By Saranpreet Kaur
Let me tell you some things I’ve learned about food and weight.
This is my story so far, and I’m sure as long as I live in this body, it will keep evolving and changing. But right now, I want to put a perspective out there, so you don’t waste time and energy hooking into spiritual paradigms that are outdated and that simply don’t serve you.
As a child I was always called fat. Like: FAT. (I was never fat. Never ever. Not even properly pudgy.) I can see now that it came from my ginormous energy presence. My presence filled the room even back then. And little girls were not supposed to do that. We were in a welfare society back in the 1980’s and 90’s. My mom had a dieting mindset and idealised slimness, and as a loving mother she wanted me to be successful and “proper” (by her standards), so the worst thing that could happen, was for me to be fat and uncontrolled.
There was a survival dynamic in our house around food, and there was a lot of food shaming, as well as substitution of food for emotional closeness. I thought for decades that if I ate like someone else, if I had the food they had, I would have closeness with them, or their acceptance.
I was 13 or 14 years old, the first time I really began to hate my body. Hate is not an exaggeration. And I hated that I had no control over its functions or mass.
My teens were a nightmare. Finally at 18, I started to starve-diet and exercise to get into shape. This was during the Spice Girls boom, and I was looking very closely at their bodies and thinking, “I want to look like that.” Maybe I’d have friends (spice girls of my own?) if I got a grip.
It never ever occurred to me that I was good the way I was. That my body was exactly the weight and size it needed to be.
I was so deep in shame, I didn’t want to feel my body, and I did not want to be reminded that I had one. I was eating all the wrong things — I was eating what I was told was good for my body. Never ever was there a question of listening to what my body was asking for.
We studied the nutritional pyramid at school. Oh boy, that got me in trouble. I blindly took all of it in, never questioning the symptoms I got from eating certain foods. But by that point, I was cut off enough anyway, too far gone to notice.
By 19, I suffered burn-out and developed rheumatoid arthritis. I was moving away from home and conflicted about my path in life, scared shitless, trying to hold together the depressed, exhausted being that I was.
I’d been an emotional eater for most of my life, but I’d also become bulimic. It was never my “thing”, but it lasted long enough for me to realise I had an eating disorder, and had had one for quite some time.
I went to my local doctor and asked her to help me. She said, “but you’re not even thin.”
I wasn’t surprised by her words. I expected judgement. But I was determined to get help. I got in touch with the local center for anorexia, told my story, and they called me in for an assessment.
Verdict: I was depressed, using sugar to manage my mood and brain chemistry. I got sugar detox tablets and antidepressants, as well as some counselling. I did a couple of talks for my local community center on the subject of eating disorders, which was highly healing and empowering. But I was still eating all the wrong things.
At 22, I thought being vegetarian and eating home cooked food must be good for me. Lentils, rice, potatoes, all kinds of vegetables, wholemeal bread, and cold pressed oils. Sounds great, right? But… oh dear. I was struggling with blood sugar swings, constipation, burning in my gut, and sugar cravings out of this world.
Every time I’d hit the point of “high weight”, i.e. UK size 16, I would panic, cry and start reducing my food intake and exercising more. I would constantly be assessing my appearance. I had a sense of how I was “supposed to look” based on the images I saw in magazines and on television. And based on the mirroring from my family and peers; everyone seemed to think that commenting on my weight and appearance was totally okay and acceptable. When I lost weight invariable people would comment on how good I looked. Maybe this has been your experience, too.
And I probably did the same to others. I’m sure I did.
I thought my body was against me, that it was punishing me — expanding my waistline into a pot belly and giving me those hateful double chins I’d been repeatedly teased about.
At 25, I had a huge life shift. I decided I needed to start pursuing my dream of getting a degree in opera and stage work. This was the beginning of my journey towards self-acceptance. You see, as an opera singer there’s an understanding that in order for your body to be able to do its magnificent singing work, you need stamina, and you see your body as your instrument. There were loads of singers who were of “larger volume” and doing great — considered big and beautiful and being really successful. It was almost expected of you to have a bit of “extra” on you to be a proper opera singer.
So within that context I got to reclaim myself, to see my body as functional, beautiful and acceptable. I had also started practising yoga. It was Ashtanga yoga at the time. It started changing my body. I looked at my Ashtanga teacher and thought, “I want to be like her. I want to look like her”. I thought practicing yoga would give me “my body”, make me slim like I always thought I needed to be.
