Category Archives: Listening To Your Body

Does calorie counting really count?

During my initial fat-loss days, I cooked plenty but I knew exactly what went into every meal of mine. I would mentally split each dish I cooked and come up with caloric calculations so I worked towards eating a particular number of calories, protein, fat and carbs. The numbers were important. Very important. If my spreadsheet had numbers higher than required, I’d feel like I screwed up.

Anytime and every time my wife (then girlfriend) cooked for me, we’d get into an argument ‘cos my first reaction was “Tastes great but can you tell me exactly what all you put in it… and in what quantities?” or “Wow! This is awesome! But it looks like you’ve added a little too much cream” or “I’ll just take a bite”. God bless her for marrying me.

Whenever we went out to eat, I’d either order the blandest most uninteresting dish on the menu or I’d eat beforehand and come up with an excuse for not eating or, even worse, cancel plans after knowing that the chosen restaurant had no healthful options. If I did go out to eat, I was always confused. How many calories does 3 tablespoons of daal makhani contain? How about that roti? Or that burrito?

Basically, I was a slave to numbers, a stalker to tasty food, a pain to friends, a fool to myself and a stranger to real nutrition.

Calories

If you think counting calories is way to go then you might as well believe this too

Hello there. We haven’t met, but, if you’re reading this, I’m pretty darn sure you are or were like I was. And today I hope to help you learn from my mistakes. I hope to teach you nutrition. I hope to break your shackles and let you live free as you continue to lose fat and gain health.

Why calorie counting doesn’t really count

1. Body smart. You dumb.

Realize that the human body is a product of 4 million years of evolution. It is a machine that has been continually improved. This machine is equipped with some stunning organs and millions of cells, all working to keep you alive and well. So, in spite of whatever you do to your body, it will do everything it can to make the best out of the situation and keep you alive and kicking for as long as possible.

As shocking as this might be for many of you, this machine regulates hunger, appetite, excess energy (fat) storage, fat oxidation and energy production magnificently well. That being the case,  it should be obvious that the super computer that is your body is much more capable of “counting”, monitoring and regulating calories and other nutrients than you ever can.

2. All calories are not the same

A calorie is not a calorie. In other words, calories you get from carbs are not the same as the ones you get from protein. They serve different purposes and they serve different individuals differently. Based on your genetic make-up, athletic history, current level of physical activity, hormonal (dys)regulation etc., the effect of a calorie from different foods is different on you than it is on someone else. So, setting a caloric budget and living under that, might make you skinny and weak but it ain’t making you healthy. 

3. Consumption isn’t absorption 

When counting calories, you count the calories you eat. But what is consumed is not what you absorb! Say you eat, 3000 calories/day. Depending on your gut health, chances are you won’t be absorbing all these calories. The calories in vs calories out equation holds true, but only at the gut and not at the mouth. You will need to take into account how many of your ‘consumed calories’ are converted into ‘absorbed calories’ in order to use the equation. Your simple equation just got uber-complicated. And considering there is no easy way to find out the conversion percentage, well, your equation just became worthless.

4. Health is more than calories 

Fat loss is a side effect of good health. Nothing more and definitely nothing less. While total calories matter, providing your body with enough nutrients (protein, fat, carb, vitamins and minerals) matters more. Focussing only on calories while dropping the ball with nutrients is being penny-wise, pound-foolish.

5. It is simple math. But you will get it wrong almost every time.

A banana has 80 calories. Say you eat 20 bananas in the next 10 days. So that is 1600 calories? But what if the banana was bigger or riper than the one used to make the calorie calculation? What if the banana actually had 98 calories instead of 80? That works out to be another 22.5% calories you didn’t account for. If this is the case with something as basic and unprocessed as a banana, what about cooked foods and dishes? How many calories are you really off by when you eat that avial or Korean charbroiled chicken? Is your calorie counting software telling you the truth or just spitting out a random number?

6. Life is too beautiful to be spent counting.

The only way you’re going to stay in shape is to continue counting calories for every morsel you eat for the rest of your life? Really? Definitely not what I call healthy living.

How to lose fat and gain health without ever worrying about calories

Step 1: Eat real food

Real food is any food that we humans can eat without any allergic reactions. Now this changes from person to person and most people today don’t really know what they are allergic to. But enough studies have been conducted to prove that for most people the safest non-allergenic foods that contain an abundance of nutrients are organic vegetables and fruits, farm fresh dairy, high quality meat/seafood/eggs, pre-soaked lentils/beans and cooked white rice. As a first step, build MOST of your meals around these foods and eat others sparingly.

