Category Archives: Chapters from my book of life

Self Experimentation – Vegetarian Diet (Part 1)

For folks who have been following this blog this is no news, but for the rest, I recently relocated to India and am in the process of launching The Quad along with chill-meister Arvind Ashok. I am of the habit of posting periodic updates about my health, nutrition, training, bodycompoisition and goals and this is one such post.

The last time I posted an update was on the 21st of July and in that post I had mentioned that I ate per MY optimal traditional diet, listed out what exactly I ate and posted a picture of show body composition. You can read that in detail here. From July 21st to now (15th August) the following happened…

I spent my last two weeks in the US eating all kinds of junk food. Every night my taste buds thanked me for the awesome ice cream or frozen yogurt or pizza or stuffed french toast or pancakes or croissants and every morning my gut cursed me for the damage that happened within the four secure walls of my restroom. And this continued till the moment I actually boarded the plane out of San Francisco.

Last meal in SF! Thanks to Arvind for the chocolate hazelnut croissants!

Once in Chennai (India), I have been hanging with my parents in their house (while painfully looking for a place of my own which will be closer to where The Quad operates). This means a purely vegetarian fare with eggs being an exception. My mom, who is a super staunch vegetarian, was nice enough to allow me to cook eggs in the house. And yes, she has deemed certain vessels and utensils as egg-stuff and they won’t be used to cook anything else for the family anymore.

While my parents are super cool and will put up with my bringing meat home or cooking meat in a crockpot in my room, I respect their choices and outlook towards meat eating and will never do something that will make them uncomfortable in their own house.

As a result, my diet for the last couple of weeks has been basically  PLENTY of vegetables, 3-4 country eggs a day, 1-2 cups of grass fed dairy a day, sweet potatoes, soaked and cooked lentils, rice, whey, coconut oil, sesame oil, ghee and ice-cream. I’m not one to demand things even at my own house and hence eat whatever is available (ensuring it falls within my dietary recommendations for the most part) or whip something up for myself (eggs etc.). But what is awesome is that we have a new cook (Saraswathi) who has decades of experience cooking south Indian food and she amazes me every single day with whatever she makes. In addition to the usual rice, sambar, rasam etc she makes it a point to make a huge serving of some spinach dish, a mixed vegetable dish, a third vegetable dish and some form of lentils. Lucky lucky me!

But you know why else I’m lucky? For the last 20 days, all I did was to try to eat right, train smart and maintain my body composition. But instead I ended up getting leaner than I expected!

Now let’s get into the details.

My typical day:

8 am – Wake up

8:30 am – Walk the dog for 15 min.

9:30 am – Black coffee on some days. Nothing on the other.

1 pm – End fast with a fruit. I eat only tropical fruits that are in season like guava, mountain banana, orange, avocado etc.

2-3 pm – Lunch. Typically huge servings of 2-3 types of vegetables cooked in a typical south Indian fashion along with a cup or more of yogurt and another fruit or two. Below is an example. I would typically eat twice the amount shown on the plate and finish the meal with a cup of fruit.

Homemade whole milk yogurt, paneer subji, beans & carrot, cabbage kootu

5pm – Black coffee.

5:30 to 7pm – Workout & stretch

7:30 pm – 1 scoop whey in whole raw milk, some starch like sweet potato or lentils and a fruit or two.

9pm – Dinner. Typically 3-4 country eggs, a whole bunch of vegetables cooked in ghee, a cup of lentils, a cup of homemade yogurt. In addition to whats shown below I ate another cup of homemade whole milk yogurt and maybe some whey.

11pm – About 1/2-1 cup ice-cream. (I know my buddy JC will be proud of this. So tonight’s cup of chocolate ice-cream it dedicated to you brother!)

Country eggs, capsicum sauteed with idly, daal, okra pachadi, yogurt

Macros:

Clearly I didn’t count anything and ate to appetite. I’m guessing I ate about 90-100 g of protein (from eggs, yogurt, whey, lentils & vegetables). I ate starches and sugars in the post workout meal only. But since I ate only 2 meals and my post workout meal was the one with significant number of calories, I ate plenty of carbs. I kept the fat intake fairly low and, as usual, got all my fats from whole foods (yogurt, avocado, eggs, homemade paneer). But if you asked me how many grams of what I ate or how many calories I consumed or what macronutrient ratio I ate per, I have no idea and I’ll say I ate real food and I ate to appetite!

