Well-being

Weight Loss: Food Edit

I never considered how my food is made until I gained an awful load of kilos in my first year living in the US. The year was 2008. I was sixteen and living with an American host family in mid-west. I knew little about how to cook with the American pantry staples, and missed my mother’s home cooked food. Result? McDonald’s sandwiches, buttery packet popcorn, and frozen pizza as my everyday meals.

When my friends and family criticized my new “appearance,” I was quick to realize this lifestyle couldn’t continue. That realization was my first step towards healthy eating and nutrition. I taught myself how to cook on a student budget and with the ingredients I could find in the local grocery store. Shortly after, I went back to my normal weight.

Fast forward ten years, I am working fulltime in a fast-paced industry, traveling for work (and otherwise), taking a Dutch language course, blogging as a hobby, and trying to grow my social circle as an expat in Amsterdam. Budget is no longer an obstacle, neither is the availability of international food items. But finding the time to grocery shop and cook has become my real struggle.

The last two months of 2017 were pretty hectic work-wise. I was providing cover for a sick colleague and traveling for work more than usual. Being disorganized about my meals and eating out led me to gain 5.5 kilos. I went from weighing 58 kilos to 63.4 kilos. With my 5’6” height, 63.4 kilos is still within the normal BMI, but I do not feel good. There is a lot of bloating, some love handles that were not there before, a general feeling of being tired—honestly, it feels like living in a body that is not mine.

So, after I returned from my holiday to Karachi last week, I started finding ways to be more organized about grocery shopping and cooking. I also decided to track the foods I eat, so that I can assess whether or not I am meeting my daily nutrient requirements. I was recently diagnosed with iron, calcium, and vitamin B12 deficiencies, so the motivation to track my food was not only for losing the excess weight but also for assessing my intake of all critical nutrients. Another motivation factor was to evaluate how super is the nutrition of the “super foods” that are blatantly advertised on social media.

I tested a few apps that would provide me an overview of nutrient goals for my weight & height, as well as allow me to track these goals. I had briefly used MyFitnessPal before, so I tested that and Cronometer more closely. Both are excellent apps but in comparison to Cronometer, MyFitnessPal has an extensive food database (huge benefit for someone who cooks fusion food) and a user-friendly layout in both the mobile app and website. You can input your current weight & height. The app also requires that you add a “Weight Goal.” Taking these three factors into consideration, MyFitnessPal gives you a daily calorie requirement (mine was 1200). You can then maintain a daily food diary, which counts your calories, as well as carbs, protein, fats and other nutrients. The app allows you to enter unlimited recipes and also tracks your steps. Your daily exercise can also be logged into the app.

One thing to keep in mind while using an app like MyFitnessPal is to use the calorie requirement as a guide not divine revelation. Starving yourself is the worst thing you can do to your health, so listen to your body’s needs and make sure you respect them. More than the calories I have consumed, I like to look at whether I met my protein, calcium, and iron goals. One early benefit of tracking nutrients is that I realized I was not meeting my daily calcium requirement, and that’s because I was barely eating any dairy—most common source of calcium. Based on that observation, I have switched from unsweetened almond milk to cow milk (until I find another non-dairy calcium source).

When I shared on my insta story that I will be starting a mini weight loss journey, many of you requested that I share my meal plans. In all honesty, sharing what I am eating every day in this much detail makes me nervous, but at the end of the day if my eating plan helps you improve your nutrition, I am happy ignoring the few negative comments I might receive. 🙂 So, I am adding screenshots of my food diary for every day of last week besides Monday. This should allow you to see the whole foods I have incorporated in my diet for each meal. The foods I am avoiding are full fat dairy, refined sugar and flours, excessive oil, and processed junk items. As for the recipes, the Shrimp & Broccoli one is on my insta profile. The remaining ones will be posted soon on this blog! If you have any questions about the foods mentioned in the screenshots, comment below or send me an email.

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In addition to tracking my eating, I am also recording gym time (more on this in another post). With my one week of exercise and a healthy meal plan, I have already come from 63.2 kilos to 61.4 kilos. The initial drop is usually high, which is great for boosting motivation. I also feel less bloated and tired. Keep in mind that everybody is different, so how this meal & exercise plan impacts me is not necessarily how it will impact you. 🙂 Since this is my first meal plan, it has a ton of room for improvement. So feel free to customize it as per your needs, but please make sure you’re eating at least 1000-1200 calories everyday—that’s the number recommended by the National Health Institutes for women (1200-1500 for men).

I am truly delighted to see the results of tracking my meals and exercise last week, and I cannot wait to do the same this week with new foods and recipes! If you have any ideas for healthy foods and fun exercises, do let me know. And if you would like to get a daily sneak peak of this weight loss project, check out my Instagram page.

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Well-being

Cabbage Soup Diet Review

Let’s begin by me explicitly stating that I am not a fan of diets. My philosophy on food is simple – eat whole, fresh, and home cooked food as often as possible alongside a good exercise plan. Who sticks to their philosophies a 100%? Weirdos.

For me, life always gets in the way of my eating and exercise plan. 😦 Last month, my husband and I were traveling to Seville and we ate to our heart’s content – how can you refuse treats while on vacation? I also had a couple of work trips to London, which disturbed my whole Sunday meal-prep to a large degree, resulting in my ordering in and such.

