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My 10-Step Plan to Gain Health

Today was my first day at the gym after a very long break. Before 2015, I used to lead a sedentary lifestyle combined with mindless eating habits. It only happened a couple of years ago when I decided to change this. The motivation at that time was to lose weight and get in shape obviously. But a year ago, I had a calling. That calling completely changed my outlook on working out and eating healthy.

See, often times we confuse the concept of losing weight. We drink endless cups of green tea after gobbling down cupcakes thinking that it would cancel out the negative effects. We spend hours mindlessly running on treadmills, killing ourselves in the gym with the hopes of seeing a smaller number on the weighing scale. We devoid ourselves of important nutrients when we go on a soup and salad or low-fat/low-carb diets. Aj kal kia in hai? Keto. What we actually want to approach is “gaining health” instead of losing weight.

I started reading books by Rujuta Diwekar a year ago when I was dealing with a myriad of health issues that occurred as a result of a shabby lifestyle. My world was a combination of eating junk, being a sloth for most part of my day, and on top that, a huge pile of mental stress from my work and domestic life. And lately, it has all been taking a huge toll on me. It’s not apparent if you see me, heck you’d even say that I’m exaggerating, but I know what’s going on inside, so you’d have to take my word for it! The fun part to all of this is, that the side effects of medications worsen my state and instead of making things better, it takes the problems to a completely new level. Maybe some of you women have been through something similar?

Since I am all about transformation these days, I’ve come up with a sure-fire formula to gain health for myself. I believe, it can be applied to anybody who wants to live a healthy life in the long run. All the points are derived from Rujuta’s books, especially Don’t Lose Out, Work Out and Women and the Weightloss Tamasha. So read on!

1) Working Out is a Must

Exercise has been known to reduce depression and improve our cognitive abilities as well. So this is something that we all must include in our daily habits. And that too for life long. Remember that consistent work outs are much better than intensive workouts. We only need 150 mins of exercise per week, so, lets say, working out five days a week for 30 mins consistently is better than working out for two hours straight one day and then skipping gym for the rest of the week ’cause of burnout! For beginners, it’s best to start from thrice a week. Remember, slow and steady wins the race. (But hey, what race? We are in no hurry here!)

2) Always Strength Train Before Cardio

Strength training is crucial. Rujuta says in her books that if you have one hour that you can spare for a particular exercise, don’t even think of walking/jogging. Instead, strength train with weights in the gym. Use the machines that are there to support your body, and reap the benefits. The benefits of strength training are immense. It’s been the general assumption that those who lift weights get bulky. That’s completely incorrect. Strength training is crucial in building lean muscle mass, yes, but because when you build muscle mass, you cut down on your fat deposits. You are able to make your tendons, bones and ligaments stronger through strength training exercises and that will ensure that when you’ll run a marathon, your body will be able to bear the impact that your legs would have with the surface! Means, less chances for injury. Moreover, when you strength train, your body experiences an after-burn for the next two days! So imagine, baithay baithay bhi calories burn horahi hongee!

Note: It’s not recommended to strength train two days in a row. Always give a gap of one day between two training sessions, or do cardio in the gap day which would help reduce the lactic acid build-up in your muscles. You know, that sore feeling?

3) Cardio Doesn’t Have to be Boring.

Who said cardio has to be mindless running on the treadmill? Find yourself activities that you enjoy, for example, swimming is a great cardio exercise as it is easy on our bones and joints and introduces the same cardiovascular intensity that we’re looking for. Taking a brisk walk or cycling around the neighbourhood is also an enjoyable activity!

4) Eat Local, Seasonal, Home-Cooked Food and Without Restrictions

When it comes to eating food, eat with all your heart, provided the food has been cooked fresh at home and comes from a local and seasonal produce. Don’t limit yourself to a particular food group or nutrient, for example, no carbs, mineral rich foods only. Eat without restrictions, eat whatever is in season. Don’t believe in fad diets, instead go on this you-can-eat-everything diet. Eat things that come from a farm, rather than things that come out of a packet. Avoid processed foods and especially foods that make promises of being low-cal/low-fat/low-sodium on their packaging.

