Friday, March 22, 2013

Food for thought

I miss my childhood. Everyone has their reasons for missing what they have left behind. I have my reasons too. I miss the simplicity of my life back then.

We never had maids who cooked for us. It was always my ma and my grandma who cooked. Even now.

Back then, I never counted calories when I ate. Nothing was allowed to be wasted. Whatever was on the plate had to go in the stomach. That was the rule. Not that hungry? Take a smaller serving.

Meals used to start with bitter melon (it was supposed to cleanse your system) back then. Then came daal, rice, vegetables, and fish or meat. There was always salad on the side. And curd (with sugar) to end the meal. Sounds like a feast everyday of the year, twice a day, doesn’t it?

But I was still thin and fit and active. And never worried about putting on weight.

They tell me now that I should skip all that and eat yoghurt or salads for lunch. Skimmed milk. No sugar. I am serious.

I never worried about working out during childhood. There were no gyms to start with. But then, I would walk back from school sometimes, without taking the rickshaw. It was not to burn calories (the first time I learned the word “calorie” was from my middle school Physics textbook). It was to save two rupees. I used to get kicks out of saving money.

In college, sometimes I would skip the bus and walk home, so that I could spend more time with my best friend (There was no rush to go home to Facebook and emails). The smoke, honking, crowd, piles of cow dung on the roads, and waterlog below the bridge by the metro station did not matter then. All we cared about was to spend extra time with each other. She lived ten houses from mine. So we would walk until I reached my home, and then we would talk some more while I walked her home, and then she would walk me home again. This would continue for the evening, until one of our moms screamed at us. There was still no gym to go to, and it did not matter.

Now, there is a gym. And it is free with a student id. And I always go after 5 pm (parking on campus is free after 5 pm). This is so that I can drive the 5 minute route instead of walking, and then spend the next 2 hours working out. I did not have a car in Calcutta, but I was better at my math. I don’t know why I have never walked to the gym. Bad habit, perhaps.

As a kid, I drank two glasses of milk everyday. Morning and evening. They said it was good for brain and bone development. I never worried about BST or hormones in milk. Milk never came packaged. The doodhwaali always delivered milk in person. True, she smelled of buffaloes (that made me gag every time she would pull my cheeks) and mixed an inordinate amount of water with milk. But that was the end of the complexity. Milk and water. Sometimes more milk, sometimes more water. She is gone now, it is all packaged milk that comes from somewhere I don’t know. I stand in front of the aisles, clueless. There are dozens of varieties to choose from. Whole milk. 1%. 2%. They tell me that 2% is actually not 2%, and whole milk is not 100%. More mathematical complexities. Then there is almond milk. Soy milk. Fat free milk. Vitamin D enriched milk (doesn’t all milk have Vitamin D?). Milk cartons in yellow and red and blue, each signifying something it has or does not have. You don’t even have to boil the milk, or worry about milk spilling on the stovetop, like my mom did and sometimes spent hours cleaning up. Those complications are gone now. Those have been substituted by newer complications.

As children, we never stored ice creams and cold drinks at home. There was a videogame parlor in the small town where I grew up, called Relax Parlor. Back in the eighties, it was the only shop of its kind in town. The shop is probably long gone now. There, if we had been good children, we would sometimes go with parents and have ice creams. Either vanilla or strawberry. Not a whole lot to choose from. Either a small cup or a large cup (no mediums). Not a whole lot of cup sizes to choose from either. It was probably rupees 3 and rupees 5. But then, we did not go there every day. Not even every Friday night (there was no concept of Friday nights back then, the only interesting thing we did Friday evening was watch Chitramala on Doordarshan). We went to Relax Parlor once every 2-3 months. Our freezer wasn’t stuffed with mocha and caramel and rum and raisin ice creams. Life was less complicated that way. One did not have to worry about losing weight, because there was none to gain.

They ask me to do strange things these days. They say I should remove the egg yolk, it has high cholesterol. They say I should eat everything brown- brown rice and brown sugar. They live and die by quinoa. They say I should eat salads for lunch. Just salad. They say I should buy fruits and vegetables that are organic. I did not worry about all this back then. I ate whatever vegetables ma cooked. I would ask her to save the peels so that I could feed the cow; that used to be an exciting part of my day back then, not hopping pubs or doing a shopping marathon, but feeding the cow. I fed the cow, the cow gave us milk. Such simple things in life brought such joy.

These days, they ask me to skip a component of what I eat. When I order a dosa, they ask me to skip the coconut chutney (which is the favorite part of the dosa for me). They ask me to drink the green coconut water and throw the malai (which is another favorite). They say mangoes have high calories, and so do bananas. It’s bad for the health. I never remember ma ever saying so. In summers, we ate mangoes and litchis by the kilo. We ate bananas by the dozen. Apples were meant to be eaten only during fever, those were expensive. Surprisingly, no one ever told me that I was a fat kid. If anything, I was tall, healthy, seldom fell sick, never missed my period, and had thick hair, clear skin and pink nails. These days, I can eat Japanese sushi for lunch and Mexican burritos for dinner. For variety, I can eat Italian, Ethiopian, and Chinese. We did not have this luxury back then. But we never worried about weight gain or weight loss.

When I was in my early twenties, I suddenly got this whim one day that my weight should be less than my height (If I am x’y” tall, I should weigh less than xy kg). It was a whim without logic. I reduced what I ate, and shed 5 kilos in a few months. I had no gym to go to, and skipping meals at home was not allowed. However, my body was so obedient that I could easily lose weight with a little bit of cutting down on food.

I have tried losing weight for the last six months, and have exactly lost two pounds.

