Monthly Archives: January 2013

A storm is coming

You think you’ve seen fast food? You think you’ve found a way to eat well? You think your principles are so solid and grit so great it can’t be broken? Think again.

In the last 100 years…

  • Twinkies, oreo cookies, dairy milk, snickers bars, horlicks, bournvita, coca-cola, sprite and a million other foods that are purely meant to satisfy the tongue were invented.
  • Butter, ghee, eggs, meat, white rice and vegetables went out of fashion.
  • Junk food giants like McDonalds, Burger King, Taco Bell, Denny’s, Pizza Hut and a hundred others took over from moms across the world.
  • Breakfast was permanently changed to sweetened nutritionally empty cereal and fatless flavorless white liquid from eggs, meat, vegetables and fruits.
  • Food, in all it’s glory, had to be referred to as Real Food.
  • And very recently, the internet came into existence and we now live in a virtual world which tickles sensory receptors enough for one to justify his/her craving for comfort food on a random Tuesday afternoon.
  • Compared to the last 1 million years, the past century has seen an astronomical spike in junk food consumption and there is no plateau predicted in the near future.

Now with all this already existing and with technology making anything and everything available right here and right now and with service becoming so efficient ice creams are being delivered across continents, you still think you’re safe?

A storm is coming! Stay home.

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What is an ocean but a collection of droplets?

Everyone wants to workout and then not think about health or fitness for the rest of the day. ‘Getting done’ seems to be all the rage now and smart fitness marketers seem to ride the wave pretty well. I’m not one to smartly market BS so I’ll tell you this – sustainable long term fitness results not from workouts you force yourself to do, but from activities that you can’t stop yourself from doing.

Become that person. Park the car slightly away from where you intend to go. Always, and I repeat always, take the stairs and encourage people with you to do the same. Carry your own groceries. Help someone carry something. Lift your luggage instead of rolling it. Take the trash out. Stand for no reason. Walk even when you get the slightest chance. Be greedy for work.

Collect every single droplet of activity that comes your way and you’ll realize that the ocean isn’t as big as you thought it was.

Festivals – To feast or not to feast?

I wrote this article for a magazine called Chateratti sometime in November ’12 just before the festival season in India started but since this is super relavent today (Pongal), I’m posting it here. Enjoy.

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This year, feast your way to fitness!

It is that time of the year again. The time crowded with festivals. The time when everything from kozhakattai to eggnog appear from nowhere and end up as flab. The time when sugar and fat fight for dominance in the war towards obesity, diabetes and heart diseases. This is also the time when we see a gazillion articles about what to eat, what not to eat, how to control your fingers from reaching for those sinful pieces of awesomeness and what weird concoctions you can drink to minimize the ill effects of all the feasting.

Sure, this is another such article, but I, on the other hand, am going to recommend that you feast! I’m going to ask you to stop worrying about your waistline and think about enjoying the moment. I’m going to tell you that you’re better off eating them treats than staying away and eventually crying yourself to sleep.

Firstly, let’s take a quick minute to understand festivals. ‘A festival is a special occasion of feasting or celebration that is marked by special observances, that is usually religious’. Festivals have been around for as long as religion has been around but the term ‘festival’ was first recorded as a noun in 1589 and not surprisingly, the etymology of ‘feast’ is very similar to that of ‘festival’.

Talking about the word ‘feast’, humans are very well acquainted to feasting. We have been feasting (and by that I mean consuming food to a point of physical discomfort) for tens of thousands of years, and, thanks to evolution, our bodies are perfectly well equipped to deal with the effects of such behavior.

Back in the paleolithic era, before Ruffles, refrigerators and religion came into existence, feasting was a regular part of a human’s life. Food storage not being an option, food (which was perishable) either had to be consumed or wasted and, of course, wasting was not an option. We, as hunter-gatherers, spent the day hunting-gathering food for the family/group/clan and spent the night feasting on the days “work”. There were days we ate modest quantities of food and then there were days when gluttony was the theme of the night.

This practice of feasting and fasting, lasts till today. Every religion and culture in the world, be it the Muslims during Ramadan or the Massas during Guru Walla, have festivals and religious observances which circle around fasting and feasting.

Feasting being such an integral part of festivals and human evolution in general, it is absolutely unacceptable that we don’t partake in it. Wouldn’t you agree?

The point is to remember that festivals are awesome. Festivals are about food and family and feasting and laughter and memories and everything else that is good about life! They are special… very special and that’s why they appear only once on your calendar. And the best advice I can give you about staying in shape during the festive season is… keep special occasions special.