Micros & Supplements:

Since I ate more than copious amounts of a variety of vegetables I didn’t take in any supplement. But considering I am getting in some vegetable oils (sesame oil) I should probably supplement with some omega-3s.

Snacks:

I had none. When I eat, I like to eat big. But seriously? You can’t go from lunch to dinner without food? 6-7 hours without food is such a big deal? Really? I’ll write a detailed post on snacking soon.

Water:

Only whenever I’m thirsty and since I’m in hot and humid Chennai that works out to be about 2+ liters a day.

Training:

You can check my Facebook group for specific exercises, reps, sets etc. but I did ONLY bodyweight exercises with absolutely no equipment. My training was built around compound full body moves like multiple grip pushes/presses, pullups, sprints, handstand pushups, pistols etc. I didn’t do any cardio or bicep curls or ab work or use any machines or even step into a gym. I worked out at home every single day making do with whatever was available. So pullups were done on a ledge and farmers walks were done with suitcases.

Cheats:

I didn’t eat a full fledged cheat meal ‘cos I didn’t crave anything really. All the real food along with the daily ice cream and/or chocolate kept me very satisfied. Honestly, I would call my 2-3 non-vegetarian dinners outside as cheats ‘cos I’m more than sure the meat was not good quality, the oils used were sketchy and freshness/cooking methods were questionable.

Results:

Feel: I feel absolutely awesome. No indigestion. Bowel movements are better than ever. Sleep is great. Energy level is awesome. Recovery is super.

Strength: I have no way to check if my squat and deadlift numbers of gone up or down ‘cos I got no equipment and I haven’t been doing them. But all my bodyweight exercises have been progressing solidly and hence I’m not concerned about strength.

Endurance: I’m definitely building it back up. No questions there.

Mobility: Like a well oiled hinge! No aches or pains either.

Body weight: Down from ~ 148 lb to ~ 144 lb in 2-3 weeks.

Body fat: Definite drop. My chest, arm and thigh measurements are the same while my waist and belly button circumference are down 1.5″ each.

Overall body composition: See the picture below. I’m definitely lean in both cases but clearly leaner now. Here are a couple of things to keep in mind.

  • The are only about 20 days between the two updates and hence such a change in bodycomp is significant mainly because I wasn’t even trying.
  • After July 21st I went on a crazy junk food eating spree when I gained a bunch of body fat. Too bad I don’t have a picture of myself just before leaving the US ‘cos that comparison would’ve been something to look at!
  • During the first update, I was eating plenty of protein and weight training using barbells etc. and for this one, it was all bodyweight training and real food vegetarian diet.

Why this improvement in body comp? What did I learn from this? How can you benefit this n=1 experiment? Will this change any of my recommendations? If yes, how?

I’ll answer these questions and more in the next post. Until then share your experiences wrt change in diet or training in the comments section and share my vegetarian experience in your social networks!

Peace out.

Training & Nutrition Update – My Optimal Diet

Like I mentioned in the last post about determining your own optimal diet, I have been eating purely per my optimal diet and I thought I’d share my results from eating like this for about 8-9 months now.

The Training:

  • Trained 3-4 days a week for a total training time of about 3 to 3.5 hours per week.
  • 2 days a week – 60 min strength training sessions, 1 day a week – 40 min bodyweight session, 1 day a week – 15 min sprints session
  • Strength training involved back squats, front squats, deadlifts, presses, weighted pushups, weighted chinups, rows and cleans.
  • Bodyweight training involved planks, pushups, chinups, burpees, sprints, jump squats, pistol squats, handstand pushups, elevated pushups and pike presses.
  • I walked about 15 miles (24 kms) per week. This was just my usual walks to clear my head and my strolls with the lady and Calvin.

The Diet:

The following was my diet for the most part. And most part would mean 85% of the time.

