Desperate Measures

Every now and then, I see posts in the social media, where people wishing to “get in shape” go on a “program”, “cleanse” or “detox” for anywhere between three and 30 days. In India, this has hit a whole new level of insanity, where brides to be embark on an extremely aggressive programme that includes weight loss and skin lightening in the weeks leading up to their wedding. It is perhaps thanks to a culture of instant gratification where people expect tremendous results in an unrealistic amount of time. The fad diets aside, these unrealistic expectations coupled with a supersize helping of slothfulness have spawned a multi-billion dollar industry of pills, potions, and machines that are supposed to give you that body of your dreams.

Coming back to the fad diets and detoxes, a large number of these are “very low calorie diets” that will cause a serious calorie deficit, and consequently some weight loss. However, the first few kilos lost are usually “water weight” which will return within days of resuming old diet habits. Frustration aside, there are potentially dangerous side effects. Sustained low calorie intake can destroy muscle tissue and weaken vital organs. Fad diets that focus on a single food or food group can leave the body deprived of essential nutrients and trigger other illnesses. Even if there is some weight loss, it is unsustainable in the long run.

In my journey from 108 Kgs to a peak-fitness weight of 74 Kgs, I learnt 3 key lessons that ALL the information on weight loss breaks down to.

Firstly, no matter what TV infomercials, pumped up fitness trainers, or that overweight diet expert in your office tell you, weight loss is a function of calories consumed vs calories expended. If you burn more than you eat, you lose weight and if you eat more than you burn, you gain weight.

Secondly, good health has a little to do with calories and everything to do with nutrition. Your diet must include a complex range of micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals to ensure optimum health.

Thirdly, exercise is critical to preserve (if not build) strength, mobility, and endurance.

Getting healthy is not a weekend project or a month-long plan. It is an aggressive reprogramming of your mind and body and includes critical changes to every aspect of your life. If you make the changes and follow what works consistently, you will succeed – else, you will be stuck in the vicious cycle of crash diets and magical supplements.

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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.

Don’t Shun Water!

In the quest to lose weight, curtail ageing, and deal with many chronic illnesses, one of the most overlooked tools is Water.

 The human body is over 70% water, and even a 5% deficit triggers severe symptoms like nausea, fatigue, and disorientation. It is surprising though, that most people today live in a state of chronic dehydration. Indeed, many problems, ranging from obesity, to kidney and bladder complaints have been linked to insufficient water consumption.

 Water, in its capacity as a solvent, is a potent cleanser, and helps eliminate toxins via sweat and urine. Without adequate water intake, this mechanism is impaired, resulting in an accumulation of toxins in the body that could cause other illnesses. Also, water is very important for fat loss, as it plays a major part in fat metabolism.  Additionally, when water intake is inadequate, the body may retain water to compensate, adding weight, and a visible bloat.

 Also, for those worried about the effects of ageing on skin, increasing your water intake will restore cellular hydration and improve the elasticity and suppleness of skin.

 Dian and Tom Griesel, in their book Turbocharged, suggest that people often mistake thirst for hunger, and thus consume unnecessary calories, contributing to weight gain. In fact, this diet, that worked best for me, has a very strong emphasis on water consumption.

 Those of us who work in an air-conditioned environment are most certainly dehydrated, as the air is usually dry and the temperature delays the perception of thirst till it manifests as a dry mouth. The fact is, if your mouth is dry, you’ve likely been dehydrated for quite some time, and the effects of dehydration have already started to manifest.

 The most effective way to tell if you’re dehydrated, is from the colour of your urine. If it is dark yellow or brown, you may be dangerously dehydrated. Clear to pale yellow means you’re alright – the clearer the better. Caution though, certain medications and vitamin supplements tend to colour your urine, so you may want to be careful while making such a judgment.

 If you feel lethargic in the middle of your workday and have difficulty concentrating, you are likely dehydrated. It is best to carry a water bottle and sip every few minutes, so that your water intake remains adequate. For the first few weeks, you will be dashing to the rest room every now and then, but as your system expands its capacity, you’ll be able to go for longer without even noticing it.

