Tuesday, November 22, 2022

How taking care of your body changes you

  1. Your understanding changes 

Everyone supposedly knows the way to improve their health. Eat healthy and exercise, right? Well, not quite. There is some nuance to it. Take diet. There is the issue of quantities. How much to eat. How to eat. When to eat. What to eat and equally important, what not to eat. There's the issue of training your palate. Like possibly everything else in life, the quality of your understanding will be reflected in the quality of your outcomes. When your understanding improves, so will your outcomes.   

  1. Your beliefs change

    Beliefs are powerful things because they drive behaviour. In Ghana we have this expression: kɛseɛ wɔ ne ho. I have no idea what that even means. Basically, you're prone to being big and there's nothing anyone can do about it. Crazy huh? If you believe that, it will drive the choices you make. 

    Personally, some of the more exciting beliefs that I am in the process of jettisoning  have to do with what is possible for me. I've written sparingly about exercise so far, but there's a lot going on there as well. My challenge has been seeing a move that my Pilates instructor would do and I would believe without even trying that I won't be able to do it because it's too complicated. This negative belief would prevent me from even trying. The other belief that was preventing me from giving my best is the belief that all pain is bad and must be avoided. What my exercise is now teaching me is that some pain can feel good. It's not even pain. It's your muscles stretching to do something new. Something they've never done before. This has enabled me to lean into my stretches and body is doing new and exciting things and this is reflected not only in my outcomes but also spilling over into other areas of my life.

  1. Your desires change

When I first joined a gym, I didn’t know how to stay committed to my vision. There were so many options around me that I kept trying to get bodies similar to shapely women I met at the gym. But the truth is that each of us is beautiful in our own way. And we’re not meant to look like one another. Over time, as I kept up with the exercises, my bum grew, and lifted. My tummy went down and stayed down. It would take another year, before I caught a glimpse of  my own body’s potential. Thank God for gyms with wall to wall mirrors. Over time, my desire became: to build my body into the best it can be. I had come to desire my own best body. What you have to note though, is seeing your body’s potential will only happen after you’ve put in possibly years of work. It took me 3 years of consistent gym to believe that my body could be awesome! And it has taken me several more years since then to love the body that I have, not because it is perfect but because it is mine. It does wonderful things. It has a unique shape. So see, it's been several small shifts. First, I want her body. Then I want my body to look a certain way. Then I want and love the body I have today. And look forward to what it can be, do and look like tomorrow.

  1. Your habits change

Learning to enjoy fruits and vegetables so that you choose them consistently over your past favourite foods is a habit. Learning to control your portions is also a habit. Additionally, you may learn to cook differently, learn to snack differently, as well as new habits when you eat out. Then there’s acquiring a repertoire of exercises so that your exercise is effective and enjoyable. Additionally, for most of the exercises that are now my go-to, I did them with bad technique for hundreds of reps before I finally figured out how my body was supposed to be doing them. From there, results were rapid. I don’t think it’s possible to have great form without doing sub-par form for some time. 

Let me emphasise that what you're actually developing is yourself. You're developing the ability to say no to some things and say yes to what you actually want. And the more you choose the things you truly desire (often long-term goals, and dreams) over the things that seem good in the moment, the more your vision becomes a reality.

  1. Your community changes

If you go to the gym consistently, you get to build a community of other consistent people. It takes time to get to know people in a meaningful way. You’ll find that your workout buddies can be a resource for things like where to buy workout gear, and even who does the neatest cornrows in your area. 

One of my workout buddies gave me a Ghanaian food guide to attaining six-pack abs.

I asked another what he eats to attain his abs and he told me abs are as much about what you eat as about what you don't eat. In hindsight, I was not ready then for six-pack abs, but that insight is really deep. Getting the outcomes you desire is about what you do but it is also about what you don't do.

Personally, I find that I need community less now than I did in the beginning. My exercise has evolved from being a social sport to being a solo practice. Well, me and the instructor. And I choose my instructors carefully.

I'm happy for now, but If I find the right new community in the future, I'll be open to it.

  1. Your life changes

Your body will not transform and stay that way until you eat well, and train well, consistently. If you do it in one area of your life, you build the habits that allow you to be consistent in other areas of your life. I don't only eat healthy and train consistently, I also read consistently. And now I write consistently. I work on my goals consistently. A few years of doing this and life itself changes.

Saturday, November 12, 2022

Health & Fitness: Lesson 8 - How to eat healthily this Christmas

For a lot of people, Christmas is a time of excess; too much food, too many treats, too many sugary drinks, etc. It was that way for me too, until about two years ago when I had a light-bulb moment. Just because it's been that way in the past doesn't mean it has to continue that way. I could do something about it. 

The main insight is that to eat healthily at Christmas, rather than settle for the default, you have to prepare for it. Without the preparation, if a friend gifts you a cake, then that cake might become your breakfast for several days. How can you prepare? 