Step 2: Prioritize the right foods 

In addition to eating real food, it is absolutely critical that you prioritize the foods that help you walk towards your goals. If fat loss is your primary goal, then prioritizing produce, dairy, meat, seafood and eggs is your fastest, healthiest and most sustainable approach. In other words, fill your plate with plenty of these and have starches (rice, other grains, beans etc.) as a side.

Step 3: Eat only when hungry 

I know you’ve been told breakfast is the most important meal of the day and that 6 small meals a day keep your blood sugar under control yada yada. But unfortunately none of that is true. You see, we humans are adapted to the ‘feast & fast’ method of eating. Back when we were hunter-gatherers, we hunted and when there was food we ate like there was no tomorrow. Following that, we fasted till we found more food. The people may have changed but our genetic make up has hardly changed in the last 4 million years. So stop listening to corporations and experts trying to make a buck out of you and listen to your body. Eat when you’re hungry. Don’t eat when you’re not hungry.

And if it isn’t clear already, it is absolutely healthful to skip a meal every now and then, not because you’re trying to eat lesser calories, but because you’re just not hungry.

Step 4: Eat to satiety 

What makes sense – eating until you reach a certain number that, as explained above, has no physiological significance for a multitude of reasons, or eating to satiety? Numbers are new. So is the science of determining how many calories are present in different foods and the pseudo-science of restricting a certain number of calories to lose fat. What is old and flawless (for a generally healthy person) is the body’s ability to regulate hunger and appetite and signal satiety. So, as far as quantities are concerned, the only thing you need to do is to eat till your satiated but never till you’re full.

Spelling it out

Here is how I like to deal with nutrition. No plans. No time-tables. No nonsense. Just a simple sensible list of everything one can eat in a day. It is then up to the consumer to figure out what he/she would eat when or how based on his/her lifestyle, likes/dislikes, cuisine/recipes, food choices, availability etc.

Here is what a moderately active 70kg adult needs to eat per day in order to lose fat at an optimal rate. Eat more/less based on bodyweight and activity.

  • Organic vegetables – 300-500g
  • Organic fruits – 1-2 medium
  • Meat/seafood – 100-200g lean meat/white fish
  • Whole eggs – 2-3
  • Starch – 1-1.5 cups cooked rice or equivalent
  • Lentils/beans – 1-2 cups cooked
  • Oil – 1-2 tablespoons ghee/butter/olive oil/coconut oil
  • Farm fresh dairy – 1-3 cups whole milk/yogurt
  • Natural cheese (in place of meat) – 40-50g of paneer or other cheese

So leave the counting to blackjack and just eat real food.

Peace out.

– – –

PS: I originally wrote this article for The Week’s SmartLife and it was published in their November ’12 edition. 

Image credit: http://www.juxtapost.com/

Don’t put up with nonsense.

Say you’re ready for a post paid cell phone connection. You look into the available service providers and compare what each one has to offer. Some are more expensive than the others while some are more useful to you than the others. You read up details on the plan, pricing etc., and find one that you think is best suited for your needs. You pay up. Get your SIM card. Load up your trusted smart-ass phone. You’re ready to rock n roll!

Once you start using the service, you realize that calls drops pretty often. You don’t think much of it ‘cos you talk when you drive and there seems to be no real pattern to call dropping. Then you realize that your internet is spotty. You’re unable to send emails with any attachments. Slowly, you realize that not all your messages are being delivered and that you’re not getting your emails on time on the phone.

You try talking to customer service, but other than using phrases you’ve always wanted to use, like “Put your supervisor on the line!” and “Are you kidding me??!”, nothing much comes out of it.

Initially, you make do. You adjust. You find work-arounds. Kind of like being lazy to fix the time on your clock but knowing how fast or slow it is and ‘calculating time’ each time. You don’t send out emails at specific times, you are always ready for dropped calls, you use the internet as much as you can when it is available etc. But eventually you need to understand what is actually happening.

The service that you subscribed to and pay for, is not working for you. And what do you need to do when such a situation arises? You need to man the f**k up and fire that service provider and find a new one. Simple common sense right? I mean, why would you ever want to continually pay for something that is clearly not working for you? If you’re paying for a service to help you accomplish certain tasks (in this case, being connected) and if it doesn’t work for you, you fire that service and find something else that works. No-brainer right?

