The human body is a miraculously designed machine. We are physically capable of running marathons, scaling mountains and conquering domains unfathomable. Evolution has hardwired into us the genetic software which decides, at molecular levels, how we will react to stimuli around us and how we will feel – every second of every day for the rest of our lives. From the very moment freshly minted fathers gaze dreamily into the eyes of their new-born progenies, up until our very last breath, there is only one substance which provides sustenance for this journey – Food. It is our fuel, nourishment, energy, satisfaction and everything else in between.
The overwhelming majority of the diseases that afflict us are caused by eating unhealthy food. We service our cars once or twice a year, air conditioners once a year, appliances and electronic devices as per manufacturer guidelines. But when it comes to the most complex of machines – our body – we neglect the most basic of care. The body too needs a daily cleanse and even thirty minutes every day is ample for this. The reality is that most of us get so caught-up in our daily “grinds” that we pay scant regards to signals which our bodies keep sending us. Minor pains in the back or maybe our knees. A sharp shooting pain in the chest or shoulder. We simply overlook these and carry on, as we are “meant” to do. And sometimes, before we realize it, it is too late.
If you only had a rupee for every time you gave yourself the excuse “I simply do not have the time”, you would be a very rich person indeed, my friend. You forget the truth that Time is all you have. We can always make time for things that really matter to us. In this plastic society though, which rewards workaholism and money above all else, the individual is left no choice but to struggle for existence rather than living Life. So confused are our priorities, that we spend all our lives saving for retirement, while the best years of our youthful life simply crawl on miserably by as we waste our energies in the mad and hopeless scramble for acquisition of a never-ending hoard of “assets”. Knowledge is no longer power. Internet is common to all, and as Thomas L. Friedman rightly said, it has flattened everything. If you are reading this article, then you are the world’s top 1%, the elite few, blessed by God, to have access to education, sanitation and clean drinking water. I am assuming (never a safe thing to do but I will try it anyways) that you know how to use the Internet.
The differentiator that marks a person living Life from the mindless crowds jostling for mere survival is Energy.And energy comes from food. The careful planning of your day and your meals has to be optimally primed for any challenges Life might throw at you. Life, as we all know too well, has a wicked sense of humour. I come from a purely vegetarian Marwari family and all we saw while growing up was food, food and more glorious food, resplendent with the shiny make up of ghee and oil. Our lives revolved around it. We celebrated and we mourned with food. Social pecking orders were established based on the size of one’s girth and the number of poori’s one could pack in, in a single sitting, sans batting an eyelid. My own life has taught me the indubitable fact that we attach an immense emotional context to food. For instance, one’s Mothers favourite dish, or the dish we ate on our first date, have the power to trigger strong feelings over years. Also, that deep sense of satisfaction and nostalgia, when tasting flavours from the past, which make us instantly reminiscent of “‘le good ol’ days”, are extremely dangerous motivators.
The body has only two reserves to fend for itself – Sugar and Fat. This is a clever evolutionary design, as there were times when our ancestors needed to outrun their prey or else risk becoming prey themselves. This induced the “fight or flight” response, giving us the ability to run fast and sometimes, extremely fast. This needed extreme surges of energy, which sugar stored in our body provides. This is however a limited store and runs out after about ninety minutes. The body’s fat stores can provide endless amounts of clean sustained energy. When our sugar stores get depleted our brain releases the hormone Ghrelin, making us hungry again, which gives rise to cravings that can make us gorge on unhealthy foods. If we eat more than our requirement at that time, the required sugar gets converted into energy and the balance to fat.
Sugar comes disguised in various forms. Processed and refined foods are the main culprits. Hyper palatable foods and super-sized portions dished out by restaurants also add fuel to the fire. Most importantly, food habits are deeply ingrained in us and correlate directly with our upbringing. Children of obese parents are short-changed in the genetic arena of fitness. Especially at risk are the children of women who put on more than the allowed 12-14 kgs of allowed weight during pregnancy. Fat fathers are equally responsible for passing on “lazy” genes to their children. These habits alter our genes, atrophy our muscles and short circuit our neural networks and we end up craving the wrong things for the wrong reasons, all of the time. All that fast food, instant food and convenience food is all bad for our bodies at all times. One should strictly adhere to food made by either Mother Nature, or Mother Nurture. Factories should produce goods, not food. The serving of good, wholesome, nutritious and healthy food to people is one the best and most extremely gratifying vocations, one can dedicate their lives to. I speak from personal experience as I have been working as a Chef for the last 12 years. And will continue to do so for the rest of my life.
