Friday, March 2, 2012

On lifestyle change: Keeping it simple

 On lifestyle change: Keeping it simple.

I decided to do this blog post because I have been getting many questions about how despite having four kids I have not ballooned to unimaginable proportions. Rather than repeat the same information in individual inboxes and emails I thought it best to put it in one place. Let me just say from the outset that what I do is primarily for health reasons and that looking fine and tight and all that, are all very, very welcome side effects!

Here is the real deal. Do not go any diet. They do not work. Take it from the diet queen herself. You name it I have tried it (Atkins, South beach, Cabbage soup, etc, etc, etc.). Companies that create and sell these diets count on the fact that some desperate individuals, despite trying a diet and failing dismally, will go back and try another one or try the very same thing over and over again. They have made millions selling people a whole bunch of temporary quick fixes, most of which can cause serious health problems. A day came when I decided they were not getting another penny from me.

So this is what you have to do: you have to tell yourself that you are looking for permanent long lasting change, not a quick fix. You also have to convince yourself that just as it took time to get the weight on, it will take time to get it off. This is not as easy as it sounds because we want results and we want them now! Its human. However many people get discouraged when they feel they are trying very hard for very little visible result. It is a lifestyle change, not a quick fix. Once you have those things in place, start making small incremental changes to your diet. This means, what you eat, how often you eat, how you eat and where you eat.

 Educate yourself on the caloric content of food as well as the nutrient content; in other words, the proportion of protein, carbohydrates and fat and (very important) fiber. Watch the sodium content and the preservatives that may be used in the food. If a food package has a long list of names that read like a pharmaceutical catalogue, then axe it. There are a lot of chemical additives in food which are responsible for weight gain, cancer, allergies and many other non desirable effects.

 Then you start by reducing, not eliminating simple sugars like sucrose, starches like white bread, white rice, white flour, white pasta and opting for whole grains like oatmeal, whole wheat bread with no high sucrose corn syrup, brown rice, quinoia.  The reason I say reduce is because at no point should you feel as though you are depriving yourself. That can only lead to unhappiness and frustration (because you now start to live for the day the depravation will end and you watch the scale like a hawk). Start substituting and cutting back slowly on these until a time when you eliminate them altogether.

 If you have access to it, Mhunga (Inyhawuti), Rukweza (uphoko), and wheat flour make great sadza and they are whole grains high in B-vitamins and good old fiber. Also good old corn on the cob (chibage/umumbu) is much better for you than the refined maize flour used for sadza. I recently discovered oatmeal flour so I use that to make sadza or to make porride for breakfast.

 Fiber is very important for the health of your bowels. Fiber keeps waste moving through your bowel and prevents the build- up of toxic waste which has been associated with colon cancer. It fills you up so you eat less and it is has no caloric value and so cannot make you fat.

On the protein, if you like yoghurt and milk, opt for low fat or fat free varieties. Watch the amount of carbohydrates in yoghurt, For example those fruity types are usually loaded with unnecessary sugar. Try plain yoghurt and add cereal or honey or chopped fruit to make it palatable. Lean cuts of beef, chicken, pork, fish, cheese, amasi, beans, nyimo, nyemba, ishwa (izinhlwa), Mhashu (inswabanda) are all great protein sources. Cut of any visible fat from your meat and get rid of that chicken skin (I can hear the Nando’s fans going ahhhhh! That is where the flavor resides mahn!!!). And stay away from those greasy thick cut vinegar- drenched chips tooJ.

Also you are better off eating fruit than drinking juice, which in most cases is spiked with some form of sugar. Also the processing of fruit to make juice often strips it of its nutritional content and goodies called phytonutrients are lost as it sits on the shelf or during processing. These phytonutrients have been demonstrated to be anti cancer and anti inflammatory agents, so diseases like arthritis can be kept at bay.

 In addition, you don’t get the fiber in juice that you would get with fruit. Eat your fruit as snacks and dessert. Vegetables are so vital to weight loss because you can eat a plate of them before anything else and the fiber fills you up so that you eat less of everything especially at night. I generally don’t eat anything but a plate full of vegetables at night and I am done.

Try to stay away from processed foods as much as possible and eat as close to natural as you can. Take a daily multivitamin/multimineral supplement and drink lots and lots of water. “Lots” is in the order of 1-2litres a day. I have a 2 -litre bottle that I fill every morning, add a little lemon juice and it must be finished by the time I go to bed.

Eat frequent small meals and do not skip any meals because then you pig out at the next available opportunity. Life is for living and food is one of the greatest pleasures we have. Indulging in a drink or two once in a while, or a slice of good cake is perfectly acceptable and in fact encouraged. I generally am very strict about what I consume Monday to Friday and then at the weekend it’s on! I do not binge, but I eat what I like without a second thought. Then Monday morning I am back in the saddle. This is my lifestyle and this is how I maintain and try to stay healthy.

Sleep: get adequate sleep. Contrary to popular belief it is a necessity to get good quality sleep for at least 8 hours a night. Sleep is not a luxury and if neglected can undermine your weight loss activities. It may in fact be responsible for your weight gain or your body's refusal to shed weight despite your best efforts. Lack of sleep is a stressor on the body and when the body is under stress its hormonal (endocrine) system malfunctions. This results in fat storage hormones storing more fat and fat metabolizing hormones becoming ineffective. This initiates a whole cascade of events which lead to over eating, eating high carbohydrate content foods as a way to offset the fatigue that sets in.

I don’t think I need to stress how obesity and being overweight is detrimental to health. This is a fact we all know. What most of us do not really know is what is overweight? Obesity is something we can clearly define and see. My definition of being overweight is when you huff and puff while climbing up a single flight of stairs, when you feel as though your heart is bursting each time you exert yourself. However a visit to your doctor for a series of body measurements will tell you where you are. Diabetes, Hypertension, arthritis, heart disease, stroke and cancer can all be prevented by paying attention to diet and ensuring that the body gets adequate exercise to keep it humming in top condition. Depression is also linked to being obese and overweight because these conditions affect self esteem and one’s perception of self may be distorted.

My passion for running is really a reflection of my passion for health and vitality. I like to feel alive and when my body is in motion, when I feel my muscles working and the blood coursing through my veins, I feel alive and thankful for life itself. Find a form of exercise that you enjoy and that you will commit to doing at least 3 times a week for an hour. I alternate running with working out in the gym and with dancing with my 4 daughters in the basement. We dance to Ndombolo, to Pop, or Kwaito or Juju music, or any music that fires us up on any given Saturday morning. Just keep that body moving.

I hope I have shared, in simple terms what I think can give you the results you want. Just take it a day at a time and avoid jumping on the scale too often. Weighing once a week is adequate and gives you an accurate reading than weighing in daily. Also remember that at different times of the month the female body retains water which can be reflected in the weight reading. My rule of thumb: I don’t bother with the scale because I weigh more due to the muscle I have. I use my clothing as the true measure of where I am headed.

 What motivates me you ask: the fact that I want to see my girls grow up, go to college and be happy and successful in their adult lives. The fact that every day of good health is a gift that I do not take for granted and so seek to preserve that health as best as I can. The fact that I owe it to those who love me to be in good health so I can give them the best of me. The fact that I believe I have lots to do as a contributor to the human community and that I need to be in good health both mind and body in order to give my best effort. This is why I do what I do.