Dec 30, 2020

2020 - Review

 Continuing my annual ritual of reflecting on the year gone by, I sat down this morning to think about my 2020.


Early in Jan, K had been on a business trip to the US. He bought a gift for D - a cooperative strategy board game that all of us can play together as a family. Little did we know that this game would become a reality for all of us on the planet in 2020. Yes, the board game is called Pandemic. In the lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we played this game of Pandemic so many times, taking up roles of a Quarantine Specialist, Contingency planner, Medic, Researcher, etc.


Just like everyone else, I faced times of uncertainty and stress this year in various contexts, but as I look back, there are aspects that I'm extremely grateful for.


Similar to the previous years, let me start off the review with my reading list. Given the various other priorities and responsibilities, reading took a backseat this year. This reflects in the number of books I have read so far. As always, I have listed down only the books I have completed, not the books half-read or in progress.


  1. When coffee and kale compete by Alan Klement
  2. Ultimate grandmother hacks by Kavita Devgan
  3. Authentic content marketing by George Kao
  4. Authentic business by George Kao
  5. Inna naarpadhu iniyavai naarpadhu by Dr. Sivaraman
  6. Many lives, many masters by Brian Weiss
  7. Ayurveda - The Science of Self Healing by Dr. Vasant Lad


Except for a short weekend trip to Chikmagalur in early March, there weren't any travel/trips for the rest of the year. BUT we did a lot of imaginary vacations and trips, thanks to D. She turned our home into a new planet, forest, airport, cruise, a spaceship, and more.


One of the courses on Coursera that I enjoyed this year is "The Science of well-being". Well structured and lots of relevant takeaways. Again, this is the ONLY course that I managed to complete this year. There are other courses that I either stopped midway or in progress.


From a professional standpoint, 2020 started with me working as a product management consultant for a data analytics startup. It was an interesting experience defining the long term product strategy, but had to be cut short in May due to Covid. I was hoping that I would get deeper into machine learning this year but something even better happened. I went deeper into self-learning, reflection, questioning, and introspection. 


This shift happened thanks to OMW (Online Minimalism workshop). My intention verb for 2020 was MINIMIZE. Early in March, I just stumbled upon a post on Instagram from Durgesh Nandhini. I didn't know much about the scope of the workshop. Since MINIMIZE was my intention verb for the year, I just went with my intuition and signed up. The last 10 months have been an enriching learning experience on so many aspects of life. I may not agree or follow everything that's being discussed BUT what made a difference is that I started to question more and I kept an open mind to listen, understand and interpret different points of view.


Questioning helped me connect with the magic power of Universe when answers started coming to me from unexpected people and sources. Trusting the universe has been one of my major realisations of 2020.


This self-reflection and questioning mode also made me analyze and articulate on various topics related to wellness. It was a special year for my blog (and Instagram account) as I pivoted over to sharing my perspectives on holistic wellness (and not just food).


Speaking of my blog, 2020 is the year I have written the maximum number of posts in my blogging journey since 2004. Writing almost every morning has become a ritual these days and I so look forward to it. 


Here's a list of 5 posts that are my favorites. 

Me-time 

How to slow down? 

How to stop seeking external validation? 

5 step process to follow during do-nothing moments 

The biggest spy 


2020 is also the year when I started doing online workshops on a couple of topics related to food. It was an interesting exercise, putting together the content for the presentations, designing the ppt and poster. The 2-hour workshops are one of the channels when I'm in my flow and I talk non-stop on packaged foods and nutrition labels. At the end of those 2-hour sessions, I feel so energized. Though the registrations were few (<10 per session), I kept at it for 6 months. I'm not sure if I would continue these two workshops in 2021. I might try something else, no plans as yet.


From a self-development perspective, I started many new habits this year. 


Thanks to Corona, it was home-cooked food completely for 10 months. I invested a significant amount of time in cooking, with minimal use of available ingredients especially in the months from March to May. 


Without a house-help for 6 months, it was quite a task to manage other household chores such as washing dishes, sweeping, mopping, etc. But we somehow managed by sharing the workload.


Complete home-cooked food, along with the other positive habits helped me reduce 3 kgs and most importantly, lose those stubborn inches around the tummy.


This year also blessed me with a few new friends with similar wavelengths, with whom I could easily connect to and can converse for hours at a stretch. 


2020 is also the year when K started to cook. He made many innovative and complex dishes that I would normally hesitate to try - ice-cream, malai kofta, shahi paneer, pesto pasta to name a few.


With education shifting online this year, D's online classes began at the end of June. There were many challenges initially, but she has now settled into a routine. 


From Oct, elderly care also got added to our list of responsibilities. Appa had to undergo a medical procedure and he stayed with us for a couple of months. My in-laws are now staying with me and they also have some health issues to be addressed.


There were many challenges this year, but what kept me sane was the focus on improving my habits and routines - things that are under my control. I'm extremely grateful for the fact that 2020 helped me experience slowdown and focus on my priorities.


Here's wishing everyone a very happy, peaceful, and joyous New Year 2021!

Dec 29, 2020

Why do numbers influence our behavior?



 Sometime in mid-Dec, I realized that I'm 10 posts away from crossing the highest blog posts count for a year (94 posts in 2017) and 15 posts away from hitting the magical number of 100 posts this year. Ever since I became aware of this number, I have been consciously working towards hitting this target. I've been thinking about topics to write and investing a good amount of time every morning in writing. This afternoon, as I looked at the number, I still needed 2 more posts to cross the milestone. Of course, one of them would be my review of 2020. As I was walking on the terrace this evening and thinking hard about this penultimate post topic, this question hit me hard - "Why am I focusing so much on the number #100? So what if there are 99 posts this year?"

