Reflections

A Dedication

A long long lost friend of mine made a sudden appearance today. Someone I haven’t talked to in 11 years, after an abrupt departure. He said that he read my blog, and it felt amazing and inspiring to him.

Woah!

To me, the aftermath of writing my initial few blog posts in 2013 was a persistent feeling that I’d done an internet number akin to the Sermon on the Mount – one that wasn’t any good or exciting at all. So, I did not come back to write anything else.

And thus I wondered: “What on Earth did I write there that made such an impression on him?”

Of course, the reader must not mistake this thought of mine as my thinking that all the things I was able to do (the strongman competition, the weight loss, my stints at powerlifting, MMA, kalaripayattu, crossfit etc.), was any little feat in my eyes, or small events in my life. But I believed the narration to be uninteresting and drab, just one more of the several blogs and articles online about similar things.

But during the time I re-read the blog to find out what the hell here felt so interesting to him, I figured that the writing, the journey and what was accomplished was all there: weaving a steady magic in decent narrative style. And in the last few months, enveloped by suggestions from my closest friends, I have slipped back into writing about all kinds of things, not just things that have to do with athletic activities and taking care of the body. So. Thanks to you, my life’s blessings,

.. and dear friend who knocked upon my door, startling my unsuspecting self:

I dedicate this break of hiatus to you.

P.S. Written during the last week of May 2014.

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Reflections

An Estimation of ‘Education’

It is absolutely disheartening to see the panic that people fly into, based on imagination and fear, before there is full information on any particular matter. This particular post is inspired by those in social media where people were up in arms against reports of the new education minister of India, Smriti Irani, making moves to bring changes to the curriculum. At first the panic was that she wasn’t educated enough, meaning she did not have the academic qualification that ‘might’ better equip her to understand the vicissitudes of our education system. Then it was that she might be bringing in changes that would misinform students about historical facts, or more importantly, what is important in history through the kinds of historical details that are emphasized and others that are underplayed.

As in so many other situations, political or interpersonal, most people did not feel the need to pause for breath before they cried foul that the minister is uneducated. The reaction is so knee-jerk and typical of human responses that paying attention to the phenomenon rather than examining the finer details of the particular case would be appropriate.

But let us start at ‘education’ because this is a term, whose substantive acquisition is presupposed in those who have acquired academic degrees. This accreditation, which says that you have spent a certain number of years familiarizing yourself with whatever syllabus that particular degree requires, has come to signify a great number of things that mostly have nothing to do with the accreditation itself. For example, people assume that educated people are capable of reasoning, of peaceful dialogue and disapprove of non-liberal practices. So, what is the meaning of this term, ‘being educated’?

Let us ask ourselves honestly, what great intellectual capacities have the years of sitting in classes, where teachers paraphrased from guide books on Shakespeare or Milton, the ability to calculate using numbers, or those lessons on how many world wars there are and how during them this country became that and that country coveted this, created in us? We still do not have the courage to stand our ground and refuse to work more than we need for sustenance. Instead we buy into the the economic logic we learned from our colleges, family, or the society we live in: its magazines, television channels, advertisements, markets, ideas of what constitutes an amazing life. In doing so, we display an alarming incapacity for questioning fundamental assumptions. Those who succeed still fail to make decisions that would lessen mental conflicts because they do not see a role model or are afraid to take chances. The glorious education we constantly pat our backs for, has prepared us not to be brave or logically rigorous, but to cower, conform or follow in tow.

Several of my friends who have worked hard to accumulate business degrees then joke about how business schools are only places to ‘meet the right people’ and you learn nothing much else of substance there. Their bodies are broken by stress, the demands of constant travel, and ridden with diseases because exercise, good nutrition and leisure don’t have priority. There is too much money, and the calorific excess that it invites over social dining; people are estranged in families because there is hardly time for anything other than work. Nevertheless we feel no panic in putting ourselves through this system. If the excuse is that we did not know any better, then why do we not show evidence of that new piece of information in the Sisyphean rigour with which we goad the next generation?

When faced with experiences in life — during the tumultuous years of emotional roller-coasters in adolescence/early adulthood, dissatisfaction with marriage, death, divorce, parenting and conflicts between people — all the years spent baking our asses in those plastic and hard wood chairs draw up to nil except helping a case of very tight hips and a bent back that will never straighten again. If you happened to study Western philosophy like most people who call themselves intellectuals in the last two generations in India, it usually is only helpful in labeling some choice you made into this category or the other. No heuristics there that teaches you a way to have a restful spirit while you navigate existence with grace, dexterity and enjoyment.

