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women

It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.”

― Maya Angelou

Women are inherently beautiful. Yes, they are, irrespective of their size, shape, colour and anything else. But do most of us inherently feel beautiful about ourselves?

They say that a woman’s ovary represents creativity. For creativity to be nurtured, what is needed is huge doses of love, compassion and patience. If what you offer instead, is anger at the self, hatred of the body and an unwillingness to love yourself, is when you see disorders like PCOD/ PCOS manifesting itself in various complex ways on your body.

Scientifically speaking, women with polycystic ovarian syndrome/ disorder (PCOS/ PCOD) have small cysts on their ovaries that most of the time (not mandatory) leads to hormonal imbalance, unwanted body hair, obesity, insulin-resistance, infertility, irregular periods, absence of periods, diabetes, hair thinning, acne, oily skin amongst few others.

PCOS involves the delicate balance of various female hormones and multiple organs of the body, namely ovaries, adrenal glands, pancreas and pituitary gland. Hence, the way to approach it & deal with it should also be very holistic and comprehensive.

Usually contraceptives/ diuretics/ anti-androgen/ anti-diabetic drugs are routinely prescribed to bring balance and treat PCOS/ PCOD. Available scientific evidence suggests that lifestyle modification (LSM) interventions reduce fasting blood glucose and insulin levels in women with PCOS with effects that are similar to drugs. Moreover, it is only fair to give lifestyle a chance before resorting to popping pills with their obvious side-effects. Lifestyle changes, including food, exercise, and sleep, improves the metabolic and reproductive abnormalities of PCOS women. Therefore, it undoubtedly, represents the first-line management for all women with PCOS.

The two main nutritional, exercise & lifestyle objectives for PCOS are to a) lower body fat levels (improve body composition) and b) enhance insulin-sensitivity. And the way to achieve them are-

1. NUTRITION – Eating local, seasonal and fresh homemade meals that are wholesome will ensure that all the required nutrients reach your ovaries and your glands so that they are nourished and well looked after.

Eating wholesome food – Now the prime nutritional strategy for insulin resistance & PCOS is to eat foods that are low in GI. Eating foods that have a low GI keeps blood sugar levels steady and helps your body metabolise fat more efficiently. Generally, the less processed a carbohydrate, the more likely it is to have a low-GI score. So choose to eat rotis, theplas, dosa, rice, paratha etc.

But what is really interesting is that your glycemic response to a food depends on the other foods you eat with it.

Adding fat to your carb-rich food, lowers the overall GI of the meal. Fat slows stomach emptying, delaying the process of converting food to blood sugar. Hence, more the fat, the slower the sugars (‘carbohydrates’) are digested, and lower is the glycemic index. So spread a generous amount of white butter on your roti/parathas, do not dump the coconut chutney when eating idli/ dosa, and do lace your hot, fluffy rice with a spoonful of ghee.

Now if this meal will include proteins too, the GI impact of the carbohydrate foods will be further minimized. This is because by combining foods in a single meal the overall impact is to slow down the rate at which your body releases sugar from any single ingredient. So add a bowl of curd with your butter paratha, some sambhar with your idli chutney, and some dal or egg curry to your rice ghee. And there you have a wholesome meal that is not only low in GI, but also rich in fibre-rich grains, vitamins & micro-mineral rich pulses, and essential fats. The kind of meal your ovaries are going to thank you for!

But haven’t we all grown up eating dal bhaat ghee/ paratha curd? The reason we have invited these host of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like PCOS/ Diabetes etc. is because we have either looked down at our own homemade meals; or tried to eat them in isolation; like eating roti without ghee, having dal but no rice etc. This shift from our traditional & wholesome way of eating to more Westernized diets is called “Nutrition Transition” and is said to be largely responsible for the urban lifestyle disorders in developing countries like ours, today.

2. EXERCISE – Amongst all the exercises, incorporating strength training into your workout regimen is crucial to improve insulin sensitivity and to better control insulin swings. Structured and progressive strength training improves how the body uses insulin and allows glucose to get around the body better. Weight training at least twice a week is hence essential, to bring hormonal vibrancy.

Numerous studies have demonstrated conclusively that strength training also burns fat much more effectively than any other exercise does. Aerobic activity (like cardio, walk, swim etc.) burns fat while you’re exercising, but anaerobic activity (like strength training) burns fat in the minutes, hours and days following exercise, as your body recovers from your workout. Studies reveal that strength exercise burns more calories (or fat) for as long as 24 to 48 hours post workout! Better fat loss means better hormonal balance, better hormonal balance means regular & painless periods, lesser break outs, reduced hair fall and enhanced fertility.

3. SLEEP- Not getting enough sleep impairs metabolism and disrupts hormone levels. With ongoing sleep loss, insulin sensitivity of body reduces. At the same time, your body secretes more cortisol (stress hormone), which makes it harder for insulin to do its work effectively. The net effect: Excess glucose stays in the bloodstream, that not only leads to weight gain but also throws all your hormones off balance.