So then, please tell me why you stay on a training program that doesn’t give you the results you desire? Why work with a trainer who doesn’t deliver what he/she promises? Why donate money to a gym for years and years when you either don’t use it or get no results out of it? When you find out that what you’re doing isn’t working for you, isn’t time to make a change? To find something that truly works for you?

So here is what you need to do – Look at yourself or your performance today and compare it to data (photos, numbers etc.) from a few weeks/months/years ago. If your goal was to get better (stronger or faster or leaner or healthier) and if you haven’t gotten any better, you’re only getting worse. Not everything works for everyone. But something works for everyone. And it is on you to find your something.

So, stop being lazy and don’t put up with nonsense anymore. Be adamant about wanting the best. Be diligent in finding the best. Be religious about working with the best. Become your best.

Adios.

Is it all in the head?

You fail to see beauty in something, anything, once you understand it. So it the case with paranoia. You stop being afraid of something, anything, once you understand it. This applies to food as much as it applies to God and the devil.

Pretty cool line huh? Who came up with it? I did! And yea I know. I’m pretty awesome like that. Ok now, let’s talk about something you don’t know.

Back when I used to chronically diet…

… I was always on one diet or the other. In other words, there was always some food group I’d not eat. During the good old whole wheat days, I’d eat everything in whole wheat from bread to cereal to roti to naan to lavash bread to pita bread to pasta and hardly eat any fat whatsoever. I’d stay away from ghee like it was demon’s piss, shun cheese like it was illegal and fatty cuts of meat didn’t even exist in my food dictionary!

Then when I learnt more about nutrition and that fats were good and (thought) carbs were the devil, my idea of foodtopia (see what I did? Again, pretty awesome like that!) went from wheat-ville to lowcarb-asylum. I’d eat about 1-1.5lb of fatty meat and 2-3 lb of green veggies everyday in addition to cream and cheese and butter and macadamia nuts. I stayed away from wheat like it would clog up my respiratory tract and bananas were off limits ‘cos they were nothing more than yellow colored candy bars and chose cream over milk ‘cos milk was a carb source!

It’s amazing how things have changed in the last few years after I started doing more self-experimentation and began reading more unbiased literature (as opposed to reading strictly within the whole wheat or paleo or low carb circle, depending on which phase I was on), but here is something interesting.

Let me first say that I used to be the epitome of clean eating. Will power and motivation flowed so seamlessly like swear words out of a hookers mouth. Nothing could break me. I had no temptations and no one could ever convince or lure me into eating something I hadn’t planned on eating unless, of course, I’d already factored it into my ‘eating plan’. But I observed something.

When I did eat strictly low fat (and whole wheat), I’d eat sandwiches everyday and twice a day on many days. Even today, I’m a sandwich maniac and can eat one for every meal for the rest of my life, but living in a region where the best sandwiches are available at Subway, I don’t quite have that urge. Anyways, I remember I’d stand in line to order a sandwich and I’d know exactly what I wanted (whole wheat bread, lean meat, green veggies, mustard, fat free mayo yada yada)… except one thing – should I get the cheese or not? I loved and craved cheese (of course ‘cos I wasn’t “allowed” to eat it) but this question would confuse the shit outa me! I’d stand there in line letting people behind me go ahead ‘cos I’d never be able to make the call. Sometimes I’d get the cheese and sometimes I wouldn’t. When I did get the cheese, I’d love the sandwich but immediately after eating the sandwich, I’d “feel fat”. I’d literally feel like I had gained weight on my lower abdomen/belly area. And you know what guilt does… makes you want to compensate by doing some extra work or eating less for the next few meals. All this for a slice of cheese!

Funnily, when I was deep into low-carb dieting, the exact same scenario would happen when I a cup of rice or eat a banana or eat a meal which is even mildly high in carbs. The “feel fat” thing would pop up in my head which will lead to similar type of compensating.

And the gluten-free days weren’t an exception. Once slice of bread and boom! The next morning I’d feel like I had a “cannonball in my tummy” or like “I’m having trouble breathing well” or like “I’m feeling bloated” or like “I feel fatigued”.

But let’s look at the other side of the coin.

