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How to shop so you don't drop

Toddler tantrums, suffering spine, aching feet, bloated stomach, saggging shoulders, fraying temper ... all this is part of one way of shopping. But there's another kind - a method that enables you to shop but not drop.

Image Credit:Illustration by Ramachandra Babu/Gulf News

Toddler tantrums, suffering spine, aching feet, bloated stomach, saggging shoulders, fraying temper ... all this is part of one way of shopping. But there's another kind - a method that enables you to shop but not drop. Ritu Raizada meets experts who suggest how you can make shopping an enjoyable experience - for both your mind and your body.

This is one of the few places in the world which has a festival to celebrate one of the most preferred leisure pursuits of mankind in modern history - shopping. In fact, the Dubai Shopping Festival occupies an envious place in the emirate's annual calendar.

The DSF, which began on December, 20, 2006, will continue till February 2, 2007, and these 45 days of non-stop shopping can mean only one thing - busy days for shoppers and shopkeepers alike.

While the sheer mind-boggling offers are hard to beat, the variety of things to shop for unimaginable and the discounts terrific for retail therapy, there is a needle in this mountainous haystack most of us never really even think of looking for.

The needle that jabs you into taking a reality check: Do you know how to shop?What a silly question, did you say?

Ok, I'll repeat, do you know how to shop? Do you know how to maximise a day out at the malls, buy the things you want, enjoy walking around, eat sensibly and return home with both shoulders in good condition, feet happy, eyes unglazed, stomach light and overall spirits in high degrees with enough leftover energy to be able to sit up for a good movie on the television instead of heading straight for the bedroom, popping Panadols and asking your spouse to massage the knots in your shoulders and if the kids happen to bound in, you cream them away with, 'GO AWAY! Mama's had a long day."

And they say you went shopping. And that shopping is fun.

Well, let us tell how you can make shopping truly fun.
You see, it's all about having common sense and doing a little bit of preparation.

"Every year during DSF, patients inundate our clinic with complaints of foot pain," says Dr Sami Tabib, podiatrist, Chiropody Center, Dubai. He attributes the spike in the number of cases of foot pain during this period to people not taking the right precautions while out shopping.

After all, lugging around large, heavy bags from the store, through the mall, to the car park, into the car, up the stairs, into your home ... all this could take a toll on your body.

Your legs and back are not the only areas of your body which are likely to take a beating. If you do not take appropriate care before, during and after a long day of shopping, you could end up with various other health conditions, say experts.

Let's begin with food ...
When was the last time you actually gave some thought to the kind of food you would eat in between your rounds of shopping? And the fact that the wrong choice of food can actually throw the spanner in the works and cut short a long day at the mall to a few hours at the mall?

"Most shoppers either forget to drink enough water or simply reduce their intake for fear of having to visit the washroom frequently (while out shopping),'' says dietician Lovely R. Deep, Al Zahra Hospital, Sharjah.

"This triggers a sort of confusion in the mind and one tends to eat when all the body requires is adequate and the right fluids. By eating 'wrong' (high calorie) foods at inappropriate times, you are only inviting trouble in the form of (unnecessary) fat," she says.

So what should a shopper do?

Take frequent rests, keep your body hydrated and eat sensibly while out shopping, she suggests.

Aniysha Seyfferdt, marketing manager, Landmark International, tends to follow this advice. A self-confessed shopaholic, she eats smart and indulges only in light meals such as soups, salads or juices while in malls.

Cristina Vitug, marketing services manager, Brightpoint, Dubai Airport Free Zone, another die-hard shopaholic, takes another route. She believes in not 'wasting' shopping time at eateries.

"To me, eating out is low priority because (the less time I spend eating, the more time) I get to spend shopping," she reasons.

"At the most, I'll have a glass of fresh carrot juice. But if I have company, I'll be gracious enough to stop and share a bite," she says.

Very often, high-calorie food is available at strategically located areas in malls and it may take a lot of willpower to steer clear of those inviting counters.

"Highly-processed foods are the cheapest to mass produce and have the longest shelf lives," says Deep.

"Think about it, your fresh produce, dairy and meat products are almost always displayed around the perimeter of the store, while there's aisle after aisle of packaged, processed and frozen foods right in the middle ... (The latter) is good for the grocers, but not necessarily for you," she says.

How to survive the caloric rip-off:

1. Don't starve
Our three-meal-a-day culture forces us to go without food from lunch at around 1 pm to dinner at around 8 pm or later. The result is that glucose levels begin to decline at around 4 pm, and if you are shopping in a mall at this time, you can end up irritable and hungry.

Then to satisfy your hunger, you find your way to the food court and end up eating all that you can lay your hands on.

Tip: Eat before shopping, because an empty stomach during shopping may make you go heavy on all the wrong foods at lunch or even sooner.

