A lot of you asked me to write about how I managed to lose 10 kg of weight last year, in response to this post. One thing happened after the other, and I never really got around to doing the post. Then, I read about this contest by the authors of Losing It – Making Weight Loss Simple, and decided there was no better time to write about it then now. So, here I go.
Now, if you have been reading my blog for some time, you know how much I love food. Last year, I was in a position where I needed to lose weight, but was not ready to give up on my favourite foods altogether. Neither did I want to go on a crash diet; I felt it would only catch up with me in the long run. After some trial and error, I arrived at some things that worked for me – I wouldn’t call it a weight loss regimen, it was more of making little, conscious changes in my lifestyle to make myself fitter and healthier, to help me lead a better life, and to achieve something that goes beyond weight loss. I am going to list down the things I believe helped me do this, and hope these will help you, too.
1. Build up an attitude.
In the past, I have attempted weight loss several times, and failed miserably at it. This time, I built up the right attitude towards it – I knew I was overweight, and I knew that it would only harm me and my system to carry so much of excess weight on my frame. It wasn’t doing too much for my looks and my self esteem either. I vowed to shed my excess weight realistically and practically, not because I had to, not because I owed it to someone, but because I wanted to, because I owed it to myself to be fitter and healthier. I find that once I am in the right frame of mind to do something, I find it easier to face any hurdles there might be in my path and to work towards my end goal. The same is applicable to anything else that I have wanted to achieve in my life.
2. Understand that every body is different.
Every human being has different things that work for him/her, as far as losing weight is concerned. What worked for me might not necessarily work for you. A trial-and-error-period for about a week will help you determine the changes in your lifestyle that lead you to lose weight. As for me, I realised that only diet or only exercise does not work – I needed a combination of both in order to shed weight. Don’t be disappointed if the diet that made your friend a slimmer person is not helping you at all.
3. Make time for exercise.
Most of us lead highly sedentary lives today, the evil effects of which can build up little by little and get to you badly one day. As much as it is important to eat a healthy diet, it is important to incorporate some form of exercise in our daily routines. I understand that this could be very difficult, given the demands of family, work and social life, but it is crucial to make time for exercise in our lives. I exercise for an hour every day – half an hour in the morning, and half an hour in the evening. I walk, for I find that works best for me. Likewise, you can choose any form of exercise that you like. If you are really pressed for time, try to walk during your lunch breaks or try walking to work instead of driving, if possible.
4. Cut down on fatty and processed foods.
We all know that oily, fatty and processed foods are not good for us, but that doesn’t stop us from eating them. Cutting down on the consumption of such foods is crucial to weight loss, as I realised. What I did was restrict my intake of such food items (cheese, butter, paneer, pasta, foods including maida, fried food, pizzas and other junk food) to a bare minimum. Whenever I crave for any of these things, I make them at home and eat just one or two. That way, I ensure that I know what goes into them, and I also avoid the building up of toxins that happens if you eat food fried in oil that has been heated hundreds of times, at snack stalls and restaurants.
5. Break down your meals.
Instead of eating three heavy meals a day, it is a good idea to break them down and eat more, smaller meals throughout the day. I have found that this aids weight loss. What I do is eat a fruit with a cup of milk first thing in the morning, then have a healthy snack (a couple of Marie biscuits, a handful of nuts or some boiled vegetables) in the mid-morning, have about 4 phulkas (without oil) with vegetables and dal or 4 slices of brown bread made into a vegetable sandwich or 3 idlis or dosas with sambar for lunch, a cup of tea in the afternoon, a healthy snack (like a bowl of sprouts or a boiled corn-on-the-cob) in the evening, followed by some soup and 4 phulkas and a lot of vegetables for dinner. If I am still hungry after dinner (usually happens if I am late going to bed), I have a glass of milk. Experiment with different combinations to find the one that works best for you – in terms of taste and ease of preparation.
6. Snack wisely.
I think it is crucial to learn how to time your snacks so that you avoid eating out. I usually have my mid-morning snack after I am back from my morning walk, so that I don’t feel deprived of nutrition and don’t feel starved. Similarly, I have my evening snack just before I go out for my evening walk, so that I can resist the temptation to buy something from the roadside. If possible, I avoid carrying my purse while going out for a walk, so that I don’t end up buying food stuff from the roadside, too.
