Category: Fitness and meditation

Weeks 2 and 3: Here comes the plateau!!

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Why do I have photo of food here? Because it is time to finally fine tune the diet as I have hit the dreaded PLATEAU!

Already? You say. Well, yes and allow me to explain why. Maintaining a near 7000-calorie deficit for 3 weeks is not easy. Like I said in an earlier post, with this style of weight loss, at first the body will simply react to the change and shed pounds quickly, but slowly it will start getting adjusted to the new conditions and the resulting weight-loss will be less drastic. In order to do this, the body starts to slow down its metabolism in an effort to align its energy requirement with the nourishment it is receiving. Ultimately, the evolutionary instinct kicks in and the body goes into what is called the starvation mode.

Our hunting-gathering, nomadic ancestors did not have a steady supply of food. Possibly, they went through periods when they did not catch any game, or were crossing through a desert and didn’t have access to plant-based foods. In order to cope with these situations, the body developed the starvation mode wherein it slows down its metabolic rate to the point where it is only sustaining the vital functions in order to stay alive. We may have come a long way from that lifestyle but the body hasn’t forgotten how and when to turn on the starvation mode. Once the body registers such a crisis we hit what we call the weight-loss plateau- when we cannot lose even an ounce of weight despite our most Herculean efforts. Depending on how much energy reserves, aka fat, your body has, this process can take anywhere from two to several weeks. I did not have that much to lose to begin with, so I plateaued in 3 weeks. This is the reason I did not post any updates last week because I did not have anything to report.

So a drastic calorie deficit isn’t going to work for me any longer. In order to start seeing results again, I must up my food intake. It may sound counter-intuitive but as I explained above, starving can only take you so far on your road to fitness. But I don’t want this increase in diet to be mindless. Typically, the recommended ratio of fat to protein to carb is something like 20%, 20-30% and 50-60% respectively. This is more or less what I was consuming during my initial 3 weeks. When I am focusing on building muscle and cutting carbs, I strive for 30/40/30. Since this is where I want to end up in few weeks, I am going to increase my calories in such a way that my carbs come down a little and protein goes up.

Based on my MyPlate data from yesterday, I had consumed little over 1,000 calories 30% of which came from fat, 30% from protein and 40% from carbs. I am going to continue this for sometime and see if anything changes. Ultimately, I am going to reduce carbs further to 30% and up protein to 40%- but I will let you know when that time comes.

A lot of people are unsure about how to reduce carbs and increase protein, especially without compromising on taste. I am a big foodie and I definitely cannot eat plain grilled chicken breast for every single meal. I am not a serious body builder, maybe for those who are that is the only way. But I have managed to come up with some recipes that are packed with protein and are still super yummy. Below is one such recipe (pictured above) and it is really quite simple- chicken tortilla soup.

Ingredients:

1 can diced tomatoes

1 cup chopped onions

1 cup chopped peppers

1 can black beans, drained and rinsed

16 oz chicken breast

Taco seasoning and salt to taste

Sharp cheddar cheese, cilantro and whole wheat tortilla for topping

Steps:

  1. Sautee onions and peppers in 1 tbsp oil. Set aside
  2. Rub chicken breasts with salt and hint of paprika. Braise and set aside
  3. In a slow cooker, add sauteed vegetables and beans. Place the chicken breasts next and pour a can of diced tomatoes on top. Add some water or chicken stock to make sure the chicken is completely submerged. Add taco seasoning, some salt, cover and let it cook on high for 2-3 hours 

NOTE: taste the taco seasoning to check how much salt is already in there before adding any extra

Once the stew cools down to room temperature, use a fork to shred the chicken. Check for seasoning and adjust as necessary. I added half a teaspoon of sugar to bring out all the flavors.

When ready to eat, sprinkle some cilantro and cheddar cheese on top (I add about 2 tbsp) and set under the broiler until the cheese melts. Chop half of the whole wheat tortilla into pieces and toast in a frying pan with very little olive oil. And there you have it, some flavorful and healthy tortilla soup!

