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Sail A Healthy Life With Sharmila Cassim Captain

by Kay

My article today is another inspiring interview on how to be healthy and look good. I would like to introduce Sharmila Cassim Captain as ”My information box”. Her main attraction to me is her honesty.


I love talking to her because there’s a lot one could learn from her. So I thought, why not share her honest opinion on food, exercise and how she lives a healthy life. She’s also the reason I am looking forward to join the yoga class this Friday. For me she’s an inspiration. Its amazing how a simple chat we had on a treadmill turned out to be an article. Therefore, I hope this article will inspire all my readers to improve or adjust their life styles into a happy and healthy life.

1. What do you do to keep yourself fit and looking good?

Thank you for the compliment.. While I am not a trained fitness instructor or a qualified nutritionist I’ve experimented with different approaches to health and fitness and have found the equation which seems to be working for me but it is always work in progress. The equation will change from person to person depending on their weight, body type, exercise goals and health requirements but they will almost always fall into the categories of Diet/nutrition, Exercise and Sleep/relaxation.

1.1 Diet /nutrition – I sincerely do believe that “We are what we eat”. I also believe that our diet and nutritional requirements change with each passing year and that to enjoy a high quality of life we need to educate ourselves on our individual nutritional requirements at any given time. While the “balanced diet” is a good starting point, a better approach in my opinion is to move from “balanced” to “appropriate” i.e. to eat appropriately in tandem with our bodies’ requirements. There is no “one size fits all” as far as diet/nutrition is concerned; some people need more or less of a certain food group depending on their unique needs; My personal approach to diet is not determined entirely by weight loss but is largely fueled by a preference towards “anti-inflammatory” foods. An anti-inflammatory eating program is about eating healthy, wholesome and unprocessed foods and is aimed at boosting wellness, providing a steady supply of energy and reducing the risk of age-related diseases. Additionally it is skin friendly and when combined with a good exercise program helps to keep unwelcome fat at bay.

Having said that, I never deprive myself of any food cravings; I just eat more of the good stuff and less of the bad stuff to achieve a happy balance. Some of the big changes that have taken place in my diet over the last 3-4 years which have contributed to achieving a healthy body weight while improving digestion, immunity, energy levels and overall wellness are,

1.1.1 A shift from “Refined” carbohydrates to “Unrefined” carbohydrates. Examples of food products that contain refined carbohydrates include white bread, white rice, pasta, cakes, biscuits, sweets, candy, pastries, pies, white flour, beer, some wines etc..Refined carbohydrates do not contain the necessary nutrients that are beneficial to our health. Despite the fact that they have a sweet taste and are delightful to consume, they have very low nutritional value causing more harm than good to the body such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes and cardiovascular problems. Unrefined carbohydrates on the other hand are rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals, and include brown rice, beans, oatmeal, bran cereal, some vegetables, lentils, etc. For someone who is used to a refined carb diet, it can be very hard to shift to unrefined carbs overnight. But you can do it gradually by tilting the ratio towards unrefined carbs bit by bit and you will start to see amazing results in weight loss and other health benefits.

1.1.2 Increased consumption of leafy green vegetables and greens high in chlorophyll. The “power of greens” as I call it can hardly be overestimated as it’s fantastic for so many things. Chlorophyll is the pigment that gives green foods their rich deep green color and its primary benefit is that it has an alkalizing effect on the body. I find that daily consumption of Chlorophyll either in raw green leaf form or powder (mixed with water to make a green drink) helps towards intestinal regularity and detoxification.

1.1.3 Less meat. More plants. Until very recently I didn’t realize how delicious and diverse a vegetarian diet could be. I have gradually over the years, reduced consumption of meat and included more fish, fruit and vegetables in my diet. There are days that I simply prefer to eat only vegetarian food and being a very average cook, on those days I simply pick up a healthy, organic beetroot falafel or roast pumpkin wrap from a favorite cafe in Colombo. I try to consume most of my vegetables in raw form so that their nutritional value is not diminished.