As I pondered over this question, many instances that I have observed these days came to the limelight. 

The nights when K used to go for a walk to hit that 10K number on his step counter, 

The evening when FIL skipped his evening walk because his BP reading showed a slightly higher number, 

The times when people push themselves hard in the gym to hit the target heart rate,

The days when people track their food intake to the minute detail to stay within their target macros.

A few years back, the phrase "Quantified self" picked up big time. Wearables that record every single activity are all the rage these days. Though I consciously stay away from using a step counter or a smartwatch, I couldn't help but notice that I'm driven by numbers too.

All these instances bring me to this question "Why do numbers influence our behavior?" I plan to read up more on this from a psychology research point of view. 

At this moment, the answers that came to my mind are the following:

(1) Numbers are tangible. We can measure any quantifiable metric. 

(2) We can compare and contrast them against a target - either our own or set by someone else.

(3) Numbers have a certain value attached to them. "I walked this evening" is a vague statement as compared to "I walked 4500 steps this evening".

(4) Numbers are respected by ourselves and our society. 

(5) Decision making is easier with numbers. There are medications people are asked to take when their BP is high / pulse rate is low / sugar levels are high. Without measuring the number using an instrument, it is hard to decide whether to take the medication or not.

I'd also like to understand if this uber focus on numbers biases our behavior. If so, how can we prevent it?

How do numbers influence your behavior? Share your experiences. I'd love to understand this deeper.

Dec 28, 2020

Thought rabbit-hole



 Have you ever been inside a thought rabbit-hole? Let me explain how it unfolds.

You feel hurt by a situation or by someone. Or you feel angry about a situation or someone. But you couldn't do anything about it.

You feel frustrated, helpless, and want to vent out.

Sometimes, there might be people available to listen to your ramblings. Sometimes, the ramblings just loop through in your head.

As these ramblings happen in your mind, the mind takes you through the thought rabbit-hole - it opens up a box of thoughts related to that person - past incidents, past snide remarks, etc. 

Yes, all negative, unpleasant thoughts are the first to be encountered by default.

As you pass through this rabbit-hole, you feel even more frustrated, you end up indulging in self-pity. 

After you have had your fill, you might try to distract your mind off with the usual suspects - social media, binge-watching, eating sugary foods, etc.

Meanwhile, the rabbit-hole gets well established with the present situation also added to the box of thoughts.

I have been into such thought rabbit-holes multiple times. And I have come to realize that it isn't helping ME in any way.

Over the past few months, I started following a 5-step ritual that is helping me quite a bit.

(1) Be aware of your thoughts. Be a silent observer - like a fly-in-the-wall,  watch over your thoughts. It may not be possible always but at least during the times when you are alone.

(2) Be aware of the fact that you are stepping into a rabbit-hole. The moment I find myself being caught in a certain thought pattern, I tell myself, "vendaam Anu, adhukkule pogadhey" ("don't go into it, Anu")

(3) Vent out your frustrations either on paper or a digital notepad and trash it immediately. Or try talking it out aloud inside a room. Somehow, the tangible word (both written and spoken) gives me such a relief rather than brewing in my thoughts.

(4) After you have calmed down a bit (without going inside the rabbit-hole), ask yourself why you felt this way about a situation. Inability to let go of certain values of mine, inability to let go of my control seeking nature, having wrong expectations from others - these were some of the reasons that unraveled when I asked myself. The purpose of this step is to gain this awareness, not to judge or feel bad about feeling this way. 

(5) After you have gained awareness, do something that makes you calm and happy. I prefer to either go for a walk, take a few deep breaths, listen to an ARR track, or lie down for a few minutes. These are not distractions in this context, but they provide a peaceful closure to the emotional rollercoaster.

As you become more and more aware of your thoughts, you will be able to catch yourself when you are about to step into a thought rabbit-hole. Through questioning, you will be able to gather all the reasons and you will be able to spot a few of them that are repeating. Years of conditioning, your beliefs, and values - those are the ones causing such feelings.

Try out this ritual the next time you feel upset or frustrated about something. Do share with me if you found this ritual helpful.

Dec 26, 2020

The hunt for growth



 Growth drives profitability.

Especially in FMCG companies, where the margins are relatively low, the only way to achieve growth targets is to increase sales.


How to achieve growth targets? 

At a higher level, brands adopt one of these three strategies

(1) By increasing the consumption of existing consumers

(2) By increasing the pool of new consumers from the identified target segments

(3) By repositioning the product (or creating a slightly different product variant) to newer target segments


For strategy (1), brands use promotion tactics that encourage consumers to buy more. "Buy 3, Get 1 free", "Buy 3, Get Rs.100 off", etc

For strategy (2), brands use multiple tactics in the retail space - free samples, combining complementary products, small pack sizes, discounts, etc


I mainly wanted to talk about strategy (3) in this post as this is becoming more and more prevalent these days.


A few days back, I was listening to this talk by Mr.Sanjay Singal, COO Dairy and Beverages, ITC. He shared his experiences from Dabur. In this video (from 16th min onwards), he talks about how niche products are becoming mainstream (Honey, Hajmola, Chyawanprash, etc). 


Instead of positioning a product using a problem/solution message ("if you face this problem, take this solution"), brands are taking a broader approach to attract a new audience. 

