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31 May 2012

Paleo: My Attempt At The Caveman’s Diet

Diets were never my thing. I found the very idea appalling! How could someone follow a certain pattern of eating? What if I felt like eating a specific food on a certain day? I have cravings all the time. One day I feel like chicken and on another, I feel like chocolate. There may be diets that allow chicken but what about chocolate? The general idea of working with an eating schedule was never going to stick with me.

When the doctor said I needed to lose weight, to ease the pressure on my knees, I said WTF. How was I going to lose weight without working out? I could barely walk! Then, my husband said the dreaded word. DIET. I did not buy it. What diet on earth could make me lighter without exercise? There was no way in hell I was going to subject my taste buds to granola bars and oat meals day after day! The very thought of eating less started to make my stomach tingle with hunger. Diets are not my thing. He shoved a book on Paleo diet in my face and insisted I take a look.

The only thing more painful than following a diet is reading 90 pages on why I should. I grudgingly agreed to diet, without bothering to look at the book. I had to do what I had to do. Either I was going to die of starvation or I would lose enough weight to get back on my feet. If I lived, I decided, I would trash the “meal plan” and celebrate with a buffet at Max Brenner.

The first day went by without much of a hassle. It was his idea, so the husband cooked. He was trying really hard to help me stick to this diet. I missed rice but I survived. By the evening of the second day, I felt malnourished. I was starving and I was craving for real food. The husband was out when I came home from work. I threw my handbag on the floor and ran to the kitchen. I dug in the fridge and found 2 thin slices of steak from the previous week. I quickly cooked them and gorged them down as if they would disappear if I waited any longer. Then, I went looking for something sweet. Half a packet of Oreos later, I started feeling guilty. I had not even survived two full days of my diet. How was I going to last 8 weeks?

Surprisingly, that was the last day I gave in to such weakness. Once a day, I would crave to eat something but I would stick to my diet. On the odd occasion, when I felt like cheating on the diet, I would buy my husband the snack and take a bite out of it. The husband was doing his best to make the food look delectable. He decided that larger portions would help cope with my hunger. I came to acknowledge that he was a rather amazing cook. I successfully managed to get through the first week of my first attempt at ‘dieting’ without missing any particular food too much. In fact, by the end of the week I had started to enjoy it so much that I joined in the cooking. Some of the stuff we cooked was fun and everything was so easy to cook.

We never had to throw away anything we made but I wondered how long I could hold off on the cravings. The diet was primarily meat, eggs and lots of greens, with a bit of fruits and nuts. Grains and diary were a big NO. From a magazine I read recently, I found out that Paleo stood for Palaeolithic and the diet itself was based on the caveman’s diet back in the years. Apparently, this is one of the hot diets of recent times. That was encouraging. Suddenly my Paleo diet was ‘cool’.

As we cooked, we tried to understand the effects of the various flavours on the food and appreciated the different smells. We did not just watch but learned from Masterchef every evening. It was all fun but was it working? The increased portions were worrying me. I was not starved any more but was I losing weight? That was the real test. Gingerly, I stepped on the weighing machine on Day 7 of my diet. It took me a bit to realize that I actually weighed lesser. That was the fastest I had lost weight, without any workout. That clinched the deal. No matter what, I was going to stick to this diet! The husband is, obviously, very happy.

I still have a long way to go but it is not so hard anymore. Once this is done, Max Brenner awaits me. Dieting may never have been on my bucket list but I can add it on, now and mark it done. Been there done that. Woot!

29 May 2012

Want Nespresso, BYO Coffee Pods

We got new coffee machines in the office last week. I quickly skimmed through the announcement, only picking up that we had new coffee machines and that we had to bring our own pods. I found it a bit ridiculous. Why were they investing on a new machine and scrimping on the beans? It seemed like the term 'cutting corners' was getting a new meaning altogether. Having never really used the old machine (I hate powdered milk), I decided it was not my place to comment. Someone out there must have thought we deserved something better and got half of what (s)he deserved.

The new machine arrived on the floor below ours and there was a bit of a hula-hoop that I did not quite get. I went back to read the email. If everyone was excited about a machine when they had to bring their own beans, there has got to be something I missed. It was a Nespresso machine! Whoever convinced the powers-that-be surely deserves a medal. 

