By Naini Setalvad
I have always been fascinated by food, every aspect of it, and this leads me to do extensive research on the subject.
After all, I have had first-hand experience of the detrimental effects of wrong eating. For 22 years, from 10 to 32, I simply lived to eat, gorging endlessly on wrong food. The result? The transformation of a trim child to a fat teenager who went on to become an obese adult weighing 160 kilos!
Then I took charge of my diet, threw out the old habits, made healthier choices, and lo and behold, I became a brand new person altogether. It’s a cosmic law that one must remember each day and at each meal. You want to become healthier, eat healthy food. It is what you do consistently that controls your destiny. If we can maintain excellent eating habits then we have truly achieved something extraordinary. Consistency is the key, not strict discipline.
I think of food, dream of food, and write about food. I have a simple philosophy – only if it grows, drink and eat it, otherwise forget it. Remember, aerated drinks, packed foods, and biscuits do not grow on trees. Eat fresh food, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, steamed and lightly sautéd in minimum fat.
Fifty per cent of the food I eat is raw, such as fruits, dry fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. The remaining 50 per cent consists of cooked vegetables, roots, whole grains, organic extra virgin cold-pressed sesame oil and olive oil. I also take vitamin B supplements. Occasionally, I add dairy products, and I have a sweet after every meal. Most times, it is made from jaggery or dry fruits with cocoa, nuts and seeds. Often, it is chocolate, dark preferably.
My day starts anytime between 5 and 5.30 am. It was not always so. Ten years back it began at 9.30 am at the earliest, and I was never actually awake without my daily caffeine and sugar fix.
Now I get up, stretch in the bed, and thank God for all that He has given me. I listen to the chirping birds, have a drink of water, and do deep breathing and some yoga. Sometimes, I write affirmations, have hand-churned wheat grass juice and then go for a walk outdoors.
Breakfast consists of fruits, prunes and dates, coconut water, and green chutney with lots of tomatoes. Then I light candles, put on some music, normally chants, and am at my work table at 8.30 am. In between, I have vegetable juice, occasionally nibbling on nuts or kurmura. Lunch is anytime between 1 and 2 pm, always starting with a salad. Vegetables, sprouts, roti or brown rice cooked in extra virgin olive oil or sesame oil, are a regular part of my meal. Sometimes, I use sesame seeds as salad dressing.
I write in the afternoon, sometimes soak up the sun, occasionally dozing off. In the evenings, I am out with friends, walking, taking in a concert, or maybe just vegetable shopping. Occasionally I dine out. Dinner time is between 7 pm and 7.30 pm. Salads, soup, potato, sweet potato, yam, chilla, patra, brown rice and dosa are some of my favourites. Thai, Lebanese, Konkani, Mexican, Chinese and Indian are my favourite cuisines. I like to end my meal with something hot, and complete it with a sweet. Sometimes, if I can manage it, I go for a swim in the evenings. I love dancing too, but the places are too smoky so I opt out. When thirsty, I drink herbal infusions, fruit smoothies and lemon water. I go to bed between 10.30 and 11.30 pm, sleep soundly, and wake up without an alarm.
White flour, aerated drinks and fried food have no place in my diet. Earlier, I was madly addicted to deep fried, sugary and junk food. As I grew older, cocktails and mocktails became an addiction, and if I didn’t get it, I would throw a massive temper tantrum or a crying spell that distressed everyone around. Cold, constipation, cough allergies and elevated blood pressure were constant companions.
But all said and done, the change is not as easy as it sounds. One cannot change someone else’s habits by merely lecturing to them, or even admonishing them. That never works. Gentle persuasion is better. Begin by making small simple changes and make sure you enjoy the process of cooking and eating. A new diet with unfamiliar foods will only cause mental distress, and leave you feeling unhappy and frustrated. Stick to the old and familiar ones, eliminating the harmful ingredients and substituting it with healthier choices. It may not be easy in the beginning, but the result is well worth it.
Naini Setalvad is an obesity and health food consultant, columnist for leading news papers, and conducts workshops on healthy eating.
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