Oct 24, 2021

Book Review: Salt Sugar Fat: How the food giants hooked us by Michael Moss

Salt Sugar Fat by Michael Moss

Having been researching packaged foods and their ingredients for the past 5+ years, this book was meant to come to my attention one way or another. Thanks to a friend, I came across this book "Salt Sugar Fat: How the food giants hooked us" a few months back and I knew I had to read it to understand the history and evolution of processed foods in the US. 

The book is divided into three sections - a section each for Salt, Sugar, and Fat - the three essential pillars of processed foods. It has been a fascinating and eye-opening read with multiple takeaways. I stumbled upon many new terminologies - bliss point, sensory-specific satiety, vanishing calorie density, stomach share, etc. I also learned about the multiple roles of these three ingredients apart from their obvious role of taste. 

The author has taken the effort to go deeper into the two aspects that make processed foods addictive - formulation and marketing. He has provided multiple examples and case studies that reiterate the importance of these two aspects.

My main motivation to read this book was to gather some insights on how the product and marketing strategy of processed food manufacturers would play out in India in the near future. The anti-obesity campaign, the related regulations, and pressure from different groups kicked off sometime in the 1980s in the United States. We are still quite far from that stage in India. In the next few years, we might see a proliferation of new product categories - frozen pizzas, more cheese-based snacks, meal replacement drinks, etc.

The narrative of this book follows a documentary style of writing, that does tend to become a little dragging at times. Nevertheless, it helps to unravel a lot more behind-the-scenes details that are involved in the research, design, manufacturing, and marketing of processed foods. The not-so-surprising fact that gets reiterated is that almost all those who are involved in these different departments of processed food companies never bother to include their creations in their diets. It is only us, convenience-seeking consumers who become scapegoats in this large-scale collaboration and experimentation of food and pharma companies. 

Do pick up this book if you are interested to know more about food science and the history of processed foods. The context is set in the US though. For someone like me who has never lived in the US, I wasn't able to *get* the finer details about the big brands.

Oct 4, 2021

Book Review: The subtle art of not giving a f*ck by Mark Manson

 For the past couple of years, I have been reading Mark Manson's blog and his newsletter regularly. His content resonates with me at a deeper level - harsh, hard-hitting truths with no beating around the bush. His article "The attention diet" was so thought-provoking.

His books have been on my reading list for quite some time. As I keep reiterating, a book comes to you at the right time when you are ready to receive its contents. There couldn't have been a better time than now to read his book "The subtle art of not giving a f*ck".

I found answers to many questions that I had been grappling with, in this book.

I have heard of this statement "You are responsible for everything that happens in your life" in multiple forums. I could never come to terms with the explanations I heard in the past. Thanks to Mark Manson, I understood the true essence of this statement, and boy, it gave me goosebumps. I shall write an elaborate post on this soon.

The writing style is casual, easy to read, yet speaks about deeper issues in such powerful language, leaving the reader a lot to munch on.

My highlighter was used to the fullest, as I was underlining pretty much the entire book🙂 It is hard to pick 5-6 favorite passages, but let me give it a try:

"Finding something important and meaningful in your life is perhaps the most productive use of your time and energy. Because if you don't find that meaningful something, your f*cks will be given to meaningless and frivolous causes."

"Like physical pain, our psychological pain is an indication of something out of equilibrium, some limitation that has been exceeded."

"Negative emotions are a call to action. When you feel them, it's because you are supposed to do something. Positive emotions, on the other hand, are rewards for taking the proper action."

"Technology has solved old economic problems by giving us new psychological problems. The Internet has not just open-sourced information; it has also open-sourced insecurity, self-doubt, and shame."

"The more something threatens your identity, the more you will avoid it"

"Our most radical changes in perspective often happen at the tail end of our worst moments. It's only when we feel intense pain that we're willing to look at our values and question why they seem to be failing us."

"Death is the light by which the shadow of all of life's meaning is measured."

It isn't the usual run-of-the-mill self-development book with the standard template, that makes you feel good. This book will make you uncomfortable, question you at a deeper level, and leave you with a lasting impact. I don't want to spoil the read any further. Pick it up no matter what stage of life you are in.

Sep 16, 2021

How I manage my sweet tooth - 7 Tips

Most of us have this tendency to prefer sweet foods. This is partly due to evolution, partly due to conditioning and our exposure to sweet foods during our childhood.

I'm a person with a sweet tooth as well🙂 Please note that I'm referring to "sweet tooth" in this post and not "sweet cravings". Both these terms are used interchangeably but they are different. I'll talk about the latter in a separate post.

Let me share with you 7 strategies/tips that have helped me manage my sweet tooth.

(1) First and foremost, it is better to acknowledge and accept our preferred tastes. There is nothing wrong or shameful about being a sweet-toothed person.

