Thursday, August 25, 2016

My greatest source of (un)happiness.

I happened to stumble upon this hilarious talk by Prof. Dan Gilbert. He is one of the leading researchers in the field of positive psychology and the author of the best selling book, 'Stumbling upon Happiness'.

A few years ago, one of my European friends had a rather peculiar observation about how modern humans reproduce. He said to me, "People spend all of their 20s trying hard not to have kids. And then the same people spend all of their 30s trying hard to have them". It was so true in that given moment -- at a house party of about 30 drunk adults in their twenties -- that it made me laugh and broke my heart at the same time. I was once discussing the modern (?) dating problems with my mother, who in spite of her rather liberal stand on relationships and dating, still believed at the time that getting me married and having a grandchild would make her happy. The discussion came to all the deal-breakers in modern relationships. And one person not wanting kids was always trending on the breakup analysis. Even for her, it was unpalatable. "If you don't have kids, what do you do all your life?", she exclaimed.

"You travel! You set up a food truck! You read as many books as you want!" , was my answer at the time. But inside I knew that all of this is never going to  make me as happy as having a kid would!
I was not entirely right. Before I sound like I regret becoming a mother, let me establish the boundary of my thoughts. I don't think having a child is going to make you happy, if you are not already reasonably happy. A sad person wanting a child in order to become happy, probably won't work. But as you go about your reasonably happy life and happen to have a kid, I think you'd find that your happiness is a bit on the decline. :)

Kids are cost and energy intensive. For the first three months or so, it feels like a startup which is going no where. You are just feeding and cleaning a strange little human. You love them to bits but they are just using you for  nourishment. They don't smile at you. They are constantly stressed and have trust issues with you. The sleepless nights don't help, and neither does the constant anxiety of doing something wrong, for you are nursing a piece of your own heart.

As you get back to your life, amidst various judgments (should you have any other life now?), the graph definitely picks up. Your child supports you through this ofcourse. I watched this talk again and again. Then I realised that before we can summarize that kids make us unhappy, we should also define what makes us happy. Not in terms of circumstances, but in terms of the state of our mind.

The great thing about toddlers is that they live in the moment. On my way to work every day, I used to hear my son yell "fan" from his car seat at the back. Initially I dismissed it as his word practice. Eventually, I realised that he used to say 'fan' every day at the same spot on the road. One day, I pulled over and checked, and to my surprise, there it was! A giant air conditioner fan installed on the third floor of a school building! After the initial swell of pride, and the superiority of my DNA, I realised that he could do that because he was drinking everything around him with his eyes. I never do that anymore.

At our recent vacation in Pondicherry, my son threw a tantrum because he wanted to go to the park (of all the things we could do, we had to drag ourselves to a park which felt no different to what we do in Pune). We dragged ourselves, feeling sorry that we cannot just sit at a French cafe, sipping on an espresso, eating a pan-au-chocolat. Once inside the park, it was obvious that we HAD to buy a soap bubble maker. So I sat down on a bench and started making bubbles for Vikram to chase. All of a sudden two blonde kids showed up next to me. They were French and they followed the bubbles and realised I was the source. For the next 30 minutes or so, I was standing on a park bench like an idiot and blowing bubbles at roughly 7 kids. They were all so deliriously happy that it indeed made me forget that I was pissed off about coming to the park instead of a cafe!

I think that's how kids make you happy. They are, like Prof. Gilbert says, like cashmere socks. Sometimes you like them because you are spending so much of your life and money on them. At others, they genuinely make you feel warm and fuzzy. Even if it is only for 30 minutes in an entire day. :)

Friday, August 12, 2016

References Matter!

I used to follow Rujuta Divekar quite ardently. I read both of her books and at the time, tried to follow her strategy and quickly became disillusioned with it. I realised that for me and my situation in life, her strategy does not work. But I still respected that approach. Basically Rujuta's strategy can be summarised in just two words: Portion Control.

She advocates eating everything. She does  not demonize just a single ingredient. She advises against shunning fats. She advises eating fruits like mangoes and jackfruits. All of this is amazing. However, in all her open lectures she almost never mentions that you can eat all this (in small portions) to lose weight.In this interview, her advocacy of mango and jackfruits borders on disturbingly nationalistic. She opens with a statement (which I am translating from Marathi, video is shared for verification):
"The farther your food travels to you, the farther it will take your belly from your spine". She uses this statement against apples and kiwis, which typically are imported, and tries to promote mangoes and jackfruit.

Giving her the benefit of doubt and considering that the statement is metaphorical, I still have a lot to say against this statement.

Firstly, eating (Indian) mangoes instead of (imported) apples because we have looked down on our own fruits in the quest of Western practices, sounds just nationalistic. Mangoes are mangoes and apples are apples. They don't travel with passports.

Secondly, it would be great if they are compared in context. It can be presented as: "Instead of having 1 apple and depriving yourself of mangoes, have two slices of mango, which is equivalent to one apple." That's how any non-famous dietitian would explain it. .

Eating local food is great. And it is commendable that Rujuta's lectures have made people realise that you don't have to eat quinoa, chia seeds and almond milk. You can always substitute western ingredients with something local. However, if you eat the right amount of food and aid your diet with a work out, any kind of food, Western or Indian, should give you the same results!

After I watched a couple of her open day talks, I went back to the sample diet plans she recommends in her book "Don't lose your mind, lose your weight". I am not going to give the diet plan here as I don't want to make that information available for free, But it would suffice to say that her claim that you should have 8-9 meals a day to lose weight is a bit misleading. In many of her diet plans, 1 slice of cheese is considered as a meal. If you count the overall calories of the entire day, the total would not cross 1000, which is the equivalent of about 2 complete meals (Rice, dal, roti sabzi, salad and buttermilk)  spread over the course of a day.

In most of these sample diets she recommends eating mango. However, it is taken as 1 meal with nothing else along with it. One mango can be a really healthy snack. However, when you say that people are scared of mangoes, the implication is not the fruit but its quantity and form. How does a normal Maharashtrian eat his/her mangoes? As pulp (Aamras) with fried puris! That's what we are scared of when we are trying to lose weight! On an average one mango would add 200 calories to your diet. So having a mango by itself as a meal (or having 1-2 slices with hot breakfast) would do no harm. But how many of us have it that way? And how long can we sustain considering a slice of cheese and a handful of roasted peanuts as "meals"? Only until we have professional supervision. The moment we let go of our dietitian, we also let go of the diet.

Let's assume that apples and kiwi which have a huge carbon foot print make you fat. Where are the references? Who has proved it? All of us have been gobbling up "rujuta's gyan" in good faith. We are taking her advice on eating ghee and fats. Some of it has already been proven by western science. However, it would be great if her claims about the mechanisms in which indian foods promote weight loss come with references. If there has been no research which proves that indeed eating a mango in Maharashtra is better than eating an apple for your weight loss, then it should not be claimed on a public forum and used as a click bait!