If you work from office or are out often, it is a good idea to carry healthy snacks from home with you. That way, you avoid eating junk food and regret. Snack just before you leave office or leave for home from wherever you are, so that you don’t get hungry before dinner, having to resort to a food stop on the way.
Make sure that the snacks that you pack in in between meals are healthy and non-fried.
7. Learn to say no.
A very, very, very important learning for me in the time I adopted these healthy lifestyle changes was to say ‘No, I can’t.’ Friends, colleagues and relatives will not stop offering you that one piece of sweet or that one vada just because you are dieting. The naked truth is: it is often not restricted to just one. One day, you eat a cake with a friend, the next day it is a vada with a colleague. Cheating on just one day will not hurt, they will tell you. If you learn to say no to these excesses, you will be able to maintain a healthier diet. Once your near and dear ones learn that you are serious about your diet, they will stop pestering you. Remember that it is better to politely refuse an eatable and safeguard your diet than just go along with eating for the sake of not offending someone and later regretting it.
8. Be mindful of what you eat.
I strongly believe that in order to eat better and healthier, it is important to be mindful of what you are eating. Avoid eating in front of the computer or TV or while reading. Eat all your meals properly, sitting down at a table, mindful of every morsel that you are consuming. Keep a count of the number of rotis or dosas you are eating. This will sound the alarm bells in your head when you overstep your eating limits. I find that maintaining a food diary helps me keep track of what I eat every day, and when I cheat on my diet plan.
Even while eating at a restaurant, be mindful of the ingredients that have been used in the dishes that you order. Do not hesitate to ask your waiter for details. Often, we have ordered salads at restaurants with the intention of eating healthy, only to find that they come doused with generous quantities of oil, dry fruits and cheese. Try and avoid such situations.
9. It is okay to cheat once in a while.
However much you are determined to eat healthy, those cravings are not going to leave you. You will always be tempted to have that bar of chocolate or that oil-dunked burger or those cheese fries or pizza. Being the foodie that I am, I don’t believe in restricting myself from indulging in my favourite food stuff – I know that will only lead to binge eating later. I have a little cheat meal once in a while – I do go ahead and eat what is tempting me at the moment, irrespective of the number of calories it contains, but I ensure that I don’t overdo it. I make sure that I eat just enough to sate my craving tastebuds and stop – I don’t get carried away and wash away the effects of a few days’ healthy eating with just one day of cheating. Another thing that I do is to give a gap of at least 10 days between two cheat meals.
10. Have a motivation.
Having a motivation for weight loss and exercise helps a great deal. Have an exercise buddy, if possible. You need not stay in close proximity to your exercise buddy; you can SMS each other that you have completed your morning/evening walk, and have stuck to your diet for the day. That is inspiration enough!
Have someone who shoos you out of home to exercise on days that you cannot bring yourself to do it – someone who will warn you if you are overeating or not sticking to your diet. In my case, it is the OH and Amma. I also have a picture of Priyanka Chopra – in all her curvaceous, long-legged beauty – saved on my desktop for those days when I lack inspiration to diet or exercise.
11. Do not stock up on junk food.
I find that this helps a lot. Not stocking up on instant noodles and other ready-to-eat snacks and heat-and-eat meals ensures that I do not resort to them when I am very hungry. I end up making something fast and healthy in the absence of such stuff.
12. Sleep well.
Avoid late nights as far as possible, and try to sleep for a full eight hours every day. That way, you will wake up refreshed every morning and more inclined to exercise, as against the days when you are sleep-deprived and cranky. You will also crave for less caffeine, sugar and junk food if your sleep habits are good. They didn’t say, in those days, ‘Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise’ for nothing.
13. Make small changes in the kind of food you buy/use.
This is quite simple, really, but makes a huge difference in one’s life and eating habits. Substitute broken wheat and brown rice in your diet instead of white rice. Buy low-sodium salt. Buy a different kind of oil every month (this was suggested to me by a dietician), so that you get the benefits that each of these oils have to offer. Reduce the amount of sugar and oil in your daily food. Begin to add honey/jaggery to sweets instead of refined sugar. Use wheat bread and pasta instead of the regular ones. I am also trying to switch to organic food products (including milk). When you are eating out, ask for a glass of buttermilk instead of a fizzy drink. Ask for your fruit juice to be made without sugar. Buy/cook/eat what is in season, instead of frozen, packaged food.