  • I didn’t eat breakfast and ate lunch directly. This was mostly because my last meal ended at midnight most days and I’m just never hungry until lunch time. Most of my calories were consumed after training irrespective of when I trained.
  • I ate real food. I mostly ate white rice, vegetables (carrots, tomatoes, spinach, onions, peppers), fruits (orange, apple, banana, plum, berries, avocado), free range poultry (chicken thigh), wild caught seafood (salmon, cod, snapper, oysters, turbot), organic free range eggs, whole milk yogurt, almond milk and coconut products.
  • I didn’t count calories but made sure I ate about 150-175 g of protein everyday. I supplemented with whey or cottage cheese if I didn’t get good quality meat (which happened a lot).
  • I ate carbs everyday. On workout days I ate rice twice a day along with some vegetables and plenty of roots/tubers. On rest days I ate rice or some roots/tubers during my main meal (which was dinner).
  • I didn’t add fat to my food except for a little bit of ghee/coconut oil. Most of my fats came from avocado, yogurt, meat, coconut milk, fish and eggs.
  • Anytime I ate out I ordered some lean meat and vegetables. If it was PWO, I got rice too.
  • On workout days I ate very few fibrous vegetables and focused on protein and starch. On rest days, I loaded up on plenty of different kinds of vegetables.
  • I drank 2-3 cups of black coffee everyday just because I like coffee.
  • I drank about 3 liters of water everyday. Never forced myself to drink any water but at the same time didn’t let myself get thirsty either. There were days when I was out and didn’t get to drink any water.
  • I never starved but I did overeat a little too often.

Here are the supplements I took.

  • Nothing except whey protein if and when I didn’t quality meat.

Here is how I got my micronutrients.

  • Vitamin D from sunlight.
  • Vitamin C from fruit.
  • Other vitamins and minerals from diet (so no need for multi-vitamin)
  • Omega 3s from seafood

And here are the deviations…

  • Every week. Sometimes twice a week as I got leaner.
  • I ate plenty of frozen yogurt during this period. If I had to guess I’d say I averaged about 10-12 ounces every week.
  • My ‘true cheats’ were epic. For eg. One weekend, in a 16 hour period, I had a plate of Moroccan tagine, 14 oz frozen yogurt,  1 plate of french toast topped with syrup along with potatoes and eggs, 1 large Vietnamese sandwich, 3 pretty big and exquisite donuts, 1 medium pizza and 3 bread sticks.
  • My cheats included frozen yogurt, pizza, bread, ice cream, cereal bars (people eat this for breakfast? seriously?) and more.
  • Days when food was total junk or if I got no vegetables and fruits whatsoever, I’d take one multi-vitamin.

The Lifestyle:

  • Was pretty erratic to start with. I had to travel every week. I’d fly out Monday and fly back in on Thursday. This messed with my routine ‘cos I had to adjust to food availability depending on where I was and since I had to wake up at 4am on days I flew I couldn’t train on those days.
  • Lot of airport and commuting time. I made it a point to never roll my suitcase, to never take the elevator/escalator and to never sit at the gate. That helped in staying active.
  • I ate out a lot with the lady and met friends for dinner/lunch too many times.
  • I kept my stress levels low. Super low actually.
  • On days that I flew sleep was messed up. But on all other days I think I averaged about 7-8 hours of sleep.

Results:

  • Lost about 5 lb of fat.
  • Strength in all lifts were maintained and I PR-ed on the front squat and deadlift.
  • No injuries. No joint pains. No lethargy. No depression. No uncontrollable cravings.
  • Energy level was super high throughout the day. I woke up every morning feeling strong and ready to go!
  • No gut issues. No constipation or loose stools.
  • I wasn’t fat or anything to begin with but I definitely was carrying around some excess fat ‘cos I was preparing for the Starting Strength Cert etc etc, but body composition definitely improved.

The Picture Evidence:

And here is a picture of myself from yesterday.

Yea I know I look like a tool here, but I don't think anyone is here for my purty face. Deal with it!

I know this isn’t the perfect diet or the perfect way to eat or train, but who gives a crap? This is what works for ME. This is what is sustainable for ME. This is what makes ME enjoy fitness. And guess what,

  • I seem to get more than the required macros and micros.
  • I’m getting stronger and faster.
  • My mobility seems to be spot on.
  • I like how I look.
  • I wake up energized and have no issues falling asleep.
  • I feel great throughout the day with no physical or mental drag whatsoever.
  • My blood work looks great.

Clearly, MY optimal diet is working for ME from both a health and a fitness perspective! How about you? Have you found your optimal diet yet?

What did healthy south Indians eat in the early 1900s?

The other day I was chillin with the Calmeister and I realized something – my great-grandparents lived long and strong! My great-grandfather lived till he was 88 and my great-grandmother till she was 92. Both of them lived very healthy lives with absolutely no chronic illnesses like diabetes or high BP or cancer and only finally surrendering to infectious diseases during their ripe old ages.

So to understand further how they lived and what they ate, I called my  grandmother (their daughter) who is now 77 years old and lives with my parents in Chennai, India. Though she is diabetic and is suffering from some other ailments, she is doing well for the most part and can talk till the cows go home! Here is what she had to tell me about her parents’ diet.

