Tag Archives: simplicity

My Project 333 Wardrobe

“Don’t be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

I

I have my dear mother – though deeply elegant herself – to thank for this startling green bell–bottom pantsuit of my childhood. As I grew older and chose my own clothes, I don’t think you can blame me for choosing to wear all black all day. 

When I first went to study in Florence at age 20, an Italian friend told me that Italians really care about what they wear, and to wear only my best clothes all the time. I was never out of sweatshirts at that point, but I paid attention to the advice. 

I bought a few t-shirts, ballet tops and skirts in black, forest green and burgundy, which I wore with my trusty black Doc Martens. Everything mixed and matched, and everything fitted into a small case as I headed off to Florence. 

Classes could mean oil painting in the studio or our literature professor walking us around the city to show us where Dante and Beatrice met. My classmates and I often ate in our respective homes – I stayed with an Italian family – then met up again to go dancing until 4am. Whatever I put on in the morning was perfect to carry me through all of these activities. For the first time, I felt I was dressed for life.

As the years went on, I forgot the simple formula and my wardrobe expanded and contracted as I moved between countries, cultures and temperatures.

II

On the first film I worked on, I was the director’s assistant and one of the stills photographers. Because it was an all-hands-on-deck sort of film, I was also bouncing around helping various departments, including costumes. In its review, Time magazine said the most sensuous thing about this film were its fabrics. And they certainly were stunning. 

It was the first time I gained proper appreciation for clothes. I learnt how lovely silver looks with midnight blue, or gold with Tibetan red. I learnt about layering fabrics and mixing textures. (The film’s costume designer gave me an armload of clothes at the end of the shoot, saying I’d been in the shit seat throughout and here was their thank you; as I subsequently moved around the globe, I regretfully gave away the lovely pieces one by one.)

When I returned to Italy to work for a year, I found myself a perfect chic uniform for that mid-90s period: flared black trousers, a fitted black jacket, block heeled ankle boots, and revolving long-sleeved shirts whose collars and tails peeked out from under the jacket. I spent a lot on these items and they held up well for the whole year. I actually carried a whole suitcase of clothing over, but these plus a pair of black jeans were all I wore. 

always in black – at ages 17, 20, 37 and 45
III

Over the following years, I somehow lost touch with these lessons. I read many books on clothes and dressing. I studied how fabrics can be cut on the bias to drape over the body. I experimented with different necklines and sleeve lengths to see which flattered me. I was always on the hunt for the “perfect” piece. 

I wanted to be glamorous, but it felt like a role I was trying to play, and ended up feeling awkward and insecure at every attempt. I kept purchasing clothes for the fantasy version of myself – faux-fur trimmed jackets, acres of silk and lace, and block-heeled leopard print sandals. Part of this disconnect was because I’d gained a great deal of weight and perhaps couldn’t reconcile or accept the person I had become. I hated the clothes when I was really hating my body. But feeling like I didn’t quite “match” myself with the image of me also happened in the periods when my weight went down too, so I don’t know the whole story there. 

It was only about five years ago that I stopped resisting my innate taste and preferences, regardless of fluctuating weight. I still experimented (and made plenty of mistakes), but I began to settle into a look that made me feel comfortable and look like a good representation of the image I have of myself. 

IV

I separated what I admire on other people – eclectic layers, piles of jewellery – and accepted the relief and contentment I feel when I wear what I like: a near monastic simplicity in clean lines, almost always in cotton. I like a silhouette which is a little more fitted on top and a little more flowy at the bottom. Instead of getting decked out, sometimes all it takes to spruce up a look is applying red lipstick and a dab of exquisite perfume. Insouciant hair (and attitude) goes with everything. 

I used to love wearing flares but those work best with shoes that have a bit of lift to stop it looking frumpy, and I no longer like wearing heels or platforms. Trainers and sandals, even if both are “flat”, make a trouser leg fall differently. If it’s a bit too short it looks like an awkward mistake; too long and it drags and becomes messy. It took me years to appreciate what French women seemed to have figured out already: ankle length (or ⅞ length) works fabulous with all footwear, including boots. I like ⅞ in both slim fit and loose with cuffs, the latter being more casual.

I stopped having a range of shoes to serve all the lives I thought I had, and love that my flat beige-gold rubber sandals have taken me from the beach to Venice Film Festival premieres to dinner dates to running errands.

I still wear a lot of black, largely because that’s the colour that’s most available. I would happily exclusively wear chocolate brown but, annoyingly, it’s a difficult colour to find, perhaps because of its unfashionable 1970s associations or it’s considered too drab. It’s also tough finding the right rich, dark brown shade without its being chalky or having red undertones. 

I adore a pop of deep orange for accents. I love my accessories to be sandy beige or dull gold; these suit my warm/yellow skin tone, and complement my clothes.

For the past few years, as I replace worn out items, I’m consciously choosing fairtrade and ethical garments made of organic cotton, including underwear. One fourth of the world’s pesticides are used in conventional cotton farming; this is extremely toxic to the workers, and pollute waterways. Hemp and linen (though the creases drive me crazy) are also good natural eco fibres. 

Bamboo is a good eco choice in terms of the actual plant, though there are some questions over the process to turn it into yarn. As I live in tropical climates, I’ve grown to appreciate its qualities which I admire in merino wool for colder weather – antimicrobial so non-smelly, sweat-wicking, dries fairly quickly – plus it’s vegan.

Despite clarity on some fronts, and despite decluttering regularly, I still had a vaguely dissatisfied feeling from the haphazardness of what I owned. And still having far too much that I just didn’t really wear made me guilty and anxious.