Consequence? I felt bloated, nauseous, and generally not well. A colleague recommended that I try the “Cabbage Soup Diet,” which eliminates bloating, and promises a weight loss of 10lbs/4.5kgs in 7 days.

How does the cabbage soup diet work? Long story short, The Cabbage Soup Diet restricts salt, carb, and fat intake – allowing you to consume selective food groups each day of the week alongside the infamous cabbage soup.

Before I share my experience and results of following this seven-day diet, below is an overview of the recommended diet plan:

Day 1: Fruits only (no bananas) + cabbage soup

Day 2: Baked potato with light butter for breakfast + vegetables all day (no potatoes) + cabbage soup

Day 3: Vegetables and fruit all day (no bananas or potatoes) + cabbage soup

Day 4: Up to eight bananas + as much skimmed milk + cabbage soup

Day 5: Up to 20 ounces (550 grams) of beef + up to six tomatoes + cabbage soup

Day 6: As much beef and vegetables (no potatoes) + cabbage soup

Day 7: Vegetables + brown rice + cabbage soup

What I ate

I put my own spin on the cabbage soup recipe. Instead of using cabbage, I used a mix of vegetables (carrots, kale, mushrooms, celery, scallions, bell pepper, zucchini, and tomatoes). I also replaced plain water with chicken/vegetable broth to add more flavor.

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The first day was very easy. I had an apple for breakfast, soup for lunch, and a big fruit salad (melon, berries, pear) for dinner. The second day started off well (c’mon, we are talking baked potato), but lunch and dinner were mostly roasted veggies over a bed of greens with the soup. Third day, again, was good because I could eat fruit.

After that, the diet went downhill for me. The day I was supposed to mostly eat bananas was horrible. I felt stuffed and cranky, which disturbed my overall focus. Day 5 was also not great – I couldn’t fathom what to have for breakfast besides a bowl of soup, which by now I detested more than any soup in the world. I also am not a big meat eater, so I felt trapped having to eat meat for both lunch and dinner – that too without grains. Needless to say, I skipped lunch and had a fillet of salmon instead of beef for dinner. Day 6 and 7 were pretty much the same except I cheated and had a pear for breakfast on the 7th day because…I just couldn’t with the soup.

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Weight loss

This is probably the most anticipated part for most readers. Despite the tweaks I made to the diet, I lost 5.5lbs/2.5kgs in seven days. I believe most of this weight was water weight – since salt retains water in the body and this diet has zero salt (I did cheat and had some salt), so you don’t retain water. This also means that when you start consuming salt again, your body retains water, and you are heavier instantly.

A week after I resumed normal eating, I gained 1kg/2.2lbs back.

In conclusion

I cannot dictate whether or not anyone should try this diet because everyone reacts differently to different eating plans. In my experience, the diet made me aware of how often I gravitate towards overdoing salt, sugar, and oil in my meals, which is an awareness I wholeheartedly welcome. At the same time, the diet deprived me too much of critical nutrients, making me grumpy and exhausted. I also completely overturned my progress on cardio and strength training that I had made prior to going on this diet, as I couldn’t exercise for the duration of the diet – going back is always hard, going back with half as less energy is nearly impossible.

In a nutshell, there is no denying that this diet works – you just have to ask yourself if it is worth the compromise.

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Well-being

Beginning Of A Kitchen Garden

One of the many aspects I appreciate about living in Holland is the focus the country puts on nurturing your body and soul, and keeping well-being at the center of its public policy. From larger themes like reducing income disparity and promoting work-life balance, down to small programs like seeds Albert Heijn (largest grocery store chain in the Netherlands) gives out for free during springtime to encourage people to grow their own food, it is all too good to be true sometimes.

Several weeks ago, I stopped to pick up some groceries at Albert Heijn. At the checkout, I was given little cardboard containers carrying soil capsules and tiny paper bags with seeds. At first, I was overwhelmed; while, I had cared for plants before, I had never grown them from seeds.

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I returned home excited to learn how I could grow these seeds into plants. All the instructions were inside the tiny cardboard containers. I dissolved the soil capsules, filled three quarters of of the containers with soil, spread the seeds, and then topped the remaining quarter of the container with soil. At the end of this, I was thrilled but also scared about this whole program being a gimmick.

In about a week of planting the seeds and watering them regularly, little leaves started sprouting — it was not a gimmick! I felt exhilarated to realize how easy it was to grow food in my little apartment. In just one more week, the leaves were big enough that they had to be transferred to 10cm pots.

Soon, I will be transferring the cherry tomato plant to an even bigger pot. I went to the flower market in the center of Amsterdam last week and bought a huge horizontal planter and seeds for five different types of herbs. I also bought some basic tools that can help build a balcony garden — yes that is what these little plant babies of my mine have aspired me to do.

With a full time job that keeps me on my toes during the week, it has been relieving to take some time out everyday to nurture these plants. It might sound cliche, but this project helped me ground myself, and become better at following a routine. For instance, every time I watered the plants, I remembered how often I ignore when I am thirsty. That helped me improve my water intake. Similarly, seeing the plants flourish under my care gave me a confidence boost.

If you find yourself in a personal or professional rut, and your self-confidence seems to be faltering, a small garden DIY project like this one could be a fun, cheap and low maintenance pick me up.

Keep an eye out for my upcoming post on how to start a kitchen/balcony garden with minimal time and effort.

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