Festivals like Diwali and Christmas are a big let-go time of the year when it comes to nutrition and exercise. One tends to indulge in sweets, chocolates and rich foods and justify the festive calorie load by saying, “I have just one life, it’s okay to enjoy during festivals”.
What could be a plausible strategy to handle such reasoning? Exercise restraint and resist temptation, or feel guilty but indulge anyway with the hope that somewhere down the line the healthy eating and exercise habit will kick in again and rectify the damage done.
There’s another way to enjoy festivals without feeling guilty. It’s important to understand that a short burst of calorie overload is something a strong and lean body can take in its stride. Of course, the overarching principle is always to return to being consistent about the most important health metrics and numbers, like body weight and body fat percentage. It is also necessary to understand these metrics in isolation to better manage such indulgences.
The body weight perspective
If you are a male, take your height in centimetres and subtract 100 from that figure to get a kilogramme value. For instance, if your height is 176cm, your ideal body weight (IBW) would be 76kg. A healthy weight range, however, is 5kg more or less than the IBW, because it is easier to maintain body weight in this zone. In case of women, the weight-to-height calibration is height in centimetres minus 105. The IBW for a 160cm tall woman would be 55kg and the healthy weight range, 50-60kg.
Another factor to note is that body weight maintenance is defined as being 2kg more or less than your IBW.
The window of opportunity with the body weight metric to maximize for festivals is to stay close to or slightly lower than the IBW through January-September and then indulge during festivals, which are typically from October-December, such that you end up gaining just 2kg above the IBW.
The body fat perspective
This perspective defines how much of your body weight is fat mass and how much fat-free mass, a combination of muscle, bone and water mass. This is expressed as a percentage of body weight.
This metric’s window of opportunity: the fitness range for body-fat percentage for men is 14-17% and 21-24% for women; the average range for men is 18-24% and 25-31% for women; and the obese range for body fat percentage for men is 25% plus and 32% plus for women.
But aren’t body fat and body weight all interlinked? Body fat is a question of body composition not as much body weight. There is a significant metabolic difference between a 60kg male with 15% body fat and 30% body fat at the same weight. The former represents a body that metabolizes fat for energy, the latter is better at storing fat.
The body fat perspective is for the athletic mindset, while the body weight is for those who are just health-conscious.
Now, let’s focus on how to use this window of opportunity. The ideal way is to aim at staying in the fitness range of body fat percentage. To maintain this body fat percentage for the nine months preceding the festive season, you would have to eat at least 1.5-2g of protein per kilogramme of body weight. Protein needs here are increased because the person with a body fat focus is more likely to be athletic and needs to have more protein per kg of body weight. You can include boiled or poached eggs, egg white, grilled chicken breast, fish and no more than four-five servings of high-fibre coarse carbohydrates in your diet. For example, in a day choose from one nachni or multigrain roti, half cup of cooked brown rice or half cup of oats and one small apple or pear. You can add half kg per day of low-starch vegetables like peppers, spinach and cabbage, and three-four teaspoons of olive or groundnut oil for cooking and 22-23 (about 30g) almonds for snacking. You would also need to weight-train and exercise with high intensity, five-six days a week. Ensure that your physician approves the programme you are following.
If you are the type who believes that you would be more comfortable staying in the average body fat percentage zone and prefer to brisk walk, do yoga or functional training, your protein intake should be between 0.8-1g per kg of body weight, you could consume six-seven servings of carbohydrates, half kg of low- starch vegetables, and 22-23 almonds for snacking for the nine months preceding the festive season and control indulgences accordingly. For instance, if, as a woman, you maintain your body fat percentage at 25 (of the total body weight), you could increase this by 2-3% during festivals and still be in the average fitness zone.
So, always plan ahead to enjoy the festive season.
Madhuri Ruia is a nutritionist, Pilates expert and author of Who Stole My Calories. She runs InteGym in Mumbai, which advocates workouts with healthy diets.