Thursday, August 9, 2012

Copying the Western fitness trends blindly - Diet (Part 1)

      As cliched and jingoistic as it sounds, I think this in fact applies to so many things happening in India today (blindly thinking everything western is better), but I'll stick to the realm of 'fitness" or what the average person really cares about the most   when they say the word fitness: fat-loss and/or muscle-gain.

      Big names in commercial gyms, trainers and dieticians in Indian cities are blindly copying from the western fitness industry, abandoning "common sense", wearing what I call "reality-blinkers", mental blinkers not unlike the actual ones that they make horses wear so that they can only look in one direction, ignoring everything else.

         Firstly, they base their diet advice on obsessive calorie-counting - specifying exactly how many grams, exactly how many teaspoons, etc. Since it is very difficult to do so (I'll elaborate shortly why) this in day-to-day Indian cuisine of average folks, they go to the extent of "replacing" traditional dishes with "western" dishes, sometimes with some "Indian" flavour left, sometimes not. Does it work? Of course it works - in the short-term. Or for the very "westernised" and rich Indians, often those who have "international" cooks. For most others, it simply doesn't work, at least for long. I am not very comfortable with calorie-counting in general, but in the context of Indian culture, it doesn't look good at all. Not just because they are working against people's natural tastes, but also working against Indian culture, so to speak.

            Secondly, in a mostly vegetarian society like India's where it is inevitable that carbs form the staple of the diet, increasingly more and more folks in this industry manage to believe and preach "carb-phobia"; and on an unrelated note the myth of frequent meals throughout the day to "stoke" metabolism.

Now I'm not acting holier-than-thou. For a short period of time I too believed that but with a  quite a bit of "cognitive dissonance" because I was aware of the "real-life" glaringly contradicting this. Also I was pragmatic enough to actually in practice never prescribe truly low-carb diets and never let the frequent meal philosophy become a hassle for my clients, Client compliance has always been one of the  most, if not THE most, consideration for me. The most I prescribed in a few cases was 3 meals with 2 snacks between meals. I never went the extent of one of the "best" gyms in Ahmedabad which prescribes 7, yes SEVEN, meals a day. Again I'm not even going into how this is a bad idea from the point of view of appetite and psychology of hunger.

1.5 of these every 2 hours - making your stomach feel like a bottom-less pit

       I guess I don't need to elaborate why low-carb diet philosophy - which by the way most people cannot tolerate psychologically and have real negative effects on health in the long-term for most - is pretty stupid practically in India. The staple of Indian diet, like some other Asian diets, is carbs and that too starchy carbs (rice, grains, potatoes, etc) - being a mostly vegetarian diet. And think about the psychological ramifications of demonising a food group which is the mainstay of a whole culture!

Let's cut out starchy carbs from this. Brilliant idea, no?

Or from this? Lets see... only the"kachumbar" will be left

Another "real-life" glaring contradiction to the low-carb-holy-grail-to-fatloss theory - vast number of people in our country who manage to barely fill their stomach, working in jobs that requires far more physical work than your two hours of gym (yes your "kaamwali" is much fitter than you, yes without Crossfit).  Lets look at their diet, which is based on what's the cheapest foods available - OH MY GOD - ALMOST ALL CARBS! That too "bad" carbs like rotis, rice, potatoes, etc! Their must be an obesity epidemic among them right? - the road workers, the construction workers, the mechanics, the "kaamwalas" and "kaamwalis", the farmers, the manual rickshaw pullers, miners, coolies.... They simply burn more than they eat.

Now coming to the concept of frequent meals theory - first, its a myth that it is in anyway better that regular 2 or 3 meals a day. Why? That's another blog-post. I wish to discuss the practical considerations in our country.

            Indian foods in general, even snacks, are thoroughly cooked items, with oil, strong flavours and aromas and are  not convenient to carry around in "dabbas" all day - in fact they can create a mess if the "dabbas" leak. And factor into the (perfectly fine by the way) habit of eating with hands. Do you think all these factors lend well to frequent eating during your work-day or school/college? India's climate is hot in general, hence the snacks are the way they are to prevent spoilage. Fresh foods quickly go bad in India's climate, unless refrigerated. The snacks that do not spoil fast AND are convenient to carry around in dabbas are super-tasty high calorie fried snacks, low in fiber hence may lead to overeating (especially when eating your own tiffin by yoursel is an alien concept to Indians, even in a professional setting usually lunch/snack time is a highly social affair) - for example my fellow gujjus dhoklas, theplas, bhajiyas, ghanthiyas etc. Yes, I know I know - self-control, will-power, etc etc but I wouldn't bet on it.