5) Eat According to the Mental Meal Map and Eat Every 2-3 Hours

Dil bhar ke khanay ka yeh matlab nahi hai ke bindas khaya jaye aur kabhi ruka hi na jaye. Rujuta advocates that you should eat according to your “mental meal map”. What this means is that when you’re hungry, imagine a plate and a quantity of food that you’d like to eat. Then take out half of that imagined quantity out on your plate and start eating slowly and with mindfulness. You must not be eating in front of the TV, hey! Next, once you are done eating that portion, if you are still hungry, again imagine how much you’d like to eat and take out only half portion of that imagination onto your plate. Repeat. This way, most of the time, you’ll realize that you were full right after the first serving. Also, instead of eating three big meals a day, break your meals into 8 portions across the day. Even having a lassi or a banana as a snack can be counted towards one meal out of the eight. It doesn’t have to be a full fledged dawat 8 times a day.

6) Speak Your Mind Fearlessly

Yes. Can’t emphasise on this enough. Do not suppress your feelings. When you do hide behind your emotions, when you bottle things up, it comes out later on with even more intensity and you crash and burn like bad. There’s always a polite way of disagreeing with people and putting your point across. Find that. If you don’t agree with someone or something, be fearless in coming out with your opinion. Those who really care about you, would value it and won’t judge you. Those who do end up judging you, well, what can I say, good riddance!

7) Take a Break Whenever Needed

It’s very easy to get overwhelmed by work troubles, family drama and other weird stuff that life is made of. One thing is for sure, life keeps testing us with one thing or the other. But people who do things with strong conviction of succeeding, or at least people who believe that failures are actually a great learning experience, always emerge stronger on the other side. To be able to do this, one has to be mindful, one must take breaks through life and disconnect from the world to focus on other things. Often our troubles seem huge when we see them from our tunnel vision. Going away for a while helps in looking at things from a fresh new perspective. And most of the times, problems get resolved automatically when we return rejuvenated.

8) Invest in Meaningful Relationships

We are the people we hang out with. The people we surround ourselves with have a huge impact on our well-being. Imagine living with someone toxic who belittles you at every other chance they get, who brings you down whenever you try to dream big. We don’t need such people in our lives. We get one life to live, and we should try to live it happily by spreading joy around us. Ignore the trash bags in your life and hold on tight to the people you love, even if they are only a handful.

9) Spend More Time Doing What You Love

Please put happiness over everything else. If you don’t like your day job, make an effort to either make it at least bearable. You could talk to your boss about how you can make your work interesting. It could be by switching to a newer project/department where your interest and the company’s interest are aligned. Or you could look for newer opportunities that would make you happy. In any case, there is always a way to beat the work blues. But you must remember that you might not always get what you want easily. There has to be immense hard work and grit from your end, then only things could work in your favour. There’s no place for slackers in this world, and easy is not how this world works!

10) Discipline in Sleep is Crucial to Well-Being

Our bodies have a built-in alarm system called “Cortisol”. It’s a hormone in our body which works with parts of our brain to regulate mood, motivation and fear. In the morning the Cortisol levels need to rise to allow us to start our day fresh and alert and by the evening the levels need to drop to allow us to have a restful sleep at night so that our body can work on repairing itself during the sleep. If we don’t practice discipline in our sleep schedule and inhibit the natural process by watching TV late night or having endless cups of caffeine all through the day, we are ruining our sleep and indirectly our lives. Along with a healthy diet, regular, consistent workouts, we also must work on having a good night’s sleep.

So how many of you would be joining me in this 10-Step plan to gaining health? Raise your hands! 😀

"The Majestic Sheikh Zayed Mosque" - Photo by Tehreem Iqbal

Eid-ul-Azha and the Spirit of Sacrifice

Joyous Eid wishes to everyone reading!

