#Whole30 : Welcome energy and peace back into your life

Whole30.001

At boarding school, my friends gave me the nick name “thulla”, which in the Sindhi language means “fatso”.  Every time I met my parents, however – during those very years – they would say “Don’t they feed you? We can count your bones!”. The name calling or comments never bothered me. When food was served, I would relish it and that is what mattered. I could devour just about anything – poorly made porridge, a watery bowl of lentils or just plain hard bread. As an active kid, my body needed fuel and my brain would be in a happy place during school canteen/cafeteria hours.

Until the age of 37, I don’t recall worrying about how many calories I was consuming or what my fat, protein and carb mix was for the day. I would work out and eat a wide spectrum of foods (vegetables, fruits, fish, meat, legumes, chocolates, Indian sweets, varieties of Indian bread etc). In 2016, I was training for my second full marathon – it was also the year I turned 40 – when Chitra (my wife), heard about Whole30 from a friend. As long as I’ve known her, she has been plagued by the perception that she needs to lose weight. And I have jokingly asked (with dire consequences), “which finger of yours needs to lose weight!!??” So even though Whole30 is a ‘reset’ program, she started her research, to soon realize, there was enough merit to explore our first 30 day program – hence the name, Whole30.

Stating upfront that we have benefited a lot from Whole30 and I am an unpaid, vociferous advocate. I talk about it to strangers on flights, my customers and friends/family – who have had to bear me the most. I’m sure this post will get a lot of eye rolls from some of these “victims”. Having said that, anyone I know, who has experienced the program and was disciplined about it for the 30 day period has benefited immensely. As I have stated on multiple occasions “it is a life changing experience.”

Is it a weight loss program?

Absolutely not! During the first year, I consumed nuts (walnuts, almonds, pecans and pistachios) very liberally and there was a phase after my marathon when I was “couching” hard, so no prizes for guessing that I gained a few pounds. There will be cases where people have had a poor diet for years and may be overweight. A simple switch to a better eating lifestyle will result in weight loss. 

Do we have to do it for 30 days?

Yes. After we started this eating lifestyle, we loved it soo much that we continued it beyond the 30 days and have largely (~90%) followed it for 3 years now. There are times when we vacation or travel to India and simply cut loose. Almost instantly, we realize the impact of it and soon switch back to a disciplined 30 day routine for a reset. As a matter of fact, I’m currently on day 29, after over indulging my systems this summer.

What is the objective of Whole30?

As we go through the ups and downs of life and get closer to our 40s, we knowingly or unknowingly abuse our body. This abuse is driven largely by lifestyle, choice/addiction to processed food and poor sleep routines. There are hormonal changes and also an imbalance to our body’s chemical composition. In short, our body is wearing out. With this plan, we are helping our body hit the ‘reset’ button.

From my personal experience, after the first 30 days, my body felt lighter and tighter (no bloating). I had more energy and there were no lethargic spells in the afternoon hours (post lunch etc). I completed my second marathon, including the training months, while on Whole30 and there was no adverse impact. One key observation was that my body recovered faster from minor niggles/injuries. 

Also importantly, after Whole30, when you introduce foods not consumed during the 30 day period, your body is very vocal about how sensitive you are to them. In my case, when I introduced rice (only a couple of spoons), it felt like I was trying to digest a softball. Another example is black beans – after eating a small quantity, I‘m ready to give a 21 gun salute. Bread is OK, though and I don’t feel miserable. You’re able to identify food types that don’t work well with your body and you can either avoid them totally or consume with caution. 

What can you eat and what not?

One line answer – food prior to the farming revolution. So anything that could be hunted or fished and what could be picked/gathered from trees/plants. Quick reference table:

Whole30_Table.001

What do we typically consume in the day?

Breakfast:

This has been the best discovery for me so far. 99% of the times, I eat 1 banana, 1 apple, 3 tablespoons almond butter and 2 hard boiled eggs. I love to mash my banana into the almond butter, thoroughly mix and use that as a dip for my apple slices. On a few occasions,  I have been accused of saying “this combination is better than sex!” Chitra’s yoga guru told her to keep a bottle of almond butter on our bedside table, with the hope that I will renounce my claim. Thankfully, I have not been put to the test (yet!). 😊 On our hard boiled eggs, we like to sprinkle salt and pepper/red chili powder. This meal gives me 685 calories and keeps me going through afternoon.  

