limbs – a scary sense of detachment very similar to being severely drugged – when your body does not feel the way your mind expects it to. I managed to get out of the house and to my cab with that lingering sense of dread. I did more breath meditating in the taxi – then it struck me. Caffeine. The jumbo overdose of caffeine.

Sitting here in the boarding lounge, it all came together. I recalled a period of three months last year when I went off all stimulants. This had been an intensely painful time for me, as I was dealing with a devastating life event. Life at that time was just work, exercise, yoga, and meditation. No sugar, no alcohol, and no coffee. The daily meditation kept me centred and functional – important when a desperate sadness is hanging over your entire life like a dark cloud. The sugar free diet kept my energy levels constant throughout the day – nice when you’re living a high-stress consulting industry lifestyle. The yoga and exercise gave me killer fucking abs.

So now I think back – perhaps that is a good way to be. Minus the chemical stimulants, perhaps I’ll be more focused and thus able to vanquish the distractions that mock my plans to study and write. There is the social impact of not drinking alcohol and coffee – but as with that time, people get used to it rapidly.

Advertisements

Why People Fail At Weight Loss

I started my weight loss journey in March 2011, and achieved my goal by Feb 2012. Since then, my gains have increased, and I’m in the best shape ever. In the past few months, many people who have seen the changes in me over this period of time have asked me for advice, and in many cases, have started on a regimen similar to mine. Most of these people have failed to get remarkable results.

A search on Amazon for ‘weight loss’ yields over 123,000 results. Over 70,000 of these are books. A Google search for the same yields 320 million results! With that much of information around, why are so many people still overweight? Barring the very small percentage of people with hormonal imbalances or other pathological causes, the majority of overweight people are victims of a pattern of behaviour that they need to change to lose weight and keep it off.

Why do people fail?

1) Slothfulness

Weight loss is hard work. In its initial stages, it requires a commitment of time, energy, and money to get started, and break old patterns. With people hoping to get there with minimal effort, an entire industry selling magic machines, portions, and lotions has sprung up to relieve them of their cash. The only cure for this is information, and the willingness to do the hard work.

2) Misinformation

Lots of healthy foods aren’t. The food, pharmaceutical and medical industries are very aggressive in passing on information that is outdated, incomplete, or in some cases, false. In 2008, a physician told me that I would be taking antihypertensive medication for the rest of my life. I’m not taking it anymore, and have normal blood pressure. In 2009, another physician told me that my heart was at risk of damage if I exerted myself by running or other strenuous activity. I can today run several kilometres non-stop, and do interval or Tabata sprint training twice a week. Nutritionists and physicians who enquire about my diet are horrified by the fact that I avoid all grains. My point is simple – it worked for me! I am fit, have high energy levels, and have seen my performance skyrocket in all areas of my life! Even the results that I have achieved have been after years of digging through mountains of advice and information and sticking with what worked.

Food companies lie to you. Period. Physicians are mostly corralled by the narrow confines of the knowledge they received in medical school. The pharmaceutical companies just want you to believe that being unhealthy is alright – if anything happens, they have a pill for you to take to make you better. Look around for information on what has worked for people. You don’t have to fall for the $39.99 e-books that are available with 7 special gifts for a limited period only. Make your body your laboratory – try different stuff and stick to what works.

3) Complacency

Sometimes people are able to gain some success with their weight loss goals, but later get complacent and fall off the wagon. This is slothfulness lite. Like knowledge, fitness is progressive – just like Alice’s Wonderland, it takes all the running that you can do to stay in the same place, and if you need to get anywhere, you need to run twice as fast as that. Weight loss or fitness cannot be a phase – it needs to be a lifestyle that you refine with each passing day.

4) Cheating

A new diet or workout regimen causes sweeping chemical and physiological changes in the body. Diets like the Atkins rely heavily on ketosis that usually takes several days to set in – other low carb diets focus on breaking out of sugar or hormone cycles that drive hunger and satiety. These changes require the elimination of certain foods or food combinations, and the consumption of even a small quantity of these ‘banned foods’ can result in a complete chemical reversal that can destroy days of gains. This causes disillusionment with the diet itself. If you are on a diet, do not pat yourself on the back with a ‘cheat’ that you feel won’t make a difference – it will make you fail.

Once you have reached your goal, it may be possible for you to relax the rules a little bit, but be forever wary of becoming complacent.

5) Haters

This may be one of the biggest reasons that people fail. When you start getting results and your appearance begins to change, there will be people around you who will try very hard to make you fail. They will be trying to prove that your diet is a joke, and that you don’t have the willpower to make the changes that you desire. They will criticise you, ridicule you, and encourage you to cheat. They will say that you have changed, and that you’re making these changes because you think that you’re better than them.
If you have such people in your life, you need to cut them off immediately. These people do not just stand between you and a healthier you, they stand between you and a better life.

Instead, surround yourself with people who have goals like yours and understand the challenges that you’re facing. These new relationships will improve your chances of success.