Make sure you have regulated wake up and bed timings. A deep, restorative sleep is priceless for your hormones as it brings a sense of harmony in them.

And lastly, take it one step at a time, with love, compassion and patience. As women, we tend to be least kind to our own selves. Applaud yourself for every small effort you make in the right direction and gradually, you will see yourself transforming. And do remember that: “You are a woman, phenomenally!”

Keep yourself happy by keeping yourself healthy. Let well-known Mumbai dietitian and fitness expert Munmun Ganeriwal design a nutrition, exercise and lifestyle transformation program that elevates your overall sense of well-being. Contact us now for an in-depth consultation.

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The ‘Shakti’ is within – Strong is beautiful

Open letters are breaking the Internet these days. Farhan Akhtar recently wrote one to his daughter and Amitabh Bachchan to his granddaughters. Also in the very recent past, films such as Pink and Parched have done impeccably well in addressing women’s issues in both rural and urban settings in India. Today we are at the last day of Navratri, a festival dedicated to the feminine nature of the Divine. The feminine has always been worshipped in Indian culture in various forms. She is referred to as ‘Adi Shakti’, ‘Param Shakti’, ‘Maha Shakti’ or simply as ‘Shakti’. Today, most households in India will invite small Kanyas for prasad, worship them and give them gifts. The belief is to recognize in the girl child the power, energy and strength that is vested—the ‘Shakti’.

Yet, at the same time, ours is a culture which has also seen a terrible exploitation of the feminine. Though people’s awareness about women’s issues is gradually on the rise, what I believe needs to be done at the most basic level is to bring about some important changes in the way we bring up our girls.

1. Bring them up to be strong, independent women, not delicate “Daddy’s Princesses”

If we constantly keep our girls away from sports and athletics, and worry more about their complexion getting darker in the sun, we cannot be sure of giving them a safe and secure future. If we keep fretting over their bruises and repeat expressions in front of them such as ‘daag nahi gaya toh shaadi kaun karega’, we can be sure of raising a generation that will only continue to get exploited. Sports do a lot more than they appear to. In my career as a fitness professional, I have often come across girls who play sports but only until they are in the 8th or 9th standard. As parents and guardians, it is our responsibility to encourage them to keep pursuing sports even later or to weight train at the gym and/ or take up any traditional form of yoga practice. Lifting weights at the gym is not going to make them look less like girls—in fact, it will give them the strength and courage (both physical and mental) to stand up for themselves and never give up. Practising inversions (head stands, shoulder stands, etc.) at yoga classes empowers a girl to “choose” and not simply “comply”. She learns to rise against conventions and conditioning, without the fear of falling down.

Shakti’ is literally translated as ‘Strength’ and Strong is NOT the ‘new’ beautiful. Strong has always been the ONLY beautiful. The festival of Navratri is based on this fundamental insight.

2. Free them from the chains of shallow conditioning, the so called breed of ‘cultured’ girls

Violence at home is India’s ‘failing’—BBC, 2014.

What sets our country apart from the rest of the world is the culture of silence that surrounds it. Ironically, the more educated a girl is, the more silent she gets. The pressure to fit in with society’s expectations, to be a ‘cultured’ girl who is always smiling and enduring, is shouldered more by the so-called ‘acche ghar ki ladkiyan’. This, by the way, is the exact opposite of education, for education is supposed to remove your fears and set you free. The “beti bachao, beti padhao yojana” sounds a lot like a joke. The responsibility does not lie with schools but with each of us. It is our responsibility to stop raising “Good” girls. Instead, let us raise “Strong” girls.

3. Let’s change their bedtime stories with the changing times

Stories of Cinderella and the like mostly revolve around the sad plight of beautiful girls waiting to be rescued by their Prince Charming. When we live in a society where incidents of domestic violence are reported about once every five minutes (BBC, 2014), I really wonder if stories of “happily ever after” really make any sense. Instead, let’s tell them stories of bravery, grit, valour, and honour, of the invincible Durga from mythology, of Jhansi ki Raani from history, and of Yusra Mardini or Reshma Qureshi in our current times.

4. And lastly, stop body shaming, please!

We come from a culture where we apply ‘kaala tikka’ on the foreheads of our children with the belief that each child, whether dark or fair, tall or short, fat or thin, is beautiful. Today, it is in vogue for mothers to be constantly worried. In my work, I meet worried mothers on a regular basis. ‘Yeh dil maange more’ is the mantra: can she be a little thinner, a little taller, and of course, a little more fair than what she is? Interestingly, most of these mothers are themselves quite unfit to begin with. Get a life, mommies! Start with yourself first. After all, Mahatma Gandhi rightly said, “Be the change you want to see.”

Read about the journey of grit, courage and strength of these strong women who overcame hurdles to be healthier and happier-

1. TRANSFORMATION – STORY OF ANNAPURNA SHARMA

2. TRANSFORMATION – JOURNEY OF ADITI SARAF

3. TRANSFORMATION – STORY OF BAANI KAUR

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