Photo: iStockphoto
Photo: iStockphoto

How not to recover from a festive binge

Going into starvation gear or high-intensity exercise mode is the worst way to work off Diwali excesses, say experts

With so much advice out there, you’d think we would all have mastered the art of eating sensibly during the festive season. But those tips and tricks go up in smoke at the first taste of a moti-choor laddoo or crisply fried murukku during Diwali. Panic strikes when you emerge from that alcohol- and food-induced coma, and throw yourself into starvation gear or high-intensity exercise mode to work off the excesses. Only to learn the hard way that it doesn’t work.

We make poor decisions when we feast, and follow them up with courses of action that are even worse for our health. Usually, it’s only for a weight gain of—at the most—3kg, says Pooja Makhija, dietitian and author of Eat Delete: How To Get Off The Weight Loss Cycle For Good. According to her calculations, people can consume up to 2,000-3,000 calories a day through festive snacking. Add that to the 2,000-odd calories that constitute a person’s daily meal intake. “If you’re eating 4,000-5,000 calories daily, you are gaining a pound a day," says Makhija (it takes an additional 3,500 calories to gain a pound). If you’re a fit person, this gain won’t be hard to work off. But if you’re older, overweight and don’t exercise routinely, shedding even a kilo after a week of excess can feel like moving a mountain.

Apart from the actual weight gain, the perception of having grown in size also eats away at people, says Mumbai-based fitness expert Namita Jain. “Just the feeling of your clothes being tight weighs down on you mentally," Jain believes.

Experts say these are some of the biggest mistakes people make while trying to shed festive weight gain.

Starving yourself

Unfortunately, starvation is the go-to route for most people. The logic is that eating too much, followed by eating nothing at all, will cancel out the binge. Not true, says macrobiotic nutritionist Shonali Sabherwal, who cautions that you may actually gain weight by doing this. “You won’t lose weight because when your body goes into starvation mode, your metabolism slows down, so you won’t be burning too many calories. Plus, when the body thinks it won’t get food, it fights to conserve, not burn, its stored fat," Sabherwal explains. Not eating at all is not a sustainable solution. “Food gives you energy, and depriving yourself impacts your ability to function," says Jain.

By evening, you’ll be so “hangry" (hungry-angry), you will binge-eat again. “If you haven’t eaten for hours, you’re not going to have a salad or fruit. You’ll need something with a high salt or sugar content to satisfy you," says Makhija.

Instead of fasting, experts recommend having a light meal with fibre-rich raw foods that are both filling and easy to digest. Reduce the amount of both oil and salt, and try a 50-50 raw and cooked food balance. Salads, soup, a fruit plate, khichdi, sprouts and a piece of grilled salmon are some light choices. Don’t forget to drink 8-10 glasses of water daily to flush out toxins, reduce bloating and help digestion.

Photo: iStockphoto
Photo: iStockphoto

Pushing hard at the gym

Before you crank up the speed on that treadmill, or throw yourself down for that nth push-up, consider this. Apart from all the excess sugar in your system that is making you sluggish, you’re probably sleep deprived and tired from all the partying. “In this condition, if you go into fourth gear with your workout, you will end up feeling more tired or injure your joints," says Jain. Even worse, you could abandon the resolve to exercise altogether because you haven’t given your body time to recover.

The smarter way to move forward would be to take a day or two off, and restart only after your sleep patterns have adjusted. Ease yourself into the workout routine your body was used to before you took a break. “Start by doing 70% of your regular workout and move to the full intensity after two-three days," says Jain.

Incorporate at least 20 minutes of cardio into your routine. Start with a warm-up, followed by a slow walk, jog and, eventually, a run. “Always work with your body, fitness and energy level and take it a notch up only when your body is in a state of preparedness," says Jain. However, if you’ve never worked out before and think a high-intensity routine will help you shed weight, it won’t. “You’re not fit to begin with, so how would you have the stamina and endurance to see it through?" questions Sabherwal.

Wallowing in guilt

Self-condemnation drives people to make harsh disciplinary rules, like “No more eating" or “Kill it in the gym today", that are untenable. Guilt can even drive people to eat more. According to a 2011 study published in the Journal Of Counselling Psychology, perfectionists who obsess over mistakes are at a higher risk of suffering from a binge-eating disorder.

Jain feels we should learn to be kinder to our truant selves. “There will always be occasions when you will want to indulge, but then there are other times when you will discipline yourself. So stay positive and trust in your own abilities to lose weight," she says. Makhija recommends using this time to actually strengthen your mental resolve. “Being healthy is all about a mindset. Your body may pull you down but if your mind is stronger, you will be able to push through," she says. However, if your willpower isn’t strong, rid the house of all the remaining mithai, namkeen, etc.

Bingeing detoxes

All-liquid cleanses and detox diets have been widely criticized for being too extreme and there is no scientific evidence that they work. But that hasn’t stopped people from stocking up on cold-pressed juices, cayenne pepper and lemon, and laxative tea to recover from Diwali overeating. 

All three experts we spoke to caution against these types of binge-cleanses. “The body detoxes itself, but what you can do is eat the right foods and help the process," says Sabherwal, suggesting any green leafy vegetable will work. “A quick pickle (radish with a dash of lime), pressed salads and kanji are also good probiotics that help enhance liver function and digestion," she adds.

By avoiding knee-jerk reactions to a food binge, you’ll be able to get your health back on track. But as the experts point out, if you lead a fit and disciplined life through the year, the occasional cheat week won’t mean much. “There is no point over-indulging and then furiously hitting the treadmill, running from diet to diet. It won’t work," says Sabherwal. “If you live healthy 24x7, you can binge on occasion, completely guilt-free."