Since I am not cutting carbs right now, I allow myself to have the whole wheat tortilla with the soup. But when I do, I will simply increase the amount of chicken in the recipe, reduce the amount of beans and take away the tortilla- as simple as that!

Below is the nutritional info for the soup (sans cheese and tortilla) based on the above list of ingredients. I portioned the soup into 6 servings. If you do it differently, simple take below values, multiply them by 6 and divide by the number of portions you make.

Total calories………225

Fat (in gm)…………….3

Carbs (in gm)………..19

Protein (in gm)……..23

As you can see, this soup is already full of protein and most of the carbs come from beans which isn’t all sugar but a whole lot of fiber! So this one is a definite winner on all counts. Additionally, soups make an excellent meal during colder weather, and this one is just perfect with the slight heat from the taco seasoning. Hope you will give it a try and enjoy this yummy goodness 🙂

I will report back on my success in the coming weeks.

Until then, stay fit!

P

 

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Week 1: Weight Loss Basics

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This is my second post in the series of fitness routine and includes an update on my progress and the basics of weight loss…

Starting with progress, I will be honest, I am too embarrassed to share my ‘BEFORE’ picture on its own! So it will have to wait until I have a progress picture to go with it :D. But in my first week, I have lost 2 lbs and now am down to 108 lbs. I haven’t bothered checking my body composition because I just want to lose weight right now.

Now the basics of weight loss. We all already know that in order to lose weight, we need to create a calorie deficit. As long as calories-in is less calories-out, there will be a calorie deficit and the body will be forced to use its reserves. Most of us also know that in order to lose 1 lb we need to create a deficit of 3500 calories. Spread it over a 7-day week, and that’s 500 calories a day if you want to lose weight at the rate of a pound per week. Anything over 2 lbs/week can be seriously dangerous and, I can assure you, that such weight loss will not be permanent. In my last post I mentioned that I had lost 10 lbs in 10 days, but bear in mind that I wasn’t drinking water or other fluids during that time either. I would say, a glass a day was probably the most water I got during those 10 days. So not only was I losing weight from stored fat and muscles, I was also getting dehydrated.

Another thing to consider is that the body does not strictly follow such linear math. Weight loss, in my experience, is more like a log curve- you tend lose a lot of weight initially but with time that rate keeps declining and ultimately hits the infamous plateau! So although a 7000-calorie deficit might help you lose 2 lbs in week 1, depending on how much weight you have to lose, it may not be the same in, say, week 6. So stay patient. More on that when we, I mean, I get there!

In terms of work out I am doing the basic stuff. I joined a 3-week boot camp class (Fit Body Boot Camp) that involves some serious high intensity cardio and strength training. I am going to stay away from weight training right now. Even for the strength training portion of the class, I go light on weights. So when my instructor tells us to do squats, I stick with body weight instead of picking up a dumbbell. The simple reason for this is that I am not giving my body enough nourishment to really reap the benefit of lifting heavy weights. Lifting heavy weights causes micro tears in the muscles, hence the soreness afterwards, and it is in the process of repairing that these muscles become bigger, stronger. But in order to repair, the body needs copious amounts of protein that I cannot supply when I am trying to create a deficit. So stay away from those weights for now. We will have plenty of serious lifting to do later!

If you are going to work out at home, like I will once the 3 weeks are over, I will do HIIT 2-3 times a week and other types of cardio for remaining 1-2 days.

HIIT, High Intensity Interval Training, is all the rage these days but honestly, if you can get 40-minute worth of work done in 20, why wouldn’t you go for it! But if you are new, ease your way into it. I have an elliptical at home so here is what I do:

2 minutes of warm up at a medium pace – able to talk

1.5 minutes of medium-high pace – able to talk but feeling slightly out of breath

30 seconds of as-high-as-I-can-go pace – don’t ask me to do anything, I just want these 30 seconds to be over! This is the high intensity interval.

