As you wait for your turn to pay at your local food mall you might have noticed a huge guy with tons of aerated drinks, jams, butter, biscuits, chips, etc loaded in the cart. While he waits for his turn, he also picks up chewing gums and chocolates which are laid out to tempt buyers exactly in his situation. And you wonder, doesn’t he understand that this is wrong? That he can’t be eating so much junk?
Information without awareness is useless
Yes it’s a fact: everybody knows that they should be avoiding sweets and fried stuff. Everybody. Then how come so many people are still eating them? It’s simple: they lack complete awareness about what they are stuffing their mouths with. Information without awareness is like riding a bike with the helmet on the handle. You have the right equipment but it’s not in the right place. Useless. Just like the information that eating pizza, chips, chocolates, pastries will make you fat is not enough. What you need is awareness. To develop awareness, you need to start observing what you are doing.
Awareness come when the mind is in a meditative state. Hmm… now how many times in the day do we catch ourselves in this meditative state? Almost never. A state of meditation is reached, or we can get closer to a meditative state, when we experience a certain amount of calmness in our mind. Many of us lead a life where we had to finish almost everything yesterday, where we are at every moment torn in between 2 or more things or people, where we just don’t have the time to do or pursue anything that we evenly remotely love, and where stress is an inevitable part of our existence.
How then can we go about cultivating awareness? Or is there no hope for us? No, there is hope. And it is called ‘Diet recall’ in the field of nutrition. A standardised 24 hour diet recall requires you to write down everything that you eat and drink from the time you wake up till the time you sleep, along with time, quantity and a brief description of food. A 24 hour diet recall gives you and the nutritionist you are working with a good idea of what you eat at what time, your food likes and dislikes, you calorie and nutrient intake, etc.
I have further modified the standard 24 hour diet recall to suit my clients’ needs a lifestyle. I get them to write a 3 day diet and activity recall. Two of these days are working days and 1 a holiday day, depending on which day of the week is ‘off’ or ‘day out’ for you. Typically, most of clients note down Saturday or Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. Along with the diet recall I also get them to jot down their activity recall. Which means that they also put down everything that they have done in the day along with what time they did it. So, everything from brushing teeth, driving, meetings; all the gory details. But it doesn’t stop here. After diet and activity, they have to put down workout details: weight training, yoga, cardio or whatever.
Why do we need such a long process? To bring ourselves an inch closer towards awareness. If you home loan company promises you a deal or exchange, will a verbal assurance do or do you want that is writing? Writing has that effect on us. You have to think using your mind, your hands write and your eyes see what is written. It creates a much deeper understanding of what we are doing and why we are doing it.
The point is that food is one of the 4 primitive fountains of life, together with sex, sleep and the instinct for self preservation. Food is instinctive. Food is a means through which we can start on this beautiful journey towards our real spiritual self. Food is bramha, a vedantic concept that means completeness or oneness. Food is something through which we can become one with God or with our inner self. And no, this is not a Vedantic or Hindu concept alone. Whatever religion you believe in or were born into, no matter how old or new age the religion is, it will place special emphasis on food.
Crossing the bridge: from knowing to doing
Just knowing of talking about things like eating right and exercising regularly has never helped anybody. ‘just talking is not enough,’ said the people of Mumbai to its politicians. Our government has been talking for way too long, and doing precious little. No wonder then that our country continues to remain a soft target for the terrorists. They come and attack us almost like making a style statement to the world: ‘Hey we are alive and kicking and can strike at will.’
Isn’t this situation similar to what we do to our bodies. Talk yak-yak-yak about dieting, exercise and do absolutely nothing about it. No wonder then that our stomach continues to be a soft target. And at the same time we want our stomachs to have the ‘resilient spirit of Mumbai’, which means that it should continue to function just as well. Do you work well, my dear stomach. So what if I stuff so much food inside you that you feel like an overcrowded Virar local?
Are we going to do the same thing to our digestive system that we hate our politicians for? Enough of taking our bodies for granted. Let’s not push our stomachs to revolt against us. Let’s take some real action. And like one of the placards in the peace march in Mumbai declared.
What are the fundamental steps towards adopting a healthier lifestyle? Here goes.
Wake up closer to sunrise.
Ideally: Wake up a little before sunrise so that you can witness the peace that every dawn brings. It’s not called ‘awakening’ for nothing. Don’t just leave this activity to when you are at hill stations. Dawn brings hope and energy for not just the day, but for life. Sunrise provides us with the vitamin D that we need to maintain healthy bones, gives us the ‘me time’ to clear our head, and cleanses our body of the tamas or the sloth of the night.