Just so you know:

Both my great-grandparents,

  • like everyone else in my family back then and now, were vegetarians consuming only plant foods with the exception of dairy.
  • consumed absolutely no meat or eggs due to moral and religious reasons.
  • were in no way outliers and their food intake, lifestyle and good health were very representative of others who lived in their village during the early 1900s.

Nutrition:

Back in their younger days, my great-grandparents weren’t really that well-off and hence had to make do with whatever food they could afford. As a result…

  • Food was consumed in small quantities saving gluttony for religious festivals.
  • Rice was the staple and was consumed multiple times a day everyday.
  • Lentils were consumed about once a month when ‘specialty’ dishes like dosa and idli were cooked.
  • Vegetables were consumed when available and were mostly less special and mundane (carrots, onions, tomatoes, spinach etc.)
  • Fruits were hardly consumed and if they were consumed, whatever seasonal fruits that were available were consumed.
  • Oils were hardly used. Each person consumed about a tablespoon of oil per day, if that. Sesame oil was the oil of choice.
  • Pazhaya sadham or old rice (rice cooked the previous day and soaked in water to keep), was consumed along with karupatti (palm jaggery) and/or green chili or pickled lemon, mango etc. very often.
  • 2-3 cups of fresh whole milk per person was consumed everyday.
  • When possible, ghee (clarified butter) was consumed in abundance.
  • Sweet and savory Indian snacks were made at home from scratch and consumed about 2-3 times a year during festivals.
  • Buttermilk was consumed (along with rice) when available.
  • Food items containing wheat (like poori, chapathi etc.) were non-existent.

Later in life, as they grew richer and as food became relatively cheaper, the following changes/additions were made.

  • Rice was still the staple and was consumed in every meal every day as cooked rice or old rice or dosa or idly or pongal.
  • 3 square meals were consumed. Breakfast was typically south Indian staples like dosa, idly, idiyappam etc., lunch had plenty of rice along with sambar (lentil based soup), rasam (soup), kozhambu (gravy) and some vegetables and dinner was either the same as breakfast or lunch.
  • Generous amounts of ghee was consumed. I was told that my great-grandfather would dip each piece of dosa into a cup of ghee during breakfast/dinner.
  • More vegetables were consumed but the total quantity consumed by each person per day was still much lower than what is recommended today.
  • Whole fresh milk was still consumed in abundance and they fed milk to their kids by force or foul! I was told that, when he was a kid, one of my grandmother’s brothers hated milk and would demand money from my great-grandparents every time they wanted him to drink milk! They actually gave him the money to get him to drink milk.
  • Fruits were still a rarity but almost everyone consumed a banana everyday.
  • Ghee and sesame oil were used for cooking purposes.
  • Almost all dishes had coconut added to them either as shredded coconut or coconut milk or coconut oil.
  • Dosa and idly were served with coconut chutney (main ingredients: coconut, chili, garlic, ginger and salt) and ghee or oil.
  • Cooks were hired to make sweet and savory snacks from scratch. The snacks were consumed in great abundance but still only 3-4 times a year during important festivals like diwali and new year.
  • Buttermilk was consumed in abundance during the summer.
  • Nuts were hardly ever consumed.
  • Coffee was made from coffee beans that were ground at home!

Activity, stress & pollution:

* People were not extremely active and led moderately active lives. Now these were my grandmother’s words, but considering they had no cars to commute, no TV to watch, no desk jobs to sit at, no couches to sink into and no computers, internet and social media to constrain free movement,  I’m sure their activity levels were still much higher than that of an average person today. Add to this the fact that cooking meant real work and not just sticking something inside the oven/microwave and washing meant beating the crap out of multiple wet clothes and not just throwing a load into the washing machine, I’m pretty sure you’ll be convinced that they were indeed much more active that we are today.

* Children played like children and adults worked like adults – both requiring physical strength and endurance.

* Stress levels were low for the most part other than the occasional ‘we dont have enough food to feed our 11 children’ cry.

* Pollution was, well, much much lower than it is right now.