Hajmola has moved from a "pet dhard ka dhawa" (medicine for stomach ache) to a more candy-like product.

Honey which used to be an Ayurvedic medicine carrier product has been positioned mainstream as something that helps to stay fitter, lose weight, etc, to attract a larger audience base of health-conscious individuals.

The core strategy suggested was to take categories and figure out ways to unlock growth.


For a marketer, this suggestion might be useful BUT for a consumer, this creates a huge problem and that's exactly what I wanted to highlight here.


Newer and newer products are getting added to our shopping cart. Let's do an exercise - go around your kitchen, pantry, and fridge and note down all product categories on a sheet of paper. 


Ketchup,

Salad dressing,

Cheese spread,

Muesli,

Oats,

Green tea,

Chilli sauce,

Rice,

Dals,

Sugar,

Tea/coffee,

etc


How many of these categories have we been using for the past 3-4 decades? 

How many got added to our kitchens in the past 1-2 decades?


Are these new categories improving the quality of our health or degrading it? Have we taken the efforts to answer this question?


For eg, artificial sweeteners were earlier prescribed ONLY to diabetic patients. But these days, we find artificial sweeteners being added to most "health drinks" targeted at "health-conscious" individuals regardless of whether they are diabetic or not. 


For businesses, unlocking growth might be the key to increase profitability, but is this strategy in alignment with the well-being of consumers? Something to ponder over.

Dec 25, 2020

7 eating habits to stop in 2021



 2021 is almost here. Most of us make resolutions at the beginning of the year. As I mentioned in an earlier post, "Habits, not resolutions" is the right strategy to reach our goals, be it in any area of our lives - fitness, health, career, passions, etc.

Small, daily habits are a much better way to incorporate changes in our life than taking up larger resolutions.

I plan to share a few ideas related to food and our eating habits. If one or more of these resonate with you, do consider adding them to your list of habits for 2021.

There are good habits to add to our routine and there are not-so-good habits that we consider removing from our routine.

Here's a list of 7 eating habits that are detrimental to our health.

(1) Having coffee/tea along with breakfast

After having a nutritious, wholesome breakfast, do you like to grab a cup of coffee/chai immediately to wash it all down? The point of eating a nutritious meal is all lost, thanks to this habit. Coffee/tea prevents the absorption of nutrients from our food. Tannins present in tea binds to the key minerals found in food (calcium, magnesium, iron) and our body doesn't end up getting the nutrients. Avoid coffee/chai after a meal or if you MUST, then have it after a gap of 30-40 minutes.

(2) Having milk along with dinner

Cow's milk is a complete meal by itself. It is heavy in nature and our body needs time to digest it. Having it along with dinner hampers digestion. Have an early dinner (around 7 PM) and if you MUST have a glass of milk, have it around 9 PM.

(3) Having a banana immediately after lunch/dinner

Banana or any fruit for that matter is easy to digest. Having fruits immediately after a meal interferes with digestion. The fruit digests quickly and starts to ferment, while the food consumed is still getting digested. 

(4) Constant snacking throughout the day

There is hardly any gap between mealtimes as we constantly munch something or the other. Even before a meal is fully digested, we keep adding more and more new foods to our stomachs. This habit interferes with our digestive juices. After eating a wholesome meal, there is no need to have a snack after an hour or so. Give at least a gap of 3 hours between main meals. And during this gap, avoid eating anything.

(5) Starting the day with tea/coffee

Guilty as charged. Among all the habits I have listed, this is the ONE habit that I need to stop. And this is the hardest to stop after years of conditioning. Tea/coffee increases acidity and also interferes with our appetite.

(6) Eating according to clock time and not as per our appetite

Eat only when you are hungry. If you are not hungry yet, wait for the hunger pangs. Hunger is a signal to indicate that our digestive system has processed the previous meal and is ready to accept a new meal. We can feed the right foods when our body is ready to digest them. There is no point in eating a super nutritious meal at 1 PM when we are not yet hungry.

(7)Eating a late dinner and immediately going to bed

Undigested food in the stomach interferes with our sleep cycle. Our body spends more time digesting the food and less time in other restorative activities that are typically taken care of during sleep. We end up feeling bloated, heavy, and sluggish in the mornings. Try to have an early dinner and give at least a gap of 2 hours before going to bed. I had summarized the benefits of having an early dinner in this post.

2021 is the year I'm gonna stop this long-ingrained habit #5๐Ÿ™‚ Wish me luck!

Which of these habits do you plan to stop in 2021? 

P.S. Thanks to my friend Sakthi! Conversations with her triggered me to write this post :-)

Dec 24, 2020

Are you building your health corpus?



 Retirement corpus - a phrase I come across often, given that I listen to experts in the personal finance space. It is the amount needed to be saved before we retire from our work life so that we can lead a comfortable retirement life with the same lifestyle we are currently living in. I have a difference of opinion with this thought process, which I shall reserve for a future post.

This post intends to encourage all of us to build a "health" corpus in our 30s, 40s, and 50s. 

What's the point of working hard, taking stress, ignoring our health, and saving up a lump sum, which ends up as hospital bills and recurring medical expenses? Not to forget the ill-effects of managing these ailments in our 60s and 70s, which robs us (and our spouse) of our (their) vital energy.

I believe it is crucial we start building our "health corpus" too. Think of it as a savings account. Every decision you make concerning your health and wellness is tallied against either credit/debit. 

You choose to eat a healthy meal today. You make a deposit.

You choose to eat a pack of junk food today. You make a withdrawal.

You choose to workout first thing in the morning. You make a deposit.

