I have lived most of my late 20’s being slightly overweight and almost all of my 30’s being obese. In the past two years I have shed almost 40 kgs of extra weight which is more than 40% of body weight I have carried for a long time. Most of my weight loss happened in 2021 through a structured regime and with an expert weight loss coach. No gymming or heavy exercises were involved in this regimented weight loss program, neither were my calories restricted. Someday, I will surely share what my program was like but today I broadly want to tell you that in the crux of it, it was all about changing my relationship with food.
For the longest time I had been living to eat, and not eating to live. It’s a funny saying that “foodies” love to say and I used to do the same. But today I want to open up about the toxic relationship I shared with food that continued for a long time.
At a difficult time, many years ago, I lost a lot of relationships instantly in life that I’d known as a child – my whole maternal and paternal family barring less than a handful of people, left my life. Uncles, aunts, cousins, all but few abandoned me. Dad wasn’t around anyway since he had passed on many years back. The relationships that I was left to count on were barely few weeks old. Work was stressful as I was growing faster in my career than my young age could handle, the expectations from a 25 year old me at a new home as an elder daughter in law were those that are from a 45 year old. Not many had seen my struggles so they didn’t care what my past or my trauma has been like or feels like, for no fault of theirs as their frame of reference couldn’t fathom what I had been through or the cushion I needed. My physical appearance had always been peculiar due to a skin condition and my metabolism was screwed. Back then, I didn’t give myself the option to say to anyone that I am not ok, that I am struggling. As a child I was taught that asking for help means you are weak! I had nowhere to hide, no one to reach for comfort and pampering. I had no friends who would be there for me, just kind acquaintances who helped if and when I asked them to.
I have always been a survivor. I instinctively turn to what will help me stay afloat and good tasting food for one reason or other was easily accessible and affordable in those days. This had come as a blessing after years of not getting tasty food either due to medical treatments or lack of money. After hours of smiling, being at my best behaviour, with no one to talk to about my real feelings, not even a proper ‘my’ home to go back to at the end of the day, or ‘parents house’ to go back to, I turned to food. I could ‘talk’ to good food. I could eat as much as I wanted and the food wouldn’t judge me or stare back at me for over eating it. I could eat whenever I wanted, as many times as I wanted.
Because my coping strategies were next to nil, I couldn’t be an alcoholic or a drug addict, and because my own consumption of food was the only thing in my life that I could control, I embraced food as the only thing I could hold on to. It kept me sane. I’d counterbalance meetings with tough stakeholders or toxic colleagues with a loaded cold coffee with chocolate. I’d soothe myself for the lack of friends or family with mutton biryani. I’d end a rough day at home with six chapatis and rice along with three bowls of rice and sabzi. I’d counter lack of sleep at night by reaching the fridge post midnight to gorge on gulabjamuns or half a can of condensed milk.
I am not berating my past self for doing that as survival is tricky business. Food and consuming it this was has genuinely kept me sane, away from mental breakdowns I just couldn’t afford and dare I say, kept me alive, away from dark thoughts of ending my life many a times.
Food thus became something my soul needed. My emotions became associated with it and that’s how I gave access of my feelings and sanity to food. A good portion of my favourite food could take away the worst of experiences and help me understand and think how to cope with what’s ahead. It could soothe my bruised heart or mind and prepare me for the next days’ grind. I didn’t care if someone told me I am hogging onto it because they didn’t see the reason for my ‘emotional eating’ . So I’d smile, listen to their concern and ridicule it in my mind.
The few years of doing that stunted my metabolism and started putting pressure on my vital organs. Fatty liver, high cholesterol and high sugar levels became normal and by the time I wanted to lose weight, my body became resistant. It got ‘addicted’ to sugar, wanting frequent meals, large portions and sugar rich foods. I’d get ‘hangry’ and despite heavy workouts and killing myself in gyms or on jogs in hot North Indian weather the scale wouldn’t budge. The heavy workouts would make me more tired and hungry and I’d lose it and gorge back into big meals in frustration eventually giving up on diets. I was looking at weight loss as a punishment and deprivation of food and being away from food was making me sad, upset and dejected. As if, someone is taking away the only good thing in my life. The only thing I can control, the only thing that doesnt judge me.
When I met my coach and started my fitness journey last year, the first thing that changed was my relationship with food. The self coaching that I gave to myself to stop looking at food as a channel, outlet or means of solving for emotions was perhaps one of the most important things to happen in years to me. As I educated myself more and more on how excess food is poison and the damage sugar in many forms does to the body, the importance of consuming only what is needed kept becoming clearer.
Today I look at food as medicine and I have no shame in admitting that. I understand what good taste is and indulge in it once in a while, but with a clear knowledge that it is all but an indulgence. The taste of most of the food gets perceived as good because of the sugar content in it (fructose, lactose, maltose etc) and the more food is consumed for taste than need, it ends up harming the body than doing it much good.
Today I understand food must be eaten to survive, thrive and to have energy to think clearly, physically work and have a healthy body. Not eating food or fasting is as important as eating if not more and restraint has a role to play as well in keeping the body healthy.
The reason I opened up about my long toxic relationship with food is to make aware that addiction comes in many forms. Too much of anything is addiction, not just alcohol or drugs or smoking. Too much food, music, phone, whatever be that you link to your brains reward system can become an addiction.
Food is not the solution. Food is barely food. It has a place in life to help get us energy that we need for survival. If you had an addiction to food or cant live without certain food groups, or stress eat or do emotional eating, talk to a coach or a friend who can help you talk through this, solve for this.
There’s a world of health benefits on the other side of food addiction. You can enjoy your occasional meal, and yet live a healthy and fit life physically and emotionally. Just give yourself a chance.