I wrote this article for a magazine called Chateratti sometime in November ’12 just before the festival season in India started but since this is super relavent today (Pongal), I’m posting it here. Enjoy.
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This year, feast your way to fitness!
It is that time of the year again. The time crowded with festivals. The time when everything from kozhakattai to eggnog appear from nowhere and end up as flab. The time when sugar and fat fight for dominance in the war towards obesity, diabetes and heart diseases. This is also the time when we see a gazillion articles about what to eat, what not to eat, how to control your fingers from reaching for those sinful pieces of awesomeness and what weird concoctions you can drink to minimize the ill effects of all the feasting.
Sure, this is another such article, but I, on the other hand, am going to recommend that you feast! I’m going to ask you to stop worrying about your waistline and think about enjoying the moment. I’m going to tell you that you’re better off eating them treats than staying away and eventually crying yourself to sleep.
Firstly, let’s take a quick minute to understand festivals. ‘A festival is a special occasion of feasting or celebration that is marked by special observances, that is usually religious’. Festivals have been around for as long as religion has been around but the term ‘festival’ was first recorded as a noun in 1589 and not surprisingly, the etymology of ‘feast’ is very similar to that of ‘festival’.
Talking about the word ‘feast’, humans are very well acquainted to feasting. We have been feasting (and by that I mean consuming food to a point of physical discomfort) for tens of thousands of years, and, thanks to evolution, our bodies are perfectly well equipped to deal with the effects of such behavior.
Back in the paleolithic era, before Ruffles, refrigerators and religion came into existence, feasting was a regular part of a human’s life. Food storage not being an option, food (which was perishable) either had to be consumed or wasted and, of course, wasting was not an option. We, as hunter-gatherers, spent the day hunting-gathering food for the family/group/clan and spent the night feasting on the days “work”. There were days we ate modest quantities of food and then there were days when gluttony was the theme of the night.
This practice of feasting and fasting, lasts till today. Every religion and culture in the world, be it the Muslims during Ramadan or the Massas during Guru Walla, have festivals and religious observances which circle around fasting and feasting.
Feasting being such an integral part of festivals and human evolution in general, it is absolutely unacceptable that we don’t partake in it. Wouldn’t you agree?
The point is to remember that festivals are awesome. Festivals are about food and family and feasting and laughter and memories and everything else that is good about life! They are special… very special and that’s why they appear only once on your calendar. And the best advice I can give you about staying in shape during the festive season is… keep special occasions special.
Realize that a special occasion is only special if it happens occasionally. Be it spending time with your giant family or munching on goodies, if it happens a little too frequently you’re in for trouble.
Think about it.
If you went around bursting crackers everyday, how enjoyable is that really and why would you look forward to Diwali? If we threw Ganpath idols into the well every morning, why would every kid anxiously wait for that yearly moment to hear the “plop” when the idol hits the water? If you could throw colors at people every morning, how many happy faces are you going to see and why would the early morning scare on Holi be anything to look forward to?
Similarly, if sweets and other festive foods are things you eat everyday, how much do you think that is helping you with respect to health and why would any festival be special?
Listen, I know eating junk during festivals sounds sinful and dangerous and I’ll probably be given the ‘worst coach of the year’ award for asking you to forget about your waistline and go at it this year. But, trust me, it isn’t during festivals that people become fat or unhealthy. It is during the rest of the year and due to their actions during the rest of the year. Get your mind right…
- Eating a whole sugarcane once a year isn’t killing you. Your daily dose of sugar laden processed junk and pseudo health foods are.
- Enjoying fresh homemade sweets three to four times a year isn’t making you fat. Your habit of eating sugary snacks between meals and dessert after every meal is.
- Devouring that festive meal with vadai and paayasam isn’t pushing you up a dress/waist size. Considering vadai as an acceptable everyday breakfast item is.
And finally, feasting on awesomeness and overdosing on happiness a few times a year isn’t dangerous by any stretch of imagination. Turning everything special into something mundane by making it a part of your daily life is.
So if you truly want good health, stop looking for temporary fixes and crash diets. Think long term. Understand that health, well being, fitness and (true unphotoshopped) good looks are a result of consistently and cumulatively making good life and food choices. Nothing more and definitely nothing less.