A Change In Attitude

So you want to lose weight. Half the world does. Obesity is a worldwide epidemic so it’s only natural that every second person you meet is keenly seeking the holy grail of weight loss. Dinner conversations invariably return to feelings of guilt over indulgences. The Internet is flooded with clever advertising to lure vulnerable individuals into buying some product or the other with the promise of ‘losing ten kilos in ten days’ or similar fantastic claims.
You may not be thrilled with your body right now, in fact, you may view it with a good deal of distaste. Let’s ask ourselves a question, how did we get this way? How did we pile on the pounds? Where is that slender teenager? No doubt there are some who struggle with obesity all their lives. Over weight as children and teenagers, they are often faced with ridicule and marginalized. A large percentage of the population however, grows obese with age. A certain amount of weight gain with age is acceptable. But to become obese and as a result develop various obesity related complications like pain and discomfort, diabetes, heart disease, anxiety, depression, indigestion and so on, is not.
Take stock of your lifestyle.
– Are you physically active all day or does your job entail a lot of sitting behind a desk?
– Do you exercise regularly?
– Do you stay home and watch a lot of television and do little physical labor?
– Do you deal with an inordinate amount of stress? More importantly, are you one of those people who does not handle stress well? Do you develop acidity, anxiety or insomnia as a result of your stress? Do your work and relationships suffer? Do you become an insufferable boss or mother?
– Do you go on eating or drinking binges?
– Do you starve yourself often with the hope of losing weight only to go back to binge eating?
– Do you get enough sleep? (Six to eight hours a night of uninterrupted sleep is recommended.)
– Do you eat well-balanced meals with plenty of vegetables, fruit nuts, protein and healthy fats or are you loading up on the bread/cereal group (rice, rotis, bread, etc.), refined, processed, packaged food with additives and sugars out of packets as is common and convenient?
– Do you eat home cooked meals or depend on canteens and hotels and takeaways?
– Do you travel a lot, subjecting yourself to different time zones, food, lack of sleep and stress?
– Does your life involve a lot of socializing with indiscriminate eating and drinking?
– Are you addicted to sugar and need to eat something sweet ever so often?
The list of poor lifestyle habits is endless. These are some of the reasons you could be steadily gaining weight. Each problem has to be addressed independently with a combination of life skills, dietary advise and regular exercise. There is no way around it. Whatever the reason for the weight gain, the solution is to eat better, exercise and change your lifestyle.
Here’s the problem – most people think an hour of exercise alone will solve everything. It takes more than that, although that’s a good place to start. Your lifestyle (as shown above) is important. What you do for the rest of the twenty-three hours counts far more than one hour of working out. This means change. A change in attitude towards your lifestyle and not just one aspect of it.
A new mind set and not just a new menu is what is required.
The real secret to losing weight and more importantly, keeping it off is your attitude. The ability to look at your lifestyle with a certain amount of objectivity and a critical eye and then take the necessary steps to change what needs to change. The ability to get the necessary professional help when required. It’s not easy to change a whole lifestyle. There are other people involved – family, friends, colleagues and boss who are probably helping you preserve the current lifestyle. Change may involve others and this is not always welcome. For change to be sustainable however, it has to be holistic.
Adopt a slow and steady approach. Help your body and mind gradually learn to eat better, exercise more, live healthier, sleep earlier, relax and breathe. Most importantly, learn to appreciate yourself and your efforts. Learn to respect yourself and your body.
Dr. Sheela Nambiar MD Obgyn
Fitness & Lifestyle Consultant, NAFC
Author – Get Size Wise & Gain To Lose (Published by Rupa)

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The Bamboo Train – Sept 2012

Getting to Batang Bang from Siem Reap had been an adventure in itself. A local bus, strange stops along the way at roadside restaurants (if you could call them that). Obviously, the nexus of the bus drivers and owners of these places was intent on us spending some of our money there. We had to pay to use the toilet (which was super clean btw) and on the way to it were greeted loudly with a, “heloooooo, heloooo, welcome, welcome” by a parrot in his cage.