So, we all went to check it out. There was a little poster that explained how to make your first coffee. Cute. There was a big glass bowl next to the machine for the used pods. The machine is a pretty little thing that makes one coffee per pod (or capsule, as the website calls it). The milk holding containers barely make a coffee or two. You can make all the usual (and more) varieties of coffee with the press of a button. If you are one of those who never tires from too many options, there are 16 flavours or Grands Crus to choose from. At 60c a capsule, i.e. a cuppa, it is cheaper than the $3.50 - $5 coffees most people were getting from the cafes every morning. 

Well, that explained the excitement of the new coffee machine. I watched the grand opening of their store at the mall a few weeks ago and boy, was it flash! It is the new big thing in the coffee world. 

Suddenly something strange is happening all around me. In the last 1 week, I have had at least 3 emails from individuals selling coffee capsules! Everyone was selling Nespresso capsules at a dollar a piece, making a 40% profit. I am speechless. I could not help but wonder if there were more people selling that coffee than drinking it. Why would I pay a dollar for one capsule when I could get a box of 10 for 6? Maybe, they were trying to sell single capsules to coffee newbies or those that wanted to just 'give it a shot'? It is quite the win-win situation, isn't it? When a colleague mentioned that in the team meeting on the first day, I marveled at his ability to turn any situation into a profitable business. Obviously, he is not alone. While he did not actually implement the idea, the others have definitely turned it into a business.

The competition has been worth following. The first email that went out merely mentioned coffee pods being sold for $1, with 4 different Grand Crus being available. Then somebody sent out an email saying they were selling all 16 Grand Crus for the same price. Before long, another email followed, offering coffee-flavoured choccies at 60c each. Whose turn is it next? I wondered for a second if I sold coffee pods for 90c, I would make a profit. Maybe not. People would rather pay a dollar than dig out small change. Who thinks about the extra 40c they have to pay when it is only a dollar? That seems to be the logic used here. 

I do not know if the coffee-pod/capsule businesses are thriving. I have no clue who is leading the competition. What I do realize that all those researches on employee incentives that insist that more money does not mean happiness are bang on the money (no pun intended). Most people would rather overpay  for good coffee than drink the free watery liquid that passes off for coffee. And everyone hates loose change.

I've been putting off trying one myself. Over the next few days, I must give each of the flavours a try. After all, it's a short walk from my desk and I am saving $2 for every dollar I spend on the expensive capsules. With that, I find myself sucked into the abysmal trap of wanting all the fancy things that the Joneses are drinking. Oh well, it is only coffee. I am only going to try it once. Ok, sixteen times. At least. 

16 May 2012

The Morning Sun

I lift my face to catch the rays of the morning sun, like a child on the beach trying to catch the spray. It’s a wonderful feeling on a cold Autumn morning. The warmth of the sun chases away the gnawing cold of early dawn. I say to myself, "The sun is here to brighten my day and it is going to be a beautiful one."

When you are sitting down with a cuppa and the mood is lightened by such sentiments, the world becomes a happy place to be in. The black spots on the white sheet that is the mind, become grey and then disappear. Thus armed with a clean slate inside my head, I start to prepare for my day.

I begin by checking the weather forecast for the weekend. I woke up this morning, wanting to lie on the sand and read a book under the sun. A day at the beach seems like a good way to spend this Saturday or Sunday. I am praying for at least one sunny day. Unfortunately, it is not to be. The weather Gods are clearly not fans of mine. After 3 glorious days of sunshine, albeit with a bit of cool wind, the rest of the week and the weekend is expected to be cloudy, with possible showers. Bummer! Well, I will check again on Friday. I do not always rely on the weatherman's prediction for the weekend, this early in the week. In any case, I have a few other things on my list that would cover the weekend, in the event of rain. Now, I need to find something to occupy the weeknights, leading up to a weekend of Paniyiri Greek Festival and a possible day at the coast.

You noticed how I started by planning my weekend first, did you? Yes, I do that a lot. I work my way backwards from where I want to be. A friend of mine would be amused that I would go straight to the bottom of his email first and then start reading it from the top. Why not? Most people do not start off emails with words like 'love' or 'care' but almost everyone signs of their emails with endearing emotions - 'Take care', 'Speak soon', 'Love', 'Hugs & Kisses', etc. Even if it just a happy smiley, it is a happy ending. Unless you were expecting bad news, you can almost always be certain that the best part of the letter is at the bottom of it. On a more serious plane, if I was reading an email at work that expected me to solve a problem, I would still like to start from the bottom of the email trail and gather as much background information I can before I sink my teeth into the real issue. It has worked well for me every single time.

