End of the diet and the lessons learnt

Friday was the last day of my four-week slow-carb diet experiment. It has been a great experience and I have learnt many lessons which I plan to implement in my diet for the future.

Stats first: I now weigh 66 kg which is 2.8 kg less than the day when I started the diet. My total inches have gone down to 129.0 from 133.5 (lost 1 inch on the thighs, 2 on the waist, 0.5 on the hip). Even after taking experimental errors into consideration, this is definitely a good enough reduction.

cheat day breakfast

Before I talk about the lessons learnt, I have to admit that I have allowed myself a few deviations from the diet in the last two weeks. I’ve had a few chocolates (two or three in the week) and beer twice in the last two weeks. These weren’t allowed on the diet as I had planned but I happened to have them anyway. Apart from these confessions, I have stuck to pretty much everything i.e. no fruit, no milk, no white carbohydrates and no sweetened drinks.

Here are the lessons then:

  1. Sweets: I need tighter control on my sweet tooth. Normally, I need something sweet after every meal even if it’s something small. Then I tend to have something sweet in between my meals – cookies, chocolates, biscuits, muffins, etc. Now on, I am going to be careful about these. Try to keep to having only one sweet thing a day, if I can manage it.
  2. Breakfast: Before starting the diet, I rarely had breakfast. I was usually in a hurry to get to the lab and that meant skipping breakfast was an easy option. Not any more. A healthy breakfast (spinach and sweet corn is awesome) does plenty to keep me active till lunch time.
  3. Low carb: Too much carbohydrate isn’t good to maintain weight. I am definitely ok to skip french fries, bread and rice. I will have roti but only if I really want to. I will also be restricting my intake of sweetened drinks allowing myself only fruit juices.
  4. Snacks: As I realised at the end of the first week, on this diet I had to have five meals. Usually, my snack used to be something sweet but in this diet I instead chose to have carrots or peppers with humus. I think it’s a much healthier choice. I eat more but take in the same number of calories.
  5. Cheat day: I think it’s a great idea. I will keep up with it. On Saturdays, I will allow myself to gorge on whatever I like (a cheesy pizza, yum!). On the remaining days, I will try to keep my carbohydrate intake low.

One of the important aspects of doing this experiment was to understand the difficulties of keeping control on my diet. I have to admit, it’s hard. I don’t think that a low-carb diet is something I can keep forever even if that’s a healthy alternative. But it’s doable. I know if ever I add those unnecessary kilos to my body, there is a way to get rid of them.

But more importantly, I know the cost of losing just 3 kg is substantial. So it’s better to keep an eye on the diet. Eating habits are amongst the  hardest habits to change. Now that I’ve already spent four weeks trying to adopt a diet, it should be easier to keep the lessons in mind and to continue with the habit that I’ve formed.

The first week of a new diet

Tikka masala with flavoured rice, maple pecan plait (1x), rice pudding (1x) for Lunch. Mango juice (500 mL), rice pudding (1x), crisps (2x), cheese twist (1x) for evening snacks. And 12″ margherita pizza, one tub of cookie dough ice cream, maple pecan plait (1x) for dinner. By the time I went to sleep, I was a little sick. 😉 That was probably more than 4000 calories on Saturday, my cheat day!

I started a new diet regime on 31st July. Six days a week, I maintain a slow-carb diet and on the seventh day, I eat what I want how much ever I want. Apart from that cheat day, the first week hasn’t been easy. I never thought it will be that hard to keep my cravings at bay. But I succeeded and overall, it’s been a good exercise.

Stats first: I’ve lost ~1 kg (68.8 to 67.5). My total inches have gone down from 133.5 to 133.0. I suspect within experimental error that can be considered to be no change.

Chilli Con Carne

Through the week (Sun to Fri), I’ve had to cook a few times. I made the following things: Chilli Con Carne with this recipe (replace beef with hydrated soy mince), egg bhurji, boiled eggs (12), bean salad, chickpea salad (2x) and stir fry (2x, once with black bean sauce and once with sweet and sour sauce). Other things I ate but did not cook: veg fajita (without rice, 1x), hummus (3x, various flavours), carrots (300g), peppers (6), cous cous salad and corn tortilla (8).

Two things I was wrong about:

  1. This diet blends with my old diet but not quite. I can make my rajma masala, mix veg curry, daal, etc. but without roti or rice it’s not enough.
  2. Keeping control over my sweet tooth has been really hard. Saturday was a saviour.

Throughout the week I found that in the morning I did not feel that energetic but after breakfast I was back to normal. This is, of course, not that alarming because before last week, I had not had breakfast in the morning for almost two years. I suspect that because my body was taking less calories now than it needed, those morning calories were essential.

The first two days I felt I wasn’t eating enough. I was hungry but not because my stomach was empty (weirdly enough). Each night before sleeping, I took Ferris’ advice and had a teaspoonful peanut butter (which I relished dearly). Also, to stop that from happening I had to increase the number of times I ate to six: breakfast (8 or 9 am), lunch (12 pm), snack (4 pm), dinner (7 pm), 2nd dinner (10 pm), peanut butter (12 am).

Getting used to what I can eat and what I can’t was pretty straight-forward but knowing where to buy the things I can eat in the supermarket wasn’t. It meant I had to look in places where I had never looked before! Also, I had to go to the supermarket thrice this week instead of my usual once-a-week routine.