Let me tell you about the gaining saga before I tell you about the losing struggle. I don’t know how or why, but in the last 6 years of my US stay, I have put on 44 pounds. The problems of the first world countries are also first world. I never knew depression was an ailment back in India. I mean, where was the time to get depressed? I never knew that excess rain and lack of sunshine can cause depression (people from Seattle swear by SAD, or Seasonal Affective Depression). As a kid, I never knew weight gain is an issue. I sometimes think that my childhood problems paled compared to my present day problems. For me, resources are plenty now, but I just don’t know what to choose from. My fridge is stocked with stuff I never grew up eating- cheese spread, marmalade, apple sauce, and chicken broth. Everything comes in packets, and everything can be frozen. This includes frozen chapatti, frozen dosa, and frozen fruits. And they tell me to eat stuff that defies everything I have learned so far. They ask me to stick to juices for one meal a day (wonder why God gave me teeth). They ask me to skip milk because recent research says that milk does not help in Vitamin D absorption. They ask me to eat Greek yoghurt. But then when I visit their houses, they serve me pizzas, cheesecakes, ice creams and brownies. They try to refill my glass with soda despite me telling them that water is just fine. They tell me that the fizz in the soda is good for digestion.

But you know what? After 6 years of struggling to get back in shape, I have decided to ignore them all. I have no faith in what they say anymore. Yes, I now eat my coconut chutney and green coconuts. I eat bananas and eggs (yellow and all) for breakfast and rice for lunch. But I don’t hog like a pig. I am not going to survive on green liquids and juices. I have given up soda, pizzas, and alcohol long ago. I don’t eat out for more than once a week. And when someone asks me to go out for dinner with them, I am in a dilemma. I can either spend my evening eating outside food, damaging my health and wasting money, or I can spend the same time working out.

I go to gym 4-5 times a week. There, I don’t just do cardio, I do my weights too. Sometimes, I dance Zumba to the beats of music. Those are happy evenings for me. Strangely, even after months of hard work, I have lost exactly 2 pounds. But it is okay. I feel more fit now, I sleep better, I digest my food well, I can see the outline of my biceps forming, I am more aware of what I eat, and I no longer like to hang out with people who do not work out. I can save the juice and porridge for when I am old and have lost my teeth and wisdom. Losing weight is not my aim, I can do that by starving myself to death. I just wish to stay fit, active, and healthy. I don’t want to die of cancer. I don’t want to die of cardiac problems. They say exercising reduces the chances of getting both.

I still don’t do a lot of things that I should. I still don’t go to bed early, spend hours in front of the laptop, and just cannot give up my craving for sugar. I don’t have “a” sweet tooth, all my teeth crave sweets. Sometimes I am so hungry and craving for sugar at night that I gorge on watermelons (I argue that it is better than eating cakes and brownies at night). Commitment to eating healthy and staying fit is a constant work in progress.

You know what makes me sad? It makes me sad that I have wasted precious years of my twenties. I was living in the US and earning well. I had the freedom to wear whatever I wished to from shorts to tank tops (all that is not allowed back at home), had the money to buy designer clothes and shoes, look sexy, look pretty, and not hide behind loose-fitting clothes.  I had no worries about graying hair and ageing skin. But I never counted these blessings. Ever heard that hindsight is 20-20?

Following others without logic has done me more harm than good. Going back to my childhood would have been ideal, but not everyone can afford the luxury of ma’s cooking and totally avoiding packaged food living in a country like the US. However, it is never too late to start afresh, to take a baby step towards progress, is it?



distory said...

Never too late :)

I have had the opposite 'problem', of being 'too thin' till I decided I didn't care as long as I wasn't physically ill/on a hospital bed and my body didn't stop me from doing what I wanted to...I still had it going just fine :) Every other detail about ones body, I decided, is just being picky!

Alpine Path said...

I feel your pain :( I'm going thru similar issues - hang in there, tight!! Things will be better soon!

Alpine Path said...

I feel your pain :( I'm going thru similar issues - hang in there, tight!! Things will be better soon!

Richa said...

2 hours of gym 4-5 times a week!! Are you kidding me? If you are not careful you will soon start looking like Bipasha Basu!

No seriously, that's pretty cool. The reason you do not see a change in weighing scale is because you are replacing fat with muscles. Muscles weigh more than fat but occupy less space. So you must see a change in your dress size and not weighing machine.

With that exercise routine you can basically eat whatever you want. And you should or you might faint somewhere in middle of those exercises.

As for gaining weight, I gained about 15 kg when I moved out of my house the first time (to Chennai). It is the freshman forty effect. The first time you leave your house where your diet is controlled by all the rules, you tend to gain weight (30-40 pounds). It is quite normal.

It is great that you are exercising now and feeling healthy. That is what counts. Stop worrying about weighing machines and people.

All Talk and No Action said...

Dear Sunshine,

Your last few posts have resonated more with me than any others I have read over the last 6 years.

This could be because I am a Masters student, studying outside India and contemplating doing a PhD. Suddenly all your worries, deadlines, India related musings, travel ideas and plans are more relatable.

I loved this post.

If it helps, I suggest watching Michael Pollan and reading his book

Mark Bittman is another person you may wish to follow on fb/blogs. They make a LOT of sense.

It's an irony that while food is all about nutrition and calorie in the US, obesity, diabetes and all other food related diseases top the charts.

But I do know that it's never too late to make amends and move towards a healthier style of living.

Manisha Awasthi said...


Your blogs are pretty interesting. Your writing style resembles freshness. I have read couple of your blog posts and I must say You have an excellent sense of writing.

Keep Writing !