Tuesday 19 November 2013

Mmmmm...Just One More

Our social lives seem to revolve around food at the moment, especially with Mum- and Dad-in-law going to Pakistan this week.  We've had numerous dinner invites from friends and family to say goodbye, five in the last two weeks and the odd occasion where we have invited people to dinner.

In itself this is rather lovely.  We've had the privilege of eating some glorious food and enjoying good company, with the added benefit of me not having to cook.  The only problem is my waist line hasn't taken too kindly to all of this indulging.

For most of my life I have been very slim.  I was privileged enough to think that conversations around dieting and losing weight were boring, nothing to do with me and if I am honest, a little below me. 

Four babies have taken their toll on my body.  I lost weight after each one, but found it a little harder each time and lost a little less each time.  I would still rather talk about a hundred things other than dieting and weight loss, but this is one of the things that preys on my mind.  Being heavier I have become aware of how different your thought patterns become when you focus on your body in this way – not as a beautiful piece of machinery that shows off your clothes to good effect, or gets you from one place to another very quickly, or is strong enough to keep going all day without running down.  Instead the focus turns to something that is flawed and needs fixing or changing.  Something that lets you down when your knees ache or you are just too tired to do more.  Something that has do be hidden in loose clothes so that no-one can see your “curves” which give away how lacking in discipline and will-power you have really been.

It has taken a life time of bad habits to get here: drinking very little water, but lots of full-fat lattes and fizzy drinks, eating lots of junk food and way too much meat and not enough fruit and vegetables.  In the past this wasn't a problem because I could eat anything I wanted and never seemed to gain any weight.

Then when my husband was in South Africa for two months earlier this year, I really gave myself permission to indulge and completely ignored the little voice that kept telling me to stop.  I would eat take-away every day, which locally means, burgers, chips, pizza and kebab rolls – all of my favourite things, with a free cola to complete the meal.

At some point I knew this was wrong and that I was going to make myself ill and had to start thinking more carefully about what I was eating.  But I thought about it, then didn’t act on it.  Or I would start and then give in at the first hurdle with the self-talk that justified the lapse:
-       Just this once
-       I need it
-       I deserve it
-       I'm fed up, I am going to have it
-       It’s been a long day
-       I’ll start eating sensibly from tomorrow, Monday, next week.

This post is a hard one for me, because my attitude has always been rather blasé, I have always joked about my weight gain and acted like I was not bothered, but after a while the nonchalant attitude doesn't ring very true any more.
All the excuses that I used to hear women make and think I would never be silly or lacking in self-awareness enough to make myself.

As the weight piled on, I would try to justify why it was okay (not really believing my words):
-       I've had four children (they didn't eat all that the pizza!)
-       I should learn to love myself as I am (even if it will make me will?)
-       Curves are good (curves, not unnecessary fat!)
-       The more of me the better (really?)

Pakistani food cooked right is beyond delicious.  It can also be very, very unhealthy.  Our diet is rooted in the same food we ate in the Punjab – wheat, rice, dairy and meat based.  But in the Punjab this was accompanied with vegetables, meat was rare and everything was organic and grown or reared locally.  People engaged in hard physical labour - all of my people are hard-working farmers and did not always get three solid meals a day.

We eat too much meat.  There are about ten halal butchers in the main road near me and catering to the Pakistani Muslim population, which should say something about our level of consumption.  I have been trying to enforce a rule in my home to make sure there are vegetables and salad with every meal.  But sometimes we end up with meat and just don’t have the energy to make anything else.

Of course we work hard – sitting at our desk all day, our minds and typing fingers busy, but our bodies atrophying into a mess of tired eyes, sore backs and slumped posture.  Hardly tilling fields and herding goats.

I am also part of the South Asian community which is a high risk group for type two diabetes which is caused by poor diet and lack of physical activity (South Asians over 25 are at risk compared to over 40 for the general population - source).  The NHS’s website says that reducing your body weight by about 5% and exercising regularly could reduce your risk of getting diabetes by more than 50%.

So for me it’s time to face up.  I love junk food and food that is rich and tasty, but that doesn’t mean I should always get to eat it.  Permitting myself to eat so much rubbish has lead to my will power rotting away from disuse.  The least I can do if I can‘t respect my body is to respect my mind and stop making excuses.

