Art of Living guru Khurshed Batliwala talks to MAITHILI CHAKRAVARTHY about bringing balance into eating
“There does not exist a diet which can be generically applied to every single human being. A perfect diet cannot be made for all of humanity. A perfect diet could be made for you personally, but even that would change depending on seasons, depending on the place you are in. It’s very important that you educate yourself about food, about food groups, what each food group does to you, and learn about it and create your perfect diet for yourself. Making a perfect diet is like a detective story. And you really need to understand food and understand your body before you can get to the root of it,” says Art of Living Senior Faculty member Khurshed Batliwala.
The perfect diet can elude many of us; losing weight may feel like an impossible task. A fad diet may push you to eliminate certain food groups from your diet, while making you choose others. As you try to achieve a target weight, you find yourself going to extreme lengths to look for foods your fad diet permits. You are the person with dietary hang-ups wherever you go – the one everyone wants to avoid. Your cook hates you. Batliwala advises against fads and trends in dieting and puts a premium on eating holistically.
“Eating fresh, organic, vegetarian and local is the way to go and if you can actually grow some stuff even in a small apartment balcony and have at least some of the stuff that you have grown yourself, that would do wonders to your diet, to your health, compared to following any of these fad diets. I have seen certain diets that completely eliminate or really minimise a particular macronutrient to encourage fast weight loss. I totally disagree with that. A balanced diet, one with all the macro and micronutrients in it is best in the long run. Looking at food holistically is definitely a great idea. If you look at food holistically you will find that all the micronutrients and macro nutrients are anyway included. Ayurveda says that you should have all the colours, as many colours as possible on your plate and all the tastes – the six tastes – sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent, and astringent (in your meals). All those six tastes should be part of your meal. At least once in a day you should be tasting all the six tastes.”
A gut feeling
The Indian diet may sound simple, may not have the sheen of quinoa or apple cider vinegar or the sexiness of a Japanese sushi dinner, but is nonetheless wholesome, and complete in itself. Packed with nutrients like carbs, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals, the Indian diet also adequately incorporates spices that are well known for their medicinal properties, which other kinds of world-famous cuisines may having nothing to do with. From turmeric to asafoetida to ginger to clove to cumin and red chilli powder, spices used to cook Indian pulaos and dals are exactly what the body needs to build immunity, prevent the onset of diseases like cancer and diabetes, and fight everyday annoyances like common cold and fever.
The home-made kadha, a traditional tea of herbs and spices provides warmth and comfort on a rainy day. Our nanis’ recipes of sheera, puran poli and methi nu lot valu shak are not just food but harbingers of pleasure, happiness, well-being and health. In addition, foods like yogurt and pickle rich in probiotics naturally promote gut health, digestion, fight diarrhoea, and are good for the heart. But some probiotic foods also have ‘psychobiotic’ properties because they can alter your mood and help fight depression and anxiety. “In our gut there are colonies and colonies of bacteria. A lot of these bacteria are really good for us. They help in digestion, they help in the genetic expression of each individual, and they do a hell of a lot of great work for us. However there are the bad guys as well, and these days new research tells us that some of these bad bacteria could be related to obesity, mental anxiety, depression and all sorts of things. So you need to have food that would basically feed the good bacteria and starve the bad bacteria. What kind of food is this? Well, vegetarian for sure, and things that are not deep fried. Completely avoid sugar and white flour. Have more greens. I would say the normal good Indian diet that our grandmothers used to give us, this would be great for your health.”
Food for flat abs
Batliwala talks about eating not just in terms of calorie-intake, but also in terms of its nutritional intake. What the Art of Living leader, who runs Café Vishala at the Art of Living Bengaluru ashram, ‘quite the foodie’ in his own words, believes is that food’s inherent energy-giving attributes must be appreciated and perhaps the judgement attached to food, based on whether it is perceived to be ‘fattening’ or not must be done away with. He also says that washboard abs are a result of what you eat and how correctly and cleanly you eat. Eating your meals consciously, taking time off to enjoy and celebrate them while you eat will essentially determine what value they will add to your life.
“It is said among people who are fit that abs are not made in the gym, abs are made in the kitchen. You could be working out like crazy but if you do not eat right you are never going to see the kind of gains and the kind of cuts that you are looking for. So food plays a huge role in weight loss. However, food is also nutrition and energy. Food needs to be respected. Meal times need to be made even a little sacred. It’s the time for the whole family to get together and enjoy the bounty that nature provides. So, I hope that more and more people don’t look at food as oh, this will make me put on weight, or this will make me lose weight. Rather look at it in terms of this will help me gain health, or lose health.”
Additionally, Batliwala asserts that health and taste are not inversely proportional, and also that the ideal meal is one that has been cooked with lots of love. He goes on to state that the ideal meal becomes such when one is heavily invested in the eating process, when one eats mindfully and really chews into the food to enjoy it to its fullest. He talks about eating being a spiritual exercise, and not just a routine chore. Where food transcends taste to become a life force and fills you with the prana necessary to live well and live with energy and vitality.