Arvind Ashok: Fitness & Nutrition Simplified

Redefining Normal

I went to grad school in Bloom­ing­ton, Indi­ana in 2005. Amaz­ing place, loved my time there and can’t wait to go back. Any­ways, two weeks into life there, we had a big event — there was a Chipo­tle open­ing in town. More impor­tantly, free bur­ri­tos on the first day! For a broke-ass grad stu­dent, this was unbe­liev­ably awe­some. So, me and a cou­ple of other guys joined the ginor­mous line that was there and it took us a good 30 min­utes to get to the counter. Got myself a chicken bur­rito, and damn, was it huge! I hacked it into two — ate one piece for lunch, and saved the other for din­ner. Two meals for the price of zero. How about that!?

This peace­ful down­town was packed like a Sat­ur­day night when Chipo­tle gave away free lunch! Photo cour­tesy — WikiMedia

If you’ve been to the US, you know what I mean about por­tion sizes. I con­tin­ued this strat­egy of split­ting my meal into 2 when­ever I ate out. Slowly, as I set­tled into life there, I real­ized that my din­ner half was no longer a half, and steadily decreas­ing in size. By the end of my first semes­ter, I was com­fort­ably eat­ing the entire burrito.

Yeah, rather big isn’t it! Photo cour­tesy —

Dude, what was the point of this story?

Get­ting to it. Last week, I was talk­ing to this gen­tle­man who wanted some fit­ness advice. His open­ing line was

I was pretty active in school and col­lege. Nat­u­rally, after col­lege, I stopped all phys­i­cal activ­ity, and slowly got fat. This was 20 years ago.

Unfor­tu­nately, I have heard umpteen ver­sions of that line, from var­i­ous folks. Slowly and steadily, our ‘nat­ural’, our ‘nor­mal’ is replaced by a new (but not improved) ver­sion. Like I went from eat­ing half a bur­rito to a full one, we slowly go from being active youths to fat asses with min­i­mal phys­i­cal activ­ity and a ton of ail­ments. Wel­come to the new normal.

We shouldn’t con­fuse being slowly con­di­tioned to some­thing, whether it is eat­ing twice the amount of food for lunch as was my case, or going from an active per­son to a couch potato (which I did too), as nat­ural or normal.

Just because a mil­lion peo­ple do some­thing doesn’t make it not stu­pid. I am going to refrain from an exam­ple here and keep my big mouth shut. Instead, am gonna say that again — just because a mil­lion peo­ple do some­thing doesn’t mean it is right.

Time to end this. We need a par­a­digm shift. We need a new new normal. Natural is being active, being healthy, being fit. It is feel­ing good about your­self. It doesn’t mean 6-pack abs, or look­ing like a mag­a­zine model. It most def­i­nitely doesn’t mean you should look like the stereo­typ­i­cal cop in India. The fol­low­ing ques­tions might be a good start.

 Do you feel good when you wake up?

Do you feel happy about your­self, about how you look?

Are you able to get through day to day activ­i­ties with no fuss — climb­ing stairs, car­ry­ing the kid, car­ry­ing gro­ceries, putting on the bub­ble top water can and stuff like that?

I am not say­ing you should be capa­ble of crazy feats of ath­letic strength. Don’t con­fuse this and go reg­is­ter for a marathon or some­thing. But your body is capa­ble of doing a lot of things and doing them eas­ily. A lot of things that you either can­not do today or are strug­gling with. Sim­ple things like squat­ting, like get­ting off the floor with­out using your hands, like rolling, climb­ing stairs, play­ing with your kids. You get the idea.

Wher­ever you are cur­rently (let’s call it point A), we need to get towards point B. It is just next door. It could sim­ply start with eat­ing a few more veg­gies every­day, or walk­ing every­day. Any­thing. It could be even just say­ing “I want to change”. And from there, we can slowly get to point N (where things are nor­mal, are nat­ural). And after that, bor­row­ing from Coach Dan John here, we can look at point Z.

What am I try­ing to say?

Point A to point B, and then to point N via points C, D, E… you get the idea. And once you are there, you will want to get to point Z, to what seems like super-human lev­els. Don’t rush to point Z — that’s just another way to fail.

We need a par­a­digm shift. We need to rec­og­nize that it sim­ply is not nat­ural or nor­mal to lose our phys­i­cal and men­tal fac­ul­ties, and dete­ri­o­rate to a dys­func­tional phys­i­cal spec­i­men. Wel­come to the new new nor­mal, or sim­ply, what the old nor­mal was.

  • Lavanya

    I remem­ber your first day there — you and Abi­lash were at some fast food joint when I called. You said the burger was as big as Pratik’s head and the milk­shake con­tainer was as tall as him!!
    Par­a­digm shift indeed!

  • Arvind

    Yeah, at Stake and Shake. The first milk­shake I’ve ever not finished!