Obese Hong Kong food writer hit by doubt on weight-loss trek across India
Father-of-five set out to walk 1,450km across southern India, hoping to reduce his 145cm waistline. At first he shed the kilos quickly, but now finds it harder to lose weight and wonders if he’s set himself overambitious targets
Pondicherry is one of the highlights of my trip in travel terms, but feels less of a success in terms of fitness goals. Next stop is Coimbatore, which really is a total loss, but I’m writing this from Ooty, where I have just arrived and where there are plenty of opportunities for walking.
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The problem is that I should be walking eight hours a day by now – according to my somewhat random and obviously overambitious plans – but I’m finding if I walk for four hours one day, that’s inevitably followed by a few days where I can manage two hours only. That didn’t matter at the beginning of the trip as I seemed to be shrinking whatever I did, but that miraculous phase is over and the weight loss is now much slower.
The failure provokes some soul-searching about what I’m doing in India in the first place. Despite many encouraging messages from friends and family, I’m away from them and out of the normal routine I’ll have back home when I’m trying to lose more weight and then keep it off.
Of course, it was my old routine that got me so fat in the first place and I want to ditch it. In theory, I can think about what I need to do to make a new routine that doesn’t involve being sedentary and overeating.
I think in modern psychobabble that’s called “redefining my relationship with food”. India seemed ideal because being here is so far out of the routine that it’s almost indescribable, but the charm of my 10-day exploratory visit in the summer isn’t being sustained over three months.
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It’s not that “Pondi” isn’t a charming place to walk around. There are plenty of well-preserved examples of colonial architecture, many painted a mustard yellow, churches, temples and a park. The food is good, even though I’m eating modest portions. I’ve read that there is a French influence in the cooking, but although the Tamil cuisine here is definitely the best I’ve had, I can’t discern it.
I take a cooking class to see if I’ll be able to reproduce a lighter version of south Indian food at home. The class begins with the teacher starting the rice cooking while the students introduce themselves to each other. Next up is preparation for a lentil dish, a cabbage curry, Tamil staple chicken Chettinad and then a dessert of carrot halwa. I get to grate a kilo of carrots that are then cooked in milk and plenty of sugar. I taste about a spoonful.
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I’m pleasantly surprised to find that a lot of Tamil cooking is done with relatively small amounts of sunflower oil and not the vast quantities of coconut oil used over the border in Kerala. The cabbage curry and chicken Chettinad both strike me as reasonably low calorie and low carb, but serving them as part of an authentic Tamil meal would mean eating them with rice and lentils. My conclusion is that Indians are carb-based bipeds.
Perhaps the real issue though is that I’m still not striking a balance between food as fuel and food as pleasure.
I also manage a side trip to Auroville, an ashram or spiritual community of members from all over the world dedicated to peace. Started in the 1950s, the community is a place for social experimentation. I’m not sure what the results are though as world peace has yet to break out.
Visitors can’t see much unless they are willing to stay three days, but what is on view is stunning – the Matrimandir, a golden sphere designed to prompt meditation. There doesn’t seem to be some kind of shady “guru” taking advantage of the members for their money as at some other so-called “cashrams” in India.
Coimbatore is a large industrial sprawl. I don’t get to see much apart from a clothes shop intriguingly called Hitler as I have a bad back that puts me out of action for a few days. It’s just a stopping off point for Ooty, famous for its tea plantations, wildlife and as a tourist resort for locals. There will be more on Ooty next time.
In the 11 days since I last wrote, I have only managed six days walking (a total of 70km) because of my bad back and a stomach upset. Now for the moment of truth – I measure 118.5cm at the waist, a loss of 3.5cm. This is better than I expected but no grounds for resting on my laurels.