Sunday, October 30, 2022

Health & Fitness: Lesson 6 - How to eat healthier food

We've covered part of the solution already. To recap, by now that you have articulated your vision, and clarified why you want to achieve that vision.  You've also researched other people's transformations and convinced yourself that your vision is not only achievable by others but is achievable by you. You've also measured your starting weight and so know how much work lies ahead of you. And you have  a better understanding of the different elements you can play with you achieve your goals. 

So let's dive a little deeper into the most important element: diet.

In an earlier post, I shared that controlling your weight is 70% diet, 20% exercise, and 10% rest. I also shared that what you eat and how much you eat are the most important aspects under diet, and they are related.

You need to thoroughly examine your current diet that has resulted in your current weight and body shape. To get different outcomes, you have to change your inputs. You do this by changing what you eat, changing how much of it you eat, or both. 

Although you may already know this, it bears repeating because you may know it but are you practicing it properly and consistently?

Eat healthier food 

Entire book chapters have been written about what foods are healthy. The summary is that you need to eat fruits, and veggies, lean proteins, good fats, and whole grains. And don't drink your calories. That means when in doubt, drink water😀

Shop right, and cook right 

The way you translate this into daily actions is that you shop right. If you buy brown bread instead of white bread, then brown bread is what you will end up eating. Same goes for brown rice. 

Similarly fruits and veggies are an important part of a healthy diet. One of my big breakthroughs was when I understood that eating fruits and vegetables are not an optional recommendation. They are the way to a healthier life. Once I got that, I made sure that every meal had a fruit and vegetable component. I also started adhering to getting in my "Five a day". If you don't know about "five a day", please google it, and importantly take steps to practice it.

The mistake I made was that in the beginning, I simply added the vegetables to my diet. I did not replace my carbs with them. This move made me gain even more weight. It was when I cut down my carbohydrate component to recommended portion sizes that the weight melted off and my mummy pooch went away. What enabled me to sustain being on a low carb diet, however, was the veggies! 

So yes, buy healthier food. But you can buy healthier food and then load it with calories in the preparation stage which can also derail you. So you also need to cook right. If you are used to fried foods, try boiling, steaming, and grilling. Make your stews with half the oil you're accustomed to. Remove the skins off your chicken before cooking it. Cut the fat off your meats. None of these is the magic bullet. They all matter. Together, they help you achieve a healthier lifestyle.

Train your palate to appreciate healthy food

Now that you have the healthier food on your plate, you have to eat that. It's called training your palate. You need to train your palate to appreciate healthy food. Here, you need to be patient with yourself. Of course it will not taste good to you at first. But you need to keep at it. For some perspective, even though it took me just a few years to be able to eat oatmeal without any sweetener, it has taken seven whole years for my tongue to appreciate the taste of tom brown without sweetener. I'm not suggesting it will take you that long. I share my own journey to encourage you not to give up if you're not able to do after a year or two. If you can't do without sweetener, start with a teaspoon of honey. Stick with that for a few months, then reduce to half a teaspoon. Stay with that for another 3 months, and then eliminate completely. 

This effort is absolutely worth it. It is when you get to the place of being able to eat foods like porridge without sweetener that the journey gets interesting because it dramatically expands your options. You can basically then eat anything you want because you've learned to adjust the foods to your needs. Nothing will be off limits. Not even bofrot. So there's an exciting future ahead. More on that later, but for now, let's stay with how to get started.

Take baby steps

Trying to change your entire diet overnight will for sure fail. What will happen is that you will do it enthusiastically for maybe one to three months, drop a lot of pounds, and then miss your favourite foods, go back to them and gain it all back. What has worked for me is gradual change. Sustainable change is always gradual. It takes big change to see big results but the way you get to big change over time is by taking small steps now. 

My recommendation is to change only one meal at a time. If you start with breakfast, then keep your lunch and dinner the same as they've always been until you've mastered the healthy breakfast before moving on to changing your lunch too. 

This is because a lot more goes into mastering one mealtime than you would think. 

