So I have been having a bit of challenge with my weight for some time now, yes it is piling up unchallenged. :))) So, I invited Mumbai-based nutritionist Ms. Huda Shaikh for a chat and she gracefully accepted. She has a MSc in Clinical Nutrition and Dietetics from Mumbai. Here are her insights on the challenges that modern, urban people are facing. It answers many of my questions. Check them out (some of them go against the popular opinion but you will see why she is right.)
Below is the video and the excerpt from my talk with her. I thought it might help others who are facing the same problem.
Q) How healthy is food that is labeled healthy?
A) Adulteration is when we try to tamper around with something that is naturally
produced. These days there are many things in market that are labeled healthy. But we really can’t be certain how healthy they are.
I can give you a few examples. These granola bars, corn flakes. These products are labeled low fat, low sugar in the market. But there are so many things added to these, that can be harmful. Sometimes many harmful ingredients go into their making. Which makes them more unhealthy than their healthy counterparts. So it is important that when we are purchasing a product that has been labeled healthy, we read through the ingredients and the contents on the pack.
For instance, a granola bar is considered healthy but we ignore the amount of sugar that goes into making the bar because it is labeled healthy. So we buy it. But there are certain things that we need to read through first before we purchase anything. We need to check the sugar content of the product, percentage of saturated fats. We also need to check the sodium content of the product. All these factors determine how healthy the product actually is. Most importantly, we must not buy something because it is labeled healthy.
We need to do our part of research to see how healthy the product is or isn’t. So when we talk about adulteration, adulteration happens everywhere. Like even turmeric powder is adulterated or chilly powder or coffee powder. So it is important that we see, we understand what we are eating, so that we don’t face any issues in the future. So I feel it is important for every person to read through contents of the pack. So if someone suggests a product, consult your doctor or nutritionist to see whether it suits you.
Q) How harmful is gluten?
A) See, whether it is gluten or any other thing you need to worry about it only if you suffer from a condition that stops you from consuming it. Gluten is present in wheat. Basically, gluten comes from a protein called gliadin. This protein is present in foods like rye, semolina, barley, wheat. But it is our staple food.
We eat chapatis everyday or wheat bread. We eat multigrain breads which contains wheat or rye, these things…You need to worry about gluten if you suffer from a gluten insensitivity. So every person doesn’t need to go gluten free. Because there have been fad diets where they say you should completely avoid gluten if you want to lose weight. Somewhere this is a very tough concept.
And it can very controversial if you say that one must avoid gluten completely. You can lose weight even when you are consuming gluten through wheat or barley. It is very essential that you consume some wheat or barley in some form in your diet. Because it is a very important cereal and it is going to provide you with the necessary fibre also. Fibre is very essential for weight loss. And you don’t need to worry about gluten if you are not gluten insensitivity.
Q) Can someone lose weight even if they don’t exercise?
A) I would say diet and exercise go hand in hand. It is good if you are on a diet and
exercising along with it. Because even if you are losing weight to tone down, to be in shape, it is necessary that you exercise. There are many people who are able
to lose weight with just a diet. But if you exercise along with it, it will be beneficial in the long run.
Now if you say you have a hectic lifestyle and we won’t be able to exercise…Or you feel we can’t go to the gym, it is not necessary that you go to the gym. If you just do yoga for 20 minutes or if you go for a walk for 30 minutes. If you just spare that much time for a brisk walk, I think it is more than enough. You don’t have to go the gym, to exercise to lose too much weight.
Now what we do sometimes is we over exert ourselves, we exercise but we cannot control what we are eating. Daily activities does not mean that you have to go the gym, work out for two hours… To burn the amount of potato chips that you have eaten in the morning or fries you have eaten for dinner. We need to understand that if we wish to lose weight we need to eat a well balanced diet. A well balanced diet would be a proper combination of fibre, protein and fats. And your exercise pattern will also determine how much weight you will lose.
Q) So I heard that you gain more weight if you discontinue gymming, than say if you were exercising in the open.
A) See, as I have said before, diet and exercise both play a very important role. So if you are exercising you need to take care of your diet also. What happens in this case, we eat whatever we want to Then we go to the gym and we try to burn and somehow we are able to burn that much. But when we completely discontinue gym and we don’t go to the gym at all, the problem starts. We might just go on eating whatever comes in our hands. If we are free, we have nothing to do, we just eat chips, biscuits. We don’t understand how we are piling up so many kilos.
Even if we are not going to the gym, it is necessary that we at least do a walk. Even if we take the stairs 2-3 times, even that will help you…We cannot just blame discontinuing the gym but our diet also needs to be equally good. You need to be careful about what you are putting in your mouth. As it is rightly said, “You are what you eat.”
Q) I have heard that breakfast is the most important meal. How true is that?
A) When we talk about breakfast, as the name suggests it means breaking the fast. We have been sleeping for the past 8-10 hours and there is nothing that goes in our tummy. It is important that when you get up you need to have your breakfast within an hour of waking up.
This food that you eat is going to provide you with glucose. Now glucose is very essential for your brain to function. So if your brain doesn’t get glucose, somewhere it won’t be able to function properly. And if your brain doesn’t function properly, the work you need to do, you won’t be able to do it efficiently. So if you go to school or work, it is very necessary that you have a good breakfast.
As it is said that you need to have a breakfast like a king. So it is very necessary we have a good breakfast, because with breakfast, we get our necessary nutrients & vitamins. And if you skip your breakfast and have a very nutritious meal for lunch. Even if your lunch is good, your dinner is good, your late evening, mid morning is good…It will not be able to match up to the nutrients & vitamins that you would get from a breakfast. So it is very essential that we have our breakfast within an hour of waking up. If we are not able to have a breakfast, we can at least have a fruit. We can have a fruit with two almonds, or any nut of your choice. So you get a small rush of glucose in your
body so your brain is able to function.
