The problem with Indians’ battle with weight is that they end up trusting every other source than listening to their doctor. They will read up every research paper on the internet but never try to find out if it applies to them. For truth be told, weight loss and its management, the most trending topic on search engines, should be an extremely customised, disciplined and a maintainable routine factoring in the person’s lifestyle, their health condition, their disease burden (a logical corollary given their weight issues) and most importantly body capacity. I have had many patients report to my OPD with extreme exhaustion and deficiency simply because they have tried some method or diet to lose weight and have crashed midway because their bodies weren’t up to it. So, for the new year, I won’t be prescribing a to-do list but a not-to-do list. Also, it is not about losing weight but keeping to the right weight.
1) Do not skip breakfast: Skipping the main meal or the fuel meal of the day has emerged as the go-to solution for keeping the stomach light and reducing calories. The fact is that your body is programmed to do something else altogether during the daylight hours. That’s the time your digestive powers are the strongest and can absorb the nutrients from the food you eat. With a sudden calorie dip that the body demands, you become sluggish and slow. Some people make up for their energy quotient by drinking fruit juice instead. Concentrated juice raises blood sugar, which stimulates your body to produce more insulin. Besides, skipping the most important meal of the day makes you hungry frequently and you gorge on any food that’s available. Then daytime denial also means that at some point later in the day you will eat like a glutton, giving into indulgence rather than discipline. Skipping a meal doesn’t save calories. Research shows that most people who eat fewer than three meals usually end up eating more calories during the course of the day.
2) Do not choose instant meals, roasted snacks or toppings: This one is a strict no-no as processed and preservative foods did nobody any good. Besides, what you get as packaged roasted and baked foods are prepared over high heat that creates toxins in the body. Advanced glycation end products (AGEs) are produced when sugar molecules attach themselves to protein or lipid molecules. The body can handle some amount of AGEs but daily exposure to high levels is bad for health. Also, we may convince ourselves that we are having a great bowl of salad greens without realising that dribbling it with high fat toppings such as cheese and dressings may undo all the goodness that we aimed for in the first place.
3) Don’t focus on fad diets, keto or paleo diets: The low-carb, high fat keto diet or the high protein paleo diet may not work for all body types without an assessment of their physiological condition. Too much of protein also gets stored as fat. Moreover, protein-high shakes and bars tend to be sugary, so choose wisely. All food components need to be balanced. Excess of one macronutrient over the other can only be damaging and unsustainable in the long run. Also, liquid diets may lead to accumulation of calories. I have had cases of 40 to 50-year-old women who have reported at the OPD with grogginess and some disorientation because of having a no-salt or a very low sodium diet.
4) Do not go overboard on a cheat day: There’s no point starving the whole week and binging on a cheat day. So do not build a denial of the food you are used to through the week. Indulgence doesn’t mean you pile up thousands of calories on a single day.
5) Do not eat mindlessly: Respect the act of eating food instead of just gulping it down. Take time to chew it, break it down and allow the nutrients to be absorbed. Let your brain process the food inside you and understand when to turn off the hanger pangs. When the brain doesn’t understand what’s happening if you eat too fast, the food easily gets converted into calories. Definitely stay away from TV dinners as you involuntarily keep cramming something into your mouth all the time. There could be hidden calories in the ingredients of your food. For example, curd made from high-fat milk won’t be healthy, so go for the low fat option. Also fix your own portion size according to your body and not follow a plain formula.
Often a nutritionist may give you a diet chart to follow but understand that the expert is just giving you a generalised template. There’s no one-size-fits-all formula. The “8 am breakfast, 10 am poha and 12 noon buttermilk” chart sounds good as a recommendation but may be over-filling for your body type and actually end up loading calories that you may not be able to use if you are not supremely active.
6) Do not go for the wrong food combos: If your plate were a pie chart, 50 per cent of the meals should be fruits and vegetables, 25 per cent should be protein in the form of lean meats and fish, another 25 per cent should be carbohydrates and the final five per cent should be a probiotic in the form of buttermilk or curd. Any food group that is left out results in an increase in the amount of carbohydrates for the sake of satiety, which raises insulin levels and fat storage. Hydrate yourself well with a water intake of two to three litres daily. I have had patients admit that they rarely have more than four glasses of water a day. You need water to flush out toxins.
7) Do not stress or cut down on your sleep: Most of us take up weight loss as another goal that must be met without realising that it ought to be a life-long process where the body cannot be in a forced alert mode. It has to be allowed to recuperate which is why the role of sleep as a restorative body hygiene is being re-emphasized these days.
8) Do not over-exercise: Most of my patients tell me that they go to the gym religiously and work out for at least one-and-a-half hours everyday without fail. But aren’t they tiring themselves out in the process and slowing down rather than revving up metabolism? A person who has not walked even for half an hour on a somewhat regular basis cannot be expected to suddenly hit the gym and be fine with it. He will be exhausted and give up midway simply because his body won’t allow him to continue unrealistic pursuits. Workouts are not meant for everyday compliance, you have to take a two-day break in between for the body to rest, relax and renew itself. Each body is different and nobody should go to the gym without a clinical assessment of their health status
Incorporating exercise will speed up weight loss. But then the body has to be primed gradually to build a regimen rather than overloading it.
9) Do not trust supplements: I have always said this in my earlier columns that we cannot guarantee safe practices in the manufacturing of OTC products. Herbal products are not tested for safety and do not have a standardised manufacturing practice. There is no credible research on the efficacy of each, so it is not wise to ingest them and expect they will melt body fat.
10) Do not set unrealistic goals, allow the mind its space and calm: Divide the larger goals into smaller ones, and then break them down further into daily targets. Do not assess yourself by the weighing scales. A change in body composition, increased energy levels and other counts take time and are manifested only when pursued steadfastly. The weekly weighing scale may not quantify that. Practise yoga and meditation to build focus and relax the mind at the same time.