5 healthy habits I picked up from my Europe travels

“Travel is a sure shot way to gain kilos.”  That’s a pet peeve I hear from friends. (This despite my earlier blog on How to travel right? :)) One of whom refrains from long vacations just to maintain her figure. So unfair to the myriad beautiful destinations waiting to be explored, I say! So this time, I had the perfect opportunity to put that theory to test. 

To everyone’s surprise including mine, I came back fitter and definitely leaner(by a kilo) from my 3 week vacation across Europe.

leaner me
Feeling fit and lean…this on day 18 of the trip! 🙂

 

I do realize Europe makes for a skewed destination for such an experiment. Nonetheless, it made for some great observations and learnings.

So here’s my harder look at why French (well, err..generalize it to European) women (or men, for that matter) never get fat…(besides their sworn allegiance to fit into French designer coutour!) and what can we learn from them! 

1. The world, your gym!

What do you notice as soon as you step outside your hotel in Prague or Paris? Well, what I noticed even before the medieval marvels that these cities have to offer, was the fact that the entire city is on its feet, literally! On close consideration, I figured that the cities are actually designed such (with its picture-perfect town squares, beautiful bridges, and cobblestone streets) that they inspire everyone to walk. And so everyone does! In fact, most of the working population in Europe commute via public transportation, which again involves significant walking or biking.

cycling-traffic-copenhagen-3-large
The bike-to-work culture in Europe!

In many cities esp. Paris and Copenhagen , they have fancy open gyms alongside river banks, parks, and just about every open space. Come evening, the young and the adult, locals and many non-locals, are all  seen bench-pressing, squatting, pulling and pushing-up together, pumping each other up. 

 

Iceland has taken it to another level…with an average of 2 public free-for-all swimming pools for every 500 residents (which to my surprise, were full even on rainy days)! 

swimming pool

Btw, in Europe even grocery buying can add to one’s fitness quotient! Instead of the weekly supermarket trip, grocery buying in Europe involves daily rounds to local in- or outdoor market, bakery, or butcher, scouting for and picking up fresh ingredients for the next meal. This ritual, followed by one and many, invariably lends to significant walking carrying bagful of heavy groceries home everyday. Quite a synonymous equivalent to the weights and walkers in the gym, I gather! 

grocery bags

Well, and even as a tourist, you are not spared from your daily dose of exercise..i.e. if you haven’t averaged between 5-10 kms of walking and climbing everyday, you cannot do justice to the centuries-old architecture, medieval facades and hidden alleyways, so quintessentially European.

WhatsApp Image 2018-09-10 at 11.27.07 PM (1)
Stroll and stride with uphill climbs, if you want to conquer all the hidden sights! 🙂

In short, even if you are not exercising in a fancy, fully-equipped gym everyday, you are getting fitter with the European way of life. 

Indulge in the European way of life ! Be active and start walking! 

2. Little goes a long way!

Moderation begins with portion sizes in Europe. Just like their clothing and shoes, their food and beverage portions are also a size smaller.  A point in case is the European version of a coke can available on British Airways. This can is 150 ml, 32% smaller than the U.S. Coke Mini and 58% smaller than the standard U.S. can.

coke can

The miniature frenzy does not end there. During the course of the trip, I encountered miniature versions of Magnum ice-creams, Lindt chocolates and even gourmet burgers! In fact, I found out that the average portion size in general is 25% lesser than in the USA.

mini burgers

 Even the size of their fridges is smaller! No wonder there is little chance of storing and preparing food in big quantities! No wonder, they make less and they eat less.  But in somewhat strange contrast, you do notice those quaint lil street-side cafes always full of people enjoying a bite, anytime of the day! So what gives?

Outdoor cafe, Piazza Navona, Rome, Lazio, Italy, Europe

That is when I figured out that little goes a long way in Europe. I believe they compensate for their small portion sizes by eating slower! While the Americans are getting excited about super-sizing their fast foods and gulping it down even faster, the europeans seem to savor their diet-sized servings with cleansing swirls of vino, overlooking the beautiful rivers and vistas, in the company of their loved ones! Beyond the health benefits of the food itself, the ritual of eating is a source of pleasure and an important social experience. This leads to more mindful eating practices, and is better for the overall digestive system.