And hence, the next time we gripe and whine about the long hours spent at work, and how we don’t know what else to do, let us ask ourselves: Why did my education not prepare me to solve this problem? If you have acuity enough, you can also ask, to what extent is my education responsible for this condition of mine?

When you use force on someone weaker than you, but cower in the presence of someone stronger, ask, why did I not learn a method that would help me analyze my pattern of behaviour, rather than just lessons that said, this is how a good person behaves, and this is how a bad person behaves. When you decide to have a child to ‘stabilize’ your marriage, ask yourself, where the hell is your sense, and why did you not learn from anywhere to reflect on your own thoughts and actions, except from a chance person who might have taught you by example?

And yet, we experience no panic in the prospect that we will continue to live in this abject manner if nothing is done about it. Hell, even the thought that something can be done doesn’t cross our minds. Because that is how life is, isn’t it? Instead, we stand in the rut and worry our heads off about what the next change will bring, because you see, it may bring good things, but what the hell will we do if it brings bad things? Because no lessons were taught that day on navigating the internal scapes.

To come back to reports that additions from philosophical texts of Indian origin might be taught to children: Indian philosophy has much to offer on this gaping lack we experience today. Maybe if we weren’t so impoverished in courage, we could restfully wait to see what the next day brings. It may not always be what we hoped for, as there aren’t such guarantees in life. But where is the wisdom in denying new experiences simply because we cannot look past our fears?

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Poems

On Condolences to Marquez

 

You consumed all he had to offer
With hunger and awe.
The worlds he spun miraculously,
Quaint people and shimmery truths;
Words and truths that never vacated your head.

All the goods he made for you
Are safely stowed in your book cases.
You do not mourn,
The warmth of his hug
His steadfast voice frayed on edges with mirth
Or the time spent alongside,
Marveling at shiny pebbles.

His stories now bequeathed to you
Of he himself you have no qualm, unrest or use.
Betray no regrets fickle
Now that he simply left
Long after his treasures
Are secure in your trophy troves.

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Reflections

On Being Nude

 

My friend is pregnant, and while looking up online for details of the stage of pregnancy she is in, I happened to meander to several links that talked about birthing practices and kinds of child-birth. The description of the way in which the baby comes out of the mother during a natural childbirth said that the baby descends through the cervix and the baby’s head sweeps the area between the vagina and the perineum as it comes out. This description stuck vivid in my mind and led me to think about the way in which we are conceived and come into the world being a source of incomprehension and extreme embarrassment in the years of my growing up. Anything that had to do with being naked was improper, as were several bodily functions like burping, belching, farting, or the tweaking of an underwear that has ridden too high. Not much has changed for most of us in adulthood. In fact, how large a part of our lives we live in an unconscious denial of the fact that we are in fact, naked!

There is not a single place where you’ve been to where your nude body has not gone with you (unless you imagined the going). They are there wherever we go, be it the dining room, meetings, funerals or picnics. Only, we put on a layer of clothing on it, so the nudity is not apparent to the onlooker, be that you in the mirror or others who are looking at you. So nudity is not the exception, it is the common occurrence. Any time, at any place, if you simply disrobe, voilà, there your nude body is. The way you came into this world, the way your mother was when she birthed you, the way people are when they have sex, the way you are when you are taking a bath, the time when you are changing from one clothing to another – your nude body is present uncovered, in all these occasions, and by extension, even if under a garment, at all occasions in which you are present. And you aren’t present alone; with you are all the people you know: your siblings, friends, parents, strangers. What a strange idea yet it seems to think of, a gathering of people without any clothing! That would just be obscene, radical and just improper.

Why?

The simplest reflection shows up the misfit between how natural it should feel to be comfortable with nudity and yet how many strong afflictions there are to presenting a nude body in society. We are constantly getting in and out of being nude, it is a fact of our everyday existence. And yet, we cannot undo our brassieres in public, unshaven body hair is uncouth, freckles are embarrassing and bloated stomachs are distressing. But they are there, right?; always available to the eye, only if not covered up? Why deny them if they are always already in existence?

Why do we live shuttling between these disparate mental associations of nudity and being covered up to an extent that we suffer from their painful contradictions: we are ashamed of naked bodies, we worry about their imperfections because the images in our heads are airbrushed advertisements and we are embarrassed when someone takes off their clothing in front of us. If clothing can protect us from changing weather conditions, can be a place of colour and cut to express and enhance our sense of beauty, or even a matter of convention, so be it. But when the plain fact that all of us are actually naked all the time, and that nakedness a fact of our condition (of being: like insects, birds or plants, it is essentially how we are) sounds like a radical idea, good as a mental exercise and not as lived practice, we must understand that we truly are in the grip of a mental imbalance.

