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Book Review: Cut Out The Flab!

Dr Kamal Mahawar’s second book ‘Fight with Fat’ is a reflection on how culture, social norms, superstitions, and general indifference have combined to make India the home of the third largest obese population in the world and also the diabetes capital of the globe. But since this is primarily a self-help book rather than a scholarly treatise, Dr Mahawar also tells us what we can do as individuals to fight the flab, and to safeguard ourselves against both the aliments.

In his two decades as a consultant general and bariatric surgeon at UK’s Sunderland Royal Hospital and as a visiting professor at the University of Sunderland, the good doctor has seen the obesity epidemic from close quarters, and this fact makes him uniquely qualified to advise us all on how to take on this epidemic.

The author starts off by throwing some shocking statistics at us. He states that about 11% of all men and about 15% of all women in the world are obese, and these figures are soon going to rise to 18% of all men and 21% of all women. Though India is behind the international percentages, in terms of absolute numbers, we are at the forefront. With 3.8% of all Indian men and 4.2% of all Indian women being obese, India is the third most obese country in the world.

Dr Mahawar’s work seeks to disprove the widely held belief that obesity afflicts only the affluent and sedentary segment of society, and takes pain to demonstrate how the changed socio-economic scenario in post-economic-liberalization India offers easy and inexpensive access to junk and processed foods to all strata of modern Indian society. The author stresses that obesity harms not only the self-image but also damages nearly every organ system of the body.

The book tries to educate the reader on the basic concepts of calories, hunger and satiety, and then goes on to offers useful tips on healthy eating and cooking, lifestyle modification, and physical activity. Healthy eating tips range from not eating till we are full, the need to watch liquid calories in our daily cups of tea, cutting down on the accompanying snacks, and switching from bad carbs (sweets, sugary drinks, and even fruit juices) to good carbs (grains, vegetables, and fruits).

When the book moves on to discuss healthy cooking, the author urges us to re-think our traditional ways of cooking. He suggests that instead of frying spices in oil, a better option would be to mix the spice with the tomato puree base, and to cook with as little oil as possible. Dr Mahawar also suggests other healthy cooking options like air frying snacks, and offers some healthy eating tips such as increasing the intake of raw food such as salads. Medical interventions such as obesity pills, bariatric surgery, and liposuction are also discussed in the book. The author does not try to hide the risks associated with these medical procedures, and stresses that developing healthy eating habits would be more sustainable in the long run.

The author lists out the various ailments that obese persons are at higher risk for: diabetes, asthma, hypertension, acidity, gall stones, heart problem, liver problem, and a few types of cancer. He warns the reader not to go on self-prescribed diets, but to consult qualified dieticians before embarking on any form of dieting. Among the author’s tips for promoting healthy living, the best ones recommended are the inclusions of playgrounds in all schools, cycle lanes with all roads, and parks in all neighbourhoods.

Dr Mahawar issues a warning about the negative effects of ‘yo-yo’ dieting, and cautions the readers against trying out any magic pills or quick cures. All throughout, the emphasis is on the importance of maintaining healthy habits since childhood. Snacking is not frowned upon per se, however the snacking that is encouraged is the kind that includes fruits and low-calorie snacks made from vegetarian sources. Snacks based on recipes of sprouts, vegetables, corn, onion, and tomato, says the doctor, can taste good, be very filling, and at the same time are not high on calories.

The author also suggests a number of measures related to the regulation and taxation of fast food, trying to find a political response to what he sees as the epidemic of obesity. It is only when the good doctor tries to venture into a pontification on India’s socio-cultural backwardness that the text seems to lose the plot somewhere.

Throughout the book, the author is diligent in his effort to present scientific concepts in as simple a manner as possible, in order to keep the lay reader hooked. The book provides a lucid explanation of the factors and bodily mechanisms involved in the genesis of obesity, and is peppered with expert commentaries on themes such as weight management, balanced diet, physical exercise, and healthy cooking. The end result is a ready reckoner to those who want to develop their own ‘anti-obesity’ campaign.