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Week 30: Eating Right When Eating Out

Today on the 30th tip on Big Loser India, we’re talking about eating right when eating out. Is it possible to eat right and eat healthy with careful calorie control when eating at a restaurant? Also, is it possible to eat healthy at a restaurant without having to order some boiled, tasteless concoction? Yes it is! You can watch your daily calorie requirement and enjoy restaurant food at the same time. Here’s a quick look at what cheats, tricks and strategies you can use to eat right when eating out at a restaurant.

Not heard The BigLoser India Podcast #030? Check it out here.

Rule 1: Get ready for the dining out experience.
Chances are you were quite aware of the fact that you’d be entering temptation zone at some point in your day. And like everything else, knowing is half the battle won. Since you’re expecting a restaurant meal, practise careful calorie allotment by eating low calorie meals till then. So skip that biryani or rice for lunch. Don’t drink that cola. Don’t eat that tea time cookie. Be good. You’ll get plenty rewards come restaurant time.

Rule 2: If visiting your favourite restaurant – anticipate your order.
Surprisingly, when we decide what we want to eat from the restaurant we visit, we tend to ignore temptation for anything else.

Rule 3: Ask questions about dishes you haven’t eaten earlier.
Don’t be shy about scrutinising the menu. If you order dishes just because they sound fancy, you’re likely to be shocked when your order arrives floating in cream cheese and butter. No matter how sophisticated the restaurant, there is no harm in asking the person waiting on you to explain each dish.

Rule 4: A bit harsh, this rule is about dishes you’re allowed to eat only if you exercise regularly.
Avoid all cheese-based dishes and a la mode (with ice cream) dishes if you’re on a strict weight loss diet.  Avoid dishes with words like pan-fried, fried and creamed.

Rule 5: Focus on foods you can eat without feeling guilt.
Thankfully almost all restaurants serve whole wheat, skinless, steamed or roasted options these days. One can practise calorie control without compromising on taste and adventure. Look for dishes that are described with healthy cooking methods, ingredients and types. Steamed, broiled, grilled, roasted, stir-fried…it’s all good. Focus on light appetisers, as this is where most of the damage is done. Soups should be broth-based and starters should be easy on oil and salt, and definitely not fried. Desserts don’t need to be high on calories either. For instance, sorbets and stewed or roasted fresh fruits, topped with light cream and yoghurt can be quite delicious.

Rule 6: There’s no harm in being a brat about food you’re paying for.
If you’ve ever dined with someone who’s successfully managed their weight, you’ll notice these peculiarities – they’ll ask for butter and cheese to be removed from the table. They’ll request that the salad dressing be brought on the side. They’ll always ask the waiter what each dish contains and how it is cooked. They’ll request that the dish be made with less salt, less oil, and no cream or butter. They’ll request for skinless, lean cuts, steamed not fried. They’ll usually order salad dressings that are lemon, vinegar or extra virgin olive oil based. They avoid diet traps like mayo, grated cheese, and whipped cream. Granted these are slightly psychotic people in everyday life, but trust us when we say – they’re ordering their cake and eating it too. Follow them.

Rule 7: Water always saves the day.
Forget what your mother said about waiting till the end of the meal for that glass of water. Drinking water before and during meals is a great way to cheat your stomach into thinking that it’s had enough. What’s more you’re not really cheating it, are you? If you feel full, chances are you actually are full. Satisfied. Done. And Ready to go home.

Eating out at a restaurant can either be a diet trap, or a wonderful break from everyday dieting monotony. If you master these rules of eating healthy at a restaurant, then you’ll find that nothing will get in the way of your BigLoser weight loss resolution.

Week 29: Why Whole Fruits Are Better Than Juices

This week’s tip on 50 Tips for BigLoser is about whole fruits being better than juices. While this might not sound new, many still ask me why I keep telling them to set aside that juice and pick a fruit instead. So have you ever wondered about which is healthier – the whole fruit, or its juiced version?

