Food is fuel, but this concept is relatively new to me. I wasn’t always conscious of what I ate and I would often wolf down food because I was either hungry, bored, or emotional. That was me in 2017, writes Reesha Chibba.
My life changed in December 2017 when I decided to investigate my tiredness and inability to lose weight. I didn’t have any of the usual signs of pre-diabetes like thirstiness, excessive urination in the middle of the night, weight gain, or lethargy. I was just tired and I unknowingly blamed it on my early morning shifts at work which I have been working on and off for more than a decade at that time.
A rude awakening
My alarm would scream every week-day at 2:45am, violently interrupting my body’s cortisol function, and killing any chance it ever had of recovering and operating normally throughout the day. I would get dressed and collapse into the routine of my duties and execute them to the best of my ability until my shift was over. Then I would get into the car and drive home with a lump in my throat, analysing and re-analysing everything I did and said, and beat myself for anything I failed at. I was exhausted, every day,
I would go to the gym run for as long as I could and switch off mentally on the treadmill. That was my routine. My life played out like a CD on repeat, from Monday to Friday. Occasionally I would enter the odd endurance event and train for it like an athlete in an effort to excite and re-invigorate myself. But my body was crumbling, much like a Tennis biscuit dipped in tea. My pancreas was malfunctioning and producing insulin three times more than the average human, my hair was falling by the handful, and my mental health was deteriorating. On the outside I looked and acted fine, but on the inside, I was gasping for air.
Time of reckoning
In March 2018 after numerous visits to my GP I sat across from a specialist who told me I needed to change my lifestyle, or else live with diabetes for the rest of my life. And he wasn’t whimsical about his recommendations, he was firm. He gave me a choice and the thought of popping tablets for the rest of my life with shocked me. I had to change, and I knew it.
I started taking Metformin to help regulate and control my body’s insulin production, vitamin D to kickstart my sleep hormone, cortisol, and Burnout by Solal because well, I was pretty burnt out. He also recommended I see a dietician and his exact words were, “She’ll guide you on what you to eat.“ I wasn’t disheartened, but I was scared, and instantly I knew that my sweet tooth and raging love affair with carbs was going to have to come to an end.
My dietician didn’t give me an eating plan or strip me of junk food like most diets out there. For a year, she coaxed me into gentle eating patterns by reducing my intake of carbs and increasing the amount of vegetables in my diet. She educated me about various food groups, the properties, nutritional content and its functions. She entertained emails from me requesting more snacks and peanuts because I initially starved and felt hungry all the time, but I actually wasn’t. This happened during winter when the dip in temperatures make you want to nibble everything in the house, including the cat.
She nudged me to make better choices by eating timeously and not binge eat and starve my body of carbs early in the day. She also provided me with skills to indulge in a donut, practically, without shocking my body. So instead of treating myself willy-nilly to junk food, I’ve gradually learnt how to manipulate myself mentally and give it treats twice a week without hurting myself. And I eat everything, donuts, chocolate, bread (Rye), biscuits, chips, popcorn … the list is epic. But like everything in life, moderation is key. And if mistakes happen and I accidentally decide to eat a slab of chocolate because I’m having a bad day, I rectify the situation by trying again and being kind to myself. No one is perfect. Food is not a reward and restricting yourself shouldn’t ever be a punishment. Food is my only fuel and I’ve learnt what makes me function and function well.
Learning what my body needs has been a game-changer these past two years. I scrutinise everything in stores and think twice about condiments and sauces. I try to steer clear of using stock cubes and instead of using store-bought dressing and mayo, I make my own because I know what’s in it.
Every little change
I’m also not the best person to shop with because I’m a linger-longer – every time I come across new products I tend to linger in the aisles, for longer. My eyes dart straight to the back of the packet to check the sodium, sugar, fat and carb content. And you’ll often see me doing the math or talking to myself about whether or not to buy what I’m holding. I’ve become that girl.
I’ve learnt now that without being cognisant of what is in different products, you will never truly be able to gain control of your diet. Because there is so much variety on the shelves and most of them these days are touted as healthy – and they probably are healthier than other products – but they are actually full of carbs, sodium or fat. Being skilled, finally, on how to identify and interpret the nutritional values has opened my eyes to a new world of possibilities.
Fulfillment and knowledge
My weight gradually peeled away over the months I was with my dietician and I started getting very creative in the kitchen. I was encouraged by the results and my smaller pants to be honest and would tweak all my favourite foods to make it less carb-rich or fatty. Instead of buying coconut milk, I started making my own and adding it to Thai-infused dishes because real coconut milk is very high in fat. I also started making quinoa roti instead of using refined flours and I gradually started ghosting foods that made me feel tired or heavy. My sweet tooth has never relaxed so I’ve learnt to bake with dark chocolate and Xylitol instead.
And as the time progressed my energy levels started to increase as well. I’ve always been a runner, and an avid swimmer, but last year I challenged myself to taking part in the 94.7 Cycle Challenge and doing a triathlon. I did my first Ironman sprint towards the end of the year, just weeks after my first cycle race. And I felt awesome. This year I cycled the Cape Cycle Challenge, previously known as the Argus with water as a supplement and my very own date, coconut, and peanut butter concoction.
I have trained myself to run a 10km with only having had water, honey, and coffee and I because I feel so in tune with my body, I push it to see how far I can go with various homemade power treats. My point is; over time I’ve rediscovered my body and discovered all its kinks, loves and hates. My palette loves chocolate but my body doesn’t. When I eat chocolate, I feel tired almost immediately. But when it is that time of the month, chocolate makes me feel euphoric. My endorphins kick in and my body collapses into its happy self. I’ve also noticed that my body metabolises caffeine differently on days when I sleep well and am rested and on days when I don’t.
I’m learning every day, about myself and my body. I noticed the subtle changes and I am loving my food evolution.
I’ve also started a blog to share some of my recipes and experiences with people. I don’t think I am different or better than anybody, but I do think it’s important to share knowledge and tales of fascination and flops from the warmth of one’s kitchen. My website, On the Board, features only what I eat and what I like to eat. When I tried to lose weight before, I would motivate myself by reading stories of people who dropped excessive amounts of weight by exercising and dieting along with supplements. I tried everything but nothing really worked for me until I started understanding what I was feeding myself.
I have stopped seeing my dietician for over a year and my weight has never returned. I am not razor thin, nor toned to perfection; but I am happier and healthier than I’ve ever been in my life. I no longer take Metformin, and all my levels are the lowest it’s ever been. My story is not extraordinary, but it’s one of balance. I balance protein, carbohydrates, fats and treats, daily. – Health-e News
Reesha Chibba is an output editor at eNCA and an online food blogger. Visit her blog at www.ontheboard.co.za