IMG_8442

Lunch and dinner:

Whole30 gives you a number of options to experiment and you can get very creative in your cooking. On a typical day, we eat some sea food (baked salmon) and various types of vegetables.

QHthpF8xSmy5eb6b%RM0Pg_thumb_f5a

Few tricks from our kitchen:
  • Currys are based in coconut milk, which gives them a thick and creamy texture
  • Makhane (lotus flower seeds) are a substitute for something crunchy and when toasted in olive oil or ghee with Indian spices, a great healthy snack (think of them as popcorn)
  • Cauliflower rice and veggies make a great filling meal
  • Sweet potatoes roasted in the oven are awesome. Chitra’s kitchen produces the best in the world, no kidding! This is after having tried them in many other homes and restaurants. We bake in bulk – two full trays and they don’t even last 2 days. Just remember to keep it simple – organic sweet potatoes, olive oil and salt
  • Also instant pot cooking has revolutionized and eased our cooking process.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Any other benefits observed?

Alright, this is gross but needs to be explained. Have you ever seen a healthy dog poop? The dog smells for sometime, finds it’s spot and finishes his/her job in a few seconds. Pooping for us humans too should be the same. Since we don’t have to smell and locate spots, we should be done in a few short minutes too. If you are not grossed out yet, how could I disappoint. Chitra attended a workshop by Tias Little in which he briefly spoke about human poop. Human poop is a daily indicator to the wellbeing of your systems. According to Mr. Little, your poop should ideally be one long piece and float in water (in western toilets)! Sticky, broken or other forms is a sign that your body is not functioning fine. By the time I hit day 14 on whole30, I experience what a healthy dog experiences multiple times in a day! I hope to erase some of that visual with pictures of the best behaved male member of our family – Bambi Menon.

I travel a bit, so is Whole30 feasible?

The first time we explored Whole30, I was a worried traveler. Now I am a Whole30 travel pro! For breakfast, I have located Italian restaurants, in airports, that can serve me veg omelettes made in olive oil with no dairy. It does become easy, when I tell the waiter that I am allergic to dairy products, they are also extra cautious. I do stop by Whole Foods and pick up almond butter, apples, bananas for multi day trips. All hotels have small refrigerators and offer paper plates and spoons etc. 

For lunch, I eat at client cafeterias from their salad bar or for luncheon/dinner meets select restaurants where I can have a good steak or fish with roasted or steamed vegetables. The salad/hot bar at Whole Foods has a few options as well. If eating dinner alone, I have begun to like organic cut peeled carrots/celery/baby cucumber, guacamole and canned sardines. This has now become second nature and I would do this even in the most fancy hotels. 

RxBars are a great emergency option and I always carry a couple with me. Two bars give you enough boost when you don’t have time or running late for meetings. Remember RxBars have a peanut option (brown color pack), that is not compliant. Most airport stores carry raw nut snack bags. It must be raw, because most of the nut snack bags have multiple types of oils or even sweeteners in the ingredients. Caution: RxBars are quite chewy and sticky, so give yourself enough time to enjoy them and make sure your teeth don’t have any left overs. You don’t want your clients getting distracted with colored remnants on your teeth!

There are some airports or certain terminals where you really can’t find any options. Stick to bananas and apples sold at Starbucks and other stores too. I hate these events but they don’t happen too often. For Chicago (ORD & MDW), Minneapolis (MSP) and Phoenix (PHX) I can designate myself as the Whole30 guru. I know which restaurants to visit and what to order. Some staff now recognize me and know my ‘usual order’. 

Many of my work colleagues joke when I walk into morning meetings with my Almond Butter, banana and apple. They find it amusing and like in my boarding school days, I don’t care much. They don’t realize I am experiencing something ‘better than sex!!’  😉

Solutions for your sugar fix

When not on Whole30, sweets are my Achilles’ heel. I am unable to control my portions and overshoot my calorie and sugar intake dramatically. Being on this plan has not exactly fixed this problem, but I am consuming “healthy natural sugars”. This is how I convince myself and Chitra. 