Not heard The BigLoser India Podcast #029? Check it out here.

First let’s talk about packaged juices.These are produced for maximum flavour, and what you ultimately get is high on sucrose or fructose corn syrup. Read the nutrition labels on each packaged juice carefully and try to figure out where the real fruit really is. You’ll be shocked to see that some of your favourite packaged juices will have very little traces of actual fruit, if at all. And, consider the fat, sugar and calorie content as well.

Next, fruit skins are full of healthy nutrients like carotenoids and flavonoids that studies have established as beneficial to our health, mostly due to increased fiber content. When these skins are removed, as is done with apple juice, grape juice, and tomato juice, we receive a much-depleted version of the fruit in a tall glass with lots of sugar and salt. What’s the point of drinking fruit juice for health if that’s what it takes to make it palatable?

However, there might be some merit to juices with pulp. Since fruit pulp is also high in fiber content and in some fruits; it is the richest, healthiest part of the fruit. For instead, white pulp in oranges is the primary source of flavonoids from oranges. But, juices sold with ‘added pulp’ might not have the same ratio per glass as a whole fruit can offer you, and we don’t really know what the quality of that pulp is. Also, is it natural pulp, or has it been sweetened for added taste? Whole fruits win on this account as well.

Lastly, when looking at loss of nutrients as per volume, all you have to do is look at how many whole fruits need to be juiced to give you that one glass of drink-able juice. Whether it’s orange, apple, or lychee juice, what you ultimately get is a much reduced, much cleared and therefore much less healthier fruit product. Stick to the whole fruit and you don’t miss any of the fruit’s original goodness and appetite controlling properties.

Now, of course you can always find a healthier way to juice fruits – mix them with vegetables, try to retain as much pulp and fiber as you can, leave the skin on, pulse instead of puree, etc. The market is loaded with fruit and vegetable juicers that promise maximum retention of pulp and fiber after the juicing process. These steps seem okay and healthy enough. But if you ask us, juicing three apples to get one globful glass of thick, difficult to swallow apple juice seems quite unnecessary compared to just picking up a fruit and munching it on your way out every morning and evening. So even if you prefer freshly squeezed orange juice or a healthy v8 with your breakfast, make sure that you also eat a whole fruit for morel goodness a little later.

Week 28: Recovering from a Muscle Injury

Today we’re discussing painful muscle injuries. Quite a few on our BigLoser timeline have mentioned back, neck and shoulder aches over the last few weeks. So let’s give these injuries some thought. Where do they come from and how quickly can you hope to get back on the weight training floor once they’re dealt with…

What we know as a ‘pulled muscle’ is essentially a muscle strain – an injury to the muscle or tendon in which the muscle fibre tears as a result of some distress. This distress can be caused by over-stretching, or by lifting something heavy and unwieldy with incorrect form. So if you suddenly jerk your upper back while doing upright rows, or strain your neck while lifting and squatting at the same time – you can count on waking up with a painful muscle strain the next day.

Not heard The BigLoser India Podcast #028? Check it out here.

But, muscle pulls are not the same as muscle soreness or aches, which are more to do with cramps or neglected muscles being used for the first time.

  • If it’s a dull ache without a center or focal point, it’s probably just a sore  muscle that needs rehydration, nutrition, 8 hours of sleep that night, and a good workout the next day.
  • If it’s a sharp, throbbing, unbearable pain, centered around a particular muscle group that prevents you from sleeping comfortably or moving (even very slowly), then you’ve got a muscle strain – which should not be taken lightly. These muscle groups will typically be your neck, upper back, shoulders, lower back, pelvic girdle, or joints.

How does one recover from such a painful injury?

Rest, rest and more rest. Muscle strains are typically prescribed compulsory bed rest. If your doctor has diagnosed your ache as a muscle tear or strain, don’t even dream of going in to work and sitting upright all day. You need compulsory bed rest. But no cheating here, first find out if it’s a regular cramp or an actual strain.

