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Wellness: Breaking Free from Making Food Centerstage for Everything

By Sweta Vikram Email By Sweta Vikram
April 2024
Wellness: Breaking Free from Making Food Centerstage for Everything

Watch out for the euphoric highs from food—they can be deadly in the long run.

I love intimate gatherings with close friends and family. That’s why, instead of a ginormous party on my birthday, my celebrations last all through the month: over chais and lunches and walks with different friends. This way, we can hang out, connect, commemorate, have a heart-to-heart, and still get home to our families and eat nourishing dinners in time.

In the desi communities, food is at the center of everything—be it celebrations or mourning. Food is how we are expected to show love. When we get together, we eat or talk about food. We discuss the dinner menu while wolfing down breakfast. Think of desi gatherings. They are rarely about getting together and sharing common synergies. It’s all about the menu: five appetizers, ten entrees, and half a dozen desserts. The women who don’t enjoy cooking for a large gathering still get the extensive menu catered. The script for such gatherings is fairly predictable. Once people are drunk, they end up mindlessly chewing on cold food around midnight.

Food is the biggest reason why people pop medicine, die young, or wreck their health, making their life a living hell.

We might not realize that every family has these hand-me-down, often unhealthy, traditions around eating. When something good happens, we say meetha ho jaaye; when something bad happens, we again turn to those unhealthy comfort foods. One way or another, we find excuses for overindulging in food. Who amongst us is not familiar with the following rationale for eating beyond capacity: where I will keep the leftovers in the fridge now?!

I wasn’t always this vigilant about my relationship with food. Though I have always exercised and been active my entire life, I was reckless with my meals in my 20s. Late night snacks were common: kathi rolls after Bollywood moves at desi dance clubs or gupshup with friends over a midnight falafel near NYU. I have done all that and not felt great the next day. I didn’t know in my 20s that what we eat, how we eat, and when we eat—all of it impacts our wellness.

Wellness_2_04_24.jpgLife and experience are the best teachers, aren't they? Losing my parents early; my own health scare of being on a cancer watchlist; my journey to earning a Ph.D. in Ayurveda; and a few other reasons made me pause, observe, and rework my relationship with food. I knew I had to look at food as medicine and not a substance that one abused under the influence of overwhelming feelings or cultural stereotypes.

Ayurveda teaches us that food is medicine. It has the capacity to heal our emotional, physical, and mental well-being. But we need to treat it with respect. Remember our grandparents and their wholesome diet? Degenerative lifestyle diseases had not proliferated in generations past to the extent they have now. Today, high income meets higher calories and a life devoid of rigorous physical activities—it’s a recipe for disaster. Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) account for almost 26 percent of deaths in Asian Indian immigrants. One in four deaths in Indians and Indian Americans is caused by CVDs. One in three Asian Indian immigrants has metabolic syndrome while approximately one in six has diabetes.

A shocking finding by U.K.-based Dr. Aseem Malhotra is that an average Indian consumes at least 15 teaspoons sugar—three to four times of sugar intake prescribed by WHO—in the form of fruit juices, sweets, sugar-laden drinks, and snacks.

We are an extremely bright community of people. If we can adapt to new cultures, cuisines, professions, and countries, clearly, we can take a step back and ponder. If we don’t take the initiative to heal our relationship with food or take steps to better our health, statistics tell us that we will leave behind sicker communities and heartbroken families.

Writes Geneen Roth in her book, Women, Food and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything, “Compulsive eating is basically a refusal to be fully alive.”

Sweta Vikram, an Ayurveda-based life and wellness coach and a graduate of Columbia University, helps people thrive on their
own terms.

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