How to Improve Your Body Image?

This article was first published in The Rotary News in November 2016.


Body image is not quite literally what we see in the mirror. It is really the interpretation and our own analysis of what we see. All of us with decent eyesight are able to see that perhaps we are a bit overweight, we may like the look of our legs, we may appreciate our arms, love our hair but concede, that the waistline could do with some work. Most of us tend to make judgment calls about what we see in that mirror. How these judgment calls affect us emotionally and what we then proceed to do as a result of these emotions is the real relevance of body image.

Take for instance a teenage girl who looks at herself and sees a plump young woman. How she responds to seeing that image will depend largely on what she really feels about her body. This feeling often comes from subconscious information she has gathered about her body and herself as a whole since childhood.

A teenager who, as a child, was loved and nurtured, and praised for what she did rather than what she looked like is more likely to see her image, register that she is a little plump and perhaps should do something about it, such as exercise or cut out the sweetened soda.

On the other hand, a woman who had a mother who was critical about her complexion or weight, a father who commented on her looks, peers/siblings who teased her about her size, would relate to the image of herself differently. She has already imbibed some distaste for her body. The pain she experienced at comments or the judgment of family and close friends will remain with her, as a negative body image.

How does body image translate in real life?

Having seen that image and interpreted it, what we then proceed to do about it is important.

People with poor body image

  • may continue to dislike, even hate their bodies
  • may continue to gain weight, overeat, eat indiscriminately or develop addictions
  • may turn to extreme measures to lose weight or alter their complexion
  • may develop eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia or binge eating
  • may succumb to the surgeon’s knife and other procedures in an attempt to make themselves ‘look’ better.

Improving body image is possible. Preventing poor body image to begin with is also possible. 
Here are some pointers for parents, caregivers, instructors and yourself.

Parental pressure plays a crucial role. A child’s self-esteem rests with how she is viewed by her loved ones and is important to her wellbeing. Being critical about a child’s appearance only lays the foundation for future angst and poor self-esteem. The emphasis should be on health and wellnessrather than size or appearance.

The focus should also be on what the child does rather than what she/he looks like. Praising a child for herself, her accomplishments and hobbies, rather than praising her looks, keeps the perspective on what is truly important for emotional wellbeing.

Lead by example. Parents who practise healthy behaviour such as regular exercise and healthy balanced eating are more likely to communicate that to their children. If the parent himself or herself has issues with body image, is overly self-critical or self-abusive, the child is likely to absorb it. This becomes relevant to how they then grow up to view and feel about themselves.

Avoid stereotypes. Bodies come in all shapes and sizes. Thin is not always better or more beautiful. Focus on fitness rather than thinness. Most cultures have their own stereotypes of beauty and tend to idolise it. Not everyone fits into that mould and don’t need to either. Fairness creams are a typical example of how people are made to believe that being fair is a great thing.

Avoid comparisons of any kind. Comparing your own body to that of your best friend or that glamorous film star is simply setting yourself up. Your friend is genetically different, so her body is different. The film star has an entourage of beauticians, dieticians, trainers and hairdressers, not to mention the photo-shopped, airbrushed magazine images.

Parents comparing their children to siblings or friends will only injure their self-esteem, setting the stage for poor body image and a host of other psychological problems.

ev-625717-unsplashFocus on health and fitness rather than just appearance when you (or your child) start to exercise. This has been found to improve persistence with an exercise programme. Weight loss takes time. An obsession with the mirror or the weighing scale will prove counterproductive. Persistence with exercise and healthy, balanced eating on the other hand will sustain weight loss and fitness. The endorphins released with regular exercise make you feel good about yourself, increasing self-esteem and improving body image.

Instructor’s body image. Instructors and trainers should identify and deal with their own body image issues in order to be able to guide clients properly. Some instructors are overly critical about their own bodies. This can transfer to or be imposed on the clients. A thin instructor is not always better than a slightly overweight one.

Emphasise “form” of exercise. While exercising, rather than focusing on burning calories, emphasise on performing the exercise correctly, improved coordination and balance. This relieves the pressure from appearance to actual performance. It also develops a healthier relationship with exercise and one’s own body.

Beware of communication in training areas. Instructors and trainers need to beware of what they communicate with a client. Judging the client’s body is not the trainer’s prerogative. The role of a trainer is simply to guide and encourage, not to ridicule or criticise.

jasmin-schreiber-703327-unsplashBalanced eating. Focus on healthy eating and don’t obsess over micronutrients and calories. This obsession could very well lead to an eating disorder like anorexia or bulimia. This is nothing but an endorsement of poor body image.