How is a muscle strain diagnosed: The doctor or physiotherapist will first check for spinal injury by asking you if you feel sensation in your legs (touch tests), and other limbs. Then he/she will ask you to walk, bend forward, stretch backward, rotate sideways, etc to determine how bad the swelling and muscle tear is. Based on how much you can or cannot move you will receive medication. There is no complete painkiller that will relieve you of this pain, as your muscles will be hard at work to repair the strain. This means constant spasms and sharp, debilitating pain. Therefore bed rest is the best way to deal with it.

Popping over-the-counter painkillers works, but takes a while. Also, most of these painkillers cause bloating and might not be a good idea for women. In this case getting a prescription for muscle relaxant meds is a great idea.

Consulting a professional: A must in most cases. If you’re thinking of getting professional help, visit a physiotherapist over a general practitionaer (GP), because a physiotherapist will give you long term solutions to strengthen the injured area.

Warm compresses: If you can handle it, warm compresses may help reduce the muscle swelling. This swelling might not be visible to the naked eye, but is definitely there and most of the pain results from it directly.

Recovery time: A standard, painful but not spine-related, muscle injury will take about 4 to 7 days to heal. The best medicine is bed rest, and the second best medicine is drinking plenty of water and eating the right food. Keeping your body nourished and well rested is the only way you can ensure a quick and healthy recovery. Get back to regular exercise only after a bed rest phase of at least 8 days, or as your healthcare provider prescribes. But don’t let this experience scare you away from working out, since you can get such injuries from any everyday activities.

A key point to note – If it is a very painful injury, and you don’t rest and recover well, you’re inviting long term weakness in that muscle group. So take care of yourself, respect your body’s needs, and remember that ultimately – when you’re recovering from any injury – strengthening that muscle or group, is Crucial.

Week 27: How to Avoid Muscle Cramps and Soreness

For today’s tip, we’re going to go back to exercise and working out and talk about how to avoid muscle cramps and post workout muscle soreness. If you think back to the first time you worked out, you would remember that you must have been sore for days afterwards. That’s natural – if a muscle has never been exerted, the first time it feels any kind of strain – especially exercise strain, it’s bound to take time to recover. The recovery pain is what you would remember as soreness.

Not heard The BigLoser India Podcast #027? Check it out here.

As the weeks go by, you would have noticed that your muscles would be sore during the workout but you’d find that the cramps would not stay for even a day afterward. That’s your muscle strengthening and dealing with exercise better. In order to ensure that your muscles don’t cramp when exercising, you have to remember three things: 

But first, what is post-workout muscle soreness?
Muscle soreness after working out is referred to as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness or DOMS. MedicineNet says that sore muscles are caused by a swelling in the muscle compartment that results from an influx of white blood cells, prostaglandins (which are anti-inflammatory), and other nutrients and fluids that flow to the muscles to repair the “damage” after a tough workout…. The swelling and inflammation can build up for days after a workout, and that’s why muscle soreness may be worse two, three, or even four days after a workout. 

First, always warm up. For the gym goers amongst you, it could be 10 minutes on the treadmill or cross trainer. It could also be jumping jacks or a 5 minute skipping session. After your warmup, make sure to stretch your muscles, even if you’re working out only your arms on that day, there’s no harm in a full body muscle stretch. The idea is get your muscles warm and loose and ready for work.

Two – always hydrate regularly. You lose water through sweat during a workout. If you don’t replenish the water during the workout then you’re very likely to get a cramp or a sore muscle. A few mouthfuls of water between repittitions would be enough. Gym bottles are between 750 ml and a litre for a reason – it’s enough for a one hour workout session.

And finally – stretch your muscles after your workout. Stretching your muscles ensures that they recover from the exercise faster. They relax your muscles and allows your heart rate to come back to the regular rate as well. Remember, stretches aren’t supposed to hurt you, they’re supposed to ease the muscles. So if the stretch is hurting you, stop and be gentle the next time round.

For further reading: How to Deal with Post-Workout Muscle Soreness.

