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July 10, 2015

The balancing act

It had been raining all day.The thrumming of raindrops against my window felt like music to the ears. Rains somehow always make me happy. Monsoons--the magical season that brings along the much needed respite from a sweltering summer. Rain to me is petrichor--the heady scent that emanates from the wet earth. Rain to me is nostalgic evenings and sweet chai, piping hot samosas and corn on the cob, getting drenched in sudden downpours, long drives, outings with friends, haunting memories and melodies, rain songs and dances. Rain to me is inspiration, motivation...nature's way of striking a balance between scotching heat of summer and freezing chill of winter.

"This weather is so magical," I said to my cousin who appeared rather distracted and off-mood. "All this rain is making me hungry. Lets go and grab a bite?"
Now, my cousin is a real foodie and would normally perk up at the first mention of food. However, today was different.
"I am on a diet," she announced, taking huge gulps from a bottle of water, her way of distracting herself off food (or even the thought of it).

I sniggered. This has been an old joke now-my cousin and her various failed attempts to reduce weight. She has tried almost every quick fix method in the book...from magic weight-loss potions to ultra slim sauna belts. Her diets had never lasted for more than a couple of days, reason being she always bit more than she could chew. Unrealistic goals were her forte. Besides she avoided exercise like the plague.

"What are you laughing for?" she scowled. "I am following the 'fine in fifteen' diet this time. I have researched all about it. Payal has tried it before and has managed to lose 5 kgs this summer."

"Err...'fine-in-fifteen' diet, what on earth is that now?" I asked, my curiosity heightening.
It was then that she told me about this crash diet plan that involved micro mini meal portions three times a day (which in reality is a fancy name for starving oneself) that promised to help one lose 5kgs in a fortnight. Like most of her past diets, this one too had total restriction on carbs.

"Don't tell me you are on a crash diet AGAIN," I scolded, aghast at her meal patterns. It was no wonder that the girl looked lethargic. Dark circles had begun to form under her eyes and her skin looked tired and dull.
"It's a fast track world, Di. What's the harm in wanting instant results?" she defended weakly.

Well, fast track world indeed. Most teenagers, like my cousin, are very concerned about their body image. Of course, this isn't a bad thing. Being a little self-conscious always helps stay in check. But aspiring to achieve a size zero (from a size 15) and literally starving to attain it is not the solution. Just like the rains provide a balance in the environment, nutrition is of utmost important in the maintenance of our health. In order to maintain a healthy body, we should make sure that we are having a balanced and nutritious diet that includes carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals in the right amount.

Lets look at it this way. Our body is like a machine, and nutrition is the fuel that is needed for it to work effectively. Poor nutrition increases our chances to disease, infection, fatigue, and ultimately wear down. Children are at the risk of stunted growth and developmental delay. Adults may experience symptoms of weakness, tiredness, inability to concentrate at work, symptoms my cousin was now complaining of.
It was time I showed her some evidence. I did some online research and showed her statistics that revealed how an unbalanced diet can lead to major illnesses like diabetes, obesity, heart disease and even strokes. She seemed worried now and a little more concerned.

Its true. People seldom realize the value of a balanced diet. In the quest of weight loss, they try out ridiculous meal plans that rip them off the necessary nutrition that only a well balanced meal can provide.

A balanced diet should include the following:
  • Vegetables: Important source of vitamins and minerals...Esp dark, green, leafy vegetables should be incorporated in every meal.
  • Grains: Whole grains provides much more nutrition than refined flour.  
  • Proteins: Preferably lean protein. This includes lean, low fat meats like chicken, fish. Removing the skin and trimming off visible fat from the meat is an effective way to reduce cholesterol. Vegetarian sources of proteins include sprouts, beans, sunflower seeds, lentils, tofu etc.
  • Oils: Avoid deep frying of foods as deep fried foods contain a lot of empty calories. Using a polyunsaturated oil for cooking is always an effective option as compared to saturated oils. Rice bran oil, sunflower oil, and olive oil are safer options.
  • Dairy products (limited): Provide calcium, Vitamin D and essential nutrients.
  • Fruits: Fresh and healthy options. Provides necessary roughage, and most nutrients.
So basically a diet based on starchy foods such as whole grain chapatis or rice with plenty of fruit and vegetables, some protein-rich foods such as meat, fish and lentils, some dairy products, and not too much fat, salt or sugar, will give you all the nutrients you need.

