Monday, February 27, 2017

Beauty queen

Amidst all the fun and frolic at the wedding I recently attended in India, there were some not-so-great moments as well. The 328764379642 relatives, for example, who demanded to know why I had lost SOOO MUCH weight (Ummm... I've been at 57 kg for the last 16 years so I don't know what they were talking about), or those who asked me if I didn't feed Xena at all (Yeah, I just love starving my child) and why she's SOOO underweight (Yeah, I enjoy the fact that my almost 6-year-old weighs as much as a 2-year-old).

There was even someone who told me that I looked "fine" when she last saw me but now I was "too thin". Well, when she last saw me, I was in Std VII and weighed about 40 kg, so I didn't know what she was talking about.

Actually, I didn't take it as body-shaming. I took it as a gross violation of the truth, and that's what annoyed me. (Anyway, I don't like the term 'body-shaming' at all, because I feel that a lot of people hide behind it, instead of getting off their asses and working towards achieving their own fitness goals and dream bodies.)

I ranted about all this to my sister who gave me a simple strategy to deal with it. "It's just something these relatives say when they see someone after a while. It's not coming from a bad place. It's just words that mean nothing." And suddenly I felt better. It was simple. I just needed to see them the way I see the counter staff at a fast food restaurant. They say "How are you?" the moment they see you, but do they really have any interest at all in knowing how you are? Not a chance. It's just that you're there in front of them and they have made eye contact and now they HAVE to say something.

So I learnt to smile and ignore.

But it did bother me when the comments were directed at Xena. "Why are you so thin?" or "You don't eat?" Much as I worry about her feeding issues and weight, and try to talk to her about it, I don't confront her so directly. I just tell her that she needs to eat a little more than she does now, so she can get stronger. The key word is always 'stronger'.

And of course, there are the other issues about 'beauty' -- skin colour and sharpness of features, etc., which unlike fitness, are out of one's control. As a kid, I had heard more than enough about my not-so-sharp nose and I'm glad I never let that get in the way of my confidence. It was laughable actually, how they were all so pleased to discover that the guy I had chosen to marry had a sharp nose. There's hope for the progeny then, they must have thought.

Well, guess what? Xena doesn't have a sharp nose by their standards. Actually I don't know and don't care what kind of a nose she has. So my ears pricked up when I heard this conversation between her and a relative. Luckily, Xena made my day with her response.

Relative - You must pull your nose a little every day. Like this. (demo) Then it will become sharp and you will become beautiful.
Xena - I don't need to. My mummy says I'm already beautiful because I'm happy. 

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Sweet nothings

In early January, I had posted about the fact that out of curiosity, Viv and I had embarked on a 40-day no-sugar-no-alcohol challenge proposed by Ranveer Allahbadia (you might know him as the guy who helped Tanmay Bhat lose 110 kg). He recommended doing the challenge by going not only off added sugars, but also other things that taste sweet, such as juices, fruits, honey and jaggery for 40 days.

We started on 2nd January (after all the new year celebrations, of course!), but we completed it a little later than scheduled, and not with 100% honesty, I have to admit.

I had scribbled some rough notes to serve as a daily log, which I thought I'd share here.

Day 0
1 Jan 
Invited friends over for a new year's lunch. Had margaritas. Emptied the fridge of all sweet items by the end of the day in preparation for the challenge. Whether all of it went into the trash or some into my tummy is a truth that shall never be revealed.

Day 1
Monday 2 Jan

Challenge begins! Easy-peasy so far. Just don't drink any alcohol and don't consume anything sweet, that's all.

Day 2
3 Jan 
Huh? This is it? Doesn't feel like I am on any kind of life-changing journey. The day has gone by without incident. This is too easy. I'm getting suspicious.

Day 3
4 Jan 
Accidentally and absent-mindedly popped a grape in my mouth and then back out, straight into the trash.

Day 4
Thursday 5 Jan 
Finished work a little early; had a sudden craving for my teh halia but resisted.

Day 5
Friday 6 Jan 
Had a family dinner at Cafe Iguana, one of our favourite restaurants, but didn't order their world-famous-in-Singapore margaritas; strangely, didn't feel like we were missing out.

