I have always battled with weight. In the beginning till I was in my twenties I was just that one or two kg in excess over my normal weight. It wasn’t much, but back then, I would have given anything to be skinny.
Alas, the problem got a lot worse over the years. It began with some excess weight that stayed behind after my child was born and although I made a huge effort to get back into my looser pair of jeans, I never quite made it to my skin-tight ones.
Then, when I was in my mid-30s, I began looking after the fitness and health page in the Delhi edition of theTimes of India. It was my uplifting, aha moment. It was when I discovered terms like Basal Metabolic Rate, BMR; calories and weight ratios (when you gobble up around 8,000 calories and don’t work them out, you gain a kg), and your BMI or body mass index. Healthy ranges are around 18.5 to 25.
I also learnt an invaluable tip: how to calculate the calorific content of food. It is quite simple, really. Remember that a gram of carbs and proteins has 4 calories each. Fibre has none, while fat calories are more than double: 9 calories per gram. Calories in vegetables are low and in fruits, the sugar content is what pushes up calories.
I also learnt that when you are 10 per cent more than your healthy body weight according to your age and height, you are considered clinically obese. Obesity eventually saddles you with all kinds of health issues ―diabetes, BP, thyroid and more.
Now, that I have got you thinking, let me disclose my personal experience with several methods of weight loss. I have been on various weightloss platforms as a paid member ― with HealthifyMe, Weight Monitor, and I have also followed the gym route, walking, going completely vegan, following Dr John McDougal’s Starch Solution diet and finally, discovering the keto diet with my online consultant, Ravinder Sain from Patiala.
Let me not run any diet down. They all work. It all depends on your interest and your dedication, and on your understanding on what principle works in the diet you are on. As long as you follow the basic principles of being active, keeping your body hydrated, staying off sugars and processed food, they will all work.
Keto allows you oil, but only extra virgin olive and coconut oil; mustard oil is good, but all refined oils are completely out. It also takes you off all kinds of carbohydrates and if you want to get off your diabetes, BP and thyroid medication, my consultant Ravinder Sain has tips for that too. The food that you eat at one meal should have veggies, salads and proteins, and since I am vegetarian, I have had to choose between eggs, paneer, cheddar cheese, certain kinds of lentils, and beans. There is enough variety and so long as you keep introducing new items into your diet, it never gets boring.
One can eat a limited amount of certain nuts too, so long as you do that with your meal. You are advised to eat only when you are hungry, and the fact is that once you follow this rule of eating the right kinds of foods, you never feel hungry for hours on end. In other words, there are no cravings for food when you follow keto guidelines, so the dilemma of passing by a bottle of namkeen, then returning to it a few minutes later to devour it as your cravings get the better of you, doesn’t happen on the keto diet.
In terms of yearnings and cravings for food, I will confess that with every diet, food was always on my mind, the reason why I would give them up, after a few months. You either need a mammoth resolve or steely will power, with a mindset of not indulging or giving in to cravings. With almost all diets, I would pity myself ― for being so deprived and then indulge in something special whenever I felt I needed to boost my morale or uplift my mood.
But, surprisingly, the one diet that seemed to take care of all my cravings was the keto diet. It keeps you full, and you are never hungry. Dedicated followers follow the intermittent fasting rule and have just one or two meals a day. The principle is similar to Ayurveda ― eat only when you are hungry. For the rest of the time, your body goes into a state of ketosis, which happens when your body doesn’t have enough carbohydrates to burn for energy. Instead, it converts your fat reserves to ketones, which it then uses for fuel.
I recall meeting Yogi Cameron, during my long stint of working with The Speaking Tree. At this job, meeting gurus and yogis, motivational speakers and lifestyle coaches was the norm. Several enlightened souls would walk into our office for an informal tete-a-tete with the team ― a small satsang, if you are more partial to that word.
The famed Yogi Cameron, was an ex-model who had appeared in videos with Madonna and had now become a famous yoga and Ayurveda teacher in the West. He was a disciple of the equally well-known Ayurvedacharya, Dr V Vasudevan from Coimbatore and he was also the author of The One Plan, a Harper Collins bestseller on following the principles of Ashtanga Yoga.
We had placed a plateful of biscuits and chips in front of him, but he remained unmoved. He declined our Indian hospitality, saying that he follows a simple principle in life ― eat only when hungry. That we don’t ever follow this rule is the mistake the rest of us make. We eat all the time ― even when we don’t need to eat. And we eat the wrong foods, the ones that make us feel full, give us a sugar-high temporarily and then make us want to eat again within the next couple of hours.
Dr V Vasudevan’s advice is also not to eat between breakfast and lunch, or between lunch and dinner. There is already food in the stomach after each of these meals and the digestion process takes about six hours. Don’t then cram more food into your stomach after two or three hours as it will only interfere with the digestion process that is already on.
But in the modern-day advice of eating several small meals a day, this ancient wisdom has been all but forgotten.
If you decide to follow the keto diet, which uses intermittent fasting that simply allows the body to use its stored energy by burning off excess body fat, get yourself a consultant. It is advisable not to ever attempt anything on your own, not till you are well-versed with every aspect of a new diet.
Reena Singh has more than 37 years’ experience in senior editorial positions in The Times of India (TOI) and Genpact. She was Deputy Editor with TOI’s spiritual newspaper, The Speaking Tree, where she spent nine years.