“Your life is precious, invaluable, and meaningful” with Author Nandita Godbole

Your life is precious, invaluable, and meaningful. Food is to help you grow and flourish. If ‘food’ were an organization, it would represent tech support for the organization, not the CEO. Food or its consumption cannot control your emotional well-being, you can. Feed it well, and be kind to it — for it will nurture your […]

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Your life is precious, invaluable, and meaningful. Food is to help you grow and flourish. If ‘food’ were an organization, it would represent tech support for the organization, not the CEO. Food or its consumption cannot control your emotional well-being, you can. Feed it well, and be kind to it — for it will nurture your inherent potential.

As a part of my interview series with public figures who struggled with and coped with an eating disorder, I had the pleasure to interview Nandita Godbole. Nandita is a food writer and author of many books about Indian food, who has long suffered from genetic food intolerances. After struggling with undiagnosed intolerances for more than a decade, and developing unhealthy eating disorders, she traded her fraught relationship with food to develop an appreciation for healthier and more favorable solutions. Over the last 10 years, she has steadily grown her passion for ‘good, clean food’ into cookbooks and cooking classes that take everyone straight to the basics. She guides others to take control of what goes on their plates and in their bodies. She believes that in order to conquer food issues, one must understand the basics first and learn how to manipulate ingredients — so food can truly nourish them.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself and what you do professionally?

Most days I am a non-descript middle-aged parent on carpool duty. But in the quiet of my home office, when I am teaching, writing or speaking to food enthusiasts, I am an author, a food writer and cultural observer.

I wasn’t trained to be a chef, but come from a family steeped in old fashioned food traditions and grew up around elders who used food as their reliable partner in healing. There were plenty of Ayurvedic home remedies, potions, and brews for nearly every ailment. But when none of their remedies worked on me and my undiagnosed food challenges, I began to look closely at my diet and take control of what I ate. Having learned the hard way, now I am happy to have the opportunity to share what I learned with others through my work.

Thank you for your bravery and strength in being so open with us. Are you able to tell our readers the story of how you struggled with an eating disorder?

Imagine spending your formative years of high-school and college being picked on, called names, being the butt of a class joke, being passed up by many a ‘nice’ or eligible boy, failing a job interview, or receiving a strangers’ pity because of how you looked. Imagine that you simply being you was suddenly not enough. That was my life from age 13 onwards.

Every teenager struggles with some form of puberty related health issues. Mine came in the form of cystic acne that was misdiagnosed for nearly a decade as hormonal acne. Doctors had me quit butter, fats, oils, spices, and chocolate. I was being pumped with strong antibiotics to combat the acne, using all kinds of medicated face creams, lotions, and washes — which weakened my skin texture and started affecting my health. Being part of a religious family, intermittent fasting was a recommended practice, so I was also fasting 1–2 times each week. I began to suffer from anemia and I would often fall sick — so I was prescribed high doses of iron supplements and I was given an inhaler (doctors thought I had asthma/breathing issues).

All of this skewed my relationship to food, it became a disorder. Because I could not eat ‘what’ I wanted to or ‘when’ I wanted to, I would sometimes starve myself because I wanted to binge on desserts or foods I was ‘not supposed to eat’ when no one was watching — all the while believing that my pills would control the acne. But, on any given day there were too many chemicals running through my body, and no matter what I ate — my ‘system’ revolted because we were not treating the real cause. I did not understand how deep the damage was and how long it would take to fix.

We all harbor a tiny desire to be at best — simply appreciated for who we are. With a compounding and damaging relationship to food, I became extremely introverted. Some thought I was odd and awkward. Many others, men, in particular, took advantage of my weakened self-confidence and preyed on my insecurities. To be judged every second of your formative years based on something outside our control is extremely hard on our emotional well-being — the scars are deep and long-lasting.

What was the final straw that made you decide that you were going to do all you can to get better?

Even among my peers — my aptitude, intelligence, or creativity did not matter. The final straw was one morning when I was on a local train traveling to my community college, a middle-aged woman approached me, offering assistance at a women’s shelter for abused battered women — because that was how I looked to her that morning. I was shocked and saddened, smiled and assured her I was fine, but I knew that people saw me that way. Shortly after, when I was approached by a compounding chemist who wanted me to follow an elimination diet, to isolate the root cause of my acne — I took one final leap of faith and agreed to be his patient. He suspected a misdiagnosis and believed to have a ‘cure’.

