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Matronly malaise

Patriot speaks to two mothers who became overweight for different reasons — as obesity in the current generation of homemakers is predicted to increase

“My aim used to be to get myself across the 4-metre mark in long jump. It was an exhilarating feeling. I never felt more alive than when I was doing that,” recalls Ritu Arora, a 52-year-old homemaker, talking of the days when she was a high school athlete, representing her school in inter-school competitions in Dehradun.

Arora remembers returning home bruised from field practice on most days. “That’s part of an athlete’s regime. Injuries come and go. The point is to up the game every time you practise. So I was doing just that,” says Arora.

She giggles recalling that time of her life when she weighed only 37 kg and used to “look so fit. School boys used to admire the strength and fitness we girls had at that time.”

As was ‘normal’ in the 1990s and even today, Arora got married at a very early stage of her life. She could have focused on an athletic career —however, that was wishful thinking, and even she knew it.

At the time of marriage, she still weighed 37 kg. Life was running smooth, she was taking the usual diet, which was “eating lots of fruits and taking high protein home-cooked chicken meals. I wanted to remain in that shape. It gave me lots of confidence about myself.”

However, sometimes life doesn’t turn out the way one expects. After a year, when Arora got pregnant with her first child, “Things went crazy.” She started eating more and more and “late night cravings also helped in messing up the older food habits.”

Being in a traditional Indian household, desi ghee was recommended t by her mother-in-law at the time she was pregnant. “She insisted that I drink this weird milk also, which used to have desi ghee poured over it. It tasted awful and must’ve been chockfull of calories.”

However, she had no choice. Although the delivery was normal, the ‘special’ diet didn’t stop and she was persuaded to eat “more and more carbs for the betterment of my health and the child’s. I didn’t ponder over it too much as I weighed 44 kg after the first delivery,” she adds.

She recalls how the relatives used to say “Kitni patli-sukdi si hain abhi bhi. Kya ho gaya hain tujhe?” (You’re still so thin. What happened to you)

“I lost a lot of weight after the first pregnancy. At one point the desi ghee also stopped doing its work,” she chuckles saying this.

Four years later, when she got pregnant with her second child, she gained more than 15 kg. That was the time she started feeling different about her body.

Her second delivery also was normal and her body felt healthy. However, she faced an unplanned pregnancy and decided to go for a medical termination. “It didn’t go fine at all. I was very weak and then suddenly everything I was eating started contributing to my weight,” tells Arora.

With more and more carbs and proteins, her diet was on the right track but “The fat in my body was increasing day by day,” as she puts it. A year after the abortion she weighed around 65 kg.

This was the time when she realised the major changes her body had gone through. Being a homemaker looking after two children, she “did not get enough time to for a walk in the park.”

She now weighs in the bracket of 60-65 kg — the weight is stable but she feels, “My older self is lost. The fitness level and the endurance to walk and even run is all gone. Maybe these are the repercussions of being a mother. But I have no regrets whatsoever,” she concludes.

Arora is one of the many mothers in the country who were once very fit but the joy of motherhood came with its own fallout. According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4) of 2015-16, conducted by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), 33.5% of urban women living in Delhi are “overweight or obese.”

The figure decreases a bit for rural women, standing at 29.2%. Not only this, the survey also states that in urban areas, 14.9% of women have below normal Body Mass Index (BMI).

The survey lists out people having BMI more than 25 kg per square metre as obese. The survey also states that the number of obese people has doubled in the past 10 years.

While Arora had a case of abortion which led to “major changes in my body” with Deepti Roy, it was a silent disease — hypothyroidism.

Roy “was quite healthy and thin” before she had her first delivery. However, with the delivery of her second child, some complications occurred and weight kept on increasing.

After three years, she was diagnosed with hypothyroidism, which she says is hereditary in the family. Her mother also was diagnosed with the same.

Over the years, she has religiously followed a strict diet. However, there was no drop in the weight she was gaining.

While dealing with thyroid, the problem of varicose veins also contributed to her current health status.  Her ankles also get blocked sometimes. So she “avoids going out, especially alone.”

Even after doing many rounds of physiotherapy, it did not help her gain much control over her body movements. So much so that she always needs a person, “even while crossing the street.”

While these two women’s weight problems have a lot to do with an uncalled pregnancy and a disease, diet is an important factor which can save one from coming under the radar of obesity.

Dr Parmeet Kaur, Chief Dietician at AIIMS hospital in Delhi says, “It is the Indian mindset and our diet composition. Our diet is basically made up of carbohydrates — all carbs and fats. As we age, our body composition constitutes more of fat mass and less of lean mass.”

“Our diet is deficient in protein. And as we age, our muscle mass decreases, which makes us unwilling to go for a walk or exercise. So it’s the Indian diet and the mindset and not just the biological factor,” says Dr. Kaur.

Talking specially about the factors in which pregnancy contributes to overweighing or obesity, Dr Kaur says, “It’s again the Indian mindset that generally when women are pregnant, they are told to eat enough for two people. People fail to understand that only 300 calories has to be increased in your diet in this period. A cup of milk or an extra helping can cover that.”

“Instead of that, it’s in our culture to promote desi ghee and other fatty foods. So it’s the culture which needs to be blamed more than anything else. For homemakers, work pressure is so much at home. If one decides to go out, then safety is another issue,” says Dr Kaur.

So what can the Indian mothers do to maintain good health? Dr Kaur says, “They need to go out more and do some physical activity. Avoid snacks like matthi, bhujia and mixtures.”

And what about the modern Indian women becoming homemakers and mothers in 2019, do they take better care of their diet?

“I feel earlier, with the previous generation of mothers, they were at least doing some physical activity at home. But nowadays, you see people ordering more and more food from outside and ready-to-make eatables. There’s more inactivity now.”

Dr Kaur concludes with the sobering thought, “The current generation will have higher rates of overweight and obesity.” And that’s a daunting thought,
especially as lifestyles change drastically.