During my low-fat-all-whole-wheat days, I’d eat about 300g of carbs a day most of which was from wheat and didn’t get bombarded by cannonballs or continuously bloat to the point of explosion or feel so fatigued all day I couldn’t work. Heck, I have photos of myself with a prominent 6-pack and remember feeling so awesome I used to workout twice a day 6 days a week – that is 12 fairly intense sessions of physical activity per week with about 6hrs of sleep per day.

During my low carb days, cream, cheese and fatty meat were my main dish, side dish and dessert! My belly didn’t get bigger. Neither did I see the digits on my scale go up or any part of my oh-so-precious 6-pack fade even a little.

I’m more than sure you’ve been through or are going through the same or similar phases. So, you tell me, is it all in the mind? Is fat making you fat or are you just made to think that way? Are carbs fattening or is it that you don’t know any better? Are you truly allergic to gluten or are you just trying hard and finding the symptoms you are told you would experience?

Today, I am in a much better place…

… nutritionally.

Back then, I always was off something. Something was evil. At any point of time, I’d be “off” carbs or fat or gluten or something. Today, I eat everything. While I don’t stuff myself silly with junk food all day everyday, there is literally nothing I am “off” from.

Back then,  I always craved something or the other (probably ‘cos I was off something or the other). Today, I have no cravings whatsoever (definitely ‘cos I know nothing is off limits).

Back then, I was paranoid and, with a lot of focus and diligence, healthy and fit always looking for the next nutritional breakthrough. Today I am free and, with absolutely no conscious effort, healthy, fit and in peace not looking for the next big thing.

The truth is that science isn’t something you believe in. It is a fact. You either know it or you don’t. There is no anxiety in science. There is no guesswork. There is no maybe. There are only equations. You do the experiment (unbiased) and you get (real) results. Nothing more and definitely nothing less.

So are you making the effort to truly understand nutrition via unbiased research and self-experimentation or are you just jumping on and off the fad bus? Do share this post (buttons below) and let’s get this discussion started.

The Gluten(free) Myth – Are you really gluten intolerant? Should you live gluten free?

In the first two parts of this series, we spoke about whether going gluten-free is worth all the hype it is getting and if you will benefit by purely going gluten-free. In this 3rd part, I’ll answer the most important questions of today’s affluent society…

Are breads and rotis and parathas and pastas out of my list of ‘foods I can eat and not feel like I’ve sinned’? Should I always eat that burger without the bun? Should I eat my pizza crust-free, base-free and taste-free? Should I forever call food induced happiness a “cheat”?

Should I live gluten-free?

The short answer is… NO. A big freakin NO. Paleo/primal/real food/gluten-free advocates, read before you let steam out of your ears. Food lovers who want to have their cake and eat it too, continue to sport that wide grin, but do listen to the why.

Let’s talk anti-nutrients

Before we talk about gluten, let me clarify the concept of anti-nutrient. The truth is that all foods contain anti-nutrients. From wheat to spinach to fruits to eggs to seafood to meat. But before we get into any of that nonsense… what is an anti-nutrient?

Antinutrients are natural or synthetic compounds that interfere with the absorption of nutrients.

So basically anything (and everything) that interferes with the absorption of nutrients is an anti-nutrient. So then, as far as real food goes, are anti-nutrients a list of foods everyone should avoid? Or is it a list of food YOU should avoid based on what effects these foods have on YOUR body? Say for example you’re allergic to shellfish.

All food allergies are caused by an immune system problem. Your immune system identifies certain shellfish proteins as harmful, triggering the production of antibodies to the shellfish protein (allergen). The next time you come in contact with proteins in shellfish, these antibodies recognize them and signal your immune system to release histamine and other chemicals that cause allergy symptoms.

Histamine and other body chemicals cause a range of allergic signs and symptoms. Histamine is partly responsible for most allergic responses, including runny nose, itchy eyes, dry throat, rashes and hives, nausea, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, and in some cases, anaphylactic shock.

So in this case, shellfish contains an anti-nutrient that harms your body. Sure it is real food and sure it is loaded with nutrients and sure it is superfood and sure the paleo/primal/real food folks love it, but if you are allergic to it, it is poison to you.

Now on to gluten madness

That said, gluten and especially the gluten from wheat that is cultivated today, is an anti-nutrient to “most” folks. I believe that everyone is allergic to gluten at some level. But this belief is similar to my believing that alcohol and sugar affect everyone at some level. This could be so minute that the person may not be able to ever identify it or so large that the person might actually die from an exposure or anywhere in between. You know, kind of like what alcohol does to a person – maybe just a buzz or maybe complete liver failure. Or like what sugar does to a person – maybe just empty calories or maybe fatal due to uncontrolled diabetes.

