Things I Learnt By Taking Up Dietary ‘Challenges’

We see it everywhere- ‘A Six Pack in 2 weeks’, ‘Get Your Dream Abs in 30 days’- all of this is bollocks. Unless it’s a six-pack of Budweiser, no ‘pack’ comes that quickly. But it all looks rather alluring, doesn’t it? The possibility that you could be super sexy in just two weeks. Now, I am an actual fitness professional- I have a PT qualification, I did a nutrition course, I teach Les Mills programs- so I know something about the science of getting fit and that these adverts are total bollocks. So when I come across these ‘challenges’ I do my due diligence of what the trainer is offering and what they are promising as an outcome.

I came across a trainer who offered a 21-day intensive challenge and it seemed legit- the offer during the challenge was cutting out anything that has been processed, including gluten, out of your diet, and introducing a series of workouts designed to make you fit and fast. The result would NOT be fat loss but an introduction of the body into a more sustainable way of eating healthy. I thought this made perfect sense as 21 days or three weeks is the minimum time a person needs to make a habit out of something.

I had seen so many success stories on instagram related to this challenge- nothing about how someone drastically transformed into half their size, or about how someone became muscular AF, but everything about how they just felt healthy and how it set the foundation for a better relationship with their bodies and food going forward- which I thought was what a sustainable relationship should look like.

So I decided to give it a go. I signed up, did my non-processed food shopping- which is ridiculously pricey by the way- and was excited to become a faster, fitter me and change my relationship with my body and food. And here’s what I learnt:

  • Complete elimination of junk food just doesn’t happen

Two out of three of my weaknesses are cheese and chocolate. Not just any cheese, it has to be a mature Irish cheddar and not just any chocolate, it has to be a Yorkie bar. I had initially started eating Yorkie bars only to counter the sexism in their logo ‘It’s not for girls!’ but it was delicious and now it’s stuck. Anyway, the house could be void of cheese and chocolate and I wouldn’t miss it but if I spot them at a supermarket, there’s a 50% chance I will lose my marbles and purchase a block of cheddar and a bar of Yorkie. I say 50% because there is still another 50% of a chance that my inner, healthier Amandeep will say ‘do you really want to feel the way you do after a cheese overdose?’ ‘What, satisfied, you mean?’ ‘No, I mean lethargic’. *pregnant pause* ‘No’, my fat-craving Amandeep will finally settle back down.

The point I’m making is that no matter how zen you get about your food, how much of fatty, processed food you get rid of, there will always be moments of weakness where one part of you is craving for some fat or sugar and you end up buying the cake or the block of cheese- and that’s okay. Succumbing to human weaknesses is human. One salad won’t make you super healthy, and one day of cheating won’t give you a lifetime of lethargy post-cheese and chocolate. Not to say you shouldn’t try to eat healthy when you can- we do only have one body and it is our duty to take care of it, but also, having fun once in a while isn’t going to kill you. Unless you’re morbidly obese.

Writing about cheese and chocolate is giving me a craving for The Melting Pot.

  • Some food items we really can live without if we try

In the process of eliminating processed food, I was sad to see my Nesquik go, because yes, sometimes I am an 8 year old who wants to have a chocolate drink for breakfast. However, eliminating it taught me that I was consuming it for the taste of it and not for its nutrition value (which is not bad, I have realised, it contains fibre and wholegrains and whatnot), and that not having it in my life wasn’t making me miserable, unlike what I had thought would happen. It was just another form of added sugar that I was eliminating for a better, cleaner diet.

  • Some other food items, I gave up on ever giving up

I have made my peace with the knowledge that I will never give up on cow milk. Vegans may hate me as much as they like, but the truth remains- cow milk is delicious. If the processed nature of the cow milk we consume today will one day kill me, I’m fine with that. There’s so much else in our consumerist world that can kill me anyway, it’ll be hard to tell what did it when it finally happens.

  • Alcohol is not needed- but something changes when you see it

Alcohol is probably the worst thing to hit mankind. What is it about passing out, slurring with your speech, possibly throwing up at the end of a night, and making cringe-worthy decisions that draws us to binge drinking? I suppose that’s unfair- it’s not the outcome we think of when we opt for binge-drinking- it’s the process of getting to the outcome that draws us to it, the ‘high’ that gives us the energy to dance like no one is watching (when in reality, it’s very likely someone is watching and probably judging, but who cares), or the lowering of inhibitions that helps one walk up to a stranger and say, ‘Hey. You look like a young David Mitchell’.