V

I knew about Project 333 by minimalist advocate and author Courtney Carver, who – fed up with an overflowing and frustrating wardrobe – decided to choose 33 items to wear for three months. The rest of the wardrobe is packed away and then brought out again at the end of the period to choose for the next three months. It means you don’t have to get rid of everything (or indeed anything), but it prevents the day-to-day overwhelm as you’re selecting from a smaller pool of items at a time. Project 333 has been around for 10 years and it’s wildly successful. 

Though I’m not on social media and so haven’t seen everyone sharing their 333, I’ve been aware of it from blog posts and articles, and liked the idea of it in theory. Carver’s book, Project 333, came out recently and I read it, and woah! I knew I had to try it for myself. 

The 33 items include clothes, shoes and accessories. It excludes undergarments, jewellery you wear daily (like a wedding ring) and attire for home and workouts (Carver stresses your yoga pants have to go to yoga though; if you’re wearing them out and about then they count as part of the 33). And yes, by and large, “33” is arbitrary; she chose it as a feasible but still challenging number. 

VI

I can’t say enough how this liberated me. It’s such a simple framework. The constraint stopped the endless negotiations-with-self as to what stays and goes as it does in a general declutter. I wrote down my 33 – trusting my intuition to guide me – then went to my wardrobe and picked just those items out. I packed the rest of my clothes away without thinking about it too much. 

I did this for June, July and August. But I was in lockdown the whole time and so only really wore my joggers or leggings with t–shirts. I’ve become spoilt by the round–the–clock comfort of soft, stretchy fabric and I don’t think there’s any going back. I also don’t mind a uniform.

When it came time to choose the 33 for the next 3 months, my circumstances were changing. I’m moving countries and then, as more borders open up, I plan to travel only with a small backpack.

So for my second round, I brought my entire wardrobe down to 33, including some items Carver excludes, such as glasses and a watch. Outside this list, I have undergarments, socks and swimwear. 

This has been a revealing and fabulous exercise. And since, gosh, when I was 20 in Italy, I have a wardrobe that I love in its entirety. And it took only an hour to sort out. 

VII

One last note: writing this reminded me how in my 20s I had few items but all were lovingly, repeatedly worn. Each of my friends from that period had almost a uniform of sorts as well, and it’s an indelible memory, like characters in a graphic novel who are always dressed, reassuringly, the same. 

So when and why did things change? I think I turned to things outside of myself to help soothe inner stress and turmoil, hoping getting that “perfect” thing would bring me comfort and happiness – and control.

It didn’t help that this coincided with clothes suddenly becoming very cheap and very accessible. Consumerism also normalised shopping as recreation. While I didn’t jump on the fast fashion bandwagon, I can’t discount the very persistent messaging of how we “deserved” bountiful closets. Sadly, this only resulted in confusion and frustration. 

I hope this exercise has a lasting effect on my relationship to my clothes and shopping habits.

Here’s my current Project 333 list:

6 bottoms
black ⅞ joggers
3 black ⅞ leggings (2 for home)
dark brown ⅞ pants, loose
dark brown ⅞ pants, slim

10 tops
black ¾ sleeve t–shirt
7 black t–shirts
black v–neck tank  
orange v-neck tank

3 dresses
black sleeveless bubble dress
navy sleeveless maxi dress
red sleeveless bubble dress

4 footwear
trainers 
beige slip-on walking shoes 
beige–gold thong sandals 
beige-gold flip flops for home

3 jewellery
daytime gold–plated earrings
dressy gold–plated earrings
beige watch 

4 accessories
tortoise–shell framed glasses
wood frame sunglasses 
gold crossbody purse 
beige-gold scarf/shawl/stole 

3 cold weather
black down jacket in pouch 
black denim jacket
black fleece hoodie

“I have already lost touch with a couple of people I used to be.” — Joan Didion

Over at my other blog nupupress.com this week is Jane Austen Never Wore Trainers: 12 lessons from packing up my life into a backpack.

Related Recommendations

I love both of Courtney Carver’s books, Project 333 and Soulful Simplicity. She also hosts a podcast called Soul and Wit with her daughter, Bailey. Her blog and website, Be More With Less is just terrific. 

I rather find relief in wearing the same look every day but having fewer items absolutely doesn’t mean being monotonous like me. There are endless charts on Pinterest showing all that can be done with a handful of items. My favourite is Bea Johnson, founder of the zero waste movement as we know it today, who owns just 5 bottoms, 8 tops and 2 dresses. From this 15-piece wardrobe, she can create 50 different looks. 

It’s been a while since I’ve shopped for clothes in the US, but here are some favourites from other places: 

India
Bamboo Tribe: Their clothes have a great fit and in the softest fabric so I just never take them off. I also love their outstanding customer service. If I stayed in India any longer, I’d badger them to create more products like women’s joggers and fleeces. 

Nicobar: beautifully designed and ethically made with some organic cotton clothing and homeware (my whole flat was basically Nicobar). I buy my presents from here too and they’re always a huge hit.

Anokhi (no online shopping) and Fabindia: my tunics and saris were always purchased from either of these two, both decade-long favourites, and both are ethical and fairtrade and often use organic cotton. 

UK
People Tree: for fairtrade, organic cotton. My underwear is from here!

Toast: I haven’t shopped at Toast for some years but used to rather live in their clothes when in London, and my London home had a lot of Toast homeware. Often organic cotton. Sometimes their clothes have that art-museum-doyenne feel with shapeless arty tunics, so not all of it works all the time. Lovely swimwear too. 

Netherlands
LaDress: I used to rotate my four LaDresses and always received compliments on them all the time from friends and complete strangers. They helped me look professional and chic when I worked in an office. Now I’ve kept only the maxi dress, which can be dressed up or down; I’ve worn it to the beach and I’ve worn it to weddings. I purchase only their Italian jersey clothing; it’s a miracle fabric – works in all climates, packs tiny, never wrinkles, and is sooooo flattering without ever looking cheap. Their stuff is pricey but my dress is many years old and still looks fabulous. 