Week 26: Are Cheat Days Allowed?

We’ve all read information that says as long as you live right – that’s eat healthy and exercise regularly, it doesn’t matter if you indulge in a fast food pizza or an unhealthy cake every once in a while. What we’re going to talk about today is whether that rule applies to everyone…

Not heard The BigLoser India Podcast #026? Check it out here.

First, the bad news: If you’re someone who is 10 or more kilos overweight then till you reach your correct weight, you should not be looking at cheat days. A healthy lifestyle implies several things like eating right, moderation and exercise. But if you are 10 kilos overweight then you need to play catch up with nutrition and a balanced diet, so binge drinking or eating on fattening foods will only set you back.

Cheat days would therefore become applicable when you know your body will be able to handle the extra intake. Till your body is not cindition to not absorb the extra calories, you can’t really give your body junk.

Next, the reason: When trying to lose weight initially, you are controlling your diet through limited calorie intake. What usually happens on a cheat day is that you eat your slice of cake… take down 300 calories and then in an effort to stick to your 1500 limit, you skimp on something else. Inevitably that something else is where your nutrients come from and so not only are you getting extra fat calories that day, you aren’t getting your required nutrients either.

And now, some good news: If you feel disheartened, then don’t. Because there is enough evidence that shows that when you lose weight the healthy way, it actually becomes difficult to put the weight back on. This means that once you shed those extra kilos, you will be able to take at least one cheat day a week and not put on any weight. In fact, most healthcare providers recommend at least one cheat meal a week to people who watch their diets and exercise routines regularly.

So stick to your weight loss goals, stick with the Big Loser journey and very soon you’ll be able to eat that pizza and cake without any guilt or repercussions.

Week 25: Halfway Through BigLoser – Let's Check Progress!

We’re halfway through 50 Tips for BigLoser, and if you’re following all tips to the last letter, then it’s time to analyse your progress and results. Today’s tip is the importance of timely checks – in this case, a halfway check. And this is one place where a downward spiraling chart is Good News!

Not heard The BigLoser India Podcast #025? Check it out here.

Monitoring your results in a timely way, not in an obsessive way – once in 2 weeks is a good measure to see realistic results.

Let’s look at how best you can do this:

  1. Avoid weighing yourself, obsessively, every day or every second day. Weight loss, or even weight gain, doesn’t occur overnight.
  2. Maintain a weight diary with rows and columns for one weighing day a week. For instance, my weighing day is every Monday morning. Jot down your weight with each weighing scale session.
  3. Weigh yourself at the same time for each weighing session. So if you weigh yourself every Monday morning before breakfast, then this is how you weigh yourself every time.
  4. Ensure that you don’t wear heavy clothing or shoes when weighing yourself.
  5. Divide the rows into time-bound checks. You should have a clear picture of what your weight was on the last day of each month.
  6. Also divide the rows into three month capsules. This will help you check whether your fitness routine is helping progress or not.
  7. Record weight loss or weight gain and leave comments against the results. For instance, if on Month 5 you gained a kilo was it because you had a 10 day vacation?

The idea is very simple – be aware of the ups and downs caused by your lifestyle and fitness routine (or lack thereof).

Many of you will notice that the weight loss plateau isn’t just something you made up, but that it is actually affecting your BigLoser progress. A lot of you would have been steadily losing 1 lb a week and then found that for the last few weeks, you haven’t moved. Neither down and thankfully, not up either. Chances are that this has happened because you have reached the even balance where the calories burned through exercise and life is equal to the calories consumed. And if you still have kilos to lose, now would be a good time to re-evaluate the diet and up the workout intensity.


Remember, that if you approach healthy weight loss as you would a work or home project – complete with excel sheets, diary entries and above all Accountability, you will win in the end. So get that pen and paper and start recording your BigLoser progress today. Always make notes of what you’re eating and how you are exercising, and you’ll be more mindful of why progress is slow, successful or absent.

