A prerequisite to losing 20 kgs is to have it lying around on your person. I had this one covered. At 40, the popular indices categorized me as obese. My station was maintained the old-fashioned way, with a diet rich in the three essential food groups - beers, biryani and biscotti. As a god-fearing rationalist, I was aware of the correlation between carrying unhealthy weight and cardiovascular and other ailments. But, my lipid profile was in order, my self-confidence bordered on arrogance and my gym membership was paid for. Diets seemed to make life less worth living.
A drunken bet acted as my trigger and I set out to be leaner. I started reading up and found excellent, actionable and free advice. Some of it was intuitive. Some required a leap of faith. I lost 22 kgs in nine months - the equivalent of my 5-year old son! I could not have imagined that this result was possible without blood, sweat and tears.
My meals were balanced, tasty and did not require special preparation. I did not pay an expensive nutritionist, did not follow a diet of soup and salad or cheese and bacon, did not sleep hungry, did not stop eating out, did not cut out carbs and did not give up any of my favourite foods. I did not pop any miracle pill. And, I had plenty of energy to significantly up my gym routine.
I credit the results not to diet and exercise but to math and behavioural science. The global weight-loss market is well over $100 billion per year. However, there is little attention given to the psychological and behavioural aspects of people in need of weight loss. Our psyche is different than that of a thin person. We do not only eat to live. We celebrate our meals. The premise of every diet is to box these habits and create scarcity to shock the system. Its success depends on duration and therefore our will power to keep ourselves in a state of scarcity. This leads to a race for quick results. The ensuing means often run counter to our quest of being healthy.
My epiphany came upon learning that we need to create an 8,000-calorie deficit for a 1 kg drop. Once I ran the numbers on my basal metabolic rate, non-exercise activity thermogenesis, ability to burn calories at the gym alongside necessary calorie intake, it was clear that meaningful fat loss would be a marathon, and not a sprint. It is important to note that the goal is to lose fat and not simply weight that also includes lean mass (bones, muscle and organs) and water (an average adult male is 60% water).
I had no desire to remain hungry for a day, let alone a year. This is where behaviour comes in for an overweight foodie. The words diet or dieting should be erased from any fat loss consultation. It intrinsically means creating scarcity which makes one anxious. Instead, we need to focus on eating to lose fat! We need to create healthy food habits and focus on superfoods we can eat (positive receptors) rather than focusing only on treats that we must give up (negative receptors). It takes about 23 days to form a food habit. I have no basis for this statement except that it is the number of days it took me to enjoy my coffee without sugar.
There is no medal for controlling hunger. The smarter game is not to feel hungry. I continue to keep a meticulous log of everything I eat and actively substitute food and drink, having a scientific basis of promoting weight gain with nutritious foods high in taste and satiety quotient. There are many healthy habits that I do not follow - say, not eating after 8 pm. I find them too restrictive to my lifestyle. Instead, I focus on the few that I can embrace and enjoy the fruits of compounding.
In parting, a log comprising of food and drinks that I:
... gave up or significantly reduced
Refined sugar, white-flour, butter, diet sodas, artificial sweeteners, alcohol, processed meats, fried food, packaged treats.
... added to my meal plan
Brown rice, bajra, jowar, ragi, sweet potatoes, desi ghee, peanut butter, rolled oats, dry fruits.
... increased in proportion
Water, chicken, cheese, fish, legumes, lentils, green tea, salads, fibre-rich fruits.
Remember, if your diet is giving you hunger pangs, it is a sign that fat will not be leaving your buttocks.
(Daljit S. Kochhar is a Director at KT Advisory, a boutique corporate finance advisory practice.)