Friday, May 27, 2011

Strictly Come Dieting


I’ve never got the hang of ‘dieting’. Ever. I so admire people who are able to stick to a weight-loss diet; I don’t envy the diet, but I do envy their will-power. But there’s another reason why I can never associate the word ‘diet’ with seriousness.

I think it was only when my weight hit a particular number (if it were marks, I would have won a medal at my degree course for sure), that I contemplated on a serious diet. I knew that a diet without a proper exercise is useless, but taking time out for the gym was impossible in my schedule. I was also happy to see that all my team members had similar issues. The only difference was that they were all guys, and I was the only girl.

Once, I caught two of them cribbing. Both have the same first names. Both had become gigantic. And I remember both had been lean when they joined the team. As we sat sipping coffee, these two kept calling each other unpleasant names. Finally one of them turned to me and said, ‘I have become fat because of this f*cker. Every afternoon, after lunch, he buys a packet of salted cashews. And he shares it. And soon, we both head out to buy more packets. It has become like drug addiction.’ The accused, who sat munching the offending cashews, looked nonchalant. Even as he stood trial, he offered the cashews to the complainant, whose spirit crumbled at the sight of the packet. He set upon it like a relapsed junkie, all the while calling the peddler names which cannot be reproduced here. As I sat witnessing this tragedy, another sturdy guy joined us. He said he had come across a proven diet, where one could lose enormous weight in a week. I scoffed. He said look it up. Of course, it was the GM diet.

It seemed doable, although I had my doubts. We all decided to start the diet on the same day. The cashew nut victim, we call him Don, charged into the food court. There was a juice junction stall which served everything from fruit salads to samosas. He instructed the guys behind the counter seriously, ‘If you see any of us today, you will offer only watermelons. Don’t you dare talk about noodles and samosas and chaats, understood?’ They all sniggered but cut up several watermelons for us. We sat in a remote corner and ate our watermelons sadly, as whiffs of piping hot samosas and dosas tickled our nostrils. Don sighed and snorted. Always short on the fuse, that evening, devoid of proper food, cashew nuts and coffee, Don was apoplectic. There were a few who ventured near our table with masala dosas, but they ran away because of Don’s growls. The cashew peddler sat calmly next to Don, eating his portion of the blasted watermelon. He had a sly look on his face, and I could read his expression as clearly as newspaper headlines. This bugger will stop over in Jayanagar 4th block on the way home and have about ten to twenty bowls of chaats.

“What are we supposed to eat tomorrow?” Don growled.

“Morning you are supposed to eat boiled potato with butter,” someone informed.

Don called up home immediately and spoke to Mrs. Don, “L...are there potatoes at home? Is there butter at home? Better tell me correctly.”

Mrs. Don would have probably laughed her head off and fallen off the chair. After all, this would be the first time in their married life that Don had called from work to enquire about potatoes. At the table, we were all trying to keep a straight face, lest he empties the watermelons on our head.

The next day, Don’s mood was darker. All of us had eaten a breakfast consisting of a boiled potato with some butter. And we were supposed to eat only vegetables that day; either raw or cooked. When I walked into the lab where the cashew nut eaters sat, it was like walking into the world of Karamchand. Everyone was munching dejectedly on carrots. Gone was the happy yakking in the lab. It was replaced by a mechanical kachoom kuchoom kachoom kuchoom sound.

During lunch, Don covered his plate with beans palya and shuffled slowly towards the salad section. Known for his heaped plate, and also known for paying extra for extra sweets, the caterers were naturally concerned about Don. They enquired after his health. Don answered in a tragic tone, ‘All karma.’ Also, it being the lunch hour, we could not escape to some remote table – we had to sit amidst people eating pulavs and biryanis and nans and puliyogres. But we sailed through thanks to Don’s incessant curses – ‘Avan ajjina badiya’; ‘baddi nan maga’ etc.

The detox diet had brought down our metabolic rate. All of us were usually night-owls ; but we could not stay awake beyond 9:00pm. It was the body’s way of preserving energy, someone commented sagely with a hippo yawn.