Week 24: Why Local Produce is a Great Idea

This one’s for all the first-time cooks who get excited about eating healthy, google healthy recipes, arrive at brussel sprouts, broccoli and asparagus, source them out for one great healthy meal. And then get tired of making it to that distant grocery market to pick up these ‘healthy’ vegetables every week. You guessed it – today we’re talking about local fruits and vegetables over ‘exotic’, difficult to come by, and expensive produce that you won’t manage sticking to for long.

Not heard The BigLoser India Podcast #024? Check it out here.

Do you see what’s wrong here? Firstly, you’re relying on American and European sources for gaining information about what is healthy and achievable in India. Secondly, you’re completely discounting the fact that we have excellent and perfectly healthy vegetables right here, right next to you, and in your very own neighbourhood market.

Yes you do get 245% of your daily recommended dose of vitamin C from Broccoli, but our very own cabbage and cauliflower can also give you all the benefits that broccoli and brussel sprouts can. Other vegetables like spinach, bhindi or okra, eggplants and cucumber are all loaded with essential vitamins and nutrients, as well as good carbs and dietary fibre.

The only trick you’ll need to master with local produce and Indian vegetable recipes, and the only reason why western vegetable dishes are, sometimes, healthier than ours – is better cooking methods. Pay attention to how much oil you use and how much salt you add.

Most broccoli, asparagus and sprouts recipes call for simple stir-fries or steaming with minimal oil. Most Indian recipes start with 2-3 tablespoons of oil and at least 2 teaspoons of salt per 500 gms of cooked vegetables. That’s way too much. And considering, at every meal, half your plate must be covered with veggies, you’re also eating a lot of it.

So, stick to the vegetables you grew up eating, but be more aware of how you cook them. There’s no need to attempt a diet that relies on foods that are tough to get. Such a diet won’t last beyond two shopping trips. Also, consider how long a vegetable takes to reach that grocery store. Fresh and seasonal produce always wins when compared to anything that travels for days to reach you.

Here are some healthy and affordable vegetable recipes for you:
Pala dal aka spinach dal recipe
15 minutes peanut and cabbage recipe
Baby potatoes with spinach
Pumpkin and chickpeas recipe
…And many more here.

Week 23: What's More Important – Diet or Exercise?

This week, we’re addressing a common doubt that has come up quite a lot on Bigloser twitter conversations – What’s more important diet or exercise? In fact, quite a few of you have reported regular gym days and mentioned that despite being regular with your workouts, you aren’t losing any weight. Some others have said that they’ve been watching what they eat, but the weighing scale won’t budge.

Not heard The BigLoser India Podcast #023? Check it out here.

So, what is going to help you more – working out or eating right? The answer, I’m afraid, is – both. You can’t exercise, without eating right and you certainly can’t eat right and never exercise. Now there are some points to be considered here:

First of all: When you exert yourself in exercise, your body demands more food. If you aren’t watching what you eat, you’re going to end up eating a lot more than you would without exercise, which means that the calories you burn at the gym ultimately amount to nothing.

Secondly: By only dieting, you aren’t exercising your cardiovascular muscles and neither are you strengthening your limbs and joints. This is a recipe for weight gain later in life, as well as lots of aches and pains and sudden pulls, cramps and injuries. If you notice, most people with back problems in their 50s are people who didn’t pay much attention to exercise when they were younger.

Next – Look at a timeframe. If you’ve combined exercise and diet, and not just any diet – a healthy diet, for atleast 6 months, you will feel better, look better, and yes – weigh a lot lesser. Remember the calorie budget we mentioned last week? That’s what needs to go into your daily diet. And remember what we’ve mentioned earlier about exercise intensity and consistency – that’s what your workouts should focus on.

Experts say that after crossing your 20s, diet counts for 70% of your body’s upkeep, and exercise counts for 30%. I say both count equally. Apart from just the physical upkeep, if you count what exercise does to your self-motivation, enjoyment and alertness levels, then the balance does even out. Besides, this 70-30 divide assumes moderate daily activity. And for most of us desk junkies, we know that’s not true.