Cook little, Make fresh, Eat slow! And with good company! 

IMG_20180706_000815
Indulging in the European way of eating…with a smile and some friends!

 

3. Eat like a European

Europeans, like Indians, have a knack of drawing on the best of what is in season to produce regional delicacies. Thanks to the abundance of local markets offering everything fresh and seasonal one can think of!

Well, and they seem quite religious about their regional diets…Take for example, the Italians, Greeks and Spanish who live off their Mediterranean diet and in turn enjoy long healthy lives…Their diet includes mostly locally available foods such as tomatoes, avocados, olive oil, nuts, fruits, vegetables,  fresh fish and even pasta. pasta-fat

Even though some seasonal/locally available foods may not always seem the most nutrient-dense option…in effect, can still prove to be more beneficial. First, they typically contain what we require at that time of the year and environment. But more importantly, they are part of one’s food heritage making these foods closely attuned to one’s genetic predisposition.

Their diets also include comparatively more raw and unprocessed foods. I couldn’t help but notice the well-stocked aisles of colorful salads, mueslis, fruit pots, cold-cut sandwiches, cold-pressed raw juices at the pret-a-manger store at the Heathrow airport. The fact that it was the most crowded hangouts at the airport say a lot about the locals’ affinity towards natural and unprocessed food choices. In fact, I found this trend across European airports…Each one had many options, whether it be a salad or a sushi bar, fresh sandwich delis or even organic raw presseries. Needless to say, I indulged in these locally available, fresh food options where ever I could lay my hands on them. 

pret-a-manger
Pret-a-manger food aisles- Putting those aisles of chocolates and chips  to shame! 🙂

You cannot go wrong with local, seasonal or fresh foods.

4. Eurosize the breakfast

In Iceland, the staple breakfast is skyr(local greek yogurt with fruits) and rye bread. skyr

In Prague, the hotel served us hot porridge, salads(yupe…with tomatoes, cucumber and lettuce), and eggs as the main breakfast items. prague breakfast

Well, interesting deviation from the plateful of pancakes, bowlful of sugary cereals, or platter of processed meats, the hotels in the other parts of the world serves as breakfast!  For lot of Europeans (esp. the French), breakfast is nothing but a slice of freshly baked bread/croissant, some fruit with tea or coffee. The Spaniards will usually have tomatoes and olive-oil on bread for breakfast. And the English seem to love their porridge in the morning. Now this may seem small and boring but seems to do the trick for them.

 Don’t treat breakfast as dessert. A basic breakfast (Think bananas, eggs, porridge, or any locally available fresh breakfast option) can serve you better!

 

2018-09-11_13-42-07_670
My version of an eurosized breakfast – Egg, avocado and tomato on a slice of bread!

5. Indulge in some Vegan Vibes! 

Europeans seems to be leading a covert vegan revolution. In the most popular of town squares in Prague, I found a farmer’s market selling vegan stuff…local fruits(helps that they are a “fruits heaven”), berries, vegetables, desserts, and even vegan black ice-cream.

prague farmers market
Selling Veganism as a concept!

 

black icecream
the frightfully black vegan icecream! 🙂

 

Eating vegan has never been easier in Europe, with its top cities boasting of variety of top Tripadvisor recommended vegan eateries. Berlin even has a Vegan Avenue which is lined with vegan restaurants, bars and cafes, alongside  the world’s largest vegan grocery store. 

vegan avenue
The famous Vegan Avenue in Berlin!

 

They have mastered the art of making meat-substitute products such as sausages and chicken nuggets out of plant proteins such as soy, wheat or tofu…Their cashewnut gravies, pumpkin curries, quinoa meatballs all boast of how beautifully they have adapted the vegan principles to regional cooking. The proof of the pudding was that not once did we have to resort to Indian food in our three week travel! In fact, the options at the vegan restaurants spoilt us for choice.  And the vegan meals turned out to be some of our fanciest and most enjoyable meals.

 

Try being vegan for a change. You will surely discover new food options that are healthier, tastier, and more importantly, environmentally friendly.

