Healthy Gift

To stay fit and healthy, it is not enough that we cut down on fat, sugar and calories. While doing so, we have to ensure that that the body gets enough nutrition. When people go on a very low calorie diet, they often feel tired, listless and depressed. This is because they do not get enough proteins, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients which help us to fight infections and disease. Also, a person who has developed wrong eating habits and eaten thoughtlessly for many years will feel very unsettled when faced with the task of correcting these mistakes.

I would like to share my personal experience in this matter, hoping that it might motivate and help more people to switch over to a sensible pattern of eating.

Eating has been one of my fondest pleasures in life since childhood. Even as a toddler I loved fresh home churned butter and my mother and aunt indulged me with as much of it as I wanted. Soft slices of local white bread would be spread with thick layers of butter and topped with generous amount of sugar. Crusts would be trimmed away and the buttery slices would be cut
into quarters and piled high in a plate. This would keep me happily occupied as I popped each piece in my mouth. Fried Jack fruit "appalam", a west coast specialty had to be spread with butter if I were to eat it. Mangalore Poli, topped with spoonfuls of ghee and powdered sugar, jelebis dripping with syrup and large "Rasthali " bananas, sliced and tossed with ghee and sugar were some of my earliest favorites.

As I grew up the list of favorite foods grew longer. Surprisingly I was not obese though slightly plump as I was involved in many sports and was on the team of my school and collage. My fascination for food now extended to learning cooking, tasting various types of dishes and learning about the food of different countries. Soon I took formal training in cooking and started a career of teaching cookery and offering consultancy services for manufacturers of kitchen appliances and food products. I loved cooking for my family and friends. My weight increased steadily through these years. I went on fad diets several times but they did not last long .I quickly regained the weight I lost. I passed on my passion for food to my two daughters. Renu, the elder daughter also started gaining weight. Vrinda, the second daughter was luckier and managed to stay slim for many years.

When I was 55 I lost my husband. By then my daughters were married. Living alone, I started eating junk food. I was eating to fight depression and loneliness. Food became my refuge and emotional anchor. As cookery professional I had enough excuses and opportunities to indulge in all kinds of food. In the next 5-6 years I was faced with many health related problems. I would feel excruciating pain in my legs (later diagnosed as restless leg syndrome) at night and for months on end would not be able to sleep although exhausted. Finally I went for a health check up. My cholesterol and triglyceride levels were very high and I had a fatty liver. My blood circulation was poor. My weight was 90 Kg.

The medical report shook me out of my complacency and I took it as a challenge to loose weight and stay healthy. My motivation was my love for my work and my concern about being a liability to my daughters. Now my knowledge of food and cooking skills became my allies. I knew I could achieve my goal without having to suffer hunger or feeling deprived. I knew there were enough healthy and tasty dishes and I could invent some more to suit my taste and life style.

The first step was to cut out saturated fat. Sugar was next in line. Initially the temptation for sweets was very strong. I would eat a fruit instead. I started cooking with minimum oil and decreased the frequency of deep frying, and later gave up deep frying. I made low fat soups and interesting salads with olive oil dressings. I developed many low calorie curries and some healthy desserts. I kept colorful plates of neatly cut carrots, tomato, cucumber and lettuce in my frig and snacked on them whenever I felt the urge. I cooked more whole grain dishes with green gram, chick peas, and other beans. I prepared paneer and curds with low fat milk. I added many Soya products to my groceries list. I stocked some roasted snacks instead of chips and cookies. I consumed whole wheat products instead of refined flour. I baked healthy bread. Rotis and phulkas were substituted for parathas. Large grained brown rice was substituted for fine, polished white rice. Though not very fond of non vegetarian food, I included steamed fish and white meat of chicken in my diet. I made milk shakes with skimmed milk and fruits, sweetened with raisins. I gave up soft drinks and drank tender coconut water. My special treats included few dry fruits and nuts. While correcting my diet, I also started walking. Initially I would feel tired and breathless within 20-25 minutes of walking. With persistence I managed to walk for longer periods. My cholesterol and triglycerides were at a very healthy level within three months.

Gradually my weight decreased. In 18 months I managed to loose 17 kg. Within a few months of adopting this new lifestyle, my health improved dramatically. My energy levels rose and the restless leg syndrome vanished. The craving for rich food is now under control. I still teach cooking and make good biriyanis, creamy curries and fabulous desserts. I can just taste a spoonful and feel satisfied. I have now introduced a course in healthy cooking which is well accepted and helped many families. I now have the confidence to occasionally eat small portions of some of my favorite dishes. I have the confidence to accept assignments for restaurant reviews. I can taste just enough and not indulge. Food is still my favorite topic for research and study. I still enjoy cooking all kinds of food but do not feel compelled to eat. I am still not slim by any standard. But I feel fit enough to keep in pace with my work. I sleep well and some how feel wiser and at peace .My daughters have changed over to a healthy life style and beaten me at it. They exercise regularly.

Renu who is now in early forties has lost 22 kg in less than a year and looks more glamorous than she did in her teens. Her teenage daughter enjoys the healthy food cooked at home and has learn to eat sensibly during her outings with her friends. Vrinda won the first prize in a nutrition quiz and fitness contest held in her gym. We still gain a kilo now and then, but manage to loose it and stay within a reasonable limit.
I have set myself these simple rules
Do not let yourself be hungry for long periods that you may reach out for wrong kind of food.
Keep some healthy snacks within reach.
Do not visit a supermarket before mealtime. You feel tempted to pick up wrong kind of snacks when you are hungry.
Eat only when you are hungry.
Set a reasonable goal .There is no need to look like a model. If you are too strict with yourself you may feel deprived and give up.
Once you reach a sensible weight, you can have small portions of some rich foods you enjoy occasionally.
Learn to cook tasty and healthy meals and enjoy what you eat.
While you cut out the fats and sugars, do add enough proteins, complex carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.
Use natural sugars like honey and fruit juice in moderate quantities to sweeten your desserts.
Take vitamin supplements if needed.
Safe sugar substitutes may be used in moderation with medical advice.
Exercise regularly.
Keep yourself occupied with activities you enjoy. You tend to eat mindlessly when idle.
Talk about your diet and achievements. It may motivate others and make you feel more committed.
Chandri Bhat

A Healthy Gift

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