 

 

 

 

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Recipes

A paleo breakfast: Ground beef stir fry and omelette

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I don’t like ground beef much unless it is made into cutlets. Yesterday I got thinking why this was, and I figured it was because the way I made mine was always very spice-heavy. Since I have some spaghetti squash that I thought would pair well with ground beef and avocado vinagrette, I set out to make a quick stir-fry with the ground beef yesterday, sans the usual whole garam masala spices (cinnamon, cardamom, elaichi, bay leaf) and ginger that I regularly use. The result was a far less spice-heavy dish that paired extremely well with my onion-mushroom omelette this morning. The squash and avocado will hopefully happen some time later today.

Ground-beef Stir-fry

92 % lean ground beef – 16 oz. (I used this cos that’s what I had)

Onion – 1 medium chopped into small squares

Green chilli – 1 split into two halves

Garlic – 6 cloves peeled and crushed (pounded to a pulp. well, almost)

Pepper crushed/powder – 1 teaspoon

Garam masala – 1 teaspoon (I use the MTR brand from a local Indian food store)

Coriander powder – 1 teaspoon

Turmeric powder – 1/2 teaspoon

Salt – as needed

Olive oil – 1 tablespoon

Heat the olive oil in a skillet and before it smokes, add the chopped onion and chilli, and cook until lightly browned while stirring occasionally. Add the crushed garlic and pepper. Stir for a minute on medium heat, taking care to not burn the garlic. Add the garam masala, coriander and turmeric powders and stir until you can smell the masala cooked and the onion pieces look coated with a light film of oil. Lower the heat if it smokes while you wait for this, because the spice powders shouldn’t burn. Add the ground beef, increase heat to medium–high, and stir to mix it well with the mixture, constantly breaking up clumps. Once the beef is browned and mixed well with the spice mixture, cover and cook with the flame on medium-low. Give it a stir every once in a while and remove from flame when cooked and the water is all gone. I am guessing this took about 15 minutes or so.

This paired very well with an omelette I made this morning, for a delectable paleo breakfast.

Onion-mushroom Omelette

Eggs – 3

Medium onion chopped fine into squares – 1/2

Green chilli chopped fine – 1

Medium sized whole white mushrooms (finely chopped) – 2

Olive oil – 1 teaspoon

Salt

Break the eggs into a bowl and whisk.  Add the onion, chilli and mushroom and mix well. Add salt. Heat the olive oil on a skillet and before it smokes, add the egg mixture. Cover the skillet and wait with the flame on medium for 30 seconds. Then bring the flame to low and wait until the top of the omelette looks firm. The most important thing is to not let the bottom brown beyond a tad shade of tan, the lesser browned the better, not browned at all the best. Keep that as your priority, even if you have to flip the omelette while its middle isn’t quite set  (with some

skill). So, when the top portion looks set enough to sustain a flip without breaking the omlette’s back, flip it, and continue cooking, covered, on a low flame, for two or three more minutes. Switch off the flame and leave the skillet covered for two to three minutes.

Open, serve with a side of the ground beef stir-fry for a sumptuous and very filling breakfast. The egg made me one serving, and I suppose the beef would make about four servings.

 

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Recipes

Baked Indo-american Chicken

I’ve been Paleo for about a month now. This has also meant that I am experimenting with baking a lot of main course dishes now, as opposed to the cookies and cake I used to bake earlier. Yesterday at midnight I wanted to quickly bake a couple of chicken thighs and couldn’t bother to go looking for recipes online as I usually do. For a variation of taste, I combined Indian spices with the usual spices used for baking chicken in American recipes. The result was a resounding yes: moist succulent chicken with a winning medley of flavours sitting in perfect harmony with one another. See for yourself!

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Things you’ll need:

Chicken thighs (with skin and bone) – 2

Melted butter – 1/2 tablespoon

Fresh garlic minced -7 cloves

Dried Parsley – 3/4 tbspn

Chillli powder – 1 tspn

Turmeric powder – 1/2 tspn

Thyme – 1/2 tspn

Sage powdered – 1/2 tspn

Oregano – 1/2 tspn

Garam masala – 1 tspn

Salt & freshly cracked pepper to taste

Medium sized potatoes cubed – 2

How  to:

Preheat the oven to 400. Make three deep slits across the chicken thigh at equal distance. Mix the salt and melted butter and rub it into the chicken (make sure it goes well into the slits and under the skin). Mix all the other spices, garlic and pepper and rub it into the chicken. Toss with the cubed potatoes. Line a high rimmed baking dish with foil (for easy clean up) and arrange the chicken pieces in it, with the potatoes around and in between the chicken. Bake at 400 for 20 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 375, turn the chicken pieces, and bake for an additional 15-20 minutes, or until the meat at the deepest part is no longer pink.