You choose to sleep on time tonight. You make a deposit.

You choose to binge-watch a Netflix series, sitting on the couch late at night. You make a withdrawal.

You choose to go for a walk in the morning and get some sunshine. You make a deposit.

You choose to remain in front of your devices/gadgets all day. You make a withdrawal.

It is our daily individual choices that decide whether we are depositing to or withdrawing from our "health corpus".

Habits that are good for our body/mind are like "daily SIP"s (Systematic Investment Plan). Every small decision matters.

Saving towards our "health corpus" is as important as our financial corpus. I would insist that it is "even more" important. 

In personal finance, there is a possibility of a lump-sum that we might add to our savings. It could be a performance bonus we received at work or a rearrangement of our portfolio. BUT there is no lump-sum saving possible for health. 

When it comes to health, it is always about our daily individual choices and our habits.

Dec 23, 2020

Why I love to walk outdoors every day


 

"When something is taken away, you realize how much you took it for granted". This is one of the valuable lessons that Covid has taught me this year. The bright sunlight, fresh air, view of the outside world, clear blue sky, white clouds, the Sun, Moon and Stars, birds returning to their nest - I never prioritized to spend my time with these blessings of Nature until this thing called "lockdown" forced me to stay indoors in March/April. 

It's now been 9 months and I spend at least 15-20 minutes every single day walking on my terrace. No one had stopped me from doing this pre-Covid but it was my own choice to stay indoors and stick to my gadgets/devices and various other priorities.


What has this daily walk given me? Plenty.

  1. Exposure to sunlight. Living in a country like India blessed with abundant sunlight, it still surprises me that 70% of our population is deficient in Vitamin D. Regular sun exposure has helped me deal with body aches. It gives me more energy to meet the demands of the day. Sunlight exposure has a direct correlation with my happiness and mental well-being.
  2. Exposure to moonlight. The moon plays an important role, especially for women. It is recommended that we align our menstrual cycle with the moon cycle. Exposure to moonlight helps in this process. In a city like Bangalore where it is mostly cloudy, I try to catch hold of the moonlight whenever possible.
  3. Fresh air. Staying indoors for a long time and being busy with our responsibilities mean that we don't focus much time on our breath. Being outdoors amidst fresh air (either morning or evening) helps me to take conscious deep breaths and slow down.
  4. Time for solitude. Given that the whole family is at home, sometimes we do need a few minutes of quiet time for ourselves to reflect and be with our thoughts. Walking outdoors has helped me get this me-time.
  5. Catching up with friends. As I shifted my focus from online interactions to real interactions this year, I have started reconnecting with a few close friends. Talking to them over a phone call while walking on the terrace is something I enjoy.
  6. Observing Nature. When I don't plan to talk to my friends, I keep my phone at home so that I can observe and admire the sights and sounds of Nature without any distractions. No podcasts/audiobooks for me during my walk. The sounds of parrots, pigeons and other birds, the various cloud patterns, pockets of greenery peeking here and there amidst the concrete buildings, the vast expanse of the sky give such a positive vibration and triggers happy hormones.
  7. More movement. Apart from the various benefits, the mere act of walking brings in the much-needed movement for our body. I don't use a step counter to count my steps. But I'm sure it adds upto a good number of steps per day.


Spending at least a few minutes every day when there is no roof over our heads is so important for our physical and mental well-being. Let's prioritize this time amidst our other commitments.

Dec 22, 2020

Remove, not add more



I have been asked this question multiple times - "Why do you mostly write about what NOT to eat? Why don't you share more about what to eat?"

I had elaborated my answer in an earlier post but this point needs to be re-emphasized. When faced with a health issue, we immediately start looking for more foods to eat that will address the symptoms. For eg, when someone suffers from constipation, he/she starts to include psyllium husk, OTC fiber supplements, or even traditional herbs and spices like adhimadhuram (liquorice), karunjeeragam (black cumin), etc. We are only adding more to our digestive system, but not thinking about foods we are eating that could be the culprits. Eliminating maida-based products like biscuits, bread, bun, etc from the diet provides good relief from constipation. But we are not ready to give up on such junk foods and instead, we overload our system with more and more products to address the symptoms.

The native, traditional herbs and spices need to be consumed in moderation. Not every day as a preventive measure. They lose their potency and our bodies get used to the nature of these spices. Right spices, when used in the right way can bring relief. But again, they only address the symptoms and not the root cause.

Next time, when you are down with headache, constipation, acidity, bloating, stomach ache, etc, instead of grabbing a new product / OTC pill / herbal supplement to give relief from the pain, ask yourself, "What did I eat in the last 3 days that could have triggered this condition?" If it is difficult to remember, maintain a food journal and check if there are any patterns. 

Minimal eating habits can do wonders to our health. 2-3 homemade, simple, and wholesome meals that suit your body, an adequate gap between meals and mindful eating - that's all we need. Let's not complicate good eating or rely on experts/influencers who complicate good eating. 

Also, do check out my earlier post on 3Rs of healthy eating.

Dec 19, 2020

Patanjali Thandai powder mix - Review


 76% of this pack is nothing but Sugar. Yes, the other ingredients seem natural. But it is certainly not a healthier drink that can be ingested everyday along with milk. Definitely not for diabetic patients and it is clearly mentioned in the pack. 

I'm not able to convince my family elders (who are diabetic) to stop drinking this sugary mix. They also add a sugar-free pill (artificial sweetener) on top of this sugar loaded drink!! 