For about two months, my diet was very severe and strict, there was no intermittent fasting — but I was allowed to eat many things that I loved, albeit in moderation. He eventually isolated the problem to a genetic trait that triggered an allergy for certain foods and caused cystic acne, a term only now familiar. Within a few months, my skin was completely cleared it of any lesions.

What followed was far more important. The external cure paved the way for much needed and deep-rooted emotional repair and rebuilding, I found the confidence I had lacked. I began to see food not as part of the reward system to feed my physical hunger or feed a missing piece of my emotional health, but as an active and important partner in my overall wellbeing. Food became nourishment and fuel that I offered my body. The cycle of bingeing and fasting, of hating food or succumbing to a craving stopped. I finally understood what my relationship to food was, and began a pathway to overcoming the disorder.

And how are things going for you today?

I’ve spent many years since that day on the train trying to heal my mind and body from within, going back to some of the Ayurvedic principles of cooking and eating ‘healing’ foods, maintaining balanced meals, and trying to rebuild my overall wellbeing.

But the mischievous elf of emotional eating, the love-hate relationship with food never really disappears. I suffered a massive setback early in 2018 brought on by an onslaught of life circumstances that caused stress and PTSD. I allowed myself to fall in the trap of poor eating and became severely anemic again. I lost a lot of weight, had been unable to swallow food, my food intolerances became extreme, I developed varicose veins and blood clots in my calves, not to mention a host of other health issues that puzzled physicians and specialists. They began proposing symptomatic fixes while my body was quite literally at the brink of physical collapse. Thanks to my PCP who identified two problems that were intertwined, stress (PTSD) and anemia, I was put on a fast track to recovery for both, a process that dissolved many of the health issues I had developed that year.

The recovery required extreme lifestyle changes and made me realize that at this point in my life, my poor health did not only affect me but also disrupted my family life as well. Ignoring my health was NOT an antidote to dealing with stress.

I found comfort again in my knowledge of healing foods, in Ayurvedic eating, and am working to find avenues to share that with others who may be struggling with their relationship to food. My forms of meditation were different from what others thought meditation should be, and I rely on taking quiet time for myself. Every day since has been a reminder that how I feed my body will impact how I feel, act and grow. I don’t seek short-lived validation of appearances anymore, because I know that self-confidence begins with a healthy relationship with our body and spirit/soul. We have the power to enrich them both by taking control.

Based on your own experience are you able to share 5 things with our readers about how to support a loved one who is struggling with an eating disorder? If you can, can you share an example from your own experience?

I learned the hard way that my eating disorder was triggered by undiagnosed/misdiagnose issues, and nuanced cultural issues only exacerbated them.

1. Engage loved ones and family members, even co-workers or colleagues in this conversation. Sometimes, simply asking for a change in what foods are available in the pantry at home or a breakroom at work can trigger a conversation, empathy and be a healthy way to see food.

2. Allow yourself and others, every once in a while, the space, to be OK with their relationship to food. Guilt, shame or making excuses only makes a problem worse.

3. Speak to a psychologist or two. Identify social, environmental and personal (even hormonal) triggers. Eating disorders have deep emotionally scarring effects that can compound a problem.

4. Find time to honor you. Engage in activities that honor your presence — not just the ‘feel good’ ones, but ones that recognize and celebrate you — for all that you bring to the life of others. Maybe it involves meditation, maybe an art-class, maybe a writing workshop or taking a walk in nature by yourself. Engage in quiet time activities.

5. Most importantly, take total control of your food and your emotions about food. Take cooking classes in different cuisines, pick up cookbooks, and join ‘real-food’ cooking groups to get you started if you need to. Take a minute to understand the ingredients — are they doing you more harm than good? Do not cheat on ingredients that employ fillers, additives, preservatives, nitrites, artificial colors/sweeteners/fats, and such ‘fake’ things. Eat the real thing, and enjoy food in moderation, so you’ll never feel the need to ‘cheat’, ‘binge’ or have an excuse to ignore your health. Cooking your own meal or being part of cooking a family meal is the key to a healthy self and healthy self-image.

Is there a message you would like to tell someone who may be reading this, who is currently struggling with an eating disorder?

