It was one of those rare moments
in a working woman’s life. Deliciously, wickedly self indulgent. I was sitting
at the hairdresser’s, with the soporific effect of the dryer, gorging on a
generous portion of the most delicious French fries in the whole world. Readers,
they were perfect. My cup runneth over as I sipped on a frothy cappuccino. In my
free hand was a novel of extraordinary beauty, of the sharp edge of too much
tenderness called, The Museum of Innocence by Turkish Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk.
Life was good. So you can imagine my surprise when I was shaken out of my fat,
starch, salt, sugar and caffeine induced trance when a woman with wet hair broke
“Miss MATOOOR...” I stopped
mid-fry and tried in vain to look dignified with the rollers in my hair. She
attacked with full force. “You writing ALL those articles about health care,
about heart disease and THIS is what you eating?” I wanted the ground to swallow
me, and that chair and the fries in particular, up. “Err, umm, I...” my words
trailed and disappeared into the vacuum of the dryer as she marched off and I
guiltily looked down at the evidence on my lap. Like all women, I have been
struggling all my life with weight issues: from being thin to the point of
anorexia in my early teens morphing into baby fat as my girlfriends fed me up,
encouraging me to eat in a perverse way as they dieted, to the pounds that
wouldn’t melt after my second baby.
At 11, I saw my great-grandmother
who was a keen sportswoman, equestrian, tennis champion, swimmer, polo player in
her youth (with the photos to prove it), dissolve at the time of her death into
a mass of immobile, diseased diabetic fat. My beloved ancestors were unable to
say “no” to red meat, butter, oil, cheese, fried food, white rice, and bread.
They never said “no” to sweet and milky drinks. Nor to cakes, creamy, buttery
desserts, pastries, cream in their coffee, or sugar. They loathed vegetables.
But they paid for it.
My mother is more careful, but she
inherited the diabetes which she manages with exercise and healthy eating, but
it was a struggle. At 15, I began running (which I hated but set me on a
lifetime of addiction to the natural high I felt after exercising). I also
gathered my stupid schoolgirl habit of smoking a cigarette a day. I noticed
early that I stuffed myself with junk food when I was sad or confused. But
somewhere along the way healthy living became a sybaritic delight. Running a
marathon became a conquest of inner demons, a battle of grit with myself.
Instead of eating to fill
emotional voids I began gorging with my eyes and touch. I reveled in the bounty
of papayas, mangoes and sapodillas festooning our stalls, in textures and
colours of fruit and vegetables, some local, others reminiscent of vines and
fields around our islands, in the mingling of damp earth with carrots and beets,
baby trees of cauliflowers and broccoli, tangy tomatoes, greens and herbs. I
learned about herbs..mingling them in yoghurts, stews, curries and soups,
relished in the mint leaf that works as well in a spicy chutney as an
accompaniment to fruit.
Ginger, onion and garlic pastes
combined with yoghurt, saffron, cumin, mustard seeds, cloves, cardamom and
cayenne pepper formed a base of my limited Indian cooking. I found that salads
made with spinach, broccoli, nuts, salmon, olive oil and lime were filling. I
ate five times a day, carried nuts in my purse, ground them in smoothies. Olive
oil and yoghurt went with almost everything from fruit smoothies to salads. I
ate tiny morsels of meat and eggs as a treat and got my protein from split peas,
beans and tofu. I drank massive amounts of water: hot, cold and herbal.
Soon KFC, that used to feel like a
treat, felt like punishment. I will probably get diabetes, but I’m damn well
going to fight it as long as I can. I do cheat. A bit of chocolate, a portion of
fries, a shared dessert, sips of Coke, a glass of cool, white wine on a hot
afternoon. If I didn’t, life wouldn’t be worth living. But it’s an aberration. A
cheat day. Not the norm. I realised that the worst thing I can do for my health
is yo-yo dieting, so if I go up in the scale by five pounds, I deny myself
treats for a few days. We know the link between fat and disease and death is no
longer restricted to adults, it has spread in our lifetime to children.
Living in a country with one of
the highest incidence of diabetes, heart disease and cancer in the world, food
has taken on another dimension. It could be poison or panacea depending on what
you eat. Prof Surujpal Teelucksingh who recently won the Dr Anthony Sabga award
for his work with diabetes discovered that obese children tend to be
diabetic. Lets face it. We are so full of preventable lifestyle disease in this
country (diabetes, heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure) because we morph
into a self indulgent, fat, lethargic people (I hate to say it) not unlike my
We put sugar in everything—from
meat to drinks. Sugar is a poison: it causes spikes in glucose levels; it
increases the risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, it causes immune
system disorders, and chromium deficiency; it ages our bodies, it adds to
stress; it obtrudes important nutrients, it messes up children’s behaviour.
When we are not eating sugar we
are eating high glycemic foods, starches like provisions, potatoes, rice, pasta,
white bread, cornflakes, sweet bread, that rapidly increase blood sugar which
not only makes us obese but increases our chances of sudden death from heart
attack. We eat fatty meats like pork, lamb, beef, and steroid pumped chicken
which elevate blood cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart attack and
I’m not saying that you must never
stuff yourself again, I’m just saying that moderation is key. If you stuff
yourself today, detox tomorrow. Keep a stable weight. Snack on vegetables. Drink
water. Exercise. Prevention is far better than an uncertain cure, better than
going blind, dying from heart disease or lying in bed stroke ridden. Lets take
responsibility for ourselves and eat to live, rather than live to eat. And let
us revel in the loveliness of the earths offerings while we are at it.