Overcome emotional baggage. Understand that sometimes, looking better, does not always translate into feeling better if the entrenched thoughts about one’s self is deeply negative. Changing that feeling takes more than the surgeon’s knife, weight loss or even exercise. It takes the understanding that feeling good has to start from within and will take work. It may require prolonged therapy for some, especially if they develop eating disorders, addictions and so on.

Finally, body image is a perception. Poor body image is preventable. It can be changed into a positive body image with the right tools. Good body image is important for good self esteem which is greatly important for emotional well-being.


Wellness in the Workplace


This article was first published in The Rotary News in July 2018.

Good health is not merely the absence of disease.

Wellness in the Workplace

When you are a working person you often feel short-changed for time. Wellness, however, is not time-bound or reserved for the supermodel, athlete or body-builder; the yogi who has renounced humanity, or the decadent narcissist who seems to have all the time in the world to spend in the gym, obsessed with his fitness and appearance. It is necessary for everyone, particularly the overworked corporate or professional.

Wellness for a working person is not just about exercise and gyms. It should involve everything from how to plan and execute a fitness routine, eat the right kind of food, improve self-confidence and efficiency and most importantly, manage stress, depression and anxiety. Prevention of lifestyle-related diseases such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension and coronary heart disease, using fitness, the right food and lifestyle change should be a priority for anyone who intends to be productive or successful.

Time is probably the most scarce commodity while you are climbing the corporate ladder. You may believe that spending an hour exercising would cut into your work time which you would rather spend crunching numbers, dealing with clients/patients or closing a deal. But to be effective in your work, it is necessary you are at the top of your game physically, mentally and emotionally. Clarity of thought, efficiency, productivity, positivity, and the ability to manage stress are critical for doing great work and for career growth.

There are several aspects to healthy living at an optimal body weight.

The diet

Healthy eating is a communal and social issue. Some companies provide food for the employees from an on-campus cafeteria. In such cases, the company must make healthy options available. These are not difficult to implement in a canteen… serving adequate quantities of vegetables, fruits and whole grains and avoiding deep-fried snacks, processed food or sweets is possible when those at the top make decisions to make employee health a priority.

You may believe that spending an hour exercising would cut into your work time which you would rather spend crunching numbers, dealing with clients/patients or closing a deal.

If these options are unavailable, home-packed meal is still the best. A modified wrap, made of whole wheat and soy rotis filled with veggies, paneer/tofu or beans/legumes, keep fruits or nuts to snack on, choose whole wheat sandwiches with chicken/tuna, hummus/tofu over a greasy pastry at a company outing, or opt for a bowl of clear soup, avoiding snacking on chips, sweet tea and coffee. The flourishing fast food and home/office delivery system encourages one to eat high-calorie, low-nutrient-density food if one is ignorant of how to make the right food choices. For this, the individual must understand the basic fundamentals of healthy eating and the innumerable options that are available even while away from home.

Physical fitness

Incorporating an appropriate fitness routine into one’s life helps improve concentration, energy levels and work efficiency; helps combat insomnia, depression, chronic fatigue, obesity and various other disorders.

Onsite fitness facilities are available in several large corporate houses in India too. It has become apparent, after the studies done at various organisations that the rate of absenteeism is lower among employees who participate regularly in fitness activities; healthcare costs are lower and productivity and quality of work improve as a direct result of better sleep and stress management. Several Indian companies — Infosys, at Bangaluru, which boasts a 10,000-sq ft gym, Hyundai Motor India, LG factory in Delhi to name a few — have also incorporated convenient health centres within their framework.

Access to a fitness centre is one of the fringe benefits some corporates include for their employees. Isn’t this even better than medical insurance or health screening as it extrapolates into a form of preventive care? Some companies have found it to be so. Prevention from degenerative diseases, obesity, coronary heart disease, deep vein thrombosis, especially for those at sedentary jobs, is possible when employees include a fitness routine into their day.

Access to a fitness centre alone is not sufficient, appropriate guidance and motivation are also essential. Establishing a full-fledged gym, sauna, and pool or tennis court is only part of the equation. Ensuring that the proper science of fitness is applied and practised is also important. Having a qualified trainer in-house, or conducting regular fitness classes on campus are ways of motivating employees to participate in fitness.

Companies can make it mandatory that employees participate in regular exercise programme, and the time be made available for them to do so. Working a 16-hour shift may not be most conducive to include exercise into an already crammed day.

