Aug 30, 2019

The power of taking charge


"Take charge", "Take responsibility", "Be self disciplined" - these phrases have so much power that they make a tremendous difference in our lives, especially when it comes to our health.

Whenever my Yoga teacher goes for a vacation, I usually end up relaxing and skipping my practice. I would wake up late and do my household work without any hurry. Once the classes resume, I would realize how my stamina levels have dropped drastically. The first 3-4 days after a break would be so tough and challenging. This used to be the routine in the past 4 years.

When we got a break in Jul, I decided I would practice Yoga by myself at home. Though I did practice a bit, it wasn't intense and I wasn't pushing myself. Then a friend and I decided that we would practice together in the same place and at the same time as our Yoga class. We have been practicing regularly for the past 3 weeks and also been pushing ourselves (though not as much as our Yoga teacher). This experience has brought in a sense of happiness and accomplishment. 

I reflected on the article I had written earlier on willpower. The feeling of accomplishment comes from the fact that my thoughts (I want to stay fit) and my actions (going for practice when my teacher is not around) are in sync. 

Many people who follow my blog articles regularly have written to me asking, "What you are saying about junk foods is all very true but I'm not able to give up. I feel addicted to them and find comfort in them whenever I feel upset/sad/angry. What should I do?"

It is the conversation we have with ourselves that we need to change. If we tell ourselves, "I'm addicted. I can't give up on junk food", we adopt a victim mindset. We give more power to the junk foods. Instead, if we tell ourselves, "Junk foods are designed to be addictive. I take responsibility of my health and I don't want to eat them", we start adopting an empowered mindset. We are in charge and we decide whether we should eat junk foods or not. You notice the difference here?

Similarly, we have so many conversations in our day-to-day lives where we adopt a victim mindset and sulk in self-pity mode. I had written a detailed article on the same topic. Do check it out if you haven't.

If we observe the thoughts that run through minds, we can notice such patterns - "I'm so tired today, let me skip my workouts", "I'm emotionally upset, I need that piece of chocolate to feel better", "I had a tough week, let me binge-watch this series tonight" etc. The problem with these patterns is that the actions we take tend to have repercussions, mostly laden with guilt. The more we succumb to these thoughts, the more we feel bad about ourselves. 

Let's ditch the victim mindset and adopt an empowered mindset. It is a simple switch in our thought process, that's it. 

James Clear (author of Atomic Habits) shared a tweet yesterday that I found quite relevant in this context.


Let's start telling ourselves - "I take charge of my health", "I'm solely responsible for my health", "I'm a self-disciplined person and I motivate myself to get fit" on a daily basis. Trust me, you'll see the magic unfold in your lives.

Aug 20, 2019

How I do meal planning

A few days back, I posted a question on my Instagram Stories - 
"What do you find most challenging about home cooking on a daily basis?"

Nearly 90% of the responses were all related to this one important task - "Deciding what to cook". For years, I have faced this challenge. Every morning, I would open my fridge and wonder what to cook. I slowly shifted to planning at least the next day's breakfast and lunch before going to bed that night. That solved the problem for most part but then my daughter's school timing changed last year, due to which her after-school snacks has become an important meal to plan ahead. She comes home quite hungry and I need to make sure that I have prepared something ready for her.
 
Starting Jan this year, I was diligently planning a weekly menu every Sunday evening using pen and paper. This became such a game changer as it saved a lot of time from thinking about the dreaded question - "What to cook?". Then summer vacations came and I stopped writing down the meal plan. Once school reopened, I didn't write down a meal plan every week but I came up with a generic meal plan template. Weekday meals are mostly on autopilot and so this template has been quite helpful for me. 


  1. I usually grind idli batter on Monday nights. So my Tue breakfast is usually idli. And I usually pair it with a sambhar, which we would have it for lunch as well.
  2. I prefer to soak channa/rajma or other lentils over the weekend. So my Monday lunch is usually channa masala with phulkas / channa pulao.
  3. After-school snack menu is mostly decided by D. She is very strict about her pasta on Mondays and pancakes on Tuesdays 😉 
  4. I prefer to have paneer once a week and chapathis/phulkas twice a week. So that is taken care of in this template
  5. Usually, I either bake a cake or deep fry bajjis on Friday evenings. So we end up having a light soup for dinner on Fri nights.
  6. Weekend breakfast and lunch menus are usually like this - there will be pooris for breakfast and one medicinal lunch. I might swap the menus for Sat and Sun, depending on whether we are heading out for some errands.
  7. If I want to try a new dish, I usually try out during the weekends. ONLY tried and tested recipes during weekdays.
  8. I incorporate fruits and simple veg salads on a daily basis. So I don't write them down specifically.

I usually stick to this template 80-90% of the time and it is quite helpful for me to eat healthy and not slog in the kitchen for a long time. We eat out 1-2 times a week, mostly during weekends.

Please note that this is based on what my family likes to eat. I'm sharing these ideas so you can customize it based on how you seem fit according to your schedule, food preferences etc. There is enough scope for variety within this template. Hope you find this useful.