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Surprise! A Multi-Tasking Deodorant 

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“Manifest plainness, embrace simplicity, reduce selfishness, have few desires.” — Lao Tzu

I

Who would’ve thunk it, right? Of all the items we use, surely the deodorant is resolutely single purpose? Well, if you purchase the standard commercial stuff sold in plastic tubes and holders, then yes, I’m afraid there’s only one use for it. 

But there’s another way. 

The item in question has many identities. Chemically, it’s made of potassium alum, which is derived from plants and minerals. Though it has many popular aliases: alum stone, crystal deodorant, Thai crystal and more. 

I’ve been using it for years, initially purchasing the ones packaged in a plastic deodorant holder. But this became messy within a short time, as the crystal shrinks with usage, and would then slip out of its holder. And once it hits the floor, it smashes into pieces. Using smaller pieces doesn’t make it any less efficacious but it renders the holder useless. Also: pointless plastic waste. 

In India it’s known as fitkari (and variations thereof – Bengalis call it fitkiri) and available for literally pennies from the most humble of local chemists, though snubbed by the more westernised ones, which only sell mass produced products from multinational conglomerates in shouty, gleaming packaging. 

I don’t know why it took me years to switch from the versions in plastic holders (bought at Boots!) to the ones sold in Indian chemists, but I’m so glad I changed over. These work so much better as a deodorant, for one. They’re sold in either uneven chunks or moulded into neat little bars. I’ve used both and both work just as well, it’s just personal preference. 

They are minimally packaged – the bars come in a disposable thin layer of polythene; the chunks are sold by weight and usually come in a large plastic resealable bag (I’ve asked my local zero waste shop to stock this, in which case it can be sold without packaging or wrapped in paper). In the bathroom I keep them in a small open dish. The dish collects little dried crystals, which isn’t amazing for my OCD but one quick wipe and they’re gone. While travelling, I use a tin or a travel soap case. 

So far so easy. 

Now, for its uses. 

in bars or chunks
II

First, as a deodorant. You need to wet the bar or wet your armpit (or not dry it after a shower), and then rub the bar over the armpit. It should be done many times – this is not the single swipe you’d use for a commercial deodorant. I rub it back and forth a dozen times really quickly  – it takes seconds – then rinse the bar, wipe it and put it away. 

It’s a deodorant, not an antiperspirant, but I feel strongly that we really shouldn’t stop our sweat from coming out. I spent years being very nervous about my stink factor, partly because of social conditioning that says women shouldn’t sweat, and partly because I’d spent years on steroids and other potent medication that I think upset my internal flora and so I did believe I smelt a bit funny (whatever that meant). 

Anyway, I tried every commercial product, it felt like. I tried the usual mainstream ones from CVS and Boots. I tried the expensive organic ones from Whole Foods and Planet Organic. I tried natural home remedies and handmade ones crafted in the right moon phase from farmers markets. And nothing, bar nothing, works as well as the crystal deodorant. 

Note: different ones can be varyingly effective, so if the first one doesn’t do the whole business, perhaps see if another “brand” does. I buy the non-branded ones from local Indian chemists and they totally do the job. I still sweat, but I don’t stink, which is amazing considering I live in an intensely humid climate. 

III

The reason it’s sold so cheaply and abundantly in India is because its primary use is actually not as a deodorant, but as an antiseptic for men after shaving. (You know how they say that if men got periods, then pads and tampons would be available widely and cheaply; I think this is kind of like that.)

Because shaving opens up the pores, rubbing the wet crystal over their face afterwards helps ensure the skin is protected while it stops minor cuts from getting infected. 

I totally forgot about this until I kept getting cuts on my hands (I play with my building cats, and now I play with paper a lot). I was thinking that perhaps I’d have to buy some antiseptic ointment, which is one of those things I vaguely consider keeping around but then never do. Then I remembered my trusty crystal stone. I used that instead and it worked great. 

IV

But wait, there’s a third use of the alum stone. In India, people also use it as a face treatment to tighten their skin. Like the armpit, you wet the face and/or the stone, rub it all over and let it dry naturally. This refreshes the skin, protects it and – apparently – helps keep it firm. 

I’m principally against anything “anti-ageing”, so I’m not compelled to use it for this purpose. Although I’ve inherited skin that looks pretty healthy, it is insanely dry and sensitive so I don’t tamper with it in any way except to feed it a lot of (rosehip seed) oil. But on the rare occasion I feel any compulsion to “do” something to my skin, this will be what I’ll reach for to see how it does.

The only drawback I can think of is that you need water to apply it, but as I use it after a shower, this has never been a problem. It may be a bit of a bother if you use it at the gym (remember those? Will anyone go back there again?). Also, I already mentioned that the crystal leaves a residue of fine crystal dust in its wake, so you’ll need to wipe its container periodically. But it doesn’t stain or anything. 

Wikipedia lists dozens of uses for it if you’re curious, including water purification, brightening and fastening dyes on fabric, even as a flame retardant!

For travellers like me who roam with only carry-on luggage, this one item really pulls its weight. It’s dry and light. It lasts basically forever (I’d given my mother a bar in 2014 and it’s still going strong some 6.5 years later). It’s natural. It’s relatively low–waste, considering how long it lasts. It’s totally affordable – like four bars for a dollar, and four bars will cover a lifetime.

I just love the idea that this humble natural stone can do so much. It’s basically like Wonder Woman.

