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Weight loss – A continuous process

Most of us like breaking up our lives into days. We do this because of the 24 hour cycle we’re subject to. But our bodies don’t wait till the end of the day to tally up calories in and out and produce weight loss or gain. It happens instantly and constantly.

We are dynamic living beings. We consume and burn every moment. How much we weigh is basically a measure of how much we are. We are water, muscle, fat, bone and other tissue. Except water, all these other things live, do and die every moment. And water – it keeps things alive but it also goes in and out of our bodies and hence contributes to the weight fluctuation . The rough summation of this is what we call bodyweight and it will never be the same at any given moment.

Very frankly, you weigh more or less now than you did last year or last month or last week or yesterday or even the last second. Why? Because during every living moment our bodies are working to keep us alive and functioning. This is done by burning calories that are stored in the form of glycogen, fat or muscle. A good analogy here is that we are like cars that are always on. Even when idling (i.e when the car isn’t running but has the engine on), fuel is used because work needs to be done even just to keep things on (i.e to stay alive). The more work you make the car do (more speed, more distance etc) the more fuel you’ll use. Similarly the more work you do, the more energy your body will need.

If I have to say it all in one line – Everything you do either uses calories or adds calories.

And this addition or subtraction of calories (energy) makes us weigh more or less every moment of every day. So if you have any aesthetic goals whatsoever – fat loss, weight loss, muscle gain, toning, shaping, sculpting or whatever term you like to use to describe having less fat and more muscle – here is something that is very critical to your success –

Every little thing you do matters and it matters right away.

Every step, every bite, every rep, every minute of sleep, every bit of stress and every smile affects your results instantly. If you do equal amounts of positive and negative actions, then your progress will be zero, which is called maintenance. If you do more positive than negative, you will move ahead and if you do more negative than positive, you will fall behind. That’s the simple truth.

If you want to make a clean start, that’s great. But don’t wait for the next day, week or month. The next moment is as clean a slate as you need to make a positive change to your life.

Fixing sleep

A week back we posted a test on The Quad’s Facebook page that urged folks to to calculate their health score. The test was pretty simple. Health being a result of more than just dieting or exercising, the following equation was taken into consideration.

Health = Activity + Nutrition + Sleep + Stress 

Folks were asked to rate themselves on a scale of 1 to 5 on each aspect of health. 5 stood for awesome and 1 stood for awful. Here is the original post.

A bunch of folks took the test and the results were revealing, to put it mildly. It was obvious that folks who focus on nutrition and training suffer from sleep issues. For some of us it is the lack of sufficient sleep while for some others it is disturbed sleep or feeling fatigued even after a supposedly good night’s sleep. What you need to realize is that sleep is a big big part of health and fat loss. To put it simply, if you’re sleep deprived you can be sure that your fat loss efforts won’t go too far and your health isn’t going to get any better, irrespective of how well you eat or how much you exercise.

To elaborate, during all our waking hours we place our bodies under stress (work, traffic, shallow breathing, deadlines, domestic quarrels etc) or we give it work (digestion, blood pressure variability control, excessive mental stimulus etc). It is when we sleep that all repair and replenishment occur in the body. It is the time for recovery. It is the time when all our efforts towards health come together. Click here for an amazing pictorial representation of why sleep is incredibly important to health and the effects of sleep deprivation.

Sleep being such a critical part of health, shouldn’t fixing sleep issues be a priority? Here are 5 incredibly simple ways to do exactly that.

Cal sleeping

Calvin doing what he does best

Dark is awesome

Turn off all lights (including night lamps), cover the LED display from your AC or alarm clock and use blackout curtains to block all night. The “glow” from electronics is the issue here. The small amounts of light from these devices pass through the retina into a part of the hypothalamus and delay the release of the sleep-inducing hormone, melatonin. This is by far your best bet when it comes to sleep quality. The fix is simple – keep your electronics our of the bedroom. Yes, we know about your phone being your alarm. BS. Get a simple alarm clock.

Less is more

Sleep less but plan on it. Like in most things, sleep quality is much more important than sleep quantity. Look into your day and carve out the perfect time to sleep based on your lifestyle. For some, early to bed and early to rise works wonders as that is their undisturbed time while for some others, sleeping late and waking up late works better. When sleep deprivation is an issue, one is not better than the other. Find what works for you and work towards hitting the bed during that golden window.