It is important to remember that our caloric requirement depends largely on our body weight and lifestyle, A sedentary worker will need fewer calories than a person engaging in moderate to severe activities.
Just as an extra caloric diet can be harmful, inadequate caloric intake is also a matter of concern. Hence crash diets need to be discouraged. As we embark on crash diets, little do we realize that this urgent short term basis often has extremely short term favorable consequences. It is best to reduce weight in a steady and healthy way (gradual decrease of 0.5-2 lbs per week) than a diet that radically restricts your daily caloric intake and cuts out entire food groups, thus eventually affecting your health and well being.
Other crash-diet compromises would include:
  • Reduces intake of carbohydrates that are an important source of energy, thus leaving you feeling drained out and weak.
  • Increases intake of protein and fat (to compensate for carbohydrate restriction): Too much saturated fat can increase cholesterol and in turn result in heart disease and strokes. 
  • Slows down your metabolism. Lowering body weight will eventually become much tougher for a person who has been on repetitive crash diets than someone who has not.
  • Can result in lack or deficiency of essential nutrients and vitamins.
"You don't need to go on a crash diet. Just give up the junk you gorge on and start eating healthy," I instructed my cousin.

"A major cause of concern is all the sugar you put in your system," I continued. I knew she had a sweet tooth and could not control her sugar cravings. This was a good time to enlighten her of the harm this could cause.

"Di, you know how much I love sweets," she sulked. "In fact that is why I agreed on this stupid crash diet. I can keep off sweets for a maximum of fifteen days after which I inadvertently turn into quite the addict scourging for something sweet to eat."

I smiled. Most of us face these kinda sugar cravings. Sugar, undoubtedly, is a rich source of energy. But when eaten in excess means we are consuming more energy than we can burn. This causes increase in weight...and increases the risk of Obesity, Type 2 Diabetes, certain cancers, heart disease etc. Sugar (especially refined sugar) present in cakes, chocolates, soft drinks, pastries etc is that friendly monster who beckons us with tempting offers.
Natural sugars (found in fruits) however are easier to break down by the body and are comparatively safer.

"So next time you feel a sugar craving, eat a banana or an apple instead of a pastry," I told her.

She sighed. Apparently, that wasn't enough. That was when I told her about a sweeter alternative .

Honey is considered as a top health food across the world. Honey acts as a fuel that stimulates the liver to produce glucose. This glucose is important to keep the brain sugar level high enough for proper functioning. It in turn stimulates it to release fat-burning hormones. Honey is the safer and healthier option as compared to direct sugar, and hence we see the 'Honey Diet' picking pace in today's world.

The 'Honey Diet' is a diet that involves replacing sugar throughout the day with honey. This means, you should not add sugar to your tea, coffee, cereal, or in any cooking. Instead add honey. You need to cut out artificial sweeteners too. In addition to this, you should consume 3 tsps of honey with hot water every night before bed. The 'honey diet' needs you to skip junk foods, high starch foods like potatoes and fruits with high sugar content. Instead, consume lean proteins and unrefined carbohydrates like wholemeal flour.
Principle on which this diet works: Consuming excess of sugar and processed foods rich  in sugar is the major cause of weight gain. When we consume honey before bed, the body begins to burn more fat before those early hours of sleep. When we replace all refined sugar with honey, the brain signal gets rebalanced and the mechanism that causes the sugar craving is completely shut down.
Honey is also a better substitute to sugar as it contains lesser calories and is rich in vitamins, anti-oxidants and minerals, Thus the 'Honey Diet' is an all-profit-no-loss plan to better health.

In addition to weight loss, honey has a lot of other benefits. These include:
  • Provides a lot of energy: as natural sugar and carbohydrates are easily digested by the body.
  • Honey is known to help in cough and throat irritation. It is well known for its medicinal properties. Also it provides instant relief in case of household injuries, burns etc.
  • It has great moisturizing and nourishing properties, and hence can be used in various face packs and beauty treatments.
  • Honey is a better low-calorie substitute to sugar.
  • Aids digestion.
"So the bottom line is 'No fasting, no feasting'. You got to respect this healthy balance." I concluded.

"This 'Honey Diet' sounds real great. I think I will try that,"

There was a spark of enthusiasm in my cousins eyes.  To motivate her further, I directed her towards the Dabur Honey homepage where Chef Vikas Khanna had shared interesting and healthy recipes with honey. Her eyes were gleaming now. By the time she was done reading, I sensed a new found vigor in her...a vigor to reach this diet plan to fruition.

"I just registered with their online dietitian too," she said with a final click of the mouse. Never had I see her more excited.

"Don't forget to work out though," I reminded her. "Exercise and diet are two sides of the same coin. You can't ditch one for the other."

"Yes, I know" she blushed. "All this while I shirked away from working out. But that was because I would be so drained out with the crash diets that I did not have the energy for any kind of exercise." 
 She promised to change that. I had seen her checking the fitness tips on the site and knew she was not lying. Something told me my lecture wouldn't go to waste.

I smiled and wished her all the best. It had stopped raining. The sun peeped at us from behind a solitary cloud, a fine act of balance yet again.

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