Monthly Archives: February 2012

What is the best rate to lose fat?

Why am I losing only 1kg per week? How can lose more weight faster? How much longer before I reach my ideal body weight? By when can I expect to lose X kgs? 

These are all questions I get from clients and readers all the time and are questions that truly reek of desperation. Being an advocate of sensible and sustainable transformation, I thought it is best that I address the issue in detail while keeping the text as simple as possible.

This is what happens after 12 days on the die-on-the-13th-day diet

Truthfully, everyone wants to go to bed looking like Fat Albert and wake up like Will Smith. But, as fate would have it, the human body doesn’t function thataway. Fat loss is a very complex process that involves changes from the cellular to the organ level… but a process that is triggered by some very simple actions.

Unless you are clinically obese and/or have serious hormonal imbalances/autoimmune diseases, it is unacceptable that you are ‘unable’ to lose fat. In other words, if you are overweight and have been unsuccessfully trying to lose fat for a while, you either have something wrong under the hood (think: hormonal imbalances, micro-nutrient deficiencies or other physiological we don’t understand right away) or you’re not doing the right stuff (think: wrong diet, stupid training, stressful lifestyle etc.).

Fat loss for dummies

So what is so simple about fat loss? I’ll try to explain fat loss in 3 (overly simplified) steps.

  1. When you take in calories (i.e. eat food) you utilize (burn) the required calories and store the remaining calories for future use (in fat cells). These extra calories are stored as body fat.
  2. Consequently, when you take in lesser calories than you require, you utilize all the calories that you take in via food and then get the remaining of what is required from what is stored. That is, you burn the fat and fuel the machine (your body).
  3. So, irrespective of who you are, you need to be utilizing more calories than you consume in order to lose fat.

So, if you are overweight and are having trouble losing fat, it could only mean one thing – you are not utilizing your fat stores to fuel your activities. While this is easily perceived in a healthy body without any systemic derangement, even in the case that something is metabolically wrong (hypothyroidism, leptin resistance, insulin resistance, compromised fat oxidation capabilities etc.), what really happens is that the metabolic handicap restricts you from either mobilizing and/or oxidizing the energy (fat) and hence results in forcing you to stay fat. There is, of course, much much more to fat loss and the many mysteries behind fat loss, but that is beyond the scope of this article.

So why did I even mention all this? Today, thanks to the media, the word fat loss (or weight loss) has been so misinterpreted that…

  • we don’t quite know what it truly is and the complexity involved in its happening.
  • we don’t understand how simple actions can initiate fat loss resulting in long term sustainable results.

And as a result, we end up doing extremely complex actions to initiate (what we think is) a simple process and expect drastic results within a very short period of time (think: zero carb diets, oil-less cooking, detox, raw diets, fat burners, appetite suppressants  etc etc). This is either due to an insufficient understanding of the mechanics of fat loss or due to the baseless belief that if results require actions then awesome results require complex actions or both.

In other words, this is the equivalent of wanting to go from point A to point B using your car but hoping that a certain magical combination of gear shaft movements will potentiate the car to fly and hence reach your destination in record time. Sadly, a lot of people just end up sitting in their cars for years and years trying out the trillion possible gear shaft combinations that would make them fly while all they need to do is to displace that shaft left and up and start moving towards their destination.

Are we there yet?

So now, let’s assume you ‘understand’ fat loss and finally start driving to your destination. How long of a drive is it really? How long will it take you to reach your fat loss goals?

Honestly, I have no idea! But, sticking to the same analogy, the duration of travel and your rate of fat loss depends on a lot of things.

  • How far is your journey? How much fat do you have to lose?
  • Have you been this route before? Do you have any experience with trying to lose fat?
  • Are you taking the long comfortable route or are you taking the short crazy route? Are you planning on losing fat the slow and healthy way or are you looking to go on a (crash) diet?
  • How many unexpected traffic jams are possible? How many forced deviations (vacation, birthdays, business travel etc.) are possible?
  • How often do you take a detour? How often do you deviate from what needs to be done wrt nutrition and training and sleep?
  • And most importantly, how good is the vehicle? Does it have issues under the hood that you are unaware of that might slow you down or force you to stop a few times? Does your body have issues (hormonal imbalances, insulin resistance etc etc.) that you are unaware of that might affect the rate of fat loss?

