To begin with, I am not obese. But I am at the low end of being obese and at the high end of being overweight. I weigh more than 8 or 9 kilos above my ideal weight. I love food, and I am a compulsive eater. And also a ‘happy victim of the master chef effect‘ the result of which gets translated into prolonged hours of experimenting with cooking, in my own kitchen (which means that the lion’s share of what I cook, goes into my own stomach). I was in love with food since the time I remember. I love sweet. I love savoury. A major chunk of my daily dose of TV viewing consists of Rachel Allen, Nigella Lawson, Ravinder’s Kitchen and their likes. I love watching food porn on Eat Street, World Cafe, Food Safari and Floyd’s India. I am in love with Gordan Ramsey, Jamie Oliver and Gary Mehigan.
A book and a packet of chips were my constant companions each day, all through the long and dreary summer vacations, when I was in school. My mother used to hoard packets of peanuts, ‘mixture’ and banana chips before my vacations started (She is a very loving mother who gets satisfied seeing her children happy eating whatever they liked). During my NCC days in college, when after every parade, we were offered ‘porotta’ (Kerala paratha) and beef/potato curry with rasna as part of our NCC ‘ration’. After every parade we would be so famished that while my friend Ammu would gorge on and finish upto 10 porottas, I would still go on to have 5 more. The boys in our 1 Kerala Naval Contingent used to give us surprised looks while we gorged up porotta after porotta. And girls used to wonder how in spite of all that eating I never bulked up. It was because, along with a big appetite, God had gifted me a heavy duty metabolism rate those days. And I was also taller when compared to the other girls. I had reached my maximum height of 5’7” when I was in seventh or eighth standard in school, and when I completed tenth, I weighed 63 kilos, which I had maintained for the next ten years , till 2008 when I got married. I was never even a pound overweight till then.
But that was then. Fast Forward to year 2013.
It all dawned upon me one night while I was munching on a couple of masala butter chaklis after gobbling up two juicy and succulent red jalebis, the size of my palm, dripping with sugar syrup. It was only the other morning that I had eaten the first two jalebis. And now the rest of it. Not to mention, the salted pistachios I had before and after lunch , and the plateful of malpuas that I had after dinner. I haven’t been hitting the gym for a while, and in the last two weeks, I had managed to finish off two bricks of butterscotch icecream, umpteen number of dark chocolate bars, that big black brownie with vanilla icecream scoops and roasted almonds from Cafe Coffee Day, extra large cheese burst paneer chicken tikka pizzas, stuffed garlic breads, frankies stuffed with butter chicken and eggs, kulfi faloodas etc, etc, etc. My excuse to eating was that I was breast feeding my baby. But what happened the day after has no excuses. One of my husband’s friends had sent him a 3 kg packet of cashewnuts as a New Year’s gift. At first I was reluctant to open the packet. But then I thought that nuts are actually good for health. So I opened the packet and had a mouthful. But before I knew it, I had caved in and was having mouthfuls and mouthfuls. By night I realized that I had ravaged the cashewnuts like an elephant in a sugarcane field. I had overeaten and was feeling like crap.
The same thing happened the next day also and I realized that I was indulging in gluttony and behaving like a pig. While checking the internet to get to know more about the gluttony trait, I came across the following information. According to the nineteenth-century Russian Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov, “Wise temperance of the stomach is a door to all the virtues. Restrain the stomach, and you will enter Paradise. But if you please and pamper your stomach, you will hurl yourself over the precipice of bodily impurity, into the fire of wrath and fury, you will coarsen and darken your mind, and in this way you will ruin your powers of attention and self-control, your sobriety and vigilance.” Gluttony is considered as one among the seven deadly sins in Catholicism. (Although not considered a sin, many other cultures and religions also express the view of eating in moderation). Gluttony is usually linked with the pig. OMG! I was actually born in the year of the pig according to the Chinese calendar. No wonder I was behaving like one! Like a pig, I was also interested only in eating, sleeping and getting fat. I also came upon a book named “The Picture Book of Devils, Demons and Witchcraft” by Ernst and Johanna Lehner, in which it was written that people who commit the sin of gluttony are punished in hell by being force-fed with rats, toads and snakes. (And to say that I was only worried about getting fat!). After a while, I was browsing through the pages of a famous womens’ magazine, adoring the pictures of all those size zero models and celebrities with their well-toned bodies, and in the process loathing my own (it’s a thing that all oestrogen–filled beings do while browsing through beauty magazines). I felt as if those size-zero females from the magazine were looking back at me and I could hear them screaming out at me ‘see you in hell… from heaven’.
