Category Archives: Q & A

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.

– – – – – x – – – – –

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.

– – – – – x – – – – –

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.

Poll: Bodyweight workout programming

I realize a lot of folks are either not strong enough to do much bodyweight work or underestimate what bodyweight exercises can do to your fitness and I want to help. So…

Nutrition Cheat Sheet

I got this comment via email recently…

“Yo Raj! I try to read your blog regularly, but I don’t have time to go over all the nutritional/scientific mumbo jumbo you write and to follow all your links. Say, I trust you blindly. Just give me a quick list of stuff I should not eat and a list of stuff I should eat! Thanks!”

I get similar stuff pretty often and hence decided to come up with a little Nutrition Cheat Sheet of sorts. Here is something you can print, laminate and glue on to your fridge/cubicle/wallet or get tattooed on your arms or perhaps just read, remember and be less obsessive.

Drop any and all forms of…

  • Sugar – Candy, cookies, soda, fruit juice, cake, donuts, muffins, flavored coffee, flavored tea, agave, honey, ice cream, energy drinks etc.
  • Processed foods – Pizza, chips, cheese puffs, fake (soy) meat etc.
  • Grains – Bread, tortilla, roti, rice, quinoa, couscous, pizza, risotto etc.
  • Anything that says “low fat” or “non fat” or – milk, yogurt, cheese, coffee, ice cream etc.
  • Vegetable oils (except olive oil) – corn oil, canola oil, vegetable oil etc.
  • Deep fried foods – French fries, donuts, tortilla chips, falafel etc.
  • Breaded/sweetened/flavored foods – yogurt (any flavor), breaded meat, sweetened sauces, ketchup etc.

Get plenty of…

  • Protein – Free range poultry, grass-fed/pastured meat, wild caught seafood, free range eggs, tofu, tempeh, cottage cheese/paneer
  • Saturated and monounsaturated fats – Coconut oil, coconut milk, coconut, butter/ghee, animal fats, olive oil and fish oil.
  • Vegetables – Everything except tubers.
  • Unprocessed full fat dairy – Milk (preferably raw), cheese, kefir, yogurt, heavy cream

Get moderate quantities of…

  • Nuts – Macadamia nuts, almonds and walnuts
  • Tubers – Potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams etc.
  • Beans/legumes (soaked in water for 18-24 hours before cooking) – Kidney beans, black beans, lentils, sprouts etc.
  • Protein supplements – Whey protein powder etc.

Now, how much of what should you eat? How strict should you be? How often can you cheat? What does ‘moderate’ mean? Well, all that depends on you, your current fitness level and your goals.

Understand that fat loss is just a side effect of healthy eating. There is much more to be gained!



Why diets fail

No stupid introductions. I’ll jump right to the point which is ‘why most dieters fail to achieve their fat loss goals’.

Thinking about food constantly:

If your diet is making you think about food all the time, you’re on the wrong diet. Constantly thinking about food induces cravings (and even releases insulin in some folks) which results in frustration and dissatisfaction and an overall crappy feeling which results in binge eating or breaking the diet with smart statements like “F*ck dieting! Life is short I’m going to enjoy it!”

A good diet is one which gives you the physical and mental freedom to get shit done. Life is not all about food. So stop obsessing about food and direct your attention and energy towards something more productive.

Obsessing about food quantity:

Calories matter. Sure. But not to the extent you think they do. Realize that the number of calories you are trying to hit is just a number. Your body doesn’t say “Oh crap! This is calorie number 1901 and my daily limit was 1900. Every calorie from now I should store as fat!”. Sorry. Doesn’t work that way. The number of calories you put in your mouth is not the same as the number of calories your body receives. Why? That’s a topic for another day.

Calculating calories precisely is impossible. An apple provides 75 calories. Or does it? What if the apple is bigger? Or smaller? A pizza slice has 200 calories per slice. Really? What if the random guy who made the pizza put some extra cheese? Or what if he cut the slice a little too big? Or small? Or put more dough in the crust? The point here is that trying to eat an exact number of calories is a sure shot way to failure.

A good diet will give you the flexibility to eat a little more or a little less. Portion control is all that is required. Simple math will go a long way in helping you stay in the bandwagon. Complex calorie counting will kick you out of the bandwagon faster than you can ever imagine.

Obsessing about food quality:

We live in the 21st century. A time where more than 1/4th of your meals are prepared by some guy who you never knew and will never ever know. You can’t expect all your meals to be cooked with the best quality ingredients. Wild caught fish is better than farmed ones. Sure. Organic is better than chemical filled. Sure. Extra virgin is better than regular olive oil. Sure. But are you going to get these every time you eat out? No freakin way! Are you going to end up obsessing about the quality of food and lose sleep? Are you going to stop eating out forever? Neither.

Realize… your body can handle these occasional hits of sub-par ingredients. Living stress free has a better effect on your overall health (including lipid profile) than any awesome food ingredient will ever have. So chill the crap out! Shit happens… take it easy and move on.

Fearing social occasions:

If you could go on a diet and not attend a single social breakfast/lunch/dinner or happy hour, you’d definitely do well in the diet. Guaranteed. But you’d also need a psychologist, a snake for a pet and a gun to eventually blow your brains out. Social occasions are just that. An occasion to be social, to meet folks, to chat, to catch up and to have fun. Fearing such occasions just because you are on a diet is ridiculous.

A diet that doesn’t allow you to eat at social occasions belongs in the trash and a trainer who can’t advice on how and what to eat at such times is pure incapable.

If you know about the occasion in advance be ready for it by eating appropriately throughout the day or by fasting until the event if it is an event based on food (most festivals). Once at the table, go for the protein first. Then the salad and vegetables. If you’re still hungry or tempted after this eat the grain or the dessert… but feel good about it!