Summary:

  • Rice was the only grain consumed and it was consumed in abundance.
  • Lentils were consumed only occasionally.
  • Sugar was enjoyed without guilt but only 2-3 times a year.
  • No other grains (wheat, corn, rye etc.) were consumed.
  • Vegetables were consumed when available.
  • Fruits were rarely consumed with the exception of bananas which were an everyday food.
  • Ghee was the cooking fat of choice following by sesame oil which was a close second.
  • Ghee, when available, was added to everything (rice, dosa, idly, chutney etc).
  • Plenty of milk (~ 3 cups/person) was consumed.
  • Meat and eggs weren’t consumed due to moral and religious reasons.
  • Activity levels were moderate but presumably much higher than right now.
  • Stress levels were low for the most part.
  • Pollution was relatively much lower than right now.

Discussion & Conclusion:

So what does this mean? A vegetarian diet is the healthiest diet? Rice is super healthy and over-consumption is perfectly fine? Vegetables aren’t as critical as we are made to believe and can be eliminated? Milk is nutritious enough to fill in all the nutritional gaps? Ghee has life extending properties? No. No. No. No. And no!

Firstly, we need to keep in mind that this is information about the dietary practices in a small village almost 100 years ago, as recollected by my 77 year old grandmother. Now I am absolutely sure  that the information is spot on because for none of my questions did she have to think even for a millisecond! She had no idea I was going to ask her about her parents’ food intake but when asked she spit out these answers like she’d been waiting for someone to ask her these questions for many many years! But still, the information we have here has the potential to be useless.

That said, let’s look at some obvious inferences.

1. Forget what they didn’t eat. Look into what they did eat for the most part – white rice, vegetables and fresh whole dairy.

2. Forget carbs, cooking oils, meat, fat etc. Look at their lifestyle – active, low stress and pollution free.

What can we conclude based on this?

Their diet might have been less than optimal with respect to nutrient density, but, the key inference here is that, their diet was completely devoid of anti-nutrients! There was no gluten or any other potentially toxic protein from other foods. There were no oxidizable vegetable oils used under high heat. Dairy products were consumed whole and weren’t processed or powdered. No artificial sweeteners or preservatives were used. Pollution was minimal and hence inhalation of toxins via vehicle and other exhaust was trivial.

How is this relevant today?

The way I look at it, long term health results from the coalition of four critical components – nutrition, activity, stress and toxins (via inhalation).

Without any effort at all, our ancestors had three of the four components very well controlled. The only component they had to control was nutrition and they realized that as long as they didn’t consume anything that was potentially dangerous to them, they didn’t have to worry much about nutrition either (other than making sure there was enough food in the house).

We, on the other hand, are royally screwed on all four fronts! We are surrounded by foods that are engineered with the sole aim of making us fat and sick, our activity levels are laughably low, our stress levels are dangerously high and we inhale toxins from the air all day everyday! And guess whats even more messed up? We have little to no control over pollution and, in some cases, stress levels. So clearly, our only opportunity to make the best out of what we have is to control nutrition and activity!

So whats the take home message here?

Say you’re at a random restaurant but you are determined to eat real food that is good for you. The menu has bread, rice, fruit, cheese, vegetables, eggs and meat. Meat and vegetables are the best options because they are real food and contain protein, fat, vitamins and minerals right? But, as is true in most restaurants, what if the vegetables are sauteed/fried in vegetable oil and quality of meat is questionable? Still think meat and vegetables are your best bet? Well, of course not! In such a case you are better off eating white rice, cheese and whole fruit and getting your protein and vegetables at a later time when good quality food is available.

Sure it is important to eat nutrients. But understand that it is more important to stay away from anti-nutrients. After all, its impossible to eat everything thats good for you, but its very possible to not eat whats not good for you. Keep it smart.

If there is enough interest, I will write a post listing out some really cool ways of tweaking the traditional south Indian diet to make it work for you today. Whether your goals are general health or better performance or to lose belly fat or to gain muscle, the south Indian diet can absolutely do it for you! Let me know in the comments section if such an article will help.

Peace.

Being Awesome

Seriously, stop the nonsense.

Stop looking for magic workout programs that will get you ripped. Stop looking at recipes and food porn when you’re on a diet. Stop looking at abs when you’re trying to gain mass. Stop looking for the perfect diet. And for God’s sake, stop looking for ways to make pizza healthy!

There is no magic workout program that will get your ripped if you don’t put it the work. There is no tasty recipe that will help you eat less. There is no such thing as gaining mass and getting abs. There is no one diet that is perfect for everyone at every time. And no, there is no way to make pizza healthy. Pizza is awesome because it is unhealthy!

If you have pounds to lose, go on a diet. If you’re on a diet, stick to it. If you’re sticking to it, be consistent. If you are consistent, be patient.