Actually, travel is what you make out of it. It is not the place, it is how you look at the place that makes a difference. In my case, I allowed myself to look at Europe (or my trip) through my “fitness and well-being” glasses, and that is what it offered me.

But I’m not saying that if you are going with all your health-consciousness, you shouldn’t be indulging in the local dessert (like the delicious trednik) or a locally brewed beer during your travel…(in fact, we did it too) but let your gut drive you! Its a very self-regulating system if you give it a chance.

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset
Some things in life are meant to throw caution to the winds…Trednik is one of them! 🙂

ps. Still, who would have thought that a trip to Europe could also offer in(sights) of personal well-being?!  But now I know why…Europe is always a good idea! 🙂

 

 

The secret supplements for great health!

If you have been serious about your health and fitness, chances are that you’ve been skimping over myriads of those magic pills and powder ads on your Facebook wall – and getting equally baffled by the choice available and their claims!

Well, I’m going to make it easy for you. I’m NOT going to talk about any of them.

Instead, I’ll focus on those supplements that you got to have but don’t have to buy or ingest.

Motivation is like multi-vitamins! A small dose everyday gives.png

70% of folks who say they want to “get fit” or “lose weight” don’t end up doing so. WHY?

Because they are not motivating themselves correctly!

From Katrina Kaif to my dear friend, Juri Dutta, who lost 28 kgs of pregnancy weight in 9 months, many moons ago, suggests:

“You have to set very specific fitness goals, albeit small, achievable, and specific – My target was to lose 1 kg every 10 days.”,  A Program Manager at Juniper Networks, mom to a 10-year old, and wife to a serial enterpreneur, she recollects going to the gym at nights after gruelling work-days, even amidst quibbles from her family.  She achieved her target weight loss in less than 9 months. And there has been no stopping her ever since!

“And then, let the results take over. There is nothing more addicting than seeing the results of your hard work. It puts you in motion.” 

From Baby Fat to a Marathon Mom!.png

She is a serious runner today. She sets fitness goals every year. Her current goal is to run a full 42 km marathon. (May you beat this goal with the same vigour, Juri!)

Actually, you know everything there is to keep you healthy and fit. The supplement you need is the right motivation. 

Begin by setting the right goals. Goals, that scare you a little but excite you A LOT. 

Motivation may get you started.... (1).png

Last year, my husband, in front of a roomful of family, announced his resolution to meditate everyday in the new year. (Such an emphatic public announcement when he had never ever meditated before, felt like an act of drunken exuberance to me!)  But the next morning, when I was woken up by soothing meditation music on our Google Home, I realized that he was not kidding.  Over the next few months, I saw him experiment with various meditation apps, styles, groups, even buddies.  Everyday, his phone buzzed the meditation reminders. There was a meditation ringtone. He even got our 10-year old into meditation. Spending quality time has a a new meaning for him now.

But lo and behold, he did end up meditating for about 320 days last year!

(Yes, we did present him the Salman Khan award in the commitment category of our household, for his apt exhibition of “Ek baar jo maine commitment kar di, uske baad to mai khud ki bhi nahi suntaa..!” (Once I have made a commitment, I don’t even listen to myself!))

The moral of the story is: Its tough to follow through, on new goals. Esp. since your brain is wired to resist new routines in favor of what its programmed to do. So you have to use all the arsenal at your disposal and persist. Eventually, the new routine turns into a habit. The brain operates on auto-pilot after that.  

Lets talk about my other friend, Puja Singh. You’d have no dearth of excuses to be lax on your fitness routine if you are a globe-trotting businesswoman/restaurateur, a full-time mom, and living in three different timezones!  But Puja is on auto-pilot, when it comes to her daily fitness habits. For her, whether she is in San Francisco or Singapore or Bengaluru, the day cannot start without yoga and HIIT or kick-boxing. A few years ago, she probably hadn’t even seen a deadlift…Now, on a bad day, she’d lift about 93 kgs. 

puja collage.png
Any guesses on her age?! To me, she does not look a day older than 25!

 

Here’s one way to inject a daily dose of discipline:

Announce your goals to the people in your life.  Post it on Facebook, if thats your thing. Let the force of social pressure keep you disciplined.

 

Making Ideas Happen (5)  

What is your reaction when confronted by pretty-looking servers nudging you to try sinful starters at parties? I bet most of you oblige without much ado!