For the 1 week of Christmas (25th - 1st Jan), you need a plan. I've never actually written out a menu but I plan to do so this year. Let me know if you're interested in the menu and I'll share in a later post.

Choose special foods 
I've found that what I really want to serve my family at Christmas is something a little out of the ordinary. A meal that conveys I went out of my way to make this for you. So for a family that usually has porridge, cereals, or warm beverages for breakfast, a special breakfast might be pancakes, fruit salad, yogurt and granola, crushed avocado on toast, freshly squeezed juices etc.  High end hotel buffets and a la carte menus are a great place to look for ideas.

Choose healthier substitutes
The next step after you have your ideas is to look for ways to make substitutions that make the dish healthy. 

Making pancakes? Why not substitute white flour with oat flour, sweeten with overripe bananas and honey instead of sugar, and top with crunchy peanut butter instead of syrup? Here is a recipe that I love.  

For a fruit salad, the mere act of slicing up the fruits in a special way, and combining them for your family is what makes it special. And you don't need more than three fruits even. See how Jessica Gavin makes an orange bowl special

Do you want to serve fruit juice? Try a mix of freshly made orange and pineapple juice. So delish! Or watermelon juice on ice - refreshing!  

Use brown bread for your toast and instead of topping with butter or margarine, try crushed avocado. Simply use a fork to smash soft avocado and season with salt and pepper to taste. I usually mix in boiled and sliced eggs. I've tried it with poached eggs and that's pretty good too. Or instead of eggs, you can top your crushed avocado with sautéed mushrooms. 

For yogurt, I recommend Zeno's yogurt  but don't go for the parfait. Buy the plain greek yogurt and top it with your own additions. I like it unsweetened with groundnuts, and cashew nuts. If you must sweeten, try dried unsweetened raisins or cranberries. Even though I enjoy granola, I haven't yet found a truly healthy one that is mindful of portion control. I'll keep looking and will share when I've found one. Please share with me too if you find it first. 

For lunch and dinner, grills are always a great idea. I love grilled veggies so I'll be trying of that this Christmas. 

Treat yourself 
Now that you've actually ensured your main meals are healthy, save room for decadent treats. One woman I met in Cape Town when I went for the in-person training as a VV Grow Fellow some years ago would ask about the snacks served at the hotel: is it worth the calories? And she was dead right. If you're going to eat something loaded with calories, the experience must absolutely be worth it. One of the best desserts I've had was a simple cashew nut tart from Kempinski. That pie was worth the calories, and I've been looking for a way to recreate it ever since. Another dessert that I loved that you can try is a chocolate croustade topped with nuts and a pavlova topped with fresh strawberries from the Glasshouse in Kew. If you drink alcohol, for sure try orange juice and vodka. Simple but amazing. 

Stock up on healthy snacks
Stock up on fresh fruits. The first Christmas that I was able to stick to a healthy diet, it was because a friend brought me a basket of fresh fruit. I was so grateful for that basket because it was such a thoughtful gift that saved me from eating lots of fruit cake! The basket was filled with apples, pears, juicy oranges, and clementines. Make yourself a fruit basket so you're more likely to grab those when you need a snack. Seasoned popcorn is also a great low-calorie snack that is special if your usual go to is salt or sugar. Type "seasoned popcorn recipes"  into Pinterest and enjoy! My advice is to choose the savoury options over the sweet.

Go with the tried and tested
The week of Christmas is not the time to experiment. Which is why this post is coming at this time. You have plenty of time to try out bits of the dishes you want to serve on the 25th. This is easy to say and difficult to do but if you really want to serve a special meal, then you do need to test things to ensure they will turn out the way you expect. 

Keep the spirit of Christmas in mind
Remember to keep the spirit of Christmas in mind as you prepare. Getting overly stressed about about this is not necessary. Christmas is a time to reflect on the deep love of God that motivated him to send his son to the earth so that through in Christ, we might be once more reconciled with God. As we reflect on this love, and inspired by the desire to love one another as Christ has loved us, we go out of our way to demonstrate love to those around us, especially our families. 

If your intention is to demonstrate love, it doesn't need to be perfect, so let good enough be good enough and enjoy yourself a little too. 

You also don't need to make all of this stuff from scratch. The reason that sometimes we need to make things is because it's difficult to trust how healthy food prepared elsewhere might be. But the treats tend to be less familiar and you can order them from a trusted bakery or patisserie. You can even skip the cooking altogether and dine out on Christmas Day too. Even so, you're not likely to eat out all week for every meal, so make what you can and  buy the rest. 

Tuesday, November 08, 2022

Health & Fitness: Lesson 7 - How to eat less

In my mind, learning to eat less involves cultivating the right mindset, some knowledge and self-control. I'll cover how to get all three in today's post.

