O’ Desi: After-Work-Out Eating: Desi-Style

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Anu Chitrapu

By Anu Chitrapu

INDIA New England News Columnist

BOSTON–There seems to be an opinion out there that once we come to the US we become more health conscious and want to work out regularly. Key word here is “want” – whether we do it or not has no correlation with wanting!

Anu Chitrapu

I remember years back an Uncle-ji who was visiting from India remarked that in America, when you open the window in the morning you can see everyone trotting! It took me a while to get it but I realized he had a keen sense of observation. In India, at least in those days, you would not see people “trotting” early in the morning, that too on a cold morning. Happily the number of joggers/trotters (I love that word!) has increased all over the world thanks to a rising level of awareness around exercising being good for health.

So that’s the good news. But the not-so-good news is that many of us desis (or those who are like me) have our own desi style after-work-out eating. When I go to the fitness center and the trainer asks me what I ate that day, I start off with trying to make the food sound super healthy, then decide to go for super exotic and finally end up with a description that sounds super carby!

I am of the type who is exhausted and feels done after warm up. As for the actual exercises we subject our bodies to … I mean who in real life carries a heavy ball near their chest while also climbing up and down steps? What is this even preparing us for?  When I am torturing myself thus, I try to take my mind off the task by imagining a village damsel perfectly balancing a large earthen pot full of water on her head and walking precariously on the edge of a mountain and in the distance the water glistens … and then I catch sight of myself in the unforgiving mirror and the pot shatters in my mind’s eye while the ball falls to the floor with an angry thud.

To add insult to injury, some trainers look at us and say what they think are encouraging statements like, “Well, now we move on to core strengthening exercises, and if you have done yoga you will breeze through them.”

There are so many assumptions in that sentence that I don’t even try unpacking that heavy statement. The intent behind it is kind so I put on what I think is a mystifying yogic smile, kind of confirming that yes, core should be ok for me! And then when core starts I realize not only have I never done this before, my muscles and body parts also clearly never met core … as is proven when I fall on my stomach while doing a simple plank.  And I don’t care what anyone says but thank god for my cushiony, loose (I will stop with the adjectives here as you get the idea) stomach because I don’t hurt myself!

Some trainers insist on the assisted stretch. Whenever I am undergoing this I can’t help but think of myself as a piece of unstretchable elastic. Like the kind you can buy on the pavement in India, feels like it should stretch but totally disappoints! One of the stretches involves the trainer literally trying to pull your legs in different directions – I feel like the mythological character Jarasandha who was split into two by Krishna.

After the workout, when every bone and muscle that you knew of and never knew of, is aching, the only relief you can hope for is mental. You have to imagine hot, steaming idlis soaked in sambar, or cashew filled pongal dripping in ghee, or puffed up puris with tantalizing potato curry … I say imagine, because you are not going to have those ready waiting for you when you get back after working out. But somehow imagining those along with a slimmer, fitter me makes the post workout pain easier to bear. And then I go home and eat dal/rasam/vegetable along with rice and roti and think of the advice I was given to eat a lot of protein.

All I can say is that simple dal rice with a dollop of ghee (thank god the latest is that ghee is good for you!) is the best post workout meal – at least mentally!

It is amazing how many scientific and not-so-scientific arguments I can find to convince myself that my meal is good for me. The winning one is revoking the proven “survival of the fittest’ theory. What was good for my ancestors is good for me and if their descendants survived then they must have been fit.

Let’s keep trotting!

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