x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Modern addictions are holding us all back, but can we live without them?

Chairs, sugar and mobile phones are all addictions that affect our lives. Shoba Narayan asks which one is the worst or the most difficult to give up.

Recently, a friend asked me an interesting question: “Which would be the hardest addiction for humankind to shrug off? Sugar, chairs or mobile devices?”

My instinctive answer was mobile devices, but that may just describe my addiction. As the recently released documentary Fed Up, points out, very few things can rival sugar as a “weapon of mass destruction”, as one review says. The documentary, which has garnered good press, takes a hard-hitting look at how sugar and processed foods have permeated diets globally.

As countries get richer, sugar intake doubles, People eat more processed food and the odds of getting type 2 diabetes increase. Even exercising is not enough to stave this off, according to the documentary. What really needs to happen is a return to the way of eating as practised by our parents and grandparents. To paraphrase author Michael Pollan, we should eat whole foods, mostly vegetables, in small quantities.

Perhaps you eat well already and therefore sugar is not so much part of your doomsday scenario.

But what about where you work? How do you work? If you are like many of the readers of this newspaper, you probably spend long hours in front of a computer. I do. It didn’t occur to me that the chair I was sitting on was the source of my back problems. It took several visits to an orthopaedic surgeon and an acupuncturist for me to realise that I had to change my work patterns; hence my proclamation that the second villain of the modern age is the simple chair.

Anthropologists say that the human body is made for standing and walking, not sitting. We sit far too much and for far too long. So, how do we incorporate standing and walking into our lives?

Some Silicon Valley executives work using an “air desk,” which is a stand that allows you to type on your laptop while walking or running on a treadmill. Others use standing desks and still others walk while talking on the phone. The late Apple chief executive, Steve Jobs, was famous for his walking meetings, where he would discuss business issues with co­workers while taking a walk.

I have switched to sitting on a large pink ball, and this forces me to stand up every now and then. Your solution might be to get or borrow an uncomfortable chair at your workplace so that you are forced to get up.

The third enemy that I want to target is mobile devices. In this, too, some of us are better than others. I know someone who returns from work, puts his mobile phone in his office briefcase and doesn’t touch it until he gets to work the next morning.

I find that I cannot go 10 minutes without checking my smart phone. I have numerous apps on it, which make me all the more attached to it. Recently, I downloaded an app that tracks the number of steps I take. The problem is that I have to wear the phone on my body in order for it to do that. I’ve ended up wearing a messenger bag all day and placing my phone into that, so that it can track my steps. The target is 10,000 steps a day. I usually get to about 4,000.

While most people talk about being addicted to surfing the web or checking their Twitter feed, I find that I can get off social media networks with relative ease. I usually ask my daughter to change my Facebook password and not tell me the new one. This prevents me from entering the site without having to deactivate my account.

Surprisingly, I’ve found that I don’t miss Facebook – but my mobile phone is a different animal altogether. I check email, messages and news items, read downloaded books and listen to music on it. Cutting that umbilical cord is going to be much harder. Does anybody have any suggestions?

Shoba Narayan is the author of Return to India: A Memoir