Dates, dried figs, apricots and raisins with nuts and seeds (cashew, walnuts, pecans, sunflower seeds etc) are my saviour. Sometimes I also switch to grapes + nuts or grapes + almond butter. 

If I have “behaved” well at home, I get treated to a fig and walnuts instant pot sweet dish. It is super awesome. Ingredients are dried figs, walnuts and clarified butter (ghee). There are other similar versions with apricots etc. 

IMG_8476

What do I miss the most when truly on whole30?

Salty snacks!  You can have salted pistachios or Makhane but they are not a great substitute for the crunch, ease and fulfillment of a banana/potato chip. There are many options people suggest but they don’t fulfill my salty snack cravings. If any of you have other ideas, please feel free to share. 

In conclusion

If you ever want to experience the feeling of a light and tight body, you have to experience Whole30. Do it diligently for a life-changing experience!

In my Client Partner role, I never want to be in a meeting with any of my internal or external stakeholders when I am not exhibiting high energy. Whether these sessions are early mornings, post lunch or at night. 

What’s the connection to peace? When you can start your day feeling energetic and cleansed, you feel at peace and exude this energy to everyone around you. 

Are you ready to dedicate just 30 days for a reset to your life?

#whole30 #whole30advocate #whole30ontravel #whole30travelguru

Related data points:

 

“Times of India (TOI) front full page obituary in color!” Major Menon in all his glory.

Papa

Papa, Dad, Major, Abbe Buddhe (hey, old man!) are some ways my brother and I addressed our father. This is a short, simple and uncomplicated tribute to someone whose life and actions can never be described as short, simple and uncomplicated. I present to you Major Rajendran Gopalan Menon on his first death anniversary.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

He left home, without his family’s approval, to join the Indian army as a jawan (junior most soldier). Went on to be a commissioned officer, was ‘Blue in Boxing’ at the academy, graduate of the Indian Army Staff College and also earned his Army mountaineering badge. He was an obstinate and difficult officer to manage but his regiment troops loved him. Very few officers would have won a popularity contest against him. From our standpoint he was meant to be in the army and should have ended his working career with them. However, that was not to be. His ego and his brutally honest rebuttals with seniors resulted in him taking pre-mature retirement after having served for 23 years. He had never spoken to us about his adventures in the Indo-Pak war or the Bodo militancy. Even Johnnie Walker failed us in this mission. 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

His work life outside the army was equally adventurous. He started working for the King of Jamnagar (in the state of Gujarat) and was responsible for the administration of many palaces, multiple properties and innumerable assets. He had won the trust of the King, but also made many enemies. This led to an attempt on his life in the open streets of Jamnagar. In true Bollywood movie style, he was attacked by a rival group in broad daylight. They, however, failed to smash his head with a metal rod, when on two occasions he barely managed to block the strike with his hand. This resulted in him gaining notoriety in the community and among his rivals as a tough ‘son of a bitch’.  

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Later in the state of Maharashtra, he created a niche in the industrial circle as a fearless front for companies dealing with rogue unions. He respected the unions till they followed the law and worked for the well being of the workers & the company. His claim to fame was a result of his courage, deep understanding of labor laws and wins against Datta Samant unions. During one of my Diwali vacations, I was home from boarding school (grade 7) and witnessed Liberty Oil Mill’s (dad’s employer) labor force on strike. These were violent times, with many managers receiving threats and some physically assaulted during their commute to the factory. Local police enforcements were called in and all managers commuted to the factory and back in armored vehicles. But not Major, he would walk (from the staff quarters) to work and ensure my mom’s blood pressure remained elevated. Late one night, he received a call from the security office, informing him about an increase in the unrest and injuries suffered by a few of the security guards. He immediately got into action and it probably was his army training, because I saw no hesitation in his mind about what he should be doing. He decided to walk to the factory once again, but this time with his Sony walkman, headphones and a torch light. I remember asking him to call for the armored vehicle and take the safe way to work. He simply stated “Beta (son), these jokers are cowards and I cannot let them think I am scared.” The walkman started playing music in full volume and he left home. I went to a window in the house, from where we could see the factory at a distance and joined my mother. Till date, I have not asked her what she thought or if she had even tried to stop him from leaving the house. In later days, I heard from many folks about how Major Menon walked right through the mob, with them shouting abuses, wielding instruments meant to cause bodily harm. He kept pointing his finger to the walkman and gesturing that he could not hear anything. In the town of Shahapur (in Thane district), Major Menon became a legend that night. There were many such stories that I would hear and be in awe of dad. Till his final days, some of the union members visited him or called mummy to check on his welfare and pay respect. It’s hard for me to think, that these very people had threatened and abused him.