My eating changed through the practice of yoga. It became lighter, but still, I was eating the wrong things. Vegetarian. Vegan. Back to vegetarian. Vegetables, grains, soy products, fibre, pasta sauces, and doing as many trending diets as I could. I was buying organic. I was cooking my meals. It was all healthy as can be. But so wrong for me. I kept going.
At 29, I had a more or less spontaneous “kundalini rising” and things changed. In other words, my body started moving stuff out. Powerfully. My food digestion was changing.
I was experiencing extremely painful symptoms of yeast infections within my whole body. My doctors didn’t think there was anything wrong with having vaginal thrush or yeast in my gut. So in the end, I took matters into my own hands. I got off sugar. I changed my diet to raw vegan. Weight dropped off. I was so happy, even as I was suffering from the detox. It was great for a while. Then my body ran out of protein and started screaming for meat. I refused. I had sugar cravings and I got one of those bloated bellies you see on African starving babies. That’s protein deficiency for you.
My body was asking for any kind of protein. I tried supplements and powders and none of it worked. I would hallucinate about having a piece of chicken. But I wanted to be ethical and “right” and “pure” so I suppressed that urge, and binged on nuts instead. Which was not a good idea. Constipation city. I tried liver cleanses. Nothing in my digestion was working. I was cold, but I was thin right?
I was doing the right thing, right? I was being healthy, right?
In 2011, I had a breakdown and went back to eating meat, after being vegetarian for 13 years. It was a relief to my body. Huge relief. But I felt like I was a failure spiritually and ethically and morally. Like I had to be in the closet with it somehow. I’d started following the Sikh way of life and although there was nothing really absolute decreeing vegetarianism, culturally most Sikhs are of Indian descent and see vegetarianism as a part of their faith. Mind you there’s a whole lot of meat eating warrior sikhs in India and the whole issue can be debated until the cows come home and beyond. That’s not the point. The point is that I dearly wanted to belong to this faith. I dearly wanted to be khalsa, to be pure.
I dearly wanted to take Amrit, to receive Sikh baptism. And within the communities that were available to me — the Western yoga Sikh community and the more traditional Indian Sikh community — it was a no meat policy. So when I did receive my Amrit, my baptism, I had to promise to not eat meat anymore. A vow I took more seriously than death.
I could have eggs, but otherwise I was doing the same game again. How can I fit into these rules? How can I bend myself into a pretzel to please a system? How can I make myself acceptable to my God and my Guru? Because obviously I had to try to make it work.
I kept having so many issues with my digestion and blood sugar, and still my weight. Bloating, lethargy, constipation, and a burning in my stomach after meals.
I was doing my darnedest to be holy. To be healthy. To be acceptable. Pure. Right. Being happy was not a priority. I was in this to meet God. It was exhausting.
In 2013, the countdown really began. I was feeling a strong pull to become lighter. My body was cleaning out faster.
In 2014, I started dropping huge amounts of weight. I was determined to reach into God. I wanted to be light, to be spirit, to just merge. I also had a crumbling twin flame marriage and was in so much emotional pain that I just wanted to leave the planet. I wasn’t hungry anymore. But I was obsessed with food, and not having much of it. I was doing massive amounts of of prayer and yoga and I was exhausted.
By May 2014, I was a skeleton. But since I have a big bone structure, a lot of people were saying, “wow, you look amazing!” I drank that in. Others who knew me better were angry. Some worried. A few were able to just be with me as I stubbornly starved myself. A part of me knew I had to run the whole gamut of the thing. I knew I had to reach the end of the line. And I did. I came to a point where I broke down.
Just before my birthday on June 2, 2014, I was sitting on a couch with a chihuahua in my lap. I was experiencing so much stress. So much sadness. So many feelings of being tired, sad, and feeling separate. So when that little dog sat there and licked my hand I couldn’t hold it together anymore.
I started shaking, screaming, and wailing.
I can’t do this anymore. I can’t do this anymore. I’m too tired for this. I’m too tired.
All in Finnish. MÁ EN JAKSA ENÁÁ. I can’t go on anymore. So I stopped. And I felt like the biggest failure on earth. I had failed God. I’d failed everyone because I couldn’t go on. But at least I started eating. Slowly. A bit more. I weighed 50kg. I’d lost my menstrual cycle 15kg ago. I stopped doing my spiritual practices, and I moved back to my native Finland for a year. I started healing my wish to die.