As I wrote in my earlier post, old habits die hard. Most urban senior citizens of today are addicted to milk and they want to mix some form of "packaged health powders" to drink their milk. Not to forget the artificial sweeteners - either added separately in the form of powders or pills OR the sucralose/aspartame/acesulfame present in health mix powders.

Continuous intake of artificial sweeteners causes various side effects - abdominal fat, increased consumption of sugary foods and simple carb foods like polished rice, maida etc, changes to taste preferences, higher calorie intake etc.

Let's read the labels of these "health drinks" that our family elders consume on a daily basis. It is our responsibility to educate / inform them. If they still don't want to stop such drinks, it is a different issue but atleast let's take the first step of knowing the products they are eating/drinking and understanding the labels.

21 days of daily meditation



 Though I have been doing Yoga regularly, somehow I wasn't making time for meditation practice. The habit kickstarted all of a sudden one day and I have now completed 21 days of daily meditation before bedtime. 

Sometime in Nov, D was having trouble calming herself down for the night. Loud TV noises were coming from the living room as family elders watch TV at high volume post 8 PM. One evening, as she was getting disturbed by the noise, K and I cuddled along with D and played the 10-minute meditation "Daily Calm" from the Calm app. K has been a subscriber of the Calm app for a couple of years and he has been meditating almost every day. After the 10-minute session, she felt better and slept well that night. From then on, D and I have been meditating every night around 8:45 PM. K joins us whenever he is free. Sometimes, our pet cat W also joins the family meditation session. 

I find the daily meditation very relaxing and calming. It helps me get deep sleep, and it also helps me wake up earlier than my usual time. I don't use my phone after I complete the daily meditation session. 

Guided meditation is very helpful as the narrator gives specific instructions to observe our breath and our thoughts. The soothing background music is quite relaxing. 

If you are new to meditation, start with just 10 minutes before bedtime. There are various apps available. You can also find many guided meditation sessions on Youtube. These help you get into the habit, after which you can meditate without being dependent on any external factor. 

And yes, meditation is a helpful practice for children as well.

Dec 18, 2020

Book Review: Ayurveda - The Science of Self Healing by Dr. Vasant Lad



Among the various lifestyles that I have explored so far (vegan, WFPB, raw food, nature cure), the one I'm more inclined towards is the Ayurvedic way of living. Primarily, because it doesn't advocate a one-size-fits-all lifestyle. The emphasis on the individual, his/her unique traits, and suggesting a lifestyle that is best suited to his/her personality - I tend to resonate more with this underlying dimension of Ayurveda.

In my quest towards understanding more about Ayurveda, I picked up this book - Ayurveda - The Science of Self Healing by Dr. Vasant Lad

This guide provides a basic understanding of various key principles of Ayurveda. The book elaborates on the human constitution or the tri-doshas. The characteristics of each dosha are well explained, both physical as well as mental attributes. It also talks briefly about the Panchakarma treatment procedures and their importance. The food guidelines for each dosha are well explained, along with a tabular chart of various foods that aggravate or balance a particular dosha. Though this chart is more inclined towards foods commonly available in the West, it is still a good reference. I also found the part on fasting quite interesting where the author has explained how the fasting duration is very much dependent on the individual constitution.

Along with food, the daily routine or Dinacharya guidelines are briefly explained - the overall guidelines as well as guidelines customized to each dosha. It is also fascinating to note the various Yoga asanas suited for each dosha. The concepts of Prana, Tejas, and Ojas are briefly touched upon and I would love to go deeper into understanding these concepts.

This is a good beginner's guide on Ayurveda, that kindles your interest in exploring this ancient life science further. If you are new to Ayurveda, I'd recommend you check out this book.

The kitten mom


Once upon a time, there was a cat named Judy. She has just become a mother to 4 little kittens - Playful, Leo, Sleepy, and Scady. She brought the 4 kittens to a nearby apartment. A few families in the apartment fell in love with Judy and her kittens. They fed them food and milk. Judy was happily nursing her little kittens. It was a joy to watch the 4 kittens cuddle up together, roll on the floor on sunny afternoons, or chase each other. The kittens provided a much-needed reprieve for many little children in the apartment, who are stuck in their homes and online classes thanks to Covid. They observed how the kittens were nursed by their mother. They observed how Judy was protective of her kittens, standing guard nearby but at the same time, giving kittens the space to play and have fun.

As the kittens grew, Judy pushed them to become more independent. She was hissing and growling at them when they wanted to nurse or cuddle up with their mom. After a few months, Judy left them but the four siblings were always together. They developed many skills needed to grow into an adult - climbing trees, chasing each other, prank pouncing, sharpening their claws, and having fun. The children in the apartment were enthralled to see the little kittens and their playful acts.

Given that the four kittens were all female, a male cat named Octavius enters their lives. Initially, the kittens were scared of him, but slowly they warmed up to his presence. Some of them became too close to him and moved to the next stage of their lives. Playful got pregnant and she walked around with a baby bump. Next, it was Sleepy's turn. Both of them walked slowly with their baby bumps. The children are now more excited that their friendly kittens are going to become moms. Sleepy who is usually a very calm cat becomes more aggressive, thanks to pregnancy hormones. 

As days passed by, Playful and Sleepy aren't running around as much and it was hard to spot them in the garden. Playful found a safe and cozy cupboard in one of the apartment bedrooms to deliver her babies. She sat there and delivered her babies at ease. Her siblings gave her the much-needed space and stayed away from her. The apartment dweller hears a faint meow sound one evening and then discovers Playful in the cupboard along with her tiny babies in a carton box. The children are even more excited to see these tiny kittens, who are smaller than mice. They are yet to open their eyes and can't stand on their feet yet. Playful is super protective of her babies and she doesn't want the outside world to see them yet. She lifts them with her teeth and takes them back into the cupboard. 