(I remember setting the oven to 400 for 20 minutes and going in for a shower. But I was told that the temperature was at 350, when my husband  took the chicken out to turn the pieces and put them back in. So I am confused right now. Do check the pieces about 10 minutes after you turn them and put them in at 375, and see how much more cooking it needs.)

You can eat this as a single dish, the chicken with the potatoes, which is excellent. If you have leftovers or simply want to make something else out of it, you could make a fabulous meal with spaghetti squash, kale and scrambled eggs like I did the next morning. Yum! That recipe is the very next post.

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Diet & Movement

A Beginner’s Guide to Exercise and Eating

Beginning to Exercise

If you are new to working out, and feel very confused about how to exercise or take care of nutrition, here are a few things that should get you started right.

First, become active. This means visualizing an active and fit person, and doing everything that you think that person would opt to do. Walk to everywhere possible. Climb stairs even when the lift works. Walk faster while running errands. Get creative and add to the list. Make this an everyday thing for a long long time to come. Point is, keep doing those things and you will eventually become the person you were imitating.

When you begin exercising your body, what you are trying to do is akin to taking out a long unused creaky machine out of storage and getting it to work. That is going to take some effort. Sustained effort, until the machine does what you want it to do. So be patient.

Unless you are someone who gets a kick out of beginning with formidable challenges, begin small. For example, warm up with 20 jumping jacks and 10 high knees. Repeat thrice. Do some mild stretching. Then do 7 burpees, 7 squats and 7 mountain climbers. Catch breath. Repeat. Five times. Stretch some more. Then head out for a long walk if you can. Come back and stretch some more. Stretching reduces fatigue and soreness,  and keeps you supple. If you can’t do that much, do as much as you can.

Google for exercises, stretches etc. Any and all the information you need is already there on youtube and lots of websites. Look for something you can do, and stick with it for let’s say, a month or two. See how you feel. If you need more challenge, find something more. If you need less, cut down on repetitions, or find something altogether new.

Eating and Exercise

When you begin working out, you are bound to feel hungrier in general. Eat. Your body needs this to meet the increased energy demands. If you hold a hard and fast diet rule when you being exercising, you will simply tire yourself out and stall at making progress with the exercise. Remember that food control should never happen at the cost of compromising strength and energy.

Eat a small meal one or two hours before your workout so that you feel strong and full of energy through your session. Some foods work better than others. For example, an apple and a tablespoon or two of peanut butter evaporates into thin air by the time I am half way through my workout, whereas a one-egg omlette and two slices of wholewheat bread keeps me a beast through my whole workout. This meal is light enough to digest and feel light on my tummy in an hour, and yet doesn’t leave me wanting before I finish. Now that I’m trying paleo, I eat a two egg omlette with a cup of leafy greens and a quarter onion diced, with about half a cup of cottage cheese, made in plenty of olive oil/butter. You experiment and find out the best eating window and food for your workout. These are also the things that keep planning your food and workouts interesting. My suggestion: NEVER GO HUNGRY. Eat. But choose what you will eat, and make sure it is ready before hand, so you don’t realize you are hungry only when it shoots through the roof and by then anyone who takes that chips packet from you is a sure-fire assault victim.

Home-cooked meals

Cook your meals yourself, or get it cooked by a source where you have control over the ingredients. When you mindfully cook your meals yourself, you have full control over the ingredients you put in there. Restaurant meals mostly have way more going on with them than you’d imagine. The fat content might be rocket-high, sugar will find its way in many masked ways, and the pairing of food items usually make it difficult to go low carb. Now, eliminating all these may not be your food requirements. I mean, if there is no fat, sugar or carbs, what are you supposed to eat, just protein and fibre?! Hahaa. Of course not. That will depend on what you’ve chosen to be your style of nutrition. If you are unsure about which style of nutrition to chose, you’ll have to decide on that first. As a rule of thumb though, everyone benefits from lowering excessive intake of carbohydrates.

Reducing food makes me hungry!