So I am reviewing my attitude, identifying my trigger points for eating badly and trying to be thoughtful and realistic about how I deal with them.

My mental starting point will be:
-       This body is an amanah (trust) from Allah (SWT) for a short lifetime and we have a responsibility to take care of it until it is time to return it to the earth.
-       The purpose of this body is to worship Allah (SWT) and so we must keep it healthy enough to do its job – I find myself shortening my prayers because I get tired more quickly now.
-       I am 34 and a mother of four so I don’t need to aspire to look like a 17 year old any more.  I need to embrace the changes within myself as a natural part of the progression of life and the change from girl to woman and mother.  But that doesn't mean I should accept being unnecessary overweight and unhealthy.
-       My weight gain does not mean I am a failure and that I should hide away and be embarrassed of my appearance.  I still have the ability and will to improve my health and even if I find it hard and it takes a long time, that does not make me inferior to anyone.

My main trigger points are:
-       In the morning I don’t have breakfast and have an expensive latte later on in the morning.  Worse, I feel dull and miserable if I don’t get one.  So I will have to make sure I have an easy, light breakfast to short circuit my desire for the coffee.  I have also bought myself herbal tea to have at my desk.
-       I get bored by mid-morning and want to eat to occupy myself.  So I will have to be conscious of my work patterns and set my tasks for the day accordingly.  I also have to be honest and admit that although the hours, pay and some of the tasks suit me, this job is not for me.  I find the work tedious, unfulfilling and often pointless and I need to start working towards moving on to something I am passionate about and enjoy.
-       After lunch and dinner I crave some thing sweet.  I have stopped buying chocolate at home, but after lunch I pop down to the shop below my office and buy the biggest version of whatever I fancy.  So I will bring some fruit and if I still have to give in, it will be dark chocolate which doesn't disappear down your gullet as quick, the smallest version.
-       When I get home I am famished, I will eat anything.  If there are any chocolates, crisps or junk food nearby – I will take it.  So I need to have small snack available to stave off the hunger, sometimes I have an apple on the way home and that helps.
-       After I am home, I make late afternoon tea for my in-laws and something to eat – invariably friend or sugary.  Now that they are going back to Pakistan, I can avoid having anything unhealthy at this time.

Looking at this list it seems like the whole day is a trigger point!

Insh’Allah I won’t bore people to tears by turning this into a dieting blog, but I will track my progress in getting healthier and slimmer over the coming months and share anything that really helps.  I would love to hear from readers about what motivates them or what has worked for them in trying to get healthy and fit in the past.

Update - I wrote this last week and the action of facing up and being honest seems to have helped already.  I am not having crazy cravings and my day doesn't seem to revolve around food. I feel lighter and as if I have more energy.  Now I just have to stick to being a little disciplined insh'Allah.


  1. I resonate with a lot of things that you've mentioned. Culturally, the Malabar Muslim food that my family eats is really unhealthy - full of ghee and predominantly non veg and white rice based. I also aim to have wheat chapathis at least thrice a week and a veggie dish at every meal, and thankfully I've stuck to it mostly for the past year. I find it easier to make a vegetarian pulao with a tikka/kebab on the side - better than biryani! I also tend to over-snack out of boredom, especially mid mornings. I also have a problem of being consistent with exercise. I also have dinner really late; by then I'm starving and wolf it all down. I'd love to see your progress on the blog!! All the best!

  2. This is a life long struggle for me. Long term weight loss in my opinion is the result of a life style change. Changing your dietary habits is very important but that often leads to weight loss in the short term with people going back to their bad habits eventually. What is equally important is exercising. The thing that has helped me the most is exercising first thing in the morning. The endorphins released not only make you feel better about yourself but would also stop you from over indulging later in the day. Who wants to work a heavy sweat for half an hour and then drown it in a cup of latte in the next 5 minutes. Another major thing I see missing in people of our descent(Indian/Pakistani) is the lack of awareness of portion size. We are either un aware of or widely misjudge the serving size. Measuring out a single serving of rice for example proves helpful especially in the beginning. I wish you all the luck and would love to see your progress!