  • You have to experiment with and find at least three different foods that you can eat or train yourself to eat the same thing everyday. Either of these two options takes time to master. I'm of the opinion that having three healthy breakfasts that you enjoy and look forward to eating is wiser than having only one option because if you get tired of eating your one food, you will likely go back to what you know which is whatever you were eating before you started this journey.
  • You have to determine how much of it to eat 
  • You have to determine the calories in the entire meal to be sure that it is indeed putting you on a path to accomplishing your weight loss goals and keeping you healthy. 
  • You have to discipline yourself  to keep going when quitting would be easier 
  • You need the discipline to not derail your great breakfast by going crazy when it's time for your mid-morning snack. It took me a while to learn to enjoy a plain apple. In my previous life, I always had it with peanut butter which increased my calories significantly. 
In my next post, I'll share more on how much to eat and the mindset needed to be able to eat that amount consistently. 

As always, post your questions in the comments if there are any.

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Health & Fitness: Lesson 5 - Improve your understanding

Did you know that becoming and staying fit is 70% diet, 20% exercise and 10% rest? Probably. Have you heard that you cannot out-train a bad diet? Probably.  It's one thing to hear and therefore know these things. It's quite another to understand it. Understanding is what matters. Only when you understand what you're doing will you be able to take intelligent action. Understanding also allows you to be creative, and flexible. 

So how about getting some understanding now?

What 70% diet means

If you're disciplined with your eating, you probably eat 3 - 5 times a day. Some people eat more than this although they will not admit this. Every time someone in their household is eating, they will get a craving for that particular food😀. They will pick at your fried yam, then another, and another. Matter o! I didn't say you. Without realising it, those tastings of this then that will probably add up to six or seven meals a day.

But let's assume, Dear Reader that you don't do this and you only eat three times a day plus one plantain chips bought in traffic or is it bofrot? Yours is Judi foods? We hear you. So three meals and I snack. Do you add Fanyogo? So is that 2 snacks or still one? Hmm...

Now you're eating four times a day, everyday - Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday including when you are sick or shall I say especially? So everyday without fail you eat.

And how often do you exercise? Three times a week, and only once on each of those three days. Then let's do some math.

In a month consisting of 30 days, you eat 120 meals, and exercise 12 times! But this ratio is 10 to one. So why do we say 70: 20? Because your exercise is not the only way your body expends energy. Your body uses up energy for all its bodily functions and every time you move, you use some energy. Even so, hopefully these numbers have revealed to you why you need to focus on your meals/diet!

The 70% diet consists of what you eat, quantity, and time (when you eat). 

What you eat

Different foods have different effects on your body. White rice nourishes your body differently from brown rice. Plain greek yogurt is different from a parfait with granola, sweetened fruit and a big dollop of honey. One can be eaten everyday, the other must be eaten as a once-in-a while treat.


A big bowl of fufu and groundnut soup with as much bushmeat as your body can take affects your body differently than 1 piece of boiled green plantain served with nkontomire, 1 tablespoon of olive oil and half of a medium-sized grilled mackerel. These are extremes. You probably don't eat as much meat as your body can take but maybe you drink 4 ladles of groundnut soup when really two is the recommended serving size. Improve your understanding of how much to eat by reading books by African dieticians.


Here, the key thing to remember is not to eat less than 2 hours before your bedtime. But this is not as important as what you eat and how much you eat.

What 20% exercise means

The exercise component follows the FITT principle -  frequency, intensity, time, and type. 


How often you exercise is the most important factor. Getting 30 minutes of exercise 5 days a week is more beneficial to your body than a 5 hour keep fit session only on Saturdays.


When you exercise, try to challenge your body. Much of the growth happens when your body is challenged. Here is not the place to do the bare minimum. Here is not the place to give up at the slightest resistance. Try to push your body to do new things. You can get performance ideas from lesson 1


The recommended time is 30 minutes to 1 hour. No matter how badly you want to lose weight, if               you need two hours in the gym to maintain your weight, that is your indicator that you haven't fixed the diet issue. Some people even work out twice a day. That's not necessary unless for example you walk 30 minutes in the morning to the bus station and another 30 minutes back home in the evening but that is considered an hour of walking daily which is really all you need.      


All exercises work if you do them right. If you're walking, walk briskly. Swimming, swim enough laps. Pilates or yoga, get your technique right. Gymming, lift with good form, etc.

What 10% rest means

Take some days off to allow your body to rest, rebuild, and recover. Some people workout 5 days a week and rest on weekends. Others take a mid-week break on Wednesdays as well. Try these and see how your body responds. A tired body will not function as well as a rested body so do enjoy some rest days.

If you don't understand any of what I wrote or have additional or related questions, please leave them in the comments and I'll address it in future posts.

