Diwali is over, as is Bhaiyya Dooj (or Bhai Phota, depending on where you’re from). The card sessions have ended. The Dussehra celebrations of October are almost forgotten. The parties have dried up, even the memory of the fun celebrations is already fading. If any reminder lingers, it’s an unhappy one—in the form of extra kilos perched somewhere on the body. For some, it’s an enhanced waist; for others, the weight is stuck at the chest or has slithered down to the hips. Strangers may not notice, but you know it’s there when you’re zipping up your pant or struggling to do up your choli.
How did it happen, you ask yourself? You ate dinner at home before you went out to party. You were careful not to drink—too much. You shunned the fried snacks. So how? It’s true; you did do all that. You also turned a blind eye to the dry fruit offerings by colleagues at office, and (mostly) stayed clear of the buffet table at Diwali parties.
But when left alone with boxes of assorted chocolates and plates of kaju katli, didn’t you go berserk—just a little? At night, on your way to bed after a card party, opening the fridge door to get a bottle of water, didn’t you catch sight of a bowl of gulab jamuns or pantuas and stuff a few into your mouth? And having done it one night, and enjoyed the experience hugely, didn’t you repeat the process every night henceforth?
No one is blaming you. We all did much the same. We do it every year.
I’ve often wondered why. I’m rarely tempted by the toffees that shops and hotels keep on their counters to keep people entertained (or is it distracted?) as they do their accounts. Nor do I buy sweets to eat by myself at home; I prefer my calories to come from peanut butter, cheese and coconut milk smoothies. I drink my tea and coffee without sugar. And yet come festival time, I’m gorging on sweets as if they’re going out of fashion.
Why are festival goodies so hard to resist—even for people who tend to eat healthy normally? Apparently, it’s a mix of factors. For one, sugar activates reward circuits in the brain, much like cocaine. Our taste buds, gut and brain all sit up and take notice; our dopamine levels spike and we crave more, much more.
Second, most mithais are a mix of sugar, fat and salt; which are all tasty enough on their own but irresistible when they come together. Third, and I believe this is really what gets us, gorging at festivals is about happiness rather than hunger. Research shows people consume more calories when watching a happy film than a sad one, and festivals certainly outdo movie outings on the hierarchy of joy.
Besides, most of the treats that come around at holidays are traditional ones. They are items that we’ve grown up eating. If one sniff of Kesar Rabari can lead to culinary time travel, transporting us back to fun-filled times, imagine what many, many bites can do. Isn’t a little flab around the waist a small price to pay for such surges of delight?