Sunday, December 03, 2006

Trim Reality

Have you ever noticed how it's mostly the thin ones that populate gyms? And how it's not them but the fat ones that discuss food and diets and exercise endlessly? And if you put that aside, every month a gym class goes to a buffet and wolfs down whatever's on offer, caramel custard and strawberry gateau included? And what is it with these people who say, "Ah! It's so refreshing, don't you think?"

No, I don't think so. I feel sweaty, smelly, my clothes clinging disgustingly to my back, and a bit weak in the knees, but I must be an exception — all around me people are dousing themselves with deo, changing into their going-out clothes and zipping off to lunch with friends. And what's funnier, there are people who shower ahead of a workout as they don't feel fresh otherwise, but no, they don't need to bathe after.

One of the many aerobic classes I attended had a rather annoying practice: every week, one student had to bring dessert for the whole class. That would be mid-week in the fond hope we could exercise off those calories in the next two days. So class over, Woman of the Week would go to her gym bag and bring out a tub of basundi or chocolate mousse, accompanied by plastic cups and spoons. The dessert would be lovingly ladled into each cup and passed around, while the WotW would proudly recount how she made it, not sparing anyone the gruesome details of cups of sugar, number of eggs and ounces of white flour that went into it.

There's no point in fighting temptation in the face of many classmates who egg you on to go ahead, be a sport and eat it, especially when you've been in their place in more ignorant times, when you've hated your meal companions for delicately pecking at their food and saying they were stuffed after only a few grains went down their gullets. And there's more: "C'mon, it's your turn next week! What will you bring," they ask, as bliss and content suffuse their faces, which they no doubt attribute to the refreshing high that exercise is supposed to give, but which, in all probability, comes from the sugar and velvet sliding down their throat and settling in their belly.

It all boils down to making a choice, is what all these advice and self-help books tell you. If only it was so simple. Recently a friend who had visited Egypt plied us with some lovely, light, flaky baklava. The only choice was to eat it, of course. How many times in our life would we get original Egyptian pastry? Soaked in honey, filled with nuts and full of white flour, it was really the devil at his most alluring. Biting into it while trying to locate a Web site that revealed the calorie count for baklava didn't spoil the fun at all.

Sometimes there are signs from God; sometimes there aren't. One such sign came last week. Yours truly chanced upon a recipe for white chocolate mousse and had assembled everything for it. The gelatine was soaked, the eggs separated, but the microwave, which was supposed to melt the chocolate, burnt it so well within 20 seconds that nothing could be salvaged. But guess what the nice thing about it was? Skipping the extra 20 minutes on the treadmill the next day. And treating yourself to a little cheating, after all, you had to pour all that mousse down the drain. Then on the day you do get it right comes an apologetic call from the gym — the flooring is being changed, so no gym for a few days.

Oh, and one more thing ... Isn't exercising all about stretching the limit a bit? Then why are there so many gym mates (and these are not the thin ones, again, let me tell you) who sagely advise you not to push yourself but only do as much as you can? You just have to get the fat going and it will melt, they say, making it sound as easy as an ice cube in the sun. Well, says a disgruntled friend, she walked and walked at her own pace, the treadmill lost weight, she didn't.

But then, variety is the spice of life. Experiment with every weight loss factoid you read or hear; by the time you're through, you've figured out a few tricks. If not, grin and take it in the right spirit — Fate intends you not to squander away what she has been so generous with.


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