When higher level employees, CEOs and directors are as passionate about improving wellness for themselves as they are for their employees, enthusiasm filters down to the rest of the company. Leading by example is a sure way of improving compliance.

Emotional/psychological wellness: Loving your job is key to a happier workspace. But work is stressful with all the challenges it poses. Sometimes it can be just plain boring.

When work stress is debilitating, learning how to de-stress effectively can be taught. Regular yoga classes, short breathing and relaxation routines, progressive muscle relaxation, mindful meditation, and workshops on stress management will help employees stay psychologically healthy.

The economic benefits of offering such facilities to the workforce are indisputable. An unhealthy employee is a liability rather than an asset to the company. Understanding this reality and working towards preventing it is beneficial to every company. While offering health insurance for the employees, it might make sense to also thwart those very diseases with the necessary preventive measures. This is not only economically advantageous, but also makes for a more dynamic and contented workforce.

Make small changes in the work place

–       Encourage healthy living from senior-level management

–       Provide the time to fit in a wellness programme, within the working day

–       Provide access to a well-equipped fitness centre

–       Organise group classes a couple of days a week

–       Provide healthy menu in the cafeteria

–       Organise talks on physical fitness, wellness, food and psychological wellbeing

–       Take regular breaks from sitting. Get up and move every 20 minutes when you have a sedentary job

–       Do a few stretches at your desk every couple of hours

–       Have walking meeting (instead of sitting meetings)

–       Hook up with a fellow worker to go to the gym regularly and motivate each other

–       Fun challenges and incentives within the company, for example, number of steps walked or number of pounds lost, can be motivating for employees

–       Organise group activities that involve physical movement like games, treks, walks.

The final decision and responsibility to improve one’s health and wellness of course remains with the individual himself. Having professional guidance and a supportive environment at work that encourages such a lifestyle is only an added benefit. If you are fortunate enough to work in such a company, consider it a bonus. Let us remember the British Statesman Edward Stanley’s quote: “Those who think they have not time for bodily exercise will sooner or later have to find time for illness.”

More Than Just Weight Loss

This article was first published in The Hindu on 15th June 2013.

Instead of starving yourself to lose weight, nourish your body and mind with an understanding of nutritious food and exercise.

Most people want the easy way out when it comes to losing weight; perhaps with a couple of sessions in an expensive spa that promises miraculous results. If it were that easy, we would not be at the edge of an obesity epidemic. There would be innumerable slim bodies walking around.

It is this ability to convince ourselves when we desperately want something to be true that drives people to believe empty promises. We tell ourselves that skipping carbs for a month is the solution to our widening waistline; that we can manage to survive without regular exercise; that we can somehow escape the repercussions of an unhealthy lifestyle. We suffer from what is called the ‘confirmation bias’. We will find every single piece of information possible to confirm what we believe (and want) to be true. So going for a walk for 45 minutes a day is not as appealing as say drinking apple cider vinegar, having a body wrap, wallowing in a mud bath or following the latest diet.

We are thrilled to read research that finds exercise does not really help with weight loss. What we forget to do is to read between the lines. It is true that exercise alone is not sufficient for weight loss because the number of calories burnt during one session is minimal compared to what is required to lose weight on a scale. It is also true that cutting down on calories creates a faster calorie deficit leading to quicker weight loss.

Nutritious foodHowever, in the long-term, it is the combination of regular exercise and a well-balanced diet which will help you continue to lose weight, however slowly. One cannot go too low on calorie intake. This defeats the whole purpose of trying to get fit. With an abnormally low-calorie intake, one cannot function normally or be productive. It also sets the stage for muscle loss as the body tries to cope. It makes you ill-tempered, hungry, depressed and just plain unhealthy.

Ask yourself how long you can persist with such a diet. When you do go back to eating normally, you will find that the weight comes right back (with interest) and all those agonizing days of dieting are futile. Your body has acclimatised to a lower calorie intake by lowering its Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). This highly resilient machine can alter its inner functioning to accommodate your behavior (however bizarre), to a large extent.

Serial dieters, who swear that they lose weight with one diet after another, fail to realize that they put back all the weight after every cycle. Their energy could have been effectively redirected instead to understanding food and learning to eat healthy, along with including exercise into their routine. This would have produced longer-lasting results If persisted with and, yes, it can be persisted with provided the intake of food and nourishment is adequate.