If the occasion just crept up upon you, firstly, don’t freak out. Then, do the same thing. Order/choose protein and vegetables first. If it is some dumb working lunch, order a salad and, well, work as you eat!

Now knowing when to make compromises:

I’ve seen this happen too many times – One awesome Sunday evening your wife and daughter bake a special blueberry pie. But you’re on a diet. You can’t eat that! That’s not healthy… it’s not on your diet! Holy stinkin crap! Life sucks!

The next day, you’re at work and at about 4pm you’re fat colleagues are all having a coffee and cookie break. It’s just store bought cookies, but it looks so awesome right now. And you even forwent the blueberry pie! You say screw it and you indulge. Awesome!

A bite of  that blueberry pie would’ve made your 12 yr old feel like the queen of the world and you’d have had one of the best Sunday evenings ever. Instead you chose to eat cardboard like cookies with a bunch of fat fools who don’t give a pair of rat’s ass cheeks about you? Ridonkulous!

Get your priorities right! There is always a place for mom’s special dessert or your niece’s birthday cake or any form of bacon or a shot of tequila to celebrate a friend’s success. You might have huge guns and an awesome six pack… but without the little pleasures and special moments… life is meaningless!

– Peace.

Fat loss FAQs

Since putting up the Consulting for Charity post a few days back, I’ve had a lot of folks email me for consultation. While, it’s always challenging and pleasurable working with new folks from different parts of the world, I understand their respective diets are different and so is their experience with traditional training and fat loss programming. I totally appreciate the load of questions my clients get back to me with and realize it’s because my approach towards training (and especially fat loss) is not in any way conventional. I wanted to use this as a chance to answer some of the frequently asked questions as I was sure it will help my readers also.

Your training program has no ab work? I read from a lot of places that I have to work my abs for 15-20 mins everyday.

You don’t need any direct ab work. Isolating your abs and working them to dead is just as stupid as spending all your time doing bicep curls. Most folks who are interested in having their abs visible many layers of fat covering their abs and isolated ab work like crunches or situps won’t burn those layers. Not unless you do close to 10,000 reps everyday (at which point you will have popped a spinal disc for sure). The first step to having visible abs or six pack abs is fat loss. Everyone has abs and if you lose enough fat your abs will be visible. I agree that working the abs will make them slightly bigger and hence help with more definition, but again, you don’t need isolated reps for that. All compound movements (squats, deadlifts, burpees, lunges, chinups etc etc.) work the core like crazy and any one who is able to do these movements efficiently will have a strong core. That being said some of the core strengthening moves include hanging leg raises, knees to elbows, planks and ab wheel rollouts.

In short – situps or crunches won’t give you a six pack. A good calorie deficit combined with strength training and short duration high intensity conditioning work will.

Soups are healthy right? I can eat a lot of soup?

Firstly, it depends on the soup. Some soups are more carbs rich than the others but I can confidently say most vegetarian soups are pretty much are carbs. Nothing wrong with that except that all the ingredients in a soup are ground up and/or cooked to death which make it extremely easily absorbable (precisely why you are given soup when you’re sick). Anything that is easily absorbable will potentially cause an (unwanted) insulin spike and also not satiate you for more than an hour. For these two reasons, soup during a diet is a bad idea.

Lentil’s are high in protein right? So I can eat a lot of them?

Wrong assumption. It’s as simple as doing a google search for calories in lentils. You’ll see that lentils contain a protein:carb ratio or approximately 1:3. So if you want to get, say, 30 grams of protein from lentils, you’re going to have to consume 90 grams of carbs along with it. And what happens when you mix lentils and rice? The protein:carb ratio goes up even higher to ~ 1:5 or 6 making it a more carb dominant meal. So lentils = protein is false.

What about coffee?

Black coffee without sugar or milk is the best (and is how coffee should be enjoyed so you taste the coffee and not just the sugar!), while black coffee with a table spoon of heavy cream works too. As long as you’re not chugging it by the gallon, you’re good.

I can live on salads. Which salad dressing should I go for?

I definitely don’t recommend living on salad mainly because it’s a very sad life reserved for celebrities aspiring to look skinny anaemic. That said if you do have to eat a salad at a deli someday your best option is olive oil + salt + pepper + balsamic vinegar  + seasonings. If everything around you is crap, then stay away from the ‘low carb’ nonsense and have your salad with little ranch or thousand island. ‘Little’ being the key word here.

You don’t have any cardio in your program? Every trainer I know asks me to do 60-75 mins of cardio every other day.

Fat loss is all about creating a calorie deficit and that can be very very efficiently via diet (calorie restriction, cutting carbs, intermittent fasting etc.). Long hours of cardio is a waste of time, may result in eating up lean tissue, is detrimental to the joints and is as obsolete as snail mail. It has been proven too many times (scientifically and anecdotally) that short duration high intensity conditioning clubbed with a calorie restricted diet results in elevated BMR and hence more efficient fat loss, better endurance gains, lower rates of over-training and increased work capacity. My programming is completely science based and effective. Yes, you wont spend more than 4 hrs a week training. Get used to the extra time… may be you can learn to cook?

On your fat loss diet I seem to be full all the time. I’m pretty sure I’m doing something wrong!

Well, you aren’t and this feeling is expected. Moving from a diet dominated by processed crap and grains and sugars to a diet built around real foods has this effect of satiation. If you eat the way I ask you to eat, you will be eat large quantities of food, feeling high in energy and losing fat while gaining strength & endurance simultaneously.

This is all I have time for right now, but will be sure to to answer more FAQs in the coming weeks.


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