With so many variables no one can ever tell you how long it will take you to reach your goals or exactly how many pounds of fat you can lose every week. And if someone does promise you a number, then the person is possibly hoping for weight reduction by means of making your wallet skinny.

Estimated rate of fat loss

That said, there is always an estimate. This estimate generally takes into account all these variables and is fairly relevant for the majority of general public. This estimated number holds true for rate of fat loss as it does for speed. If an estimated 30 min drive took you 3 hours, then there is something seriously wrong somewhere and if it took you only 6 minutes, then there is something very unsafe about it. You see my point?

Jumping off the analogy for a bit (only a little bit ‘cos I know you love this!) and talking purely fat loss, the general rate of safe fat loss per week for a generally healthy person is about 0.5-1% body weight per my observations. That is, if you weigh 150 lb (68 kg) and are looking to lose fat, a fat loss rate of 0.75-1.5 lb/week (0.35-0.7 kg/week) seems to be ideal. At this rate, it seems to be possible to continually lose mostly fat without risking loss of lean tissue or starvation.

While your rate could be higher or lower depending on your variables, this serves as a yardstick. Anything much more than this and you’re losing weight too fast which means you’re burning plenty of muscle and possibly pushing your body into a starvation mode. Anything much lower than this and you are best served taking a more critical look into your nutrition and/or training and/or thyroid. (Note that if you are just starting a fat loss phase and are losing a lot more than this, it could be due to water loss and is nothing to be worried about. Your rate of fat loss will eventually drop down and fall within this range)

So if you are losing at a rate that is within this window, smile and keep fighting the good fight for as long as it takes ‘cos you definitely are on the most optimal route to reaching your fat loss goals.

What is the reward?

I don’t want to take the analogy too far (if I haven’t already) but everyone’s travel time is different and it depends on too many variables, some of which you have control over and some of which you don’t. But once you realize that irrespective of how long this takes, this is your trip and you need to do this to look forward to a better future, the boring long “are we there yet?” trip becomes a journey! A journey during which you learn so damn much about yourself, your body, your physical capabilities, your mental toughness and much much more!

So instead of acting like the kid on the back seat constantly asking ‘How much longer?’, frowning, whining and sulking, be the kid that is super excited to be on a journey and has his head out the window! Make it count, make it memorable and make it something you’d remember for life ‘cos at the end of the day it is what you learn about yourself during this transformation that matters. In other words, the journey is the reward!

Peace out.

Vegetarianism – The glass is half full

The thing about vegetarianism that I’m not a fan of is the focus on foods that ‘cannot’ be eaten. I understand the moral and religious confusion that is binding you to stay away from meat and meat products, but why the focus on the ‘cannot’ or ‘should not‘? Why not focus on the ‘can be‘ and ‘should be’ ? In other words, if you are a vegetarian you have a list of stuff that you don’t eat. But do you have a list of stuff that you should eat? Why not? Why do I hear “I don’t eat chicken ‘cos I’m vegetarian” a lot and never hear “I eat fermented dairy and spinach everyday ‘cos I’m vegetarian”?

You see my point? Why is the glass always half empty and not half full?

What is an optimal vegetarian diet?

Nutrition is nothing more than fueling yourself with nutrients. While there are moral, religious and preferential winds that influence one’s nutritional path, a good diet (and by that I mean the food you eat on a daily basis for any significant amount of time) should focus more on ‘what is needed’ than on ‘what shouldn’t be eaten’. Talking about the vegetarian diet, if you have made the choice (or have been forced to make the choice, as in most cases) to remove meat and meat products from your diet, you better find a nutritionally equivalent if you desire to live without nutritional deficiencies.

In the case of the current Indian vegetarian diet (which is possibly the only case where people are born as vegetarians and have a really hard time even considering starting to eat meat or even eggs for that matter), a replacement does exist – grains. While grains fill in the gaps (physically) and calorically, they are in no way nutritionally equivalent to meat, seafood and eggs.

Make no mistake – I’m not even hinting that all meat inclusive diets are optimal or even marginally superior to vegetarian diets. Enough junk meat and meat products are available and most people find themselves eating plenty of crappy meat/meat products that health and nutrition are not anywhere close. But when one does make an attempt to start eating real food, the vegetarians face more of a challenge than the rest.