Forget fitness and fat loss and carbs and proteins for a second. I have two questions for you…

1. What is awesome according to you?

2. What is stopping you from getting there?

Irrespective of what your answer for the first question is, the answer for the second question is the same…

Y.O.U!

Thassright! There is one person and only one person who can make you awesome and that is you. You are what is stopping you from becoming awesome! You know what it takes to become healthy. You know what it takes to become fit. You know what it takes to go from fat and flab to fit and fab. And you damn well know that if you do what it takes you will get what you deserve. The problem is… you just don’t freakin do it!

Instead, you sit on your ass and keep looking for that magic pill. You try and find ways to hack the system. You spend so much energy trying to find an easy way out that you end up going nowhere. You are always… always… looking for that free lunch! And let me tell you this… there is no such thing as a free lunch!

You want results? You want to be awesome? You’ve got to put in work. Period.

In all our lives there are the truly awesome folks. The ones that push you. The ones that go against the grain. The ones that urge you to take risks. The ones that never ever sugar coat their words. The ones that preach and practice what they preach. The ones that give you the confidence to move ahead. The ones that aren’t afraid of failure. The ones that think failure is always an option. The ones that have mad passion. The ones that don’t believe in limits. The ones that give you the right answers and not the answers you want to hear. The ones that ask you to never ever give up. These are the ones that truly care about you. The ones that have you back no matter what. The ones that push your bike far enough to let you roll on your own and then smile selflessly from a distance.

Who put in hard work? Who is awesome? George Carlin is. Kamal Hasan is. Will Smith is. Tim Ferris is. Julien Smith is. Narayanan Krishnan is. Darya Pino is. Mark Sisson is. Many many more are.

But of course, awesome is not for everyone. Most people settle for mediocrity. And you know what else these people do? They pull you down with them! They try to scare you. They tell you you can’t do it. They tell you you’re wrong. They judge you. They tell you to never try anything new. They tell you to be ‘normal’ ‘like everyone else’. They tell you stories about million others who tried and failed. They tell you ‘everything in moderation’. They tell you to ‘play it safe’. They make you doubt yourself. They ask you to ‘let it go’ when you fail. They pull you down to mediocrity! And guess what? These fools suck! And you know why? Because they’re afraid. Afraid you’ll become awesome. Afraid their mediocrity will be exposed. Afraid they will be left behind.

Who are these people? We wouldn’t know now would we? Because these people made nothing out of their lives!

You tell me – Who are you going to listen to? Who are you going to look up to? Who are you going to trust? The mediocre fools who want to you stay with them or the awesome folks who want you to reach for greatness?

When I started off fat and heart broken, I had my share of “well-meaning” folks shoving mediocrity down my throat and also my share of true friends who cheered me for every step I took. You probably would’ve guessed who I took seriously. And make no mistake, even today I have folks who judge me, tell me I’m wrong to experiment, tell me I take things too seriously, tell me its dangerous to be different and advice me to be normal… like everyone else!

Normal? You know what normal is? Normal is…

– feeling tired by 3pm after a day of nothing but sitting

– working an 8 hour desk job and using that as a reason to be laze all night

– talking about poverty over an expensive lunch

– donating money to the church/temple but not helping an orphan.

– feeling dizzy if a meal is skipped

– being 55 and having diabetes/high bp/osteoporosis

– running a half marathon and claiming to have conquered fitness

– joining a gym on Jan 1st to quit on the 5th

– resolving and not ever acting

– not having goals

– taking everything at face value

– wanting to sit at the sight of a chair

– moderation

– taking the elevator

– accepting weakness

– treating the symptoms and not the source

– doing something ‘cos everyone else is

– having a protruding belly when you’re 30

– accepting mediocrity

– agreeing with conventional wisdom

– staying inside your comfort zone

– not progressing

– existing

I’m sorry. This doesn’t work for me. I say…

F*ck normal! I wanna be awesome!

F*ck existing! I wanna live!

What about you? Are you going to be your own damn boss and march towards awesomeness or are you going to hang back with the fools and accept mediocrity? Are you going to take control of your health and turn your life around or are you going to drown yourself in excuses and self pity?

‘Cos its on you buddy. Its up to you if you want to make a difference. Its up to you if you want to rise up to the occasion. Its up to you if you want to be awesome!

Your call. Let’s see what you got.

Peace.

Learn to say NO!