Outside were women selling huge baskets of some kind of crisply fried insect. It was even garnished beautifully with red and green chilies. There were several eager buyers for this delicacy.

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We got to the local market at Batang Bang. Asking around, we finally found a tuk tuk that would take us to the Bamboo train. His name was Chai. A sweet Cambodian boy with a cherubic smile, eager to please and intent on speaking to us in his quaint english. He couldn’t have been more than sixteen years old. He assigned himself our tuk tuk driver for the day. After much deliberation, trying to figure out if we REALLY wanted to go to the Bamboo train, if we wanted him to wait for us, bring us back and so on, he sped of excited at the prospect. Zipping through narrow lanes and obscure parts of town, we finally reached the ‘station’. I had made up my mind that I would sit in the station and wait for my friends to take the ride. I was squeamish I said, maybe next time. Somehow what I had seen of the Bamboo train online had not impressed me. Frankly, I was petrified!

On getting off at the station however we were received by a very genial stationmaster (not sure if that’s what he was, but he seemed very much in control of that little station). He escorted us to the “train”. Somehow, I found myself being shepherded on to it along with the others. I was too embarrassed to protest at that point.

The ‘train’ was essentially a plank of bamboo placed on four wheels. Imagine two barbells with the plates for wheels; well the plank was placed on these barbells, which by the way were not even connected to each other. How they stayed symmetrically under that plank and carried it forward without the barbell in front running away ahead was beyond me. In any case, we were on it and now there was no turning back for me. The ‘engine’ was a small motor place on the plank operated by the ‘driver’ of the train. Chai decided to come with us. Somehow I felt safer!!

And... off we go!

So then, we started down the track. The thing picked up speed until we were literally tearing down the tracks and bouncing over the gaps on the rails. The bushes on the sides of the track slapped us cheerfully in the face as we sped along. I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry. The wind whistled in our ears as the train picked up speed.

Operation ‘make way for me’.

It got better. Up ahead we saw another such train approaching in the opposite direction. Hurtling towards us. There was only one track, of that I was sure. The two drivers reflected on each other’s passengers. Am not sure how they figured it out or even agreed on protocol, but the passengers on the other train were requested to get off. There were about five of them I think. Perhaps the heavier train was supposed to unload. An unwritten rule? The two drivers lifted their bamboo plank off the barbells, and then lifted the barbells of the track so we could pass by! It was incredible! We set off again waving to our equally bemused fellow travelers. Our train picked up speed once again and we flew blithely down the track. I noticed Chai was grinning all the way. Maybe he was amused at our reaction to the whole experience.

After about 45 minutes of this mind-numbing journey we finally reached another ‘station’. With a lot of fanfare, we were greeted by a bunch of terribly cute children and ushered in to have a drink. There was beer, (that seemed like the national drink in Cambodia) and some other juices. The kids displayed some of their wares. Grasshoppers, spectacles, bugs, people …. all made from grass. It was amazing. We sat around admiring their handiwork, chatted with the old man who seemed to own the restaurant. He told us many of the children were his and the lovely lady serving us was his wife. Quite a story that!

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Finally, bidding farewell to the merry family we climbed on to our tremulous means of transportation again and set off back to our station. The ride back was not quite as intimidating. In fact, we felt like quite the professional riders!

On reaching our station our bamboo train was dismantled and set aside near the tracks by a couple of local men for the next group of visitors. Those men were certainly not weight lifters, but they picked those barbells with the ease of professionals. I furtively felt the barbells. My god they were heavy! The men looked amused.

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Our charming stationmaster then proceeded to entertain us with a little history of Cambodia as he stood leaning stylishly against out tuk tuk, gesticulating for emphasis. The invasion by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. The terrible massacres and the worlds worst genocides of the twentieth century. And yet, listening to this gentle man who had evidently lost several people close to him in that horrendous time, I could sense no bitterness. His tale was told with a calm and detachment that was truly admirable.

Heading back with Chai in his tuk tuk, besides the incredible journey we had just experienced, it was the stationmaster’s stories that stayed with us. His ability to move on in life with such dignity was only to be admired. A lesson learnt. Overall, an amazing experience.