Including regular exercise into your day has several benefits besides burning calories. First, it improves your mood. Increased levels of endorphins in the brain create a sense of well-being. This is in direct contrast to how one feels when one is on a starvation diet; frustrated, anxious, irritable and low on energy.

WeightsSecond, besides burning calories, regular exercise — especially weight training — helps manage blood sugar, bone density, muscle mass and improves muscle structure and strength. It elevates the BMR and helps burn more calories even while at rest. Regular cardiovascular exercises have been proven to have other benefits like lowering cholesterol, managing high blood pressure, preventing and treating depression, menopausal symptoms and premenstrual syndrome, even managing migraine and anxiety.

Third, and most important, exercising regularly brings about body intelligence and awareness, which helps you eat better. You become more conscious about how you nourish your body. You are more discerning with your food choices. You develop a greater respect for your body.

All the above spin-offs become apparent when one persists with an exercise routine. A couple of random sessions are not enough to give you a realistic idea of the benefits of exercise. I know people who work out for a week or a month and then decide it’s not worth it because they don’t see “results.” The results they seek — drastic weight loss, for instance — may not be realistic to begin with. They veer off course to more intriguing options like ‘weight loss parlours’ and ‘health farms’ in the hope of achieving their goals more quickly. This endless loop — trying to lose weight, losing some and putting it back again — goes on, exhausting the body, not to mention the spirit.

Weighing ScaleSet several goals other that ‘weigh on the scale’. Weight on the scale is not necessarily an indicator of health. Stamina, strength, flexibility, endurance, balance, coordination, reflexes are all integral parts of fitness and can only be improved if worked on using a well-designed fitness routine.

My advice is to stop focusing on weight loss alone and focus instead on improving overall fitness. Over a period of time, the weight will come off. You will get fitter, stronger and tangibly healthier. Your body will function better and you will enjoy a better quality of life.

My Fitness Journey at TFL – By Dr. Shoba Krishnamoorthi

Dr Shoba

Dr Shoba Krishnamoorthi

Training under Dr.Sheela Nambiar is not like attending any other fitness program. The schedule is structured, supervised and tailor made for each individual. The one aspect of fitness that has influenced me the most is weight training.My body has become stronger and more toned. It has helped me lose weight and sustain it over 6 years.
Dr Shoba

My Early Days

Rather than just completing a set of exercises Dr.Nambiar always insists on a proper
“Form” of each repetition of exercise, so chances of injury are minimal. After a few one-on-one sessions with Dr.Nambiar, I Was able to concentrate on my problem areas – my knees and low back, and strengthen the concerned muscles. Thus I am able to enjoy the Step and Floor Aerobic classes better. With the Power Stretch & Yoga classes my flexibility and balance have improved. Now I am doing activities that I missed out in childhood, like trekking and cycling.
The various workshops we have had on diet, mindful eating, self esteem & self awareness  have helped me focus on my inner wellbeing as well. Worries and stresses have only increased with advancing age, but I have learnt to deal with them better. Relationships with family and friends have improved, and my blood pressure is well controlled.

After a long trek

This is the true meaning of “Holistic Fitness” Dr.Nambiar always stresses, it is not enough to be just physically fit.

Training in a group at TFL, we motivate each other. The source of inspiration for all of us is Dr. Nambiar. Her dedication towards fitness  and her passion to empower women to take control over their bodies and minds is truly awe inspiring!

Dr Shoba

With my daughter & 2 sons

I am deeply grateful to Dr. Sheela for being a true saviour in my life and for giving us TFL in a small town like Ooty.
– Dr Shoba Krishnamoorthi MRCP

Click here for more TFL client testimonials.



Stretch for Better Flexibility

This article was first published in The Hindu on 2nd October 2010.

unnamedI see people completing their workout routines and rushing through a few cursory stretches; mainly to appease the trainer, mind elsewhere, in a hurry to get going. Their flexibility does not get any better; they can still barely bend forward to reach for their thighs leave alone their toes, but they see no reason to waste time toiling with “stretches’. They have more important things to do, their cardio, so they can burn an indecent number of calories, push as much weight as they can to gain that well sculpted physique. Flexibility? Yes, well, let’s be done with it as quickly as possible!

One couldn’t be more mistaken. An inflexible muscle is more prone to injury and cannot perform as well as it should. Good quality muscle is supple, strong AND flexible.