Aug 19, 2019

V-Nourish Health Drink Review


Regular readers of my blog would have guessed my top two favorite categories of packaged foods - Breakfast cereals and "health" drinks. I have written about so many brands that belong to these two categories. New brands are getting launched almost every month and it is challenging to stay informed of their marketing strategies. 

Sometime in June, I came across this new brand named "V-Nourish" launched by Veeba foods and promoted by none other than Shahrukh Khan. I'm a huge fan of his 90s movies, let me declare that upfront. 

What piqued my interest was that the brand was encouraging consumers to read nutrition labels. This was certainly the first brand to have ever used this strategy, in all my years of observing Indian advertisements (do correct me if I'm wrong).

The tagline being used is "Real ingredients, wholesome nutrition". The brand also stresses on these features - "No artificial flavors, no preservatives, no synthetic colors".

Needless to say, I was super curious to read the ingredients list. I searched for this pack in nearby supermarkets and medical stores but I couldn't find it. I searched for it on Amazon but no details on the ingredients list were available. I then posted on Instagram Stories asking for someone to take a picture of the nutrition label and share it with me. A follower took a pic and DMed me. After seeing the nutrition facts table, I wasn't fully sure if what I'm seeing is true. I followed up with v-nourish on Instagram and finally got hold of the nutrition labels. They have shared it under Parents Support in their website.

The section on "Understanding nutrition labels" gives useful information on how to read and interpret labels. Kudos to the brand for taking this effort. 

Let's look at the ingredients list of V-Nourish - Strawberry flavor.

Sugar, Maltodextrin
Milk Solids (Milk Protein Concentrate - 15%),
Freeze dried strawberries (7%),
Prebiotic (Inulin),
Minerals, Starch, Beet juice powder,
Dehydrated aloe vera extract,
Dehydrated ashwagandha extract,
Vitamins, Choline,
DHA,
Inositol,
Taurine,
Carnitine
Probiotics (Lactobacillus acidophilus)

Contains Added flavors (Nature identical flavoring substances)

When I saw the pic shared by the Instagram follower, I was shocked to see the amount of sugar. "Am I seeing it right?", I wondered. The first ingredient listed is SUGAR. This pack contains a whopping 51.26 gm of sugar per 100 gm. More than 50% of the pack is SUGAR. The pack states "no extra sugar needs to be added to make this beverage". Each serving (20 gm) contains 10.25 gm or 2.5 tsp of sugar. The recommended usage is 2 serves daily, which means the child would end up consuming 5 tsp of sugar every day. 

What's the need for such high sugar in a nutritional supplement drink? Are we changing our kids' tastebuds to expect sugar whenever we want to feed them nutritious foods? Compared to other health drinks in the market, the sugar level in v-nourish is way too high. Why are the brands deciding how much sugar to add? Why not leave the decision to parents? Let us decide whether to add 1 tsp or 2 tsp of sugar. 

The second ingredient is Maltodextrin, a cheap white powder made from corn and primarily used as a carrier/bulking agent. It doesn't provide any nutrition but it spikes up insulin levels. High Sugar+Maltodextrin on a daily basis => Perfect recipe for early onset of Type 2 diabetes.

As the brand claims, they haven't added artificial strawberry flavor but have used dried strawberries, which is good.
Aloe vera and ashwagandha extract used is so minuscule - 100 gms of this pack contain only 0.75 gm of aloe vera and 0.20 gm of ashwagandha. 

The pack contains 14.7 gm of protein per 100 gm and the source is milk solids. Personally, I don't consider commercial diary to be of any nutritional value. I would rather let my body absorb protein from real, natural, plant-based, home-cooked foods. The same belief holds true for synthetic vitamins and minerals too.

Children need real foods - cereals, pulses, fruits, vegetables and nuts. Not sugar-loaded drinks with a laundry list of vitamins and minerals extracted from a factory.

"Read the label to make a good choice", says the brand. Yes, I have read your label and I have made the choice never to buy this pack. I don't want to pay a premium for sugar.



Aug 1, 2019

10 factors that impact our energy levels


Yesterday, I noticed a few popular food bloggers, promoting Protinex Chocolate flavor (that contains 32% sugar). The premise that they were setting (through attractive props and beautiful pics) is that when we are in our 30s/40s, we start to experience stamina loss, tiredness/fatigue and so they are drinking Protinex that helps them to stay energetic. No one cared to talk about the high sugar levels. 

And do note that they are ONLY showing a glass of Protinex drink in the picture. There is no way for us to know whether they are actually drinking it. Might sound funny, but this is a fact to remember. For all you know, they might have poured the drink in their kitchen sink after getting the perfect click and dumped the pack in their garbage bag.

I'm in my mid-30s now. So I fit perfectly into the segment that this brand (and various other protein drinks) is targeting.

The fear-mongering tactics that these brands employ seem to be working well among urban women. "Maybe, my tiredness is because of low protein intake", I'm sure this thought would have crossed many of our minds at some point while watching the ad or going through these brilliantly curated pics of Insta food influencers.

