The Rs 90,000 Diet That Crashed

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It was meant to knock off 20 kilos in 20 weeks, but if the fiscal setback was a shock, so was the physical cost—gnawing hunger, mortifying hairfall and dry skin

Until some years ago, pardon my saying so myself, I had a model’s figure. I didn’t have to do much to maintain my 26 inch waistline. I ate what I wanted and did not put on even a micro-kilo. I was a healthy eater, though not given to overdoing anything. I was even offered a couple of modelling assignments, but it never occurred to me to try them. I could wear anything and look good in it.

The blame for my weight gain lies squarely on an accident. I was badly hurt in a car crash. It took multiple surgeries and left me with a hormonal imbalance. That’s how I began piling on the adipose. I watched myself expand for a while, and then at some point, decided that I’d better intervene. I was going to do something about it. A diet was the first thing that came to my mind. So I set about finding a nutritionist.

There are plenty of them, but deciding on which one took some trouble. How does someone who has never thought about nutritionists really know who is good or bad? I perused advertisements, read celebrity endorsements and pored over books by experts. I finally chose one who has been in the business for some time and earned herself a place on the speed dial of celebrities. She is a regular on the health pages of newspapers and magazines, and if you go to her company’s website, you can count 15 offices in Mumbai. In short, she is one of India’s star nutritionists, known not for dispensing eat-every-two-hour advice, but working around your current diet with items that could easily be available in your kitchen.

With that fond hope, I make an appointment and arrive at her suburban clinic in Mumbai at the promised hour. The waiting area has colourful posters of food and food being relished by shapely women. By way of live presence, it has a few well-known if unsmiling faces. They are squeezed into chairs. I join four other portly bodies awaiting their turn with the nutritionist and flip through a backdated issue of a glamour magazine packed with size-zero women staring glossily at you. Meanwhile, it’s reassuring to see long faces enter and emerge with smiles from the lady’s chamber. I resolve to do better than smile: to actually see my prescribed diet unyieldingly through to the last morsel.

As my turn comes, I begin to shake all over—between me and a shapely figure is just a glass door. The nutri-tionist, seated in a white overjacket across a table loaded with fruits and nuts, is of slight build and therapeutic demeanour. Her hair is streaked blonde, and her deep plum lipstick seems designed to dazzle as she smiles. “The first step to weight loss is seeking the right cure. You have passed that,” she beams, “Your worries are my worries now.”

What I want to pass (on) is information on my condition, but she brushes aside my hormonal imbalance, ascribing my weight gain to “bad eating”.

Next, I am weighed. The scale reports an embarrassing 78 kg. Am I really that fat? My 5ft 8 inch frame slouches a defeatist’s slouch into a cushiony chair. There is a Body Mass Index (BMI) chart lying on the table, and she pulls it out into clear view. After some silent calculations, she announces that I need to lose about 20 kg. I wonder how I had managed to pile on so much.

“It will be a 20-week programme and will work out to Rs 90,000,” she adds, matter-of-factly, “So let’s just start right now.” As if time is either of essence or exclamatory value here. I try to look composed. Before my smile, quivering visibly at the edges, betrays my inner response—rupees ninety thousand, did she say?—I muster the nerve to sign up. She’s an expert, after all.

Satisfied with her acquisition of my worries, she puts down the diet on paper. It will, of course, be changed or tweaked every week. Losing 1 kg a week is compulsory, there is no excuse for not doing so, she says, sounding victorious already. Then comes a rider: I must use only her products—food ingredients, herbal supplements and the like—for my dietary purposes, and no, these are not included in the Rs 90,000 package. Plus, some supplements may need to be bought from chemists as well.

The first week has me drink aloe vera juice on an empty stomach at 6 am, followed by a cup of tea without sugar and one teaspoon of milk. I can eat two Marie biscuits. Then I go for a 45-minute brisk walk, a must-do under all circumstances. At 8.30 am, I eat a tomato-and-cucumber sandwich made of her brand of brown bread. No butter or cheese. A handful of supplements has to be swallowed after every main meal.

On plan, at 11 am, I drink a glass of juice made with five strands each of coriander and mint leaves. Lunch at 1 pm is one roti of wheat bran (her brand), a small bowl of salad and another small bowl of leafy vegetables. At 4.30 pm, it’s time for a handful of soya nuggets (her brand of course). Dinner at 8.30 pm is a bowl of soup.

There is a long list of avoidable food: grapes, chikoos, papaya, mangoes, potatoes and other bulb vegetables, watermelon, musk melon, bananas, sugars, juices, milk, red meat, chocolates, ice-cream and more.

At the end of week one, I am down 1 kg. The constant hunger seems worth it. Thus encouraged, I launch myself into week two. This is the week when my morning sandwich loses a slice of bread (even though it’s her brand), and a single egg’s white replaces the vegetable slices. Tomato and cucumber appear in juiced form to replace the mid morning coriander-mint drink. Lunch is now soup, and the evening snack a handful of peanuts. Last week’s lunch is this week’s dinner. Again, it means 1 kg lost. So far, so good.

The third week has a roti of millet flour and bowl of dal in the diet, even as a handful of black grams makes its debut. Each week, the red and green ‘herbal’ tablets handed out as supplements also change. If one week has big red tablets and round green ones, the next week has different sizes and shapes—what these are and what they achieve, I have no clue. All I know is that I feel hungry all the time. I dream about food. Even the sight of raw vegetables makes my mouth water. But since it’s working, I urge myself to carry on.

There seems to be a replacement at the clinic too—a curvy lady in place of the nutritionist who has taken charge of my worries. “Madam does the initial consultations, and then we take over,” she says cheerily, “You can speak to her if there is any problem.” Every week, she routinely asks if I’ve suffered any hair fall. I routinely say ‘no’. On the fifth week, she finally gets the answer she’s looking for. “Yes,” I reply, “my hair is falling.”

At first, I lose only a few strands, a first-ever experience for someone who’s nurtured her hair like a good Keralite. But then, the pace picks up, and by the 10th week, it’s in freefall. As much as touching my hair is enough to let a few follicles loose. My comb becomes a source of fear. My hair turns dry, and my scalp itchy. Miserable, I am forced to coil my hair at the nape of my neck.

As my misery worsens, my skin too starts looking dry and pinched. My waistline is looking decidedly narrower, but the rest of me is unmitigably unhappy. My energy levels are low and I tire easily. My joints have little to offer but pain. Enough is enough. I can’t take it anymore… but the nutritionist with my worries insists that I persevere. She prescribes over-the-counter pills to combat the hair loss and bad skin. But I am in no mood to have her take charge of an ever-multiplying litany of worries.

I give up in the tenth week, resorting to idlis as relief. All in all, I have spent over Rs 1 lakh on the diet. But quitting gives me back my skin and keeps my hair in place. My waistline has bulged a little bit since, but I’d much rather be happier in my own body than in the mirror.