Realize that a special occasion is only special if it happens occasionally. Be it spending time with your giant family or munching on goodies, if it happens a little too frequently you’re in for trouble.

Think about it.

If you went around bursting crackers everyday, how enjoyable is that really and why would you look forward to Diwali? If we threw Ganpath idols into the well every morning, why would every kid anxiously wait for that yearly moment to hear the “plop” when the idol hits the water? If you could throw colors at people every morning, how many happy faces are you going to see and why would the early morning scare on Holi be anything to look forward to?

Similarly, if sweets and other festive foods are things you eat everyday, how much do you think that is helping you with respect to health and why would any festival be special?

Listen, I know eating junk during festivals sounds sinful and dangerous and I’ll probably be given the ‘worst coach of the year’ award for asking you to forget about your waistline and go at it this year. But, trust me, it isn’t during festivals that people become fat or unhealthy. It is during the rest of the year and due to their actions during the rest of the year. Get your mind right…

  • Eating a whole sugarcane once a year isn’t killing you. Your daily dose of sugar laden processed junk and pseudo health foods are.
  • Enjoying fresh homemade sweets three to four times a year isn’t making you fat. Your habit of eating sugary snacks between meals and dessert after every meal is.
  • Devouring that festive meal with vadai and paayasam isn’t pushing you up a dress/waist size. Considering vadai as an acceptable everyday breakfast item is.

And finally, feasting on awesomeness and overdosing on happiness a few times a year isn’t dangerous by any stretch of imagination. Turning everything special into something mundane by making it a part of your daily life is.

So if you truly want good health, stop looking for temporary fixes and crash diets. Think long term. Understand that health, well being, fitness and (true unphotoshopped) good looks are a result of consistently and cumulatively making good life and food choices. Nothing more and definitely nothing less.

Adios.

Grains: Solving a problem that doesn’t exist anymore

A few hundred years ago in a village there was a school. One day when the teacher was taking class, a cat sat right out the door and cried for food. He stopped class to feed the cat and then continued on. Slowly, the cat got into the habit of crying for food everyday and they got into the habit of feeding him everyday before class. Many decades passed and there was a new teacher with a new set of students. When he was just about to start class, one of the observers stopped him and announced that the cat needs to be fed before commencing class. But there was no cat. So, they found a cat, fed him and then commenced class.

Similarly, a grain based diet is a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist anymore.

Back in the day, when grain dominance came about, high activity levels demanded high calorie consumption and the excellent quality of ingredients available back then meant we only needed to eat enough vegetables, fruits, dairy etc to get all the required micro and macro nutrients.

Today, very low activity levels demand low calorie consumption and the horrendous quality of ingredients available mean we need to eat plenty more vegetables, fruits, dairy, eggs and other real foods in order the get the required micro and macro nutrients.

So how about we work on solving the problem that does exist today?

And the way to do that – kill the starch (rice, bread, roti, oats, corn flakes, ragi etc) and other empty calories (junk, fruit juice, flavored dairy etc.) and fill up on organic real foods (produce, dairy, eggs, seafood and meat). Or, as Arvind recommends, just turn your plate around, increase the side dishes and reduce the starch.

Here are some resources to help you along the way.

Adios!

PS: The story about the school is from one of my reader’s blog (not related to nutrition). I’m not able to say where exactly I read it and I apologize for that. But if you’re reading this, do drop in a comment and I’ll link to your blog and credit you. Thanks much. 

Why your shoes are making you poor and your sports drinks are making you fat.

For those of you who didn’t already know, I write for The Week’s health magazine called Smart Life and the following article appeared in the November 2012 issue. The magazine is pretty cool actually. They are only about a year old and are slowly gaining readership. They have a good collection of articles in each issue and more importantly, an issue editor who cares about the content. Definitely something to check out if you are into magazines.

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Keep it sane. Keep it simple. 

Why your shoes are making you poor and your sports drinks are making you fat.

Like a lot of things in life, thanks to smart marketing, we have been misguided into believing that health and fitness depend on external factors like complicated analyses and branded health foods. A list of such marketing gimmicks can be very long, but I’ll discuss today, my top three repeat offenders in any layperson’s fitness life.

  1. Expensive shoes
  2. Body composition analyses
  3. Sports drinks

Shoes

Shoes are awesome. They come in a million color combinations, cost from nothing to everything and can make or break your ‘cool quotient’. But the question here is, are they necessary for training? Yes and no.

