FOOD AND FITNESS
It’s the ultimate dream: to love food, enjoy it, and still remain fit and healthy. For most of us, that’s what it remains: a dream. It should be doubly difficult if you earn your daily bread through eating. There is however, a living paradox—author, columnist and food writer Rashmi Uday Singh, who manages to stay fit and svelte. She explains how Even the most intelligent and perceptive often remark to me: “You don’t look like a food critic.”
What these refined gentlemen and ladies mean is that I don’t hog mindlessly and that I don’t live up to their medieval, preconceived notion of a food critic. According to them, it’s blasphemy not to eat and drink to the exclusion of everything else. I’d only like to ask, are all wine-tasters alcoholics? And why on earth I do have to look like a stuffed samosa to live up to anyone’s idea of what a food critic should look like? Why do I have to be obese and suffering from the after-effects of too much eating and drinking, just to prove that I eat for a living? The truth of the matter is that I am passionate about food. It excites me! I cannot resist sinful desserts, ad I am a chocoholic, the darkest, most handsome love of mylife. I love restaurants and eat out all the time. However, being fit and being able to respond with all my senses to food, is equally important to me. And having scripted, directed, produced and anchored a weekly TV show, Health Today, I have been fortunate enough to find a way to devote myself to my two passions. The weekly show was telecast for one year and researched it for over two years. I had the opportunity to interview and spend time with brilliant experts in the medical field. I questioned them relentlessly, chewed on every single answer they gave and digested it. Nutritionists, heart specialists, ayurvedacharyas, oncologists, naturopaths, homeopaths …my cameras recorded every single nuance, be it the “Vatta Pacifying diet” of Deepak Chopra in Los Angeles or the “heart smart” diet of Dr. Naresh Trehan. Banglores Naturopathy Clinic supplied as many relevant answers as the Apollo Hospital in Chennai. Dr. Praful Desai of Tata Memorial explained how diet can actually prevent cancer, while nutritionists explained how food can lower stress levels. What emerged was something basic and fundamental. When some wise guy said “make your vacation”, he definitely had me in mind.
Here are some of my tried and tasted and tested tips:
It’s all about the appetite mechanism: Okay, so you know it all, but it still might help to read what follows. Because it is only when one understands appetite mechanism that one realises that bad eating habits don’t just mean calorific and junk food but also being out of harmony with the way you eat. Ever wondered why eating and emotions are linked? Our appetite is coordinated in an area called the hypothalamus and it is this area, which controls a lot of our emotions. The “feeding” centre is divided into “hunger” and “fullness” centers. The number of signals reaching these centers dictate whether you feel hungry or full. It’s important to feel pleasantly full after a meal, because you are less likely to binge in between. Basically, you need to get tuned in to the ‘satiety’ value of eating. These ‘satiety’ signals are sent back in different stages.
Chewing: Nobody ever told e why should I chew my food well and slowly. Sure, it helps in the production of saliva and digestion, but what it also does is send signals of satiety to the brain. So, the more you chew, the more time you take over eating, the greater the perception of satiety. This is because within the jaw are stretch receptors which respond when you chew.
Exciting the taste buds: Foods that turn you on are called ‘organoleptic’. And the great news is that organoleptic foods [foods which smell, look, taste and feel good in the mouth] are actually good for you. They register satisfaction quicker and they increase the production of saliva and digestive juices. If you have exciting flavours, varying temperatures and textures within a meal, your mouth has a far greater opportunity to send satiety signals.
Lifting the arm: It may sound really strange, but the more you lift you arm to eat, the greater will be the filling of fullness. That’s because you give your brain the time and the chance to register those signals.
Trust your stomach: Within the stomach wall are stretch –receptors which send signals of fullness to your brain when there is food in your stomach. When you eat sugary, refined or fatty food they pass through your stomach quickly and satiety signals are not sent back to the brain. So, you tend to eat a lot more than you actually need to. But, when you eat high-fibre food (fruits, veggies, whole grains) they stay in the stomach longer and send satiety signals to the brain. So, while I taste almost everything, it’s the high-fibre food that I concentrate on.
Food and mood: It might help to know that it’s not just alchohol which is a mood-altering substance. Our everyday food does affect our moods too. Within the brain, chemicals help transmit messages from one nerve cell to another. There are two such substances known as endorphins, which affect our moods—serotonin and norepinephrine. The body makes these particular endorphins from the food we eat and therefore, we can, to a certain extent raise the level of these substances in the brain by eating specific foods. The main source of these endorphins is sugary carbohydrate-rich food. This explains why many of us feel happier when we eat chocolates and sweets. However the problem with eating too much of these is that sugary foods are absorbed rapidly into the blood. And though this causes a serotonin rush, it is broken down rapidly and eventually leads to a drop in blood sugar and endorphin levels. So, such foods can leave you feeling even lower than before. On the other hand, natural sugars give you a steady high. Feeling low and depressed is also linked to deficiencies in vitamins and minerals and therefore, to improper eating. A huge database of research points in the direction of eating right and light. So, for the sake of your mood, it is best to stick to natural sugars and natural starches. Natural sugar are found in fruits and veggies (as opposed to refined sugars in honey, cakes etc.) and natural starches occur in wholegrains, brown rice, beans, fruits and veggies (as opposed to refined starches in white brad, pastas etc.). these natural foods keep you clear-eyed and energetic. The reason? They release energy at a slower steadier pace, do not slow down your metabolism and and so don’t end up channelising the blood supply away from your brain. In other words, they keep you feeling fresh and in a good mood. Naturally!
Helpful tips on eating the right way
Position of eating: slouching is bad idea. Sitting upright helps. It places your stomach in a position where gravity helps rather than hinders.
Relax while eating: Digestion requires the flow of blood to your stomach but when your are under stress or upset, the stress hormones in your blood make much of the blood stream go to your limbs, this hinders digestion.
Your environment is important: If you eat live and treat your meals as just a fuel-stop-over then you may actually be hindering you health. You must value meal times as enjoyable pastimes. I make it a point to picnic, to set up candlelight dinners, to have interesting company, to eat with one’s love and of course, to eat in restaurants. All these environments relax me amd make my digestive juices flow, thereby helping swiftly and effortlessly digest all that I have eaten.
Who wants to kiss and ashtray?: Smoking kills…the tastebuds. Moreover, cigarettes discolour your nails and lips and ages you skin. And anyway, who wants to kiss an ashtray?
Drinking plenty of water: I begin my day and end it with warm water. Deepak Chopra advises sipping hot water through the day if you want to lose weight and flush out toxins.
Moderation is the name of the game: Moderation may be a boring word, but it works. You can taste everything, relish it, enjoy it and do so as intensely and passionately for the rest of your life. It’s not about denial and fanaticism, it is about celebrating food and savouring it in all its delicious forms. It is about enjoying it!
There is plenty more to say, but even plenty more to learn as I eat my way through life. As I said before, I eat for a living and have a huge appetite for finding out more ways and means of eating my way to more health and fitness.