This post is going to be very different than rest of my posts - a lot more personal. Through the past few years, I have learnt the importance of connection between mental diet and physical diet. My food blog wouldn't be my food blog if I wasn't talking about Mindful Eating. Although I consider myself very privileged and I am grateful for all the food and dining experiences I have had, my relationship with food became rocky during the pandemic. Like many others during the pandemic, I struggled with my diet. And that struggle is what brought me to Mindful Eating and helping me improve my relationship with food to a level that I would not have thought about reaching if I hadn't struggled. For more context, here is a little bit about what was happening. I have always been lucky to be surrounded by good people wherever I am & I have never thought much about what I am eating or not eating even though I have always been a healthy eater and have worked out/played sports my entire life. But it was during the pandemic I learnt the mind games of eating.
I was 21 years old and staying back in my college town after the pandemic hit. My first semester of senior year was full of a lot of anxiety. Questions related to graduating college, adjusting to the pandemic lifestyle, my future, stress of classes during the pandemic, my on-campus job, and not having been home in almost a year started taking a toll on me. I lost interest in cooking and the only times I consistently ate was when I had plans to eat with my friends. To top it, 12 days before I was supposed to travel back to the UAE in November 2020, I had to go into quarantine for exposure to COVID-19 (I did not have COVID, several of my friends did though). Those 12 days were some of the most stressful days & it directly affected my appetite. I would often get sick because of the stress and had honestly lost a lot of my appetite. Sometimes I couldn't eat and wouldn't be able to make it to my classes even though I could only attend them online because of being in quarantine.
Recreating my favorite Sweetgreen salad, thinking eating light and healthy food will make me feel better
Luckily, the brahman played in my favor and I tested negative to take my flight back to the UAE. Upon my arrival, I was supposed to quarantine for a few days before I could actually go back to Abu Dhabi (because of COVID restrictions) and see my brother and my mom. Fortunately, my dad was working in Dubai so he stayed with me. I would say being back, I was already in a much better mental state being with him and being in the UAE warmth (as compared to grey Syracuse skies). But, my desire to eat was still the same - exhausted and only eating to fuel my body. I was getting the best, most creative, most delicious food, yet I struggled to actually get myself to eat. Overall, I had lost interest in food & eating. But, because my dad had long work hours, I spent a lot of time with myself. It gave me a chance to explore some of the Dubai food scene myself - all that glitter is actually gold in Dubai and it made me curious. Because I was "quarantining" in a hotel, I was ordering food a lot. One time, I ordered Chubby Cookies while sitting at the pool deck, my laptop died. I hadn't changed to my UAE number & my US number had no network. Although I was disappointed, I was pretty hungry and all my patience goes away when it comes to Chubby Cookies. So now, with no means to watch Netflix or obsessively check my grades, I was sitting at the pool deck eating Chubby Cookies. I remember how warm and gooey the texture was. The chocolate in the cookies was Kinder chocolate (a specialty of theirs). It reminded me of when my mom would come and pick me and my brother up from school in India, sometimes she would bring Kinder eggs. It was such a reward at the end of a long school day. I remember looking up at the Dubai skyline as I continued eating and the sky was so blue! I don't know if it was because it was so grey in Syracuse or the fact that I couldn't leave my apartment much because of quarantine, but I had not seen the sky so blue!
I stayed up until evening, watching the sky, eating the cookies at my own pace (I am a slow eater in general). It was time for my dad to come home. It reminded me of how, in Abu Dhabi, I'd watch the sky turn a million different colors till my dad came home & we all sat together to drink tea. That night, I sat without my phone when I went to eat out with my dad. And we talked about his parents, work, family, and so much more. I was almost in tears because to be honest, in a more usual time, I would have been either on Tik Tok or watching TV instead of having a conversation with him. But this was the first time I could say I was truly present with my food & my company.
Alas, I wish I could say that that was when all my problems ended but it wasn't the case. A few days later, moments before I was supposed to leave for Abu Dhabi with my dad, I fainted in the shower. I never fully lost consciousness but I knew it was because I spent 30 minutes trying to distract myself and find something to watch on TV because I did not feel like I had an appetite. Then I gave up and went to take a shower. And the rest is history.