Repeat this 2-minute set of medium-high and intense pace intervals up to but no more than 10 times. Cool down for 5 minutes.

You can really turn any cardio workout into a HIIT session, just follow the basic idea of medium-high pace for 1-2 minutes and high intensity pace for 20-30 seconds, and repeat for a total workout lasting 15-20 minutes, maybe 30.

That is that about work out during week 1 up until we hit our desired weight. Now on to food. The important thing to remember is that although we have to eat less it does not mean we have to compromise on nutrition. Simply make each calorie count. What I have in the picture above are some of my staples these days. I LOVE LOVE LOVE bread! But I also like to avoid grains and processed foods as much as possible. So protein bread is a blessing for me. Each slice has 10 gms of protein which is pretty good for a bread. Coconut water is a natural electrolyte and a great go-to drink post workout. Another great drink is kombucha- I love that stuff. I even make my own. I will cover that is another post but if you haven’t tried it yet, I’d say do it! And finally there are the all-organic RX bars- yummy with the sweet and salt but they come in other flavors as well. I’ve heard blueberry is really good too. Besides these items, other products that I am consuming these days include a protein smoothie, oatmeal, 1 or 2 fruit a day, lots of veggies, and nuts for snacking if I feel uncontrollably hungry. I am eating some chicken but I find it easier to control calories when I eat things that are already packaged and portion-controlled, like an RX bar.

Using any calorie counter, I use Livestrong’s MyPlate app, determine your daily calorie requirement based on your lifestyle. Remember to do this for maintenance level. If you select your target as “lose a pound per week” or such, the calculator will automatically factor in the deficit needed. I prefer to do that myself. Mine was little over 1250. Again, using MyPlate, I estimated that I was consuming about 850 calories a day. For the life of me, I cannot find where my HRM is so I estimated that I must be burning about 500 calories per session of boot camp. Now let’s do some math!

Calories needed       : 1250

Calories consumed :(850)

Deficit                         : 400

Calories burned       : 500

Total deficit               : 900

So that is about a 1000 calorie daily deficit. But there are rest days and days when I end up going out for dinner. We all have those days. All I can say is that do your best to compensate and stagger these days. So don’t eat out on your rest day. If you eat out, work out extra the following day. If you know in advance that you are going to be dining out, adjust calories in advance, and try to watch what you order. But hey, life is too short to give up on good food, so just do your best!

That is all about week 1. I will be back with more updates on my progress and maybe some healthy recipes.

Stay fit!

P

 

 

 

 

Jumpstarting a Fitness Routine

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And I am back! I have to say that for a fleeting moment I did wonder if I had, in fact, become more popular through my absence. Or perhaps I was being watched (still am!). There is no way to tell, all I have are dozens of “new view” notifications for my blog page, but regardless, it is gratifying to know that I haven’t been entirely forgotten. I have never felt the need to watch someone, or worry about what is being said about me when I am not listening. I have faith in myself and a clear conscience, and other people’s opinion of me, as hurtful as may be at times, does not alter the way I see myself. I expect the same in return so I am going to assume that I have suddenly been ‘discovered’! So thank you, my new readers, and I hope you will stick around 🙂

But leaving all that aside and sticking with the theme of how I see myself, and as the title and featured image have already given away, this post is about fitness. Yes, fitness, one of the three things I wanted to write about when I decided to reinvent this blog. But back then I did not know where to start. I felt like I was already on a path and it did not make sense to start at some arbitrary point midway. But things are different now. Now I have regressed and am back at the beginning. So as I restart my journey, and hopefully, make it to the end this time, I want to document it, and perhaps help anyone else who would like to travel alongside.

