I’ve had a life long battle with food in a bid to lose weight. I’ve read numerous books, tracked my meals on an App for a year and visited a few nutritionists to figure out portion sizes, calories and supplements. One person (who could have made a great psychologist) even told me that I should visualize happiness whenever I saw a raw vegetable and think of something evil and disgusting every time I came in the vicinity of anything fried or sweet.
After going on crash diets and then binge eating, it came to a point where I just gave up and continued eating what I felt like eating. For example, if I avoided sugar for a week, I would feel like having a toffee or small bar of chocolate and I would give in. This of course made me feel guilty of being unable to cultivate good eating habits. And it was not easy considering my parents and brother eat whatever they want to – including sweets and fried snacks almost daily alongside healthy food- and continue to stay healthy. My father has told me never to skimp on food. “It’s a basic need, just like clothing and shelter. One that we all earn money for”, he would say.
Imagine my surprise, when I read the same lines in a book on Yoga that my friend lent me. I was reading a chapter on obesity and how to cure oneself of it, when I read the line. “Don’t compromise on food. Eat nutritious food and include indulgences too – as many times as the body wants.” The rest of the chapter challenged my way of thinking towards food and diets in general. I tried whatever was suggested for a couple of days and felt physical and mentally happier. Some of these measures are listed below.
- On Portion sizes – As per yogic tradition, portion sizes are dependent on individual body needs. There is no one-size-fits-all. Your portion size is whatever quantity of food is required to make you feel full. If that means 4 chapatis for dinner, so be it. I have relied on several western methods to calculate portion sizes and found it impractical to my situation. For example, one version says a person should eat 2 palm sized portions of carbohydrates, 2 fist fulls of proteins, a thumb sized portion of fats, and two portions of greens/ vegetables/ fruits, as large as your hands can make an open bowl shape when joined together. The challenge with Indian food is that most dishes usually combine one or more food groups. For example – what does a Dal with vegetables amount to? Protein or carbs or greens? Should I then have 2 bowlfuls of dal but only 1 chapati? In contrast, the yogic advice on portion sizes was practical. On most days I feel full with 2 chapatis, 2-3 helpings of subzi. I have stuck to following that pattern for a while now and not observed any adverse reactions.
- On counting calories – While most of us know that fried and sweet food isn’t healthy, what we don’t know is that the body inherently cannot take in more than a certain amount of these foods. That’s why most people tend to feel sick after overdosing on chips or sweets. For those of us who cannot restrain ourselves from overdosing, Yoga suggests external intervention from experts as this could indicate a deeper problem – depression, gut related issues etc. But for those of us who don’t eat sweets or fried food regularly, indulgences, even fairly regular ones, are ok. Yoga says that a healthy body indicates its need for certain foods that it has been deprived of. Cravings for sweets and fried foods falls in the same category. So if you have gone without sugar for a week, you will be tempted to eat a bar of chocolate to compensate for it. I generally avoid drinking any beverage because of the sugar added in. But this time, I tried drinking a glass of plain milk with a spoonful of sugar for a week. I had no cravings for anything remotely sugar. Eventually I discontinued the practice because I felt milk was making me feel full and interfered with my regular meals. So these days, if I crave sugar, I have a spoonful of it or grab a couple of toffees and get one with life.
- On water – While we are aware that one needs 8 glasses of water or roughly 2 litres, it is difficult to monitor this strictly. It’s no secret that we drink less water during colder weather and more in summers. But regulating water intake is necessary for proper functioning of our organs. Yoga suggests that we drink water after meals and in between meals to keep hunger at bay. Before meals, warm water or soups/ rasam can be taken to reduce hunger, especially by those looking to lose weight. I have personally tried this for several years now, and my food intake has been reduced by 30% due to the increased water intake. In the West too, the benefits of water are recognized and the gallon challenge is testimony to that.
- On eating multiple meals – for the last 5-6 years I have seen Indian nutritionists and fitness professionals insisting on eating 6-8 small meals throughout the day. While this works for many people, for me the mere thought of constantly chomping on something every 2 hours is painful. I have always eaten 3-4 square meals and find it impossible to eat anything else, as that in turn affects my other meals. The book I was reading indicated that most Yogis survive on 2 full meals and eat them by 10:00 am and 5:00 pm, giving the body ample time to digest them. If they felt hungry in between, they just drank water, buttermilk or hot soup. Most food takes anywhere between 3-4 hours to digest. Eating every 2 hours may not give enough digestion time. So for those, who fret because they are unable to eat 6-8 meals, there is nothing wrong in eating 3-4 square meals.
- On feeling full – Knowing when to stop is the key to developing good food habits. Yoga says one must listen for cues/ signals from the brain to tell you when you are full. I found this to be the most difficult aspect of getting my eating act right. Most of us tend to not focus on food. I for one, love to read a book while eating (to escape feeling depressed about how tiny my portions are). My older daughter needs to be told a story while being fed. My husband usually checks his mails or takes a call while dining. Net result – the brain is unable to send you signals pertaining to hunger because it’s sending you signals on something else. Like, assimilating what happens in the story next or planning how to respond to a question asked during an office call. Even if it sends us cues on food, we miss them because of our lack of focus. To help me understand when I felt full, I tried this experiment. The results shocked me. I had one chapati with subzi and then waited for 3-4 minutes. Surprisingly, I felt full. This way half my meal. I waited longer to see if I hadn’t been misled. But no, I didn’t feel hungry any more. Trying this over a week though, I realized the stomach was getting full at 1.5 chapatis and 2 helpings of subzi. So the half chapatti and one more cup of subzi I had been regularly eating had been extra – amounting to overeating of some sort.
Instead of following complicated eating patterns, if I had just listened to my stomach, I would know when to stop eating and be able to manage my weight better.
Trying some of these methods worked for me and made me feel positive about my eating habits. They may or may not work for all. But there’s no harm in trying them out, as they don’t cost anything and are unlikely to do any bodily harm (unless you suffer from an existing health conditions). Do let me know your views.