This trip, for some reason, I have been noticing a lot more obesity in India. From the just overweight to the can’t-get-out-of-their-airline-seat-themselves obese. Sedentary lifestyles have something to do with this, of course, but I sense that there is another major factor at work here – an Indian mother’s love.
An Indian mother expresses her love by feeding her child till he groans “bus mummy”. In the sport of offspring feeding, she is unparelleled. It is not just the quantity of food, it is also the kind of food. She gives herself high points for feeding her “ladla” snacks fried in saturated fat, mithai and lots and lots of carbs. Resistance is futile. If there is ever any research done in this area, my money says that men living in joint families are more likely to be overweight.
The “tricks of the trade” have been passed down from generation to generation. Here is a short list of “tricks” employed by loving mothers all over India:
1. Not putting all the dishes in the menu on the table to begin with. Withholding key information relating to dessert.
2. Putting more rice or rotis onto your plate while you are distracted.
3. “Roti sookhi sookhi kyon kha rahe ho”. (Why are you eating your rotis dry?).
4. If you refuse a third helping of something – “Kyon acchah nahin laga?” – didn’t you like it?
5. “Sab khana tumhari pasand ka hai. Tumhe bachpan mein yeh bahut achcha lagta tha.” These dishes were your favourites when you were growing up.
6. And lest we forget “Beta, bahut duble ho gaye ho.” Son, you’ve lost too much weight.
My advice to you is to have a gameplan for when you go visit your mother. As for me, I gave up long ago. Meal after meal, I loosen my belt and clean my plate. I workout twice as much the week after..but for the few days I am with her I can’t break her heart.
To mothers everywhere…you’re the best.
Very aptly timed.. and very apt too, and of course of great interest to me, as someone just finishing up several years of research in policy making to deal with obesity both in the UK and the US.
In October last year, in India, I noticed mainstream magazines full of ‘data’, for which corroboration is hard to find, which put obese Indians at 150million. Countries existing in nutrition transition are several, and so it seems to be the case in India, the co-existence of malnutrition with overconsumption.
However having seen micro-examples of how properly fit people grew overweight then obese simply by making small allowances, I am not amazed at all. Our metabolism slowing down with age requires fewer calories as the years go by, unless we have drastically increased our exercise quota. But our life stage means more disposable income and hence richer meals (it does not always have to be McDonald’s who is the villain, butter and fat laden Michelin meals are as bad in giving us Michelin tyres) so the actual consumption trend is the opposite.
Obesity experts agree that a daily DEFICIT (more expenditure than input) of 150-200 calories per day may be needed to lose weight steadily and to keep it off (a consensus that also emerged from last summer’s first ever NIH/ NSF joint conference on the matter).
I see what you mean when you say one cannot break one’s mother’s heart. But I wonder if any mother would like her son to get a heart attack, and I think that is something most mothers know and fear, especially if a brother of the father have suffered it already. Indians are prone to a whole host of CV problems, at BMI thresholds lower than those for Caucasians. And it is only an individual who can say this to his mother, because his wife will have a different battle at hand, one which is best not discussed. 🙂
I know it is cruel, but one of the things with us Indian progeny is that we do not bring up parents, we just let them bring us up. What is the point of all this education if we cannot share some of it with them? How about some tough love for the sake of our families’ collective health and wellbeing?
Here are some tricks that both of us use with ALL relatives and family:
1. Saying ‘no’ to dessert, and if forcibly served, leave it
2 and 3. Leaving extra food on the plate quietly, no arguments
4. ‘Achchha to laga, lekin jo dheere dheere khaane mein mazaa hai, woh thoons kar khane mein nahin..’, beyond this, no argument but not eating up all that is served (Translation: Yes I liked it but eating slowly is more fun than shovelling tons..)
5. Haan, Ma, bachpan mein. Ab main ka hoonn aur ab bachchon ki tarah nahin khata.. (Yes mother, I did like this when I was a child. Now I am and I cannot eat like children do.