He was not all legend material. He had many flaws and had caused deep pain to his immediate family (my mother, my brother and me) and had done that very consistently. However this is the one time, that I am giving him a free pass. This is my dad in all his glory.

I was very shy to talk to anyone over the phone. I had some form of phobia during my high school/college years. The only call I would make with full confidence was to dad when he would be at work. Answering my first question “What are you doing papa?” he would reply “I am masturbating!” He would follow that with a loud laugh and later comment about how lame my conversation starter was. This had become a running joke between the two of us. During his last year he was bed ridden, unable to talk, totally consumed by Alzheimer’s and I would manage to get a smile on his face with his very particular sentence. Guess this was dad’s way of showing Alzheimer’s the middle finger and I loved it.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

You release him into a party or gathering and he would quickly turn into a live wire. He excelled at being the Master of Ceremonies and had the ability to involve everyone to participate in games, jokes and walk away from the event feeling good about themselves. His system did need Johnnie Walker and other associates to get warmed up. There were many occasions, when after a party, he would not remember anything and would not care for it. I recall one such event when after a party at our home, Major was not to be found. Mummy, our community security guard and I looked all around the house and did not find him. We went over to some of our neighbors, who were also at the party, wondering if they were having an after party. However he was not to be found. We had an elementary school, a company club house and a soccer field across our house. Now smaller groups (many of whom were also drunk) were trying to locate Major. We finally spotted him sprawled flat on the soccer field. It was a crisp Indian winter early morning and he must have decided to recount his days as the battalion soccer goal keeper! It took some effort getting him back home (he was a large man). However, after his sleep his memory was wiped clean and he made it to work dot on time. I never attribute it to his antics, but both his sons have never had alcohol. He, however, never failed to take credit for his parenting techniques. 

Watching cricket on television with him was a treat. You could turn off the volume and just listen to his commentary. I was fortunate enough to witness many such games. I remember this 1996 world cup game between India and Pakistan. Aamir Sohail (a Pakistani opening batsmen) was on fire and he was dispatching Indian bowlers all over the park. Venkatesh Prasad (Indian medium pace bowler) apart from being hit for a boundary also got some verbal chatter from Aamir and in the very next ball Venkatesh got him out (clean bowled) and gave an equally fiery send off. Papa erupted with such a war cry that would have brought down the entire apartment building. Thankfully, the Indian team went on to win that game and everyone slept peacefully in the Menon household. 

He was a dreamer and he dreamt big. Life for him was always ‘king size’ and he was a total optimist. You show him the worst case scenario and he had the ability to think about a positive outcome. This was a trait that gave him success in life and also led him to many a financial debacle. You give him Rupees 100 and he would have planned to spend 300. That would not be spent on self or his immediate family, but for the community at large and non-family members. During his last years, when Alzheimer’s had not consumed him fully, I would joke about his obituary and what he would want me to write for him. His reply as always was ‘king size’…“Son, I want a Times of India (TOI) front full page color photo and glowing words about me!”. Just for reference TOI is like the NYT in India. I would laugh and ask him to transfer the money in advance for it. 

031

This was my Papa, Dad, Major, Abbe Buddhe (hey, old man!) for you.  As I type these sentences his smile, his warmth, his colorful language, his positive attitude to anything that life could present flashes in-front of me. I am certain if he is reading this post, he would be shaking his head and teasing me for being a chicken and taking the easy way out.

I sincerely request all readers to please share this post of mine and get him the views he would so enjoy. Thanks in advance to each one of you. 

Related data points:

Are you a ‘Human Manatee’?

