Chick LITE


Chick LITE

New Delhi : A slew of diet books has surfaced recently, promising to turn your life around. They are all confessional, glib, endorsed or written by celebs and authored by women.

In the personality market, you haven’t made it, unless you are thin and fit as the result of some fancy diet. You could be a good worker or a happy sort spreading cheer and warmth, but without a diet, your arrival statement is lean. A big portion of “self-esteem”, we are told, comes from a sachet of Splenda, a bowl of cabbage soup or half a slice of non-buttered, brown toast. If you are nuts about nuts, you are blessed. Even if you were once a gluttonous girl or a ravenous cook who gobbled up her own creations, what matters is whether you are dieting at the moment, or not, and whether you can announce it. Quite like the bag on your arm. You may know your wheat from the chaff, you could be on a macrobiotics diet, a champagne diet, a detox diet or on a love-and-fresh-air diet. Whatever. Dieting is a fast-moving currency in women’s locker rooms, at bachelorette parties and fashion weeks. It is also a healthy bite for the publishing industry that seems to spin towards glibly written, confessional accounts.

Almost a decade after India’s fitness fad first began, two movements hungrily swirl around us. The food boom and its equal and opposite resonance: the diet fad. In this tide, Chick Lite is at the top of the charts. A sibling of Chick Lit, it is dished out from a book, is emotional and candid, with witty, easy-to-follow tips, promises to shave off rolls of flesh as well as shoo away our inner demons. It is a fashion statement: it indulges our fussy individuality and like the anti-ageing cream, has a Bollywood star endorsing it. It is female.

Consider these titles; all from the last one year and less. The Four Week Countdown Diet by Namita Jain; Is Wheat Killing You by Ishi Khosla; How To Love Your Body and Get the Body You Love by Yaana Gupta (all Penguin); Women and the Weight Loss Tamasha by Rujuta Diwekar; Thinner Dinner by Shubhra Krishan (both Westland); Confessions of a Serial Dieter by Kalli Purie (HarperCollins), From XS to XL: A Fitness Guru’s Guide to Changing Your Body by Payal Tiwari Gidwani; and The Beauty Diet by Shonali Sabherwal to be launched this week (both Random House).

Some have been authored by regular women, others by trained nutritionists and fitness experts; now there is one by model and actress Yaana Gupta. Her tone quivers as if she were in a confession box with the reader as the priest. “Dear You,” writes Gupta. “I have an eating disorder. Unless you have suffered from an addiction, you may not realise how difficult it was to just write this down. It’s quite huge, I tell you. But it also feels immensely liberating…So let me say it one more time. I have an eating disorder.” After telling you how to love your body, she tells you how to reprogramme your negative thoughts and suggests rituals to fall in love with yourself. This new you, obviously, must be slim.

This is a politically correct flavour of slimness. It must refrain from a screaming match between fat and thin; be defined by good health and survive on a bloated sense of self. “These books are defined by ‘If I can do it, why can’t you?’ or ‘I fell down and picked myself up. So can you’,” explains Prita Maitra, managing editor at Westland, who edited Thinner Dinner. “They deflect the popular trend of obsession with the body, where vanity coexists with health consciousness. A happy approach is combined with demystifying weight loss,” she adds. Others agree. “Readers have an emotional connect with authors of these books because weight loss, dieting and body image are personal issues for everyone. An author who has gone through a similar experience, addresses the same issues and is an expert in the field, creates faith in the reader’s mind to buy and follow the book,” says Vaishali Mathur, senior commissioning editor at Penguin, who edited Four Week Countdown Diet.

It’s no coincidence that all diet books are authored by women, who write them like relationship memoirs and don’t forget to ask their Bollywood clients to endorse their diets. These are then edited like tabloid supplements¯catchy titles, funky illustrations, first-person diary notings and DIY recipes. “Bollywood helps you take your work to the next level by attracting media and all kinds of attention. But I am all for my regular clients to correct their blood and cell structure to cure disease,” says Sabherwal, whose upcoming The Beauty Diet has a foreword by actor Jacqueline Fernandez. On the cover sits Hema Malini with daughter Esha Deol. Sabherwal, a food counsellor, claims she was puffy as a young woman and aggressive as a child besides having other health issues, which disappeared once she corrected her food habits.

The female, first-person temperament of these books helps; they sandwich weight loss between love, loss and joy. All titles are breathless with the increasingly unoriginal phrase “lifestyle change”. But since most writers claim to have been fat foodies not long back, they do evoke shared feelings. Krishan adopts humour as a key ingredient in Thinner Dinner, which packs in more than 50 light, homemade dinners and many catchphrases. “I was always a foodie and overweight, it all led to this,” she admits, adding that the idea was to be chatty and conversational and evoke a fellow feeling among other dieters. She targeted the Eat Lite at Nite concept because “that’s when you are most relaxed and hungry, it’s TV time but that’s when you should eat the lightest.”

Diet books became a big deal with nutritionist Rujuta Diwekar’s first title Don’t Lose Your Mind, Lose Your Weight (Random House) that stoked fandom for Kareena Kapoor’s then size-zero body. Diwekar got the recipe right: eat frequently, never starve, keep a food journal, do some yoga and love yourself.

Love affairs with oneself sell like hot cakes. Diwekar’s first book did more than brisk business. Her second, whose title could actually double as a headline for this story (Women and The Weight Loss Tamasha), became one of the biggest bestsellers of last year; selling more than one lakh copies, according to Westland. Nielsen Bookscan, a division of the global information and measurement company, ascertains the success of diet books. Diwekar’s book sold 35,212 copies; Tiwari’s From XL to XS sold 18,980 copies and Purie’s Confessions of a Serial Dieter, in less than a month of its launch, sold 958 copies till the end of last year.

Chick Lite books may have promise and profit as their me-too goal, yet they have increased food awareness. We know what is a gluten allergy, why wines could enhance puffiness, why fat can’t be totally cast off, why starving damages hair and skin, what words like vegan, organic, dairy, protein diets or processed food mean. Most importantly, why exercise is non-negotiable. Funnily enough, dieting may still remain a zero-sum game. At least that’s what a study of 3,000 people done in the UK by Timex and published last week in Indian newspapers hinted at. Women lied 474 times a year about their diet, it said. “It was only a small portion”, the favourite untruth and one of the nine lies they spoke in a week, was followed by, “I’ll have a big lunch so I won’t eat much after this.”