The next day we were supposed to eat a mixture of fruits and veggies, of course no bananas and potatoes. So the carrot munching continued. A silence had fallen in the lab. In the afternoon, Don appeared near my cubicle. ‘I am going to the canteen,’ he said in a haunted tone and left.

After a few minutes, another of my team mates came running to me. This fellow is famous for his weird laugh. And this weird laugh was echoing all over the floor. “S! S! Kkkkkkkkiiiiikkkkkkiiiii hhhhaaakkkkkkkk kkkkkkiiiii!”

“WHAT? BWAHAAHHAHAHA!” When this guy laughs, none of us can help but join in.

“Come and see Don. Useless fellow. Kkkkiiikkiiiiiiiikkkkkkkii!”

So we all trooped into the food court. There sat Don, like one of the ancient mughal emperors at the head of a royal feast.

“I started getting headaches, S,” he explained while steadily chewing on the masala dosa. There was bread omelette, a wicked brownie and a sev puri yet to be tackled with. He had also ordered Espresso. This was a breaking point for all of us and we fell upon the feast like a pack of wolves. And of course the cashew packet was offered as a mark of celebration. Some more curses were exchanged and before long, the packet was empty.

Some days later, while laughter had returned to the lab, my boss was hovering around with a vacant expression. He’s a petite man, and his lack of height is made up by an unstoppable ability to talk continuously without drawing in a breath. We suspect his tongue has six-packs. Anyway, I wondered about his sudden quietness. I even prodded him with some questions about home theatre systems – which can keep him talking for at least 3 weeks non-stop; but to no avail. Then he revealed the calamity. He had gone for a regular check-up, and apparently his cholesterol levels were on the higher side. I was surprised. The bloke is not even chubby, and drinks black tea without milk and sugar, and I’ve never seen him wolf down chips and cakes and brownies and cashews. Apparently the doctor told him it is a combination of genetic factors and stress. Apparently stress can somehow generate cholesterol too. We both discussed about how diseases meant to show up in late sixties are hitting us in thirties. I promptly forgot about it.

But he took it head on. He started bringing lunch from home, and stopped his Andhra sapaad routine. Then, in the blazing afternoon sun, he started walking around the huge campus like a zombie. Soon, it was like the Curious Case of Benjamin Button. The man had started shrinking, his clothes became baggy and cape-like. He had become obsessed – he spoke only about red blood cells and white blood cells and cholesterol and blocked arteries. Once, after a long meeting, we went to the cafeteria for lunch. He had his dabba and I bought a sandwich. He offered me his homemade dosa magnanimously while we discussed his Onkyo system. The dosa tasted like cardboard. I told him as much, and he said there’s no oil, no salt in the batter but it is rich in probiotic bacteria or something. Except for the flourishing French beard, he looked like a kid just out of middle school. He’s snapped out of it now; but he’s maintained his weight unlike the rest of us.

Finally when I did join a gym, I was asked to meet the resident dietician. It was impressed upon me that weight-loss is 80% diet and 20% exercise. Damn.

I was shocked to see the dietician. I mean talk about irony. Three of me could have sat on her lap. As if reading my mind, she explained it was ‘post-delivery’ fat. Guess a lot of people must have asked her directly and tactlessly. I made some kind comments about her degree certificate which hung on the wall.

After the small talk, she took out an official looking form and started filling out details of everything I eat every day.

When I said I usually have Maggie for breakfast, she clucked her tongue and shook her head. She was horrified about my coffee addiction. She was aghast that I had rice for dinner.

“I understand you have a busy lifestyle, but this won’t do,” she chided. I nodded, suitably chastised.

“Why can’t you have idlis in the morning?”

“Usually I don’t have time...”

“ keep the batter ready in the idli plate. When you get up, just switch on the stove, and by the time the coffee is ready, the idlis will be ready too. Okay, now, how many idlis do you usually have?”

Something told me she would explode if I said 8. I mean, I would prepare idlis on the odd weekend, and usually it would be a brunch. So I lied. “4-5.”

“No no. You have to cut it down. You must have just 2 idlis.”

“The idlis I make are very small.”

“Okay, at the most, 3 idlis... no more.”