This is probably the first Eid-ul-Azha ever that I find myself reflecting on its essence. Previously, Eid was all about getting dolled up, making scrumptious food and exchanging Eid greetings with friends and family. Nothing more, nothing less. Eid-ul-Azha, or Bari Eid, as it’s called among desi circles, was my least favorite of the two Eids. Primarily because of the smell of animals in the air and because it seemed less glamorous of an event.

This year, however, things are very different. This year, I find myself reflecting inward, deep within the fabric of my soul, and wondering what I will take away from this simple occasion that we all call Eid and where we all talk very casually about the qurbani we did.

For those who don’t know, Eid ul Azha falls on the 10th day of Dhu’l-Hijjah (Zilhaj) where Muslims all around the world commemorate the ‘willingness’ of Prophet Ibrahim (AS) to sacrifice his dear son in the name of Allah. Ibrahim (AS), like any father, loved his son dearly. Allah commanded to him in his dream to sacrifice his son for the love of Allah. This was obviously a trial for Ibrahim (AS) and probably one of the biggest trials anyone could ever experience. But for the will of Allah, Ibrahim (AS) set forth to give up his son. Allah accepted his sacrifice even before it happened and presented a goat/ram in place of his son instead. His son’s life was spared. Every year, Muslims all around the world commemorate this occasion and sacrifice an animal. The meat is distributed among family/friends and charity.

But what lesson do we take away from this entire story? The purpose of the sacrifice was not to kill the son or torture the father. It was to realize that Prophet Ibrahim’s love for Allah was far greater than his love for his son. That this was the kind of love every person should have in his heart. That any thing that belongs to this world is not to be the focus of our existence. That our attachment is only supposed to be with Allah, our love is only supposed to be for Allah and anything that we hold dear in this world is supposed be through Allah. It’s a pretty heavy concept to grasp, I know.

This does not mean that a person leaves the life of this dunya, becomes a dervaish and resorts to a life in eternal seclusion. This simply means that whatever a person sets out to achieve in this world, it is done by the will of Allah and is done for Allah.

It’s very easy to hold on to things and especially people because that’s all what we can see. It’s easier to love something that is physically present in front of you. It’s hard to love something or devote your life to something that is hidden from you. For example, wealth that you cannot imagine parting with, a piece of jewellery passed on to you from generations that you can’t let go of, a person you cannot imagine living without, children that you worked very hard to raise — all are examples of attachment. You might loose all your wealth. The piece of jewellery could get stolen. The person you loved dearly could leave you. The children you worked so hard to raise might only see you once a year. When you pin your hopes and your love onto all these attachments, you end up in despair when they disappoint you. You end up engulfed by a sea of emotions and misery.

The problem with all these attachments is that we let them consume our hearts. A heart that was made to be filled with the love of something perfect and permanent. But all of the above examples are examples of things that are imperfect and temporary. But then what is perfect and permanent? To me, I think, it’s the love of God. The belief that having and not having is a gift from Allah. The only place that is home is the Hereafter. The belief that this world is a bridge along the journey but not the ultimate destination.

I believe, every year, on Eid ul Azha, in fact through all the pillars of Islam, Allah gives us a chance to recalibrate our lives. Allah wants us to shift our focus back onto the perfect and permanent love that only the Creator can satisfy not the creation.

So this year, on Eid ul Azha, when you sacrifice an animal, remember to also sacrifice and let go of anything of this world that fills up your heart. Remember that pleasure and pain, both are temporary. Remember that gains are temporary. Remember that loss is temporary. Remember that all you so dearly love today will eventually persih tomorrow, like all things in this world, but all that you sacrifice for Allah, will be with Allah in eternity. Your sacrifice will be returned to you in the hereafter where everything is perfect and permanent, and in this dunya it will be replaced with something bigger, better and grander that your mind, which understands time as linear, cannot currently fathom.


Dedicated to every ambition that consumed my world, every person who filled my heart. Dedicated to apparent gains and losses. May the hereafter reunite us with all that we lost in this world.

Header Image is from The Majestic Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi, courtesy of Tehreem Iqbal (El Arte).

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