Chemical Lessons

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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.

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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.

Slipping Off The Wagon

OK, so I went on a regimen of diet and exercise, lost a lot of weight, and made tremendous improvements to my athletic performance. These weren’t easy changes to make, but I pushed, and was able to stay on the wagon long enough to see some pretty remarkable results, but then the slide started.

 

Normally, I’d allow myself one ‘cheat’ meal every week. At this meal, I’d eat a small portion of one food that I absolutely love, but is prohibited by my diet rules. Soon after this meal, I’d get back to my usual programme, with perhaps a couple of slightly more intense workouts thrown in. However, over the past few weeks, I’ve become a little more casual about what I eat. I found myself breaking my diet rules ‘ever so little’ but much more frequently.

 

Now, instead of the one bite of dessert while dining out, there was a humungous piece of cake at a birthday party; instead of a little bit of Biryani I had a pretty substantial portion with lots of other things that would temporarily alter my body chemistry and take me out of my fat burning zone. Instead of sticking to a single beer and a few glasses of water to restore hydration, I went on a drinking spree almost as extreme as my bar bankrupter days.

 

The results were predictable – my gains have tapered off. I have made no gains in either inch loss or weight reduction in the past two weeks. Thinking back on all these events made me realize that I’m slowly slipping back into the pattern of behaviour that resulted in me being overweight in the first place! I’m back on the wagon now, but this has been a frightening lesson in how easy it is to slip back into old habits, and reverse the gains I have fought so hard for.

 

I have been uncluttering my life, hoping for more time to ‘stand and stare’. This has given me far more free time that especially on weekdays has resulted in moments of utter boredom. While restructuring my life a few months ago, I had been able to link this boredom to smoking and ‘grazing’, both of which I have cut quite drastically since. Maybe I do need to keep myself occupied, and perhaps this is the best possible time for me to get back to finishing that novel and screenplay.

I love my new body, It’s totally worth the fight to keep it like this 🙂

What About The Kids?

I have often wondered about the ‘genetic’ link to certain diseases. Could it be that people ‘inherit’ infirmities from their parents, not because of their ‘genes’, but because of inherited patterns of behaviour, including food habits?

A few years ago, I was at a shopping mall with a friend of mine. In those days, I myself was quite overweight, but my friend, a 40+ former military man, was in better shape than most people in their 20s. Suddenly, he stopped  dead in this tracks, turned to me, and said “Nate, when you were in school, didn’t everyone make fun of the fat boys?”

“Yes” I replied, cautiously.

“Well, by the time you have school-age children of your own, it’ll be the fat ones making fun of the thin ones!”

I looked around. He was right. Many of the children around us were overweight, definitely a greater number than were overweight in my class at school. All who were accompanied by parents had at least one chubby parent.

A number of people I know have jumped on the health wagon late in life, making changes to their lives in recent times. Some have modified their diet, some cut back on alcohol and smoking, some have even discovered the demerits of simple carbohydrates and sugar, and have given them up, but what about the kids?

Here are some of the scenarios I have noticed in India.

1) Parents are reasonably health conscious and don’t eat much junk food, but they take their kids to fast food places and load them up with unhealthy foods and HFCS laced drinks.

The most serious problem with this is that since many of these visits are presented as a ‘treat’, the child may form a psychological ‘pleasure connection’ with that kind of fast food, and later, as an earning adult who can afford to eat it three times a day, may turn to it for emotional gratification. Indeed ‘comfort eating’ is a major cause of obesity! Some of them end up messing up their diets because of the kids’ junk food lying around the house.

2) Health conscious parents who fall for marketing fads.

I know of many adults who are ‘health conscious’, but perpetually get their health information from TV commercials.  Their kitchens are often full of sugar loaded name-brand cereals that claim to have health benefits, added nutrients, etc. In their misguided quest for health, they’re actually feeding their kids’ sugar addiction. I don’t blame them, lots of these companies use cheap shots in advertising. Indian television is full of emotionally abusive commercials usually targeted at mothers that show children losing martial arts tournaments, being growth stunted, or underperforming at school because they don’t use a particular energy drink or breakfast cereal.

3) The indifferent ones.

I’m not implying that these parents care any less for their kids, but because of a lack of information, they fail to prioritise good nutrition.

4) The unhealthy ones.

These are parents that need the most work themselves, because they’re unhealthy themselves and are passing that behaviour on to their kids. Kids copy their behaviour of sedentary life and bad food choices, setting themselves up for a lifetime of battles with weight and poor health.

If there is something that you would like to add to this, please note it in the comments section below.

 

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.