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Narendra Modi: The Diet Trap

Indian middle class is weight conscious,according to a chief minister. What's wrong with that?

Written by Leher Kala |
September 3, 2012 4:21:27 am

The Indian middle class is weight conscious,according to a chief minister. What’s wrong with that?

It may be a completely illogical dream but for many of us,true bliss would be to be able to eat as much as we want,of whatever we want,without worrying about putting on weight. On a wish list this would rank right up there,second only to having pot fulls of money or permanent good health. Or a perverse way of looking at it would be as the saying goes,’God,if you can’t make me thin,please make my friends fat’. The gym I go to offers one session of free diet consultation,and I recently came home with a diet chart that the nutritionist assured me,if followed,would make me drop two kilos in three weeks.

I haven’t seen too many diet charts but I’m sure they look pretty much the same,with frugal,low-calorie foods in small quantities,repeated over and over again. The most exciting item on my chart was a brown bread toast or a Marie biscuit to be eaten,only in the morning. The rest of the foods were grilled chicken breast,egg whites,grilled fish or sauteed vegetables. It may a little boring,acknowledged the dietician,but added,that even if it didn’t whet my taste buds,at least I wouldn’t feel hunger pangs. The only issue being,a big part of the satisfaction of hunger is eating a delicious meal,not a barely edible one. I lasted three days before lapsing back to normal dal,sabzi and roti.

The simplest formula to lose weight is also the hardest to do: Eat less,exercise more. People who keep weight off are the ones who continue some form of calorie restriction indefinitely,after they’ve finished the diet. Since this unfortunately involves enormous dedication,even the most determined have relapses. Diets don’t work,because they are simply not sustainable. You are going to slip up,eventually. But if you manage to keep the slip ups somewhat regulated,indulge occasionally,have a regular exercise routine,you might just stave off the pounds a little while longer. After all,what’s a life of constant deprivation of one of the greatest pleasures of existence,food? And who decides what’s the perfect weight,anyway? Which brings us to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s bizarre remark on malnutrition in his state,blaming “beauty conscious” girls from the middle class who don’t eat enough because they’re worrying about getting fat. Firstly,it’s extremely unlikely that the Wall Street Journal reporter’s question was meant for this socio economic strata. He was probably referring to the Human Development Report of 2011 that says in Gujarat 44 per cent children below five suffer from malnutrition and nearly 70 per cent are anemic. It’s almost impossible to believe that an astute politician like Modi would connect body image with the shameful truth,that there’s simply not enough to eat for many children in India.

Modi’s sneering comment on beauty and weight conscious girls is typical of an older Indian generation that grew up in a country of scarcity,where eating wholeheartedly was considered a great privelege,to be valued,not cast aside. Even now at Indian weddings,the food takes up half the budget with rows and rows of different cuisines proudly displayed,most of which cannot be consumed on one evening. As kids we’ve been urged to finish our food,with stories of how lucky we are compared to India’s starving millions. I still can’t leave food on my plate without a sense of guilt. Over generations,the idea of hospitality has come to mean plying guests with copious amounts of food and weight watching has traditionally been frowned upon,linked to vanity and frivolousness. Compare that to modern city living now,where most people I know eat before going out to parties,so they don’t succumb to greasy snacks. Modi is right when he says the middle class is beauty conscious and weight conscious. And that’s something to celebrate,not criticize. Anorexia is far smaller a problem than obesity,all over the developing world. Eventually,people who are weight conscious evolve to some form of health consciousness too. To reach that awareness,many of us have to first experience the circuitous path,of fad diets like eating before six,no carbs at night,raw food diets,none of which work over time. It all boils down to a simple mathematical equation: what you burn has to be more or equal to what you shove in. If you’re motivated more by the thought of fitting into a sexy dress than by health and well being,so be it.

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