The food we eat and the habits we keep – Part 1

When was the last time you didn’t hear about something fundamentally wrong with our food- be it a documentary or a book or an article or a shared Facebook post?. When was the last time you were at a party or a big lunch and someone wasn’t talking about their new diet and why it was better than everything else?. The food we know and believe is good for us is changing as is our understanding of it. In the first of a series of posts, I will try to make some sense out of all this and request your help (in the comments section) to share what you think works for you.

Most of the people I know are trying to lose weight. Quite a few people I know is trying to change their eating habits. And just about everyone is talking about it. I’ll admit I am the guilty party sometimes but it is a Bay Area thing if you know what I am talking about. Food and nutrition awareness is incredibly high here. It is impossible to escape from it.

The Indian diet problem

Long long ago, when India was a land of farmers and walking was the primary means of transport, our ancestors landed on a diet filled with starch. The diet worked because these people burned the energy every day. But over the years, we started making a transition to desk jobs. At the bank, the post office, the small business firm, the shop and everywhere else.

We started moving less yet continued to hold on to the same diet. We convinced ourselves that since we were primarily vegetarians, we ate nothing bad. We celebrated every festival with sweets and savories of a dozen kind. We ate it all and more from those shared by friends and family. We consumed and consumed while not adapting our lifestyles to it. And what do we have to show for it – elevated risk of heart problems at a rate much higher than most other ethnic groups in the world. And it is only getting worse. Information Technology jobs make us sit at our desks much longer while state of the art gymnasiums and gear collect the dust. Call Centers ensure that we eat carb heavy food at the stroke of midnight ensuring that our body metabolic system is completely and utterly screwed up.

Thali

The Indian diet in America

If there is anything worse than our diets back in India, it is that in America. Here, we walk even less than we used to and the comforts of our life ensure that we dont take that extra effort to adjust our lifestyles. The rich food coupled with car based transportation in a suburban milieu ensures that our problems get worse in the United States. Most of us do nothing about it until a warning comes along- a routine blood work that shows higher cholesterol or triglycerides, sudden weight gain or worse still, a heart attack. And then we sit down to think and realize how far we have gotten from where we should be. As I am doing now. A few years ago, I was identified with borderline high cholesterol and I have been trying to fix it ever since. I havent succeeded much but I havent gotten any worse. And I am still trying to figure things out.

Changing the habits

Part of figuring out how to get healthier is to understand the habits that caused them in the first place. After talking extensively with friends and family and doctors and patients, and reading as much as I could, here are the simple habit changes I have learnt that can make the most difference.

1. Stay active. Every extra step you take is one towards better health. I started using a fitness tracker last Fall and it has made a huge difference. I use a FitBit One. I wrote about it here. It is the best $99 I have spent in a long time. Walk, run, jog- whatever works for you. Just dont sit for long hours at a stretch.

2. Drink a lot of water. If nothing else, it makes you feel less hungry. I drink gobs of green tea. Even if everything about green tea’s health benefits is a lie, I eat lesser and drink much more water. And that alone is worth the effort.

3. Sleep well. This is a big problem for a person like me. Here I am typing a post at 11 pm at night when I should be sleeping. I have the luxury of being able to wake up at 7:30 ensuring atleast 7 hours of sleep if not better. If you are not getting 7 hours of sleep, you should figure out a way to make it happen. It is worth it.

4. Get some fresh air and some sun. Most of us wake up, get ready, sit in a car and head to work. We work hard, get out and head home and stay put for the rest of the evening barring an occasional shopping trip. We dont get enough fresh air and definitely not enough sun. Most Indian folks suffer from Vit.D deficiency in the US which would rarely happen in India. So think about taking a walk after lunch every day. Even if for 15 minutes. The fresh air and sun will do wonders for you. It also helps me collect my thoughts for the rest of the day.

In the next part, I will talk about some of the eating habit changes that I have been advised and am experimenting with. While the habits part is easy for me to write about, the eating part is a little challenging since I am still trying to figure it out with the help of my wife. That said, I will share what I know and you can give me inputs on your experiences and what you know. I am off to get my 7 hours of sleep now. Goodnight.