Hum Keto Kar Chuke Sanam: Petition to Stop Fad Diets and Return to Regular Food


Hum Keto Kar Chuke Sanam: Petition to Stop Fad Diets and Return to Regular Food

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

Over the last few years, my Instagram feed has seen its native population of pretty girls diversify their businesses. From ’gramming about fashion and beauty, they’ve also expanded into food – each of their meals look like something out of the pages of Good Food.

The standard shot has become a flatlay (that’s a picture from directly above the food, you noobs) of a wooden tray on a rustic table. In the tray we have options ranging from a grain bowl and a smoothie, or a plate of avocado-on-sourdough with a side of almond milk, or maybe an “alternative” take on a classic dish, like cauliflower rice or zucchini noodles. For the worshippers of Chindian cuisine among us, the nomenclature is so misleading that it’s tragic – cauliflower rice isn’t rice with cauliflower, it’s shredded cauliflower which is supposed to substitute rice. Zucchini noodles aren’t pieces of zucchini in a good stir-fry noodle dish, they’re long spirals of limp zucchini that you eat when you’ve decided you hate yourself.

This is all in a bid to avoid every food bloggers’ latest enemy, carbs. It joins wheat (gluten irritates your gut), milk (dairy products aren’t good for your skin), sugar (didn’t you know sugar is the new cocaine?), fruits (because they’re high in sugar), and pretty much everything that constitutes your everyday diet. The average Instagram food influencer breathes in salads and breathes out crunches. On an entirely unrelated note, the average Instagram influencer is usually also in the food business herself, or being funded by the food business occasionally, and does not have a work-day that involves being in an office for ten hours and travelling for another two.

But don’t worry. If a life without aloo paratha and cheese sandwiches seems not worth living, self-appointed dieticians – whom I will now refer to appropriately as SADs – will also tell you how to replace normal food with new fancy food. This usually involves one of two things: either some really bad advice, like replacing all carbs with fats; or prohibitively expensive methods, like introducing your grocery bill to ingredients like quinoa, kale, acai, and goji berries. When you find out that kale is nothing but pricey, terrible-tasting lettuce, and that quinoa refuses to take on the flavour of anything that you cook it with, staying as slimy and tasteless as when you first soaked it, then you can be doubly sure that this life isn’t worth living.

If you’re the average twenty-something in India, you either live by yourself with a fridge full of bread and spreads, or live with your parents and eat what is cooked for the family.

And then there is the abomination beverage sub-industry. SADs would like you to drink “bulletproof coffee” – black, with a chunk of butter – in the morning before you hit the gym. Why? Because milk and sugar are blasphemy, and there’s not much left for a pre-gym snack. Bulletproof coffee can be alternated with beetroot lattes, blue algae lattes, spirulina smoothies, and wheatgrass shots. The typical SAD starts her day with one such beverage, goes to the gym to do a few hundred squats, and comes home to a make a blueberry-and-chia seed smoothie in almond milk. On “cheat day” they eat a single Pringle, thereby ensuring you feel like a pig with your snout in the trough all day.

Medical advice is comparatively more reasonable but no less volatile. This is how it usually goes:

Day 1: Good news: Chocolate reduces the risk of heart attacks.

Day 2: Only dark chocolate is good for you, in moderation.

Day 3: Eat twenty pieces of dark chocolate a day without worry!

Day 4: Actually milk chocolate has essential nutrients and sugar is great for you.

Then it turns out that the research wasn’t conducted on dark chocolate, but on compounds called flavonoids that are present (in very small traces) in dark chocolate, and you’d need to eat 12 bars of dark chocolate a day to get the benefits the researchers are talking about. The mainstream news around food disappoints and confuses us regularly, which might be why we’re so relieved when a pretty girl on Instagram tells us confidently that a paleo diet includes foods that our bodies are built for, because 5,000 years ago, humans were hunter-gatherers.

How do you jump on one of these diets though? If you’re the average twenty-something in India, you either live by yourself with a fridge full of bread and spreads, or live with your parents and eat what is cooked for the family. Do you have the patience and money to buy avocados, chia seeds, quinoa, and coconut milk on a regular basis? (Aside: If you believe the SADs when they say you can “make your own” coconut milk, you’ve never cooked a meal in your life.) Who is motivated to create a pizza on a jowar base with no cheese, when the real thing is a few taps away on your phone?

And finally, what are our goals here exactly? What is the point of swapping which type of oil you use, when you’re already at one teaspoon of oil in your food? How important is it to reach our usually unrealistic body goals vs just having a good time?

We love food. There’s no two ways about it. Most of our socialising happens around food. Why, then, do we suddenly have such a complicated relationship with it? Why do we find ourselves second-guessing what we want to order, what we should cook, what the calorie count of quinoa is, and how can we ever make it taste like rice? (Spoiler alert: We can’t.) This is not an open invitation to go all out and stuff our faces everyday, but please can we have rules that are easy to follow and make sense, so that we can get on with our lives? On the odd day when we want to eat dessert, let’s not think “refined flour, sugar, chocolate, cream, 500 calories,” and have a guilt trip while trying to enjoy it – let’s just frickin’ eat it and go for a run tomorrow.

Or day after. Or next week. Or…