So then, this bring us to three questions…

  • Does gluten actually affect you?
  • How badly does gluten affect you?
  • How does this severity influence how much or how frequently you can consume gluten?

Without answers to these questions, any, and I repeat, ANY recommendation means nothing to you and is in all probability not optimal for you. So how do you get answers to these questions?

Method to the madness

Step 1: The Elimination Protocol

If it isn’t clear from the term “Step 1”, this is the first thing you need to do and this step cannot be skipped. Without this step, everything else is null. Let me repeat, if you don’t do this initial first step, anything and everything you say about whether or not you are allergic to gluten (or any food for that matter) is nothing more than bullshit you tell yourself. So suck it up and do the following.

– For a period of 6 (ideally 12) weeks, remove any and all potential allergens from your diet.

  • Remove all grains except cooked white rice.
  • Replace all industrial seed and vegetable oils with coconut oil, ghee and butter.
  • Pre-soak all your lentils/beans/legumes before cooking.
  • Remove all boxed and junk foods.
  • Stay away from sugars and sweeteners.
  • Eat only whole foods – whole eggs, farm fresh whole milk and other dairy, raw nuts, organic vegetables and fruits, high quality meat

– In other words, eat RealFood and be very true to yourself. Don’t cut any corners. Don’t cheat. Don’t obsess. Just do it right.

Step 2: The Monitoring

Though this is step 2, it happens simultaneously with step 1. During your 6 (or 12) week phase monitor how you look, feel and function.

– Weigh yourself every week (first thing in the morning, before eating/drinking anything but after clearing your bowels and with little to no clothes on or wear the exact same clothes each time) and record it.

– Measure yourself every week and records the results. I recommend measuring neck, chest, bicep, waist, belly button, hip/butt, thigh and calf circumferences.

– If you are diabetic, test your fasting blood sugar, post pranadial (15 min and 120 min) blood sugar and random blood sugar once a week using any home test apparatus.

– If possible, do a complete blood count (CBC) test on day 1 and on day 42 (or 84).

– Listen to your body and make notes of how you feel.

  • How good/bad are your energy levels?
  • How good/bad is your appetite?
  • How regular are your bowel movements?
  • How good/bad is your sleep quality?
  • Do you have any mood swings? If you had them earlier, are they better or worse?
  • Has your skin cleared up?
  • Do you see any improvements wrt digestion? If you had acid reflux, is it getting any better? If bloating was a frequent occurrence earlier, is that getting any better? What about gas?

– Track your performance in life and on the field.

  • How good/bad is your libido and/or menstrual cycles? If you suffer from menstrual cramps, is there an improvement in either severity or frequency?
  • If you workout or play a sport, is your performance improving?
  • Are you more/less productive at work? Do you tend to handle stress better/worse?

I understand this is a huge list of stuff to keep track off, but the better you monitor yourself, the more solid your experiment and the better the learning. So, even if you can’t do all these things, make a sincere effort to monitor as many aspects of your life as possible.

Step 3: The Re-introduction

This step happens at the end of the 6 (or 12) week phase and, is a very interesting phase because most people are looking forward to this day like none other. Here is what you do.

– At the completion of your 6 (or 12) week experiment…

  • Gradually, start including grains (wheat included) into your diet. Now, don’t go crazy but slowly add in foods that you have stayed away from.
  • Hold on to the grain included diet for 2-3 weeks. This is very critical. I’ve had enough of folks going gluten-free and then after a significant period of time of not exposing their gut to gluten, they eat a whole damn pizza, feel like a drum of crap and blame it all on the pizza. Sudden (re)introduction of any grain (especially in large quantities) will definitely result in some form of reaction and this is falsely assumed as the true effect of that grain. Effects of reintroduction of any food needs to be assessed gradually over a period of a few weeks.
  • Monitor how you look, feel and function i.e. as laid out in step 2.

Step 4: The Learning

So, what did you learn?

  • Are you allergic to wheat (or any of the foods you briefly eliminated) at some level?
  • What benefits did you see when you stopped eating certain foods?
  • And did those benefits disappear once you reintroduced those foods?

