Wisdom//

How Food Gave Me Everything, But Nearly Stripped My Sanity

Sometimes what is your passion can also be your undoing, as this writer experienced.

I often self-diagnose myself with ADD. My mind travels from what to cook for lunch to what I can do for world peace in a fraction of a second. That being said, the one time I feel that I had undeterred focus is circa 2015 when I was 27 years old, and an obsessive and societally shamed orthorexic.

My fixation with eating “right” clearly didn’t seem right to my friends and family. An attempt to improve my life morphed in to a seriously damaging fixation. The effects of which still linger on, in spite of having gained consciousness and having retracted from these behaviours.

You could have easily called me a “clean eating goddess”, I ate the freshest, most natural food. I ate nothing from a packet. Hardly ate any grains and I had perhaps forgotten how to spell the word fat. This of course went hand-in-hand with excessive physical activity of various forms—marathon running, heavy weight lifting, yoga, kick boxing and pretty much anything that caused burn; and of course my ultimate burn out.

Given all of this, of course, I looked fabulous. I was at my fittest self ever. Only physically though. I was also at my loneliest, and I almost felt trapped in this cycle. I could no longer maintain a social life. Meeting friends involved eating out and late nights which didn’t work for my Olympian athlete style routine. My lights would go out at 10 even on a Saturday night so I could wake up for my ritual 10k run.

I didn’t realise then that in the pursuit of some form of happiness, I was actually distancing myself from many healthy sources of happiness. My life solely became about looking like an unrealistic, air-brushed vision of beauty I had in my head. I was drowning in self-loath and low self-esteem.

Of course, in complete isolation. I had been seduced by righteous eating. The need to eat clean prompted me to spend more time in the kitchen, experimenting and trying to rustle up the “free-est” meals I could—fat-free, grain-free, gluten-free, sugar-free…

However, cooking turned out to be the silver lining of this giant force of negativity in my life. I had unleashed this culinary creativity and I was making food that was not only healthy, but pretty darn delicious. And everyone around me opined so in unison!

One night while I was travelling for work and forking in to a room-serviced salad at my hotel in Delhi and watching an episode of MasterChef Australia, I conjured up a wild dream of scurrying around in the MasterChef pantry scouting for ingredients to make the judges one of my famed healthy yet delicious recipes.

Merely a few days later, almost as a manifestation of my thoughts, I heard of auditions being held for MasterChef India. I thought to myself—I make delicious and healthy food, why not put myself in the running?

Before I knew it was in the MasterChef Kitchen, among the final selected contestants. My skills at the time may have been limited, but my passion was on fire. I stayed up late through the nights watching YouTube videos, reading recipe books, exchanging notes with my mum, tabulating potential dish ideas and even sketching plating styles. I had never before felt so determined to succeed. I gave it everything.

For the first time ever I made things like gnocchi, steamed buns, savoury ice-creams, cauliflower bread and much more. In spite of being adventurous there, I laid more focus on my strengths which are creativity and marrying unique flavours together. This sensibility contributed to my acceleration to the finals. Alas, the finals also marked the end of my MasterChef journey. It left me with a heavy heart but an abundance of dreams.

I was able to convert this new-found passion for food in to a flourishing career. This was the same girl who thought she would never be able to put her mind to one thing and achieve success. The same girl with an unhealthy outlook toward food.

Today, I am a consulting chef to some of the most loved restaurants and retail food brands in the country. I’ve been invited to host workshops at the most attended art and culture festivals and culinary schools across the country. I’ve cooked at supper clubs at an international level. I am often called upon to share my two cents about health and nutrition. I am also a celebrated food stylist and photographer.

I am enlisting all this not to sing paeans for myself, but to put my transformation in the spotlight. Food has given me an identity today. It has given birth to a new life for me. One that is now based on practicality and the intelligence in adapting in an excessive world. This is the exact same food that once drove me away from my own sanity.

My tryst with food thus emphasises the fact that we CHOOSE our destiny based on our circumstances. And we mustn’t blame our destiny when we make poor choices.

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- Marcus Aurelius

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