Best of luck eating just 1 or 2 of that as your "snack" 

Now coming to the snack what seems to be the favourite of dieticians and trainers in Gujarat - " diet khakhras". Yes, not that high calorie but a complete failure in terms of both physical satiation and psychological satiation because of their bland taste- I'd rather just eat a chapati with salt and chilli peppered on it than those bland, empty khakhras. Hence since it doesn't satisfy Indian taste-buds at all, it leaves people unhappy in that aspect - a key component in diet-failure. And since it is low in fiber, they also leave people actually hungry.

You look at this and say 'YUMMMMYY!" right? ;)

Again, coming back to the manual labour population - lets take one subset of them - construction workers. Not only do they have a carb-rich diet but they also eat usually JUST 2 MEALS A DAY! 

And they are lean, actually "shredded" and damn strong - even the women have visible abs. No frequent, small, protein-rich meals required - they simply eat less than they burn for energy.

Poor guy. Has such a "wrong" diet. So weak and flabby, no?

My cousin and "chuddy-buddy" Vikas is in the construction business. In one of our innumerable discussions about all things phitnezz, he mentioned to me in awe that the worker on the construction sites have just a small lunch during the work-day and rest of the time just need.... a tiny glass of chai, and they cheerfully work  for hours! How tiny you might ask -

And you worry about muscle-loss because you missed one of your six protein-shakes.

Lastly, how "blind" do you have to be to believe the frequent meals theory in a country like ours where religious/ritualistic fasting is the norm! From every sect of Hindus having their own fasts, to Muslims' Ramzan to Christians' Lent... people actually often LOSE weight during the fasts! Fasting (let aside the 3-meals a day norm) goes completely against the frequent meals theory and yet why do you see people lose weight during their religious fasts?! Their metabolism must be "destroyed" and they should be gaining weight right??!

Gandhi. Fasted regularly. Obviously had trouble with excess weight.

In the next post, I'll share my thoughts on why calorie-counting is not practically very feasible in the India.

Monday, December 19, 2011


I am a 23 year-old fitness professional. Helping people transform their bodies for almost 3 years now, I often get inquiries from ladies wanting to lose weight and “tone up”. Usually they ask me whether I take aerobics classes. Or they expect me to make them do aerobics and endless hours on the treadmill/elliptical trainer. They surely don’t expect me to say “My female clients mostly lift weights.” When I tell them that weight-training will get them the best “return on investment” of time and effort in getting their body-shaping goals, they are aghast!

I don’t blame them. There are so many myths surrounding weight-training, especially when it comes to women. They have been led to believe that lifting anything more than 2-3 kg, the will make them “bulky” and muscular like men. The marketing machinery of a popular sports shoe brand has succeeded in convincing them that daily 2 hours of dance aerobics and pounding away on the treadmill is the only way for girls to lose weight. They are unaware of seriously harmful side-effects of excessive aerobics – chronically high stress hormone levels, knee ankle and lower back pain, muscle loss leading to weight gain when returning to normal levels of exercise and diet, vicious cycle of huge swings “yo-yoing” in bodyweight and appearance, and metabolic and hormonal damage.

In the first conversation with a new/prospective female client and the first few sessions, I explain to them the above. I also assure them that they don’t have to worry about getting “big muscles” since women have around 10 times LESS the amount of testosterone levels (the hormone associated with muscle growth potential). They will gain some muscle which will give them a “toned” look, giving them killer curves. Only those women who train very hard with weights for a long time and lose a lot of body-fat enough to show abs get that muscular, manly look (a la Bipasha Basu in her fitness dvd).
While my focus with female clients is to get them the toned and shapely body of (for example) Deepika Padukone. Not to mention the fact that that little amount of muscle gain will also raise their metabolism a bit i.e. the amount of calories your body burns throughout the day. Weight-training also strengthens the bones and joints, which is crucial for women since they are at a higher risk of osteoporosis. It also gives their bodies much more stable since women in general have too much flexibility. Moreover you can keep the heart pumping and get a decent “cardio” workout during weight-training itself by resting little or not at all between exercises.

