5 March 2015

#getFitMarch | Sharing my experiences on the 5:2 Diet


Before you read anything I'm going to write about 5-2, you MUST watch this documentary. It is what wowed me and won me over - Eat, Fast and Live Longer by Dr. Michael Mosley {58:50} It will be one of the most enlightening one hour of your life. This will give you the entire background to this way of life and how it was discovered. 

If this documentary get's you interested, go ahead buy the book - The Fast Diet: The Simple Secret of Intermittent Fasting. It's written by Dr.Michael Mosley (the person behind the original documentary) and Mimi Spencer. This book by Kate Harrison: 

The 5:2 Diet Book: Feast for 5 Days a Week and Fast for 2 to Lose Weight, Boost Your Brain and Transform Your Health, in which she describes her personal experience on this way of life, and how she achieved her goals is also a good read. Kate also started this Facebook group which has a huge number of 5-2ers providing enormous support and guidance to each other. 

What is 5:2?

5-2 Diet (or as we call it, a way of life) is a form of Intermittent Fasting and is the simplest diet / way of life ever. And vegans, vegetarians, celiacs, everyone is invited to the party. It is the most inclusive diet ever. Only a vegetarian knows the pain of getting on an Atkins or a Keto diet, where most of the allowed things are things he / she cannot eat. 

I started logging some of my daily foods in my other blog - Indian recipes for the 5-2 Diet, which I've never shared with anyone thus far, except friends who wanted to see what I was eating on the 5-2 diet, when I started this way of life in March 2014. I worked out with a trainer for the last 3 years before getting on this, and while I gained strength, my weight never budged. Being hypothyroid didn't help either, or being blessed with the proverbial slow metabolism, even before my thyroid went bust. When I started this way of life, I saw the scales respond magically. And if you have listened to what I wrote in my first paragraph here and actually watched the documentary, you'll understand why the scales move.

So how do I do the 5:2 diet? 
I have two fast days in a week. Mondays and Thursdays typically. But if something unavoidable comes up on either of these days, I can always move it. That's the flexibility it offers and it is important if one has to be on any diet for a long term. I couldn't be on the plan for a few months in the middle because I was away from home and there were some pressing family circumstances. But otherwise, it has become second nature now.

I have never fasted a day in my entire life before I got onto 5-2 and yet I do this comfortably. That's because here fast doesn't mean you don't eat anything all day. You get to eat 500 calories (600 for men) in those 24 hours - so that's 500 cals on Mondays and Thursdays and the other days I don't count anything. Of course that doesn't mean I can raid my neighboring dessert place or eat all-you-can-eat buffets on the remaining five days. It only means I can eat like a normal human being, without checking MyFitnessPal every time I want to put something in my mouth. 

All of the above is incorrect. And scientifically proven to be incorrect. The first couple of days, people are known to feel week, headachey and what not, but after the 3rd and 4th fast days, most people cruise through. 

Epic 220 calorie dinner

What do I eat on FAST DAYS?
You can check my fast day logs here http://52recipesindia.blogspot.in/ 
Typically you can drink as many black coffees, green teas, herbal teas as you like. Diet Coke (if you are into those kind of things) is perfectly fine too. 
So if you eat a breakfast or lunch for 150 calories and spend 50 calories on sundry teas and coffees with minimal skimmed milk, you still have 300 calories for a dinner and you'll be surprised as to how much you can actually get in that much. 
The small problem here is most Indian foods don't come labelled properly, especially if you are cooking with fresh produce. The only way out is to weigh a carrot, a zucchini, an onion, a cucumber, check a reliable calorie providing website for calories in these many grams of the vegetable, and then see how much your dinner is worth. The few recipes I have logged on my 5-2 blog are painstakingly noted that way, and it is then easy to replicate them again and again. Yes, and you need to drink 2-3 litres of water on these days, which is even tougher for me than the fasting bit.

