Category Archives: Observations

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.

– – – – – x – – – – –

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. 

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.

No sacrifices. No compromises.

Here is the deal…

There are no compromises. There are no sacrifices.

Whatever it is that you are doing you are doing it for yourself. Be it going grocery shopping to feed your family or wining & dining that person you are interested in or finding a house that you love or dealing with the shit your family (who, let’s not forget, you love) gives you or losing fat so you can look awesome.

Take fat loss for example.

I know you’ve given up gluten. I know you don’t eat at McDs anymore. I know you use very little oil in your cooking. I know eating out with friends is a challenge. I know you’ve forgotten what an ice-cream sandwich tastes like. And I know you talk about these ‘sacrifices’ to everyone you meet.

Here’s what I have to say – shut up!

If YOU want something YOU gotta work for it.

You want green in your bank every month? You got to go to work. You want the bliss of victory? You’ve got to train like your life depends on it. You want a PhD following your name? You’ve got to excel in school for years and years. You want to look awesome? You’ve got to consistently train and eat right for weeks or months or even years.

Listen. You’re giving up blahblah (or doing whatever the hell you call a sacrifice or compromise) not for someone else’s benefit but your own. So suck it up and stop talking about it like it is a big fuckin deal ‘cos it isn’t.

Once again..

There are no sacrifices. There are no compromises. There are only actions and results. Your actions dictate your results. Nothing more and definitely nothing less.

Quit making a whiny list of sacrifices and start taking responsibility for your actions. Suddenly, everything will make a whole lot of sense.

Adios!

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