Please, I'm flabulous
I’ve done it all. Atkins, Cabbage Soup, Macro and the silly egg diet; the latter had me downing up to eight tasteless, boiled eggs a day. What these diets had in common were how short they lasted. A bowl of spaghetti cacio e pepe with copious shavings of Pecorino Romano (and a glass of Chianti Classico, please) would always win out in the end. It comes as no surprise that my weight yo-yoed over the years. Nothing, however, weighed me down more than my obsession to be thin.
Joining the publishing industry was a dream come true for me, yet it presented an additional hurdle. The numerous work engagements aside, my social circle narrowed to those in the same line. I couldn’t risk whispering the word “diet” for fear of being sneered at. I was spreading word of how amazing a restaurant was, but, internally, I was filled with crushing guilt. It went beyond gaining a few pounds or having to give up wearing those bodycon dresses the Kardashians can’t seem to leave the house without. Adding calories in my body made me feel like I had done something wrong; something to be punished for. Ironically, I’d indulge even more to bury my unease. It was a vicious cycle. I needed a way out.
Old habits die hard. I jumped onto another fad diet. Intermittent fasting sounds easy. Fast for 16 hours a day – including eight hours of sleep – and eat as usual during the eighthour eating window. Erin Wathen, author of Why Can’t I Stick To My Diet, suggests that its efficiency boils down to our body not having to constantly process food and using stored fats as an energy source. A thinner physique and a more focused, energetic mind just by skipping breakfast? And, if Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson swears by it, who am I to say no?
No research online, however, prepared me for the hunger pangs. Singapore’s foodie culture wasn’t helping either. I could barely get through the day without a whiff of shallot oil, splashed onto freshly steamed chee cheong fun, or the enthusiastic slurping of fish ball noodles, with extra lard on the side.
The silver lining? It worked. Three months in, I shed an estimated three kilograms. Even as I was moving from one restaurant menu to the other, I was keeping the weight off. My energy levels were at an all-time high. No longer bogged down by food comas, I was ready to hit the gym at 7am. I felt amazing. I've regained control over my body. I thought I would be able to shed the remaining kilos.
Then, I hit a wall. My weight remained the same or, worst, went up. Wretchedly, my flabby self isn’t one to throw in the towel that easily. I increased my fast to 18 or 20 hours while squeezing the most out of my gym membership – to no avail. I was crushed. I started scrutinising what I ate – no carbs, and only white meat and greens – and skipped dinner. It moved the scale down a miniscule 250g, but no aspiring epicurean could feel happy doing this. I was waving goodbye to the dreamy burst of sweet and sour in a balsamic strawberry donut, and an unctuous, well-marbled steak.
Was it worth it? I wasn’t sure. I had unwittingly hinged my happiness on the unforgiving number that appeared on my weighing scale every morning. And I couldn’t stop.
Perhaps, it was serendipity. I took a solo week-long trip to Sydney. The city's gastronomic offerings, from its fine dining restaurants to up-and-coming bars, were enticing; reservations for Matt Lindsay’s ester and Cory Campbell’s Bea Restaurant were made way before my arrival.
I had no one to split my meals with and I couldn't ask Campbell to prepare smaller portions because of my tighter jeans. (It would been funny to watch his reaction to my request.)
Strangely, I felt fine. There was no obsessing over the calories I raked up. Sydney had a different view on food and it infected me. “How could something so delicious be bad for you,” chuckled an old man I happened to share a table and glasses of Pinot Noir with. “It’s all about balance. That crackling’s only bad for you if you eat too much of it.” I didn’t have to change what I ate. I had to change the way I thought about food. Rather than deny and binge, I had to make a conscious decision to enjoy what’s on my plate. It’s not about the amount, but – as cliché as it sounds – the experience. I didn’t have to gorge myself to remember how delightful the tamari butter sauce that drowned Lindsay’s grilled king prawns were, and how he ingeniously used ikura and two-year-old kefir cream for an umami bomb of an appetiser.
I’ll admit. My fraught relationship with food is far from over. I still practise intermittent fasting, albeit with a more carefree attitude. (It's not the end of the world if I eat five minutes before noon.) I shouldn’t let the vague idea of a perfect body stop me from enjoying what brings me joy. When I feel good, I’ll be sure e to look (darn) good as well.