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Health & Fitness: Lesson 2 - How to uncover your why

In Lesson 3 - Have a vision for your health, I shared a way to identify what outcomes you want for your health. I focused on health, performance, aesthetics, and fun. 

Now that you know what you want, the next step is to determine why you desire to be stronger or achieve a certain weight goal. You can think of this as your motivation. This post will cover how you might uncover your reason and motivation; the thing that drives you.

A good technique for uncovering your motivation is Taiichi Ohno's five why's technique. Read up on it, understand it, and apply it to yourself to uncover your own motivation. 

Here is an example: You might start like this: 

Why do I want to eat healthy? 

Because I want to lose weight.

Why do I want to lose weight? 

Because the doctor advised it.

Why did the doctor advice it?

Because I'm at risk of getting diabetes.

Why don't I want to get diabetes?

Because if I do, the emotional, physical, and financial cost of that disease will be too much for me to bear.

Aha! You want to eat healthy because the cost of changing your habits now is far lower than you will need to pay if you reap the eventual consequence of continuing on your current trajectory.

Healthy people are motivated by a variety of reasons to pursue a healthy lifestyle. Here are some examples of motivators that you might find helpful:

  • Your God

    1.  To be a good steward of the temple of God.

  • Yourself: 

    1. To enjoy good health. 

    2. To feel confident about and enjoy your appearance every day.

    3. To have the strength to be productive in your career long into your latter years.

  • Your spouse: 

    1. For your spouse to have peace of mind about your health.

    2. To not be a burden.

    3. To have the energy and a physique that enhances intimate relations.

  • Your children:

    a. To be a model for your kids.

    b. To have the energy to play with your future grandkids.

    5. Your extended family:

    a. To improve your chances of outliving your parents so you can care for them.

  • Please share your own motivation with us in the comments when you've been able to uncover it.  Also write it down, and safely guard it. Whenever you feel unmotivated to take the actions that you know you need to take to care for your health, read it to remind yourself why you do what you do. If you have truly found what motivates you, then your written motivation will be a useful tool in helping you stay the course. 

    Saturday, October 08, 2022

    Health & Fitness: Lesson 1 - How to develop your vision

    To borrow from Stephen Covey's book: The seven habits of highly effective people, in fitness as in life, you need to begin with the end in mind. 

    What do you want your health situation to be in ten or twenty years? 

    How to develop your vision 

    Develop a picture of what you want your health to be. All we are doing at this stage is defining what we want. We'll worry about the how later. To help me do this, I learnt from Massy Arias that there are are three different dimensions along which to think about this. 

    The first dimension is Health. If you currently have any disease, your health goal might be complete healing from current diseases, and to not acquire any new diseases.

    The next dimension is Performance. Here, you can explore attributes like strength, endurance, flexibility and balance. It was this broad range of considerations that led me to Pilates after years as a runner, swimmer, and weight-trainer. You can also explore learning new sports like swimming, tennis, pilates, weight-training or boxing as a way to expand your social circle and have fun. You can even explore, as I am doing the opportunity to not only participate but become an instructor in the medium to long term.

    The final dimension is Aesthetics. Here, you get to include your ideal weight, your vital stats, and body composition, that is, proportion of fat to muscle you want to have.

    To Massy's three dimensions, I will include a fourth dimension which I have found absolutely necessary and that dimension is Fun. How do you want to feel? How do you want to enjoy your journey from here to your vision? Will it be a solo pursuit, something you do with a few friends, or in community? What does an enjoyable journey look like for you? The time when I enjoyed running the most was at Duke University because I had a consistent running partner, and I had access to the gorgeous Al Buehler Running Trail. Without those, running was not as fun for me so I tabled that for later. I did not enjoy swimming solo but have enjoyed swimming with friends so I now do not consider swimming as a good core exercise for me but it does serve as a recreational activity to do with friends. I also noticed that when I was weight-training, the best part was the endorphins at the end, but I didn't actually enjoy the process, so I don't do it anymore. Boxing though! Boxing!!! Boxing made me mentally strong. Therefore it is definitely an activity I'd like to explore in the future for that benefit alone. Out of all these, I selected Pilates as my main exercise because the entire experience of Pilates is enjoyable for me. You may also have to kiss a few frogs to find your prince😀 and you might find that even those you don't marry can become your friends. This is such a terrible analogy but I'm going to leave it right here, and run away.