And if you’re wondering, this applies to me too. I live in India now which is more of a vegetarian society than anything else. Even meat eaters (affectionately called “NV” or non-vigitarians) are nothing more than vegetarians who eat a little  meat. That and the fact that quality meat is not easily available, forces me to eat a vegetarian diet for the most part.

So then the question is – what is an optimal vegetarian diet? And, not surprisingly, the answer to this question is the same as for the question – what is an optimal diet? An optimal diet (vegetarian or not) is one that provides the consumer with all the nutrients required for optimal functioning.

Focusing on the half that is full

All that said, an optimal vegetarian diet should…

  • Include plenty of vegetables, especially spinach and other greens since they are abundant in Vitamin K, Vitamin A and magnesium. While this is a rule that applies to both vegetarians and meat eaters alike, it needs to be more prominent in a vegetarian diet for the reason that since most vegetarian diets are dominated by grains, vegetables are almost non-existent. Most folks tend to eat a meal of rice/wheat with some form gravy and a tiny bit of vegetables and end up neglecting vegetables. Read this article about how the Indian vegetarian diet contains no vegetables!
  • Include a significant amount of fermented foods, especially dairy due to their richness in Vitamin B12. Fermented foods help by introducing beneficial bacteria into our gut (probiotics) and adding in such bacteria has shown to be extremely beneficial to health. Relief from lactose intolerance, protection against colon cancer, reduction in IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and urinogenital infection severity and frequency are some of the benefits. Also, vitamins available in foods are more readily available when the gut contains a healthy dose of beneficial bacteria. Whole milk yogurt/curd, natural aged cheeses, kefir, natto and tempeh are excellent choices for fermented vegetarian foods (provided they are made from top quality milk/soy beans).
  • Be rich in saturated fat. If you’re concerned/confused about saturated fat and its health consequences, read my article The Saturated Fat Scam which talks in length about why saturated fat isn’t harmful but abundantly healthy. Ghee, butter, coconut oil, coconut milk and coconut in any other form are foods that feature right at the top of the list of healthiest foods.
  • Include whole eggs. I’ve said this a million times and I will say it again – eggs are as awesome as awesome can get from a health perspective. Egg yolks are one of the healthiest foods anyone (especially vegetarians) can eat. Eggs yolks contain choline which is extremely critical for the body’s proper functioning, lutein which saves eyesight, contains essential fatty acids and healthy dose of cholesterol which, again, is a substance that is absolutely required for the body to function smoothly. Read this article by Arvind Ashok – Eat that yolk! – that talks plenty more about why you should eat whole eggs. And sorry, while the lack of protein due to an egg-less diet can be compensated for in many ways, I don’t have a nutritional substitute for eggs (especially yolks).
  • Supplement with fish oil. Fish oil is magic! It is rich in EPA & DHA (the important omega 3 fatty acids that you don’t get from flax seeds or walnuts) and Vitamins A and D and has health benefits ranging from protecting against cardiovascular diseases to protection against cancer to much improved joint health to protection against alzheimer’s and much more. I’ve written about this in the past and you can read this article to understand how beneficial fish oil truly is. While it is not in anyway a supplement, from a vegetarian’s perspective, it is best considered a medicine and gulped!
  • Obviously be devoid of allergens like gluten, industrially processed vegetable and seeds oils, preservatives, artificial sweeteners and sugars.
  • Obviously not be dependent on nutritionally inferior foods like grains.

So what might such a vegetarian diet look like?

Sample meal plan

For someone who is ~ 70 kg the following should satisfy pretty much all nutritional needs.

Breakfast

  • 1 cup whole milk (maybe coffee/tea) with 1 tsp sugar/honey
  • 2-3 idlies/dosas (or idiyappam or 1 cup poha/aval/white rice) with 3-4 tbls coconut chutney and 2 tsp ghee
  • 2-3 whole eggs with 30g cheese and 1 cup vegetables (Scrambled, omelet, sunny side up, baked, boiled, curry etc etc!)
  • 1-2 tsp cod liver oil

Lunch

  • 1 cup rice
  • 2 cups vegetables cooked in 1tbls coconut oil or ghee or butter
  • 1 cup sambar or rasam or daal
  • 1 cup yogurt
  • 2 cups raw vegetables topped with 2 tsp olive oil/sesame oil (i.e. non lettuce real salad)
  • 1 medium fruit

Dinner

  • 2 cups vegetables cooked in 1tbls coconut oil or ghee or butter
  • 1 cup daal or beans or pulses pressure cooked with simple vegetables, without oil and topped with 1-2 tsp olive oil/sesame oil
  • 1 cup horsegram upma or sprouted pulses toasted with shredded coconut
  • 1 cup whole milk yogurt or raita
  • 1 medium fruit or a couple of dates or a square of dark chocolate.