But the real eye-opener for me was a photo incident. My husband had uploaded a photo of me in his facebook profile which he thought was good looking. Though I was much above my ideal weight and I always made it a point to post only those peculiar photos in which I was in a chin forward, and face right-angled pose (which was my secret look-good pose) and though I never posted a full-body photo, I was living under the impression that I looked good the way I was. But this perception changed after I saw a comment posted under that photo by one of my husband’s male friends. He called me an elephant (he was just making fun of me but it actually hurt me somewhere inside. Well dear friend, how considerate of you to have made that wonderful observation! (sarcasm intended). I was in denial about my weight gain. But frankly speaking, I was never comfortable in my own skin. Fashionable clothes were not the thing for me, and I have been hiding under loose fitted tops and stolls for a while. I looked at this photo and a ‘big’ person looked back at me. Till then, I didn’t realize how big I was. It wasn’t the false body image of myself that I had in my head till then. But it was the way I actually looked. Suddenly I was sad and depressed. I loved exercising and I had always considered myself athletic, especially during my college days. But not anymore. I realized that I wasn’t me anymore. How did I become like this?
Rewind to 2008.
After getting married, I had slowly but steadily started becoming lazy about exercising. I had left my job in one State in order to be with my husband who was posted in another State or else what was the use of getting married (or so I thought). I had a jampacked life till then with my job and research intentions. But post marriage, I suddenly found myself ‘jobless’. In the beginning I enjoyed my new found freedom from work and the usual preoccupations of the gainfully employed. I could get up any time in the morning and go to sleep anytime in the day. I could watch TV anytime I liked and eat anytime I liked. But after a while, other than the occasional fauji parties and get-togethers, life became a little mundane and boring. I found myself idling away in front of the TV more and more. And then one day, all of a sudden, I found solace.
It was a Saturday. For office-goers like my dad and mom, it is the happiest of all days of the week since they get their much needed rest and relaxation after a week of tiring and stress-filled office life. But for me, it was just another ‘oh, so boring day’ just like any other day of the week for a jobless armywife with no kids. (It was a time period with no parties to attend and no hectic ladies’ meet preparations for the ladies in our unit). I got up late as usual and switched on the TV and started watching some stupid channel. I felt a pang for something salty and ‘masalaish’. It was not a hunger pang from the stomach. It was from my mouth. I searched the kitchen cupboards and found a bag of potato chips. I started munching on the chips while watching TV. After a while, I had finished off the chips. But now, again came the ‘call of the mouth’. This time I searched the fridge and came back with a can of peanut butter. In a couple of minutes, I had finished the whole can (thankfully it was half-empty). Suddenly I realized that I was actually relishing what I was eating. There was a deep sense of relief and relaxation in doing so. Munching on food whether junk or not, was actually working like Prozac for me. It was as if munching away my frustration and boredom (or so I felt!). I had started emotional eating, and whatever stuff was available, became fair game for me. And I started putting on weight. Slowly but steadily, I started outgrowing all my clothes. And soon I was searching my husband’s wardrobe for any T-shirt that he was not using currently. Those days, I was most comfortable in my husband’s T-shirts and even formal shirts that he never used (I have even had spats with my husband regarding sharing his clothes. How sad was that?)
And sadly, pregnancy and motherhood made it worse. I was already overweight before getting pregnant. I overate all the way through the nine months. And I didn’t exercise during this time period. Not even the regular walking that pregnant women have to go for. And the side effects of binge eating were that, I looked more pregnant than I really was, plus being short of breath and having severe heartburn all the time, and also suffering from severe back pain caused by a slipped disc. I had a planned c-section delivery (since I was overeating while pregnant, I was carrying a big baby (she weighed 3.85kg at birth, and I possibly couldn’t have imagined her tearing her way through down under (Oops!)). Post delivery, I had come out of the hospital nothing short of 91 kilos. I made sure that I slept when my baby slept. At times I would watch TV while she was sleeping. Exercise was the last item in my scheme of things. I used to go for walks or hit the gym occasionally and with such half-hearted measures, somehow in a year’s time I had managed to shed 17 kilos and fulfilled my immediate ‘necessity’ of weighing less than my husband (at 6’4’’ my husband weighs 85 kilos, while at 5’7’’ I was 91 kilos after delivery). My another immediate goal was to get out of XXL and XL clothes and fit into Size L (which I did in almost one and a half years).