Day 6
Saturday 7 Jan

The kung pao chicken I had for lunch in the Parkway Parade food court felt too sweet, definitely a lot, A LOT of added sugar in there; Xena's friend's birthday party in the evening, skipped the birthday cake, no big deal.

Day 7
Sunday 8 Jan
University batchmates' reunion lunch at Myra's at the beach; didn't order any drinks, though Viv terribly missed the Mexican beer that he invariably orders whenever we go there.

Day 8
Monday 9 Jan 
Found out that Haldiram's aloo bhujia contains added sugar! Whyyy?

Day 9
Tuesday 10 Jan 

Xena's friends had come over for a dinner play date; made pasta upon their request; had a chance to read some more food labels, it turns out that pasta sauce has added sugar of course, but guess what? Whole corn kernels in brine also contain added sugar! Again, whyyy??

Day 10
Wednesday 11 Jan 

Skipped the wine (considered mandatory) at my book club meeting. Didn't want to draw attention so sipped water from my wine glass, till a friend in the know happened to mention it, leading to a barrage of "But why??" questions. Got annoyed when someone else decided to answer on my behalf with something like "To lose weight, of course." I turned around and asked the person if she thought I thought I needed to lose weight. Uncomfortable silence and nervous laughter followed. Grrr.

Day 11
Thursday 12 Jan 
Accompanied Xena on her school excursion to the botanical gardens, had a Maggi mee goreng lunch near her school before picking her up, but scraped off the ketchup from the cucumber slices (ketchup has a crazy amount of added sugar). Skipped my usual teh halia to disapproving looks from Purshottam's colleague again. Had a play date in the evening at an indoor playground, followed by dinner at Mango Tree. The raw mango sabzi was heavenly, but it definitely had quite a bit of added sugar. Went home to check if other sauces at home had added sugar. Green chilli sauce did (oh noooooo!), but tabasco didn't. Ok so there is some sauce we can still have.

Day 12
Friday 13 Jan 

Had a slight headache, craved chai but didn't have it.

Day 13
Saturday 14 Jan 

A junior from my uni days was passing through Singapore, met her and her family for dinner at Myra's (the other outlet by the waterfront); Viv missed his Mexican beer again. I suggested that he could break his fast on day 41 with a Mexican beer.

Day 14
Sunday 15 Jan 
Had dinner at Ganesh Vilas; overjoyed to rediscover neer more, and the fact that that there was still a cool refreshing drink other than water we could have that didn't come loaded with added sugar!

Day 15
Monday 16 Jan 

Had a meeting at the office so made the trek there (I work from home on most days); had lunch near Xena's school before picking her up; decided to try teh halia kosong (ginger tea without sugar). Guess my review: (a) Not bad at all; (b) Hey, I actually prefer this! (c) Yuck. (d) REVOLTING. The answer was (d), of course.

Day 16
Tuesday 17 Jan 

Had a horribly sore throat, teh halia would have been awesome, but resisted from making it and sipped on warm water instead.

Day 17
Wednesday 18 Jan 

Had lunch at Purshottam's restaurant. My throat was still hurting so decided to try teh (tea) o (without milk) halia (ginger) kosong (no sugar) thingie this time after a sympathetic friend pointed out that it's the presence of milk in tea that begs sugar. Quite a mouthful for me to say teh o halia kosong in the right order, so I took my time saying it, but the guy repeated it so fast and so casually I figured people do order it then. But who?? And why?? As you can guess, it was just as revolting as the one on day 15.

Day 18
Thursday 19 Jan 
Woke up to a very sore throat and cough; went to the doctor who prescribed a VERY SWEET cough medicine, which I had once and then stopped because it felt so much like cheating; was literally dying for my homemade ginger tea; hadn't thought that the ease of doing this would be challenged so much just by sickness.

Day 19
Friday 20 Jan 

Someone had kept a huge bar of dark chocolate in Viv's office for sharing; he thought it was a great idea to send me a pic of it. Can I log this under mental torture by spouse?

Day 20
Saturday 21 Jan 

Half-way point done, yay! The chocolates just won't leave me though! Sis-in-law moved to our place today before relocating to India; she brought some chocolates from her fridge over; will save and eat at some point, I guess? Not that I love chocolate in general, but I can be partial to dark chocolate.

