Our relationship with food is broken. While that sounds harsh, I believe that we as a society need to understand the gravity of this truth.
My name is Vidushi Binani , and I am the co-founder of Volonté. My personal journey with food, fitness and general well-being inspired me to start Volonté and to write this blog.
I am a woman in my mid twenties, South-Asian Indian, from Bombay (or Mumbai as it is now called) in western India. I spent some of my teenage years in Switzerland at boarding school, before moving to London for my undergraduate studies. I then attended culinary school in London after which I started Volonté.
I love food. I love everything about food. Eating (obviously) being the most exciting, as I grew older I loved learning about ingredients, techniques, origin stories, cultural significance, health benefits, flavour profiles, sensory experiences that it can create and most importantly sharing
food experiences with others. I love that you can learn so much about a new place or person by understanding the way they eat or cook (and we will explore this more in a future blog post).
I was an inactive child and so my love for food started in my young adult years led me to becoming an obese teenager. I wasn't as experimental with my choices in food when I was younger and I truly did love my sugary carbs and fats. Who doesn’t, and why shouldn’t they, they’re so damn good! (to taste).
At boarding school, I moved to a much more disciplined environment, being politely forced to be more active, and learning to live with fewer food choices (even fewer for me particularly as I was a vegetarian in a school where 99% of the other kids weren’t). Struggling to excel in or enjoy most sporting activities, and eating excessive amounts of unhealthy food, in an environment where most other peers of mine were quite active, and (at the risk of sounding a bit superficial here but hear me out) looked “a certain way”, I felt a little out of place. My friends were lovely, and the school was great. Not once did the environment make me feel that way, but it’s a very natural feeling for most girls in their teenage years to want to look a certain way. Skinny. That is exactly what I then wanted to be. I went to extreme lengths to achieve this. I exercised (cardio heavy) for 2 hours a day. I barely ate, and even when I did it was mostly leaves and fruit. Low calorie stuff. I counted everything I ate, punished myself for every “wrong” thing I ate, I was a little crazy in my approach. I finally achieved my goal. I went from being around 88kgs to being 45kgs, in the unhealthiest and most unsustainable manner. I completely spoiled my relationship with food in the process. Dare I say it, I even started to hate food. I made something that I used to enjoy more than anything, into a calculated exercise. I went from being the person who lived to eat, to being one that ate to live. I gave myself a few health issues on the way too, mainly hormonal. Only when I was 18 years old, about to go to university, with having to take medications and treatment for trying to fix my body back to regular hormonal function, did I realise the gravity of what I had done to myself.
The human body is very self sufficient and intelligent. It is always giving us signals and telling us what feels right for it and what doesn't. We almost always ignore the signal, because we think
we know better than our bodies. We don’t. We might know our bodies, but definitely not well enough.
When I started to lose weight quickly, I lost a lot of hair, I felt weak most of the time, my menstrual cycle was irregular (rather I had no cycle at all for almost a year). I did not once think to believe that exerting my body with long hours of exercise followed by practical starvation had anything to do with any of these symptoms. I made myself believe that I was doing nothing wrong, as I was following all these fad diet and exercise trends that so-called nutrition and athletic professionals were writing about (rather social media-ing about). How could this absolutely unnecessary extreme behaviour have anything to do with my symptoms? I learned the hard way that wanting to reach an unrealistic goal by making drastic changes to your lifestyle does more harm than good. Being of a healthy weight and having adequate activity levels is important, the key words here being healthy and adequate, but it's also important to realise that “healthy” and “adequate” mean a different thing for every human body. One size doesn't fit all. Every body is different. My journey led me to finally learn that balance and moderation are key to maintaining these two aspects (and many more) in life.
As author James Clear has mentioned in Atomics Habits, the best way to achieve goals is by making small consistent changes in your daily habits. These small changes slowly add up and help you achieve big goals in a sustainable way. It is a trial and error method, we have to constantly adapt based on what works for us and what doesn't.
When it comes to weight and health management, shocking your system with a drastic change can be more damaging than helpful in the long run, as our bodies that are geared to turn on survival mode when shocked, will do exactly that. It will turn away from regular body function. Sometimes minor shocks are necessary to break a “bad” habit or pattern that you have formed, but when you do so, it is very important to listen to the signals your body gives you. If it is completely disagreeing with your decision, you should stop.
Once I understood that all my symptoms of poor health were implications of the drastic and constant shocks I was giving my body, I started to mend my relationship with food. I realised that rather than trying to sacrifice my relationship with something I loved a lot, I could maximise its benefits by maintaining a healthy and balanced relationship. One where I didn’t take more than I gave.
For example, If I strained my body with constant indulgent meals or consumption of alcohol (type of shock), I wouldn’t shock it further by eating less and starving for the next few days, but instead eating well, staying hydrated and doing moderate exercise, to allow my body to heal from the initial shock and come back to a regular state. Don’t punish your body for decisions that you make, balance it instead. If you choose to indulge (and there is nothing wrong in doing so from time to time), you shouldn’t starve your body to make up for the indulgence. It is grossly unfair. Our bodies constantly maintain the state of homeostasis and regular enzyme/hormone production so we can live comfortably, and if we don't provide it with adequate fuel to do so or strain it too much, our body will struggle to maintain it, and hence develop symptoms that are meant to tell us to stop harming it. In short, enjoy your indulgence, knowing that you will let your body heal from it in the time that follows. Don’t feel guilty. The guilt leads you to do more wrong to yourself.
Learning this basic principle of maximising without sacrificing too much, and having a balanced approach to maintaining health, stemmed the idea of creating Volonté. Volonté in french translates to “will” or “desire”. A place where we teach you to enjoy all food groups without guilt, eat mindfully, and exercise your will power. We believe that you should nourish your body well so that it can energise you. Treat it with love and care, listen to it. With this blog I hope to spread some of mine and the Volonté family’s learnings about how one can maintain a balanced relationship with food and yourself, and not even by listening to us, but rather by listening to and understanding your own body.