I went to grad school in 2005. By then, I was already out of shape. Not that I started in good shape but I had definitely added a plethora of bad habits to my lifestyle, removed the one good habit (playing regularly) and was about 12 kilos over my current weight today. At my size, that's 20% - even if the absolute number seems small.
I was excited about going to the US. Amongst other things, I just knew I'd get a 6-pack once I got there. Almost every actor one saw in the movies had one, not just the lead ones. It was just a magical land where better foods were available. I was full of hope.
Sigh. Silly me.
Make that 25%
I put on more weight, obviously. The amount of junk food options over there was mind-boggling. Eating wings for breakfast, washing that down with a few beers, gargantuan portion sizes, a burrito that weighed as much as my head - what else was gonna happen?
Getting fitter i.e. not gassing out after running a bit (or swimming a lap), losing weight so I can see my abs - these two things were constantly on my mind. And eventually, I realised that I needed to get my act together. I needed to find the glorious healthy foods that the US had, and not just keep eating the unhealthy stuff.
With this resolve, I started scouring the grocery store. I found heart-healthy cereals and fat-free milk. Ha! I had found the start of the answer. These varieties of cereal were not available in India, plus they said they were healthy for the heart. Obviously fat makes you fat and fat-free milk will just dovetail along and make the glorious 6-pack happen.
I didn't know anything about macronutrients. I didn't know anything about calorie restriction. I didn't know to read ingredients on the packaging. I didn't know anything about anything.
Given my silly eating habits, just fixing one meal i.e. 33% of my nutrition should show an impact. That was my reasoning (pretty solid logic, actually). But unfortunately, my actual solution was wrong. I was misled by marketing gimmicks and a comprehensive lack of basic nutrition science.
loads of sugar and marketing
A couple of months in, I dumped the cereal + fat-free milk combo. It wasn't working. I needed to find a better solution. My quest led me to a hippie-ish store near campus that had something I had never heard of. Granola.
And not just 1 kind of granola but so many different variations of it. Ha, I said. Here's the actual breakfast solution that I was looking for. Obviously the big brands are jackasses and liars. But this granola - chunkier, crunchier, looks healthy, and is sold in a quirky store - definitely the real deal.
I also stumbled on to flavoured yoghurt - I mean, it is fruit plus yoghurt. Healthy meets healthy. Win-win. Plus the granola.
6-pack, here I comeeeeeeeeeeeeee!
That stuff was delicious. It still is. Except, again, it is simply a ton of grains loaded with sugar. Now, there's nothing wrong with grains and it is fun to eat sugar. But too much of grains, too much fun, and too little nutrients is not a recipe for fixing health or fitness.
Throw in the sugar-laden yoghurt, I was having a glorious time. I was eating granola for multiple meals a day. I had various flavours of yoghurt - raspberry, blueberry, strawberry, mango, pineapple, peach were my regulars. And multiple variations of granola, so it was easy to not get bored.
Plus, they were sugary goodness that I loved.
there's no escaping the obvious
it took me a while to understand that there's no escaping the obvious. Slowly, I learned about macronutrients, about micronutrients.
And the most obvious of lessons - eat more vegetables, eat less crap.
It is the same lesson that I continue to teach today - there's no loophole. There's no getting around eating real food. You can’t not eat vegetables and hope for a healthy life.
Eating better comes down to two things - quantity and quality. The awesome thing is higher quality (more nutrients) will help us take care of the quantity for the most part.
Today, I know I can have my cake and eat it too. It is not possible to have a life of avoiding the 'fun' foods. But 80% of your intake has to come from real, healthy food.
There's no escaping the obvious - eat like an adult.
Eat your vegetables.
Avoid 'food' that comes packaged. Or at least, realise it is not a healthy option. And you might as well eat candy or ice-cream or have a beer instead of wasting it eating pseudo-healthy foods.
Eat real food!