 If you’re working out, the stresses on your body may make it harder for you to perceive dehydration. Make sure you sip water between sets, as dehydration also saps your athletic performance and thus your ability to get a good workout. Remaining hydrated during a workout also helps your body flush the by products of metabolism accumulated in your muscles. Several studies have also found a connection between muscle cramps and dehydration, so if you’re an aspiring runner or are taking part in any form of endurance exercise, keep this in mind.

 How to get water? The simplest way, of course, is to drink water itself! Carbonated drinks, coffee, and alcoholic beverages, though water-based, may actually contribute to dehydration through the diuretic action of some of their components. Fruits are a good source, with watermelon being my personal favourite source of water. 

The Turbocharged Diet:

http://turbocharged.us.com/

PS// I have used the Turbocharged Diet, and have had good results from it. I am not being compensated for this endorsement.

The SixPack Project

After I successfully cut my waist from around 42.5 inches to 35 inches, I wondered if it would make sense to take this a bit further and push it all the way to having a well-defined torso – commonly known as a six-pack.

In the past year, I’ve dropped a fair bit of weight and a pretty serious amount of body fat, and I think that with a little more self-control, I’ll be able to drop the rest too. So here are the mission parameters:

Objective: Six Pack Abs

Deadline: 4 Calendar Months, July 25, 2012

Key Performance Indicators: Visual Data (obviously), body fat percentage <10%.

Metrics: Daily body fat readings and 5-day moving average.

How am I going to accomplish this?

1) Diet:

I have realised that diet is going to be 90% of this. I will be cutting all empty calories like fast food, desserts, alcohol, etc, until I come down to the body-fat levels required for this to happen. I will be sticking to mainly natural and unprocessed foods like fruits and vegetables for calories and nutrients. My protein requirements will come from eggs, fish, and cheese. I have found plain yoghurt to be a very healthy way to feel full without consuming too many calories. I’ll be sticking with my favourite – Nestle A+ available here in India.

2) Exercise:

Not being a fan of the health-club culture, I am going to be using a combination of Kettlebells and bodyweight exercises to get a workout. This gives me the ability to mix and match components of workouts. The only equipment I have is a canvas punching bag, 8Kg and 16Kg kettlebells, and a pull-up rack.

My most important tool here is my Gymboss interval timer. I use it to time intervals on my kettlebell workouts and also the ’rounds’ for my boxing workout.

I’ll soon be sharing my data logs in another post on here.

My diet is loosely based on ‘Turbocharged’ by Dian and Tom Greisel http://turbocharged.us.com/

Gymboss interval timers are an awesome workout tool, and can be bought online from http://www.gymboss.com/. Shipping is very fast, even to a country like India. I have bought several of these without any issues. Because of the loud alarm, they’re great help in the kitchen, and often remind me of something that I’ve left on the fire!

The Eat-Exercise Cycle

In my 7-year struggle with my weight, I have used all kinds of methods to try to drop the flab – running, weight training, interval training, HIIT, and kettlebells. The only method that gave me sustainable results was a combination of diet and exercise.

For example, a 30 minute interval running session burns about 300 calories. One snickers bar though, has about 270 calories. So do a number of fitness enthusiasts live in a diet/exercise cycle where they consume, and then have to exercise to get rid of the excess calories? And if their activity ceases, would they gain weight rapidly? I think so – in fact, that’s my story! Plagued with a chronic spinal ailment, I’d find my weight shoot up every time I had to stop exercising because my back was acting up.

So really, a low-calorie diet like Turbocharged may be the best way to maintain optimal weight when one has a sedentary lifestyle, n’est-ce pas?

I think so. Vigourous exercise has other costs to the body – mainly in wear and tear. Now exercise is important for optimal health and function, I would never dispute that, but how much is too much? Lots of people who I know have been training for many years have a number of injuries. Body builders generally have mucked up shoulders and backs, marathon runners have their knee and heel problems, and sportsmen usually have a list of complaints typical to their sport.

For people stuck in this diet/exercise cycle, it might make sense to actually break out of it by cutting back on calorie intake. Remember, fitness is not just about weight or medical indicators, it is also about ability and being injury free.

So break out of that Eat-Exercise cycle. It’ll do you good!

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