Trekking Mukurthi Peak.

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It was a 3.30 am wake up call this time. Unbelievable, but true. We had to leave by 4.30 am.

Just the previous day, I had traveled 230 Km on appalling roads getting back home only by 9 pm. Saying I was exhausted was putting it mildly.  Considering I had managed just a couple of hours of sleep, I seemed to have enough enthusiasm to rush out the door at 4.30 am still pulling on one boot to meet my pick-up party – The usual four, huddled in a rented jeep (anticipating bad roads) in the early morning cold.

The drive to the Fishing Hut in Mukurthi was a mix of exchanged news, loud laughter, (much to the horror of the driver and the escorting guide, considering the hour!) and a mostly ineffective attempt at staying in ones seat as the jeep tackled some absolutely crazy terrain. As we drove in the darkness, there wasn’t much to see. Only feel. Bad pot-holed road!

Along the way, after some seemingly official sounding conversation with forest guards regarding the necessary permissions that needed to be obtained to enter the Mukurthi National Park as it was called, we finally made it to the Fishing Hut from where we were supposed to start trekking.

Our guide, a slight, cheerful man, and the driver of the jeep, a rotund cheerful man set of in front of us wielding sickles. Apparently to hack through the undergrowth, I later figured. Our guide was clad in a thin sweater and a pair of open sandals while I though I might need a blanket to wallow in until my body warmed up with the walk. However, he seemed oblivious to the cold and rough landscape. The long grass beside the trekking path white with a layer of frost.

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The forest we walked through was truly incredible. The path, if you could call it that, was essentially a tunnel. One had to crawl under tree trunks in places, climb over broken branches lying across in others, while trying not to get your eyes gouged out by the protruding, menacing dry twigs. I now understood the significance of the sickle. Our guide hacked away gallantly wherever he felt we might not make it through the maze. It was mainly wattle, some pine trees, cypress, eucalyptus and others I could not identify. There were several extraordinarily beautiful streams along the way. Some had rocks to balance on in order to cross. Others had unconvincing branches of trees placed across them that we were expected to maneuver.

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We finally crossed the forest and reached the clearing at the base of the mountain peak. Surrounding us was the most spectacular, glistening lake. It reflected numerous shades of blue as it lay calmly soaking in early the morning sun.

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The Mukurthi peak looked like a small sharp nose in the far distance. It seemed like an awfully long walk to get there. Our rotund friend decided he would go no further. He somehow did not strike me as a guy who climbed hills. So, he sat by the stream while the guide led us on.

As we began to climb the terrain changed to picturesque grassland. A few rhododendrons huddled together in the small ravines near the flowing water. Some beautiful foliage with the young red leaves twinkling in the sunlight.

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The climb was steep and arduous. The sun began to beat down relentlessly even though it was just about 9 am. It began to get unbearably hot.

Some parts were strewn with stones and rocks making climbing quite an adventure without losing ones footing. Huge piles of elephant dung greeted us half way up. How does that enormous creature make its way up this hill and why? Surely if it was water, there was plenty in the lake below. Perhaps it was making its way across to what lay on the other side.

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About an hour of steady climbing, catching ones breadth occasionally in the shade of the bushes, we finally reached the top. The peak is a small area on the top of Mukurthi with a 360-degree view all around.  There was an absolutely vertical cliff on one side. Beautiful rolling grassland topped hills another. They reminded me of ‘The Sound Of Music’ for some reason. We could see the Nilgiri Peak across from the cliff. Story goes that it has never been trekked. Find that hard to believe. The British seem to have covered every nook and cranny of the Nilgiri hills. More mountains, the lake, Kerala in the distance on one side, Karnataka on the other. It was magnificent. What’s more the wind up there felt like it would blow us right off the cliff. Our guide had spotted the Nilgiri Tahr on the opposite hill, which we could just about define with binoculars.

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After some time spent soaking in the beauty, climbing down was a challenge. One missed foothold and one could very easily end up injured. These are the times when I really am glad I train regularly with weights to improve leg strength. It is a test of the endurance of the leg and core muscles.