The children are now seriously discussing what to name the three little kittens who have just arrived.

P.S.

This story happened in just 6 months - a kitten turning into a mom and delivering her kittens. The children (and adults) got to observe the different life stages of a cat.

Pregnancy and birthing happened so naturally, with the mom listening to her instincts, finding out a safe space, and delivering the kittens all by herself. 


Dec 15, 2020

How much can you eat?



How many idlis can you eat for breakfast? 

What's your "Capacity"? I can easily eat 4 rice idlis / 3 millet idlis. But do we have to eat according to our capacity every time? 

How much to eat for a given meal depends on multiple factors - appetite level, physical activity/energy expended, the taste of the food, time in hand, eating awareness etc. This is our "Limit" for a given meal.

I had prepared saamai (little millet) idlis and coriander coconut chutney for breakfast this morning. Instead of loading up my plate to my capacity, I decided to serve myself only 2 millet idlis. As I focused on chewing the idlis and eating mindfully, I felt that 2 idlis were sufficient for me today. I didn't go for the 3rd.

I have found this little tip to be quite helpful in controlling my portion size and avoid overeating. 

If you are serving food to a family member, do not load up their plate by default with the capacity they usually eat. Let them finish the food served and ask for a second helping IF needed. 

Appa always says this - "limit aa saapidanum" (eat within limits). I have observed how he sticks to his 2 cups of coffee per day limit for decades. Though he can now financially afford to drink more than that, he wouldn't exceed this limit. Even while I ask him if I can make him a cup of coffee around 11 AM, he would decline.

Just because we can drink 6-7 cups of tea/coffee per day (out of boredom, habit, addiction etc) doesn't mean we do that every single day.

There is a difference between our Capacity and our Limit. 

Eating within limits is a better, easy-to-implement technique than restricting completely, which in turn leads to more cravings.

Dec 14, 2020

Be mindful of your habits


 We are creatures of habit. The older we get, the more we run on autopilot. We stick to the habits even more strongly. We are reluctant to change. We have heard of this saying, "Old habits die hard". As I observe my dad and my in-laws, I have realized how true this is!

It is extremely imperative that we follow the right habits starting from our young age. Even if we have missed this phase, we still have time to correct our ways for a few more decades. Of course, if we adopt a growth mindset, change is possible at any time. But as we grow older, habits on autopilot are more convenient to follow than taking a conscious step towards change.


If you are in your 30s and 40s, keenly observe how you go about your daily routine. 


From the time you wake up till you go to bed, what are the habits you do on autopilot? For eg, after I brush my teeth, I head to the kitchen, open the fridge, and take a pack of milk. Now if I need to break my daily habit of the morning cup of tea, I need to break this autopilot habit.


Observe all your habits for at least a week, without any judgment or self-criticism. Don't compare with anyone. Note down your habits in a journal. 


Use the below indicators to classify them

  • Mark an upward arrow if this habit elevates or improves the quality of your life
  • Mark a downward arrow if this habit brings down the quality of your life
  • Mark a question mark if you are unsure about where a particular habit might take you


Gaining this awareness in itself is a huge improvement from where you are today. 


As the priorities of life keep pushing us in different directions, we have imbibed many habits without much thought. This exercise will help us in becoming more aware of our daily habits.


As we enter the New Year, let's adopt this mindset - "Habits, not resolutions".


Dec 11, 2020

How to stay active during winter?



 Winter season is upon us. All we want to do is snuggle nicely inside a cozy blanket and hibernate for most of the day. Our appetite levels are higher than usual. So there are good chances that we might choose heavy food, which would make us even more lethargic.

Staying active throughout the day helps us to remain fit and not pile up on extra pounds during winters. Here are a few tips that will help you to stay active.

1) Check off the "Morning four" habits every single day

Wake up early, at least by sunrise

Get some form of exercise done - Yoga, brisk walk

Get exposed to morning sunlight

Have a bath in the morning

These 4 habits will kickstart your energy levels for a productive morning.

Another trick that helps you to move outside more often, which can be clubbed with the "Morning four".

Wear clothes that are suited for stepping outside your home. If we continue to wear nighties/night pajamas, they make us feel lazy and sleepy. And we would end up using this as an excuse to avoid stepping out of our homes. Speaking from my experience๐Ÿ™‚

2) Eat whatever suits your body, but avoid eating till you feel "full"

Leave some space. This helps you to avoid that post-meal sluggishness.

3) Be on the move inside your home

Keep displaced things in their proper place. 

Do a few chores that help you move physically. 

Allocate time for non-device activities (cooking, gardening, cleaning, organizing)

Try not to outsource all chores to your house-help.

4) Be mindful of your device time - the quantity as well as the quality

When you are browsing social media, set a time limit. Maybe a timer for 10 - 15 minutes. Avoid using your phone for long periods. The same applies to your laptop / TV as well.

While browsing your phone / watching TV, sit on the couch/sofa/floor and stretch your legs. Try not to lie down during the day.

Have a routine/schedule for yourself. Schedule your downtimes for unwind / relaxation but try not to exceed the allotted times.

5) Make your bed in the morning

Fold the blankets/comforters as early as possible. If the blankets are left unfolded, they tempt us to snuggle up and take a long nap during the day.