DSCF4250

Our son, Yash, is an animal enthusiast and would go to any extent to observe and learn about their habitats. When he was seven, he agreed to wake up at 3am – while on vacation – and drive 2 hours to take a kayaking tour with alligators in the wild. I vividly remember this because it took a gentle whisper and he sprang out of bed all excited. Wish he would do that on school days!

For Yash’s 9th birthday, we had decided to take him to Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida. A few years back, in an inflight magazine I had read about Crystal Rivers, Florida. A small city, two hours north of Orlando, known to host for Manatees in the Crystal River. The city is located around Kings Bay, which have a number of springs, ensuring that the water temperature is a constant 72 degrees Fahrenheit all year long. Hence, in the winter, manatees move from the cool waters of Gulf of Mexico to Crystal Rivers. This is the only place in the USA where humans are legally allowed to observe Manatees up-close in their natural habitat.

DSCF4278

We had booked a 3 hour tour with ‘Fun 2 Dive – Swim with Manatees’ and after a brief training session were in the boat with our crew, looking for these gentle giants. River Manatees don’t have any natural predators and their number one enemy is boat rotor blades. They eat only greens, sleep 12 hours a day, swim, rest and make babies. No wonder they live long lives!

DSCF4280

Honestly, what amazed me the most about Manatees, was that they did not care about the large number of humans around them – entering their natural habitat. They went about their lives — eating, sleeping, swimming and being with their loved ones — as if we never existed. They were happy! This, to me, was the biggest take away. Can we humans also remain unaffected by our surroundings, people, events and positively carry on with life in a happy state? I believe there are such people, who I would like to call ‘Human Manatees’. Psychologists from the University of California who study happiness found that genetics and life circumstances only account for about 50% of a person’s happiness. So these ‘Human Manatees’ clearly have developed traits and ways to practice them always.

“The Constitution only gives people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.” —Benjamin Franklin

I classify myself in the category of folks who are NOT ‘Human Manatees’. For people like me, it‘s important to identify any negative drivers that adversely impact my happiness index. We all exhibit behaviors that can be recognized by ourself or loved ones as signs of not being in a happy state. Each of us will have specific signs and it is in our best interest to be aware of them. Sharing a few indicators that I have come to track for myself – also it is appropriate for me to thank my wife, who promptly alerts me when she begins to observe a pattern. 

  • Indicator 1: Eating excessively is my first marker. I may not be eating ‘junk’ food, but that is my way of trying to mask this indicator. On a bad day, for example, I may end up eating a dozen ’dates’ after a good dinner. 
  • Indicator 2: Typically, 6 hours of sleep works best for me. Then there are times when I tend to sleep longer and despite the longer sleep cycle, I wake up lacking that purpose and drive.
  • Indicator 3: Procrastinate many activities. These activities may not be critical but the fact that I have a list piling up, bogs me down.

These indicators will vary person to person. My dad used to watch TV  and play cards (the game – patience) to de-stress himself. Since 1972, researchers at the University of Chicago conducted the General Social Survey to evaluate the social climate in the United States. Regardless of education, income, marital status or age, happier people surveyed watched about 30 percent less television each week than unhappier participants. On average, the happier respondents watched 19 hours of television, compared to 25 hours for the unhappy set. 

In an ideal world I would also be a ‘Human Manatee’ not impacted by the circus around me. Until then, let me continue improving my skills for early identification and early remedial action. Cheers to all those people on this journey to being a ‘Human Manatee’.

Related data points:

 

15 minutes of hell: My first sprint triathlon

post

In grade 7, I registered for a diving event – with one catch, I did not know how to swim! My only objective was to add participation points on the scoreboard for my team. We were not doing well in the event – low registration numbers was one of the factors. It was a decision, not under any compulsion or peer pressure, but self driven. Guess I am a good team player.

I had seen the diving pool and also witnessed some of our seniors practice. Was very confident of reaching the edge of the pool and being able to grab the inner railing and make my way out. On our first day of diving practice, I made my way up to level 1 of the diving board. No hesitation, no fear, I took position and jumped – my first dive ever. Here I would like to note, that I had been in swimming pools before – where the water level was low enough that I could stand and have fun with my friends. So in my defense I was not alien to water bodies. 