Cultivating the right mindset 
It seems to me that it is after you get the mindset right that the actions follow with ease. Certainly some ways of thinking about food are more helpful than others. Here, I present you with three of the shifts that have helped me eat in moderation. 

The first concerns the question of purpose.  If I may ask you a question, why do you eat? 

Bring awareness to why you're eating

Sometimes I eat to satisfy hunger. Other times I eat for pleasure. Sometimes I even eat to numb pain. Recently, I've found myself using food as a form of exploration - Will I enjoy prunes? What about dried apples? What is my point? My point is that you need to bring awareness  and mindfulness to your eating. For example, when I'm able to identify that I am eating to numb pain, then I am able to turn my attention to what is actually bothering me and focus on solutions for pain which don't involve eating like prayer. You need to be able to notice when you are over-eating, see that it is not normal, pause and ask yourself why, then deal with the real issue. 

Choose foods that are good for you
In addition to being mindful in the moment about why you  are eating, one of the more helpful tips I've recently encountered was through my Bible Study Fellowship.  And this shift concerned how to choose. The BSF notes from the sixth lesson of the Kingdom Divided Study brought to my attention that sometimes the things we enjoy aren't good for us. That gave me cause for pause and reflection. And I found it directly applicable to healthy eating. Once you grasp that what you don't enjoy might be better for you, it can change your relationship with the foods you don't enjoy. You may opt to have an apple because it is good for you, not because it tastes good. You'll eat the apple and find that it wasn't so bad. Then you'll eat another the next day. These small choices will start to reflect on your waist circumference. And that's when you'll slowly start choosing more consistently foods that are good for you. 

Eat to satisfy hunger
The third mind-shift concerned when to stop. I used to eat to feel full. That was not helpful to me because sometimes I would eat and eat, and eat some more and I wouldn't feel full. You can imagine that if you need to feel full then you will constantly be eating. Then I learnt in the book "Ikigai: The Japanese secret to a long and happy life" that unlike me, the long-living people in places like Okinawa do not eat to feel full. Instead they eat to not be hungry. That was a paradigm shift for me. 

Could I really survive by eating not to be hungry? When I asked myself that question, my answer was yes. As a student at Wesley Girls High School, breakfast had consisted of two ladles of tom brown porridge. Lunch and dinner were no heftier, yet not only did I survive, as an athlete, I was able to run long-distance (3000 m) races on that diet and win! Wow! This story is relevant because I'm not the only one who has had this experience. Most people who have graduated from an African high school have survived on little food. If you did it then, you can do it again. 

I started to eat the recommended portion sizes for my body-weight and here I am, having lived to tell the tale. 

How do we translate this mindset to your plate? Here is where you need knowledge. 

You need to know how much food your body needs as well as how to give it that food. 

Know how much food your body needs 

First, determine how much food (calories) someone with your weight needs. To know this, be willing to spend money on a visit to the dietitian or fitness coach for advise on how much to eat.  Then use an app like MyFitnessPal to track and adjust how much food you're eating. I also recommend you buy a weighing scale to help you accurately calculate the grams and ounces of foods you eat. This is tedious and time consuming. But it is not forever. After several months, you'll get an idea of how many calories the regular foods you eat contain. You can then stop using both the scale and the app if you wish. 

At that time, you can switch you the simpler method of plating described next. 

Know how to serve yourself a healthy plate

When you are putting food on your plate, half the plate should be vegetables, and the other half of the plate should be divided equally into protein and carb as shown in this image from Institut de Cardiologie de Montreal.

There are few details to note when practicing this method

1. Use a small plate 
2. Do not go above the recommended portion sizes for your weight 
3. Eat slowly. 

A note on eating slowly
This is one of the most underrated advice you'll find. I find that having reduced the quantity of food I eat, I have become more interested in the quality. I want to eat food that is fresh, nourishing, and delicious. I'm cooking less in terms of volume but better. I'm now more interested in finding ways to improve the consistency of the taste. 

Eating slowly and mindfully enables you to taste the food more, and cultivates your taste for food that is better for you.

The final benefit is that when you've developed the self-control to eat less, you also develop the self-control to eat less of everything. If my kids are eating fries and I want a taste, I eat 1, 2, 3 pieces of it and then stop. I got this tip from an article that I read a while ago. Unfortunately, I didn't note which site. But this advice has been so helpful to me. I can have three or four pieces of nuts or a tiny piece of cake to have a taste and then stop there. I don't feel deprived because I have had it, but I also don't derail my health goals because I didn't have enough of it to set me back. 

In addition to mindset shifts, and knowledge, you also need self-control.

You need self-control
Choosing to stop eating even though you are not full requires self-control. Self-control is a fruit of the spirit. The only way I know to get it is from God. I prayed for it, and over time, I see that my prayers are being answered. If you find some other method to develop it, please share with us in the comments. 

All the very best in eating less. Any questions about today's post or anything else,  pop them in the comments and I'll respond individually or through a post.