“Free yourself from the complexities of your life! A life of simplicity and happiness awaits you.” — Steve Maraboli

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Simple Eco Chic: Tooth Powder

Changing of the guards: old and new bamboo toothbrushes

“The simplification of life is one of the steps to inner peace.” — Mildred Norman

I

I’ve been using homemade skincare products for many years now. It wasn’t always so; I very much grew up purchasing brightly coloured products packaged in plastic from the supermarket and chemist. So much so, my initial reaction to even considering switching to homemade versions was, to be precise, “Ew”.

While I continue to experiment and discover new things (though haircare remains my tricky area), I’ve found genuine solace in these simple, eco-conscious, non-toxic and low-waste beauty and health products. In the gentle spirit of siblinghood, I shall periodically share my current favourites. Today: tooth powder. 

II

On my first day in a new apartment when I moved to Bombay for work, I slipped on soapy water on a marble floor. I was carrying scissors at the time so I instinctively kept my hands away rather than use them to break my fall – so instead my face smashed into the floor. Blood poured from my forehead and my teeth broke. 

The collision actually affected a whole load of my teeth and it took four months of extremely intensive (and expensive) dental work to fix everything. This was more than 10 years ago and I’m very loyal to this dentist, Dr Rohit Sharma, who put me back together. In fact, there were many times I planned to visit Bombay in subsequent years and noted that, ah yes, I could time it so I could get my routine cleaning done then too, such is my loyalty. 

Anyway, he’s all high tech and gadgety (in fact, during this Covid pandemic, he is the rare dentist who didn’t have to upgrade his gear because he was already using the latest, cleanest, WHO–approved virus-wiping technology). And he rather despairs of my tree-hugging tendencies, as these have often resulted in terrible plaque. 

He’d sternly prescribe toothpaste with triclosan and I would sneak off and use coconut oil instead. He’d recommend the latest wonders in electronic toothbrush technology and I stayed faithful to compostable bamboo toothbrushes from my local organic shop. 

Anyway, all this to say that I did end up missing one of my six-monthly cleaning appointments (thanks, pandemic) so he saw me after a year. I worried about the state of my plaque. He said it wasn’t bad, in fact it was better than usual. 

I felt victorious. I said, GUESS WHAT I’m using? (He said, “neem stick”, for such is his opinion of me.) 

Nope, it’s baking soda and salt. 

III

Now, it’s not the first time I tried using this. I tried variations by adding flavourings as well as clay. But clay makes the sink not-pretty and that stressed me out too much. I tried coconut oil but that was a slimy (and travel-tricky) experience, so I stopped that too. So for the past year and half or so, I’ve been using just baking soda and salt.

This formula is simple: two easily available ingredients are mixed together. They store well and last for ages. You likely already have them in your cupboard. And they are cheap. 

This formula is eco-conscious: baking soda – also known as bicarbonate of soda – is a mineral that’s the darling of natural home cleaning remedies (I use it extensively for this too). Salt is also a chemical mineral, found in rocks or diluted by the sea. For this recipe, you want to avoid table salt, which is heavily processed and contains additives. 

This formula is chic: it’s free of ugly splatter and slime. A small container of it goes a long way. Unlike paste, it’s never going to drop onto your collar and stain you on a rushed morning. It’s just all-round elegant. (Julia Roberts once credited her famously dazzling smile to following her grandfather’s advice of brushing with baking soda.) 

Note: it’s important to use baking soda and salt that are very fine; the more powdery the better. 

Here’s what I do:

  • For every 4 tablespoons of baking soda, add ½ to 1 teaspoon of salt. 

It’s not precise, and the ratio can vary according to your own taste. You can even omit the salt if you like, as those with extra sensitive teeth may find it abrasive, and just use baking soda. 

I add salt primarily for flavour. Stevia is another option, but I’m a salty kind of person rather than sweet; I also have salt at home, and don’t have stevia kicking around. Salt has the benefit of being a natural disinfectant.

I make a large batch in a bowl, mix it well, then store in a glass jar. I decant from this into a smaller container for daily use. You can use a spice dispenser. I recycled the plastic bottle from a commercial tooth powder I’d bought from the US (Eco-Dent Daily Care, anise flavour – not a bad way to introduce yourself to tooth powder if you need a tasty gateway). 

Shake a little onto your palm and pick it up with a wet toothbrush. Brush as normal. I use the same quantity as I would have if it were paste: a small dollop. 

It costs pennies, takes a minute to “make” and lasts more than a year. It’s also dry and light, which makes it excellent for travel. In fact, I started doing this when I was on the road and found it so wonderful, I now use it full time. 

My mother, who buys commercial toothpaste, gets ones from major brands that excitedly proclaim it contains SALT or BAKING SODA. I prefer to cut out all the other ingredients (which are often extremely toxic chemicals that are poisonous if you swallow them – yet putting them in your mouth is a good idea?). 

IV

It is actually the mechanical process of brushing that cleans our teeth. The products we use is in aid of that, and are not meant to do the heavy lifting. I like to use an extra soft toothbrush and prefer a small head so I can reach the back of my mouth easily, so often children’s bamboo toothbrushes with super soft nylon heads are my best bet. 

If you want to consider – as I always do – hey, is this a commercially–created product that artificially fabricates a “need” we actually don’t require to use in the first place? (I’m looking at you, anti-ageing products designed to propagate women’s insecurities.) 

I think it is a good idea to clean our teeth (though I don’t believe our breath needs to smell of synthetic mint) because our diets now are so heavily processed. This includes the use of all kinds of flour – even if you’re grinding it yourself at home – let alone commercially packaged products with preservatives. And you don’t need me to tell you sugar is the very worst thing we can eat for our teeth (and our health).  

