Friday, December 30, 2016

2016 – year of the salad

Somewhere by the end of last year, I took upon myself to keep a tab on my weight. Sustainable weight reduction is perhaps a bigger benefit to better running, than form correction / gear / training or any other. Runner or not, who doesn’t want to rid of that excess fat.
Now in the eleventh hour of my intermittent fast, not sure if a food post is the best way to keep my mind off the rumbling in my tummy. Nevertheless, I will try to share my diet journey.

Step 1 – Measure

I was new to this whole calorie counting thing. When I started, I had no clue what a 20 calorie or 2000 calorie meant. No idea of how much I was eating. My sister is a dietician and she gave me some Diet 101 advice to start with – eat more frequently, reduce portion size, have protein for recovery, drink plenty of water, yada yada. I guess I only followed the “eat more frequently” part of the advice.

When I grew more impatient, she put me on to a diet log – MyfitnessPal App. You can’t improve what you cannot measure (remnants from a six sigma training?). A brief on the App itself. It is fantastic – simple to use, database with many Indian foods to search and add. Personal tip – if you are eating home-cooked food, look for home-cooked options in the database. If you don’t find something you are looking for, try its Tamil name. You can also scan bar codes on food labels to add directly. It also gets you to set goals based on your profile. Nowadays though, after ArmourUnder bought them, the ads have gone up.



It’s a great first step because now, you get a feel for the calories. Give yourself 4-6 weeks of logging your meals & snacks in, and it gives you a fair idea of how you are doing. To begin with, I made guesstimates on my portion sizes. Things didn’t seem to add up. It finally took a kitchen scale, to convince me that I was over eating by about 10-15%. It’s funny when you put your rice on the weighing scale before you add it to your plate, but you will get over it.
Ok, you probably don’t need all that to tell you that you are over eating. What next?

Step 2 – Substitute
This is the fun part – how to have the cake and eat it too.

Like you, I don’t like to compromise on my eating. But at dinner time, when the app says, I have 200 calories left to keep it under my goal, you have put to put on your thinking cap. This is approximately how the numbers stacked up for me –

Morning coffee with biscuits 200
+ Breakfast 650
+ Lunch 850
+ Evening coffee with biscuits 200
+ Dinner?? – 300 (??) = 2200 target

A snack here, some nuts or a sweet? and dinner was deep red. Well, I did add my calories burnt via exercise, but despite that, I found it challenging to meet my daily goals.
I made 3 major substitutions over the next few months with almost no change taste or prep time or effort or energy levels
  1. No added sugar (save 100 calories)
  2. White rice to brown rice (save 200 calories)
  3. Replace dinner plate to a smaller one. Reduce portion size, but get more helpings if needed


I moved from 3 biscuits to 1 with coffee (sugarless) in a smaller cup. I was eating more whole foods – fruits and nuts. I began to eat less “out of a pack” or processed food. Began to look at the label (while continuing to scan the barcode for the app) a lot more.
The initial success – of being able to keep my race weight was motivating enough to try more.

Step 3 - Discovering Salad

Vegetables and nuts started creeping into my diet gradually, a little here and a little there. The big leaps happened during my business trips to the US. US trips are easy to pick up that excess baggage. On one such trip, I decided to only eat healthy. I was already running high mileage and was talking about by diet experiments with all and sundry. Got some great advice from a vegan ultra runner while on a trail run in Texas. My options were limited to soups and salads, and I loved them. I didn’t miss rice.

Back home, I started out with salad as an evening snack to help cut down my dinner portion. A 6 or 7pm salad would conquer my tummy, leaving no space for dinner. Still, out of fear of hunger, I showed down that too.

Then I took that leap of faith. I increased my salad bowl, moved it to dinner time and cut my rice to just one small cup of curd rice. No diet without curd rice is sustainable. Of course, a little extra salad dressing helped.

I have some 30 ingredients that go in, at times. A bunch of veggies – tomato, carrot, bell peppers, cucumber, radish, beets, potato, broccoli or cauliflower, peas and corn. Greens – lettuce or spinach. Then there are sprouts, beans, Rajma, chick peas. Flax seeds, chia, walnuts or groundnuts, some raisins. For protein there’s Quinoa, Soya chunks and boiled or scrambled eggs. A mayo based dressing, vinaigrette, lime, honey, salt and pepper. All mixed with a spoon of coconut or olive oil or topped with cheese. It’s fun to try out different stuff. I try raw (food processor chopped) or steamed veggies, also baked sometimes. I sometimes start with a tadka, with some coconut for a simple Usli / Sundal.


Ps: the pic is just representative. I have not become a professional chef, not just yet.

I love the process, chopping, boiling, mixing it up and eating!!! Burp!

Step 4 – Intermittent Fasting
From food to no food
Somewhere along the way, I added a 24-hr fast to the fray. For a few months, I regularly did a water-only 24hr (actually 20 – 32hr) fast on Ekadashi, the 11th day of the moon, every fortnight. This was a challenge, I didn’t enjoy the headaches that came after about 20hours. I had to move around my running schedule to accommodate this. When my Ultra calendar got busier, the day long fast stopped.

I read about Intermittent Fasting (IF), the variation where you go 16hr fast, followed by a 8 hour eating window, everyday! The trick is to have an early dinner (by 8pm) and then skip breakfast, directly into an early lunch at noon. I started a couple of months back with 14-10, not willing to let go of my breakfast. But now, I skip it altogether. Most days, I have a bulletproof coffee – black coffee with coconut oil (no kidding, look it up) at around 10. I also manage to put in my morning runs on empty as well, with no noticeable dip in energy levels.

But I do eat almost all the time in my 8 hour window, more fruits and veggies, nuts and good fats. I am trying to get processed flour / maida out of the way. My wife has started fermenting vegetables, with lots of help from Ms. AR and now my sister is leading us into the baking world. I just baked my first banana-walnut cake with Wheat and Oats last week.

The thinking cap is being substituted with a Chef’s hat. My growling stomach has gone silent, now to ease into my last 3 hours of fast for the day!!

Have a filling 2017.

2 comments:

Chenthil said...

Thanks for sharing Manoj...very insightful..

setlur venkataranga said...

What you miss saying is how disciplined you are. That surely helps. I think about dieting all the time but have zero discipline. That is my final mountain to conquer. Great reading your blog.