Flexibility is the corner stone of fitness along with Cardio and Strength. For some reason however, it has always been treated with some disdain, considered an annoying waste of time. “I am just NOT flexible” is the lament that is often heard. Of course not, you have delegated flexibility to a disrespectable distance in the far recesses of your armoire of fitness. Perhaps because it somehow seems a redundant activity that doesn’t appear to really DO anything. The effects of improved flexibility however are subtle and enviable. Better posture, greater and more fluid mobility, grace of movement, symmetry and aesthetics.

Muscle imbalance

The management of muscle imbalances has to take into account the inflexibility of certain muscles and excess tightness of antagonists. For instance the tight, obstinate chest muscles in conjunction with the over stretched and weak upper back muscles lead to the ungainly slouch of the upper back – the ‘head and neck forward syndrome’. The internal rotators of the shoulders may be tighter than the eternal rotators, drawing in the shoulders causing one to appear stooped (and lacking in confidence). The simple act of stretching the chest muscles, strengthening the back and the Abductors, while stretching the Adductors of the shoulders enhances one’s appearance and bearing beyond belief.


Runners suffer from tight hamstrings, hip flexors and deep muscles of the pelvis known as the pyriformis. These have to be consciously and meticulously worked on over a period of time using a series of stretches thereby improving their run. Hamstring injury is also common when the muscle is tight as it often is, and of course this sets one back months before one can get back to training again.

If you are accustomed to repeating a particular kind of activity all the time, a step class, incline walking, or Kick boxing for instance, you can be sure of developing muscle imbalances unless checked early with extensive balanced stretching and strengthening routines. So what do you do?

Don’t relegate flexibility to the back burner and promise yourself you will stretch over the weekend. It has to be done everyday. Allot a couple of days a week to a longer, more extensive stretch routine. Over a period of time your flexibility will improve. You will be consciously better balanced and have more elegant posture. On the rest of the days a few minutes of stretching after a warm up and after the cool down will help keep the muscles flexible.

Don’t stretch cold muscles. Perform some dynamic stretches after a warm up. Avoid bouncing (ballistic) movements while stretching. A dynamic stretch on the other hand is a smooth flowing move taken to the completion of the stretch and repeated several times keeping the muscles warm and heart rate slightly elevated. Proceed with the rest of the workout and follow up with extensive static stretches after your workout.

Each muscle can be stretched using a specific movement. Learn these moves and ensure that they are done properly once again to avoid injury with ‘over stretching’. A stretch has to be carried out to a point of the sensation of the stretch and not pain. More is not always better.

Assisted stretches with a trainer or partner need to be performed with caution as sometimes the partner has no way of determining how much is too much and may injure the muscle. Assisted stretching is helpful however so if you have a friend or knowledgeable trainer, he/she can help you with your stretches.


Aging muscle

One of the most important benefits of regular stretching is the capacity to remain flexible with age. Certain muscles like the hamstrings and low back muscles tend to become tight and may lead to back ache and discomfort that so commonly plagues older people. As one ages, muscles become less elastic. This inflexibility can lead to difficulty in performing simple tasks like turning around, reaching up for something on high shelf and so on. Continuing to stretch daily will prevent this unfortunate turn of events, keeping you independent, self-confident and agile.

Most of us rush through a frenzied workout after a comparably stressful day. There is no time to stretch. You jump off the treadmill, hit the ground running, go through the motions of a weight routine and then rush home to attend to dinner. Anyone who has done a good stretch workout will tell you just how good it feels. The tensions release, a sense of lightness and warmth prevail, a deep sense of calm envelops you. One can even fall asleep after a stretch, relaxation and breathing routine.


Exercise combats addiction – Study

Yet another reason to exercise regularly! Exercise can alter Dopamine signalling and help with addictive behaviour.

One Regular Guy Writing about Food, Exercise and Living Past 100

As far as I am concerned when it comes to the benefits to our body and brain from exercise, the hits just keep on coming. The University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions reports the following good news.

Summary: Researchers report, in animal models of addiction, daily aerobic exercise alters the mesolimbic dopamine pathway in the brain.

addiction-exercise-dopamine-neurosciencneews-public.jpgDaily aerobic exercise altered the mesolimbic dopamine pathway in the brain. image is in the public domain.

New research by the University has identified a key mechanism in how aerobic exercise can help impact the brain in ways that may support treatment — and even prevention strategies — for addiction.

Also known as “cardio,” aerobic exercise is brisk exercise that increases heart rate, breathing and circulation of oxygen through the blood, and is associated with decreasing many negative health issues, including diabetes, heart disease and arthritis. It also is linked to numerous…

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