Kanchan Pamnani, a solicitor and the co-founder of Health for You Foundation, writes about Naini Setalvad’s passion for spreading awareness about right eating through her [Kanchan’s] trust.
Food is nothing less than religion for human beings. We relish it and use it as a means to please others, win hearts, and spread joy and happiness. However, of late, food has become an obsession with us. Gone are the days when we ate what we wanted, didn’t care about pot-shaped bellies, belched openly to show our appreciation for the food consumed, and napped happily in the afternoon after enjoying a hearty meal.
With less physical labour and an increasingly sedentary lifestyle, more carcinogens in our food through pesticides and hormone infusion, and greater availability of fast food, food has come to be associated with illness, affliction, and addiction. Obesity, lethargy, and depression are a few problems that people experience due to wrong eating. So much so that people need to be educated about what to eat and how to eat in order to stay healthy, increase vitality, and not fall sick because of wrong eating habits. Naini Setalvad, Life Positive’s regular columnist, was so passionate and driven about spreading the knowledge about right eating that she made it her life-purpose to empower people in this area.
A trust for trustworthy food
“My mission is to spread awareness about good eating and the power of Indian food,” says Naini. On seeing her commitment to spreading nutritional awareness, I, along with her late mother, Mrs Kranti Setalvad, set up a trust called the ‘Health For You Foundation,’ of which I was also the first trustee. The trust was registered with the Charity Commission in Mumbai on May 16, 2008.
We appointed Naini as its head to create awareness about food, to prevent, retard, and reverse diseases, and improve performance and mood in academic and non-academic institutes. Naini was a perfect fit as her own life goals matched that of the foundation: inculcating in people a sense of social responsibility towards healthy eating.
The main principles of the foundation are to introduce healthy eating habits in people and campaign against junk foods in schools, colleges, workspaces, and households throughout the length and breadth of the country.
I was proud to see Naini’s dedication to the foundation as she immediately began to hold seminars and workshops to create awareness in the fields of obesity, nutrition, and dietetics with a vengeance, using print, electronic portals, and workshops. She started addressing various groups and writing articles for various publications such as The Times of India and Mumbai Mirror. She writes monthly articles for Life Positive magazine in English and other publications too.
I became aware of one of Naini’s strongest beliefs that food can alter the blueprint of one’s life, changing both destiny and destination, when she made efforts to create awareness through the foundation in 2010 with the Byculla Ladies Jail. Megha Gadgil, IAS, Principal Secretary of the Home Department Mantralaya, conveyed her gratitude by saying “I am thankful to Naini for the effort put in by her organisation to devise a suitable dietary chart for the jail inmates.”
Her earliest memory of the foundation is of the Salaam Balak Trust, which ran a balwadi (preschool) in Byculla where she addressed underprivileged street children. She educated the trust and the children on how basic food will build their strength.
Naini addresses people from all walks of life. Her work has been phenomenal, and she freely shares her knowledge of food to help society. At the 37th international annual conference on ‘A Holistic Approach to Health and Healing’ at The Counselling and Suicide Prevention Centre, she explained how food had the power to get a person out of mental depression.
Fit and happy
Most of us suffer from body image-related issues. If we are feeling healthy, fit, slim, and slender our confidence rises by notches, and we feel ready to take on the world. However, if we do not like what we see in front of the mirror, there is little chance that we would be able to convince others about our worth and value. To help people restore faith in their physical appearance and get them to achieve their desired bodies, Naini devices diets that let people become fitter without making them starve.
Monish Asher, 36, says, “The plan was to join Naini’s counselling classes to lose weight. Little did I know that it would be more of a lifestyle change than just losing weight and being happy. The notion of ‘diet means torturing yourself by not eating’ was completely demolished when Naini allowed me to eat everything that I wanted to, on a daily basis. She taught me how to lead a healthy and happy life by picking the correct food dishes, whether at home or outside, for dinner or social functions. I will always be thankful to her for she completely changed the way I lead my life.”