Day 21
Sunday 22 Jan

Hmmm... is it my imagination or can I feel my taste buds changing? Ordered my favourite massaman curry at Thai Express and could hardly eat it; the sweet taste was almost sickening; surprised how the sugar content had never bothered me in the past; today, it was overpowering; not sure if I'll ever be able to order the dish again; Viv remarked that even his clear Tom yum soup felt unusually sweet; didn't even know they put sugar in clear tom yum soup!

Day 22
Monday 23 Jan 


Day 23
Tuesday 24 Jan 

Was on a flight to Mauritius (we were flying the family there to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary), wanted to get a Coke (because I only drink Coke when I'm not the one buying it, i.e. in flights and occasionally at parties) but resisted. Felt a little sad that we were doing this challenge in the middle of a special vacation.

Day 24
Wednesday 25 Jan 
Our Airbnb host brought us a welcome gift - chocobars! With a heavy heart, I put them in the freezer. That evening, Viv suddenly said we should just take a break from the challenge and enjoy our vacation. 10th wedding anniversary is not an everyday event anyway, so I jumped at his offer. We had also booked a sunset cruise that came with wine, beer and all kinds of juices, which we were going to skip. Now we didn't have to, yay! But I did promise myself that we wouldn't overdo the cheat days.

[25-31 Jan: BREAK]

Day 25
Tuesday 31 Jan 

Landed back in Singapore; Fridge was empty so sis-in-law and I ordered lunch through Food Panda. The butter chicken felt sickeningly sweet. Again, not something I'd willingly order in the future.

Day 26
Wednesday 1 Feb 
Xena had declared that she also wanted to do the challenge with us. But of course, she kept forgetting. And then remembering again. It was hilarious!

Day 27
Thursday 2 Feb 

Viv declared that he felt that his tummy had become a lot flatter than before. I found no such difference in mine. Maybe because when he binges on sugar, he REALLY binges, but I take mine in moderation so the difference on the body wasn't that obvious.

Day 28
Friday 3 Feb 

Xena was actually turning down sweet stuff, not just at home but outside as well. I also stopped insisting when she turned down so-called 'harmless' kiddie food such as juice.

Day 29
Saturday 4 Feb 

Had a pot luck dinner with neighbours; usually we grab a glass of wine each and cook together; but this time I refused and told them why (lest they started congratulating me!); they were very surprised but seemed quite supportive.

Sunday 5 Feb
My Chinese neighbour had invited us over for a Chinese New Year (CNY) tea party. She had a whole platter of CNY goodies and every single thing was sweet. There were six or seven items and she had baked them all from scratch! I didn't have the heart to say no and offend her, so I sampled a couple of them by splitting them with Xena. Decided to exclude this day from the challenge.

Day 30
Monday 6 Feb 

Looked through the food labels of stuff in the fridge; predictably, tom yum paste and balsamic vinegar dressing had added sugar, but to my surprise, the cheese spread that Xena likes didn't.

Day 31
Tuesday 7 Feb

Opened the fridge and Viv's Redbull can was staring me in the face. Burst out laughing and closed the fridge. Wonder who will drink it and when.

Day 32
Wednesday 8 Feb 


Day 33
Thursday 9 Feb 

I'm gaining a new appreciation for green tea and peppermint tea. I remember the time I ordered a peppermint tea at a restaurant and when I asked for sugar with it, the waitress looked extremely puzzled and said, "But it's peppermint tea." and I said, "I know. But I want sugar with it." (I do drain off the first brew when I make green tea though, to get rid of some of the caffeine.)

Day 34
Friday 10 Feb 


Day 35
Saturday 11 Feb 

I was on a flight to India! A cousin was getting married and I decided at the very last minute that direct flight or no direct flight, I was gonna grab Xena and go. It looked like I was all set to break the fast with some shaadi ki mithaai.

Day 36
Sunday 12 Feb

Was at my in-laws' place, and they are both chai-lovers. Mom-in-law asked if I wanted to have some, but she knows about the challenge so she didn't insist. I, of course, had to sit and watch them have chai. WITHOUT ME! :'(

Day 37
Monday 13 Feb 

Reached my parents' place

Day 38
Tuesday 14 Feb

We had a pre-wedding cousins' get-together, but it got late and my driver was ready to take me back home way before the drinking started. Felt like a teenager on curfew. It was sad in a way, but also worked out well because knowing my cousins, challenge or no challenge, they wouldn't have let me off without a drink or two.