If you are some one who has trouble with portion control, then this will work like a charm: Eat in small portions to just mitigate your hunger. Initially, this will be difficult. Here’s the carrot: you can eat in the next 2 or 2 1/2 hours. Determining when to eat and how much to eat depends on your eating habits. If you are someone who is chronically habituated to eating huge amounts of food, often more than you can digest before the next meal, then you will feel hungry and deprived when you begin portion control. Just suck it up and stick with it for two months. Once your body begins to adjust to the new routine, you’ll be fine. By the way, don’t think there wont be episodes of binges, or over eating.   They will be there. If it happens, think of it as a slip-up, and begin immediate efforts to get back to routine portion control.  Remember this, if you make a mistake, and then continue to wallow in self-pity, that is all there will be to it. For you to get your health back and your body into shape, you have to forge a healthy eating and exercising routine. This takes effort, again and again, every time you veer away. Think of yourself as a child you are trying to toilet-train. Yea, that’s exactly what I said.

What to Eat?

As a general principle, make most of your meal some kind of protein, and minimize the amount of carbohydrates you eat. Of the carbs you eat, let it all be complex carbohydrates. Point is, eat things that will keep you fuller for a longer time. When you eat a cookie, a slice of cake or chips, you usually eat for taste. Unless you eat a whole lot, these things don’t keep you fuller for a long time. So you end up eating sooner. Not to mention that what you already eat could be a full meal’s worth in terms of the energy it brought to your body. In effect, you end up eating two meals in place of one.

If you are willing to drastically reduce your carbohydrates intake, then you can substitute it with high amounts of fat. Along with adequate protein and a reasonable amount of exericse, this nutrition style is famous for making excessive body fat melt like ice under sun.

If you d not want to go very low on carbs, simply reduce it as much as possible and substitute the missing amount with protein and adequate fat. Choose sources like ghee, coconut or olive oil and nuts as replacement for cooking sprays and hydrogenated oils.

Post Workout

You will usually be very hungry a little while after your workout, depending on the intensity of the workout. Expect ravenous hunger to strike especially if you weight train. Many people buy some form of protein powder to drink in the form of a shake as soon as a workout is over. This is beneficial for two reasons. One, if there will be an excessive delay until you can get your next meal, the shake will keep you going. Two, if you have trouble meeting your protein requirements from you meal alone, the shake can bring in the protein for you. The fact remains that protein powders are a highly processed form of food, and hence when you drink it, do be aware of this.

If protein powders are not an option, you can simply take along a small healthy snack to consume after the workout. Fruits, milk, eggs, a small sandwich.. anything that gives you some carbs and protein to recover from the workout and keep you from starving.

If you are back home soon, you can straight away go to a meal. The rules here are as it is for all regular meals. Post workout meals are supposed to be more efficient in utilizing the carbohydrates in the food for immediate fueling, than storing them away as fat. So eating most of your carbs around your workout, as a pre and post workout fuel, is a strategy popularly recommended.

Eat no junk?

Ideally, yes. But then, it takes time to get used to not wanting everything that crosses one’s mind. So. Moderation. Don’t set a goal so unachievable that you get frustrated in three days and get back to your normal routine. There are many ways in which you can get the better of the munchies.

  • Nibble sized treats. When you have a craving, agree to yourself that you will eat what you want, but only one or two bites. You got the taste, right? Better than nothing right? Now tell yourself you can have more later, only and only if, you will stop at two bites this time.
  • Defer. Once in a while, when you have a craving, put it off. Put it off till the next day. See how you feel when you do this.
  • Have the treat after a meal. Often the munchies is hunger disguised as a craving. Eat a filling meal and see if you feel the same. Of course you will have to fight the temptation to skip the meal and go straight for the snack.
  • Always drink a full glass of water when a craving strikes. If the craving is still there, you could go for the nibble sized treat. Or have another glass of water. Or wait after the water and have  a meal and then see how you feel.
  • Make your own treats. Look up recipes online using searches like ‘low carb treat recipe’, ‘low fat cake recipe’ etc. and review the recipes you find. Choose the ones with the best reviews/recommendations and make it for yourself.

Warning about Healthy Food

Often people are unable to distinguish between wholesome foods and ones laden with additives. For example, fruit juices. Store-bought fruit juices are not healthy. They contain so much sugar that they could be the single most highest contributor to your weight gain. Fruits themselves are so sweet that if you don’t expend the energy you drink in through them, that isn’t going to help your efforts. Eat fruit if you need to. In moderation. The fibre you get from doing that will also regulate the fast absorption of energy.

