Even if you’re not on a ‘get healthy’ kick, experiment with a food diary along with your friends to stay fit

Split jeans — I won’t tell you whose — were the last straw. So we decide to eat better, in an attempt to move from flab to fab. To ensure we stay honest, we take the ‘Cinderella Pact’, inspired by a book of the same name.

Yes. I know you’re rolling your eyes and groaning, “Not more women channelling Bridget Jones!” But hear me out. This might be helpful. It may even inspire you to re-learn how to enjoy food that is nourishing.

All this seems especially appropriate since September opens with National Nutrition week. I know thanks to the fact that I spent a morning with the clinical nutritionists at the Madras Medical Mission hospital, where they were celebrating the occasion with the ‘Nutriutsav’ conference. Between all the information-packed seminars, cooking competitions and a fashion show featuring an ‘Array of food groups’, one fact stood out: Intelligent nutrition really is the best preventive medicine.

Which brings me back to the pact. Three women: A chic London banker, a model turned filmmaker, and me. We decide to e-mail each other our daily food diaries every night to keep each other on the straight and, well, narrow.

The model, predictably enough, takes to it like a fish to water, starting the day with spirulina, snacking on cucumbers and replacing coffee with iced green tea. The banker has a penchant for hummus and skinny cappuccinos, which she works into her diet along with bowls of yoghurt and roast chicken dinners. My food diary is wildly unpredictable, peppered with glasses of wine, Mars bars and — I kid you not — a midnight snack of khatta meetha mixture, which guiltily I eat in bed, after an angelic supper of zucchini soup followed by chamomile tea.

Along the way, I learn a surprising lesson. Discipline is not the main challenge. The toughest part is learning to forgive yourself. To stop making angels and demons out of food. And to accept that you will eat everything. After all eating well is not a one week, or one month commitment. You are establishing patterns for a lifetime, so you might as well pick patterns you can maintain. The key — as always — is moderation.

We cut down our carbohydrates without cutting them out. Breakfasts of toast and hummus, dosas and sambar, idlis and tomato chutney. Dinners of grilled chicken, stir-fried paneer and soups. Looking at our food diaries we realise how scarce fruits and vegetables are, so we work on getting better: slipping apples into our handbags before leaving for work, and finding salad ideas online for dinner. I start liquidising everything in my fridge in an attempt to bring up my vegetable count painlessly and come up with a week’s worth of soup recipes: tomato and leek, carrot and potato and creamy zucchini.

Of course there are slip-ups. I run into a colleague eating Mars bars and enthusiastically join her. The banker chases down her grilled chicken dinner with six mojitoes on Saturday night. Yes. Six. “But they were skinny cocktails,” she types, “Sweetened with agave syrup.” We’re not amused. So she follows it with an hour of waltzing, like a debutante from the Georgian era. The model’s idea of slipping up is a sliver of apple pie!

Nevertheless, it seems to be working. The banker wrote in this morning saying a Punjabi client of hers who dropped by her office said, “Arrey wah! Looks like you stopped eating paranthas-sharanthas.”

Even if you’re not on a ‘get healthy’ kick, experiment with a food diary. Consider involving your friends. If nothing else, it’ll educate you on your own food patterns. Patterns so ingrained that you barely notice them.

Good food choices make an impact not just on our health, but also that of the people around us. It’s the best kind of ripple effect.

Keywords: healthy fooddieting

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