Keep yourself warm, wear warm clothing so that you don't reach out for that thick blanket on the bed to wrap yourself.

Other habits I follow

Keep daily wear clothes on the bottom shelf of your wardrobe and less frequently used clothes on the most accessible shelf. Sounds counterintuitive? But hear me out, this has helped me to sit down and get up at least 2 times a day.

Keep most frequently used pans/pressure cookers on the bottom shelf of your kitchen. You get the drift right?

Avoid these practices if you have any back/spine issues.

Sit on the floor more often. Sitting down and getting up in itself is a good tummy exercise.

Dec 10, 2020

The biggest spy


For the past few weeks, I have been coming across certain information related to food from multiple sources - "Cooked food is dead food", "Eating raw is the best for health", "Grains are hard to digest" etc. This is completely in contrast to the eating patterns that I have been following since childhood. As a person who doesn't blindly accept every idea that comes my way, I wanted to understand this contradicting information further. 


Yes, I do eat fruits and raw vegetables, but I could never eat them as a stand-alone meal. They don't give me satiety as cooked food. Moreover, we have been cooking food for centuries. So many new recipes and combinations were formulated across different regions, leading to a vast repertoire of cuisines. 

These thoughts led me to this question - "If raw food is so nutritious and healthy, why did we even switch to cooking foods in the first place? Why do we cook food?"

I have been asking this question to the Universe. A couple of days back, my husband gifted me this book - "Sapiens". I have been meaning to read this book but never took the step of buying it. I was pleasantly surprised to receive a copy. As I started reading this book last night, Page 14 gave me answers to the question I have been grappling with. 

I will write a separate post on the topic of cooked food, once I have gathered enough insights. 

But the intent of this post is all about Questioning. 

As I wrote in my Instagram post sometime back,
Many of us who use Google Home/Siri/Alexa might have wondered if we are being spied on. Especially when we discuss something offline with our family and related ads show up online ๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿคฃ๐Ÿ˜

But do you know who the biggest spy is?? The Universe. Not a spy in a negative sense. When you seek answers, the Universe brings to you the answers you need to hear from unexpected people, unexpected situations and unexpected context. Law of attraction / the secret - whatever may be the term for it, this is very much real. When this happens, it feels so magical. I have been experiencing this for the past few months and I strongly believe in the power of the Universe.

How to experience this magic for ourselves?
  • Trust the power of the Universe
  • Think of any idea/situation and come up with your questions
  • Verbalize them - ask them out aloud, journal them. Let these questions transform from your thoughts into tangible words
  • Wait patiently and trust that answers are coming your way
I have also experienced being a part of this magic for other people. When I write about a random topic on my blog or Instagram, there would atleast be 2-3 people who would DM me, saying this is exactly what I needed to hear. The answers they are seeking are coming through me from the Universe. 

How to be a part of this magic for someone else?
  • Introspect and observe your thoughts, reactions and feelings without seeking distractions the moment you feel a tinge of discomfort
  • Transform such thoughts into words - start a journal, write down, get into the habit of consistent writing to get clarity for your own sake
  • Share these words without any fear of being judged. Don't restrain yourself. Share wholeheartedly. Use any medium you are comfortable with - blog, social media, book, video, podcast etc. 
  • If there are answers in your words for those who are seeking, the Universe will bring them to your words. 
Do try this out with an open mind. Share your experience.

Dec 4, 2020

THE BEST Diet plan for everyone

 


Did I catch your attention? Let me break the suspense right away.

There is no such thing as THE BEST diet plan for everyone. Repeat after me. There is no such thing as THE BEST diet plan for everyone. 

What works for one person may not work for you. It is up to each of us to figure out the diet that is suited for our bodies. It takes time, it takes effort but that is the one we can sustain for a long time.

Social media is spewing dietary advice all the time. Let me admit, I do that quite a bit too ๐Ÿ˜‰

As I was contemplating why everyone doles out so much food-related advice, I came to this conclusion - "Right food can change our lives for the better - good health, more energy, better sleep, and much more. When someone figures out the diet that works for them, they want to share their experience with the world"

What's the process that is typically observed?

Person A gets knowledge about a certain diet ABC.

Person A tries the ABC diet for a few weeks/months/years.

Person A wants to share how the ABC diet has helped him/her in reversing certain ailments, lose weight, etc. It could be due to noble intentions to help others. Or to make a quick buck by selling diet plans.

Person B blindly believes whatever Person A has to say.

Person B jumps onto the ABC diet without a second thought, without doing any research or gathering knowledge. Her body goes through a sudden shock. It feels extreme for her body. Shows up certain symptoms. Either person B gives up after a few days. Or person B tortures herself through this extreme diet, without understanding what her body needs or the long-term consequences of the ABC diet.

The right food is life-changing certainly, but what is RIGHT FOOD is something that each one of us has to figure out for ourselves.

Let's take the time to understand our health conditions.

Let's take the time to understand what our body needs, what we like to eat, how our body reacts to certain foods.

If someone says certain foods aren't good, question them why they say so. If they are not taking the time to explain their claims, let's do the research ourselves.

All we need is a bit of curiosity and interest.

I had written a post a couple of years back with the title who is the right nutritionist for you. It's none other than your own body.

Listen to your body's signals. Your body is communicating with you all the time.

When do you feel hunger pangs? If it is usually in the morning, eat a wholesome breakfast. Extended intermittent fasting or having only fruits for breakfast may not be the right decision for you. These might work beautifully for others.