V

If you want to go a step further in natural and biodegradable dental care and with only one product, you can indeed, despite my dentist’s derision, use neem sticks (also known as miswak). These are twigs from the neem tree that you use to clean your teeth with, as you would a brush, with no paste/powder required. You then trim off the used part which you can compost. 

The US federal National Institutes of Health did a randomised clinical trial of neem sticks and standard toothbrushes. The neem sticks won. “[T]these sticks contain natural ingredients, which are beneficial for oral health. It has been reviewed that it contains ascorbic acid, tri-methylamine, chloride, fluoride, silica, resins, and salvadorine, which have proved potency to heal the inflamed and bleeding gums, produce stimulatory effect on gingiva, remove tartar, and other stains from the teeth, re-mineralize dental hard tissue, whitens teeth, provide enamel barrier, and increase salivary flow, respectively. In addition, chewing sticks also contains volatile oils, tannic acid, sulphur and sterols which attribute to anti-septic, astringent and bactericidal properties that help reduces plaque formation, provides anti-carious effects, eliminates bad odor, improves the sense of taste, and cure many systemic diseases.” 

Wowza. I haven’t tried them yet so can’t yet say how awesome they are, but this is what we have historically used for centuries, so there you go. They would be especially ideal for when you don’t have access to water, such as camping (or – if I think of long–haul flights of my past – travelling as well).

One thing we could reconsider using is the toothbrush. Hear me out. Many cultures, if using a cleansing substance, often use their finger to “brush”. In my mother’s village, they used to chew on a small chunk of charcoal, then use their fingers to massage it well over their teeth and gums before rinsing it out. This was used alternately with neem sticks.

Using fingers has several benefits: one is the proper massaging of gums. It also naturally has an effect of keeping teeth growing straighter (this is anecdotally evident when later generations switched to toothbrushes). We also get direct feedback on the state of our mouth and teeth from our fingertip in a way we simply can’t with a toothbrush. 

Also, it connects us to ourselves, much like eating meals with our hands instead of using cold metal cutlery. We become one with ourselves. Food for thought!

“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” — Aristotle

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A Clean Slate

“We are always getting ready to live but never living.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

I

I’ve spent a week being pissed off. Like, at the world. 

When I don’t know what else to do, I travel. Except now I can’t because air travel is banned where I am. So I do the next best thing when I don’t know what else to do: I declutter.

In preparation to eventually move, I think of what I’ll take with me and the list isn’t long: clothes, sandals, basic toiletries. Laptop, phone, kindle. Wallet, notebook, pen. Swimsuit, body brush, sunglasses. 

I think of the sentimental items I’ll store: hand-sewn quilts made up of layers of my mother’s saris (when I got divorced, I gave my ex all he wanted from our home – which was basically everything – but when he asked for these quilts, I said, nuh-uh because they’re like my mother hugging me). A few handmade gifts from friends. Some items are bulky but this list too is short. 

Everything else I own can be sold or donated. Even though the time for me to pack up my life and move on is not on the immediate horizon, I enjoy the idea of it. In large part because it gives me some semblance of being in control over my life right now. 

II

We’re in week 11 of the lockdown. I’m not allowed to step out the gates of my building. So, instead, I open my closet to make piles of clothes I know I don’t want to wear again. I see outfits that belonged to another era of my life – one that attended film premieres, for example – and find it easy to let them all go. I fling them into bags ready to donate once it becomes possible. I do the same with my kitchen. 

I miss what feels now like an unspeakable luxury of eating out and ordering in. After months of trying, I finally get a delivery slot from a supermarket, and I order things like chips, pasta and sliced bread, just so I can have a breather from the never-ending cooking and cleaning. I want dinner to be something I can dunk into a pot of boiling water (or toast) and eat in minutes. But I bloat up (from the gluten?) and feel like shit. 

So I start to pull out all the physical books on my shelf that I no longer need for work, or will re-read for pleasure, or (honestly) even actually start to read in the first place. I’m left with exactly four books: a coffee-table hardcover on handmade interiors, a book about drawing, a biography of a Bangladeshi artist I’m obsessed with, and a replica my cousin found of my favourite childhood book of Bengali poems by Sukumar Ray.

(The mark of a true Bengali, in my opinion, is how readily they can quote from this collection. I bonded with strangers once when a friend and I began to jokingly recite one in unison at an office in Bombay, only for other (previously unbeknownst) Bengalis to start standing up from their respective seats across the open office and join us in our recitation – it was like something out of a (very geeky, Bengali) movie, maybe our version of Dead Poets Society.)

III

My upstairs neighbours have been given notice by their landlord for being generally shitty tenants but they can’t move out until the lockdown ends. Where previously my complaints would at least temporarily stop them from grinding spices and moving furniture above my head at 2am, now they don’t care because they already have one foot out. 

This building has an odd design where things they throw out their windows can land in my space, in what is a semi-balcony. Now, usually people are not cretins who throw shit out their windows. But my upstairs neighbours are cretins who do exactly that. Not just cigarettes and matches but also rubbish like plastic bottles, a chair leg, soiled clothing, metal spoons (inexplicably, several of them). 

So I focus on organising my home office. I had custom designed a small wooden storage cabinet to have a shelf for my hanging files, another shelf for a paper tray, and a small drawer for office supplies. My printer-scanner-copier sits on top of the unit. I was so thrilled with this, my all-in-one self-contained mini office on wheels. 

During the lockdown, I learn how to add electronic signatures to my documents (which I previously managed by printing, signing then scanning the documents). I realise too that now the countries where I file taxes accept everything digitally. I search but can’t find one reason why I still need to keep physical hard copy papers of anything any more. 