Reaching the stream we found our driver sprawled on one of the rocks, in the midst of the running water, under the blazing sun, fast asleep! Well at least he had managed some rest! Slipping off our foot wear we dipped our feet in the icy cold water. It was a well-needed natural foot spa.

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We managed to make our way back through the strange forest of broken trees. Then through the pine glade with a carpet of pine needles to walk on.

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A short picnic lunch sitting in the verandah of the old fishing hut. The hut was used by trekkers. One could stay over night apparently. It looked suspicious to me, all boarded up. I was quite sure it wouldn’t be the best maintained place! I was glad we were heading home.

On the drive back, I contemplated the various walks we had done over the months. Each was so different. The terrain, the incline, the foliage. For me at least, it was more about the actual experience of walking that drove me. I am essentially not an out-door person. The sun bothers me. Insects seem to find me interesting. I am always bitten even if nobody else is! I would never miss these experiences for anything for course, but every time, at the end of it, I admit, I AM glad to get home to a hot shower!!

Walkathon to Lone Weir – 18/11/12

The mist in the valley

It was 5 degrees outside when we set out on this Sunday morning. There were five of us. Four doctors and one ‘almost doctor’, her having hung out with us all this while. We drove to the outskirts of Ooty, parked near a tea-shop (which was closed at this unearthly hour), and set off towards Lone Weir. The pace was brisk, as always. There were time constraints, as always! We have to choose carefully where to linger. The objective was to test our endurance as well as take in the surroundings.

It was a gorgeous winter day. The thick mist still sulked in the valley reluctant to leave as the sun began its ascent. The grass was still wet with the frost and dew. Mostly, it has been burnt a pale brown with the frost. There were miles and miles of grassland covering the gentle undulating slopes.

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This land belongs to the Todas, a pastoral tribe in the Nilgiris. It cannot be sold or cultivated. According to an interesting paper from the Department of Anthropology, University of Berkeley, the English have seen to it that Toda pastures are not infringed upon. British motives for this thoughtfulness could have been twofold; they cherished the Todas, the ancient monuments and game preserves; secondly, the Toda pastures made excellent cover for a hunt which the English and the native Rajas maintained in the Nilgiris.  This is a blessing for us now.  Perhaps the grasslands will remain unsullied for a while yet until another reckless legal ruling comes into play. Some of this land that had originally belonged to these very tribals is said to have been bought from them by John Sullivan when he came to the hills more than a hundred and fifty years ago, for a paltry sum of Rs. 1 per acre! The British changed the ecosystem of the area when they planted exotic, water guzzling trees like Eucalyptus and Acacia in place of the ‘sholas’ and swamps which were the primary sources of the water reeds used to build the Toda houses.

We managed to negotiate the remaining swamp with some minor mishaps like getting our feet in the slush and eventually having to detour.

The remaining climb opened up to some glorious views. Distant folding hills, the sharp angles of the Mukurti Peak, the Sholas in numerous shades of green, eucalyptus glades, cypress and acacia.

We passed a Toda “Village” that consisted of precisely one house with a couple of people and some buffalos. An elderly Toda man was grazing his prized possession.

We reached what is apparently a Disaster Management tower. It was a single room built on stilts about eighty feet high with a narrow iron ladder leading up to it. With some trepidation, we climbed to the tower to be greeted by the most spectacular views. There was the Sandynella lake on one side, azure in the morning sun, the hills in the distance, vast grassland and forests under the vivid blue sky. It was awe-inspiring.

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After taking in the magnificence, we headed back to the main road, stopping for tea at a shop meant for tourists. There was a boisterous crowd of young people there already. Some young men chased a poor horse and when chastised turned around to say, “We are Malyalis. We are from Kerala. We are like that only”!!!! Now what do you say to that?

A bit exasperated after that last encounter we headed to our car and drove back to go about the rest of our day. It had been a long walk, 15 Km at least, some of it on steep inclines and at that pace had been quite exhausting. Exhausting but exhilarating at the same time.

