Monday, February 15, 2010

I am a Label Reader!

Grocery shopping takes me a full hour longer than it should. I more often than not return snacks to their shelves before they can find their way to my cart. I deeply ponder over the different variations of a product before picking one. Take bread for instance- there's white, wheat, Italian, potato, rye, whole grain, cinnamon raisin, pumpernickel and the list is endless. It's not all the choice that has me lingering in those aisles minute after confused minute. It's the labels people!

The big friendly "Fat Free" or "Low Fat" that jumps out to greet me is not sufficient for me. Even the simple calorie count will not do. I have to labor over the protein and the potassium, the vitamins and the sodium, carbs, saturated fat, MSG, high fructose corn syrup... I draw mental spreadsheets to compare the options before I "Oh so callously" toss one into my shopping cart, gleeful at having pandered to my OCD. The thirty three different options available for every product only make my mind sharper!

In high school, I used to be your average Indian kid who sat through the last hour of class dreaming about the samosa or the ice cream waiting for me. In fact, the store down the road from school might have stayed afloat just because of my friends and me. Once I went to college however, I stopped playing as much, but didn't stop eating as much. Thanks to my genes, all the junk somehow didn't make its way to my midsection. Then I moved out of home for work and restaurants became my home away from home. One fine day, probably on my way out to lunch, I tried to zip up a pair of jeans from my college days. The pizzas, the dosas and the loads of chaat I had packed in over the months would not fit in. My jeans creaked! That was it. I freaked out! And started cooking for myself. That is when my obsession with nutrition and fitness started and has stuck with me through the years.

Don't mistake me for one of those crazy dieting chicks. I'm eating almost all the time. I even eat junk when I crave it. Like today, I was extremely tempted to grab a bag of cheese curls that tantalized me from the shelf. But one glance at the label, I threw it back in alarm. 170 calories, 120 from fat. I could hear my waistline threatening to become unrecognizable. I ran.

Later in the car, the benefits of my dorky love for nutrition data and all the food literature I've read over the years slowly dawned on me. It gives me the resistance to not give in to the delicious pictures of crinkle cut potato chips floating lightly in the air, or the heavenly cheese oozing out of a slab of lasagne. I've lived borderline sugar free (no substitutes, just no sugar) for the good part of a decade, save the occasional ice cream or dessert. I become ecstatic over tofu and lentils, less for the taste and more for the protein . It has made me a purist of sorts when it comes to fresh food. I grind my own ginger and garlic, although I battle later with soap and scrubber to get the smell off my fingernails. Store-bought pasta sauce is a big no-no for me. Whole grain over processed food any day. I grew up vegetarian and I still am. I give up all those wonderful scrumptious choices at restaurants despite being able to stomach meat and fish. I can eat just a salad or a soup for dinner and not ask "When's the food coming?". At the end of the day, it is this OCD with nutrition that keeps me from undoing all my physical exercise, say, with a stack of Pringles or a warm brownie...

You could call me too technical and geeky, like many of my friends and family do. But you know you've reaped the rewards when you don't hyperventilate and rush to enroll in a gym when your high school reunion looks you in the eye and smiles its smug smile!