I have been fitness conscious since my early teens but I have never stuck to an exercise routine consistently. Consequently, my body type was always changing as well although I never went to any extremes. I was never really pudgy and I was never skinny either. But then couple of years ago I got pill-induced dysphagia. In simple words, a pill got stuck in my esophagus because I didn’t take it with enough water and caused a lesion leading to difficulty in swallowing. I remember waking up one night with severe pain in my chest. I wondered if I was having a heart attack, didn’t know what else to make of it and frankly, unless you’ve had one, how are you supposed to know what exactly a heart attack pain feels like. I tried drinking some water but the pain spiked as I tried to swallow it. So that was the start. Fast forward to the end of no eating and minimal drinking, and one trip to the ER in between to get an IV of fluids, I had lost 10 lbs in 10 days and at a mere 93 lbs, I was, for the first time ever, skinny.

Eventually, I started working out and eating carefully and gained back the 10 lbs while maintaining the same body fat percentage. It took me close to 18 months to get there, although it wasn’t a continuous process. I had several periods of break in between where I was either not working out consistently, or not eating right, or both. Since August of this year, I haven’t followed a workout routine and was a total pig while I was in India. As a result now I am 110 lbs and 19% body fat. It is not bad, but it is a far cry from the 15% BF athletic body type that I was striving toward. Hence, in a way this is a fresh start and a perfect beginning for this series.

I wish I had better pictures but back then I didn’t know I was going to write this post. Still, if you look closely, my arm looks rather skinny in the first picture, and I am pretty pleased with the way my abdomen looks in the second. If I had continued with my diet and workout plan, I could have dropped another tedious percentage of body fat and revealed some abs definition! Oh well, this time I know how to get there so at least it won’t be as difficult. But before I set a target, I want to do some math, love me some math!

For below calculations: weight in lbs * BF% = fat in lbs

                                            weight in lbs – fat in lbs = muscle in lbs

BEFORE

Weight in lbs                  Fat in lbs                 Muscle in lbs

93                                         15                                 78                    @ 16% BF

103                                       16.5                              86.5                @ 16% BF

Gain                                   +1.5                              +8.5

 

NOW

110                                        21                                  89                  @ 19% BF

 

TARGET

105                                        16                                  89                  @ 15% BF

 

Before I go further, a disclaimer, this is not a scientific method, this is my own personal way of breaking down weight loss into some sort of a science, not the same as science. I like numbers, that’s just how I make sense of things, you are free to come up with your own method.

Moving on, what the first set of numbers tells me: attain the desired body fat percent first, even if it means losing some muscle in the process, and then add back muscle and proportionate amount of fat to maintain the percent.

Looking at my current stats and my target, I might be doing fine in the muscle department but it is all hidden under a layer of fat. So my goal, ultimately, is to lose 5 lbs of fat only, however, that is not possible. In order to lose the fat, I am going to have to create a calorie deficit, which also means compromising on my protein consumption, read: losing muscle. It also means focusing on cardio instead of weight training. Lastly, 105 lbs is just an arbitrary value I picked up based on how I looked at 103 lbs. At 103 lbs, I wanted to lose another %age point in body fat content. I could have either selectively lost fat (-1), less likely, or have reduced some fat (-0.5) and increased some muscle (+2.5), more likely, hence a net gain of 2 lbs. I might reset this target as I begin approaching it based on how I look and feel.

Like I said before, it is not possible to selectively lose or gain fat only, so if I want to end up at 105 lbs with the desired body composition, I will try to go below it first and build my way up to it. My aim in the coming weeks: cardio, lots of it, and reduced calorie intake until my total weight drops below 105 lbs. At that point, I will recheck my body composition and take it from there.

This is my introductory post to this series. In the next post, I will get into the specifics of this first deficit phase, like what I eat, what workouts I do and some meaningful BEFORE pictures 😉

PS: I am a shortie (5’2″) so these weights are within a healthy range for me. Make sure to check your BMI to find the appropriate weight range for yourself. Note that body composition ratios vary for men and women.

