Wednesday, December 12, 2007

HEALTH QUOTIENT (HQ) - 3 : Commonsense Health – Food for Thought

In the June 2007 newsletter, you read about mindsets to getting healthier as well as pointers in the area of exercise. We’re now talking diet and lifestyle changes.
To repeat: If you want to start getting healthier, first, get a medical check-up done. Most companies fund these as part of the medical allowance. If you're not suffering from any major ailments, wresting your health back into your hands fundamentally requires you to change your attitude first.
- It's easy to cut out unhealthy things that we're not tempted by. If you don't particularly have a fetish for French fries, simply don't eat it.
- Making a change in your diet does not mean you deprive yourself of your favourite food – it simply means you eat enough other healthier things to loosen the hold that your craving has on you.
- What you eat is what you crave. If you are in the habit of eating a samosa every evening, sure enough, on the one evening you don’t, you’ll have samosas on your mind. Using this principle, try substituting with something healthier. Soon, enough, you’ll be craving salads instead.
- Our greatest enemies reside in us – our taste-buds. It's almost as though they have minds of their own! As a result, we miss out on so much that's good for us just because it isn't cheesy, sweet or spicy. Try a little less salt, sugar and seasoning. Have you tried snacking on peanut barfy? It’s a lot better than junk food! Try a weak black or green tea some time.
- Portion Control. Our stomach is just about the size of one closed fist. Does it really need all that we are shoveling into it? A little hunger between meals is good, unless you have a health condition that requires you to have frequent meals. At the same time, erratic and irregular eating habits confuse your body clock and you could end up with indigestion, constipation and heartburn. Try cutting back by 10% lesser – specially the carbohydrate like rice or chapathis. Downsize your eating plate.
- Eating Out: In a buffet, take a tour of all that's on offer. Start with salads, then move to other food. Try skipping the rice, pasta and breads (incl rotis) and stock up on the side dishes.
- If food is going waste, don't be its saviour. It costs more for that food to be inside you than if it was thrown away. The stomach isn't a dustbin. If in a restaurant, do learn to order an appropriately small portion and then ask for more if necessary. If something is going waste, either let it go or pack it for donating to the house help or the watchman.
- Remember that liquids have calories too! The best thirst quencher is a glass of water. If you feel very thirsty, it means your system is dehydrated already and is in 'Reserve' mode. Carry water with you if you don't have ready access or are on the move constantly. For the tea-guzzlers of the world – substitute at least one cup of milky sweet tea with one cup of sugarless weak black tea. You just might acquire a taste for it! Also, check if your diet otherwise is making you crave for the milky-tea. Another issue is that during meetings, people keep constantly offering us coffee or tea. Ask for a glass of water next time.
- Choose fruit over juice – the fibre in the fruit is where the nutrition is. The sweeter the fruit, the more sugar it contains. Eat a fruit in the morning when your body is able to absorb it well. This way, your activities during the day burn the sugar-calories off. Opt for the fruit in season – it's fresher and costs lesser than out-of-season fruits.
- We already know that most food in its raw form is good for us, provided it's hygienic. Nuts, vegetables, fruits – you get nutrition first-hand with these.
- Opt for food with the least human intervention. During processing, some of the essential nutrients are contained in exactly the things are thrown away in the midst of processing. Then, some of that nutrient (that was removed) is put back in and is called 'enriched with xyz'. The five white 'villains' are: white sugar, white rice, white flour (specially maida),white salt (use sea salt) and white pasteurised milk. Read more about this online.  
- Traditional Indian food had an ample dose of whole grains or coarse flour. For example, rice had intact, the endosperm, the bran and the germ of each grain. However, because of refining, not only the hull that covers the grain, but also the bran and the germ are disposed, thereby, literally throwing away the nutrients. Opt for whole grain choices. Read the link in the Further Reading section for more on the benefits of including whole grains in your diet as well as some tips on increasing intake.
- Eat as many vegetables as possible in a given week. Sometimes, it may make sense to have a meal timetable. You can work in various vegetables across the week. Purchases are planned, so food is fresh. You can also slot eating-out and ordering-in. A lot of the time, we order-in food as we draw a blank about what to have for dinner at home. Evolving a food calendar in agreement with the person who owns the kitchen turf will be a challenge initially, but it really does help in the long run.
- When food is cooked, it loses some of its nutrients. There are more effective ways of cooking to retain as much of the nutrients as possible– steaming, sautéing, baking, dry-roasting, grilling etc. Whenever possible, choose baked or steamed in the place of fried. A deep-fried Bhatura will have more calories over a Tandoori Roti.
- Finish your last meal at least two hours before you go to bed.
- Getting healthy doesn't mean you will never get a headache or a cold or any other health problem. It means that you are minimizing the risks of a lifestyle disease while increasing your ability to cope with the others.
- 'Getting on a diet' will not work. It's just as easy to 'get off it'. The same applies for exercise. Begin by making small but permanent lifestyle changes. Make a good habit or break a bad one. Make these habits consistent by doing them for at least a month.
- If you’re not in the mood to go to the gym, you could follow some of Mr Suresh’s exercises.. Too often, we use the ‘getting-ready’ process as an excuse to not get exercise.
- 21 days. That’s the time it takes to create a new neural pathway in your brain. What does this mean? If you do something consistently for 21 days, it becomes a habit. Try it.
- Learn about health at every given opportunity. Talk to people who you consider in the pink of health, and ask for their secret. Read books, magazines or websites about health. If you want to know more about the Atkins Diet, South Beach Diet, Pilates or Power Yoga, just get on the internet and find out.
- Ask a lot of questions. Even with that nice old man who's been your family doctor for the past three decades. If someone mentions that it's unhealthy to have milk products at night, ASK WHY. If you are told that a pinch of powder ABC will cure a headache, ask what it contains and how it works. If a doctor prescribes medicines for a backache, ask what effect the medicine will have. Will it treat the symptom, which is the pain, or the real problem?
- Take decisions. In any given situation, we have the choice to eat something healthier. Yes, you can do that even in an eating-out situation. If you can't climb stairs for a meeting you're late for, you can take the stairs down on the way back.
- If your excuse is that you don't have time for exercise or change your eating habits, take a look around. Who does? You’ll find enough examples of extremely busy heads of corporations making the time for exercise as well as people with all the time in the world, not lifting even a finger. Time is not the critical factor here, motivation is.
If all this sounds a little extreme, stop right now and assess how you feel mentally and physically. Plot that on a scale of 1 to 5 (1 being down in the dumps and 5 being in peak form).
Those above 4 keep looking for more ways to optimize their health. Invariably, those who plot themselves below 3 are in denial. Don't wait for a serious medical condition to trigger a forced change in lifestyle. No matter where you plot yourself, you already know you could be in better health and as a result, have a better life than the one you have now.

(Article written for Best of Crest, 2007)

1 comment:

Becky said...

Thanks for writing this.