The same day, I came back to Abu Dhabi. My mom's first comment was about how much weight I had lost. I thought her concern was a mother's concern, nothing alarming. Then, people like our driver (and yes it's not uncommon to have help like this where I grew up), who usually wouldn't comment on my looks commented saying how much weight I had lost. It prompted me to go for a health check up. Everything was fine physically and my doctor basically kicked me out saying, "Yallah, go out and enjoy life now", yeah, as much as you can in the peak of the pandemic, I thought. However, I was putting the puzzle pieces together.
In doing so, I started recognizing how much my mental health affected my eating habits. I was born and raised in a Hindu household and I am a practicing Hindu myself, so mindful eating was not a foreign idea to me. I had been meditating regularly for almost two years at that point so that is where I looked for clarity. I started a course on Headspace for "Mindful Eating". What the course was teaching was also something that is practiced by my parents, grandparents, and the generations before them - being present with the food you're eating and who you're eating with. For example, my mom's baba (dad's dad) would keep a small portion of food aside on his plate as a sign of gratitude to God for a plate full of food for him and his family (the food set aside was fed to farm animals, most likely the cow). And then as he would consume the meal, my mom and my uncle sat with him and he'd feed them as well. Another rule when we were younger was no TV/phone while eating and at least one meal at the dining table with the entire family.
Snippet of New Year's family lunch. First meal of the year together (my appetite had improved almost back to normal by then)
I had lost a lot of these traditions that built mindful eating habits. I wish I could blame college lifestyle and the pandemic for this but I think a lot of this really comes with age and understanding the importance of culture and tradition with time. Being with my parents and brother was a lot more helpful. The sense of security being in a community provided was unmatched. Sitting with them eating or sometimes my mom even feeding me, gave me security. I was able to finish off meals & was no longer fainting in showers or getting extremely sick that I couldn't go to class.
As I completed my course on Headspace with Mindful Eating & spent more time with my family and friends in Abu Dhabi, here were my key takeaways:
- Try and eat at least one meal without distractions. Being present without work emails and Netflix helps eating not feel like a necessary task & actually allows you to enjoy the food
- What is in your mind affects everything, including your diet. Watch your thoughts *without judgement* regarding eating, cooking, etc.
- Eating with community: If you're eating with family/friends, learn how to share tastes and make it a meaningful bonding activity.
- Eating at least one meal by myself and making it a sacred ritual, just sitting with myself & experiencing the food with all my senses
- Consuming less content, in general, but especially food content. When I started my food, page I would spend so much time scrolling through food blogs that it made my mind numb to it. There is a fine line between getting inspiration vs. mindlessly scrolling (which in today's day and age can get hard to differentiate between).
- Lastly but most importantly, showing the food gratitude. Gratitude that you have the food. Gratitude to your body for consuming the food you like. Gratitude to the food itself for fueling your body.
Although I have come a long way since then in terms of my journey of Mindful Eating (practicing Ayurveda, yoga, etc.), this is my foundation. And from time to time, I do have to go back to it. So, writing this is a form of me going back to it. In the future, I will be talking about my other practices but this is definitely not the last post about Mindful Eating because my blog would not be authentic without talking about this topic.
2/14/2023 10:16:25 am
This is such a beautiful piece ❣️
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Hi! My name is Vaishnavi and this is a curation of all of my dining experiences. I travel a lot and since an early age, much like both my grandmothers, I have enjoyed cooking, baking, exploring dining options, and experimenting with food. In college, I started @foodbyvivarmaa as a creative outlet for all things food related. And since then, friends and family have asked me for recommendations and recipes and I thought why not make a traditional blog? Growing up in India and UAE and now living in NYC and my parents giving us the opportunity to travel all over, I have been honored to be introduced to all sorts of food. Although I don't put a label on it, 90% of my diet is vegetarian. In India, cooking and eating food is a community ritual. Most of my favorite memories revolve around having a good meal with those who I love. To continue that tradition, I hope to curate my own community as I travel and continue building my life in different parts of the world & hopefully and or inspire and give others the same feeling of community brought together by food.