3 idlis – would not even give me energy to move my tongue. But I held my peace.

“Also, no chutney or ghee okay? If you must have chutney, make something without coconut.”

“Hmmm how about groundnut chutney?”

“ nuts. And you can have a small glass of coffee in the morning. No more.”

My world was crashing.

“For lunch, you can have one bowl of rice. No papads, no sweets, no pulavs, no fried rice okay? You can have two phulkas with the rice. Some vegetable curry and daal.” She kept a sample bowl, so that I could understand the quantity. Let’s say it was not even one third of what I ate regularly.

“Look, I will feel extremely hungry if eat the quantities you are specifying. I don’t want to land up feeling hungry all the time and have acidity,” I spoke firmly.

“No, no. See the key is having several smaller meals. Now after this lunch, you will feel hungry in two hours. You can then have a fruit. With your evening tea, have two Marie biscuits. Only two.”

By then, I had stopped listening. I mean, clearly, she was rambling off a text book diet without understanding my lifestyle.

I casually asked some of the cashew nut eaters and other team mates (all built like the pillars of the earth), about the number of idlis they usually have for breakfast. The answers ranged from 25 to 50 at one sitting. I told them the dietician had recommended 2. They fell about laughing hysterically. They had plans of visiting this dietician, I don’t know if that happened. If it has happened, then I suppose she would have set her degree certificate on fire.

Anyway, except for cutting down on coffee, I did not follow any of the stuff. If I ate the quantities the dietician had specified, I would be hungry all the time, obsessing about what to eat next. I did not want to become a slave to food; calorie-counting every morsel.

My mantra – eat sensibly, and enjoy what you eat. That is more important. Eating good, tasty, healthy food does make you happy, and in turn, it does have a positive effect on you internally and externally. Don’t starve, don’t deprive’s just too negative! In my experience, a sensible food intake, coupled with an active, stress-free lifestyle is more than enough to keep you fit.

In any case, thanks to these experiences, the word ‘diet’ makes me laugh uncontrollably – and that burns a lot of calories too!

© Sumana Khan - 2011


  1. What a post to read after having a sumptuous meal!
    I can totally relate to the number of idlis. LMAO!
    The number reaches 50 when it's hot, hot paddus.
    Dieting - think I've heard about that somewhere. Hehehe...
    As Baba John Abraham once said, "Don't control calories. Burn them."
    So I don't control them. And when I try to burn them by running daily, they won't get burned wonly.

    *All hail Joey Tribbiani!*

  2. Could relate easily to this post and your ex-colleagues. Reminded me of my friends at offshore and the time spent at the EC cafeteria.

    And as far as Dieting is concerned, when expanded all it means is 'Die-at-eating' :-)

  3. A tongue with six pack muscles...I like that.
    Been married to a Doctor in Nutritional Science. Within the first few weeks we worked it out. She will advise me about my diet and I wont listen. We are living happily ever after.

  4. Karthik....ooh man so many days since I had paddus! And yes, I bow before Joey Tribbiani :)

  5. Niks - EC canteen was the fat dispensing centre :)

  6. Vivek - finally you've got access to blogspot! I agree...thats a very sensible arrangement :)

  7. LOL. Too funny. You write very well.


  8. After reading this I am feeling hungry!

    I have had several brief honeymoons with all these dieting plans and programmes in the past.

    Only will power works. Nothing else will do.

    But sometimes I wonder if it shouldn't be called "won't Power"
    Saying I "won't" eat more (and meaning it) will help more than anything else.

    I found not eating anything starchy after sunset helps.
    At times, I also down two glasses of water half an hour before my meal.
    It helps introdcuce a bloated feeling in the tummy which subsides only partially when I am ready for lunch. That helps cut down on the quantity I eat.

    But I don't like the frequent visits to the loo, when I drink all that water.

    I have now got used to my weight. It's not increasing any more. That's a consolation.
    But I need to reduce at least 5 kg. It will remain a dream like it has been for the past 10 years.


    1. I like the term 'WOn't Power' - you must patent it!

      I'm now addicted to running - it makes one automatically eat healthy...