And then we have many easy breakfast options that we can go for. Like we have an oatmeal option, where in you can just add milk to the oats…We can add chopped fruits and nuts and it is ready. And it takes 2 minutes to gobble it up…
If you are an Ovo vegetarian or non-vegetarian, then you can have eggs. You can have two egg whites, cooked in your style, whether it’s an omelette, boiled, poached…You can make it quickly and you can have it with a multigrain bread, or whole wheat bread…And that is how you can have breakfast easily, don’t need to cook much…If you feel like having something else for breakfast, just plan a day prior…If you were planning to make poha or upma, just chop the veggies of your choice. Put it in a ziplock bag & the next morning just use the veggies to the upma or poha. So I feel all these tips will help you in having your breakfast on time and you won’t skip your breakfast.
There have been many studies out there which say people who have breakfast are thinner compared to their counterparts who don’t. So if you don’t have breakfast, that might be one of the reasons for obesity. If you feel like you skip a meal, skip
a breakfast to lose weight, that won’t happen.
What we do sometimes is you get up at eight, rush to your work, and by that time. And when you are hungry, you tend to eat food with high calories. You will go for a packet of chips, a pack of biscuits, rather than having anything nutritious. So somewhere you will end up putting on more weight than losing it. So it is better if we have our breakfast and we have it within an hour of waking up.
Q) What about skipping dinner? We tend to come late & then we have our dinner and we go to sleep. So if we skip the dinner, will that help in losing weight?
A) As I have said previously also skipping any meal will do no good. Skipping your dinner is also not a good option. If you feel like you are tired or you are a working woman and
it is difficult for you to cook. Or you won’t be able to cook so you skip the dinner and go off to sleep. You will land up eating more the next morning. So even if you don’t cook a
very heavy meal. There are many simple options that we can make and have.
Just make sure you eat something before you go off to sleep. Because it also happens that if you go off to sleep without having dinner, half of the time we get up in the
midnight & we search for food. That leads to midnight snacking and we will go for
And I think this is something most of us do, when we are tired… We either go for outside food, or we will have Maggi or something unhealthy. In case, you feel it is difficult for you to come home and make dinner, you can just make more of what you
made for lunch. Suppose you can just make daliyas with veggies. It will give you at least
two bowls. So one bowl can be had for dinner also, with a pack of curds or glass of buttermilk. Or if you feel like you cannot cook something, you can have a salad. And you can have it with some rice.
If we have to maintain a healthy weight, it is essential that we eat frequent meals. I would not say that we have pressurise ourselves to eat every 2-3 hours.
Q) Does stress make you gain weight?
A) There have been many studies which advocate that stress makes you fat. I want tell you that nowadays stress is something that each of us face. Stress can be due to various reasons, it can happen due to work, family pressure. Stress can also happen to adolescents, because they face peer pressure. So there are many things, many factors
which might lead to stress.
Stress is something where in our brain produces a hormone called cortisol. Now cortisol is a hormone which will somewhere lead to emotional eating. Emotional eating might happen when we are emotionally down. Hence when a person is emotionally down, he may reach out to food that is unhealthy. Suppose he gets a packet of chips, if he gets a packet of chakli, he will eat that…
So it is very essential that we keep ourselves, stress free. I would say you should at least go for a walk in the morning, if you are stressed. You will feel refreshed. And you should try and divert your mind from things that make you stressed. So I think meditation will help you, yoga will help you out. Somewhere even exercise help you
remove stress from your body. So when you are exercising you might forget all that.
So I would say don’t make stress your best friend. Just try and stay away from stress, and try to stay away from things that give you stress. And try to find happiness in small
things, so that you won’t be stressed anytime.
Q) How good are popularly recommended diets?
A) I would say there are many people out there who feel that if I follow this person’s
diet I will lose weight too. But that is not the truth. Sometimes it might work also.
But most of the times it does not.
The reason is, a diet, every diet, should be planned keeping in mind a person’s weight, his lifestyle, his ethnic background, his preferences, his aversions. Every little thing needs to be kept in mind. Every little thing that would help in his weight loss, or be a hindrance in his weight loss. So it is very essential that we go through every little
detail before a diet is planned.
Hence it is very important if you want to lose weight, or if you are suffering from any condition, whether it is diabetes, hypertension, or PCOD, it is very essential that you personally go to a well trained nutritionist & dietician. Who will be able to guide you properly on what you should be eating & what you shouldn’t be eating.
So don’t just pick up a diet and say I am doing this, because my friend is doing it. Or don’t follow it because the gym-trainer has recommended the diet to someone
and they lost their weight so I will too.
What happens sometimes that at the gym the same diet is distributed to everybody. And what I have personally seen is that the gym trainer will recommend an all-GM diet. That is the General Motors diet, just do it for the whole week. Do a detox diet for the whole week, and you will lose weight.
What we do not understand is, every diet that is given to a person should be given to him taking all his medical conditions in mind. Now suppose if a person is 80 or 90 kilos
and we say follow a detox diet for a week. Then he will faint in a day. Even a GM
diet is very hard for an overweight person to follow. So we should recommend such
a diet once a week. That is completely okay. But even that is if the dietician feels
that he should do it, then he should go ahead with it. Every diet is different for every person and hence it should be tailor made.
So it is better that we understand our bodies, and we help others understand that this is not the way we should be following a diet. It is very essential that we go to a dietician, because when you personally go to a dietician, when you understand that this diet is made for you. Then you can easily follow it. But blindly following a diet is not recommended. Hence I would say follow a dietician only if it has been prescribed to you
by a trained nutritionist & dietician.