This is of course, the most important step but the effectiveness of this step is dictated by how well you did the first 3 steps.  If you did this brief experiment sincerely, you’d have the answer to the question…

Am I intolerant to gluten?

And more importantly, you’ll have answers to the question…

What foods are good for ME?

And the results are out!

So let’s see how you did.

– Firstly, if you are celiac or have a condition wherein even a whiff of gluten could potentially kill you, then you shouldn’t be here doing funky experiments. You need medical assistance. This article (and this entire series) is more suitable for people who are either controllably allergic to gluten or are unsure if they are truly allergic to gluten.

– If your health and life changed drastically (complete reversal of an autoimmune condition, disappearance of chronic fatigue, relief from frequent chronic migraines etc.) once you eliminated gluten (or any other food), clearly you are pretty darn allergic to that food and, obviously, you need to stay away from it like the devil.

– If benefits included better skin, controlled mood swings, increased fat loss and other not-so-scary results, then while you are allergic to gluten (or whatever anti-nutrient you avoided), consuming it infrequently can be tolerated.

– If you noticed no improvements then you probably aren’t allergic to that anti-nutrient or you’re intolerant at a small level that it doesn’t really affect you visibly. But honestly, chances are you didn’t do the experiment properly!

Now depending on how much or how little an effect gluten (or any other anti-nutrient) has on you, you can decide to include it that (in)frequently. But do remember, anti-nutrients are not the only reason to stay away from wheat (and other grains). Grains, when compared to real foods, are empty calories and building your diet with them as the foundation will almost surely result in undernourishment.

But… there’s always a but!

If you are intolerant/sensitive to gluten at some level, small or big, does that mean you need to stay away from gluten forever? Is it acceptable that you feel like someone dropped a cannon ball in tummy after you eat a meal that contains gluten? Is it OK to experience fatigue crashes after eating gluten? In short, is it OK to suffer after eating gluten? Is staying away from gluten the only solution to that?

Drawing parallels, if you are unable to run/trek/workout due to respiratory issues, do you live your entire life without any running/trekking/training? Or do you find a way to fix it and start living life? If you are unable to squat/climb stairs/dance because you have knee problems, do you modify your life such that you never squat/never climb stairs/never dance? Or do you work on the knee problem, fix it and get back to living a normal life?

So, if you are indeed gluten intolerant, would you obsessively avoid and uncontrollably crave foods you love? Wouldn’t you rather find a way to (at least partially) fix the intolerance and enjoy what the 21st century has to offer while still staying healthy?

How? We’ll find out in part 4.

Adios!

Pre-menstrual syndrome, weight gain, carb cravings and cramps

One of the hardest times for all of humanity is when women have their period. While men walk around thinking “Ummm… what the hell did I do to deserve that firing?” women walk around ready to beat up anything in sight. Being the excruciatingly painful experience that this is, the reactions are definitely understandable. But, in addition to feeling physical pain/discomfort, suffering from fatigue and giving in to the almost irresistible urge of believing that “Hey honey, would you like some more cheese?” actually means “Hey fatty! Want more cheese to fill in that bellay?? huh??”, the week(s) leading up to the period is one of the hardest chapters in getting and staying in shape.

Many many women face problems during this time that they aren’t able to understand or deal with and I end up getting a tonne of SOS emails. In this post, I’ll address a few of them.

I’m having my period and feel exhausted but I don’t want to miss a workout session! Should I workout? What should I do?

Firstly, kill the obsession. Realize that you’re not going to workout for only the next 3 months. Fitness a lifelong thing and you need to stay active and/or train forever to be able to stay in shape forever. So missing a workout session here and there for legitimate reasons is absolutely fine.

Secondly, treat your period as any other day. If, in a normal day, you feel wiped out for whatever reason (say, stress, lack of sleep, not enough food etc.) how would you deal with that? Would you power through it and workout? Would you take the day off and recover? Would you still workout but only do as much as you can? Same deal. Listen to your body when you have your period.

  • If you are truly exhausted and aren’t able to focus physically and mentally, it is definitely a great idea to skip the workout. No big deal.
  • If you feel not too tired but not 100%, do something light. Work on mobility. Do a series of bodyweight moves (squat, pushups, pullups, burpees, planks, thrusts, hinges etc.) at a relatively low intensity i.e. never going to failure and resting plenty between sets.
  • If you feel like you can power through it, go ahead and kill the workout.

Bottom line is to listen to your body and act based on how you feel.