Energy bars are another example. The protein bars touted as health food that you see in supermarket aisles have enormous amounts of sugar per serving. Check the labels for yourself. In fact, read the labels of alll foods you buy thoroughly before purchasing them. If you don’t know what to look for, educate yourself on google on the matter. Want a fruit juice? Make it yourself with ripe fruits, and skip the sugar. Want a nutty energy bar? Buy some raw nuts and eat those instead. Even better, make it your self. There are ridiculously easy recipes online, you just need to spend a little time looking for it and then making it.

Here are a few fruit and nut bar recipe links I found:

http://everydaypaleo.com/everyday-paleo-fruit-n-nut-bars/ (this one is no-sugar, no-bake and as simple as it gets. I’ve made it, it’s awesome.)

http://powerhungry.com/2010/02/fruit-seed-nut-power-bars-no-added-sugar/

http://www.thenourishinggourmet.com/2009/07/delicious-honey-nut-bars-dairy-sugar-gluten-and-grain-free.html (this involves heating honey, which I don’t like to do)

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Diet & Movement

Fat to Fit: Reclaiming my Life

Three years ago, some time in March 2010, I walked into a gym with a friend of mine to find out if they had any aerobics sessions I could join. I was terribly overweight, been that way all my life, and wanted to do something that would make it go away. I was fond of long walks and did several such, many times a week, not really to lose weight, but because I enjoyed them too. I’d always find an excuse to change a short auto/bus ride to some place, into a walk if that distance could be covered in a reasonable 20 mins to 50 mins. But I walked at snail’s pace. Always did. Nevertheless, during these long walking sessions, I always took extra heart in the thought that I was getting some exercise and that this would affect the layers and layers of ‘handles’ on my body some way. I was also very fond of food. It didn’t really matter what kind: the sweeter and creamier the better. My ability to distinguish between excellent-good-okay tastes wasn’t very fine-tuned, and I needed twice to thrice the portions most people around the table would eat, to be full. Ironically I was also hungry in half the time they were.

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That day changed my life. Not it wasn’t any magic moment that suddenly got me into an exercising and clean-eating banshee. On the other hand, it was the first in a series of days that took me on a journey of discovery, in remarkably excruciating ways, of how many several muscles my body has and good lord, where all! I mean, inner thigh? Seriously?!

I had of course tried several times over the four or five years before that, during college, to develop regular walking regimens, to eat less and even joined a gym a couple of times, only to quit soon after. Every one of those times I started doing something towards getting fitter, it seemed like that would be the final time I slipped off sticking to what I’d started. Yea, every time I took a decision like that and stuck to it for 2 weeks, I’d think, yes, this, this is the time when everything is gonna change. In three months I’ll lose 15 kilos, and voila! there stands a pretty medium me in a mini skirt and a snug top. However, the great interest I had in eating and the amount of will power it took to finish each exercise session, not to mention how enormously impossible it was to wake up in the mornings for those walks, ensured that I fell of the band wagon soon, until things got so miserable again and I’d started all over again some 6-8 months later.

So what was different in March 2010? Above and beyond my own motivation, I think it was the camaraderie that was part of the chief trainer’s work style. Suresh. A lively and fun-loving guy, and a people’s person through and through, each day at the gym I felt, was a personal appointment I had to keep with him. Sure, I was motivated as hell to change my body, but the fact that someone was waiting there to guide me, to talk to me, to show me another exercise when I got bored with the routine, and even text me to ask if I wasn’t coming in case he didn’t see me a day or two, made those evenings a time to look forward to. And for the very first time in my life, I’d stuck to an exercise regimen I’d start: Six months later, I was still making the trip 5-6 days a week, walking 20 mins every day from home to the gym and back, coming back home with a greater sense of exhilaration every time. Once you’ve gotten past the wretched rut where you regret every living moment for having decided to do those exercises, simply because you don’t have the fuckin’ strength or stamina to do them, your relationship with those exercises slowly begin to change. What was impossible until last month becomes a bit easier and you aren’t dying on the cross anymore. Come next month, the stuff is so doable that you want to put in an extra set just to see how it goes. And that’s exactly when you begin to notice how you feel ‘after’ a session of working out. Exhilaration. Pure and unadulterated. Not because of what you did or how much you did. Sure, that could be there. But this is a completely different genus of magic. You’ll suddenly remember all those articles you read about endorphins, the feel-good-hormones, that are released after a session of strenuous exercise. Aha. Gliding effortlessly in a weightless body, bursting with love for anything that could care to cross your way. That’s what you feel. 🙂

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Recipes

An Awesome Banana Bread

I started cooking most of my meals a few months ago. This I have discovered, has a surprising fallout: you now know exactly what, and how much of it, goes into your belly.