Let’s get real: Sunrise is great. But if this sounds way out of reach, just wake up an hour before you are used to. If you are waking up post noon, start with waking up 2 hours earlier. Waking up even 30 minutes earlier gives us much needed time to workout, exercise.
Eat within 10 minutes of waking up.
Ideally: eat meal 1 within 10 minutes of waking up. And obviously you can’t start with tea, coffee. If you can’t bring yourself to eat a big meal, start with a fruit. Absolutely any fruit is great. Keep it fresh, not frozen. Don’t add salt, sugar etc to it. And of course, don’t squeeze it into a juice.
Let’s get real: 10 minutes sounds like a big deal? OK, eat within the first 30 minutes of waking up. But make sure that you are not reading your paper, checking your B-berry, giving instructions on the phone, etc while doing this. If you workout first thing on rising, eat a fruit before working out. And please don’t eat in bed. Get up, walk around a bit, and then go for your food.
Within an hour of meal 1, eat a nice, home cooked breakfast.
Ideally: a hot breakfast is the best meal 2 as it is freshly prepared and full of nutrients. porridge, most egg dishes are good options. Breakfast is the meal that needs to become the family meal, instead of dinner. Eating early improves metabolic rate, arrests ageing, and reduces hunger pangs in the day.
Let’s get real: you have no time or facilities for a home cooked hot breakfast. Buy organic muesli from your local health store or just buy cereal which is not malted and hasn’t had sugar added to it. To this, add some milk or yogurt and get going. And if you can only have breakfast on reaching office, try and eat something that is not deep-fried; many of us tend to pick up a samosa, bhaji, etc, something easily available. Try to take a homemade roll or sandwich with you, for example.
- This is also a good time for a multivitamin or a B vitamin supplement.
- On days that you are running late, skip meal 1 but make sure you have meal 2 before running out of the house.
Eat every 2 hours after meal 2.
Ideally: Calculate the number of hours that you spend away from home. Divide that by 2 and carry those many meals with you. So if you leave home at 8.30 am and return at 7 pm, you are out of the house for 10 and a half hours. You should then be eating 5 to 6 meals. For optimum fat burning, lunch should be around 11 am instead of the usual 1.30-2pm. If you have the luxury of going home for lunch, do so. If not, wherever you are, sit in peace and eat. Avoid eating while standing, walking, or driving.
Let’s get real: You are out for 12 hours and dividing this by 2 brings it to 6 meals! You can’t possible carry that much, and come on, you don’t have boys to carry it around or staff to organise this like superstars do. But don’t worry. Not all your meals have to be complicated. Most of you are used to bringing lunch to work. Eat that at 11 am as your meal 3. For all the in between meals, here are a few options that can easily be stacked in your office drawer; or your office boy can easily be instructed to buy for you. Some, like the vegetables, you can bring from home too.
- Peanuts: easily stored at office. Just make sure your colleagues don’t know where you store them or they will be over before you know. Make sure you eat them without masala and avoid the deep-fried ones. Buy the ones that are roasted.
- Cheese: buy a packet of singles or cubes. They can stay without refrigeration. Best kept out of others’ sight. Great for keeping that glow on the face.
- Curd or yogurt: there are many varieties available in the market and in various sizes. Take your pick. Great for digestion problems.
- Milk or soy milk: get your regular dose of protein and fat. They are available in one time serving sizes and there are flavoured milk and soy milk options now.
- Carrots or cucumbers: easy to carry. Won’t leak like tomatoes. And remember, no need to peel or cuts; just wash and eat for maximum enjoyment and nutrition.
- Boiled eggs or omelettes: can be bought locally or cooked in your office pantry, even. Or you can bring the boiled egg in from home and keep it in its shell. It might smell though.
- Protein bars: great-tasting and easy to store or carry. These are found in gyms, sports and health food stores.
- Grilled sandwiches from a local eatery or pantry. So you eat only half of what you’ve got, share with your colleagues and earn brownie points with them.
- Sprouts. Keep a sprouts maker at work place. Refill it once every 2 days. And eat a handful of sprouts from there. Make it the new gossip place. Chuck the coffee or tea machine.
- Cereal. Remember to only eat your handful. Pick a cereal without added sugar. Look at the ingredients.
- Wholewheat toast with peanut butter, home made white butter, cheese, tofu spreads.
- Try to eat sitting crosslegged. You can do this even while sitting on a chair. If you can’t, bring both legs up, and definitely try doing it even with one leg.
- Lunch is a good time to have a fatty acid supplement as it improves insulin response.
- Don’t have tea or coffee without eating anything and limit this to 2 a day.
- Offer 1 of these options to your clients or people you have to meet at work, instead of the regular tea and biscuits; you’ll both end up eating healthier.