But it wasn’t enough. I still felt tired all the time. I felt breathless while climbing the stairs. I still had the baby weight after having my daughter one year and 10 months ago (I still looked at least six months pregnant). And I still found myself at the wrong side of the weighing scale. This went on for a while.
My piece-meal efforts at weight loss never gave me the desired result. And to add on to my already voracious eating habit, I never wasted any food. Since childhood, my mind had been conditioned into thinking that wasting food was a crime when so many poor children in the world die every day out of hunger and malnutrition. (Well, Hunger and Malnutrition are harsh truths of the world we live in. We can actually help by contributing in cash or kind to people who are in need, and not by filling our plates with more than what we could eat and then overeating because we feel guilty about our wasting food while so many are going hungry). Besides this, I always ate my baby’s leftover food. I never believed in dieting and so I never controlled my food intake. I ate whatever I wanted.
But the photo incident on facebook tugged at a raw nerve inside me. I finally felt compelled to clean up my baseline. I had to change. I had always wanted to be the cool mom to my daughter. I had wanted us to go to Goa for my daughter’s second birthday (thinking that I would finally lose some weight by then and would take some really nice pics of me in the sea, sand and surf…but sigh! I didn’t lose any weight and we didn’t go to Goa either!). Goa or no Goa, I had to change. I had to lose those extra ten pounds and I had to fit into Size M clothes some way or the other. For that I had to restrain myself from pleasing the pig inside me and eat in moderation. And even if the pig inside me cries ‘more, more, more’, I should not heed its voice.
I decided to start out small. To begin with, I thought of going on a no-refined sugar diet for a week. Actually, I was consuming much less sugar than average people. I cringe upon seeing my husband adding two or three heaped tablespoons full of sugar to his cup of tea, because I add only half or one-fourth a teaspoon of sugar in my tea. And I never ever add sugar to my bowl of oats porridge. Instead I put salt for taste. Thus, I am not a sugar person (like my husband) to begin with. But I had one big problem. I loved tea. And I liked it strong. On an average day, I had at least three or four cups of tea. And my strong tea wouldn’t taste good if I didn’t add half or at least a quarter of a teaspoon of sugar. I realized that on an average I was consuming at least two full teaspoons of sugar (not to mention sugar in its invisible form, present in white bread, biscuits and other stuff that I had regularly). Quitting sugar in all its form was not easy for me. So I decided to start small by quitting white sugar. It wasn’t easy at all. The first day went without a hitch. But on the second day, while I was preparing my first cup of tea, the tin of sugar in my kitchen cupboard started screaming out to me. But I resisted. That day, I didn’t have my usual quota of four cups of tea, because tea wasn’t tasting as good as it used to be. In the evening, I decided to switch tea for coffee. I realized how addictive white sugar was. As the week went by, it was becoming more and more difficult for me to resist sugar. And finally, on the sixth day of my no-sugar week, I caved in. Though I couldn’t follow up with my strict no-sugar diet, on the plus side, I was able to downsize my daily tea consumption from four cups to two.
Since, I lacked the willpower to diet, I decided to at least chalk out an exercise regimen which a lazy oaf like me would stick to, in the long run, no matter what. I used to go to the gym (each time I decided it was time for me to lose some excess baggage… hehe) and it felt really good. But whenever there was a brief lull, all the lost pounds came back. (I used to leave my daughter with my husband while going to gym, but my husband would have to work late most days and I would miss gym frequently). I liked hitting the gym, but I wasn’t very enthusiastic about walking since I considered it low impact. But this time, I decided to give it a try. Initially, I started going for walks in the nights not for exercise sake, but just to get out of the house and get some fresh air. Slowly, I stuck to it and found out that walking was not only exercise for my limbs, but also exercise for my creativity (I got the idea of writing this while walking), besides being a great mood booster. Slowly I started spot jogging in between the walks.
PS: These days, I am on a mission to transform myself from being a ‘big mama’ to a fit mama for my daughter’s sake. Sometimes I would skip exercise and really mess up for days together. And I still need to push myself really hard to keep going. I still have my cheat days when I can’t stop eating too much. But I try not to fall back to my old habit of satisfying the pig inside me. Instead, I satisfy myself.