Hello, I am a man and I cheat… on my diet

Published: August 24, 2016
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A five-year-old takes a bite of a hamburger. PHOTO: REUTERS

Hello! I am a man and I cheat on my diet. I cheat on my diet with cheese burgers, kebabs, lamb legs, mutton chops, cheese omelettes, macaroni, pastas, lasagne and deep fries. Sometimes I cheat in the day, sometimes I cheat at night. Sometimes it has been days that I have not cheated, while others I cheat many times a day.

There have been incidents where I promised my wife that I am going to an office party involving nothing but salads but have ended up in a posh restaurant eating promiscuously the whole night.

Do I feel guilty?

Yes, I do!

Every time!

But there is an animal inside me that jumps at every opportunity available and makes me do things that I can’t admit to my dietician.

There are many reasons why people go on a diet and health may be considered as the most important one.

At one end of the spectrum, there are experts that believe the modern diet and sedentary lifestyle has made us obese. Exposure to diseases like high blood pressure, sugar, arthritis, heart attacks are at an all-time high. Healthy living and a proper exercise regime are considered to be the most important factors for living healthy. Hence came forward the multibillion dollar weight loss industry.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are those who say that being too skinny has the same health hazards as being obese. There is an increasing consensus amongst nutrition experts who believe that anorexia and other eating disorders, especially amongst teenagers, are a direct result of today’s definition of beauty as “skinny in the bikini”. On the other hand, there is a counter revolution of sorts as many models display their normal bodies with confidence.

Some people even believe that this definition of beauty is making us shallow and superficial. Intellectual depth, empathy, compassion, cultural sensitivity, family values, and emotional support mechanisms are being dismantled because of this inherent desire to attain the perfect set of abs and biceps.

But, who we are kidding? The reason – the real reason why we sweat at the gym and swear on the dining table is not because we want to better our health, but because we want to look better.

Let me make another confession here: ever since the days of Baywatch the fantastical hope of a six pack has struck a rather deep nerve. For me, six packs are somehow associated to Yasmine Bleeth, Pamela Anderson and Gena Nolin. There is a latent desire amongst men of my generation to look slim shady even if you are “doh bachon ka daddy” (a father of two). I’m sure the same goes for women as they, too, struggle to fight with the beauty standards imposed in their own worlds.

I sometimes believe that marriage turns on a switch, both for men and women. Somehow, we as couples are more prone to gain weight than single individuals. And I think our social lives are partly to be blamed for that.

So I have tried and tried, just like Oprah, to go on a diet many times in my life. And most of the time, I have failed miserably. This cheating habit has bred so much tension in my relationship with food that I feel like I need to consult a food therapist. The path to a six pack is fraught with my pitfalls – and will-power has never been a friend of mine.

These are the reasons why I believe we fail miserably in our dietary regimes when all other regimes in the world seem to work so flawlessly:

Oil

No! Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States are not to be blamed for this global war on obesity. Hydrocarbons have nothing to do with this, carbohydrates do! There is something about dairy products that make them quite nostalgic. The Indus civilisation has a long agricultural history, and in previous epochs, when people had a more active lifestyle, oils and fats did make sense. They are packed with energy: eating even a little bit of it would provide them with their nutritional requirements for the whole day. However, while the lifestyle of Indus people has changed, the love for oily food has not.

People like to put a tarka on everything they eat. Floating levels of oil on a curry – enough to give a green-peace activist a heart attack and possibly to the eater as well – are considered a symbol of taste. As a nation we are doing reverse liposuction: we are putting fat back into the tummy, one karhai at a time. Desi GheeBanaspati Ghee, Canola oil, sunflower oil, margarine and makhan (butter) are some of the most ubiquitous temptations for a faint heart like mine.

Our loved ones

Yes, they are! Every time I go out of town, my mother worries; not about the fate of my business meetings, but whether I’ll return malnourished. Every time I return from a journey she seems to spot many circles under my eyes that I’m pretty sure existed even before I left. My aunts have a tendency to measure my health by the bursting buttons on my belly. A friend’s father actually told his son not to lose weight because he looks good chubby.

Maybe it’s a protection mechanism? To deprive us of our dreams of Pamela Anderson like figures? Is there a conspiracy? I used to wonder. I even came up with a name for it: “Obsessive Possessive Disorder”.

Now I’ve come to realise that it has more to do with their definition of health and their unconditional love for us. Every cooking woman in our household has a desire to see her family well fed, healthy, and sparkling. Our rural vocabulary still defines healthy as a “pahlwan” (wrestler-esque) that has enough muscle on his body and a corpulent belly.

They cook and bake and fry and boil until we have satisfied their expectations.

Lack of entertainment

Barring TV entertainment programs and occasional social events, there is a dearth of social entertainment in our society. Parks and recreational facilities are often short in supply and even those that exist are coupled with eateries. In Government College Lahore, our professor (late) Abbas used to highlight the major reason behind population control efforts failing in the Subcontinent. For him, any attempt on population control was tantamount to depriving people of their only entertainment in a busy life. Well… food has become the second best source of entertainment for us. Sometimes it’s the only thing that we look forward to when we’re returning home from our busy office lives.

Advertisement agencies

Those mouth-watering burgers, yummy-licious pastas, tasty cookies, lip-licking ice-creams, and dream inducing pizzas? Yes! Our brothers in advertising are responsible for much of the mischief in our tummies. They hire the best photographers, photograph under the perfect lighting, come up with the cheesiest (pun intended) slogans and deliver the most amazing offers. The only thing they don’t tell you – like those zaroorate rishta ads in the newspapers – is the risk of making a decision like that. Processed food with high calorie contents and easily storable sugars not only make us engorge much more than our normal capacity, they are also easier for our bodies to store and manifest in the hanging gardens of lipids on.

Revenge of the sid

Let’s admit it. We all use food as a rescue option when dealing with emotional stress. In our office there was a proverb: “there is never a bad time for a cup of tea or a scolding from the boss”. Often they go side by side. We used to drown every rebuke in the heavy cups of coffee or chai, every insult walled in a wall of barbeque and every trauma in layers after layers of subcutaneous fat. Food is our catharsis, our soul-mate and our reason-de-eatery. Food completes us!

Men are especially more vulnerable. Women have a way of processing relationships, events and thoughts. They talk! But men? We are not allowed to be talkative. Proverbs after proverbs are created just to deprive men of their remaining chances to speak out. Since the dawn of civilisation, the farming females tweeted everything from the neighbouring couple to the far off islands of misty. Men in those days were like LinkedIn: Lots of bones on necklaces to declare victories, lots of battle scars to show off strength, but not much to talk about. It is perhaps from those cave dwelling days that men have taken refuge in eating. No wonder Yelp is still the battle cry for eateries in modern times. Men only have food.

So, there you have it: the many reasons why men are promiscuous when it comes to their diet. You may take it at face value or call it light-hearted defeatism –a sense of humour that comes with increasing cholesterol content in the veins.

After all, we are all in the same boat, aren’t we?

Akhtar Abbas

Akhtar Abbas

The author is an entrepreneur, photographer, travel enthusiast and amateur writer. He writes on society, politics and things that trouble ordinary mortals. He tweets @Faded_Greens (twitter.com/Faded_Greens)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.