Monthly Archives: November 2013

It’s a marathon, not a sprint

It’s all so fast paced today. It’s common to expect overnight turnaround on everything. Our microwaves heat up food within seconds. Our washing machines wash and dry within minutes. Our smart phones give us access to messages in milliseconds. And Facebook provides us information about everything about everyone we don’t really care about every second of every minute of everyday.

So it’s natural for us to expect things to be done quickly and this is absolutely fine. That’s what technology is meant to do – make life convenient, efficient, better, easier and, most importantly, faster.

But when we expect physiology to match technology, we have a problem. 

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Photo Credit: LindaSC via Flickr

You see, today, everyone wants to go to bed drowsy from a dozen donuts but wake up with washboard abs. And this in all probability includes you at some level. Quick results are what you’re after. You don’t care for patience anymore. You’re all about the results.

You don’t have the patience to focus on the process anymore. It’s all about what the process results in. You don’t really about the journey anymore. You’re too busy obsessing about results, you don’t take the time to enjoy the journey.

But let me know ask you this – What’s the hurry? What are you rushing towards? Why this insatiable desire to lose as much weight in as little time as possible?

It is this desperation that makes you vulnerable – vulnerable to food manufacturers who scam you into believing their food will let you have the cake and eat it too, vulnerable to pseudo-fitness gurus and gyms/fitness centers who promise you results that are too good to be true and vulnerable to a side of yourself that is always tempting you with shortcuts.

So what’s the deal then? Focus on slow gradual results over a period of time? Absolutely! And here’s why.

Firstly, any and all of your efforts towards fat loss and health are meant to be done for a long time. 3 months? No. 6? No. It’s more like for the rest of your life. In other words, it doesn’t matter how long it takes you to lose those kilos that you so desperately want to lose because if you don’t keep those kilos off you’re back to square one!

One way or the other you are going to have to keep doing what you did to get there, for the rest of your life. Let’s say you ate well and exercised consistently and lost a significant amount of weight and are now at a place where you are happy with yourself. If you choose to stop and go back to living like you did earlier, you will end up going to looking and feeling like you did earlier. No doubt about that.

The only way to consistently and sustainably stay in shape and/or in good health is to make long lasting sustainable changes to your habits – physical, nutritional, physiological and social.

With that being the case, let me ask you again, what’s the hurry? What are you rushing towards?

Realize, it’s not a sprint. It’s a marathon and a hard one at that. The better you pace yourself, the more you learn about yourself, the better you plan your life, the more sustainable your results will be.

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It’s about skills

I think I was 7 when I first tried riding a real bicycle – you know, the one without the balancing wheels and baguette basket. I spent most of my childhood being a short kid and then I grew up to become a short adult. So I clearly remember a friend helping me climb on the machine before I pushed the pedal, experienced a magical moment of lightness and then fell face down. Little did I know that the face plant was the start of a journey. An incredible journey that will have challenged my idea of movement, distances and independence.

The process of learning this simple act of moving through three dimensional space by merely pressing on a pedal was the foundation of so many things. It taught me balance, pace and focus. I experienced for the first time that amazing feeling of speed. It made distances seem plausible. It made transport more time efficient. It ended my limited world view of just a few meters and made me look further. It made me independent. It opened up a whole new world.

That’s the beauty of learning skills. Every time you learn a skill you add another tool to your toolbox and a new perspective towards life is created. You are now capable of more. Impossible tasks now seem possible. More of the world applies to you and new interests and opportunities present themselves.

Bodily movements work the same way. Every movement is a skill and needs to be treated as a skill. You need to learn the skill before you start using the skill to help you in life. The squat, which is the most fundamental movement there is, is the most basic and important skill you can learn. Once you have mastered this skill, you can move on to bigger and better things. But first, you need to master the squat. The hinge isn’t any different. You need to learn to hinge properly, and by that I mean activating the appropriate muscle groups, tempo, breathing, stability etc., before you start using the hinge in movements like the kettlebell swing, barbell deadlift, broad jump, barbell clean and snatch.

Adarsh and Chezhiyan can squat and hinge a truck but they took their time to learn the basics.

Unsurprisingly, this is the case with any movement in any activity whatsoever. Be it the pushup or the cover drive or the forehand volley or even, running. It is absolutely critical to learn to do the movement well first before you start using the movement in life – to help you lose fat or get stronger or strike the ball faster or whatever it is that you’re looking for.

But here’s the deal – failures and mistakes are a part of learning.

You will  inevitably fail in almost each progressive step and that’s OK! The failures are what makes the process educational. If you remember, learning to ride a bicycle wasn’t easy or eventless. Countless falls triggering false alarms, innumerable bruises calling for Dettol and Soframycin and scars that serve as battle wounds till today were a part of the process. But then, a priceless skill was learnt.

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The handstand is a skill the demands practice, patience and common sense

This holds true for movements too. The first few weeks when you learn a new movement chances are high that you do the movement wrong. You will probably feel the wrong muscles. You may feel excessively sore. You may even strain a muscle or two. But that’s OK! You are learning a skill and you are allowed to fall and, more importantly, learn from it. It is this process of learning from your mistakes that help you move towards mastery. So don’t shy away from it. Don’t lose heart. Don’t freak out. And don’t run around screaming bloody murder. It’s OK. You fell. You will get back up. You may fall again and that’s OK too. It’s only matters that you learn from your mistakes.