I decide to go paper-free. This means I don’t need a printer-scanner, or the realms of printer paper, or printer cartridges. I don’t need the metal trays and hanging files I’d painstakingly sourced to store documents. I don’t need a stapler, staple pins, hole punch, paperclips, glue stick, plastic folders, envelopes or any other stationery. I don’t, in fact, require this neatly designed, self-contained home office unit on wheels at all. 

The only thing I really need is my fountain pen and ink bottle. I was inspired by my brother-in-law last year to switch to a fountain pen (preferable to throwing away countless disposable pens into a landfill over a lifetime). I tried out dozens of pens before finding one that felt as if it was an extension of my hand. (I remember in my childhood that gifting fountain pens used to be A Thing; while I applaud the sustainability aspect of it, I feel it would be like choosing someone else’s hiking boots for them, it’s that unique to each person.) I further personalised the writing process by choosing a bottle of chocolate brown ink (my favourite). Along with a notebook, this is all the stationery I need now. Who would’ve thunk it?

IV

I am super discerning about news and other input. But to my horror, people I know as well as podcast hosts I (previously) respected start spewing conspiracy theories about the virus. Oh, like there’s not enough to deal with! Urgh! I’m repulsed by their hostile and unhelpful rhetoric. I needed something significant to counteract this one. 

A week into the lockdown, my beloved laptop swelled up like a pregnant lady. The swelling was due to an expanded battery – which could explode any minute. Yikes. But all stores near me were closed. 

A friend found someone who could do a monthly loan on a laptop. This allowed me to work, blog, record and edit my storytelling videos, and comfortably do video calls.

The loaned laptop didn’t have much storage space so I was counting the days until I could buy my own new computer. Electronic shops finally reopened, and I got my new machine this past week. Oh, to have my life back! It is embarrassing to admit just how ecstatic I was by this.

Hand-labelled jars and colour-coordinated my closet is nothing compared to my beautifully organised digital filing system. It is truly my pride and joy. Over the years, I perfected the categories and sub-categories so I could locate any document I needed in seconds. Transferring it all over to my new machine would feel as if I was, at last, “home”.

When my shiny new laptop arrived some days ago, I was dismayed that Apple changed the ports again. I’m nervous about cloud storage security (sue me), so I back up mostly to a hard drive, but my USB wouldn’t fit the new ports. 

I asked my sister how my niece transferred her data as she too recently got the same laptop. My sister said my niece didn’t transfer anything over.

I had never even considered the possibility of such a thing. I don’t know why, because I’ve given away all my possessions each time I’ve moved continents every few years. I’ve in fact revelled in the opportunity to start the next chapter of my life with just a small carry-on case of personal items, then building whatever I need from there for wherever I am at that moment – literally and metaphorically. 

Yet I dutifully transported my digital life from laptop to laptop, just like that box of Stuff people take with them whenever they move, even if they haven’t actually unpacked it for a decade. 

I spend a few days going through everything I’d accumulated digitally over some 25 years. I used the same criteria for my physical Stuff: do I need this right now? 

Items from the past have to be relevant today. When I feel clutchy, I think of my mother who has zero photos from her childhood, yet the lack of photographic evidence doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. 

Then there are the things I keep for the future in case I need it some day (my problem area). It’s fascinating listening to the inner dialogue of my mind as I let go of things I haven’t actually used in years, yet another part of my brain keeps challenging it – but what if, what if…?

I discard hundreds of photos, keeping only those of my friends and family that make me smile. I release old relationships in the process. I let go of dozens of music albums that I only half listened to; this is the equivalent of that dress that looks great on the hanger but when I put it on, something about it feels “off” and I put it back in favour of what I truly love. 

I expunge old work files. I let go of projects that never happened yet now feel obsolete. For significant projects I still like, I keep the final product but remove the drafts and edits that led up to it, as well as all the supplementary and research material. 

I don’t “migrate” my emails from my old machine, but start with only what is currently in my in-box, a handful waiting for my response.

I delete several hundred names from my address book. I even remove all the titles on my Netflix wishlist and my Amazon kindle list online because I hate feeling as if I’m chasing a horizon, always two steps away from “finally” catching up with myself. 

I give myself the gift of a clean slate. 

I wish I had a deep moral tale to share about this experience. Sadly I don’t. Except that it just feels AMAZING. 

And when I’m under lockdown for so long, missing fresh air and sunshine (not to mention hugging trees and hugging friends), with dreadful upstairs neighbours, feeling trapped in a cycle of never-ending cooking and cleaning, while accidentally hearing vile conspiracy theories – I’ll take what I can get. Which, interestingly, actually means letting it all go. 

“I chipped away all that wasn’t David.” — Michelangelo, on creating the world’s most famous sculpture.

This week on nupupress.com: Three Things I Learnt From Working With a Terrible Boss. And they’re still useful to me today.

Related Recommendations

I adore this charming weekly series on YouTube by filmmaker and actor John Krasinski called Some Good News (SGN) that highlights people doing kind and funny things for each other in these trying times. My favourites include Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg and Malala Yousafzai giving advice to students graduating under lockdown. And the cast of Hamilton singing to a young fan who couldn’t see them live. Each episode makes me tear up with the goodness of humanity. 

 Never Have I Ever is a Netflix comedy series set in an American high school. I’m usually not one for teen/high school stories, but I watched this because Mindy Kaling created and co–wrote it, and I always find her funny. Barring a few odd discrepancies, I enjoyed this thoroughly, and the family story thread most of all.

I heard Andra Day’s song, Rise Up, first on this episode of SGN. It’s now my new anthem. “And I’ll rise up / High like the waves / I’ll rise up / In spite of the ache / I’ll rise up / And I’ll do it a thousand times again.” 

Rise with me!

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Good Food

“The body is your temple. Keep it pure and clean for the soul to reside in.” — BKS Iyengar

I

Hi my lovelies!