Snack options

Firstly, snacks are unnecessary unless you’re actually trying to gain some weight. So snack only when absolutely required. That means, don’t look for something to munch just ‘cos you have nothing else to do. Snack if you’re unusually hungry between two meals or realize the next meal is too far away. Here are some awesome snack options which will keep you full and satisfied physically and nutritionally.

  •  2 cups mixed vegetable raita (1 cup raw cut mixed vegetables like cucumber, carrot, spinach, green mango etc + 1 cup whole milk yogurt + seasonings
  • 1 tender coconut or 1 cup salt lassi/lassi and a small fruit
  • Fruit & veg bowl – Cut up avocado, raw green mango, onions, carrots, banana stem & tomato. Top with some olive oil, lemon juice, salt and spice.
  • Flavored paneer cubes – Mix up a bunch of spices you like and toss the cubed paneer (like a dry rub) and pan fry using ghee for 2-3 min per side.
  • Mix up  10-15 chopped nuts, couple tablespoons of fresh shredded coconut, a tablespoon of raisins, pinch of salt and pepper
  • 30-40g cheese/tempeh with a cup of fresh fruit

Note: This is NOT a fat loss diet. This is meant to fix you health by fixing your gut and once you’re able to do that, well, fat loss is just a side effect of that good health you just achieved!

And just so we’re clear

  • 1 cup = 240 ml. Anytime someone tells me ‘1 cup vegetables’ they’re talking about a cup so small you can fit in like one pea and anytime (the same) someone says ‘1 cup rice’ they’re talking about a barrel so big you can easily fit in a truck! So FYI, 1 cup = 240 ml irrespective of what is in it!
  • If you weigh more or less, adjust accordingly.
  • If fat loss is the goal, eat starch only during the meal that is immediately post workout. On other meals, stick to vegetables, cheese, milk/yogurt, lentils and fruit and stop eating well before you’re full. The best foods to pull out of this plan (when looking to lose fat) are snacks, rice and fruit in that order.
  • If you feel starved, eat more of the good stuff. Stay away from starch when you don’t need it.
  • Depending on what your current nutritional deficiencies are and what diseases you suffer from presently, you will need different amounts of different foods. It is on you to figure that out.

So what do you think? Is this a template something you can stick to (80% of the time) for a lifetime? Are there more things you’d like on here? What else stops you from eating real food? Talk to me in the comments section!

Stay sane. Stay patient. Don’t be greedy for weight loss. Focus on food quality and you’ll give yourself the gift of lifelong health and fitness.

Peace out.

Success Story: From overweight to awesome

Note: Read my previous article ‘How to go from overweight to awesome‘ first and understand what it actually takes to make a change this significant.

In March 2011, I got an email from this person…

Divya (October 2010)

… and it read –

Hello Raj!

Greetings from Sydney!  I came across your blog via the Jugalbandi blog, and was very impressed with your own story, the diabetic client’s story and so on.  Needed some advice, and perhaps you can help!

I am an almost 40 year old South Indian living in Sydney. I am currently a stay at home mom with  a  one year old daughter. I have always been overweight (obese per the BMI index calculations), although no noted medical problems.  I have had a typical sedentary lifestyle being in IT.  I am a staunch  vegetarian (no eggs, avoid cheeses that are made with rennet etc.) I do however love my milk, curds, ghee, paneer etc!

About 3 weeks ago, I felt bloated, uncomfortable and without energy. I decided to change my lifestyle, and slowly began cutting down on grains, and started some moderate 30 min work outs – with the Biggest Loser XBOX game.