1.1.4 Including Nutritional Supplements in my diet. More often than not people detest taking pills or other supplements under any circumstances. Many people (and even some doctors) still question the importance of taking supplements thinking that a “balanced”

diet will suffice. But the truth is we all have genetic weaknesses, including higher needs of some nutrients, higher rates of depletion for certain nutrients, and an increased likelihood of genetic expression of some illnesses if vitamin or mineral deficiencies are present. My list includes Fish Oil, Probiotics, Green supplement, Calcium, Protein and Vitamins. My belief is that it is important to understand and appreciate that adequate nutrition can be a challenge as we get older as with age, the body becomes less efficient at absorbing some key nutrients. Even if our bodies are not terribly deficient in some nutrients, supplementation may serve as a form of insurance to promote overall wellness.

1.1.5 Other general food rules. I go easy on desserts and have a fairly disciplined sweet tooth. I eat only when I am hungry but I try to have my last main meal by 7pm. As a general rule I load my plate with vegetables and greens, next add in the proteins (mostly fish, sometimes chicken and rarely red meat) leaving very little space for carbs. I never skip a single meal in fact I have several in between snacks. I rarely have dessert at home nor resort to over the top indulgence in chocolate, cake or ice cream. I have just that little bit of what I like and enjoy it to the max. I do not consider it deprivation in the least – I simply can do without it. But I do indulge in some luxuries. I do spoil myself on holiday or when eating out. I always have my tea/coffee with sugar and milk which is sometimes full cream and at other times trimmed or non-fat depending on how well (or badly) I’ve eaten that day. I eat a lot of cheese and drop by at the Fab for iced coffee and pastry about four times a week. But of course I work it all off the next day so it all balances out in the end.

1.2 Exercise – Exercise is different things to different people and you can decide to do low, medium or high intensive exercise depending on your exercise goals and health requirements. It all depends on what you want and how hard you are willing to work. To get real results from exercise, one has to approach it scientifically in a goal oriented manner with advice from professionals. My goal was to lose some fat, build significant muscle in my lower body region and focus on achieving more tone in my upper body. While I am not overly disciplined with my food consumption I am extremely disciplined and consistent with exercise. I love physical activity and I look forward to my daily workouts which are a combination of Yoga (a combination of styles which provides stretching, aerobic exercise and power building), Strength Training (heavy weight lifting for lower body and toning for upper) and cardio/aerobic exercise(walking, jogging and since very recently some experimentation with Cross Fit training) I confess that I do some form of exercise for a minimum of two hours every day and that actually allows me to eat anything I like in moderate quantities. I don’t have rock hard abs or a killer body that is so toned to perfection that there is not an ounce of fat on show, but at “my” age, I am pretty content with the way I am because it allows me to enjoy a healthy and balanced lifestyle which does not require extreme measures of food control or over the top aerobic exercise.

1.3 Sleep – The third piece of the puzzle for a healthy lifestyle and something we take so much for granted is Sleep. While I don’t always get 7-8 hours of sleep every night, I do work very hard to try and incorporate a good sleep routine as often as possible. Though diet and exercise are critical components of a healthy lifestyle, it’s also important to remember that sleep is inherently linked with how we eat , how we exercise, and how we function on a daily basis. Getting the proper amount of sleep each night is necessary to face the world with your best foot forward as sleep is necessary for rejuvenation & healing and optimized energy and immunity levels.

2. What is your ideal well balanced meal?

If it’s breakfast, then carbs must be the focus. I alternate between Oats, high fiber muesli and brown bread. Eggs are normally included and Fruits are a must. My first meal of the day is Papaya followed by breakfast proper. After breakfast if I am still hungry and need more energy especially before a workout, I eat a banana. While this is the ideal, there are days of French toast/sausages and pancake or kiribath binges which I consider well earned and all that more enjoyable as they are the exceptions to the rule.

Although I make several stops a week at a pastry shop in between meals, I do not endorse it. It is more out of habit and feels well deserved after a hard workout considering my weight is well within range as are my cholesterol and sugar and I know I am going to work it off the next day. I consider it moderate behavior.

Lunch to me on most days is brown rice with lots of veggies and greens and a good helping of protein, mostly fish. Protein is necessary for muscle repair & replenishment especially when exercising regularly so I get an extra dose of protein from Protein Shake supplements after a workout in between breakfast and lunch. Of course there are weekly trips to the Chinese restaurant with the family and fast food on the cook’s day off.