I hope you’re safe, I hope you’re staying indoors, I hope you and your loved ones are well and healthy.

I’ve kicked and screamed my way through kitchens for much of my life. I always felt so bored, so inept, and so frustrated. I preferred to eat out or order in, way more than was necessary or healthy.

I’ve written earlier about eating raw vegan for a spell. I haven’t been fully raw for many years, and after numerous attempts of trying (and failing to maintain it), I now call myself veganish (no meat, dairy or eggs, though I still have honey). Rather, I’m “plant-based” (these names!) because vegan is a more political position to do with animal rights and, for now, I still wear/use wool, silk and leather.

Then an immunologist diagnosed me with histamine intolerance and I had to change my diet. Like, the day before we went into lockdown. Yikes. (More on histamine intolerance below.)

The only reason I’m doing this diet plan is because I did it under my doctor’s supervision for a week and felt noticeably better. I’ve had “sticky” eyes for 7-8 years, so I couldn’t open them in the morning without first using eye drops. Two days in, I was able to open my eyes without using anything, and it’s been that way since. Also: better sleep and better digestion.

A low histamine diet is an anti-inflammatory diet so it potentially benefits everyone, though of course, if there’s no need to omit various foods from your diet, then please don’t, as it’s best to eat as widely as possible.

All I can say is thank heavens I had transitioned over the past few years to a whole-food diet, because if I had to now make a dramatic switch in one go, I don’t know if I could have done it. At the same time, there’s something about being anyway kind of weirded out while in indefinite lockdown that somehow makes it easier to do something as insane as upending the way I eat.

I was aghast when my doctor first shared the list of restricted items, so brace yourself. It feels like when I learnt French in school and was given a list of masculine nouns and feminine nouns to memorise – there seems to be no rhyme or reason to this list; it’s one to simply  become familiar with.

So, under the low histamine diet, I can no longer eat anything fermented (sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, vinegars, alcohol). Also out is anything processed or with preservatives, so anything that comes in a box, packet, can/tin or jar, except – bizarrely – capers in salt; however, dried spices, whole grains and pulses are mostly fine, though dried fruits is out. Also omitted are: bananas, citrus fruits, strawberries, papaya, pineapple, avocados, spinach, yeast, soy, sea vegetables, most nuts, nightshades (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplant, chillies), black/green tea, and – boo hoo! – chocolate (cocoa in all forms).

Meat (or fish or seafood) has to be frozen (or cooked) immediately after being killed, as the bacteria that immediately begins to grow on it is supremely high in histamine. Seafood and pork are high histamine, regardless of precautions taken. Egg whites are problematic. And cheese, especially aged ones, is terrible for histamine sufferers.

Oh, and leftovers.

I haven’t managed that one yet because it’s really hard to cook teeny amounts, and many years of detesting cooking has programmed me to cook once and eat three times. But I’m trying. (The best thing to do is to freeze portions, and thaw quickly before reheating to prevent bacterial/histamine overgrowth.)

II

There’s always so much I want to say about food. Like how emotional eating can be for me (a topic which definitely needs its own post). Also: living with severe allergies all my life, and always being the person who couldn’t eat what other people took for granted, and dealing with food pushers (it’s a real thing, and it never stops being intensely annoying). Food has always been a minefield.

But being in lockdown has meant living without the option of eating out or ordering in – or even navigating the often socially awkward business of eating with others. I’ve had to adjust to cooking and eating only home-cooked whole-food meals, and it’s actually been… good.

The only junk-ish food I have access to is popcorn, and there was one day when that’s all I ate (like six bowls of it…). I had a work deadline and told myself it was the easiest way to get through it. Which was nonsense, of course, because the nutrients from vegetables and fruit would have helped me a lot more. But, anyway. I used this recipe for “perfect popcorn” by Elise Bauer on Simply Recipes. It was indeed perfect (all six bowls of it…).

The most tedious part of cooking for me is definitely the food prep. I don’t have access to organic produce in the lockdown, so I have to be extra diligent with washing and soaking the produce (sometimes in salt, and I’m told possibly also with a pinch of turmeric). Then washing again with drinking water (because tap water here is not potable). Then the peeling, de-seeding, chopping and storing.

It’s not a meditative practice for me, but once I stopped resisting it, it definitely felt easier. I listen to podcasts and do it over one-two days each week (because I’m slow and methodical).

The goal is to have all fruits and vegetables ready to eat or cook, so everything is chopped (including onions, ginger and garlic) and stored in glass containers in the fridge. Lettuce gets wrapped, while still a bit damp post washing, in cotton towels which I roll and stack. Curry leaves are best taken off the stem, washed, dried and stored sealed in the freezer. This is the only way I can make the cooking part bearable.

III

For decades, I subsisted on what can generously be called “meal assembly”. In college I’d stuff two turkey slices and one cheese into a pita pocket and be ready in seconds. I lived on pasta, bread and tomatoes for at least 10 years. I’d take a spoon to a can of sweetcorn and call it dinner. The most adventurous and laborious it got was layering hummus on sliced brown bread, and sprinkling chilli flakes over it.

I finally learnt to properly cook cook only about three years ago from reading Amelia Freer’s books. (I think Freer is to me is what Julia Child was to a generation of Americans, who felt they at last got a key to grown-up-ness.) Freer – coming at food as a nutritionist rather than a trained chef – made cooking appealing with her relaxed approach. I followed her third book, Nourish and Glow, which outlined a ten-day meal plan (I wrote about it here). Though it required a great deal more time than I’d ever spent in a kitchen, I was amazed – first of all – that I actually did it; but also that everything tasted incredible, that it was a lot of food, yet I felt fantastic, and my skin/energy/sleep/weight improved.

