In her new book, out next month, bestselling nutritionist Rujuta Diwekar zeroes in on Indian women and their often vexed relationship with food and exercise, in her signature style: sharp, chatty, uninhibited, peppered with insights from her own work with women seeking salvation from obesity. Some edited excerpts:
Have you played Uno? If you have, you know the rules—when you have just one card left, you’re supposed to say ‘Uno’, or else you’ve missed your chance and are forced to pick another card from the pack, and that one card can turn your winning streak into a losing one. Guess you’re getting where this is leading. When there is still a bit of space left in your stomach, it says ‘Uno’. If you are alert enough to hear that, you put a full stop to your game of eating. If you didn’t hear your stomach say Uno, or you heard and chose to ignore it (or you were just ‘busy’), then you pick up another morsel and lose at the game of eating ‘right’, looking thin, staying fit, healthy, happy, calm. Congratulations. And no amount of ‘working out tomorrow’ or ‘slogging at the treadmill tomorrow’ is going to change that—you are doomed to stay trapped on the bridge that leads you from greed to fear. To escape the bridge, simply listen, listen to your stomach.
Now, the stomach will say ‘Uno’ at different times during different phases of our growth and menstrual cycle. When it says ‘Uno’ is also dependent on your stress levels (mental and physical), the time of day, season, geographical location, company during meals and a host of other factors. Women should never, ever (saying this at the cost of knowing never say never) ‘standardise’ their meal size.
We are hormonally vibrant, and it’s perfectly normal to feel like eating more on some days and less on other days.
The key is to stop at the right time. Oh, btw, even our genes can determine the stomach’s capacity.
Overeating disturbs not just our feeling of well-being, sense of calm and pride, but also the hormonal balance, specifically that of serotonin (now emerging as a strong link to appetite control) and insulin, our satiety centre and of course our blood circulation (that’s why we feel so numbed, all we want to do is sleep). And believe me, as counter-intuitive as it may sound, it’s really difficult to overeat. Yes, you heard (read) right, it’s difficult to overeat and effortless to eat right. The only reason that we manage to overeat all the time is because, as ‘modern’ women, we are fast losing our ability to rely on our intuition, much less nurture or value it.
What do we do instead? Listen to our friends, mother-in-law, well-meaning relatives who goad us into eating more. I have been working since 1999, and I have never met a person who didn’t know that she was overeating. I have often been privy to conversations like: “I knew if I ate another roti then I would be stuffed, but I don’t know why, I just did it because I wanted my MiL/people to stop talking about my ‘diet’, and after that I don’t know what happened I just had a jalebi and then a malai sandwich—full throttle. Now I feel like shit.”
The one thing that hurts me a lot is to see how my clients who have been to all the dieticians and diets and weight loss programmes in the world still struggle with their weight (because of the yo-yo effect) and lose faith in their ability to know the right amount to eat. Some of them have even asked me to return their money for refusing to ‘fix’ their portions. “I just want to eat exactly what you tell me,” said an exasperated client. “I want to give getting thin a chance.” Well, you stand a chance to get and stay thin only if you listen to your stomach and not me.
No booze before sleeping.
Hello! I know you only sip the choicest wines and can go without drinking for years but only ‘drink socially’ to keep others company, or to keep people’s mouths shut, or to not appear like a party pooper, or to just enjoy a romantic dinner or whatever. (The funniest one I have heard is: ‘Look, I have to be a little tipsy to have sex with my husband. I can’t stand him otherwise.) Yes, I know you are not exactly lying in a gutter every night because you are too drunk to go home. I also know that you do vodka or the harder stuff only once in a while, and I know that you don’t drink every day of the week. Yes, I know I am not talking to an alcoholic! But listen, I still think I should tell you about the alcohol and weight loss connection.
I have only been working for eleven years, and even in that span of time I have seen a dramatic rise in metabolic disorders in younger women, some younger than fifteen. The other thing that I have seen is a dramatic rise in my clients’ ‘social drinking’ and my gut tells me that there is a connection.
Alcohol is thought of as something that helps you fall asleep. Well, it’s not entirely untrue. It does help you fall asleep, but prevents you from entering the rem or deep restorative stages of sleep. It’s in these stages that our body carries out all the repair and restoration work of the body and mind.
Amongst many other things, alcohol reduces the levels of serotonin which helps you to feel calm and keeps your ‘sugar cravings’ under control. That glass of wine/vodka/ rum/ whatever it is, is again going to put you in the fight and flight mode and, equally bad, reduce your body’s natural production of the growth hormone. It’s going to create an environment in your body where you can’t recover even though you slept like a log. It’s simply your hormones saying—I feel fatigued and dead tired.
Some more bad news? Well, if you have been working out regularly, then the alcohol destroys your endurance or stamina levels (you probably know that) and it reduces the levels of the hormone testosterone too. Say tata to toned muscles and strong bones and make friends with an expanding waist line. You really are a cool girl!
I sound like a bitch? Yeah, I feel like one too. Talking about alcohol makes me feel fatigued because that’s the long-lasting feeling from booze, not the ‘high’, and tired women are always bitchy, right?
No dessert/pastry/sugar/tea/ coffee—basically no stimulant—post sunset.
You know, when you see a woman dig into pastries or mithai or declare that she has a sweet tooth, then, well, then you can assume she is not getting enough action in bed! Oops, did I just say that? Yes, I did and I stand by it. The tongue is both a pleasure-giving and protecting organ. It tells you what’s good for you and what’s not, doesn’t it? If you are eating something stale, it could be something beautifully presented in a five-star hotel, the tongue won’t be fooled by the eyes or the decor. It will declare, God! Is this dal last night’s leftovers? And come on, I can guarantee that while you were digging into that sinful chocolate which overpowered your sense organs and the reasoning ability of your brain, your tongue declared—I shouldn’t be eating this, or at least I should stop at two teaspoonfuls. See, the tongue protects, it tells you that overworking its pleasure centres is a crime. We have many pleasure centres, after all, right? Heard of genitals? Sorry, this book is for ‘family reading’ so let’s put it this way: when the sexual organs are not nurtured it over-activates other pleasure centres. And eating too much sweet makes you dull, lethargic, unhealthy and fat and further reduces your chances of having sex.
The best way to ensure that eating mithai remains a sensory pleasure (and nothing else) is to not let it interfere with your sleep. Here’s a simple formula you should by-heart (ha ha)—Sleep well=no sugar cravings in the day. Eat sweets after dark=lack of good quality sleep=sugar cravings the next day=lack of good sleep.
Pay For Say?
Here’s something I would like to share with you. A year ago, I got a call from a journalist with a magazine (a leading women’s mag) congratulating me for the success of the book and offering me one of their advice columns. They have a wide readership, he said, and their readers had loved my book and wanted my opinion on what they should be eating and what exercises they should do, etc. Just as I was feeling really good about myself, my ego getting massaged, he said that all I would have to do is pay Rs 25,000 for half a page. “What? I thought you would be paying me,” I blurted out. Anyway, though he felt he was presenting me with this wonderful opportunity to reach out to all potential clients...I declined.
I felt so cheated that this kind of stuff happens. Through all my teenage years, my knowledge of sex, vaginas, menstruation, contraception came from all these advice columns. To think now that they’re likely to be paid for and fake! The answers are just a way to sell packages!
And yes, I do write a column for a magazine (Outlook) now, but I get paid for it! Not enough, but I get paid nevertheless! :)