2. Plan ahead
Most of us eat for every reason except the right one, which is hunger! Therefore, the singlemost important strategy is to learn to listen to our bodies and feed it because it is hungry and not because 'you felt like you wanted something to eat'.

You need to start by training your body to be hungry when it should be - between mealtimes and snack times, a gap of 3 to 4 hours would be ideal.

If you know you are going to get hungry while shopping, consider taking along a bag of carrot sticks. Buy a bag of unsalted nuts, a cup of yoghurt, or treat yourself to fresh juice. This will keep you from grabbing a candy bar, a sweet roll, etc, and it also reinforces the habit of eating when you are physically hungry.

3. Equate treats with exercise
Make plans on how you will get rid of extra calories that you've consumed. Make the plan specific: for instance, promise yourself that for each slice of pizza that you eat you will do two laps around the block or 30 minutes of fast-paced shopping at the mall.

This lets you indulge without guilt because you have a plan for dealing with it. This also helps you think of food in terms of activity and the required effort to burn them off. Such plans will make you think twice before you succumb to temptation. But of course, you must stick to your promise.

4. Eat for real
Snacks can add up to the same amount of calories and fat as a regular meal. Just take a look at this classic mall treat: a single 64-gm chocolate chip cookie can give you approx 320 calories.

5. Drinking hazards
Always keep in mind that milkshakes and smoothies available in restaurants are food, ie., they have as many calories as most meals (an average of 451 calories in a 340-ml chocolate milkshake).

Decide if you are having the smoothie as a meal replacement or simply as a drink with your burger and fries. If it's the latter, then promise yourself a workout. Do watch out for speciality coffee drinks; they too can be in the 350-500 calorie range.

6. Read between the lines
We are fortunate that today the nutrient content of most food products is displayed on the packaging. This is of tremendous help to anyone who is watching his/her weight or is health-conscious.

Beware of products labelled 'lite' or 'reduced fat'. While the four per cent rule is a good yardstick, there are exceptions. If you remove the skin and all visible fat, then lean beef, lamb, venison, poultry and fish are acceptable.

"There are two details you need to read carefully on the label - the 'energy' value and the 'fat' content," adds Deep. "The energy value will be shown in kilojoules or kilocalories - kJ or kcal for short. The 'kcal' figure will tell you the number of calories per 100 grams."

"Fat is of two types, saturated (mainly of animal origin) and unsaturated (of plant origin). On a low-fat, weight-reducing diet, however, it's irrelevant where the fat comes from, so you can ignore the finer details.

"All you need to know is the total fat content. As a general rule, when selecting foods in the supermarket, choose only those foods that contain four grams or less of fat per 100 grams of the product. That's equivalent to four per cent fat."

Best of all, use your discretion!

Burn calories!
Once you've had your fill, it's time to burn those extra calories. And yes, you read it right - you CAN burn calories while shopping! (Ha! You have one more excuse to go shopping now!) "(How many calories you burn) depends on your weight and walking speed," says Bhavin Thakkar, yoga expert at Bharat Thakur's Artistic Yoga Centre.

"For instance, a woman weighing 140 lbs and walking at a normal speed (about 1.5 - 2 mph) may lose 150-180 calories 1-1/2 hours. You may expect to lose 20-30 calories more if you are carrying your shopping bags by hand (and not in a trolley)."

For regulars who have no time to exercise, this is a great opportunity to pack in some fitness training (but watch what you eat during your outings)!

Tip: Wear a pedometer while shopping and see if you can get to the 5,000-step mark. That will work out to about 2.5 miles!

"A 10-minute walk - even in a shopping mall - can burn as many as 100 calories," says Deep.

"Researchers have found that people who remain active during the holiday season are the least likely to gain weight. This goes to suggest that, to an extent, you can get away with eating the way you want if you continue exercising.''

Tip: Park your car at the far end of the lot, skip the elevator and carry your shopping to the car - this way you'll get your cardio and weight training all in one!

Arrive at the mall before the stores actually open so that you can get a couple of thousand clicks on your pedometer before you actually start shopping.

Interestingly, while shopping for clothes (yes, it's clothes, because this task calls for visiting the trial room quite a few times), you will burn approximately 325 calories in a span of one-and-a-half hours.

"The estimated calories burned are based on one-and-a-half hours of each activity at a body weight of 150 pounds," explains Deep. "Actual calories burned vary with your individual body weight. Probably you'd burn more calories if you were to try on lots of clothes!"

"If the idea is to improve your fitness while shopping, then one should opt for taking the stairs instead of lifts and escalators," observes Thakkar.

"But most of the malls are designed for maximum customer comfort, so looking for stairs to access different floors can become an exercise in itself. And they are definitely not a good option if your bags have begun to get heavy."

How much should you carry?
The ideal weight an average person should carry depends on his/her body weight, fitness level and the duration it is going to be carried around.

"For a woman with an average fitness level and weighing 130-140 lbs, the total weight carried should not be more than 12-15lbs," Thakkar points out.