Metabolism is a word heard often these days. And being blessed with a slow one is seemingly the misery of the millennial generation. We fail to understand though that a “fast” metabolism is something we can cultivate. It is not something genetic or inherited from your parents. As toddlers, we have amazing metabolism which stays with us until the ripe young age of 30. After which, it declines steadily at the rate of 1%-2% every decade. This is not much, if we plan for it. The key is to keep the fire “stoked”. Analogize your metabolism to a furnace which keeps going with the addition of fuel. Every time you start it up it would require huge amounts of fuel. However, once it gets going, it would need much lesser amounts of fuel. Bingo! It is the same for metabolism. So the key here is to eat five or six meals spaced throughout your day. You have to know when we are about to get hungry and before you do, eat. It is actually as simple as that. Stay hydrated too. Before you get thirsty, drink water. If you are thirsty, you are already dehydrated. We can delve deeper into the realms of metabolism, but we will leave that for another article.
Now that we know we need 5-6 meals a day,the million dollar question is,“What do we eat?” No two calories are the same. 100 calories worth of almonds will leave you feeling energetic and satiated. They might, or might not taste nice, depending on your mental circuitry. 100 calories worth of French Fries will taste very good, but will make you feel terrible a little bit after you have ingested them. The fries will wreak havoc both physically and emotionally. Theoretically, if your daily calorific requirement is 2500 calories and you end up eating 3000 calories worth of cucumbers every day, dear friend, sadly, you will still put on weight. The body is nothing but a bank for calories. And every step you take, every choice you make, like Police said in their hit 1983 song, your bank will be watching you. One pound of body weight is roughly 3500 calories. Also, after years of experimentation on myself, I have found that, four pounds of fat loss per month, is sustainable and well within one’s reach. It took me two years to shed thirty kilo grams of excess fat from my body and mind.
We need to figure out our individual calorific requirement first. For that we need to know our Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) based on age and sex, and then we factor in activity levels and diet. Once we know what our requirement is, we need to create a deficit of 500 calories per day. Over 7 days, this is 3500 calories. Then the next hurdle is then to eat right, so that we stay energized and motivated. Dieting is a dirty word and starts with “die”. So does “Diet”. I refuse to do it. I just eat healthy. You have to mentally shift your perceptions. Instead of “exercise” use the word “train” or “work out”. Do not tell your spouse that you go to “work”. Tell yourself that you never “work”. You enjoy what you do. You “play”. Try it. It is what I do, much to the chagrin of my wife. In case your job does not fit with this, please get a new job. Suggestive subliminal messages always work. These are what the dream merchants keep conning the “con”sumer with. That is us – my friend. We should learn to flip this, and use it to our benefit. The single greatest ability of the human mind is its ability to deceive itself.
We need to eat healthy food, cooked fresh. Lean protein, lots of fruits and vegetables. Eating too much protein while not working out is difficult for the body to digest. Also, protein needs to be eaten daily as the body cannot store it like fats and carbohydrates. There are various thumb rules to the amount of protein you should eat, depending on the school of thought that you are consulting. But the most important thing is to listen to your body. Your body talks to you. Listen carefully and obey. You cannot force great and immediate change. Slow gradual steps are what actually work. Personally, one good habit to start and one bad one to remove every week is a do-able practice for me. Do not deprive yourself of anything. Life is short. Eat everything you like, once a week. Eat in moderation and keep your metabolism revved. Thus, when we do end up cheating sometimes, it will have much less of an effect than when we cheat when we are overweight.
We should switch to eating complex carbs. We should avoid excess sugar and sugary foods. Alcohol is public enemy number one. We should avoid it at all costs. Eat nuts and good fats. The body needs about 25% of energy from good fats. These are avocado, almonds, walnuts, olive oil, ghee and many more tasty and delicious treats. These fats are what the brain and joints work on. Cut these out and we go into depression. 25% of the energy should come from carbohydrates. These help you to walk, run, live. Cut these out and again we go into depression. The balance should come from protein. This works differently for different people and one has to keep experimenting until they find their “inflection” point. Also, the important thing is to not cut out anything, and please do not try any fancy fad diets. They have never worked and never will. Speaking from experience, it is much easier to take the weight off, than to keep it off. Have a great and energetic life.
“Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.” This famous French saying, coined by Brillat-Savarin, led to the coining of the now famous saying- “You are what you eat.” It simply is as simple as that.
Bon appétit my friends!
(Gaurav is the founder and Principal Chef of Bangalore’s first tea boutique – Infinitea, and a holistic wellness enthusiast)