Stay clam

Stress is directly related to sleep issues and vice versa. Sleep deprivation causes stress which piles up with other work and domestic stressors to result in more disturbed sleep and hence sleep deprivation. If you find yourself stressed out at various points of the day (angry, emotional, irritated, hungry, jealous), then it’s fair to assume that your sleep issues are a result of stress. Stay calm and sleep more.

Move

Let’s face it. Some of us don’t do shit all day long. Even though we are mentally exhausted, physically we don’t do anything that deserves high quality rest. Your body needs to work as much as it needs to rest. So do the needful – exercise regularly and stay active everyday by doing more activities of daily life. No. Lounging, sitting at a desk, driving or going for a short work don’t count. You need to breathe hard, sweat and tire yourself out optimally.

Supplement

Once you have tried all the above ideas and if none of them fix your issues completely, supplementation is an option. Magnesium is a wonder supplement that almost all of us lack in your diets today and is something that calms you down and regulates sleep quality. Look for magnesium oxide or citrate or any other ‘ide’ or ‘ate’ and supplement per RDA. For those who train hard, ZMA (Zinc and Magnesium) is a good option, as it helps with recovery too. Stay away from melatonin and other sleep inducing hormones ‘cos, well, they’re hormones and like all other supplemental hormones, will cause major issues in the long run.

Trust me. Put work away and hit that snooze button. The world will still be crazy and messed up when you wake up.

Why even eat that broccoli?!

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

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

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

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

broccoli

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2013-11-07 at 8.23.05 am

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what is the take away here?

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

 

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

Cut that cake some slack!

Alcohol is advertised, glorified and sold but is harmless unless you over consume it. Clothes and jewelry are marketed heavily, targeted vigorously and sold profitably but you won’t go broke unless you shop uncontrollably. Delicious comfort and junk food has been around for many years now and there is no problem with that unless you make it a part of your daily life.

But most of us know junk food isn’t good for us. Some of us control consuming too much junk food because we’re afraid we’ll become diseased very soon while the rest of us are scared of sagging bellies, fat asses, disgusting love handles and flabby arms. So why would anyone eat junk food everyday?

To be more specific, if you had a brain that is even half the the size of a an apple seed and if it functions even moderately, you wouldn’t eat chocolate cake everyday or feed your child ice cream or bars of candy on a daily basis. It makes no sense to anyone and even the most simple minded and negligent of us will be able to make the following connection.

Fact: Chocolate cake, ice cream, fried food, chips etc = Tasty but not healthy. 

Inference: Eating ‘Tasty but not healthy’ everyday = Fat, unhappy and diseased. 

Decision: I shouldn’t eat “Tasty but not healthy” everyday. 

Simple enough right? But here’s the deal – You do eat junk food everyday. You just don’t know it.

The latest trend in food marketing is putting a healthy spin to pretty much everything. Things like “Contains the goodness of milk” or “with REAL fruit” or “with whole grain” are nothing more than a bunch of BS. Marketing companies are becoming smarter by the day and you know what that means. Yep, you are becoming dumber by the day believing all their nonsense.

Stated differently, food manufacturers and marketers are smartly twisting words and making you believe that junk food is indeed healthful food. How do they do that? By showcasing whatever minimal goodness that is present in their food products and, more importantly, very sneakily hiding everything that is unhealthful. Doesn’t sound too bad, does it? I mean, that’s how we all roll, right? If you were to date someone, you’re going to be at your best appearance and behavior. You’re not going to walk-in wearing rags. Say what? Rags are in fashion now? Ok cool. Scratch that. You’re not going to walk in wearing pajamas and a hello kitty t-shirt. If you were to sell your car, you’d talk about how she (really?) was rarely driven and how much you loved her (seriously?) but you’d not mention the accident or oil leak or A/C that doesn’t cool.

If this was the case with food products, I think we can safely live with that. Say for example, a box of cereal which is made purely of whole grains, is high in fiber and contains dehydrated fruit but also contains some sugar. But is that the case today? Well, hell no!

The most famous grain based chocolate flavored sugary cereal is being marketed as a “healthy breakfast”! Can you freaking believe that? Here is what it is made of.

Whole wheat flour (29%), edible vegetable oil, malt extract, iodized salt, colour (INS 150d), vitamins, vinerals, antioxidant (InS 320).  Contains permitted natural colour and added flavours (Nature-Identical and Aritifical Flavouring Substances). 

