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What is most poignant about our pandemic is the way people have demonstrated how dearly they wish to live. You would never guess this from the way they eat. Or, even how they live in other ways.

I do not believe people can be held responsible for their untimely deaths. I say this because it is the decent thing to say, and I have grown to accept that decent statements have some truths hidden inside them. But what is hard to argue against is the idea that if we are healthy we have a better chance of surviving bad luck and the transient pandemics of our times. So, here I have collected the best health wisdom I have read or heard, or observed first hand, or deciphered in ways that I cannot reveal to you, and also the health epiphanies that transformed me:

One: If you are making a list of health insights, try keeping diet for the last. People hate reading truths about food.

Two: Austerity is not an imitation of poverty. Austerity is usually expensive.

Three: Culture is a sugar-delivery device.

Four: So is your mother. Also, just because your mother has cooked a meal, it does not mean it won’t harm you.

Five: A market is a democracy voted in by a majority. A majority is usually wrong about health (and everything else). So the unhealthiest things are also the cheapest.

Six: Everything the Indian government subsidizes in your diet can potentially give you a heart attack.

Seven: If you rate yourself as unfit and a piece of health advice makes you happy, then it is probably bad advice.

Eight: We live in an age where people are mollycoddled in matters of health. This is odd. The world has severe standards for everything else—for marriage, love, beauty, career and wealth. But when it comes to health, it lowers the bar out of compassion. But health is hard work; we need to push a bit, or maybe a lot.

Nine: The expectation that every meal has to be tasty diminishes the very idea of joy. We should make the tasty meal a rare joy. Remember, the reason the world is in such awe of sex is how infrequent it is.

Ten: Quit grains and sugar.

Eleven: Moderation does not work. At the heart of the fact that most of the world is unfit is not excess, but moderation. Moderation is excess in austere camouflage. It is too ambiguous a measure. Also, even small quantities of sugar and maida can destroy some bodies. Any cigarette addict will tell you the idea that moderation leads to abstinence is mistaken. The correct order is the inverse. Abstinence should come first, and then a meaningful moderation, if at all it is required.

Twelve: Male doctors often do not take seriously the complaints of women about skeletomuscular pain. This may be why ‘Fibromyalgia’ and the general use of the term ‘allergies’ seem like secret codes among male doctors for delusions in their patients, or mild depression.

Thirteen: On the other hand, many people are hurt when they are told that they might be imagining their pains. An imagined pain does not make it non-existent. Accepting its true nature might even be the first step towards getting rid of it.

Fourteen: People tend to overrate what they are good at. The flexible tend to think yoga is the answer to everything. People who can run long distances think cardio is. And those who can develop muscles fast have their own theories, in which they are the main cast. This is a competency trap. As in most aspects of life, success does not emerge from a single talent, but a combination of at least two talents.

Fifteen: There is no such thing as discipline. There is only the tic. It is defamed, but the only way people can perform difficult routines for years is because of a tic, or an obsessive compulsive disorder, or a mild character flaw, like vanity. We must identify and secretly nourish and cherish all our mild disorders. Virtues are overrated in self-improvement. Flaws alone will take us far. Discipline is merely a reputable name given to a vast collection of private procedures.

Sixteen: A useless thing the world tells you is that you must ‘get good sleep’. That’s like saying, ‘you must live well’. How to achieve it is what the whole world wants to know. Sound sleep is a talent. This means most people do not possess it. They should just succumb to their circumstances. If you wake up in the middle of the night, don’t fight it. Just read, talk (to a person who is awake), while away the wakefulness, and then go back to sleep. I have read that this was how the pre-industrial age world was, and I am inclined to believe that.

Seventeen: Many people breathe through their mouths when they sleep. This causes the erosion of enamel, and also bad breath, which are minor consequences compared to another thing that it may cause—sleep apnea, an obstruction in mouth-breathing when soft tissues block the throat. This also causes loud snoring. The idea that snoring and sleep apnea occur only to the overweight is plain wrong. In fact, many healthy people may not even realize why they have poor sleep—they are aroused by their own sounds that they cannot recognize, or are sometimes strangled by their own throats.

One solution is to tape your mouth with a soft paper tape, and then go to sleep. You will then breath through your nose. This will take some getting used to, and you may look a little weird.

Eighteen: Sleep alone.

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