Day 39
Wednesday 15 Feb 

It's the day of the sangeet! I'm running around between the bar and my mom and her sisters, bringing them non-alcoholic drinks. An aunt has placed a glass of mojito at my table for me, but it stays there all evening, ignored by me. The bartender does have jaljeera, but I take one sip and it's sweet and I let it go. 1 day to go! I can do this!

Day 40
Thursday 16 Feb 

It's the last day! Mom is making her tea with Stevia and I'm reminded of the need to be more vigilant about sugar as both parents have diabetes. I'm also reminded that I can have tea with sugar tomorrow!

Day 41
Friday 17 Feb 

What a day to have finished the challenge! It's the day of the shaadi! Yay! The first thing I did in the morning was make chai. Hadn't made it for so long that it felt weird; I felt like I had forgotten everything, that I was going to screw up. But I made it and it was goooood (even though I added less than my usual quantity of sugar) and even mom had a sip and said it was goooood.

Even though it wasn't a strict, continuous 40-day challenge, and at times I questioned why I was doing it, here are some of my self-discoveries and takeaways:

  • There is an INSANE amount of added sugar in everything around us, especially drinks and restaurant food. I only realised the height of the sugar levels after I gave my taste buds a break from sugar. 
  • Giving up alcohol is really easy. 
  • It's not that I crave chai for the sake of chai. It's loneliness (or sickness) that makes me crave chai. 
  • If you cut down on sugar, you automatically cut down on a lot of refined food items (maida, for example). 
  • I need to find ways to keep up my love for baking by finding sugar-free baked recipes, or those with very little sugar. For example, I made wholewheat zucchini bread today (cut down the sugar in the recipe from 1/2 cup to 2 tbsp) and it was still really tasty. 
  • I won't do this challenge again, but my awareness about added sugars is much, much more. 
  • And lastly, the lesson learnt is this -- added sugar is DA ENEMY. Always know its whereabouts, and don't fraternise too much with it. 

Thursday, February 02, 2017

A strange fairy tale

In what is probably the most exciting development in the life of an almost 6-year-old, one of Xena's teeth is shaking.

And so came up the topic of the tooth fairy again. She seems very sceptical about Santa now ("Mama, are you sure it was Santa who gave this to me, and not you? How does Santa know I like dinosaurs?"), but she still believes in the tooth fairy, from what she has read in books and heard from her 'seniors' who have already had 'visits'.

"Will the tooth fairy come when this falls?" She said, tugging at her tooth.

"Yes, she might. If you're good."

"XYZ in my class said that the tooth fairy will take the tooth and leave me a gift."

"Well, she will give you whatever she wants to give."

(Seriously? A gift for each fallen tooth? This 'tooth fairy' sure found it excessive.)

"Like what?"

"Erm, she might leave you a dollar coin for each tooth."

(I have no idea what the current 'going rate' is, but my plan is to leave a dollar for each tooth, so Xena can learn a thing or two about patience and savings.)

"What will I do with the coins?"

"You will collect them all and at the end you will have twenty dollars! You can use it to buy something you want."

She agreed readily. We have 'Konmari'ed' her enough to make her uninterested in too many material items. In fact, she's constantly worried that her room will get too messy if there are too many things, and keeps donating her toys away when they start to pile up too much.

"Mama... can the tooth fairy not take my teeth? I want to keep them. It's ok if she doesn't give me the coins."

"Err... possible. Maybe you can write her a note requesting her not to take your teeth? She might still leave you the coin though."

"She will read my note?"

"Yeah, just keep it right next to the tooth under your pillow."

"But how will she reply? I will be sleeping."

"She will write you a reply on your note itself."

"What will she write?"

["Noted with thanks" was what came to my mind.]

"She will tell you if she's ok with your request."

"But does she have a pen?"


"Fairies have wands. Can she write with her wand?"

"I don't know. Can she?"

"Maybe not..."

"Well, she can borrow a pen from your desk." I suggested.

"That's a great idea, Mama!"

"Okay, all set then."

"But Mama..." she started, her brow furrowed, and I knew immediately that she was about to express her most important concern about this whole tooth fairy business.

"Will she put the pen back in its place after using it?"