You know you’ve been there. You decide on making a change in eating habits and go steady for a while. Then you visit some relatives/friends and boom! All hell breaks loose! You know you want to stick to your new eating plan/diet, but you also want to not hurt anyone/be embarrassed. You think about what can be done. You play scenarios in your head. All said and done, finally, you aren’t able to come up with a plan of action because refusing food is rude and eating that food will set you back! Holy sheeeet!

About 2-3 years back, my cousin had visited my parents house and I happen to be there on vacation. The dude was just recovering from a motorbike accident and hence had been super sedentary for many months which had packed the pounds in him. It looks like he realized this and decided he had to eat less. So when he was offered dinner at my place and this is what happened…

He: “I just want to say that I’m on a diet since I really need to lose my weight and hence will not be eating as much as I normally do. Please don’t mistake that as being rude.”

My mom: Yea. We’ll figure it out once you start eating.

He: No seriously. I shouldn’t be eating much.

My mom: Yea ok.

So this is the scene – He’s at the table, my mom is in the kitchen (attached to the dining) making dosas and my dad and his mom (my dad’s sister) are sitting next to him talking to him as he eats.

He eats two dosas with chutney and sambar and…

He: OK I’m done. I feel fine so I think I’ll stop here.

My mom: What?????? Two dosas??? Are you kidding me? Eat one more at least!

He: No no. I’m really good but just to not hurt your feelings I’ll have one more.

Number 3 goes down and…

He: Thank you athai (aunt).

My mom: Heyyyy! Thats it??? Ok one more! One last one! I’ve already made it! Please eat just one more!

His mom: Shut up and eat one more! Athai has already made it.

He: (very reluctantly) oooookayyy

Number 4 goes down and he stands up to take his plate and wash his hands and my dad jumps into the action!

My dad: Wait. What are you doing?

He: I’m going to go wash my hands. I can’t eat anymore!

My dad: At your age we used to eat 5 times this! You have to eat more!

He: No mama (uncle). I really need to stop. I’m starting to feel full already.

My dad: You know what? I’ll make the dosas for you! I don’t ever do this… but I’ll do it for you! Will please be very kind and eat some to make your mama (uncle) happy?

Just so you guys know – up until the last generation, its very rare that an Indian man cooks or does anything cooking related in the kitchen and when he decides to do so… it is special… special like its you wouldn’t believe it!

His mom: See!! See how much they love you! Mama is cooking for you!! How can you say no to this??? Stop being rude and eat! Who cares about the diet! How often will you get this chance?

Him: OMG! Mama… you’re cooking for me? Wow! I have nothing more to say!

And… 5, 6, 7… and it ended at somewhere in the teens if I’m not wrong! And of course the meal ended with ‘something sweet’ because theres always place for dessert right?

I swear to God I’m not being an ass by counting morsels. I described this incident because I know extremely well that there is a reason why relatives/friends/hosts shove food down our throats and I want you to understand that first before we move on to talking about tacking such situations.

In the above story, my parents’ intentions were perfectly good. As a matter of fact… beyond good (trust me – there are very few people who mean better than they do!)! They wanted to doubly make sure that their nephew ate to his heart’s content without the slightest feeling of shyness. They wanted to be excellent hosts and the loving uncle and aunt who cook the best food and serve it with great love and pride! This, in my language Tamil, is called “virunthombal” and it means to take care of one’s guest to an extent that exceeds their expectations and Indians (and I’m sure many other cultures) take this very very seriously.

Once again, if I wasn’t clear, the intention here is comfort, health, happiness and wellness to the guest and it comes from unmatched love and purity at heart.

The Problem

While this concept (of ‘virundhombal’) was genius back then, it doesn’t quite hold water today mainly because of the following reasons.

1. While perfectly healthy folks who lived then could indulge without concern, we are so diseased today that we all have some form of dietary restriction or the other and expecting everyone to eat everything is no longer appropriate.

2. Back in the day this was common practice because it occurred infrequently. Folks visited relatives who lived in a different city once in a while and when they did it called for celebration and that meant food… and lots of it! So the hosts brought their best game with respect to taste, quality and quantity. But today, meeting relatives (in countires like India) is a twice-a-week thing at least.

3. Folks were super duper active back then! They walked multiple miles everyday, lifted heavy weights frequenty and transported loads across distances… all as part of daily living. Today, most of us are sedentary spending 12-14 hours a day sitting!

4. Consumption of sweets and other rich foods (anything that required multiple ingredients, time and effort to prepare) was rare and was reserved for festivals and when relatives/friends visit. Today, sweets and dense foods are available anywhere and at anytime.