6. Actually I weigh the same as last year and I think YOU are too thin and you should eat more.
Well said, Shefaly! I’ll ask you for some tips before my next visit. Clearly, you’ve had practise!
Indian mothers, as do mothers from Southern Europe in my friends’ anecdotes, appear to ask always on the ‘phone: “Khana kha liya, beta?” irrespective of what time of the day it may be.
Food is discussed much in weight of course, because not only is it integral and essential, but also has a multifaceted role in our lives. It is a social bonding tool in many cultures, ours included, though not exclusive to us. It is also variously – rightly or not – used as a tool for things beyond hunger:
Control (see: history of anorexia),
Expression of identity and roles (sounds like Indira Parikh’s ERI course but case study of Maggi repositioning as snack and not main meal, so as not to interfere with the ‘Annapurna’ role of a mother),
Emotional support and comfort (in the end, we all choose our own – ice-cream, chocolate, rice-n-dal, burgers)
And these are willing (ab)uses of food. In North India, they say “wear what others like, eat what you like”. Perhaps it is time to start reliving that adage, and also to start recognising consciously which role of food is being evoked in which circumstance.
Of course this means eating has to be more cognitive than it is feasible, wherein lies the rub for public health people.
Enough – I must really eat my lunch now, and no mother in sight!
Basab, I made a link to this post on my blog. Hope that is ok. Thanks.
There are many dimensions to this post — Basab’s comic, Shefaly’s technical analysis and above all Mom’s emotions.
Need for a healthy lifestyle cannot be debated, and needless to say moderation is the key. But each atom of food stores within certain vibratory emotions of the cook. Food cooked with love “ghar ka khana” may have greater fat density than a “double cheese burger” but it will still cause lesser side effects.
Globalization flattens but I don’t need a flat stomach. It has taken the best away (read: ladoo). I envy those joint family pot bellies because I don’t have the chance to eat “maa ke haath ka khana” so often. My last meal of some substance was at a local Gurudwara in Bay Area last Sunday — someone’s mom or dad must have prepared that to-die-for daal and subji, that I relished that langar with 10 fingers!! Gulab jamun was heavenly — now i wish i should have picked more than one!!
I completely relate to you.My mom managed to up my weight by 10 kgs once I went back to stay with them for a couple of years.(I am a die-hard foodie and my mom ofcourse cooks and bakes yummy. It was not only all my efforts of staying in shape gone waste but also I could never ever regain that fitness level in the last one year.
Indian children have more and more sedentary lifestyle now and if the Indian press is anything to go by, by 2020 India will be a diabetics’ land for all practical purposes. You might have noticed obesity in two distinct groups: children (including pre-teens and teens) and forties and above.
Young Indians are waking up to the fact that they need to look good, feel good and be fit with a regular exercise routine.
Your comment was interesting and insightful.
Excellent post! You have posted what every desi’s mind and I traslated the post to mom. Also one more reason I can think of – Most of our mom’s do not even know what we do for software companies. They think we are physically working and also for extended hours an hence more food.
We need to eductae them that we need more exercise and less fatty food.
Venkat and Shreyasi: Please allow me to combine your comments to say something.
Two leaders of NASSCOM have died in recent years in their early 40s. I do not think that bodes well for the industry they represented, an industry marred by extreme habits of work and consumption. I worked in this industry for my post-MBA years and there is a very good reason that I now work in healthcare.
There is also a constant refrain of continuous tiredness coming from my friends in India. It is ok when the workers are exceedingly young (in their 20s). But without any investment today, we are going to have rather unwell 40-year olds at our hand in 2 decades’ time.
“Young Indians are waking up to the fact that they need to look good, feel good and be fit with a regular exercise routine.”
I think the priority should be exactly in the reverse order. Much needs to be explored to detangle exactly how our mental states affect our eating and exercise patterns, but that there is a link, about this there is no doubt.