6) Alcohol

This is probably one of the most common ways to sabotage a diet. Alcohol contains a huge number of empty calories, and is broken down into acetate by the liver. This acetate takes metabolic precedence over carbohydrate and fats, and thus as your body works to deal with the acetate, fat burning stops. Also, the snack foods usually served with alcohol are often unhealthy, and get stored away as fat while the acetate is dealt with.

The Bottomline

Yet, it is possible to drop weight and keep it off. The rewards are tremendous – you look better, you have more energy, and you are able to deal with stress better. In an age where medical care is horrendously expensive and medical insurance is a sham, health is wealth. Five years ago, if someone had told me  that my life would be so awesome if I fixed my habits and stuck to it, I would have done it from that day itself.

Food Emotions And Happy Places

For the past three weeks or so, I have been on a very strict diet, mainly as a test of my willpower and the social consequences of eating healthy no matter what. It has been rather easy so far. Breaking my Friday beer and chicken liver habit was slightly difficult, sticking to club soda at a recent birthday party wasn’t too hard, and politely dodging the sweets distributed at my office was easy too. Things however came to a head at a recent Freemasons meeting a few days ago.

After our meetings finish, we usually have a couple of drinks followed by a hearty dinner, with lots of jokes, and leg-pulling. I stuck to my club soda routine – not too difficult, because I’d done it before, and steered clear of all the eats, except for the green salad. The bretheren were quite supportive, as many of them have seen the drastic change in my physique over the past 12 months or so. Some even picked my brain on diet and exercise ideas.

Slowly though, I started feeling uneasy. I found myself craving a whiskey and soda. As dinner drew near and the fragrance of the rice and spices wafted through the air, I found myself craving the food that I had been easily avoiding for quite some time. While it would have been easy for me to say to myself ‘screw it’ and get a drink, I tried to follow the craving back to the emotion behind it.

I came to Hyderabad by myself in March 2009. For the first few months there, my evenings at the Freemasons hall were the highlight of my social calendar and being an outsider in a new city, this was one place I was comfortable, accepted, and at home. The smell of whiskey within the warm Edwardian building, and the aroma of Hyderabadi cooking wafting through the air were linked in my mind to a happy place. My diet plans almost got derailed after over a week of being firmly on the wagon!

This is a major challenge that lots of people face in eating clean. With meals being such a social event in all cultures, joyous events are linked to excessive meals everywhere. As one matures into an adult, years and years of this conditioning links that food to a ‘happy place’, and makes this pattern of eating harder to break.
The way out of course, is to de-link the emotion from the food. This is not easy at all, since humans tie in data from all our senses to form memories of our experiences. At the events like the one that evening, it is very unlikely that someone will coax or force you to eat or drink something that you don’t want to, but things might get more difficult at family gatherings or other social events.

My clean eating spree continues largely intact, except for a dinner at a friend’s place where I had to join in at a large social meal.

Sticking To A Diet

A major part of the weight loss that I have accomplished comes from streamlining my diet. As a rather social person with a passion for food, this poses problems. Here are a few ideas that worked for me.

1) Switch from Glutton to Foodie

Most people who call themselves ‘foodies’ are barely so. In my opinion, (and yes, I have been guilty of this) they’re just trying to cloak their gluttony in a veil of respectability. As a ‘foodie’, instead of stuffing your face, try to enjoy food for its presentation, aroma, taste and texture. Take your time over a small serving and truly enjoy it.

2) Social Calories vs Diet Calories

Having to stick to a serious diet while dining out a few times a week is difficult. A drastic change in diet can make even long time companions uncomfortable and could ultimately alienate them. So while my diet generally was quite austere, consisting mostly of fruits and minimally processed stuff (diet calories) inspired in part by Dian and Tom Greisel’s ‘Turbocharged’, on evenings out, I wouldn’t sweat the odd bite of dessert or pint of beer (social calories).

3) Watch your alcohol

I love my weekend tipple. There is nothing better I like to do on a Friday night than settle down with a beer and a nice movie. Unfortunately, with my tendency to occasionally go overboard, this Friday activity has often set the scene for overeating all weekend. On weekends that I have abstained, my hunger levels, and indeed calorie intake, has been much lesser than ones where I have been drinking. This has led me to believe that perhaps the no.1 enemy of your healthy diet is alcohol.

I have moved all my alcohol intake to social calories now, and am trying very hard to stick by it. Indeed, the results are obvious almost immediately.

4) Get back on the wagon

It is very likely that in the first few weeks you will slip up a number of times. The important thing here is not to feel guilty and ‘get back on the diet from tomorrow’ – you’re just extending the damage. Once you’ve realised it, stop immediately and get back on the diet from the very next meal. Indeed you’re not defeated by the number of times you fall, but by failing to get up!

Resources:

These are some of the books that I found very useful in managing my diet:

1) Turbocharged by Dian and Tom Greisel http://turbocharged.us.com/

2) French Women Don’t Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano http://mireilleguiliano.com/section/sub/14