How does one get by FAST DAYS?
  1. Plan the previous day, what you are doing to eat and when. Oats packets, or ingredients weighed out and everything ready to go. Your water bottles, tea bags, whatever else you need within the 500 should be planned out. People in UK, Aus etc. where this way of life is really popular, their local supermarkets sell ready packed calorie counted dinners that they can easily heat and eat. But that is not yet available here, so you will have to prepare your meals until then. People abroad also make a big batch of soup or stew, calorie counted and divided into 4 portions, frozen or refrigerated, that they heat and eat on fast days.
  2. Schedule tons of work, non-cafe type meetings, mall visits (preferably malls without donut stores ;), movie outings (sorry, no popcorn, black coffee is ok) on these days so your mind is off food. At least initially, you will need to be out of the food scene on your fast days. If you keep hovering around home or the kitchen, you will find it tough to keep up the resolve. 
  3. You can also go hit the gym, or do a gentle walk on these days, provided it doesn't make you go crazy for food once you are done. 

What are the benefits of the 5-2 Diet?
  1. You'll see the body changing, the measuring tape will make you happy. And of course so will the weighing scale. People lose an average of 1 pound a week ~500 grams, men somewhat more, but it also depends on a lot of other factors, but this is seen as an average in most 5-2ers. Losing weight is just one of the benefits though. 
  2. It is said to be anti-aging and promoting longevity. No doubt our ancient seers fasted a lot and lived on forever (at least so it seemed in our epics). It has been seen to improve insulin sensitivity, reduce blood pressure and bad cholesterol. I have seen magical transformations, before and after pictures posted by 5-2ers on the Facebook group. It is heartening to see such amazing results by making the simplest change in our eating habits. Not going after any fancy foods, restrictive diets, socially ostracizing diets and so on. You get to eat with your family, friends, socialise on any of the 5 days of the week. 
  3. I've personally experienced how on a fast day, my brain is razor sharp, I can get tons of work done, not just because there is no food distracting me ;) but it is a survival instinct inbuilt in nature. When animals have gone without food for days, they are more alert to find a prey and not become prey themselves. While I'm not going hunting nor is anyone hunting me, I can vouch for the fact that i'm 10 times more intelligent on fast days than what I am on regular days. 

Coming to #GetFitMarch - I had reached my lowest ever weight and waist size in ages, thanks to 5-2 last year. With the demise of my father, it was tough to stick to it, around those circumstances, and while I continued to fast, I wouldn't be strict at counting my 500 calories on fast days and the pounds came back. Also because weekends, I ended up eating too many wrong foods and hardly any physical activity. Coming back to #getfitmarch, I got back in all earnest to my beloved 5-2 since March 1st, and two pounds are off already. It is a mantra that never fails, if you are honest to it. 

So I got back to a propah fast day on Tuesday this week and I'm doing it today again this week. I'm typing this post with a one litre bottle of water next to me :)

52diet dinner
Fast day foods
Tuesday, I had a super hectic day. I had plenty of water. I had 3 teas until lunch time, each with just 2 tsp of skimmed milk and no sugar. Lunch time I had a big mug of a mock-rasam, where I add 2 tsp cooked dal, 1 tsp tomato paste, boil with mug of water, lots of black pepper and salt. This also adds to the water intake for the day. Dinner I had a bowl of cucumber, tomato, 1/4 apple tossed in green chutney and a dry sauteed veggies stuffed in smooth gourd / zucchini, baked in the oven with a touch of oil. All this came to well under 500 calories for the day.

Somedays, I eat a small bowl of oats porridge or savoury oats from a pack for breakfast, teas for lunch and then dinner at 6.30pm or 7pm, sometimes, I'll go on teas and coffees until lunch, have a soup for lunch and then something for dinner, mix and match all you like, but ensure the whole day is under 500 calories and the results will be yours to see. Some people even go without eating all day and straight have a 500 calorie dinner, and that is a better than normal dinner. So it's totally how you want to play it, how your schedule is like etc.