At the end of the day, it’s about skills. The more time you invest in learning skills, the more dedicated you are to betterment, the more tools you will possess and the more you can do in life.

Why even eat that broccoli?!

A couple of days back I was eating broccoli poriyal for lunch and thought to myself ‘Damn! This tastes pretty bad!’. My cook is pretty good at what she does (if given sufficient time and the right ingredients, of course) and generally cooks delicious food. But when it comes to unfamiliar vegetables like broccoli, zucchini, avocado etc, she’s not quite the MasterChef.

So I’m thinking ‘Why is this broccoli dish so average?’ and I come up with –

  • The quality of the broccoli is pretty bad
  • Her way of cooking broccoli, doesn’t quite gel well with how I’m used to eating broccoli.
  • The broccoli stands out as a tongue-sore in an otherwise Indian meal.

So why even eat broccoli? Why even buy broccoli in spite of it being not great in quality, hard to source, expensive and tough to pair with a typical meal? Because we are told it’s healthy healthful.

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(Image credit: http://www.info.novu.com)

I’m going to go out on a limb and bust a little bubble here for you. Nutritious food is not what the Americans eat. Or what the Japanese munch on. Or what the Kitavans lived off of. Or what cavemen gobbled up. Nutritious food is food that is high in nutrition, period. Nothing more and definitely nothing less. But Since most of the nutrition related information and data we are exposed to are from the US or Europe, we tend to believe that a nutritious diet is one dominated by salads and broccoli and quinoa and salmon and avocados and kale and berries and other ingredients we Indians had no idea about even just a couple of decade ago. Obviously that makes no sense considering how our ancestors thrived merely and purely on foods that were easily and locally available.

The fact is that in order for you to thrive you need to feed your body the required micro and macro nutrients namely protein, carbohydrate, fat, vitamins and minerals. Where these nutrients come from can vary greatly based on geographic location, availability and cooking methods but what matters it that you nourish your body with these nutrients. Where you get these nutrients from matter less.

Let’s break this down a little bit. Why is broccoli such an ambassador of health? Because it  is low in calories and high in a few vitamins (C & K) and is rich in fiber. See WHFood image below.

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Sure, this is an impressive spread for a vegetable but this really isn’t something we can’t get from foods that are more local, easy to source, less expensive, better in quality and lend themselves to traditional cooking. In the region where I currently live in (Chennai, India), there are quite a few alternatives. Let me name a few.

Okra, the vegetable that we’re told improves ‘brain power’, has a long list of health benefits and wonderful spread of nutrients for almost negligible amount of calories. Read more.

Bitter gourd, the weirdly textured, bitter and hated vegetable, is excellent for gastrointestinal issues, ulcers, intestinal worms, kidney stones and is protection against diabetes. 

The banana flower and stem from the banana tree are so nutritious I won’t be doing justice writing just a couple of lines about them. Read more.

Add to that the various different types of spinach and the humble and simple fruits like the many types of bananas, guavas and oranges and we have pretty much every nutrient any green leafy vegetable or berry can provide you with.  And why do I not have a fancy chart like I did for broccoli? Because these foods are specific to a part of the world that isn’t the US or Europe and, since it isn’t global enough, no one cared to showcase their awesomeness in a legitimate fashion. Not yet.

So is the case with other celebrated foods like quinoa, berries, kale, olive oil etc. They are truly rich in nutrients and have the potential to make you ‘healthier’ but they are not a need or a necessity. Trying to make these foods a regular in your diet makes it unsustainable and hence useless at some point of time.

So what is the take away here?

  • Understand what healthful eating means and do that based on where and how you live. There is no one blanket recommendation for health. Not everyone needs to eat broccoli or drink kefir or cook in ghee. Form your pantry with ingredients that you like, are readily available and sustainable.
  • Identify local and seasonal foods that are healthful. Eating local produce that is in season reduces the need for pesticides, doesn’t depend on being preserved during transport, is less expensive, is more sustainable, easier on the environment and will nourish you with the nutrients you need for that particular time of the year.
  • Keep your food life simple with a few celebrated meals. For some of us in India carrot, beans, tomatoes, tubers, gourds and spinach are on our plates year around with a few special appearances every now and then. For some of us in western countries broccoli, kale, asparagus, brussel sprouts and berries may be regulars with banana stem, bitter gourd etc being specials. It doesn’t matter. It only matters that you eat foods that promote health and stay away from foods that don’t.
  • You can’t and shouldn’t try to eat everything that is healthful but you can and should work on reducing consumption of foods that are detrimental to health.

 

At the end of the day, health is a concept and the only way to make it a part of your life is to understand it. Following plans and going out of your way to source exotic vegetables won’t work for too long. Live off what your part of the earth gives you. Don’t obsess. Don’t overthink. Don’t mess with it.

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