Over the past 4 weeks, we have discussed the significance of nutrition, exercise, weight loss and a healthy diet.
This week, I will attempt to present a model diet and exercise plan as a guide to planning your daily meals. This schedule will help one maintain a healthy lean mass to fat ratio i.e. c. 15-20% body fat in males and 20-25% in non-pregnant females. Though fat loss will result if an overweight/obese individual follows this, variations can occur owing to differences in previous weight, activity, fitness and genetics. For further lowering of body fat (like < 12%, or even lower < 8%), a much more rigorous diet and exercise schedule is needed, which is practically impossible for most working adults.
A practical plan involves food that is commonly found and is easy to cook. Diets will therefore vary as per regions and tastes. I shall only provide you with options in various food categories, along with certain riders.
1. Foods for Regular/Daily Consumption
Salads and Vegetables, especially green leafy veggies (for vitamins, minerals, fiber) are a must for everyone.
Chicken, fish, seafood, eggs and meat can be consumed daily and are a good source of protein and fat.
Vegans can consume veggies, seeds and legumes (dals, sambar, beans – black, red, kidney, soya).
Vegetarians can eat cottage cheese and curd in addition to the vegan options.
2. Foods Allowed in Limited Quantities
Cheese (including processed), nuts, cream, mayonnaise, pickles.
Nuts, especially walnuts and almonds are very healthy and should be eaten daily. They have a heavy caloric load, but compensate it with healthy fats, good proteins and a suppression of appetite that discourages random snacking.
A full meal at regular meal times (2-3 daily meals) containing a good proportion of proteins and fat keeps one sufficiently full and energized, minimizing the need for snacks.
The best options are nuts (e.g. almonds and walnuts), sprouts, 1-2 servings of seasonal fruits, boiled eggs and salads. Meat eaters can consume non-fried meat-based snacks.
4. Fats and Oils
Any oil can be used to prepare your meals, though rice bran oil, canola oil and palm oils are said to be particularly healthy. However, within limits, butter can also be consumed. Olive oil has become very popular due its healthy composition of fatty acids, but it has a low boiling point and most varieties are not suitable for Indian cooking. It is recommended more as a salad dressing instead of a medium for frying vegetables etc.
Please avoid drinking cold drinks / aerated drinks. Period. They are empty calories with little or no nourishment. These include squashes, sherbets, energy drinks etc. The best is water, of course. Tea and coffee can be consumed black or with a little milk, and without sugar. However, some people find that too much caffeine interferes with weight loss and blood pressure control. They can consider limiting their intake to 2-3 cups of coffee (or upto 4-6 cups of tea) daily.
Alcohol should ideally be avoided, as it has a significant quantum of empty calories. However, a moderate intake is allowed as long as it is not taken daily.
It is ideal to have drinks unsweetened. Those who find it too difficult can consume in limited quantities with artificial sweeteners, the healthiest being stevia, followed by sucralose. Too much of these can also induce insulin resistance.
These are to be restricted. On most days, refined carbs should be totally avoided. Please avoid sugar, ice cream, honey, flavored yogurt, fruit juices, sodas (Coke, Pepsi etc.) and excess fruits (especially mangoes, bananas, grapes and chiku). Also, to be avoided / minimized are complex carbs like wheat and wheat products, cereals, cornflakes, too much rice, breads, noodles, pastas, muffins and cakes, fries and chips.
Rice is healthier than wheat, so a small serving of rice or rice products like idIi or dosa is better than a chapatti.
An obese person should aim for a < 50 gram per day carb diet, though fat loss would be even more gratifying with a < 30 gram per day carb diet.
8. Cheat Meal/Day
All this appears boring and discouraging. One day a week (maybe Sunday) can be a cheat day, when everything is allowed. On this day, one can have all restricted foods to one’s satisfaction (no prohibitions). This practice will allow you to continue a healthy diet for rest of the week. If you cannot resist some carbs daily (some rice or a chapatti), and this is common – then you should ideally have only one cheat meal per week.
The final issue that bears discussion is the frequency of meals. An ideal schedule is one where there are 2-3 major meals in a day, based on the above guidelines. Snacks are to be avoided as far as possible. The window for eating should be c.10-12 hours, with 12-14 hours each day without food at night. This will provide sufficient nutrition and help in maintaining fitness by keeping the insulin levels low for a considerable period every day, and thus improve insulin sensitivity.
That’s it. There is no need to calculate calories and go on complex diets. One should be guided by one’s appetite and keep away from snacking. Once carbs are cut down for some time, your awareness and understanding of hunger and satiety will become better, leading to reduced instances of overeating.
Regular exercise is an integral part of healthy living. An ideal exercise schedule is difficult as it includes three types of exercise – cardiovascular training (aerobics), flexibility exercises (yoga and stretching) and resistance training. Playing a vigorous game is ideal, as it gives the benefits of the first two varieties, improves reflexes as well as provides positive energy and a boost to morale. Otherwise, it is hard to fit in all the three in an active working life. Please consider walking and yoga (or stretching) on alternate days and brief bouts of resistance training (free weights, machines or body weight exercises) on 1-2 days in a week. Spending 45 minutes on our bodies every day is the most underrated investment we can ever make. Do this, and a healthy body is within reach.
N.B. While a stricter carb control is needed in the beginning for spurring weight loss, some items can be selectively added back into our diet, depending on the weight loss achieved. However, one needs to take extra care…as fat has a way of sneaking back in without you noticing it. Please make this a habit of a lifetime rather a quick weight loss routine.
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