I'm a firm believer in the 5-2 way of life and the fact that human race cannot be healthy given the quantity of food that we eat currently, and pretty much throughout the day. It has worked for me, like no other exercise plan or diet has and I strongly believe in the benefits it has to offer. And it comes from a person who hates fad diets of any kind. 

This is just the beginning of the discussion and it's needed quite some effort from my side to share this experience. I'm happy to answer your comments here, to whatever extent possible. 

I may not find the time to update the blog daily with #getfitmarch posts, but do follow the Pinterest board dedicated to this, where I pin my workout videos chosen for the day, or on Twitter, where I will be posting 2-3 updates on my food, workout and water intake. 

3 March 2015

The best use of overripe bananas: Recipe for Banana Raita

I doubt there was a single day in my childhood when there were no bananas at home. Probably because my grandfather did an elaborate pooja each day which ended with offering a banana, freshly cooked rice and dal as 'naivedhya' - they ensured that the old plastic fruit basket was never empty. Tambrahms of the older generations (my parents and above) were mostly thrifty people. I remember questioning my grandmom and also my amma, why those fruit baskets were older than me, but never replaced. Now, I feel quite proud that my family has (unconsciously) prevented so much plastic from going into landfills. They were never the use and throw types. Each little thing had its use and they used it carefully, never finding a chance to throw it away or replace it. "The plastics of these days don't even last a few months, ours have been going on since 40 years," they would say, and I must say, I find that to be true now. That plastic wire fruit basket is actually etched in my memory. 

Even something like a completely overripe mushy banana would have some use. And no, not banana bread. The rare cake would be baked by my cooking enthusiast Chithi, in a pressure cooker. Nothing justified the presence of ovens in our homes those days. 
"என்ன தினமும் கேக் ஆ பண்ண போறோம்??" (are we going to make cakes everyday??)
Overripe bananas went into a pachidi, or a raita. I used to love this raita so much as a kid, as I do even now. Called 'Pazham Pachidi' in Tamil, served along with a peppery poricha kootu or with a pulao, it is my favourite raita ever. As it is probably rarely made outside of thrifty tambrahm homes, it is quite unheard of, especially in North Indian cuisine. Correct me if I am wrong though :) When I called our bunch of #thekitchendivas foodbloggers home for lunch, they were pleasantly surprised to find overripe bananas in a raita.

The best thing about this raita is the crunch offered by the generous quantity of udad dal used in the tempering, so make sure you don't skimp on that! The udad dal powder is great when you use somewhat runny homemade yogurt, it thickens up the raita. It also adds to the flavour. You may however omit it, if you are using thick yogurt and you think it is too much of a chore to roast and powder the udad dal. This flour is available readymade in some stores, or you can prepare a small quantity and store it in an airtight bottle.

While I love banana bread and I make it quite regularly in various permutations combinations, this is the best healthy way to use overripe mushy bananas without adding tons of sugar, flour and fat. Since we are in #getFitMarch, I'd like to stick to the healthier option ;)

Pair it with a spicy rice dish or a spicy curry and rotis, don't believe me when I say it is nirvana, try it for yourself :)

Recipe for Banana Raita | Pazham Pachidi 
Serves 3-4
Prep time: Under 5 mins | Cooking time: Under 5 minutes

4 medium sized overripe bananas
400-500 ml fresh yogurt
2 tsp udad dal flour*
1/2 tsp salt
For tempering:
1 tbsp cooking oil
1 tbsp udad dal (whole or split, either is fine)
pinch of asafoetida
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1 sprig curry leaves
2 dried red chillies
Optional garnish: 2 tsp pomegranate, 1 tsp fresh coconut

Kitchen equipment 
Tadka / Tempering ladle (useful for all Indian cuisines)


  1. Peel and roughly mash the bananas with a fork in a large bowl. Whisk the yogurt with the udad dal lentil flour and salt in a medium bowl. Add it to the mashed bananas. Remove into a serving bowl.
  2. Heat the oil in a small pan or a tempering ladle, add the udad dal. On medium flame, allow it to turn golden brown (will take a minute or so), add the asafoetida, curry leaves, red chillies, mustard seeds. The seeds will crackle and the red chillies will turn crisp. Transfer this over the raita.
  3. Garnish with few pomegranate pearls and a tsp of fresh grated coconut.