    Write it down

    As you imagine and choose what you want, write down your vision on paper. You need a half-pager or 1-pager to start. So do your best at getting a draft down. You will refine your draft over time as you learn more about yourself when you're actually on your course.

    When you have written down everything you want, try to summarise it in one liner

    My own one-liner currently reads: To remain healthy, fit and attractive

    I would like to revise it in the future to include the element of joy/fun.

    Add photos

    Next, select photos that reflect your vision. In my own case, what I did initially was find a photo of myself when I looked my best in my twenties. But over time, I realized I actually wanted to sculpt an entirely new body. To help you visualize, you can google “fit body” , "pilates body", "yoga body", to find examples of physiques that inspire you. This is because marathoners tend to have different physiques from swimmers. So explore the different options, and choose what you want.

    Then print out a picture or two that inspire you to serve as the mental picture you’re working towards. I've come across the advice to clip off the head off the pictures and replace it with your own head to drive home the message to your subconscious that this is where you’re heading. Don't forget to include photos of how you will feel during your journey to this physique. Keep looking at these photos regularly to inspire you to do what is necessary to achieve your vision. 

    This is one of the photos that I have on my fitness vision board. Unfortunately I did not include the source. Kindly help me to credit the source if you know who this is.

    Saturday, October 01, 2022

    Health & Fitness: Lesson 3 - You've got to believe that your dreams are achievable, and that they are achievable by you

    Now that you have clarity on the outcome you want to achieve, and you know your compelling motivation, you are ready to advance to the how. The how involves a number of elements working together: Mindset. Habits. Skills. Tools. Ideas. And so on. 

    Mindset is a critical part of the journey to controlling one's weight. A part of your mindset is your beliefs. One of the beliefs that are most important has two parts. First, you have to believe that it is possible to lose the weight. That is, other people have done it or that it has been done before. I'll refer to this as the general belief. But there's also a second belief that I'll call the specific belief. You have to believe that it is possible for you to lose the weight. That is, you can do it.

    How to shift this general belief

    In the early days of my journey to weight-loss, I didn't fully believe that I could go back to my pre-baby weight. I believed that having kids inevitably meant weight gain. I had accepted that childbirth changes your body irreparably. 

    And I didn't see many examples of the outcome I was looking for around me.

    What helped me shift this mindset was the internet. I would google "weight-loss transformations" and look at before and after photos of people who had successfully lost weight. But even these didn't fully convince me until I saw a photo of Mellody Hobson. I was so inspired to see a woman who was older than me, black like me, and who looked younger than me! It would have been easy for me to also think that she is richer than me. But I didn't think that. I believed then and still do that some things are earned. No matter how much money one has, if she wasn't eating the right things and exercising consistently, she wouldn't look as amazing as she does. 

    I dared to think: Now this is what I want to look like in my fifties

                                                 Mellody Hobson pictured at right

    How to shift the specific belief

    In my view, the specific belief is harder to shift. Two ways that I have found to shift it is first, your own progress and second,  knowing or meeting someone who has done it. 

    When I started working out, I didn’t believe that my body would beautifully transform. The transformation photos I saw showed a reality so different from mine that all I dared believe was that my body would reduce down to the body I had before kids - small and lean. And so that is what I was able to achieve on my own through swimming a ton. The swimming got boring after a year, and so looking for change, I signed up at the gym. 

    The trainers there had different beliefs, which led them to start me on an exercise regimen that began to truly transform my body. 

    Then one day, a fit woman walked into my gym and my own beliefs changed forever. 

    She was the first Ghanaian woman I’d met in the flesh who had a built body. And she had given birth. That day, I had a mind shift. I upgraded my beliefs. I believed that it wasn’t just possible to reduce the size of my body but that I could build a much better body than I had in my twenties if I was willing to pay the price. 

    The critical point to note here is that the lady whose physique changed my mind was not a regular at my gym. Nor did not come to enrol. She was just passing through that day. Had I been a wishy-washy gym-goer, I would have missed her and I would have stayed the same.

    What to expect in the future
    What I have experienced is that over time, our mindset becomes more flexible, and we can virtually meet someone who doesn't look like us, and be able to imagine that we can achieve what they have achieved. For example, my goal to achieve a 28" waistline is now inspired by Kristin McGee who is white and teaches Yoga and Pilates on the Peloton App and has at least three kids. My thinking is that I can probably get there within a year if I remain on my current path.