Bharati Chikal, 67, says, “I always dreamt of a slim body. When I was introduced to Naini, my weight was 84 kg, and I was dejected. She then guided me on my diet without making me feeling low about it. I lost weight gradually without losing any energy. She designed my nutritional diet including foods which I liked. I never felt that I was dieting or starving. After ten months, I reached my goal of 55 kg; I lost 26 kgs kg. Apart from weight loss, my diabetes and blood pressure were also brought under control. Naini helped me understand better how to be a healthy and happy person. My dream came true within a year. My body, mind, and spirit are uplifted.”
Driven by her past perils
Naini’s story is what draws people in. Her journey was truly inspiring and acts like a magnet for people. 24 years ago, at the age of 32, Naini was a whopping 160 kilos when she embarked on her journey to weight loss. From the age of 10 to 32, Naini was a victim of wrong diets. Bad food transformed Naini from a normal tiny delicate child to a fat teenager to a grossly obese adult.
She struggled with weight issues from the 7th grade up until adulthood when she peaked at 160 kilos. She was always determined to make sure that no one else would have to be subjected to the same suffering. That is why sharing her knowledge with children is her passion. She qualified as a nutritionist and never looked back. But she was not content with her one-on-one practice and wanted to do more. The foundation gave her the platform to reach out to many more people. After all her attempts at weight loss, she found that a simple, traditional Indian diet is what worked best.
Positivity on your plate
With Naini, food, health, and being positive are all synonyms. Whenever anybody hears or reads about Naini and her approach to health, they join her programmes and benefit tremendously. Not only do they go back with a lower number on the scale but also with good health and phenomenal haemoglobin counts. As a bonus, they also feel a sense of positivity and calm.
Tripti Narula, 54, says, “A few years ago, I had put on a lot of weight, started feeling lethargic, and invited a lot of health issues. Initially, I blamed it on menopause and accepted that I have no option but to live like this for the rest of my life. Then I was referred to Naini by a very dear friend of mine. She put me on a diet plan, and I started with a positive mindset. And very soon, I started losing weight easily and was happy to continue with Naini’s plan as it was very easy to follow. Naini works around your food habits and lifestyle, so you don’t feel that you are actually dieting!
Very soon, in a span of around eight to 10 months, I almost shed 16 kilos! This happened in spite of the regular travelling as I was picking up the right food, no matter where I was in the world. Since then, I have dropped from ‘extra-large’ to ‘medium,’ and now, to ‘small’! I feel so good and confident now. I feel fresh and energetic all the time.”
A jubilant Naini says, “In order to achieve any health goals, the food that one eats is very important. For the health goal to be sustainable, the food has to be nutritious as well as tasty.”
Recipes for all
She started sharing her recipes of tasty but healthy foods, which culminated in a couple of recipe books. A representative from an organisation for the mentally challenged, Shradha Charitable Trust, and the Nehru Science Centre says, “We are grateful to Ms Naini Setalvad and express our sincere appreciation to her for coming up with the book Recipes for a Healthy Child: Nourishment on a Patravali Leaf Plate. It is a big help for children we are working with.”
A lot of clients are Jains who struggle to make tasty, nutritious Jain food. This sparked another idea in her mind. Working alongside JIWO (Jain International Women’s Organisation) she designed a rather magnificent cookbook, Jain Savours—Healthy Khao, Healthy JIWO.
I have seen how she gently guides all to eat food that is good for them. This stems from the fact that she has lived through harsh food regimens and endured a lot of harsh criticism, and she wants nobody to go through this. She believes that life should be sattvic and she imbibes these principles in her food too by focussing on regional, seasonal, organic, slow-cooked, fresh food. And she is completely against any crash or fad diets!
Nourishment for the nation
Naini was truly relentless and formed a thick skin when she decided to give in to this wild passion to spread knowledge of the right food. I admire the way she works with various women’s groups, Rotary clubs, schools, colleges, corporates, the Mumbai police, NGOs; you name it and Naini has done workshops there with the help of the foundation.
She doesn’t charge any money for the Foundation work that she does for people.
Due to her persistent efforts to spread nutritional awareness, Naini Setalvad was actively associated with the Piramal group. She sponsored the ‘Help your Body’ crusade and was awarded in 2008 by our late president Dr APJ Abdul Kalam for spreading nutritional awareness in our country.
I love Naini’s positive and never-give-up attitude. Her motto of ‘Healthy Food, Healthy Body, Healthy Mind, and Healthy Nation’ is what we all should imbibe.
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