Most diets propagated by popular weight-loss apps and sundry fitness experts are either ‘inspired’ or directly lifted from programmes prevalent abroad. These often ignore the needs, sensibilities and budgetary constraints of the average middle- or upper-middle-class Indian household, thereby alienating many people trying to combat lifestyle diseases.
But now the idea of going ‘vocal for local’ seems to be turning into the new abracadabra for those sweating it out on the gym floor and trying to adhere to various diet plans to strike the perfect balance between nutritional requirements and calorie-intake levels – all to shed those extra kilos and become fit and healthy.
Several health coaches and nutrition experts have already successfully fused effective weight-loss programmes and a normal Indian diet.
Rajeesh Kumar, a Kerala-based health coach and nutrition expert, says regular home-cooked Indian food is the best dietary option for anyone trying to lose excess weight and get into proper shape, especially those already diagnosed with diabetes.
The biggest advantage in following an Indian diet rather than depending on something fancy involving super veggies and fruits such as broccoli, avocados, berries and quinoa seeds is that there is no need to prepare exclusive food for the individual at home. This also ensures that the meal plan for rest of the family, the daily kitchen schedule and the monthly budget do not get disrupted because of a person’s weight-loss regime.
“It wouldn’t be fair to dismiss these superfood items since it is a fact that they are highly nutritious with lowest calories in them – making them perfect for those trying to lose weight and get into shape,” Rajeesh says. “But we don’t have to entirely depend on these foods since we can ensure a healthy and low-calorie balanced diet by relying on the daily meals prepared in our homes.”
A good example of the viability of this approach is one of his clients who managed to lose more than 80 kg of excess body weight and reverse type 2 diabetes and other lifestyle-linked adverse health conditions – including high blood pressure, cholesterol and fluctuating uric acid levels – by primarily relying on regular home-cooked meals.
“Basically, a bowl of sambhar with multiple vegetables in it – except potato – doubles as a nutritious bowl of spicy vegetable soup,” Rajeesh says. “Also, a regular desi side dish made with sautéed pulses and green leafy vegetables prepared for lunch will take care of a major chunk of the protein-fibre requirement in a diet.”
Beyond this, the rest of the protein requirement in that meal would be shouldered by four-to-six egg whites and another bowl of chicken curry or even fried chicken.
Rajeesh says the basic idea of lose weight without exercise through diet is to cut down on carbohydrates and compensate for the energy requirement with a protein- and fibre-rich diet along with some balanced fat content too.
“People tend to completely avoid fried food items when they want to lose weight,” he says. “But more than the oil that can lead to high cholesterol levels, it is the cornflour outer coating mixed with colour and masala that is smeared on chicken pieces before frying them in restaurants that would end up ruining your well-planned diet since these pump excess calories into your system.”
Rajeesh believes people tend to be too harsh on themselves when dieting. Many, therefore, often end up miserable and quit before achieving their weight-loss targets.
“If someone likes fried fish or fish curry they can opt for fish, which is as healthy and nutritious as chicken,” he says. “Some people insist on having only steamed chicken or fish without oil and masala since they fear it might interfere with their metabolic process. It is definitely good to avoid spicy and oily food as much as possible but even having it fried won’t derail your weight-loss process. After a couple of days, I also ask my clients to include a bit of meat such as mutton in their diet for a day or two. When diet and weight loss is being carried out under the supervision of a health coach, these kinds of different variations could be tried out.”
Meanwhile, people who assume (wrongly) that the Indian diet is predominantly vegetarian have another hurdle to overcome. Most of them think there are no alternatives to chicken and egg whites, which are the mainstay of regular western diets.
But thankfully that is not the case. “If someone doesn’t want to have chicken or egg or even fish, they can always compensate for it by opting for pulses, lentils and more green leafy items such as spinach in their diet,” says Rajeesh.
Another misconception among the Indian middle class is that body transformation and weight-loss regimes are predominantly the concern of the rich. And that only those who have access to posh gyms and who follow a daily meal cycle of expensive fruits and vegetables can hope for a true transformation.
“There is an alternative to almost every food item out there,” says Rajeesh. “We have seen people saying that their preferred health drink is flavoured Greek yoghurt. Actually, a glass of thick curd from our kitchen will be a better option, especially since it will not have artificial flavour in it.”
Studies back such an approach to how to lose weight without exercise and health. In 2015 researchers from the department of nutrition, Defence Institute of Physiology and Allied Sciences, Defence Research and Development, New Delhi, analysed the dietary fibre content in Indian diets. They found that people who consume fibre-rich vegetarian or non-vegetarian food items also tend to eat less since the viscous nature of the dietary-fibre content makes them feel satiated faster than food with lesser fibre content.
A balanced diet should ideally include at least 35 to 40 gm of dietary fibre content. The study also indicates that a daily diet of food prepared from fibre-rich items such as cereals, pulses, green leafy vegetables, toned milk and millets will ensure better control over diabetes, hypertension and obesity.
Many nutritionists say an Indian diet with minimum carbohydrate content and more protein-rich food items is the best option for weight loss and for ensuring desirable blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure.
Sometimes the solution we seek is near at hand. We just have to look.