Almost seven years ago, Natasha Diddee had to undergo total gastrectomy (removal of the entire stomach). Today, she is one of India’s top food bloggers.
Natasha Diddee aka ‘The Gutless Foodie’ is one of India’s top food bloggers. © TheGutlessFoodie
It was back in 2012 when Natasha consulted doctors about a throbbing pain in her stomach. She found out that because of prolonged stress, tumours in her stomach started to show, and so her entire stomach had to be removed.
Almost seven years later, she is one of India’s top food bloggers with almost 100k followers on Instagram. Yes, a food blogger without a stomach and a social media handle that is aptly named ‘The Gutless Foodie’.
We talk to Natasha about her story, her passion for food, and how she faced this rare medical condition head-on.
INKLINE: You described stress as one of the primary causes for the deterioration of your health. How important is that we talk about mental health, particularly in a country like India?
Natasha Diddee: As modern as we think we are, how we are in the 21st century and how we believe that we are very forward thinking, we actually are not. Indians, in general, tend to be very closed people. We don’t like to show our weaknesses and only show our polished sides to the outside world.
I was no different. I was a ’70s child, and if I was going through something in my life, even as close as I am with my parents and siblings, I never felt comfortable enough to talk to them about it. When you say something out loud, like ‘Oh my god, I can’t do this,’ then you’ve said it and it is out there and people can either mock you or… so there is a lot of stigma attached to talking about things that are stressing you out.
That’s why I put my story out there, it was not easy to talk about the fact that I failed in my first marriage. It was not easy to talk about the fact that I struggled with different aspects of my life, but I honestly feel that just because you’ve failed in one aspect of your life it doesn’t make your entire life a failure. I really feel instead of judging each other, it’s important to empathise and help each other and empower each other to just live nice, kind, good lives.
It is not easy and I am not going to lie about it, I try and keep a positive attitude about it because that is the only way to go.
I: On a day-to-day basis, what does it actually mean to live without a stomach?
N: I know it’s become a fad these days, people have gastric bypasses and surgeries to become thin etc., but it has huge ramifications in life. To give you one example: Vitamin B12 is produced by the parietal cells of the stomach and since I don’t have a stomach, I am completely dependent on injections.
When you have undergone gastric surgery, in my case, get my entire stomach removed, you develop a condition called dumping syndrome. It literally means that your body just shuts down. If I eat too fast or if I eat something too heavy, I’ll start sweating profusely like I’m having a heart attack or I’ll start yawning as though I’m really exhausted – it is my body telling me that I’m tired, that I cannot take it.
Because my whole system has changed, now my food gets digested straight in my intestines, there’s no stomach in the middle, no holding time, so everything happens real time. I eat very very small portions of food, but I eat like several times a day. It is not easy and I am not going to lie about it, I try and keep a positive attitude about it because that is the only way to go.
I have frequent drops in energy levels because I don’t eat full meals, sometimes I just don’t have the energy to move, I just need to sit down. So, now, I cannot hold down a full-time job even if I want to work. I cannot do a 9-5 job, simply because I don’t know if on one day I’m going to have a lot of energy or not. It affects everything in your life.
I: What inspired you to choose a profession in food, especially after losing your stomach, or was that precisely the reason?
N: Well, I was always interested in food. I’m a trained cook. But, once I lost my stomach, I realised that whatever I had learned I had to relearn because it just wasn’t working for me. I had to change the way I eat; it was a lifestyle change for me.
But, I realised that food can heal if the will is strong. And, I wanted to show it to the world, to help other people, and with my recipes on Instagram, they have access to how I eat and cook. That is why I started putting what I eat on Instagram.
I think food is very nostalgic, you always associate it with something, so when I tell that story, a lot of people like to read that and I think that is why people follow me.
I: For someone who’s not particularly friendly with technology, you have almost 100k followers on Instagram. How did that come about?
N: First of all, I have a story, and it’s been written about a lot. And, a lot of people say that they have been inspired by it. When they are going through difficult times in their lives and they read my story, they feel: ‘My god if she can do it, why can’t I?!’
So, I think, it is more the human interest why they start following me and then when they come on to my feed, my food is everyday food, it’s not something you’ll go to a 5-star hotel and eat, it is normal Ghar ka khaana, everyday Indian food. I mean, I cook Indian, Western, Chinese and all kinds of things, but it’s always from scratch. I use condiments like Worchester sauce or soya sauce, but I would never use a pasta sauce from a bottle, I will always make it from scratch. Most people are afraid to do it because they don’t know how to do it, so they get that confidence to try.
I am not claiming to be an expert, I am just saying I cook this way, me and family like to eat this way, and I think people have connected to that. I don’t use fancy props etc., whatever I serve in, I literally eat my food in that. I basically post what I have cooked for that day, and there is always a story to my food. I think food is very nostalgic, you always associate it with something, so when I tell that story, a lot of people like to read that and I think that is why people follow me, at least that’s what I think.
I: What is your advice to someone who is undergoing health concerns, be it mental or physical?
N: Actually, I don’t want to give any advice. I am not qualified to give any advice. But if you are asking me for what I would have done differently when I was going through my health problems, I think I would have spoken up sooner. I should have been honest and said, ‘Listen, I’m stressed out, I am not feeling good, I need help.’
Whether it is someone professional or a friend or a partner, whoever, I think it is really important to address the fact that you are not good and that you need help. Don’t be ashamed to ask for it and if you are going through a medical illness like you feel something is not right with your stomach or lung or heart, go and see a doctor, don’t try and google things.
You need to see someone who is qualified, I really recommend old-school doctors, the newer hospitals are like money-making rackets. I went through that, through so many doctors to actually find the one who treated me. I guess it’s down to luck, but you should definitely talk about it. When you put it out there, some help will come.
Empower yourself, use my story to become the best version of you.
I: What is the most important message that you would want people to take away from you your story?
N: I think life is like your thumbprint, everybody’s journey is different from the other. You may be born in the same family but you will have a different story from your sibling. I think what I want people to understand and do is to really own and live the thumbprint of their lives.
A lot of people come up to me to say that they find me inspirational, I really take that time to ask them, ‘Ok, you got inspired by me, but what did you do with that inspiration?’ Because inspiration without doing anything about it is just nothing. You can get inspired by a dog, by food, by a voice. But how did you apply it to better your life?
I want people to use my story or if they are inspired by me to use that inspiration to empower the best life they can live for themselves. Empower yourself, use my story to become the best version of you.
Nikhil Sreekandan is a journalist with a desire to explore life through the stories he chases. An engineer who found recluse in the world of words, he is a journalism post-graduate from Cardiff University. He works as a content editor at Nature inFocus, India’s leading platform for nature and wildlife. When not lost in cinema, contemporary literature or his earphones — there is a genuine attempt at ‘giving chase’, and it is beautiful.