*To make udad dal flour, roast 4 tbsp of udad dal (either split or whole) on a low flame, until aromatic, for roughly 5 minutes. Allow to cool and dry grind to a fine powder in a coffee grinder or the small jar of a mixer.

2 March 2015

#GetFitMarch - Yogurt, Half Full Meals and Bhel

It's all about choosing the lesser evil
First thing in the morning, I had to make a choice - between 1 tsp sugar in my tea OR eating 2 biscuits with a sugarless tea. Biscuits are my weakness. Ginger biscuits are my HUGE weakness. I never go as ballistic as eating the whole pack in one go, but even eating 2-3 with my tea puts me on a trip to Guiltsville. I like my morning cup of tea or coffee with 1 sugar and the rest of the day, in case I have more, I'm okay with no sugar. So I had to decide if I would give up on the sugar or the biscuits, and I took a decision that I will skip the biscuits. Hopefully, I will stick to it for March. 

30 minutes++
May be it is a sign of the universe acting to help me with my goals, a slot of 30 minutes freed up in my mornings beginning today and I grabbed those 30 minutes to do a walk-run, actually it was 35 minutes in all. I ran more than walked, compared to yesterday. *happy sweats*

Food diary
For breakfast, I had a bowl of fresh homemade yogurt, which for some strange reason, had given up on me in the last 3 months or so. I added a teaspoon of liquid nolen gur* for a bit of sweetness, so delicious! Next time, I shall reduce it to 1/2 tsp as it was quite sweet this time.
Read my tips on how to make yogurt at home

Usually, Mondays are supposed to be my fast days, which means I (try to) stick to 500 cals or less for the whole day, as a part of the 5-2 lifestyle I follow. Today I had to attend a family function where it would not augur well to leave without eating lunch, so I postponed my fast day to tomorrow and decided to have a normal eating day today. That's the beauty of the 5-2 and the flexibility it offers. Okay, a lot of questions may be popping in your head now or you may be even get very 'judgey' thoughts  like "HAW! She follows a fad diet!". Deep breaths. Tomorrow being my fast day, I shall write a bit on this way of life and I'm open to your questions too - leave me a comment.

So that's the 'half full meals' part of the post title. However, I am proud that I did not belt 4 courses of rice, triple helpings of chips and double portions of akkaravadisal (a kickass dessert). I took small portions of everything and ensured I didn't come away feeling like a beached whale. Trust me, this requires a lot of special skills. And restraint. Especially when everything that wants to take a place on your banana leaf is more delicious than the previous item.

To balance out the somewhat heavy lunch, I had a Bhel and another cup of yogurt for dinner. 

This bhel recipe totally stuck to my rules of #getfitMarch :-)

How to make a Healthy Bhel:
1 cup green moong sprouts - blanched
Handful of puffed rice
Finely chopped onions, tomato, coriander
Lemon juice
Coriander mint chutney
Tamarind date chutney (optional)
1 tbsp roasted peanuts
Lemon juice

Here, most of the puffed rice is replaced by moong/mung sprouts. 
Mung sprouts are very low in calories at just 31 calories per 1 cup (104 grams), while being an excellent source of vitamin C, K and fiber. 
Trust me, it take a long while to chomp down one cup of blanched sprouts with other raw veggies. By the time you reach the end, you're almost tired of chewing. And hey, in case you were wondering if I missed including the sev and the puris to top the bhel, I didn't call it 'healthy' for nothing :P