Happy Staying Fit!!

P

 

Meditation, Peace and Intuition: Part 1

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Peace is not a far-fetched state of existence, and intuition is not a mystical superpower. We look for peace outside, we look for signs outside, when in reality, all the answers lie within our own minds and hearts.

Someone asked me yesterday if I was losing my sleep over everything that’s been going on in my life lately. “Not at all“, I said, “On the contrary, I’ve been sleeping quite peacefully“. The other person exclaimed, “Taken up boozing or any other addiction, have ya!“. “Not really but you can say it is a kind of addiction- it is wellness- I work out and I meditate.

Before I talk about the how-to of meditation (part 2), I want to highlight the real, tangible benefits of the practice and how they can potentially change a person’s life.

1. Meditation and Peace

I am not talking about world peace here, although I do believe that if everyone in this world was at peace with themselves, they wouldn’t go around fighting and imposing their own way of living and thinking on others. Insecurity begets fear and fear begets contempt. When we find peace within, we rise above our insecurities. We learn to face that which we fear instead of shunning it. We learn to respect and coexist with differing views because we don’t see them as threat anymore. Our faith is founded in reason, and we don’t worry about it collapsing just because the rest of the world doesn’t believe in the same things as we do. We don’t worry about majority, or confirming, we are content to be who we are.

But all that sounds too grand and glorious. In simple terms, when you find peace within, you won’t worry about what other people will say. You understand your strengths and your weaknesses, and you do the best with what you’ve been given. You don’t waste your time worrying about things which are beyond your control or influence. In this world of ever-increasing competition, it is almost impossible for a person to not feel the pressure to excel. So unless you take conscious steps and make guided efforts to seek some quiet time dedicated to reflection and introspection, peace can be unattainable. Ten minutes a day is all it takes to lay the foundation for a  calm mind. It may take a while to get there, but once you’re there you will find yourself to be so much more productive than what you once were. You are more efficient because you are focussed on what matters and what you can control. Everything else is noise, and you realize that any time you spend worrying about this ‘noise’ is time you’ve lost not doing something you actually control. And ultimately, when you know that you haven’t wasted any time you can sleep peacefully.

2. Meditation and Intuition

A lot of people think of intuition as a psychic ability, a power to foretell events that are yet to happen, or a gift to see the future. Intuition is none of that, not the kind that I’m talking about at least. Intuition is simply being aware of your instinct, or the ‘gut feeling’. Instincts are not supernatural. They are very much scientific and evolutionary in nature. Our brains have evolved to pick up cues from our surroundings and constantly scan them for known patterns. Some of this cognition happens at a conscious level but there is a lot more that happens at a subconscious level. So as it is picking up these cues, the brain is also comparing them against all the information it has gathered through centuries of evolution. There are somethings that we just know. You don’t have to tell a baby that violence is bad for it to start crying when it hears loud, angry speech. The infant brain already knows what danger sounds like. But as we grow older and get sucked into the chaos of adult life, we don’t listen to our brain the way a child does. We analyze and analyze and analyze until we’ve driven ourselves crazy.

When you meditate and learn to be at peace with yourself, you also learn to trust yourself. It is this trust that helps you become more cognizant of your instincts and gives you the confidence to follow them. Too often people choose to ignore their instinct because they can’t find a rational explanation for the feeling. What if they followed it and things went wrong? What will people say? An enlightened person realizes two things: 1. You can only control your action, consequence is noise, 2. What people say doesn’t matter, if something does go wrong it can always be fixed.

Now obviously, you can’t expect your brain to shout out the winning combination for lottery. But you can turn to your instincts when meeting someone new- if you listen closely your brain will tell you whether or not that person can be trusted.

Meditation is not a fad, and its benefits are not makebelieve. I strongly encourage everyone to give it an honest try. In the next part I will share the simple steps I follow during my daily practice. All you need is a quiet room, and an open mind 🙂

Be well!

P