Dealing with affectionate – or otherwise motivated – force-feeding in India requires habits and behaviours which are frowned upon in our culture such as straightforward refusal, rejection, cognitive discourse about the reasons (only if asked), challenging ‘elders’ and so on. But with some effort, we can not only share some of our awareness with our families, but also explain what we do for our day jobs.
Its just boils down to being “mothered” all the time….and hence Indians are not a confident and independent lot…be it food or a career decision…Parents have to have a say!!!!
You are in so much trouble ! Next time it’s just flowers on our anniversary I know who’s going to get a certain link!
Another coping strategy may be to flat out lie and say ‘doctor ne mana kiya hai’ , This will stop the feeding but may result in a barrage of worried queries…on second thoughts, forget it.
Jokes apart, it might be a good idea to set expectations before you sit down for the meal. You might want to prepare her for the tremendous insult you are offering to her nurturing instincts. Set the bar really low and she will be pleasantly surprised when you eat that third roti( all because you couldn’t resist her excellent cooking.)
Aaah! I understand this all too well. Since starting college (and living away from home) my mother feels it necessary that I eat as much as I can when I come home so it fortifies me..I’ve actually gained weight since leaving home. And when I say no, she gets all hurt and upset….
Indian mothers, I tell you!
I gain almost 5 kgs when I go home for a week – imagine 5 kgs
My digestion gets all upsaet. But its not beacause of force feeding – I just cant stop myself from Gulping those paranthas.
Maaa main aa raha hoon maa……..
It starts when they have babies. Only desi moms will claim “My son never eats anything.” You see them chasing their kids in parties trying to feed them 🙂
Awesome post! I laughed myself to tears, especially remember all the khana that Mom made for me when I visited my parents for one day last week! For that one day I was in Delhi, Mom made enough food to feed an army. “Beta, jab tum aate ho, to khana banane mein mazaa aata hai!” (son, I love making food for you when you come home!), and the Ram-baan of “Tumhare liye banaya hai, thoda to lo beta” (I’ve made this for you, you have to have a little of this).
Bas Ma, aur nahi! Hazmola hai kya?
Buss, buss, Ma ne pet ke liye diya hai!
Sorry, couldn’t resist.
What a fascinating website! It's wonderful to hear you guys all discussing the things that I am experiencing here in India. I think maybe with the distance (since most of you are NRIs) you can discuss aspects of Indian culture that Indians here in India cannot explain to me. I ask about these things (force feeding, perceptions of health, sedentary lifestyle) here in India and most of the time I get blank stares. Here, it is like this only!!
I notice that maybe some of this has to do with class consciousness. It's only the middle class who are overweight generally. Obesity is growing here but so is the middle class. The labour workers are still as fit as can be. Most Americans sweat away in gyms for the physiques of your average construction worker in India running around with bricks on his head. Seems like the perception is that thin is for the poor people. A mother shows her family is doing well if they all have chubby cheeks and pot bellies. Moreover, physical labour is frowned upon. I tell my middle class Indian friends that at home I do my own gardening and drive a truck and they think I'm nuts. In India, the people I know here don't even wash their own dishes. The streets are not really comfortable for walking in most areas. The nicer districts are, but in most cities and towns there aren't even sidewalks. In Delhi, we have the lovely Lodi Gardens but it's a real drag to get there during most traffic hours. There don't seem to be many public spaces to take exercise. This is changing though I think.
Anyway, I'm not Indian so I can get away with refusing food more easily than most of you! Still I've felt the pressure to take seconds and thirds. The food is fantastic of course- the best in the world- but it's hard to find any dishes that aren't something cooked in oil added to something else cooked in oil. Really hard to get a good veg sandwich (people here think a sandwich is just bad white bread with some cucumber in it) or a good raw salad that is fit for a meal not a side dish. Nearly impossible to find someone who regularly cooks grilled or baked food without oil. I've put on weight since I've been here despite not having to worry about offending a mom. I can't imagine what it is like for you guys!
But like I said, the food is soooo good and the women spend hours cooking it. How can you not take seconds?
By the way, I know these entries are old but the website is still up and running so I thought it'd be OK to comment.