By Meher Castelino
Here, an inspiring account of someone who slid into ill-health but doggedly worked her way back
I have always been very health-conscious. Having been in the fashion business and a model, I made an effort to exercise and stay in good shape. I was a fan of the latest diets created and have tried nearly all of them, right from the Beverley Hills Diet (too sweet with mainly fruits for 42 days, which forced me to sprinkle chilly powder and salt on grapes!), then onto the one week cabbage diet (so monotonous), and the all-protein diet (but I missed my crabs!) and even The Zone Diet (I couldn’t figure it out). I did the Fit for Life diet too, as well as Food for Life, which advocated vegan food.
The positive thing after hearing a talk on vegan food by Dr Neal Bernard. MD, was that I stopped eating meat six years ago because I realized putting dead things in my body was not doing me or my backaches any good, though I must confess I haven’t been able to give up fish which is also considered dead food.
I tried the medicines of some of the dieticians but it was mainly a temporary weight loss and the kilos returned as soon as I stopped them. I knew the best thing for a fit healthy body is sensible eating and regular exercises but with continuous travel in and out of India, my programmers were always in disarray. Besides, when traveling to exotic places, it was difficult to control my taste buds. Being quite a foodie, I had a weakness for everything ‘bad’ which included chocolates, biryanis and pulaos, potatoes in any form, desserts of just about every kind, soft drinks, juices, ice-cream, cakes, and, of course, my pet addiction – cheese, bread and butter.
With such an uncontrollable palate, it was a wonder I was not waddling through life. However, after menopause, the battle of the bulge turned into a major war, which I was steadily losing. Inches and pounds slowly piled up and even the occasional workout was put off for a tomorrow which never came.
In May 2006, I was in the USA visiting my daughter for her graduation. It was a time for celebration, feasting and relaxing. My meals started with cream cheese for breakfast, lunch, and at times dinner, as well as lots of cookies and chocolates, ice-creams, and some heavy dinners with prawns and lobsters. I was always feeling sleepy and out of breath even after a short walk, from all the heavy foods I was eating.
I returned to Mumbai and suddenly, one night in June a funny sensation gripped me. A creeping feeling rose from my stomach and ended in my chest. My left arm was paining and I panicked. Was I heading for something serious?
I called my friendly neighbor, Dr Meenal Shah, who took my pressure and assured me things were normal but she suggested that since I was anxious, I should come the following day for an ECG and then go for a complete blood and urine test as well as thyroid check. Next morning, minus breakfast, I was at the clinic. The ECG was perfect, so off I went for the remaining tests.
Two days later, the reports came. The good news was that the thyroid was normal but the ‘not so good news’ was borderline diabetes with high cholesterol of 281 and a fasting sugar of 112. Is there a history of diabetes in your family, Dr Meenal queried. Sheepishly, I told her that the history went back four generations on my mother’s side, but since my father did not have it, I thought I was invincible. Surprisingly, my cousins Mahrukh and Filly Cama, who are graphologists, had warned me three years ago, while reading my handwriting, that I was heading for diabetes. Having ignored their predictions, the news was like a bolt of lightning, now.
Dr Meenal, however, suggested a natural method of cure for both problems. She drew up a diet chart with ‘banned’ foods. They were everything white – milk, and its products, rice (brown permitted), flour, sugar, no ghee or oils (but olive oil is fine), potatoes, eggs (white allowed), sweets, chocolates, cheese of all kinds, all shell fish, bananas, mangoes, grapes, chikoos, wheat, bread.
Surprisingly, my good cholesterol was quite high (all those occasional bouts of exercise had helped!).
Dr Meenal recommended walking for 30-45 minutes daily and asked me to report back after a month.
Back home from July 1, 2006, I decided to change my lifestyle forever. I started with a ten-minute walk, then moved onto 20 minutes and then onto one hour of Jane Fonda’s aerobic workout followed by yoga.
My diet changed to vegetables cooked in olive oil, dals and chapattis made of bajra, jowar or nachni and occasional pomfret or egg white omelet and a complete stop to sweets. My tea changed to either green or camomile, thus eliminating milk and sugar. My sweet tooth was gratified with apples (very good for cholesterol check), papaya, citrus fruits and jamuns. For someone who is crazy about cheese and chocolates, it required all my will power to stay away from them, even though my fridge was full of them.
My friends gave me useful home remedies, which I started at once. One teaspoon of methi seeds in half cup of water and one raw bhindi chopped and soaked in half cup of water, both overnight and then drunk and eaten first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. I was also recommended half teaspoon of jamun and karela powder every day which I got from Kalidas in Pune. I added on raw lauki juice every morning an hour after I got up, and then a little later followed it with papaya or apples. I was told to increase my calcium intake, but I did not want to increase my Shelcal dose of 500 mg; so added on a tablespoon of white sesame seeds.
I met my ayurvedic doctor from Ayushakti who put me on some natural herbal medicine.
By the first week I had lost 3 kgs, thanks to the absence of sweets which make one retain water. By the end of one month I was down 5 kgs and my test showed fasting sugar of 99 and cholesterol down to 218. Dr Meenal was thrilled and said I could now occasionally indulge in my weaknesses. Four months later, I was down 10 kgs and two sizes in my clothes.
Whenever I am hungry for snacks, I have popcorn (minus butter) or puffed rice. It’s not as though I don’t break my diet. I traveled to Bangkok, Germany and Italy in the last six months and automatically ate foods that were meant for me. I had to have an occasional pasta or cheese in Italy or Germany, but I topped it with lots of fruits, and vegetables. I now carry diet khakras and chaklies wherever I go and have them when I don’t get the right kind of foods. I don’t starve when I am hungry; I always eat a hearty full meal.
I am continuing with my home remedies since they are good and healthy. I am wearing all the clothes I had put aside, for when I lose weight. I feel lighter, more active and I do not miss a day’s workout. It’s now seven days a week because when I am traveling, I may have to give it a miss. I realize that there is no gain without pain.
The yoga asanas I do are not only for my external but also internal well-being. I attended some of Yoga Acharya, Shameem Akthar’s, informative and interesting workshops and learnt asanas for weight loss as well as holistic improvements.
I am now looking at a new lifestyle for myself which involves sensible healthy eating and exercising so that the body is kept fit and strong. For good health and weight loss there is no short cut. The jolt I got that night in June 2006 was a Godsent turning point in my life for the better.
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