Home >Opinion >Columns >Opinion | The secrets of fitness that no government will tell you

All thin people are alike, as Leo Tolstoy never said, but all fat people are fat in different ways. That is a type of diversity India has finally decided not to celebrate. Never before has a government spoken so much about health, even though the closest any of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ministers has ever come to a convincing yogic pose was once when Suresh Prabhu got into shavasana, and dozed off. But there can be no doubt that when Modi launched the Fit India Movement on Thursday, it was his most moral and intelligent campaign. However, there are many things he could not say:

1) The popular mascot of fitness is a visual of physical activity, but it is a small part of fitness. After people cross early youth their health will be decided mostly by what they eat. This is why most amateur long distance runners in India have a paunch.

2) Sugar is evil. Like other forms of evil, it hides in culture, celebration, happiness, and in your mama’s love.

3) Walking is not an exercise if you are not very old. Walking and then drinking chai with a biscuit is not healthy living. It is the same as imbecility.

4) Rusk is junk food.

5) Orange juice is not a health drink. Also, orange juice is not orange.

6) The food industry is largely an unethical industry. All “healthy" breads are, for all practical reasons, sugar. “Brown" bread is mostly maida, which is sugar, mixed with a brown colouring agent.

7) Also, technically, bread is foam.

8) In India, if you add fructose to your food product instead of sucrose, you can legally claim, “No Added Sugar". Fructose is not only sugar but worse than sucrose.

9) Moderation is a foolish idea. It is ambiguous, conciliatory, democratic and sentimental, and often a front to eat what you should not eat. Abstinence has the clarity of clear logic. It gives you direction. It’s like integrity—all or nothing.

10) That “being human" means being flawed has to be a myth first promoted by sugar addicts.

11) Fatness is a type of sorrow. And the true nature of most sorrows is boredom, which people extinguish through the entertainment of eating.

12) Invoking feminism to consume sugar is not feminism; it is called eating.

13) It is not a bad idea to be an ascetic six days a week and feast like a fool on one day.

14) People who perform intense physical exercise usually do so not to lose weight, but because they love sports or are addicted to oxytocin and other chemicals of joy, which is not conducive for poetry or activism.

15) The body tricks us. It does not wish to work hard. In every sphere of human activity, the body’s message is “this is fine, this is enough". The fitter we are, higher the bar for our body to lie to us.

16) If you perform physical exercise every day you will know that you are not a lazy person. Then when your body asks you not to push it too much, you know it is not laziness speaking but something serious.

17) The food industry is not required to carry warnings for sugar, even though it is as dangerous as tobacco. When some things are condemned and some things are not, people tend to believe that what is not condemned is fine.

18) The problem with health “influencers" is the same that all motivational speakers pose. What they are saying is, “be like us", which is useless advice. Health icons appear to achieve difficult things because their bodies are special or unique, or through madness or other aspects of their personalities that are not easy to imitate. We should find our own secret ways to do the hard things that will keep us fit. For instance, we should use our disorders, fears, joblessness, happiness, anger, vanity, love or adoration of sex to push our bodies harder.

19) There is no such thing as discipline. As this column once argued, most of what is mistaken as discipline is often a public front of very private procedures.

20) The problem with a fitness trend is not that it is a trend. The problem with a trend is in how it is transmitted. When good news travels as fast as bad news, then the force behind the transmission is usually the naive who are new to what they are transmitting. A fitness trend is almost always transmitted by excitable unhealthy people, just as mental peace trends are almost always transmitted by restless minds that make a big deal of mere calm breathing. In time, a trend transmitted by such ambassadors loses credibility, and that is how it becomes a mere trend.

21) Most doctors are unreliable. They don’t know much about fitness. Or they have a low bar for health. If you are not dying, they don’t take you seriously. As a result, most of them say things you should dismiss.

22) I asked Nandita Chakraborty, a highly regarded general practitioner, what the most common misconceptions Indians had about health were. She said: Indians overrate cow’s milk, and “mother’s food"; and they are still covertly ashamed if their children are lean. She also said, “People don’t listen anymore but they do listen to doctors—every general practitioner has 15 minutes of compete attention from another human but they squander it. They don’t say anything transformative or important to their patients. But the ones who mess up the most are parents—they give their children terrible habits."

23) “They f*** you up, your mum and dad. They may not mean to, but they do"—Philip Larkin.

Manu Joseph is a journalist, and a novelist, most recently of ‘Miss Laila, Armed And Dangerous’

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