Popped out soon to catch a breath and then tried to swim to the inner railing. It was close and in just a few strokes my out stretched hands would get there. Then I remember not being able to make it. Memory fades a bit, I recall hearing the coach use his whistle and some seniors jumped in and pulled me out. The commotion had not rattled me. Then my coach asked me “Do you know how to swim?”.  Something he must now do before all newcomers line up for their first dive. When he understood my reason to participate and the fact that team ranking was my only goal, he laughed. The next few days I dived with a rope around my hip and he would pull me to the railing. Soon we did away with the rope and I was able to make it to the inner railing. Now that was my initiation to becoming a swimmer!

Fast forward 21 years, when my son was born, i knew he would learn how to swim early in life. He started his swim lessons at age 4 and today enjoys his time in the pool, in the deep end too! Watching him during his swim lessons rekindled the thought of learning to swim. I started in the lap pool and over a brief period was able to make it to the other end – 25 meters. However this pool was 6 feet at the deep end and I could stand to safety. I struggled getting better in the water and my progress stalled at 4 laps. Have to emphasize here, I had completed 2 full marathons and multiple half marathons. So, stamina or endurance was not my issue. 

Chitra, my wife, suggested registering for a local sprint triathlon event. She was convinced that setting a goal and investing the registration dollars would give me enough drive to do better and be more disciplined in my training. So at the age of 42, I registered for my first sprint triathlon and began focusing more on my swim training. Slowly I progressed to completing 8 laps but was unable to do more. My event was 8 months away, when I spoke to my friend and workout buddy Chandu, an anesthesiologist. He volunteered to give me some basic coaching. Either he was a true friend or Chitra and he were planning to get me out of their way. His presence with me in the pool and motivation was a turning point. We began doing around 14 laps but my poor form ensured I was getting winded. In the event I had to cover 375 meters swim which was around 16 laps, cycle 13.1 miles and run 3.2 miles. 

Enter coach Georgia with whom I signed up for some personal swim lessons. She knew my goal and helped me with my technique and I was able to see huge improvements. I invested in a good road bike and my training was now in full swing. With 2 months to my event, confidence levels were reasonably good, a very supportive wife on the home front and friends motivating me, I had a good shot at completing the event. 

On race day, pressure was high and watching better swimmers, who had earlier starts, complete their swim in 4 to 7 minutes did not help my nerves. My time had come and I started strong, however after about 50 meters in the deep waters I experienced my first ever panic attack. With hundreds of people in the open water I felt like a rock! My mind was unable to control to my arms and legs. I was sinking!!40f8f542-04f7-4aad-9591-7b0695d91ab4

Barely managed to grab on to the buoy at the 75 meter round-about and hold onto for dear life. There were many others who were in a similar state. Two life guards were in the water trying to pull some folks to safety. Many thoughts crossed my mind and more importantly I was able to take a few deep breaths. This break would have been around 30 to 45 seconds, but it felt like a lifetime. I began to swim again, however very soon I had the same sinking feeling. Now other swimmers were bumping against my hands & feet. If the first 75 meters were bad, it was only getting worse. In training, coach Georgia had taught me to roll over to backstroke, which I attempted to do. It was the right decision, enabling me to breathe deep and fast. It made a big difference, as I began to better my form and soon switched back to front strokes. This ordeal lasted 15:33 minutes and being able to stand back up on my feet never felt better. 

Transition 1 from swim to cycle took me 6:38 minutes and when I got onto my bike I was still not completely out of the shock. Slowly, my focus switched from saving my life to gaining lost time with my cycling speed. Both my cycling (49:07 minutes) and running (30:27 minutes) phases went as planned and my overall time was clocked at 1:45:21. IMG_5159

Looking back I could not have done this without the support of Chitra, the constant motivation from Chandu and life saving skills offered by my swim coach Georgia. So what’s next? I plan to participate in the same event again next year and my only goal is to walk out of the swim phase not having a panic attack.

Related data points:

  • School I attended: Barnes School, Devlali, Nashik, Maharastra, India
  • Event participated: Naperville Sprint Triathlon 2018
  • Others whose swimming skills inspired me: Nikhil P., Sara F. & James W.