Why this Dubai expat began to ‘eat clean’, and wanting to be thin wasn’t why

By Sujata Assomull

My friends love to tease me about the fact that I like to eat clean. Everyone assumes it is connected to weight. I am, after all, a fashion journalist, and it makes sense that I would be size-conscious. And though I am guilty of this, I practice clean eating for different reasons. I suffer from fibromyalgia, a syndrome that can result in musculoskeletal pain and chronic fatigue. I love food too much to stick to a diet, but pain made me change.

About five years ago, in the middle of a cold Delhi winter, I would wake up every morning with severe stiffness, exhaustion, and running a mild temperature. I used to be someone who went on regular morning walks. And if I knew I was going to eat out, I would fit in an extra session with my trainer so that I could eat without guilt. But now there was pain in my knees, ankles, wrists, knuckles and elbows. Getting out of bed was painful. I needed to apply heat pads on my joints before I could even think about brushing my teeth. It took many weeks to figure out I had fibromyalgia.

It’s a disease that could only be diagnosed by dietary elimination. There are no blood tests, x-rays or other means to detect it. I first learnt about it through another industry professional who also suffered from it. And then I went to a well-known sports therapist who helped my friend recover and who ran a health and fitness centre.

Friends and family kept telling me this was something I ‘thought’ I had, and that the alternative health and fitness expert was just leading me on so I would sign up for her programme. Luckily, I did not listen to any of them.

Fibromyalgia refers to fibrous tissues (tendons and ligaments), ‘algia’ means pain. And it was because I avoided the medical expert (who thought cortisone injections was the answer), and listened to my alternative healer, that I managed to control the pain and it finally diminished. It was her belief in clean eating and controlled exercise that helped me. She told me to avoid all trigger foods.

For six weeks, I went on a no-trigger food diet. This meant no meat, tomato, aubergine, gluten foods… all dairy products were also off limits. That’s how I became a clean eater. I changed my diet. I added fresh fruit, vegetables, coconut water, brown rice and quinoa salads.

Two months later, I had no pain. I believe the diet was a major reason. It helped my system reboot. Of course, I also changed my exercise plan, added reflexology and acupuncture to my weekly regime. By now it has become a lifestyle for me. While I say I clean eat — I avoid wheat and dairy — clean eating itself is difficult to define. I asked health professionals and each one’s take was different.

If you are going to be literal, then clean eating is about eating real foods. Foods that are not processed or refined. You can eat fresh fruit and vegetables, dried legumes, nuts and fresh farm eggs. Which is why, clean eating involves eating brown rice and quinoa and not polished or processed white rice. It can include both meat and chicken as long as the meats are hormone-free.

The diet is actually not that hard. But when we think of clean eating, we might think of Gwyneth Paltrow. She is known to follow a raw food diet for extended periods. Memes and jokes abound on the actor’s clean lifestyle, but did you know, she started doing this deep cleanse after she lost her father, Bruce Paltrow, who refused to follow diet plans. He passed away due to oral cancer. This lead the actor to research how you can eat your way to better health. And every year, her lifestyle website, Goop, puts out a detox diet based on clean eating.

The 2017 Goop Detox says you can eat and drink anything you want except — and there’s a list — caffeine, sugar, gluten, soy, corn, nightshades (any potatoes that aren’t sweet, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant). Every January, I follow it for a month. I think it helps ensure that my system gets a reboot and prevents another attack of Fibromyalgia.

I am not as strict the rest of the year as I used to be, but when the pain comes back, I go on a detox — and that means a strict clean eating policy. I feel it is not something you can follow 24/7, and my heath has improved, so I can afford to cheat from time to time. I also believe that when you are too strict and eliminate all ‘non-clean’ foods, your body develops zero tolerance towards gluten and dairy. Then if you do have a bite of cheese or wheat, your system does not know how to digest these foods, which is not the solution. And since we live in a world where eating out is a part of life, you can never be sure you are really eating clean. The science apart, it’s about listening to your body and what works for you. So now, when people like to tease me when I am out at a restaurant about my clean diet I no longer care. And I am now able to do an extra workout the day after I indulge. In fact, this year I was gifted Enid Blyton’s Five Go Gluten Free — and took no offence. Having ‘Fibro,’ as I call it, has taught me that you need to do what works for you. And if that is clean eating, stick with it.


Sujata is fashion editor, KT. She makes it her business to stay on trend

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