Yogurt, Dahi, Curds, Thayir
Trust me, if you want to get on a healthy eating spree, yogurt is your best friend. And I don't mean FroYo or gelato or some fancy-schmancy brand, but plain, simple, unflavoured, unsweetened, homemade yogurt. Eat a cup of it anytime you crave for something unhealthy, and the cravings will eventually vanish, and yogurt wins. 'Curd rice' is not a 'worldfamous' food in South India for nothing. It's also a superfood blessed with many nutritional qualities that I don't have to enumerate. You can google that :)

My biggest downside today is I did not reach my goal of 2 Litres water, I guess I would have had 1 Litre max, that too because I started my day with 250 ml water. Must work on this tomorrow.

Nolen gur is available in Bangalore on towness.com

1 March 2015

#GetFitMarch - Recipe for Green Goddess Smoothie

The rays of the morning sun find their way through the gaps in the curtains as if to say, "Wake up".
I instinctively reach for my phone. Don't judge me.
Date reads 1st March.
Yeah, in such shocking situations, I do swear (under my breath).
Don't judge me :P
Two months down in 2015 already? How, where, when??
The fitness promises I made to myself and the threats I made to my fast increasing fat percentage have stayed forgotten in the last two months.
 I want to recommit to those promises before it is too late in the year and I feel like time has (once again) slipped through my hands.

Due to changes in my family circumstances, the husband working in a different city, my driver bidding us adieu and more parenting responsibilities, I lay slacking. 
"I have all the valid reasons," I have been telling myself.
But it's time to break through the shackles of stupid excuses. Because that's what all the above valid reasons are, excuses, to not go after your goals with a vengeance. 

That's why this #getFitMarch goal for myself. And that's why I'm going to sharing my struggles and my progress over here, Twitter and Instagram. 

My goals are very simple. (ahem)
  • Minimum 30 minutes of focussed physical activity a day - running/ Jillian Michaels / dance workout etc.
  • 2 Litres of water a day
  • Stick to my 5:2 diet which worked beautifully for me and then I started taking it too lightly
  • Eat sensibly, refined foods off the list except once a week
I'm not going to obsess over weight and body measurements and what have you. 

Just two indicators-
Body fat %

#getFitMarch is just to get back on track, and not just a do-it-for-a-month-and-forget-about-it program. Research says that anything you do consistently for a reasonable length of time becomes second nature. And that's what is my aim here. I want March to be the kickstarter for healthy habits for the rest of the year.

If you'd like to join me on this journey, tag me on Insta / Twitter (@saffrontrail) and use the hashtag #getFitMarch. After all, we could all do with some push, support and motivation.

And hey, don't judge me for checking my phone first thing in the morning :P

Did 4 km walk-run in the morning. This was after ages, so yes, was panting like a dog who has been made to run for its bone. And hey, I also broke a sweat after ages, that felt good.

On another day, I would have felt that this 4km run justified a solid vada-sambar breakfast from the local Darshini. Thanks to the #getFitMarch resolve, it was a green smoothie.

A good smoothie recipe has some protein, some veggies, healthy fats and herbs for flavour. You can omit the honey, but I personally believe in the healthy properties of a pure forest honey. The yogurt provides protein, spinach and mint give the chlorophyll, flaxseeds provide omega-3-the healthy fats and ginger gives it a punch. Cucumber gives it a body and makes it more filling.

green smoothie
Add caption

Prep time~5 minutes
Makes 1 glass

2 cups fresh spinach leaves
1 cup yogurt
1 tbsp good honey
1/2 inch ginger, grated
1 medium cucumber, peeled, sliced
1 tbsp flaxseed meal
4 ice cubes

Wash spinach leaves in 2-3 changes of water. Shake off excess water and place on a towel while you get the other ingredients ready.
In a blender / mixer, whiz everything together.
Sip or slurp. 

Go around all day adjusting the green goddess halo over your head.