– – – – – x – – – – –

I weighed myself today and I’ve gained 2 kilos!! I’ve been eating right and working out regularly but still, this happens! This happens to me all the time. Maybe I’m not cut out to be in shape. Maybe its my genetics. Maybe I’m just cursed. I just don’t seem to lose weight consistently. I lose some and in about three weeks gain 1-2 kilos! Why is this happening to me? Please help!

Here’s some good news for you. You haven’t gained fat. Those 2 kilos are not fat, but water. 1 kilo of fat is 7,700 calories. So for you to have gained 2 kilos of fat, you should have eaten ~ 15,000 calories in excess and that ain’t happening unless you eat 2000 extra calories every day for a week. That’s like eating half a dozen donuts everyday for seven days straight. Well, if you did eat similar to this, then yea, what you gained is fat but chances are you didn’t eat like my man Doug Heffernan.

Water retention is a very common PMS symptom. It generally occurs a week or two before your period and tends to wear off by day 2 or 3 of your period. Though why this exactly happens is still unclear, it is due to hormonal fluctuations that are possibly hereditary. The increase in scale weight is merely due to excess water being retained in your body and is not worthy of phone calls or emails starting with “O… M… F… G!!!”.

That said, here are some ways to keep water retention under control,

  • Watch the salt. No reason to go salt-free or super low salt, but don’t over-salt your food.
  • Drink more water than you normally do. And no, the excess water will not be retained.
  • Remove allergens like wheat, vegetable oils, unsoaked legumes/lentils/beans etc from your diet for the most part.
  • Get more calcium. Don’t even think about popping in pills. Just get yourself a couple of extra cups of whole milk  or probiotic yogurt or a few ounces of cheese.
  • Supplement with Magnesium, if required.
  • On other days, exercise intensely and consistently and stay active all day every day.

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I get very severe carb cravings a week before my period! I try hard to resist it but end up eating sugary junk until the cravings subside. What is happening here? Am I doing something wrong?

Once again, this is a common PMS symptom and something that needs attention. The carb cravings that happen during the week leading up to your period are not the same as other general carb cravings that need to be controlled.

For those who don’t know serotonin, it is a neurotransmitter that is primarily found in the GI tract (gut) and is a major contributor of feelings of well-being and happiness and during menstruation a woman’s serotonin levels are at their lowest. Since carbs increase the availability of tryptophan (amino acid precursor to serotonin), it is fairly natural to crave carbs during this period.

The solution here isn’t really to power through the cravings and fight against them and, at the same time, also not to give into the junk food. The the best and most healthful way to address the issue is to eat a more carbs than usual but stick to high quality carbs, especially starches like sweet potatoes, cooked white rice, fruit etc. How much more? That depends on the craving but it is also wise to remember that you’re only addressing the lack of serotonin and don’t posses a pass to binge and get fat.

While it is true that during the week leading up to your period, your glycogen storage potential/capability is increased and hence your body can utilize the excess carbs for glycogen repletion/storage as opposed to storing them as fat, too much in excess and you will start adding goo.

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Every month I get pre-menstrual cramps. These cramps are so brutally painful I roll into a ball and weep. I take the day off from work and I’m at home all day doing nothing but suffering through the pain. What can I do?

Many (too many) of my female clients start working with me (for fat loss of course) and within a few weeks report that the unbearable pre-menstrual cramps are now very bearable and in a couple of months, they say, it is almost non-existent.

Why this happens is definitely a huge topic and is something I’ll discuss in detail later because it is outside the scope of this article but I’ll talk quickly about how to fix this.

  • Remove all allergens from your diet – wheat, other allergenic grains, vegetable oils high in omega-6, unsoaked legumes/lentils/beans.
  • Get plenty of omega-3s from fish or fish oil.
  • Supplement with Magnesium.
  • Get a good dose of sunlight or supplement with vitamin D.
  • Get enough and more calcium from high quality dairy.

For 6 weeks do the above. Don’t cheat by tricking yourself into believing a little bit of wheat is fine or junk food every 3 days is fine etc. Do the 6-week stint with utmost sincerity, gauge your results and then make a call on what foods you want to keep in your diet and what foods you want out. Julianne from Paleo & Zone Nutrition talks about pre-menstrual cramps and ways to overcome them with nutrition in great detail and is an absolute must read if you suffer from pre-menstrual cramps.

Peace out.

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