Last week my med report showed  5.8 on the Total/ HDL Ratio. and the GP’s suggestion was ” get some cardio exercises”  and “watch your diet – dont eat fried stuff”.  I do know that typically the only cholesterol source that I have is the dairy products, so the last one week I have done away with dairy, have negligible oils, but landed up not watching the grains!!

I know from your blog I have to go  ‘grain free’. However with cholesterol do I have to give up dairy as well, or will the grain free diet be enough to correct the imabalances?  I dont mind swallowing fish oil if I have to …but really cant eat eggs, salmon etc! 😦   I want to stay fit as long as I live and have an active life …I dont want to run marathons etc!!  I lost two approx 3 kilos in 3 weeks and currently weigh 82kgs (my height is 5.2′), and want to get to 70 kilos for now.  Please advice!

Thanks  and Regards,

Divya

Realize that I get too many emails like this and 1) I’m not going to play doctor and give them specific health advice and 2) Is it worth my time? How many of these people are truly going to make a change? To want is one thing, but (as many of you know real well), to do is a whole different ball game. So I replied with general information that could possibly help her. Very similar to what you would find on my Nutrition Cheat Sheet.

I love helping people who are committed to make a change and I always give them a choice between…

Here is the general information I can give you. You can start here and continue making iterative improvements. I’ll help you as much as I can without getting into specific details.

and

If you are not comfortable doing this by yourself, then (and only then) we can consider an online consult.

I have certain rules when I work with people. I always urge people to make changes by themselves before ever getting into a consult with me since there is a lot one can do using the information that is on this site. Its never about the money. Its about the commitment. I don’t have enough time to consult with everyone who contacts me but I do have the information that could help pretty much everyone who reads this site. So why not use it right?

Anyways, after that initial email exchange, Divya kept sending me updates with plenty of questions and concerns. Soon, I realized she was not the usual ‘Help me now!!!‘ fat loss enthusiast but the unusual ‘I had a wake-up call and I’m ready to make a serious change!‘ fighter. Our interactions grew and we moved on from general recommendations to more specific recommendations as and when she shared more specific details with me. It had been 2-3 months since we started interacting and Divya was seeing some great results mainly because she was making every effort possible to eat real food irrespective of whether she was traveling or working or whatever. Only at this point (mid-May ’11) we got into a consult and we got into a more regimented approach with respect to nutrition and working out.

Slowly but steadily we worked our way up to 150+ emails. And this is what we have in the end after 10 months, here is what we have.

Part 1 – Some random emails

Exhibit A – An update email dated 8th June ’11

Hello Raj – Weighed and measured my self today.  Before starting the workouts my weight was already down to 71.65kilos!  I was 75kilos when I filled out your questionnaire.  Was thrilled to find that today’s reading was 70.40kilos!

Exhbit B – My reply

Divya,
You know why this is so awesome? Because on March 6th when you first wrote to me, you said…

“…I want to stay fit as long as I live and have an active life …I dont want to run marathons etc!!  I lost two approx 3 kilos in 3 weeks and currently weigh 82kgs (my height is 5.2′), and want to get to 70 kilos for now.  Please advice!

Thanks  and Regards,
Divya”

And in 3 months you have lost ~ 12 kg and reached your goal. All this while you slowly made changes to your diet and while you traveled to India and while you were a vegetarian! And guess what… you have just started consulting with me and your journey toward fitness has just begun!

Very very proud of you!

Keep pushing hard… its all going to be great!

Exhibit C – A not so unusual OMFG email dated 14th November ’11

Hi Raj!  I feel like I betrayed my good body!  I cooked and cooked and cooked for my little girls bday party. Sugar, Fat, Wheat, Deep frying etc etc! The food was a hit, and I did land up eating a lot – in the name of tasting etc. But my weight is down to 60.85 today!! Maybe yesterdays sins will catch up tomorrow!!

Exhibit D – My reply…

Youre good dude. Its your little ones bday and you had some fun. Chill out. Havent you realized that youre not the crash dieting type? You are all about lifestyle changes and thats why you are at 60kg today… far far away from where you started! You are adream client Divya! Dont feel bad about the party and please dont call it a sin. Food is nourishment for the most part and celebration rarely. Embrace it. You’re good dude… you’re good!

Smile… cos its all good!