So tell us how you are taking care of food and exercise together, and we guarantee you’ll stop getting frustrated with your BigLoser plans. Catch us on twitter @bglsr

Week 22: How to Set a Calorie Budget

Today we’re talking about daily calorie budgets, or in other words how much you can eat every day without putting on any weight. Once you get the hang of what this really means, you can even manipulate it to lose weight – the healthy way.

Before we go any further, please remember we’re not recommending any diets or health plans here. These are healthy lifestyle tips and ideas that you should follow only after consulting the right professionals and conducting your own research.

A daily calorie budget is quite simply – your calorie balance. What this means is that you can only eat a certain number of calories a day. Now, I’m not comfortable with saying that calorie counting is the way forward for a healthy weight loss plan. Because the plan should involve many other things like correct nutrition and exercise, adequate rest, de-stressing, etc. But calorie counting can be a good measure of how much good or bad food and drink you indulge in every day.

Not heard The BigLoser India Podcast #022? Check it out here.

For starters, calculate your body’s calorie requirements. For this you’ll need to start with your BMI and work your way toward how much food you need, based on age, gender and activity level. The next stage would be to check how much you are currently eating and then compare that to – how much you should be eating. If you’ve had weight issues, then this is the great mismatch that’s probably fuelling all that weight gain heart ache.

If want to read more about better calorie budgeting, then you must read this post on Better Weight Management – Calculate Your Daily Calorie Requirement.

The number you arrive at after all this calculating, is your calorie budget. Let’s work with an example. My calorie budget is 1500 a day. This means that to maintain my current weight, I need to consume 1500 calories a day. If I want to lose weight, I need to create a calorie deficit so that I burn more than I eat. It’s really that simple.

One key ingredient in all this budgeting is – eating the right foods. Therefore if I eat 1500 calories worth of junk food, I won’t be able to sustain a good exercise routine, will be hungry all the time, and will be low on energy. If, on the other hand, I rely on natural protein, complex carbs, and good fats to make up this 1500 calories, then I’ll be energetic, full for longer and healthier. Therefore, simply counting calories isn’t enough. You need to make those calories work for you – which means that they need to come from the right places.

So figure out your calorie budget, consult a professional if you want to be very exact, and tell us what you found.

Week 21: How to Stay Fit at Work

This tip is dedicated to all you cubicle warriors with gruelling 10 hour work days. I’m going to look at how you can stay fit even with a work schedule that seems to be doing everything it can to kill you.

Not heard The BigLoser India Podcast #021? Check it out here.

Keep things simple – staying fit is all about eating right and working out in time. In our fifth week here on 50 Tips, we had spoken about making time for your workout. One of the things we had said there is that there is no good time to workout and that your workout time should be based on your schedule and comfort level. Today I’m going to suggest that if your work day does not allow any flexibility before or after work then maybe it’s time you think about working out during your lunch hour.

People who work out during their lunch hour are able to manage their time at work a lot better. If you decide to work out during your lunch hour, you’ll notice that your eating habits become more organised as well. You will not go out for lunch any more, you certainly won’t go for a liquid lunch anymore. Carrying food from home becomes a convenient option and home cooked meals are invariably healthier than anything a canteen or office restaurant can throw out.

Even if you are someone who is not inclined to cook, you would need to make the effort to eat right – boiled eggs and salads are simple, easy to make and far better tasting and more nutritious than any just-add-water meals.

Beyond that, staying fit at work would include cutting out the two dozen cups of machine-made coffee. If you know you’re working 10 hours a day, carry enough meals with you – don’t rely on your canteen if you know their food is not up to mark and remember to get off your seat often. Force yourself to get up every two hours and take a walk. Maybe for a drink of water, maybe make a phone call. Go to your colleague’s cubicle instead of emailing them…

Remember, staying fit at work is not as hard as it sounds. It’s the little things that add up to keeping you focused, alert and more productive.