Chana Chaat

Some interesting notes:

  1. Eating spinach with sweet corn is awesome for breakfast.
  2. Raw pepper on its own or with hummus is great.
  3. Mix some chana (black chick peas) with chaat masala, chopped onion and some sweet corn to make an delicious snack.
  4. Green tea works wonders to keep hunger at bay.
  5. I don’t think I will survive on this diet if I don’t have that cheat day.

Bring on week 2!

I am changing my diet

I am reading Tim Ferris’ The 4-hour Body and it has prompted me to change my diet. I am 180 cm in height and weigh about 69 kg. It is not that I need to lose weight but I would very much like to lose fat and gain muscle. The book gives me good reasons to believe that with this diet and some exercise I will be able to achieve and maintain it.

My breakfast and lunch. That's right the same meal for both!

The diet is described in detail here. Obviously, I am keeping to my pescetarian choices while doing this. That means no meat. Here’s what I will be eating:

  1. No white carbohydrates i.e. Rice, Bread, Cereal, Potatoes, Pasta
  2. All my diets will consist of eggs, lentils, beans and vegetables.
  3. I am allowed to use whatever spices I like in cooking.
  4. Lots of water and only unsweetened drinks.
  5. Some supplements: vitamins, calcium, potassium and cod oil.
  6. Saturday will be my day off i.e. I can eat what I want and how much ever I want.

Ferris gives me plenty of good reasons to do this:

  1. I can’t count calories. It makes me sick inside to think every time about what I am eating how much calories that will contribute. This diet allows me to keep my calorie count low enough to not have to worry about calorie contents.
  2. Thinking about what to eat every day is boring. Going out to eat is time-consuming. I can get by with this diet with minimal cooking.
  3. It blends well with my old diet.
  4. I really like the ‘day-off’ option. That way I can train myself to keep my temptations for this one day and not have to think about them the rest of the week.
  5. The science in the book seems convincing and so do testimonies from some people I read online.
  6. I’ve wanted to start quantifying myself and this diet gives me the perfect chance to begin. I start this diet with a count of my total inches (mid-biceps + waist + hips + mid-thigh) = 133.5. I’ve also downloaded the mappiness app and hope to monitor my daily food intake and mood.
  7. The diet is healthy. It will allow me to keep my LDL cholesterol, blood sugar and iron content low. With lots of spinach (which is one of the recommendations of the diet), I will be able to induce muscle growth.

Most importantly, this is an experiment. If after 4 weeks there is anything unhealthy about it, I will stop. Let’s see what happens.

Why am I giving up meat?

A recent article in h+ magazine, has prompted me to do something I had wanted to do for a long time. I am giving up on meat, I am bracing Pescetarianism now and will move onto become a vegetarian soon. My reasons for doing this are scientific first and then ethical.

I never had meat till the age of 14. Even then, the only place I could get meat was at my friend’s place. The frequency some what increased during my undergrad days in Mumbai because of the mix of friends and the fact that I enjoyed the sheer variety of choices I had. My girl-friend then was a vegetarian and I was secretly proud of that, but I never took the inspiration to go all the way. After coming to Oxford, my meat consumption sky-rocketed. Food in the college hall had fewer veg options, so was the case in most restaurants and fast-food chains. I lived with a Russian who was a meat-lover and a fantastic cook, it was hard to resist his delicious recipes. I used to tell myself that I am having meat only for survival in this country but secretly I was learning to savour it. I marked my favourite meat salad in college, I enjoyed lasagna and beef burgers. Whenever we had house parties and people asked me if you have a diet preference, I liked saying “No, I eat everything.”

Now, I am glad that reality struck me sooner. There are a lot of reasons why it is good to choose a non-meat diet but I am going to concentrate on only a few. One of the most important reason is the looming water crisis. I was introduced to the concept of virtual water which is defined as the total volume of freshwater that is used to produce the commodities, goods and services consumed. Meat requires excessively large amounts of water to produce. Most developed countries like the UK end up importing food, and statistics show that only 38% of UK’s total water use comes from its own resources. Thus, a western lifestyle is not just luxury but it is draining water resources from other countries. A meat and dairy-based diet consumes about 5,000 litres of virtual water a day while a vegetarian diet uses about 2,000 litres. Experts call fresh water as the “new oil”. The water crisis is only going to get worse with the changing climate, which is another reason to be on a vegetarian diet. Just like water, a much greater amount of energy is needed to produce  meat than vegetables. Another recent article in The Times, goes to the extent of saying “Give up meat to save the planet“.

Now delving a little into fringe science, as a transhumanist, I have been reading a lot about life extension and during this summer was considering a calorie restricted diet. I actually followed it for a few days but realised for many practical reasons that it is not possible for me to do it with my current lifestyle. Hank Hyena’s article struck a note, may be because I was trying to find excuses not to follow calorie restriction, but also because he spoke about healthy living for longevity. A recent article in the Times of India also spoke about the effects of methionine on aging. Although, these tests have been done only on flies and mice, 40% life extension is quite a promising figure compared to the 10-15% offered by calorie restriction.

With all this data which shouts out to me, I find it extremely hard to continue eating meat. It is now more than three weeks since I left meat and I think I am doing well to keep up. I worry about the climate quite often and finding ways in which I can reduce my impact gives me a great sense of satisfaction. I don’t try and convince people to give up meat. I have come across people who do that and have observed the debate. Most meat-eaters raise controversial points like a no-meat diet is not nutritious enough, leads to lower performance, that we humans are meant to be carnivores and so on. But all I would say is, even if those reasons are not taken into consideration for either diets, the data above is proof enough to show the ill-effects of a meat diet on the environment. As reasonable beings, I hope we wouldn’t need anymore convincing.