I then went to South Africa to teach a workshops, and there I met a woman who offered some wisdom about what I should be consuming. I started eating cauliflower every day. I started eating chicken and salmon. Eggs. Butter. Almonds. Eating chicken was literally like getting a transfusion. My body started building itself back again. Every time I gained weight, I cried. I felt huge. I felt like a failure. I just wanted to be thin again. I left my Sikh practice, as I felt sick to my stomach even thinking of making myself fit into any kind of practice, any kind of rules. My heart was dictating the rules now.
I talked to Jesus and the angels. I was really really sad. Because Sikh was the best thing in my life. It was an inexplicable love that just was there. There were no words for the connection I felt to the sacred writings and poetry within the Sikh lineage. It’s all supposed to be sung, did you know that? No preaching. Just song. It’s fascinating and absolutely beautiful.
So I started gaining weight again, and with every kilo, I had to accept myself all over again. I kept wanting to go back to my old restriction pattern, but mostly I was gaining slowly but surely. I was panicking: when will this gaining end? I felt I’d become “orca-fat”; obese, shamefully huge.
In June of 2016, I was living in Scotland and planning a move to Brighton. I was going to pass through Birmingham to give a nod to my Sikh past and meet old friends. I volunteered at a yoga retreat where there was a Sikh spiritual space as well. As I reconnected in the temple space, I was in tears. I missed that path so much. After a weekend of no sleep, I surrendered to my heart and tied my first turban in 18 months. And I felt like I’d been bandaged. I was calmed and soothed. (These turban things have a technology built into them, you know.)
I accepted myself more than ever before, and I kept gaining weight more happily now. I liked feeling strong. I came back to my Sikh practice in a completely new way, listening to what my, and not just doing it for the sake of feeling safe following rules or because I had to.
At this point I knew God as myself. I knew my truth so deeply no one could tell me otherwise. I’d been to hell and back and I was not going to give myself away to anyone anymore, no matter what they thought of me.
I was reclaiming my right to be a Sikh. I was reclaiming my right to define myself as a spiritual being and person. I was regaining my right to eat.
I’ve screamed through so much spiritual and emotional pain. I’ve been through the polarities of excess and starvation. And my body is saying: here’s is a good place to be.
I’m now a UK size 16. I’m strong. I have my belly back. I have my double chin. And, guess what? I don’t give a flying fuck. I am so happy not to be exhausted, not to be tired, and not to be completely checked out.
I’m warm. I can skip a meal without collapsing. I don’t have blood sugar swings. My stomach works. I’m feeling my menstrual cycle manifesting once again. I eat a bit of meat almost every day.
The thing is this: when people tell you how they got to their natural weight, they are almost always talking about becoming slim.
What if your natural weight is not on the slim side? What if your natural shape is not slim? What if you’re a strong warrior woman, or a voluptuous Venusian woman? What if you’re a steady rock of a woman? (Goes for men too.)
We all know medical obesity is not good for anyone, but if you work out and eat right for your body system, and your body is a “bigger size”, a heavier weight, maybe that’s where you meant to be? Maybe that’s simply right for you? Maybe that’s your kind of beautiful? It’s important to eat healthy, and for many people it’s good to be mostly vegetarian for many reasons, but if that does not work for you, then maybe that’s just how God created you?
I know now, the difference in being big and having a body in flow, from holding on to emotional weight and being bloated because your body is not digesting properly. Nutrition is so individual, based on the body’s system, blood group, and genetics.
It’s time for us now to be who we are. Accept ourselves as we are. Knowing the wisdom is within us. And as we do, we give everyone else permission to do the same. Free yourself.
So let me tell you some things I’ve learned about food and weight…
Get to know your body. Celebrate your uniqueness. Give your body the food it needs and asks for. Accept that. We are here to be who we are. That’s the yoga of Life.
We are not better yogis for being slim. We’re not more spiritual persons for being vegetarian, if that goes against our inherent, God-given grain. We are not more spiritual for following rules and regulations that don’t agree with us. They take us just so far.
In the end, we are the only authority for our own lives. And letting the Universe mirror the God within us is the true path of the Yogi. Respect your energy. Let it show you your path in Life. Your life-force knows. It is alive.
I celebrate you for being who you are. You are loved.