The point here is that downright blatant junk is, for the most part and by most people, kept at bay. So cut that cake some slack! It is the sneaky pseudo health foods that you are made to believe that you need to consume everyday that is making you fat, ugly, tired, easily frustrated and diseased. I’m talking about the cereals and digestive biscuits and diabetic cookies and dried fruit balls and health drinks and electrolyte replenishment drinks and baked chips and fruit juice everything else in between.

So what do you do?

Step 1: Spot pseudo-health foods.

  • If it comes in a box and has a long shelf-life chances are, it is junk. Nuts and dried fruit are an exception.
  • If the box is colorful, heavily marketed, has words like “low fat” or “no sugar” you can be almost sure it is junk.
  • If the list of ingredients has more than 3 words you don’t understand, it definitely is junk.
  • If it tastes sweet but says ‘No sugar added’ or ‘Diabetes friendly’ or ‘Health___’, it most definitely is junk.

Step 2: Don’t eat it.

Step 3: Decide to never store such foods in your pantry.

Stay sane. Stay safe. It’s a dangerous world out there.

Self Experimentation – Vegetarian Diet (Part 2)

In part 1 of this series, I wrote in detail my experience (thus far) with a vegetarian diet and also shared my results both from a feel perspective and a body composition perspective. In this part, I will attempt to answer an important question that most definitely popped up in your head when you read the previous post.

If I ate to appetite, didn’t count calories, ate ice-cream/chocolate pretty often and did not do anything specific to actually lose fat, how did I end up losing fat?

Every change in the human body is a result of an action and this was no exception. Here are some of the reasons for the unplanned fat loss.

– Lack of calories.

The shift to a vegetarian diet built around vegetables and fruit meant a sudden drop in calories especially since I wasn’t counting calories and eating to appetite. Vegetables and fruits are low in calories in general and eating even huge amount of the same won’t result in packing in too many calories. On the other hand, if I had moved to a vegetarian diet rich in grains and nuts, the opposite would’ve happened.

– Enough protein.

Though I didn’t eat any meat and though it seemed like I got only a few grams of protein (from dairy, whey and eggs), vegetables contain plenty of protein (more than carbs) and when consuming vegetables in the amounts I do, they are a significant contributor to total protein.

– Intermittent fasting.

We all know that there is no such thing as a free lunch. If fat loss is desired, hunger needs to be tolerated. When you choose to feel hungry depends on each person. While some go the 6 meals a day route restricting calories, feeling hungry and dissatisfied throughout the day, I chose to deal with hunger during the first part of the day by skipping breakfast. This creates a calorie deficit which isn’t compensated for even after eating lunch and dinner to appetite (due to reasons mentioned above).

– Elevated leptin.

If you remember my previous post, I mentioned that I went on a junk food spree during my last 2 weeks in the US. Junk food in general is high in carbs and in calories and my gorging on such food rich in calories and carbs could’ve possibly elevated my leptin levels. This followed by a sudden drop in calories could be the reason for such accelerated fat loss. For those not familiar with the concept, this is why cheat meals help you get past stubborn plateaus.

– Consistent resistance training.

If you did check out the specifics of my workout routine in the Facebook page you’d have noticed that I regularly trained for strength and speed. The goal of my training was ‘muscle stimulation’ which basically means to train a muscle or move only enough to stimulate it (and hence force growth) and not train to failure. Or in other words… smart training.

You guys know I’m not selling you anything and I’m not the one to scam you by making you believe that my way of fat loss is easy. So when I (or anyone else for that matter) say I ate to appetite, ate junk and plenty of fruit everyday and still lost fat without really trying, realize that there is more to the equation.

But, like I’ve said before, fat loss and health are (most times) two different things. Unless you are morbidly obese, losing fat is a short phase in your life or at least it should be. That said, let’s jump from mere short-term fat loss to long term health. From a long term health perspective, is this diet healthy? In order to answer that question we need to address three very important requirements.

1. Sustainability

2. Food quality

3. Essential micros and macros

I’ve had a long and rough day today and so I’ll stop here. But in the next post, I will discuss these three points and take an unbiased look at ‘vegetarian eating’. Should I even say that post will rile up some folks? Stay tuned!

Peace out.

 

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