"Distribute the weight more or less evenly on your shoulders. It is advisable to use trolleys instead of taxing your body, especially if you are planning to spend a few hours in the mall.''

Put Your Best Foot Forward
Ok, so you know what to eat and drink when shopping, how to burn those calories and how much weight to shoulder. Now spare a thought for those poor feet of yours.

"If shopping is done wearing shoes that are ill-fitting, lack proper cushioning - particularly in the heel and forefoot - and do not provide adequate structural support around the arch and mid-foot, damage to the feet is inevitable," Thakkar warns.

"Therefore, if you are planning a full day's shopping, treat it like a serious exercise."

"I have seen a lot of women wear high heels when out shopping and it's no wonder they complain of sore feet and foot injuries later on," says Thakkar.

According to him, footwear that compresses the feet or toes can cause many pressure-related problems to the feet. Climbing a flight of stairs in high heels is an invitation for sore feet and a bad back, he says.

So, what should you wear?

Go for flat shoes or ones with minimal heel, a well-cushioned sole and a soft arch support.

"I always recommend sports shoes," says Dr Tabib. "They are flexible, well-cushioned and designed for heavy activity which shopping has become."

Vitug agrees. She prefers sneakers for comfort and speed. "Their grip helps me manoeuvre heavy carts when I do the grocery as well. But I also wear flip-flops a lot because that way, it's easier for me to try on new shoe styles that I happen to fancy."

Watch your walk
Wearing the right footwear alone is not enough, though. If some experts are to be believed, many of us are yet to learn to walk properly!

"Let your heel contact the floor first, rock, then swing the other foot forward," advises Thakkar. "Keep your shoulders relaxed and make sure you don't slouch or they will droop further with those shopping bags in your hand.

"Lean your body a bit forward when pushing trolleys around. This will reduce the strain on your legs and back. It's best not to carry older kids as it will increase the stress on your body.

"Use perambulators for very young kids. The slightly older ones can, if possible, ride in the trolleys."

Dr Tabib also stresses on maintaining the right posture while shopping. "A wrong posture may lead to uneven weight distribution between the feet," he points out.

"A computerised gait analysis is therefore prudent to see if there are any irregularities in your gait cycle. An orthotic, custom-made insole may be necessary to correct any gait abnormalities," he says.

Shopaholic Vitug knows the pain associated with trawling malls for long periods of time.

"I have told myself a number of times that I've gone too far. Thanks to the bags of shopping that I end up with on shopping sprees, there have been occasions when I have felt as though my legs would give way ... sometimes I've wondered whether I could even make it to my car," she says.

But the pain is forgotten once she's at home opening the packages and trying on the new clothes or shoes.

If the heel hurts ...
"You may be having a foot condition called plantar fasciitis, which is a serious, painful, and progressing illness that occurs when the long, flat ligament along the bottom of the foot develops tears and an inflammation," reveals Dr Tabib.

"When you walk or run, you land on your heel and raise yourself on your toes as you shift your weight to your other foot. This causes all your weight to be held up by your plantar fascia. Such repetitive force can pull the fascia from its attachment on your heel and cause damage and plantar fasciitis.''

This foot condition tends to worsen after standing or walking for prolonged periods.

"Many factors can cause plantar fasciitis to develop, one of which is repetitive pressure on the feet, such as from prolonged walking or standing on hard or
irregular surfaces."

If you experience pain, sit down for a few minutes and rest your feet. Check to see if your feet are inflamed or sore.

Dr Tabib recalls the story of a patient who was out shopping but began to experience severe pain in her feet. "Fortunately, she knew what the problem was. She slipped off her footwear and continued shopping barefoot - painlessly," he says. "One has to learn to use commonsense or else you may end up in my waiting room."

Learn to Relax!
It's unlikely that you will enjoy the experience of shopping if you only keep buying and loading your trolley with stuff and take little time to enjoy the other pleasures.

It is important to take time out to relax during your shopping sprees, say experts. "Make sure that for every 60 to 90 minutes spent moving around in the mall, you take a short break," advises Thakkar.

"Either rest on a bench or recharge your batteries by treating yourself to a refreshing beverage (but not before checking its calorie-content). As and when convenient, simply stretch your legs, back and neck at regular intervals, while you are either sitting or standing to make your shopping experience less tiring and more pleasant."

Keep coins handy and try a massage chair for some instant relief to your tired back - most malls in the city have them.

Once you are back home
After a long day's shopping, treat your feet to some TLC. "Once you are home soak your feet in hot water with a fair sprinkling of sea salt,'' suggests Thakkar.

"Massage your feet with a relaxing foot lotion or oil or simply treat yourself to a pedicure at a salon on your way back home.

"Once you retire for the night, elevate your legs either against the wall or place a stack of pillows under your feet," says the yoga expert.
Enjoy DSF.