I have in between snacks. Ideally weight watchers should be munching on carrot or cucumber sticks but it is almost impossible to avoid the MSG loaded snacks that find their way into the house especially when you have kids. Cheese and crackers are also a personal favorite.

Dinner should be light. Alongside my anti-inflammatory diet, I do eat hoppers, string hoppers, pasta and the works albeit in small quantities however I will not endorse it. I do eat more vegetables & salad over the carbs content though but ideally the carb consumption should be minimal at dinner time. Meats are also not ideal as it’s harder to digest. Go veggie mostly at dinner time is my advice. Hard to do if you have a family to feed with growing children with different health requirements as when the food gets on the table, you end up having some of it despite your best intentions to eat healthy at dinnertime! But do avoid serving dessert after dinner. If you must, just stick to fruits.

Post dinner before bedtime snacking must be avoided as much as possible as you are not going to have the chance to burn it overnight. But I almost always have a cup of yoghurt before bedtime.

3. What are the worst and the best food on your list?

I think I’ve already talked about it but my list may not necessarily be the best. There are many published lists of the best foods and worst foods to include in one’s diet and anyone who is interested in making positive changes to their diet should research these alongside their own nutritional needs. Better still, if embarking on a healthy eating program, it would be a good idea to get the advice of a Nutritionist for guidance.

4. What is your favorite exercise routine? Aerobics, Zumba, Yoga? Or other? How does it help for well being and to lose weight?

This is an easy one. It’s Yoga! I love Yoga and in a good week I get to do about ten hours of it. The “mat” is my happy place and there is no place I’d rather be! I’m hoping that it will be a life- long relationship as I love it for so many reasons. I love that it pushes my mind, my strength and my muscles giving me the best workout ever and I love that I can complete a class and look at the clock and wonder where the time went! I love that there is SO much room to grow and learn mentally, physically and spiritually and the feeling that I progress with each session. I am like a little child before a yoga session, whether at class or at home where I get so excited about the prospect of what is ahead of me. I am adventurous by nature but also disciplined so I love doing things that look impossible and the discipline Yoga teaches me in the process. I love how Yoga teaches me patience to go through the slow and grueling process of getting something right. I love that it’s graceful but at the same time powerful and I love how it makes me feel afterwards.

So that should answer the question of how Yoga helps in well-being. At least that’s what it does for me!

On the subject of Yoga and weight loss that entirely depends on your starting point. If you are overweight and physically unfit, then yoga alone will not be enough. The most obvious physical benefits of yoga practice include loosening of muscles that have been tightened by inactivity, tension, and stress. Yoga postures also known as asana practice also increases the range of motion of joints, enhances flexibility, and can help correct postural problems that may have resulted from weight gain.

Any style of yoga helps tone, lengthen, and strengthen the muscles, which can contribute to the sculpting of the body, but the primary goal of Yoga is not necessarily weight loss. However, the style and intensity of yoga that is practiced CAN contribute to weight loss. Yoga is different things to different people and certain styles or of yoga could be more appropriate for students who have weight loss as a primary intention. I.e. such as Power or Vinyasa-style classes, where movement and breath link poses together, build heat and potentially result in greater calorie burn.

I started practicing yoga with no expectations in relation to weight loss but with increased frequency and intensity and above all the gusto with which I do it, the results so far have been fabulous so it is now an integral part of my overall work out.

5. What is the best advice to a mum who is out there looking to lose weight?

It’s back to what I spoke on exercise and diet!

6.What is your best take on quick fix healthy meal?

I am not so great in the kitchen so I opt for the easy way out. I sauté or boil lean cuts of chicken and freeze them. I have a few cans of tuna in olive oil or brine at any given time. Either of these can be used in an emergency to fix a sandwich or enhance a salad. The other favorite is green juicing. Anything green will do. Broccoli, celery, coriander, mint, spinach, gotukola and whatever else. Blend a handful of an assortment of greens together with cucumber (for water content) and apple (for sweetener) and create a wholesome green juice which is a small meal of its own.

7. Do you believe in detox drinks? If so please share one.

My green juice in powdered or raw green leaf form is my on the go detox but I have it alongside my regular diet. I have never attempted a strict detox although the idea is very appealing. I don’t have much experience on the subject so cannot offer an opinion as yet!