Consuming alcohol not only makes you look like an idiot in pictures your friends click throughout the night, it also makes you crave food that would absorb the alcohol. Nothing you have ever consumed after bingeing on alcohol has been particularly healthy- my top picks for food after a night out have been- 5. Pizza, 4. Garlic bread, 3. Cheesy chips with curry sauce, 2. A big, juicy burger, and 1. A donner kebab.

There is so much about drinking alcohol that makes it almost seem not worth it. But then again, my third weakness is a bottle of Argentine Malbec. Not a glass, but a bottle. Give me a bottle, I will drink the whole thing. I will wake up with the worst headache, but I will battle through it because the wine would have been great. At the end of the day though, I will feel like the biggest idiot- making it not worth it. Every other weakness is fine, but if you’re trying to become healthier, stay the hell away from alcohol for as long as you can.

I say this, but on New Year’s Eve I prepared a vodka concoction designed to help people pass out. So. Double standards?

  • Water is Life

This is literally something out of 1st Grade Science, but it’s the truth- water truly is life. It gives you great skin, a cleaner gut, lowers risks of a UTI, which women are more prone to (is there any disease that women are less prone to than men? Apart from anything testicular or prostate related, of course), and aids better blood circulation. So often we tend to neglect water, but even something as simple as tracking your water intake can go a long way in ensuring health.

  • A clean gut leads to more energy

Something that I witnessed during the 21-day challenge was the gradual shift in my energy levels. Once the good food and increased water intake took hold, I was suddenly feeling more agile and energetic. Suddenly videos of women doing a ridiculous number of fast burpees and donkey kicks didn’t seem so unrealistic after all. My diet hadn’t changed loads- I used to have chicken and vegetables anyway, but I had come to eliminate the occasional Nesquik, gluten, and rice, and had added ghee, or clarified butter instead of oils- and the result was an astoundingly clean gut- and I do feel like this was behind the renewed energy levels.

  • Have a look at your goals, your purpose, and then decide your course of action

The reason I chose to go ahead with the 21-day challenge was because it didn’t promise a drastic weight loss outcome, and didn’t make the participants undertake a crazy diet that wouldn’t be sustainable in the long run. So often we tend to get sidetracked by things we see on social media, things that appear trendy. I tried veganism once and gave up within the day because I realised it’s not me. I had a vegan breakfast (black coffee), and then when it was time for lunch, my mum had forgotten I was trying veganism and had cooked a chicken and I couldn’t say no because chicken is delicious, and also Indian mothers don’t take ‘no’ very well.

I didn’t even bother with keto. My body doesn’t respond well to consuming that much fat. Well, that’s not true. It reacts as it should do, to consuming fat- it absorbs the fat and I gain fat. But again, this could be just my body, and maybe others respond differently to keto.

There’s other trendy stuff that society will make you believe you should like. Like kale. I f*cking hate kale. It tastes like a garden and honestly, I don’t want that taste in my mouth, I’m happier with my regular lettuce, thank you very much. Or oat milk. When I tried it, I didn’t hate it but I didn’t love it either. During the challenge I wasn’t allowed cow milk unless I was getting it straight from the cow, so oat milk had seemed like the next best thing. So I lied to myself- I pretended to like it, I thought, ‘it’s kind of sweet, it tastes almost like full cream cow’s milk’- it f*cking doesn’t.

The point is, don’t follow diets without understanding why you are doing it. My goal was to become healthier. It wasn’t to get to 13% body fat, or to have a body muscular enough to compete at a body-building show. It was just to build a healthier relationship with food. If your goal is to get to 13% body fat, by all means, consume all the boiled chicken and broccoli you want all day, everyday. As long as you understand your purpose, do what you like. But don’t follow trends for the sake of it.

With every passing day, the truth in my father’s words just gets even clearer- ‘everything in moderation’. It’s a classic Indian Father thing to say, maybe even a Father thing to say, but he is in the best shape of his life and I have never known him to go on crazy diets or go vegan, or try keto. He plays golf when he can, and he has the simplest of meals, absolutely no fuss. He occasionally has a KFC craving, maybe chips from McDonald’s (chips from anywhere else are garbage), and he has a sweet tooth that he passed on to me. He consumes everything in moderation. I do know one thing he never consumes though- alcohol. He never did. That is one level of zen that I will probably never get to.