Now, I’ve spent a long long time figuring out how to eat. <Uproarious laugh> Figuring out how to eat?! Yup. Damn right. Turns out, being an uber chubby kid who is constantly eating, and large quantities of food at that, tends to fix that way of eating as the only way you know how to eat.

So after many many years, I slowly started paying attention to how I was eating. Turns out it was all in huge, huge quantities. And how did I know this? Because as I started eating lesser and lesser portions, I found out after a while that I could be full and satisfied even if I only ate as much as everyone else at the table!

And then came the part where I started noticing what exactly was it that I was eating. Boy was there oodles of stuff made at the bakery! 😀 Packaged noodles? Sweet tempting cakes, breads, chocolates? Yes, yes, yes! But the moment when I struck gold wasn’t finding what I ate, but how I ‘felt after’ eating. Eating things that lasted me a good time, without making me feel uneasy, was the key.

In any case, this post wasn’t supposed to be featuring ‘ My Great Discoveries on my Finding-How-to-eat Journey’. That though isn’t altogether outside the plan either. As I go along, I do want to write about things I’ve learnt over time, hoping someone might finding them useful like I have, when others have done the same.

So now to the central piece of this post: My recipe for a yummy homemade banana bread.

When I found store-bought cakes had too much of many things I could do without, I started baking at home. Nothing spectacular, just following to a tee instructions for recipes that have hundreds of reviews and top ratings, to ensure I ended up making good-tasting stuff. And then I saw that there was too much of sugar or fat in almost all of them. Well, one day I just decided to improvise with all the goddamn substitutions I’d read about until then, and presto!, out came a super moist, crumbly, just-enough-sweet yummy banana bread! So here’s the recipe, if you’d like to try it.

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A Crumbly Moist Homemade Banana Bread

Stuff you’ll need:

Wet Ingredients (Everything at room temperature)
Large ripe bananas – 3 (Robusta/Chiquita)
Milk – 3/4 cup (slightly warmed)
Pitted dates – 1 tbspn (I used ‘Ziyad’ pitted baking dates, but you can just warm up that milk to I-can-drink-it-this-hot temperature and soak some good quality chopped dates in it for about 10 mins)
Brown sugar (lightly packed) – 1/3 cup
Butter – 2 tbspn
Vanilla essence – 1 tspn
Any plain yogurt (not sour at all) – 1/4 cup
Large eggs – 2
Regular vegetable oil – 1 tbspn (I used canola)

Dry Ingredients
Wholewheat flour – 2 cups
Baking soda – 1 tspn
Baking powder – 3/4 tspn
Cinnamon powder – 1/4 tspn
Nutmeg powder – 1/8 tspn
All spice powder – 1/8 tspn
Clove powder – 1/16 tspn (now here, no need to be anal about what you have and don’t; go happy with whatever spices you have on hand)
Chopped dry fruits/nuts/chocolate chips – 1/2-1 cup (optional)

How to:

Make sure all your wet ingredients are at room temperature. Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit (180 degree Celcius, 4 gas mark). Grease the bottom of a 9*5 loaf pan with a tad bit of butter.

In a blender, puree the bananas, warm milk and dates. Keep aside.

Sift together the dry ingredients and keep aside.

In a large bowl, cream together the brown sugar and butter. Add the vanilla essence, yogurt, eggs and oil one after the other, and blend together. Add the banana-milk-dates puree to this and blend well. Add the sifted dry ingredients slowly, mixing with a large spoon, just enough to wet it, no more.

You could add some chopped dry fruits/nuts/chocolate chips at this point if you’d like it, but I didn’t have any at hand so I didn’t.

Pour the mixture into the greased loaf pan and bake for 45-50 mins, or until a toothpick inserted comes clean.

Voila! your homemade bread is ready to be cut after it has cooled down for about 10-15 mins in the pan.

My Feedback: 

This is a tender, moist and crumbly bread, packed with mellow banana flavor and subtle spice. It is not overly sweet at all, and the taste of the dates stays well hidden in the background.

Good to know:

The bread will look scaringly pale while baking, that’s okay.

I’d love it if any of you made/improvised this bread and told me what results you got. Hell, it was an awesome bread guys, go try it.