Being mindful is to train your mind to be vigilant of these indulgent impulses. It starts with paying attention to yourself; putting awareness to your thoughts.  

What are your indulgent impulses?

After some soul-searching, I’ve figured out mine. I love to waste time on random minutiae. Now, how does that affect my fitness and well-being? Lets take last night as a case in point.  I had a deadline that I couldn’t finish in normal daylight hours. (Damn you, social media!) That made me sleep late. (And you know, I need my 8 hours of beauty sleep!) This made me miss my early morning yoga session. I dragged myself to the gym, much later than usual. By the time I came back, breakfast turned into lunch….You get the point, right?!

Mindfulness is the link that can can bridge the gap from our mobile, digitally-frenzied lifestyles to a state of well-being. 

For starters, try taking this daily dose of “mindfulness” supplement:

Have one meal a day, just by yourself. No Screens. No newspaper. No talking.

And finally, Oxytocin!

For all the folks, who think I’ve relented and am finally going to talk about a “real” supplement, I’m sorry to disappoint! 😦 coz Oxytocin is nothing but a hormone our body produces.

But why do we need a daily dose of oxytocin? Strong empirical evidence suggest its unrefuted role in our overall well-being and longevity. It also reduces the effects of cortisol(the stress hormone) and leads to the release of serotonin (the happiness hormone).  So, a magic potion for health and happiness really! 

And the great news is, it is the easiest of them all. Our close relationships, strong social bonds, and even altruistic acts – all contribute to promoting oxytoxin in our body. 

So, go ahead, folks…get  your daily oxytocin supplement:

Give a hug. Love your family.  Hang out with your friends.  Get social…(not just through social media).  And help someone. You are indeed helping yourself. 

 

ps: Now, if you’ve come till here, and still feeling cheated to have gotten lured by a “catchy” title, you can comment, holler, or shoutout! If you make enough noise, it may just inspire me to write a post on supplements of the popping variety! 🙂 

   

Health Nirvana in a year!

3d7f4-blog2btitle2bimageLast year was quite transformational for me!
 
Up until last year, I had been leading a life of a normal, middle-aged, Indian working mom.  Life revolved around my family, work, home and my passion for traveling, writing, and socializing. Personal health and fitness remained a nagging thought but never had the audacity to move from the 2nd to the 1st quadrant of my important-urgent decision matrix.


ccdb6-untitled2bdesignBut how things change in a year! I’m 44 this year and feel like I’m in my best shape ever! I have dropped some weight; I have dropped two sizes and all my key body numbers (from BMI to cholesterol to glucose levels) are in the ideal range. Even the body composition monitor(fancy weighing machine) indicates my body age is 5 years younger than my actual age. It does feel like some Health Nirvana, that I never thought existed for an oldie like me!



So how did this happen?! – I see the question in the eyes of lot of my friends and family members who see me after a long time.   

 
Therefore, as my 2018 resolution, I have decided to share some nuggets of wisdom around fitness, nutrition and general well-being that I have uncovered or received from some phenomenal folks that have been instrumental in this transformation. And hopefully, over the course of the year, I aspire to bring forth more of these, as I continue to learn new ways of keeping fit and healthy.

Be Lean and Mean, Eat Protein

Everyone seems to have their own theory around food and nutrition.  But I will focus on the 80/20 rule that worked for me. I’ve always been a believer of a nutritionally balanced diet. But alas, our great Indian diet, as balanced as it seems, does fall short on protein. Shona Prabhu, a nutritionist that I met last year, introduced me to the concept of having protein in every single meal. You have to strive to get close to 1 gm of protein per every kg of your body weight.  But how does a vegetarian like me fulfill this requirement? Though I eat eggs, which are a great and complete source of protein, Shona introduced some excellent vegetarian sources of proteins like tofu, greek yogurt, locally available millets(jowar, ragi, bajra), peanut butter, sprouts, seeds like chia seeds, amaranth, pumpkin seeds and some interesting supplements like spirulina to my diet. Even my favorite Rajma-chawal* and chhole-chawal* has made to the list, so I get to enjoy them guilt-free!  FYI, here’s an useful chart I found on the net for vegan protein sources:
Btw, I’m not a big fan of milk or milk products for my daily protein requirement, esp. after what you hear about milk adulteration. But that’s just me. 🙂

The only bad workout is the one that you didn’t do! 

