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Before a feast goes to your hips, reach for the thesaurus

Every year before the holiday season, I go into a minor panic about how to control my food intake.

Nowadays, over lunch and dinner, I make my husband repeat a litany of compliments.

"You look beautiful, my darling," he tells me as I fork in some rice and vegetables. "The broccoli in particular makes your skin glow like the surface of the moon."

And then he loses interest and says, more in character, "Yada yada yada … you know what I mean."

This isn't some new form of torture that I have invented and implemented on my husband. By showering me with compliments he is, in fact, playing the role of supportive spouse. He is helping his wife steer through some clear and present danger.

I speak now, of course, of Deepavali (that's the correct Sanskrit spelling, unlike the anglicised "Diwali"), India's largest holiday, which occurs tomorrow.

Deepavali represents the sum of all my fears, because it - like every other holiday or festival - involves prayer, community, family and, above all, feasting - on highly calorific, ghee-laden sweets.

Every year before the holiday season, I go into a minor panic about how to control my food intake.

I make wild, grandiose resolutions - stop eating dinner, eat only raw food, drink two spoonfuls of virgin coconut oil in the morning - all in the hope of controlling my weight, even losing some.

But these resolutions don't last for more than a day or two.

Finally, I decided to go to the root cause of it all: my discipline or lack thereof.

Thanks to my Dad, I have been blessed with a high metabolism. Growing up in India, I was one of those super-skinny girls everyone pitied. "Oh, poor thing, she looks like a scarecrow," my aunts would say. "Give her raw eggs beaten with some milk every morning. That will round her out a bit," they would advise my mother, who would faithfully follow all their recipes.

Have you ever drunk raw eggs with milk for days on end? If so, you'll know my pain.

Of course, my mother needn't have worried. Age caught up with me. These days, it has rounded me out as my aunts wanted. Nowadays, I have the same problem that everyone does: how to lose weight.

But this year, unlike every other year, I have a plan, which came after I read a book called Willpower. In it, authors Roy Baumeister and John Tierney describe how "ego depletion", or feeling bad about yourself, can cause you to lose your willpower and thereby indulge in a frenzy of chocolates at midnight or pastries by the dining table. Physical tiredness can do the same thing, the book says.

Late in the evening, after an exhausting day, it is harder to resist the clarion call of a triple scoop of ice cream. To resist temptation, you have to be fit and energetic, to feel good about yourself.

I decided to tackle the second component first. Since I am a rather shallow person who depends on the external world for validation, I decided to nab the nearest sucker to conduct this experiment. Ergo, the continual compliments from my spouse.

Since the mate in question is of the strong, silent ilk, I typed out a four-page list of compliments that he merely needed to memorise and spit out.

"I cannot believe how much discipline you have," is one. Variations of "you look beautiful" comprised the bulk of the first page. To write this page, I merely looked in the thesaurus for synonyms of the word beautiful: appealing, ravishing, gorgeous, cute, pretty, resplendent, foxy and, my personal favourite, pulchritudinous. "Honey, you look pulchritudinous."

After four days of listening to my husband's mantras, I can tell you that I feel good. Yeah, I feel good.

Really. That's not a chocolate in my hand - at midnight. It's a date shaped to look like a chocolate. Yes, there's a whole box of them. I've built up so much self confidence that I decided I deserve them.


Shoba Narayan is the author of Return to India: a memoir

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