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Diet & Movement

A Strongman Competition

I’ve been grounded at home with a back I can barely move, after the strongman competition last Saturday and Sunday. And here I was thinking, ‘It’ll just be a fun event.. with so many people, and everything over in just 2 hours?, plus I am just doing one thing for some 75 secs, and it’s just four such things to do, puh, no problem!” Muhahahaha. How wrong the naive girl was!

Ah, so the strongman competition. I wasn’t going to write about it at all, considering what a noobe attempt it was, thinkin’, ‘Meh, what’s to write about bombing every item I participated in.’ Hahahahaa! But I am so pleased with myself! I mean, I consistently placed third in every single one of the eight items I competed in (note that there were only three women participants), and I still feel so great. Lol. Thing is, I wasn’t even going to participate. I didn’t know what this ‘strongman’ competition was. But me thought to myself, ‘Ah, that should absolutely be great to be a part of’.
Side note: I am increasingly becoming a sucker for outdoor stuff that has anything to do with exerting strength.

So on one random day, I went to register for some international cuisine demonstration at the Co-rec in Purdue, and happened to say, ‘Hey, could you also register me for the strongman competition’? And the guy at the desk went, ‘ Oh, the registration deadline just got over yesterday.’

Me: Oh, is it? (In my head: ‘Woman, you’ve been seeing those posters for two months now. And you’ve been passing this desk everyday! Suits you well enough.)
Me: Mmm.. Well.. that’s okay then. I’ll just go watch.
Guy: Well, let me see if… (and went on to initiate a series of actions that resulted in me being a participant in the competition)

Ehm. So here stood I with an upbeat sense of accomplishment and a slowly gathering ball of anxiety about what I had just done. I mean, what are the events in a strongman competition?? After reading the email from the director of the events, I realized I might not even be able to attempt some of the stuff because I hadn’t tried them ever before. This new information strangely ended up encouraging me though, cos hey, there is no pressure to perform any more!

So, on the chilly, 1 degree Celsius feels like -3 Saturday morning, I showed up just in time for check-in, and on rolled the dice.

Saturday saw me ‘Keg toss’ , do a 150 lbs total farmer’s walk over 160 ft. distance for time, tire flip a monstrosity 5’ in diameter and 18” wide, and do an arm over arm row of a 200 pound pile of weights attached to a thick long rope for I dunno, some 50′ or less.

The kegg toss was so pathetic I don’t want to say what distance I covered (okay, 10′), and I stubbed my toe. Won’t talk about it.

The farmer’s walk however, felt really awesome. You see I didn’t think I could even lift the weight, but it was pretty light when I did, and I could move quite fast. 150 lbs, 75 in each hand. And then I heard everybody cheering so loud and I thought to myself, ‘Hey, maybe I am going really fast, and I should slow down a bit?’ But this, only until I lost balance with not taking care to keep pointing the weights straight ahead. Lesson learnt. In any case, I think it was my best-feel event among all eight.

The tire flip. Ehm. That felt just fine until after six or seven flips, when I got midway across the field and my fingers wouldn’t go under the tire well enough to grip it, and I couldn’t lift the tire anymore. Lol. This was also because the event just before, the arm over arm row in the cold bruised three fingers on my left hand, leaving them two fingernails bleeding and one blue-black. The cold made them numb and yet the pain was so bad I was crying under my hoodie, wishing there was some place warm to just go stand in. I started jogging across the field to raise body heat and after some 4 rounds, it was high enough to last me some 3 mins. Bloody chattering teeth. Another round again. And here comes the call for the tire flip. Outdoor sports in cold weather suck big time.

Glorious Sunday, however, wasn’t cold at all at about 8-13 degrees and in the perfect weather condition I had a ball of a time, trying each event at max effort. I still placed third in everything, but it was awesome. I got a deadlift PR of 225 lbs, and I owe everyone on that field cheering like madmen for this strangerwoman. Time froze and I think I lifted an inch per two seconds, knowing in my bones that this barbell wasn’t going to the ground before my hips locked out. Beau-ti-ful.

Apart from discovering the sweet taste of attention, I also found out that I much enjoy pushing heavy things across the field, like the little wagon we had to push a 100′ for time. Next time I’d also like to press that axel I couldn’t even clean this time. 95 lbs. Puff, a crying shame indeed. But then next year is just round the corner, and girl, it will be a piece of cake, cos now I’m gonna put my ass to work over that.

All in all, not discounting the two-day-immobility that came as part of the package, boy am I glad I didn’t just go watch! There is a world, a huge fuckin’ world, of difference between being a spectator and a participant. And now I’m hooked. 🙂

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