Cycling for fun and fitness…

Cycling is by far one of my favorite fitness activities. The thrill of the speed on the bike. The wind in your face. The possibility of covering huge distances in short periods of time. The feel of your lungs exploding and muscles burning as you labor up a hill and then the sense of utter liberation when you joyously sail down on the other side.

You can burn up to 500-600 calories an hour biking depending on your weight, speed and incline covered. Here’s a link to calculate calories burned:

http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/calories_burned.asp

One of the major advantages of biking is that it is low impact and rarely places undue pressure on the joints. Unlike running which poses a problem for the knees due to the incessant pounding, biking is more knee friendly. You have to adjust your seat and pedal height to suit the length of your legs however. Inappropriate seat height, which leads to excessive flexion of the hip joint while pedaling can place stress on the knees.

The major muscles that are used while biking are the Quadriceps and Hamstring muscles of the thighs and the Gastronemius and Soleus or the calves. The maximum effort is placed on these muscles as you ride uphill or against the wind which creates a drag that essentially almost pushes you back as you ride.

On long slow rides, especially on flat ground the muscles concerned are working Aerobically that is with the continuous supply of oxygen to create the energy source, Adenosine Tri Phosphate or ATP which fires the muscles. As the workload increases and one rides uphill, the muscles begin to demand more oxygen than the lungs can supply and therefore create an Anaerobic environment (where the muscles function without oxygen by tapping into the glycogen stores instead to supply energy for the working muscles). The problem with Anaerobic activity however is the by-product of the anaerobic cycle which is lactic acid, accumulates in the working muscles. This accumulation of Lactic acid is what causes that intense burning sensation in the muscles which makes you want to jump right off the saddle and lie down on the road.

A combination of lower intensity riding on flat ground and some sprints or incline riding works best to improve ones stamina and muscle endurance.

In a place like Ooty one is blessed with the natural inclines. A good gear bike is essential. Gears on a bike help ride the inclines easier. I said easier not easily! You still have to work those muscles, but it is easier that when trying to ride a hill without gears.

Accessories on the bike like a good quality helmet, a water bottle holder, a mileage tracker, headlights are essential. You also get great seat covers to increase saddle comfort, riding gloves to protect the hands and elbow and kneepads to protect you in the event of a fall.

You get some great clothes for cycling too. The fitted tights, tracks, t-shirts and jackets are better suited to ride. Synthetic material, like Dri-fit from Nike is great for all-weather and to keep friction to the minimum for a smoother ride.

Obviously, your sun glasses and a good sunscreen should be on your list of necessities depending on the weather and the time of day one is riding.

Much as I love biking however, that cannot remain the only form of exercise. Weight training to strengthen the leg muscles improves your ride. Biking does not involve the upper body, which is essentially stationary and sometimes hunched over the handlebars to reduce drag. All this necessitates training the upper body with weights to bring balance to the body’s musculature. One will otherwise end up with great toned legs and a flabby upper. Strengthening the core and low back are also important to avoid strain in these areas. The position on the bike sometimes compromises the back and can cause muscle imbalance and pain if the muscles are not strengthened appropriately. A good stretch after every ride is essential if you want to keep riding! Tight muscles that remain that way after a long ride will tighten further. The next day will find yourself barely walking, leave alone riding if this is not addressed.

Staying safe is priority in any sport. There is no point courting danger by riding in high traffic or dangerous terrain and ending up injured. I for one cannot afford to be laid up and am certainly not a competitive cyclist to take risks that the professionals do. So for me, a clean ride, with some hills thrown in are sufficient to keep me happy.

I wish we could all ride more often. It is certainly an eco-friendly way to get about especially with the cost of gasoline the way it is not to mention the shortage. Every place should have cycling tracks are separate from the heavy traffic areas. It’s fantastic that school children in Tamil Nadu have been given bicycles by the chief minister. This may be one good truly thing she has done to improve health of children.

Cycling is a great way to stay fit. I have ridden through some beautiful countryside in the Nilgiris. Another memorable ride was in the gardens of Versailles in France where a friend and I hired bikes and rode through the dazzling backdrop of the palace gardens for hours.