But though this is obvious, this remains a delicate topic to address. In Indian families, it is still considered rude and/or fussy to refuse a second serving or refuse/request certain types of food. For example, if you went to your aunt’s house for dinner and refused to eat rotis, people would either force you to eat it (if you’re the kinds that breaks easily) or wouldn’t know how to react and an awkward silence will follow (if you’re the kind that people dont want to mess with). Either ways, it is weird and uncomfortable and thats not really what you’re going for when you visit relatives!

The Logic

As a part of tackling this situation, I’m going to give you some situations to consider.

1. If you’re diabetic, will people force you to eat sugars (dessert etc.) just because they want to be nice? If they do, are you going to consider being curteous and eat ’em ad libitum?

2. If you’ve just quit smoking, will your (real) friends force you to have a smoke with them? If they do, are you going to break and give in?

3. If you have a severe back problem forcing you to sleep only on the floor, will your relatives/friends force you to sleep on their super cushy bed just because they want to be nice? If they do, will you consider being receptive and spend the night (and the next week) in pain?

4. If you have a liver problem that prohibits you from ingesting any alcohol (or if you are a non-alcoholic), will your hosts offer you their finest scotch in an attempt to be great hosts? If they do, will you consider downing it and suffering later?

5. And finally, if you are a vegetarian, will people ever force you to eat meat? And if they do, will you consider the option of eating meat?

If the answer to all that is NO… then…

If you know bad food messes you up and you are overweight/flabby/diabetic/chronically fatigued/systemically inflamed today because of that, should you consider going crazy on it just to be nice?

Get your priorities right people! Making people happy is one thing, but killing yourself with bad food is a whole different thing!

OK before you guys get your knickers in a bunch here, allow me to explain – This is definitely not even worth addressing if it is a one off thing. But it turns into a pretty big deal if it becomes a frequent phenomenon.

The Tackle

While some are easy and smooth and others are hard and weird, every situation can be tackled and this is no exception.

If it is not a life and death situation..

(Eg. You’re on a low carb diet or you dont eat lentils ‘cos it makes you feel bloated or you’re staying away from sugars etc.)

1. Talk it out – Make it clear to your loving hosts that you normally dont eat, say, wheat and sugars, but you will eat a small portion today just for them.

2. Choose alternatives – If there is wheat and rice, choose rice. If there is sugar and fruit, choose fruit. If there is fried and baked, choose baked. You get the idea.

3. Lay low – Just eat a small portion of whatever has been made and dont worry about it.

4. Make a difference – If the hosts are the kinds who will listen, talk very briefly about why certain foods should be eaten in moderation. Never ever use phrases like’ its poison’ or ’causes heart attack’ or ‘destorys your health’ (because no food does when smartly consumed). Always, emphasize that some foods are more nutritious than others and hence needs to be consumed more frequently and some other foods contain anti-nutrients and hence should be very rarely consumed. If they are interested in learning more, point them towards this or some other relevant website.

5. Plan and fail – If this is about fat loss and you are aware that such a situation is about to occur, plan your diet and/or training such that you get to cheat on that day.

If it is indeed a serious situation…

(Eg. You’re diabetic or you’re celiac or you triglycerides are super high or you are preparing for an event that is just a few weeks away or you have leaky gut etc.)

You have one choice and only one choice…

1. Make it extremely clear to your hosts that you have a medical condition that prevents you from eating certain foods and as much as you appreciate their efforts and welcoming nature, you just can’t safely consume those foods. If these hosts truly care about your health, they will find a work around and remember this medical condition of yours the next time you visit them.

The Summary 

The truth is that, however I twist it, this is a tricky situation and it needs to be dealt with very delicately so no one’s emotions are hurt. For that, you need to realize that people do this only to make you comfortable and people need to realize that if a certain food or act is going to make you uncomfortable in anyway they have to be open to you making your choices/substitutions. And the only way this can be done is by you expressing your concerns in an appropriate fashion.

And if it isn’t obvious, this is the same deal with your parents. If you parents have a medical condition but are hesitant to say no to food pushers, you have got to say No for them!

I agree none of us want to be ‘that person’. But it all depends on who ‘that person’ is. I don’t want to be “that person who is picky about what he eats ‘cos he doesnt like certain foods“. But I’d anyday want to be “that person who saved me from diabetes!

Its not just about saying NO folks. Its about knowing when and how to say it! What are your experiences? How have you guys tackled such situations? Please post in the comments section ‘cos plenty of other readers can benefit from it.

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