I started going to the gym as a curious bystander(getting inspired by my gymmer friends, Rahul Agarwal and Manisha Agarwal) and now it have become an addiction. Yes, this is proof you can get addicted to good things! But I know workouts can get boring over time!  My trick is to finish them in the mornings before my brain starts to make excuses. Nonetheless, I envy folks who can get their exercise through fun things like dancing, sports, kick-boxing, heck.. bike riding. Whatever you do, the key is consistency and to keep it challenging and fun. That’s when you see results! Group classes or buddying up are great ways to overcome exercise inertia. Trust me, peer pressure just doesn’t work in offices! Btw, if you are looking to lose those kilos or get to a size closer to zero, I find yoga with short-interval, high-intensity, strength-training to be the most effective. 

The first step towards change is awareness!

Being mindful of what you eat, how you eat, what you think, how you react to situations… is a crucial step in transforming your health. It’s a difficult art to master and I’m still figuring it out. But here are some mindfulness hacks I consciously try to practice. 

Mindful Eating

Long before the movie actor, Mahadevan popularized Drink your food and chew your drink, my Dad had been an expert at that art. Dad’s painfully slow, silent and focused food chewing sessions (a.k.a. lunch) were a bemusement to me growing up, but now I realize the science behind it. (They say, 50% of your food gets digested while in your mouth.) No wonder, he’s kept in great health all of his 77 years of life.  There are some other mindful eating tricks I use. Before I put anything in mouth, I always do a mental check. Often times, just the awareness is enough to help me make the right choice. I always eat a little bit (either a fruit or some nuts) before going to a party. That way I’m not tempted by those calori-fried kebabs. Remember, you can always nibble on your drink while others guzzle them up. Better waste it, than waist it, I say! 🙂

Minding your Mind

Stress does kill. But its a given with the kind of lives we lead. Therefore, its very critical that we detoxify and rejuvenate our mind on a regular basis. While there are many ways to do that, I find meditation like a gym workout for the mind. Last year I had the good fortune to try out the Inner Engineering program by Sadhguru. Ever since, I have engaged in their Sambhavi mahamudra. I feel its a great start to a journey towards mental detoxification. But you can pick your own form of stress busters…it could be as simple as deep breathing, a quick prayer, or even sitting quietly for 5 minutes. The point is to let go and reset.  

You need balance across all areas to lead a fuller, healthier   life – a balanced diet, work-life balance, emotional balance and   even bank-balance. 😉 I owe most of my fitness to a nutritionally balanced diet. But if you eat badly one day, you need to balance it by going easy (or even fasting) the next day. Or if you are caught up in a stressful situation at work, balance it out by some relaxing music on your way home or talking to a good friend or engaging in a hobby. The other way to look at balance is moderation. Overdoing work or play or eat or rest is never a good idea…Remember, Guilt is the most fattening emotion!  

A girl’s got to have her beauty sleep (well, even boys for that matter!)

Fortunately, I’ve always been a great sleeper.  I believe it’s the final and yet the most important step of my health routine. Our bodies need sleep to heal itself and restore its chemical balance.  Btw, did you know that you lose weight when you are sleeping? Weigh yourself at night before you go to bed and then again in the morning, you will notice that there is usually a difference of anywhere from 1/2 to 1 kg. Well, instead of beauty sleep, maybe we should call it skinny sleep! 🙂 There are many many health benefits to a good night’s sleep. So, please make sure you are sleeping at least eight hours a day. And try to go to bed at the same time, each nite. Unfortunately, this means you can’t be a regular at the late-nite shows/parties. Neither can you be spending your sleeping hours doing social networking..But that’s a small prize to pay for a longer, healthier life, right?! 

Feel your best, look your best, and get your best body back. That is my wish for all of you in this new year. 

 

Btw girls, trust me when I say this: 

 

ps. I’m sure lot of you have similar stories to tell! Please do share them..It may just inspire someone!  Also, would love to hear about fitness tips and hacks that you have found effective.