(2) Once I understood my taste buds, I asked myself, "What are my most preferred sweet foods?". I prefer Indian sweets and desserts the most. So I decided to indulge in my most favorite sweet foods and avoid eating other forms of sweets that I'm not too fond of. I can easily say NO to chocolates, icecreams, pastries, cupcakes, brownies, etc. Whenever we go to an ice cream parlor, I wouldn't order anything for myself while K and D relish their favorite scoops of ice cream. I'd then go to an Indian sweets shop and enjoy a bowl of gulab jamun / rasmalai / jalebi. The strategy is to identify and indulge in your absolute favorites.

(3) Given the easy availability of sweets shop in every nook and corner, it is easy to buy and stock them up at home. I intentionally avoid stocking up boxes of sweets as the temptation will be high when they are visible. The "Out of sight, out of mind" strategy works to control the quantity of sweets intake.

(4) As I'm quite wary about the quality of store-bought sweets, I indulge in them occasionally. I prefer to make most of my favorite sweets at home - kesari, chakkarapongal, payasam, laddoos, etc. Since there is effort involved, I would end up not making them very frequently.

(5) When made at home, I prefer to make small batches and finish them in a day or two. No stocking up big batches. 

(6) I believe in this principle strongly - when we eat matters as much as what we eat. I prefer to eat sweet dishes either in the morning or afternoon. I avoid eating them post 6 PM.

(7) Last but not least, I enjoy my favorite sweets without any guilt. Only when we deny our true preferences, we end up with cravings, cheat days, and binge-eating.

Sep 13, 2021

Thought Dump

I love to jot down thoughts and ideas. Earlier, I used to write them down in a digital note-taking product (Evernote to be precise). I then switched to a paper-based planner/journal sometime in June 2019.

In this post, I want to share a particular journaling technique that I love. The inspiration for this technique came from two sources

  • the amazing productivity bible - David Allen's Getting Things Done book - that I read sometime in 2006, but still relevant in today's digital times
  • from Harry Potter series, Dumbledore's thought bowl - Pensieve

This technique helps if you are someone who feels overwhelmed and being dragged by multiple responsibilities, inspired by new projects, initiatives and ideas, and whose thoughts jump across various spectrums/genres.


I prefer to follow this technique on most mornings (not every day though). Here's what I do:

I sit with my journal and a pen. And I just jot down all thoughts that come one by one in a bullet format - no judgments, no analysis, no going deeper into each thought. The intention is to become aware of each thought and collect all of them into what I call a "thought dump". Meditating with a pen and a paper, if I may call so.

For example, here's a snippet of my "thought dump" from a few days back:

  • Brian Greene books
  • Resilience and research work on this topic in psychology
  • call P and check for opportunities
  • finish making breakfast and lunch before 10 AM
  • Taichi
  • Why am I uncomfortable with uncertainty?
  • What is marketing's responsibility?
  • Vagus nerve - read more about it
  • Filling your cup before you pour to others - what are my needs?

How does this help?

As thoughts get transferred from our minds to a notebook, our minds become free and relaxed.

If we don't address a particular thought/idea, it keeps repeating itself in a loop.

Our minds are not meant for storage.

Thought awareness becomes a conscious practice.

Taking action on those thoughts is the obvious next step. Before we get to that stage, this simple step of collecting our thoughts gives the much-needed freeing up of our minds, especially on days when we feel overwhelmed.

Sep 9, 2021

Mental Wellbeing

 There's a beautiful scene in the movie #Home where the psychologist talks to Oliver about how Antony is influenced by social media. Though some popular reviewers critiqued that scene to be lecture-ish, I just loved it. 

We experience stress when our thoughts, words, and actions are not aligned. Social media influences our thoughts quite a bit. The more people we follow, the greater the effect of that influence. We follow several people, primarily for the sake of inspiration. We get newer ideas and inspirations almost daily. We bookmark some of the ideas for future reference. We try to implement some of the ideas right away - while we might be successful at a few of them, we might also end up not being able to incorporate some of those ideas in our daily lives.

Irrespective of our actions (or inactions), a simple scroll-through of our feed impacts our thoughts in subconscious ways. 

I've always been a strong advocate of this idea - "Don't follow any universal rule when it comes to food. Choose foods according to your body type. Listen to your body". Off late, I've also started emphasizing life situations as a criterion, along with body type. 

For any change we try to incorporate (not just concerning food), our life situations play a critical role. Before we embark on a change, these questions will help us become more aware of our present situation:

- Do I have the right resources?

- Do I have the right mindset?

- Do I need my family support?

- Are they in a position right now to give me the support needed?

- Do I have the mental and physical energies to incorporate this change right now?

Sometimes, though we might have the motivation and inspiration, our life situations may not be favorable towards taking the required action. And when we see people who are talking about the same idea on social media, we feel stressed, sometimes self-critical on why we aren't able to implement the same. Our thoughts and actions are not in sync, which leads to stress.

We get triggered, not only from a space of criticism/negative news/fear/anger, etc. Triggers can also arise from a space of comparisons/aspirations/achievements/gloating etc.

The more I dive deeper into understanding what contributes to my wellness, the more I discover the role of mental wellbeing. Our mind deeply influences our body. So it is up to us to fiercely protect our mind - our thoughts, sources that influence our thoughts, muting/unfollowing such sources that aren't applicable or relevant to our current life situation.

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