Exhibit E – The final update dated 30th January ’12

Hi Raj! Didn’t realize its been over a month since my last update!!!  Well I got down to 56kgs and then did some mega cheats over the holidays!  I also landed up not working out for a week as I was down with a severe cold &flu!  Re-started my strict routine last week!

Part 2 – Some random thoughts from Divya

Note: I wanted to keep this real (like I always do in this blog) and hence didn’t want to Divya to write a  testimonial or anything. I asked her to jot down whatever she could come up with when thinking about the last 10 months and this is what she had to say. Again, everything is quoted verbatim.

* I have always been overweight / obese. I have tried a few diets and programs earlier. It’s always been a losing battle that left me demoralized.   I never realized health and fat-loss  is so unbelievably simple until I started reading Raj’s blog, and began trying his approach. am convinced that this lifestyle is one of the best, and I can very easily follow it for the rest of my life.

* Something clicked when I felt his no-nonsense approach. Fat-loss, not weight-loss. Nutrition, not skimpy diets. Minimal effective exercises, not boring cardios. Great Health, nor merely great looks.

* I was obese, had messed up cholesterol figures, sleep-deprived, stressed, irritable and totally unfit. I shot off a mail to Raj, not expecting him to reply to a random blog reader. To my pleasant surprise, with two days, I received not just a  reply, but  clear and concise guidance on what to eat, what to avoid, what supplements to take and how to begin exercising.

* I started feeling better, happier and healthier  almost immediately after I began following his advice on eating clean. What had always seemed a Herculean task, was suddenly so easy.  Weight seemed to fly off effortlessly right from week 1.

* Raj’s blog is a wealth of information for anybody.  His customized nutrition and exercise program even more effective. It  is easy to follow, and filled  with sample diets, exercise videos, inputs on what supplements to take and so on.  He understands where you are in life, and plans what’s just right for you, and directly addresses your goals.

* The nicest part –  he even tells you how to have your ice cream cheese cake sundae, without beating yourself up about it!

* Raj’s facebook group of likeminded people is huge support, in a world that still largely believes whole grains, low fat food, heaps of fruit  and expensive gym memberships are key to good health!

* I used to find simple day-to-day household work tiring. When I wasn’t at the office, I was zoned out on my bed in front of the TV, for entire weekends.  These days, I am nearly always out all day – Beaches, Parks, Swimming,Dancing, Music, having the time of my life with my toddler.  I am raring to go even after the part is over.

* Motivation  is key. It’s not enough just to want and wish to be fit. Healthy lifestyles cannot be just a choice. I believe it’s the only way to live.  I am in my 40s, and I found my motivation with the arrival of my little girl.   I HAVE TO BE physically and mentally young and healthy in order to be a good parent, for many many  more years to come

* Socializing, partying, travel is not so difficult, and becomes easier and easier once you learn how to choose the right foods within the options available.

* About Familial and social pressures – What I have realized, is that people who care about you, are happy with your choices when they see the good it’s doing you. The others who mock your choices or refuse to see reason  –  I couldn’t care less about!!

* Interactions with Raj – Always honest, factual, no-nonsense and very prompt!

Part 3 – The before and after

I work with so many overweight/obese folks and they all complain about how long a journey they have ahead of them. What they don’t realize is that a year or two of fighting hard results in 30 or 40 or even 50 more years of bliss!

Divya realized that and here she is showing us what (a short) one year of investing in health and fitness can do for you…

January 2011                                                         January 2012

Thank you Divya. Thank you for being awesome! You inspire me and I’m sure you will continue to inspire many many more folks who see, hear and learn about you!

Summary

So a 40 year old vegetarian (who doesn’t even eat eggs) was able to lose 60 lbs in 10 months and literally changed her life around. All this she did by just eating real food and working out 2-3 days/week for less than a total of 2.5 hours/week. I’m sure a lot of you eat ‘cleaner’ than she does and workout for much longer than she ever did, but there is something she did that you didn’t do – she stayed the course! Divya was very very consistent and lived true to her goals. And that is exactly why she is where she is today.

So I have nothing different to say other than stop complaining, quit whining, forget shortcuts, throw your excuses into the bin and start making a change already! But what do you have to say? Why are you not making the change? Is it motivation? Do you not have the resources? Can I help you in any other way? Let me know in the comments section.

Peace out.

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