14. Drink a lot of water.
Ensure that you drink a lot of water during the day, particularly if you are exercising. This will save you from dehydration, at the same time flushing out toxins from your body and keeping you alert and active (I have personally experienced this). Carry a bottle of water with you when you go out, so that you don’t consume too much of caffeinated drinks or packaged water in case you happen to get thirsty.
Drinking a glass of water when you are in between meals is a good way to trick your mind into feeling that your stomach is full, and that there is still time to go before your next meal.
15. Manage your cravings better.
This is something everyone who wants to lose weight has to learn. Sigh! What I do is try to give my cravings time to settle in my mind – if I am still craving for a piece of sinful chocolate cake or a cheese-laden pizza three days after I initially dreamt about it, I include it in my next cheat meal. More often than not, though, the cravings go away if I remind myself of my goal and how they would interfere with its achievement, or if I don’t satisfy them immediately.
Another trick if you are endlessly craving for something that you know is highly calorie-laden is to share it with someone else. That way, you end up satisfying your craving and consuming lesser calories, too.
Mostly, I have observed that I crave for something sweet after a meal. I try reaching out for a fruit or a date or a small piece of jaggery instead of for that bar of chocolate or that bit of mysore-pak. It helps greatly.
16. Weigh yourself periodically.
I weigh myself twice a week. Any weight loss motivates me to try harder and lose more weight, till I achieve my intended target. Any weight gain stops me from getting too lax with my diet and exercise regimen, and inspires me to keep going. Of course, this might be different for different people.
17. Get natural.
Get as natural as possible in your daily life, that is to say try and go back to the time before mass production of pre-packaged food, commercialisation and globalisation happened. Try to walk to places you can walk to, instead of driving down all the time. Buy fresh produce every week (vegetables and fruits preferably every day, if you have the time) and avoid frozen and canned food stuff. Do not keep cooked stuff lying in your refrigerator for days together (this is something I worked hard to achieve), but eat freshly cooked food as far as possible. Grind your spices in little quantities at home instead of buying mass-produced ones (though this has no direct relation with weight loss, this will ensure that you eat better and live better). Try healthier methods of cooking like boiling vegetables instead of cooking them for very long periods of time. Eat more food that you can recognise the raw form of. Stop eating foods with added colour and flavour.
Your food doesn’t have to be bland and boring without those processed sauces and spices – try adding a dash of orange or lemon juice or a chopped date or a few fresh green peppers to a dish, and see the wonders it works!
18. Eat out less often.
We used to be compulsive eat-out-ers before I realised the horrendous amount of fat, toxins and what not we were consuming, the damage we were causing ourselves and the weight we were accumulating. It served as an effective dissuader from eating out so frequently. We now eat out very less compared to before, that too things that we know about and are not too fatty. This is not easy, given the hectic work schedules we both have, but not impossible. If we do have to dine out for an extended period of time, we buy home-cooked food from a place near us (there are caterers in many areas ready to supply home-cooked food, which is much, much better than eating in restaurants every day). Otherwise, we eat phulkas and vegetables or idli-sambar, which are comparitively healthier. Buffets and junk food (including our favourite McD and KFC burgers, pizzas and Subway sandwiches) are avoided like the plague.
19. Understand that some days are better than others.
Some days are just better than others, in terms of diet and exercise. Some days, try as you might, you are just not able to go out for a walk or exercise or eat healthy. You are forced to eat something unhealthy or skip your exercise, though you might not want it to be that way. Some other days, your diet and exercise regimen works like clockwork. That is fine. Get over the day that wasn’t so great for you, and pick up the threads immediately the next day.
20. Build fruits and greens into your diet.
This goes without saying. It is crucial to have at least one fruit and two bowls of vegetables and/or sprouts every single day, for your diet to be balanced. Most working couples we know omit the fruit and greens and end up eating only rice and sambar or roti and dal for lunch/dinner, because that is easier to cook. Build fruit and vegetables into your diet; it is easier to remember to eat them if you make a habit of eating them.