But these are the physical benefits of strength-training for women. I am a feminist at heart and what I love most about it is the awesome psychological boost it gives them.

Most girls don’t know this, but deep-down they love feeling athletic and “hard-core.” They love getting strong; it empowers them. When my female clients realize that lifting weights won’t automatically make them overly muscular and that if often causes them to lean out and improve in shape, they set lifting records left and right!
I love the look on their faces when they get stronger than they ever thought possible and at the same time lose inches of fat and develop nice muscle tone which shapes up their arms, hips and thighs (the areas most girls complain about being too flabby).

They don’t just get stronger; they FEEL stronger both in their bodies and their minds. Their confidence increases, they develop a mental “edge” over girls who’ve never lifted weights, their posture improves - in short they “kick ass”! ;)

Here’s to empowering women through strength-training – Go girl!


As only the young can, I used to scoff when older, wiser people said stuff like

“You gotta do it for the right reasons, or you won’t last long”
 “Love the process, don’t worry about the goal too much”
“The journey matters as much, if not more than the destination”
“Live in the now, love the now and your future will take care of itself”
What does this have to do with exercise? Everything.

We exercise because we want to lose weight and build/tone up our bodies. And we want that because we want to look good naked, we want clothes to fit us perfectly, so that we look and feel attractive, confident and sexy. We want people to compliment us on how fit and in-shape we look, don’t we all just love that!

All these reasons are perfectly fine, of course. But somewhere along this chasing the gold-pot of our dream bodies, we forget something crucial : how incredibly delightful exercise is on its own!

Incredible??!! Many of you must be going, “Exercise is WORK!! What’s “incredible” about it??!”

Try this next time you’re exercising. Stop worrying about stuff, empty your mind and FEEL what you’re doing.
 My favourite form of exercise is lifting weights. It doesn’t have to be yours, maybe your thing is running.  I have found that it is counterproductive to force yourself to exercise in the way you don’t like most of the time. Prioritise what you love to do first, fill in “the gaps” (cardio or weights) later.
So when I am working out, lifting weights, I be “in the moment”.  I focus on how incredible it feels to lift heavy iron, how incredible my muscles feel pumped, how incredible it feels to be strong and getting stronger…. I focus completely in getting every rep right, completely focused on the set. Between sets, I focus on how my body feels…  I delight in the PHYSICALITY of it.

After I am done, I bask in the endorphin rush, the amazing feeling we get after exercise. I savour the feeling of achievement, of a task done. I consciously store these feelings away in my mind. And since I exercise in the mornings, I feel GREAT for the entire day.

 I don’t worry any longer if the weights didn’t go up in a particular session. I don’t worry about progress. I am focused on it of course, but not worried (believe me I used to so a lot of it before). When I feel I am not making progress over a period of time( getting stronger and/or more muscular and losing fat), and I catch myself feeling bad about it and thinking “What’s the bloody use doing it?”, I pull those feeling out from my memory, reminding myself just how much I love lifting.

I have now been consistently training 3 times a week for the past 4 weeks and guess what? I am loving it.
Oh, did I mention that I am stronger, more muscled and fitter? :D

Like they say about happiness “Happiness is a by-product of doing what makes us feel fulfilled. You cannot purse it by itself.”

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Stuff I'll be talking about

Well, let's see:

That's it.

Just kidding. Here's the real list.

Everything to do with physique transformation. Which is primarily:

  • Fat-loss 
  • Muscle-gain
And what I feel is the best way, both in terms of exercise (hint : Strength-training bias) and diet (hint : no extremes). I'll also be posting on psycho-social aspects. 

I am also interested in training for performance (mostly training for strength) , so I'll be posting stuff about it as well.

P.S. : There might be non-fitness related posts now and then, and a fair amount of angry rants.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The first post, eh?

Wow, I finally did start my fitness blog after all.

Being just 2 years old in this field, am still figuring things out. Thinking out loud through this blog.