Go on. Try it. Next time you read an email, go to the bottom first and find out whether it is good news or bad. Then start reading from the top. If you are a smart-ass, you will probably try reading the email backwards altogether. That is funny but believe me, it will get you nowhere.

I digress. My weekend planned, I set off to work out what my day should look like. This is easy. I have to block off the time I will be at work and leave the rest of the day for other activities. Being fairly immobile, thanks to a bum knee, the 'other things' category has limited options. The office work sorts itself out by the number of tasks and hand and prioritisation that has been done when the task landed in the mailbox. There! All done and set to go.

All it took was that little burst of sunshine to kick start my day. The glorious morning sun is surely a blessing, no less!

(Dear Sun, I just want you to know that I wish you were not such a late riser these days. You showed up minutes after I woke up, today. I'm just saying...)

(Dear Sun, I'm sorry I wrote that previous line. My morning cuppa was upset for not getting credit for kick-starting my day and all that. All good now)

14 May 2012

Down On My Knees

Chicken pox kept me away from school for a month. I was only 6 then and I remember hating it. I'd always been a healthy kid. It felt like I was being punished for never having fallen sick and I was making up for the all earlier years in one shot. I hated missing school more than anything else.

Decades later, the chicken pox had relegated to dark corners of my mind. While I sympathized with others who fell sick or got injured, I stayed away from anything remotely requiring medical attention. How I managed it is beyond me but I took it for granted. I had abused my body with junk food, no food, erratic workouts for years and all I needed to fix myself up was 2 days in bed, recharging. It is amazing how self-healing the human body is.

Cut to 2012.

It all started with a back-ache that I ignored for as long as I could. It was just sleeping on the couch. Or maybe the bad posture at work. It was going to be fine. I just needed to stop doing those things. I would. It went on this way until I landed flat on my back, on the carpet one fine Sunday morning, unable to perform normal physical activities like getting up, sitting or standing without my back complaining. With much reluctance and driven by panic, I saw a doctor. "Weak muscles", he rued. He was happy to prescribe medicines but I brushed it off saying I wouldn't do it if I didn't have to. He wrote me a letter to get a core strength assessment by a physio and handed me a sheet detailing some stretches I could do, to strengthen the lower back muscles.

Once I started the stretches and the back was beginning to feel OK, I forgot all about the doctor and his physio recommendation. I ignored the niggly sensation in my knees for weeks and waved off the protests during my Krav Maga kicks. I continued to ignore it even after I started to feel like I was going to buckle whenever I walked. I should have at least hooked up to the internet to see if it needed attention but I didn't. I was in denial. It was going to be ok. That was until I carried a heavy bag and walked for about 3 kilometres one evening, while on holidays. Soon, the happy vacation turned into a series of stretches, ice-packs, ultrasound and I was pretty much under house-arrest.

By now I had been suffering all sorts of aches for 2 months and I was aware of my weak muscles. The least I could offer my body was a little rest. For someone who has mis-treated the body for over 30 years, it was a concept hard to grasp. Two weeks into the treatment, throwing all caution to the wind, I headed back overseas and started work. Over the next 2 weeks, I was brought down by my knees once again. It was back to square one. Ice-packs, taped knees, ultrasound, rest. The works. Serves me right for not doing the "rest" thing the first time around. Lesson learned. Right?

I'm just back from another horribly expensive physio session (that my insurance barely covers) and feeling better. All thanks to the massage, ultra-sound and knee-taping (ugh) by my Kiwi physio, who told me she had her first physio appointment at the age of 8. The restlessness that comes with feeling slightly more mobile is back. I want to be out and about, doing all the things I would normally be doing. The only thing that is stopping me from caving in, is knowing how crippled I have been over the weekend... after I had started to walk a little just the week before.

The chicken pox phase jumps to the forefront, from the dark hollows of my mind. It's like a headless villain stepping out of the shadows, in a long black cape. Yet again, is this life making me pay for the score and something years of good health I have had? It's been over 3 months since the first signs of the weak muscles appeared and started giving me grief. I can't wait to feel "normal" again!

I feel exactly like I did when I was 6 years old. I was forced to stay in the bedroom so I would not spread the germs around, only being allowed to get out if I needed to use the bathroom. Mum brought me food and water but I was kept away from the outside world. This time, I'm older and the room is a house, but the feeling is all the same. I am counting down minutes to get back to the outside world... to run and to dance... to kick some groin in Krav class... and to grab that elusive P3 patch... and do all those crazy things on my list...