Energy is a concept that I'm personally fascinated to learn about. There have been days when my energy levels were over the rooftop and I'm striking off my to-dos one after another. There have also been days when I don't even feel like moving an inch, let alone do anything productive. 

The first step is to become aware of our energy levels. If you can, try to maintain an "energy tracker" (some call it a mood tracker) and observe if you can notice any patterns. 

Multiple factors influence our energy levels throughout the day. Here are 10 factors that I could think of, in no particular order:


  1. Menstrual cycles in women - During my period, my energy level dips down quite a bit. I don't exert myself during those days. I skip Yoga practice, cook very simple meals and rest in the afternoons if possible. In my opinion, all the "play tennis, jump around, run for marathons" messaging that sanitary napkin brands convey in their ads is just plain ridiculous. 

  2. Exercise and Physical Activity - Many of us believe that we need to have sufficient energy in order to do exercise or any physical activity. In reality, it works the other way around. When we do any form of exercise, our energy levels shoot up magically, our mood is upbeat and we generally feel happier because of the endorphins. A brisk walk, a good yoga workout, dancing or jogging/running can do wonders on our energy levels.

  3. How we deal with emotions - There are many incidents in our day-to-day lives that can have an impact on our emotions. A few days back, there were quite a few thoughts that kept bothering me and as a result, I couldn't get anything productive done that day. I opened my journal and wrote down (using a pen on a paper) all that was running through in my mind. After the 10 minutes of releasing everything onto the paper, my mind became free. I even got a few ideas to resolve the issues at the end of journaling. I have been journaling in Evernote app for a long time, but for the past few weeks, I have switched over to paper/pen. And I feel it is much more impactful. Do give it a try.

  4. Moon cycle - from my personal experience, I have learned that on full moon/new moon days, my energy levels shift quite a bit. Either I'm super active or super dull. Self-awareness is the key to understanding how we feel during such days. 

  5. Food and nutrition - This factor deserves a separate blog post in itself. The wrong combination of foods, increased caffeine intake, foods having high sugar, overeating etc all impact our energy levels. Recently, I came across this article titled "There's no such thing as a sugar rush". This passage totally resonated with me:
     The sugar rush is a myth. Rather than making people feel energized and hyped, the new research suggests eating sweet foods actually causes people to experience the opposite: fatigue and a lack of alertness.


  6. Lack of sleep/erratic sleep cycles - Sleep is absolutely essential for recovery and impacts our energy the next day. Sleep well, we wake up feeling fresh and energetic. Sleep for a few hours or have disturbed sleep, we wake up feeling groggy and irritated. There are so many things that expect us to sacrifice our sleep timings. Be it workload, studies or binge-watching, it is not worth sacrificing our precious sleep time. For the past 2 months, I have set a rule for myself that I will not use any gadgets/screens after 8:30PM. This habit has helped me to sleep early and wake up early.

  7. Exposure to Sunlight and nature - What once used to be so natural to us has now become something that we have to consciously plan for. Bright, sunny days are clear mood uplifters, makes us feel happier and joyful. The presence (or absence) of sunlight has a clear impact on my energy levels. I'm indoors most of the time, but I step out and go for a walk or at least sit under sunlight for 20-30 minutes in my balcony.

  8. Breathing - Stop reading this article, sit in a comfortable place, close your eyes and take 5 deep breaths. Do you feel different? Most of the times, our breathing is shallow. Conscious deep breathing a few times dispersed throughout the day will recenter our thoughts and energies. This doesn't require much effort on our side. 

  9. Being around with positive, inspiring people - All of us exude certain energies/vibrations. Be with a positive, spirited person for 5 minutes and you'll notice you feel upbeat and energized. Be with a negative, cynical person for 5 minutes and you'll feel drained of energy. This doesn't apply only to people whom we meet in person but also equally applicable for people whom we interact through phone calls, chats and social media. 

  10. Do what you love, love what you do - I believe that both of these are extremely important for a happy, fulfilling life. Identifying our interests and investing time in them every single day is as much important as loving and giving our best in tasks that we ought to get done. For some, cooking is a joyful activity, whereas, for others, it could be drudgery. Nevertheless, it is an important task for our good health. The moment we start to think, "Aaah, do I have to get up early every single day to pack tiffin for my kids? Do I have to spend so much time in the kitchen?", our energy and mood go for a toss. This is ONLY an example. There are many such day-to-day activities that we may not like to do but we end up doing anyway. Instead of cribbing about them and spoiling our mood, if we approach them with a positive mindset, we end up being happier and content.

In order to incorporate the points discussed, we require self-awareness and self-discipline, both of which need time and effort from our side. But in this age of money-rich, time-poor, convenience-seeking lifestyle, we are searching for quick-fix solutions to boost our energy levels, which these health drink(?) manufacturers are clearly aware of. Energy cannot be packed in a glass of Protinex, Women's Horlicks, Bournvita for women or any other drink. They only give you the perception of energy, which is short-lived.

Last but not the least, if you are doing well on these 10 factors and you still feel low on energy levels, do visit a doctor and get tests done for thyroid, Vitamin-B12, Vitamin-D3 and diabetes.


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