Do we relish food today or are we forced to have a rather uneasy relationship with food, thanks to modern eating habits?
Deepika Padukone tells us that surviving on a particular brand of cornflakes can make us as slim and shapely as the gorgeous actress; Anushka Sharma informs us that sipping green tea makes her light and active…the list goes on.
Earlier my food guilt was restricted to parties or festivals when my sweet tooth got the better of me and I gave in to the temptation of a second (or third) helping. Now however, I need to feel guilty about my humble lunch of dal-chawal- sabji and even my evening cup of tea. I mean, after all who wouldn’t want to look as svelte as Ms. Padukone or as vibrant as Ms. Sharma, right?
No I am not here to bash up these amazing actors. Nevertheless, such advertisements do make one pause and wonder about the body image messages that popular media and society convey, which have impacted the Indian women’s relationship with food. If that small bowl of halwa sets you off into such a tizzy of calorie counting that you forget to even savour the dish, then something just isn’t right.
Every second person I know seems to be on one diet or the other – GM, Paleo, Raw Foods and what not! For instance, Anu Sivashankar, a 32 year old home-schooling mom shares, “My son was a clingy child and I had no help. So I resorted to unhealthy meals and ate out most of the time. The end results were a lot of health issues and terrible weight gain. Then I tried to lose weight and went on a crash diet and it was a cycle. I would go on a diet and then after I lost weight I would go back to unhealthy habits.” Extreme cases of food guilt even leads to eating disorders such as anorexia.
At get-togethers, gone are the days when one oohed and aahed about the creaminess of the butter sauce. Now discussions center on glycaemic indexes, which foods improve good cholesterol while lowering bad cholesterol, and conversations are all about our modern eating habits.
Asha Thiagarajan* is a 32 year old mother of one who is pursuing her Masters in the US. As someone who has always been on the heavier side thanks to her genes, she says, “At conferences they provide such lovely 4 course meals at star hotels but no one even touches their plates and it becomes a compulsion that you too should not touch the food. It is meant for eating, but you should act as though food is least important to you.”
Interestingly, she also adds, “If the woman in the family is a meat eater and the male is a vegetarian, as is the case at our home, many waiters tend to glare at me especially if it is some auspicious day.”
A busy and stressful lifestyle also adds to the problem. Nithya Jeypal, a 30 year old Software Engineer based out of Chennai is currently on a Paleo diet. She confides, “Even during a diet, even when I was not hungry, I would sometimes sit with my son’s ice-cream and eat it fully. The only reason to eat is stress. It was pure addiction. Many times my brain would say walk away, walk away… but I would be like let’s eat and see. I usually don’t feel bad immediately but when I see someone who has lost some weight I feel horribly envious.”
Then there are those on the other end of the spectrum like me; people who never seem to gain any weight at all. While many of you might feel jealous of this quirk, trust me questions and comments about being ‘thin’, ‘weak’ and ‘sickly’ are just as rude and inappropriate as comments about being fat. I have a lifetime of goading behind me to put on weight and hence what do you think happens? I care two hoots about my health and end up eating a lot of junk because, hey everyone wants me to gain weight anyway! Who cares about cholesterol or diabetes? Thin people don’t get heart attacks – or do they?
Of course, all of us need to respect our bodies and eat healthy for the most part; some of us do need to take extra care and monitor what we eat.
Anu has been on her guard ever since a diagnosis of Thyroiditis. She shares, “Every time I eat a piece of cake or pizza I think twice. I have learnt to eat in portions. I started eating healthy and started compensating for guilty pleasure indulgences. I still eat my pizzas and desserts but I have learnt to balance it well. When I eat pizza for lunch I automatically pick a salad or fruit bowl for dinner. Likewise if I eat dessert one day then I try and avoid sugar the next day. Yes I feel like I have the yin and yang twins inside me!”
No one is denying that self-control is a beautiful virtue. However, sometimes I see people mentally torturing themselves over an extra scoop of ice cream. Every extra laddu that we ingest is later followed by negative self-talk. Stabbing someone in the back? That makes you a bad person. Stabbing your fork into a piece of cake? No, that doesn’t make you a bad person! Nithya insists that negativity doesn’t work and will only serve to discourage you. She states, “My mom is always like why are you like this, you would have eaten something, can’t you control yourself? It simply made me indulge more.”
Instead of beating yourself up about a slip up how about changing things a bit? Find the silver lining – be thankful for that decadent chocolate pie. It’s hard, I know, but try to look at the positive side of the situation. Think about what a lovely time you had with your friends or family whilst eating the pie. Surely, an extra slice of pie is worth all that love and laughter!
Also, instead of putting yourself down, channel your thoughts into what you could perhaps have done differently. Maybe you could have had a small, healthy snack before heading out to the party? Thus ensuring that you were not famished by dinner time and it would have been easier to avoid temptations. Putting some thought into this could help avoid similar scenarios from repeating in the future.
In fact, Nithya has an intelligent way to handle her cravings, “Cheats help; what you have to do is smart talk your brain. Tell it ‘Hey let’s have some sweet’ and make sure you eat the smallest amount. Eat slowly and savour it. Drink lots of water afterwards. Then tell yourself ‘Wow you just had a very small piece, that’s very commendable.’ You don’t feel guilty that way and you also get satisfied.”
I came across a funny quote the other day: “If you wake up early every day, exercise regularly and drink 8 glasses of water daily, you’ll die anyway.” Life is short. Keep calm and eat cake!
*Name changed to protect privacy.
Image source: pixabay