Your life is precious, invaluable, and meaningful. Food is to help you grow and flourish. If ‘food’ were an organization, it would represent tech support for the organization, not the CEO. Food or its consumption cannot control your emotional well-being, you can. Feed it well, and be kind to it — for it will nurture your inherent potential.

According to this study cited by the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, at least 30 million people in the U.S. of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder. Can you suggest 3–5 reasons why this has become such a critical issue recently?

I don’t know if there are any specific causes, but I feel we are moving away from recognizing deeper issues and instead of jumping to conclusions. In an effort to be one step ahead of everything, we are now a society trying to be one step ahead of ourselves, and others or their opinions. We are too quick to speak, judge and proclaim a decree without taking the time to drill down to the root of an issue. Doctors are too quick to offer a pill or a procedure; social media puts undue importance on statistics, numbers, followers, appearances and ‘image’. Corporations are producing volumes of ‘edible’ items that are instead filled to the brim with chemicals. We are allowing our diets to suffer all the while favoring convenience, or what appear to be time-saving measures that cost us more time eventually. People have stopped cooking at home, or don’t cook often enough, and don’t read labels enough — basically most of society has given up control over food, and how or why we feed our body the way we do.

Based on your insight, what can concrete steps can a) individuals, b) corporations, c) communities and d) leaders do to address the core issues that are leading to this problem?

Individuals can make positive changes by taking control of their food sources, protecting natural resources, using sustainable farming, foraging and harvesting principles so we don’t have to resort to ‘fake’ foods. Asking for change at a larger platform (corporations, communities and community leaders) requires harboring respect for our own contributions to society as a whole, and empathy for those who struggle with life circumstances. Much of this begins at home.

As you know, one of the challenges of an eating disorder is the harmful, and dismissive sentiment of “why can’t you just control yourself”. What do you think needs to be done to make it apparent that an eating disorder is an illness just like heart disease or schizophrenia?

Open and honest conversations about eating disorders are largely missing from the media, in schools, in workplaces and even in community spaces. A disengaged community or dismissive statements result in guilt. We have to remove the fear of speaking up, of asking for change or asking for empathy.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that have helped you with your struggle? Can you explain why you like them?

Readers may find it funny, but as a food writer, my absolute favorite books that have helped me rebuild a healthy relationship to food — are two cookbooks. It is not only what is in the book but what they are about: food as a partner in our physical and spiritual/emotional well-being.

The first is ‘Sukham Ayu: Cooking at Home with Ayurvedic Insights’ by Jigyasa Giri and Pratibha Jain, which explores Ayurvedic cooking for novices. Here, food is for health, to offer balance and support. It offers practical tips to ensure we nourish our bodies with food that is ‘good’ for us.

‘Lord Krishna’s Cooking’ by Yamuna Devi is a modern tome to classic Indian food like none other. It explores detailed preparation of traditional Indian delicacies. In this, the author treats food as an act of devotion and honor (in the authors’ case to Lord Krishna). But more importantly, it recognizes food as a vehicle to self-care, nourishment and to honor the diner. Many dishes are complex, require dexterity and patience — which in turn becomes a meditative process.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I don’t have a specific quote or philosophy, but I use this phrase often: Live well, eat well and be present. I am a firm believer in having an engaged, conscious existence, where we are aware of our place in the universe. We live and make memories, raise families, build societies, and are given an opportunity to define what it means to be a human being. Why waste this opportunity to do good while we are here? But in order to do good for the world, we need to be good to ourselves also.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I am formalizing my interest in Ayurvedic cooking and lifestyles and hoping that my continued work inspires people to take charge of the small stuff that can have a great impact on their overall well-being.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the largest amount of people, what would that be?

I think all adults must take the time to cook at home, several times a week if possible, shop for fresh produce themselves and engage with their food more than they presently do. Not all people like cooking or are confident in the kitchen, so I believe that shaming people one way or another only triggers unhealthy food habits and unhealthy food relationships. I would encourage taking a family trip each week to a grocery store, visiting and understanding how food-based farms function, consider growing a vegetable garden or taking on a community garden patch. These are all important in understanding our carbon footprint, but also important in developing a greater appreciation for fresh, real food. Excitement about good clean food, that you know is going to ‘nourish’ all of you is the best flavor, the ultimate secret sauce for any dish.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I am on Instagram: @currycravings or readers can email me at [email protected]

Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!

Thank you!

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