How do you feel after eating rice/rotis? Do you feel content and satisfied? Or do you feel bloated and heavy?

Are your bowel movements regular?

Are you getting good sleep?

Are you feeling active throughout the day?

Do you feel energy slumps after a meal?

Do you have sweet cravings after a meal?

This is not an exhaustive list by any means. 

Introspect, Observe.

Become more aware of your body's signals.

Invest time to research before jumping onto a new diet.

Most important of all, be gentle with yourself. Take it slow.

Eat what suits your body. 

Dec 1, 2020

Ensure Diabetes Care drink - Review


A blog reader asked me to share my thoughts on Ensure Diabetes Care drink. 

The plethora of drinks available for diabetics these days can be mind boggling. Now why is there a separate category of drinks? Are the nutrition needs different for diabetics as compared to non-diabetics? If so, can the different nutrition needs be fulfilled from real, natural foods such as fruits, vegetables, pulses, grains, nuts and seeds? I'll share my thoughts on these questions in a separate post.

Let's look at the ingredients of Ensure Diabetes Care drink. I searched for it on Amazon but couldn't find it in their product images. Got this image from Flipkart.



First and foremost, if any brand says "Sugar free", make sure to check for any caveat. In this case, the brand has mentioned that Sugar(Sucrose) is 0. But wait, check the ingredients list and you will see "fructose" mentioned. Fructose is another form of sugar and consumers are not made aware of the quantity of fructose used and the source of fructose.

Along with fructose, the product also contains Sucralose, an artificial sweetener.

Artificial sweeteners and their impact on taste preferences
What I have observed is that when diabetics stop sugar and switch over to artificial sweeteners, their taste buds get altered quite a bit. Though artificial sweeteners taste sweeter, they trick the brain into believing that high calorie foods are being consumed. But in reality, there aren't as many calories available as the brain believes it to be. As a result, diabetics tend to crave for more sugary foods.  As their taste buds keep getting altered this way, they are not able to appreciate the real taste of fruits and vegetables and they don't get the required nutrition they need. This results in more fatigue, more tiredness and exhaustion. And they end up searching for "health drinks" in the market to combat the fatigue. Most diabetic focused "health drinks" claim that they are sugar-free but they contain artificial sweeteners. And the vicious cycle continues.

I had written in detail about the harmful effects of artificial sweetener in this post on Brittania Nutrichoice Digestive Zero biscuits. Also refer to this article published on Harvard Health blog on the ill effects of artificial sweeteners.

Artificial sweeteners and their impact on gut health 
Artificial sweeteners change the composition of the gut microbiota. As per this paper,

The consumption of typically used nonnutritive artificial sweetener formulations drives the development of glucose intolerance through the induction of compositional and functional alterations to the intestinal microbiota.

According to this paper
"Continuous exposure to fructose and sugar substitutes may cause dysbiosis with loss of microbial genetic and phylogenic diversity, promoting evolution and maintenance of a Western gut microbiome. In turn adaptive metabolism generates additional energy sources for the host, which may facilitate aberrant host–microbe interactions leading to perturbed energy regulation and altered gut transit times with subsequent enhancement of dietary energy extraction. These differences in microbial composition and metabolic activity may ultimately be sensed by the innate and adaptive immune system leading to intestinal inflammation with later manifestation as endotoxemia. The combination of these processes can undoubtedly contribute to development of many metabolic disorders associated with obesity. "

The other important ingredient to look at is Maltodextrin. It is a cheap, processed white powder derived from corn. It is mainly used as a carrier ingredient for added synthetic vitamins/minerals. It has a high glycemic index and raises blood sugar levels rapidly. Unless the diabetic person who is consuming this drink is involved in active sports or athletics, he/she doesn't need maltodextrin whatsoever.

As I was going through other details in the pack, the brand has mentioned this statement

"It is scientifically formulated to have a low glycemic index to help manage blood glucose response. It is made with a unique combination of fibersol (resistant maltodextrin), FOS and Inositol."

I couldn't find the glycemic index mentioned anywhere on the pack. So there is no way to validate the "Low GI" claim.

Fibersol is a type of digestion resistant maltodextrin (DRM), made from soluble corn fiber.

DRM is indigestible as our body does not produce digestive enzymes to break it down. It goes undigested and ends up being fermented in the colon by the gut bacteria. 

According to this paper,
Resistant maltodextrin helps to maintain blood and lipid profiles as well as promote satiety and reducing food intake. High intake of resistant maltodextrin may cause gastrointestinal discomfort due to the gas production and increased osmotic pressure.

Instead of consuming processed powder with potential side effects, why not consume soluble fiber from real, natural food sources?

One serving (6 scoops) of Ensure Diabetes Care provides 226 kCal.
100gm of this pack provides 435 kCal, which means that one serving is equivalent to around 52 gms.

One serving of this drink provides the following key vitamins and minerals:
Vitamin C = 16.5 mcg
Vitamin A = 55 mcg RE
Potassium = 284 mg
Calcium = 129 mg
Magnesium = 46 mg
Iron = 2.4 mg
Zinc = 1.25 mg

The added vitamins and minerals in this pack are in no way comparable to nutrition provided by real foods. Do check out the values of individual nutrients from plant-based sources linked above. 

It is highly unlikely that such drinks will help manage diabetes. They will only make the condition worser. Let's take the time to understand the ingredients before rushing to buy "diabetic-focused" products.

It is a sad state of affairs that diabetic patients think twice before consuming carrots/beetroots but are voluntarily drinking such artificially sweetened "health" drinks without any hesitation.

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