If you’re training for performance, be it weight lifting or playing a sport or running or sprinting, shoes become an absolute necessity. But for the general fat loss enthusiast, shoes are nothing more than an(other) expensive buy.

Realize that your feet contain 19 muscles, 107 ligaments, 26 bones and 7000 nerve endings and that they all require activation and/or strengthening in order to optimally perform during long term usage (i.e life). That being the case, it goes without saying that your feet need to be ‘used’ and shoes, with all the padded soles and constraining enclosures, don’t help because they end up over-protecting your feet and end up acting like crutches for your feet.

By living without shoes i.e. walking barefoot at home, training barefoot and gradually increasing intensity etc., you, firstly, strengthen the finer muscle fibers, tendons, ligaments and connective tissue that help keep your feet healthy and, secondly, facilitate better coordination due to improved neuromuscular communication within the body by means of activating the thousands of nerve endings on your feet and toes.

Summing up: Wear shoes. Look cool. But spend enough time barefoot too. Your feet will thank you.  Barefoot shoes like Vibram, Merrell and Innov8 are great options to strengthen your feet while still keeping them protected from sharp objects and high heat. 

Body composition analyses

Anytime anyone joins a new upscale gym, one of the first tests that is done on them is the body composition analysis i.e. determine how much of their body weight is fat, how much is lean mass (muscle, bone etc.) and how much is water.

In a world that believes ‘the more complicated a process is, the better it is!’, such analyses are done using different methods – from very cumbersome acts like hydrodensitometry (underwater weighing) to more technologically advanced and convenient methods like bioelectric impedance analysis (BIA), Dual Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry (DEXA) and Whole Body Gamma Counter (WBD) to more basic methods like skin-fold measurements and Body Mass Index (BMI) calculations.

Though there are multiple methods available today to perform a body composition analysis, there are some inherent flaws in all of them.

  1. Most convenient or easy or basic methods are grossly inaccurate. BIA, BMI and skin-fold methods can show numbers that are anywhere from 5 to 30% away from the real number.
  2. The methods that are fairly accurate are either super cumbersome (like hydrostatic  weighing) or ridiculously expensive for the purpose (like DEXA and WBD).
  3. And most importantly, none of these numbers actually matter for the general fitness enthusiast or even to athletes until they get to the elite level. For someone who is looking to lose fat, the plan of action is to eat right and train smart. Knowing how much percentage of their body weight is fat does nothing with their progress other than encouraging obsessive behavior. In other words, unnecessary stats don’t help.

All this said, I have my own body fat testing apparatus. It is a complex piece of equipment and it provides you with exactly the answer you need to help you move ahead in your journey. I didn’t design it and I don’t get a get if you use it, but I strongly recommend that you purchase and use it.

It is called ‘the mirror’ and it only has one reading – ‘If it jiggles, it is fat’.

Summing up: Save your money and sanity. See yourself in the mirror often and get a picture every week. In a few weeks you’ll be able to clearly say if you’re gaining or losing fat and where. 

Sports drinks

Gatorade and other such sports drinks are a fitness enthusiast’s elixir today because he/she believes that his/her training was intense enough to require special recovery fluids and that consuming a well-branded drink will help achieve his/her goals better and faster.

Unfortunately, a lot of this ‘belief’ is born from the smart marketing that is used to sell these sugary drinks to the common man. While the composition of any sport drink is water, lots of sugar, food coloring, preservatives and additives the marketing emphasizes on the presence of electrolytes. As important as they sound and as important as they are for an intensely performing human body, electrolytes (like sodium, potassium, chloride etc.), are very easily available without sugar, preservatives and additives from whole foods.

Most people get enough sodium and chloride just from salting their food well and more than required amounts of potassium and bicarbonate can be easily obtained by eating bananas or, even better, drinking tender coconut water. For example, while a 1 liter of Gatorate Rain provides you with 120mg of potassium (along with 56grams of sugar!), one serving of tender coconut water can nourish you with approximately 250mg of potassium.

The fact is that recovery drinks do help, but only when training at an extremely high level of intensity. I (and many of my fat-loss and performance seeking clients) have been training intensely for many years now, and not once have I found the need to even sip on a sport drink or recommend one to my clients.

Summing up: Quit drinking sugary colored fluids irrespective of whether they have a ‘healthy’ marketing label associated with them or not. Choose whole real foods. A good diet will, by design, provide you with the required amount of electrolytes to satisfy your body’s needs. 

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