In the summer of 2012, I had the privilege of living in India for about 10 weeks. During this time, I unintentionally lost about 25 pounds. The majority of it was fat, although some of it was muscle. In this article, I will share a few weight loss strategies I learned while in India. I will indicate which strategies are healthy and which should be avoided.
Unhealthy Ways of Losing Weight that I Learned in India
The reason I lost so much weight in such a short period of time was because I was sick for about three weeks. My friend and I took the equivalent of a school bus for a 10-hour overnight ride through extremely bumpy terrain to Hampi. There were times during the ride that I was jolted from rest 1-2 feet in the air as the bus dipped into one pot hole, recovered, and seconds later dipped into another, over and over again for many hours. From this point to about 3 weeks later, the only food I could handle was perrigu & unum, or yogurt & rice, sometimes with bananas. This is one way to lose weight, by severely restricting calories and limiting food groups, but in my experience, it was not very healthy. I lost a lot of fat, but also a good amount of muscle.
5 Healthy Tips for Weights Loss that I Learned in India
1) Reduce intake of calories by limiting meat intake
Where I was in south India, Andhra Pradesh, many folks do not regularly consume meat, and if they do, it is only a few times a week. The family I was with never consumed cows. The diet consisted mainly of lentil dishes and vegetable curries. The idea of this tip is that if one reduces their intake of meat, calories will inherently be reduced – so if you eat meat every day, and reduce intake to only 1 or 2 days, you will likely cut at least 300-400 calories out of your diet per day, or 1500-1800 calories/week. Nutrition is complex, its not simply calories in-calories out, but in this simple macronutrient based view, consuming less food means less calories which translates to some form of weight loss.
I also found that I had less food cravings as I reduced my meat intake. I’m not sure of the biochemistry behind this, but in experimenting with vegetarianism for the past few years, my experience has shown that reducing consumption of meat equates to less food cravings for meat and even other foods.
2) Eat Spicy Foods as they curb appetite
Nearly every meal I ate while in India was spicy, and I mean spicy! After a certain point in the meal, I would no longer want to torture my tongue, so I would stop eating. I had no desire to continue as it became painful. Over many weeks, I could handle the spice better, but the reduced calorie intake was still there as I got accustomed to eating less food. So, if you eat spicy food every meal like I did, it is likely you will eat less, especially if you are not accustomed to spicy food. But, it will likely upset your stomach, as it did mine. Yogurt, celery, and celery seeds after meals are definitely helpful with coping with the spice. If you are in south India, yogurt and a combination of soothing seeds will likely be available.
3) Sit on the Floor When you Eat
For the majority of meals, I would sit cross-legged on the floor to eat. When you sit cross-legged on the floor, you must bow to your food before picking it up off of your plate and consuming it. This allows you to eat more slowly, and when you eat slowly, you tend to consume less food. The reasoning behind this is still being investigated, but it it hypothesized that it takes the brain about 20 minutes to realize that the gut is full; the more slowly we eat, the longer we allow intricate physiological processes to work (1, 2). If we eat too quickly, we may disrupt the body’s natural hormonal signaling (1).
4) Eat with your hands
It is very common to eat with your hands in south India, from what I observed. I found the eating with my hands helped me feel more connected to the food; I actually found it tasted better than if I ate it with a fork. I’m not saying this will be true for everyone, but it is for me :-). Eating with your hands also increases the time it takes for you to completely consume a meal, because you have to gather food particles with your hand as opposed to scooping them up with a spoon, which makes it easier.
5) Be Appreciative of the Food
Saying grace or praying before eating is common in many cultures. I observed that many Hindus recognized the divine nature of their food, and were appreciative of each bite. When you appreciate each bite, you tend to eat more slowly and mindfully. I found that mindful eating, or being sensitive to each spice, the heat, the texture, the color, and the smell of the food, also allowed me to eat less.
You can spend several months in a foreign country as I did; if you are from a developed nation and are accepting of other cultures, I’d say its highly probable you will lose weight. I am American, and in traveling to two other countries, I have seen that I was accustomed to eating much more than my friends in India and Mexico.
These five strategies can also be applied anywhere at any time. Of course, it is easier to apply them when you are amongst a group of people who practice them, but they can be practiced on one’s own just fine. Eating slowly, reducing meat consumption, calorie intake, and being appreciative of food are the simplest to adopt; eating on the floor with your hands can be more challenging, along with eating very spicy food regularly. All tips were helpful to me in some way, let me know if you try them and they help you! 🙂