It’s thanks to Freer that I have anything vaguely resembling confidence in the kitchen. I also obsessively make her spiced seed mix all the time and have it with practically every meal, especially now that nuts are off my menu.

My low histamine version of Amelia Freer’s spice seed mix
• 80g (3/4 cup) shelled pumpkin seeds
• 20g (2 tbs) hemp seeds
• 20g (2 tbs) flaxseeds
• 20g (2 tbs + ½ tsp) white sesame seeds
• 10g (1½ tbs) chia seeds
• 10g (1 tbs) black sesame seeds
• 10g (1 tbs) fennel seeds
• 10g (1 tbs) cumin seeds
Total: about 180g (makes about a mug’s worth)
I mix up whatever is available, but have tended to settle on these ratios when I can.
Sunflower seeds are high histamine and the only ones I avoid.
For flavour, add half a teaspoon each of coriander powder and amchoor (dried mango powder – it gives it a mildly tart taste) – more options below.*
And a teaspoon of olive oil to make it all stick together.
Mix well.
Spread out in a baking dish and pop in the oven at 160°C/340°F for about 20 minutes, stirring once halfway if you remember, and checking the last few minutes in case they start to burn.
Cool down and store in a glass container in fridge.
Use about a tablespoon on salads, though I also eat a few spoonfuls as a snack. I add it to really everything – steamed/roasted vegetables, lentils, rice, and it’s delicious on soups.
If you don’t have an oven, Freer also has a version of the recipe in one of her books to do it on the stove (it involves dry frying them but I think in stages, as some seeds can burn).
*If you don’t have histamine issues, you can add chilli powder, which goes especially well. I change the spices around every time – curry powder (homemade mix, without chilli), or dried herbs, or za’atar. You can even keep them plain with just salt and oil. I’ve actually roasted it without salt or oil, and it still works. So it’s really a magical recipe.

IV

I impressed myself by having the foresight the day before lockdown began to buy celery (unavailable since), and made vegetable stock in the slow cooker for the first time. I added a bunch of celery stalks (without leaves), 5-6 carrots (peeled if not organic), an onion chopped in half (with skin), a head of garlic chopped in half (with skin), and a few peppercorns and two bay leaves. Plus enough water to reach the top (mine made about 3 litres/5 pints). I cooked it on low for 10 hours. Then I strained and stored it in the fridge for a week (it can also be frozen, and if so, best stored in separate portions).

This allowed me to make a lot of easy soup. I roasted beetroot, then peeled and cubed it to store it in the fridge. I’d take about ⅓ to ½ of a medium size beetroot (cubed), add a cup of the stock, and blend them together. Then I’d sauté some minced garlic in a saucepan until the aroma released (my favourite smell in the world), then add the blended soup to heat it up.

When the vegetable stock finished, I made soup in the slow cooker with carrots, onions, garlic, ginger, salt, pepper and plain water. I blended it after it was done and cooled slightly, and it actually came out delicious. All this without adding coconut cream or even stock.

As the weeks have passed under lockdown, I’ve found the most valuable fresh produce to keep are root vegetables, which stay hardy the longest, as well as a steady supply of onions and garlic (both are good prebiotics), and whatever fruit I can get that’s low histamine (apples contain quercetin – especially beneficial for histamine and inflammation). Also leafy greens, with romaine being the most robust and tasty (grown hydroponically at a nearby farm, which is not as nutritious as soil-grown, but the reliable accessibility has kept me eating greens far more regularly than I ever have before, and I now can’t live without it).

V

I used to get annoyed with having so many unused spices at home (often purchased because of one odd recipe – and before you know it, there’s a whole cupboard of the damn stuff). But now I’m very grateful, I have to say. It’s been the most handy for changing up the flavours when I have roasted pumpkin for the nth time. I make up small batches of spice mixes.

The most tasty has been a 5-spice mix (called paach phorong in Bengali):
• 1 tbs each of cumin seeds, fennel seeds, brown mustard seeds, and nigella sativa seeds (also called black cumin seeds, or kalonji) 
• ½ tsp fenugreek seeds. 
This mix will keep in a sealed container for a month at least.

Cumin is flagged for its high histamine (as are a few others), but my doctor says the portions of spices eaten are so miniscule, it won’t have any terrible affect.

A teaspoon of the spice mix can be added into the actual cooking, but I often temper about a teaspoon of it in a teaspoon of oil. After it starts to crackle and releases its aroma, pour the whole thing over a salad or cooked vegetable dish just before serving.
VI

I wasn’t able to eat any pulses – lentils, chickpeas, beans – for a long time because I’d get terrible bloating and abdominal pain. My new doctor gave me a de-worming treatment (as in, to get worms out of the digestive tract! I know! I’d never done it before, but apparently helpful if you live somewhere tropical). He said to try lentils after that, which I did, and now I can finally eat them without bloating or pain – hurrah!

Just to be safe, though, I wash the lentils in (at least) three changes of water, then soak them overnight, and then wash them with water again before cooking to reduce the gassy element as much as possible. I have tried only split mung (yellow) beans so far, which are considered the most tolerated and least gassy. I haven’t yet attempted other beans (some of which I know I’m allergic to) but this feels like a gift.

The last recipe I’ll share here has been the most comforting one to me, especially as it comes from my mother. This is for a dish called kitchuri, which is famous all over South Asia (also called kitchari or kichdi). There are endless variations of it. Ayurveda even includes it in their fasting protocol as it’s nourishing and healing, while giving your digestive system a break. It’s quick to cook too, especially if you’ve soaked the lentils for a few hours, or overnight as I do.

My mother also finds lentils tricky to digest, so her ratio of lentils to rice reflects that (it’s traditionally 1:1). Though brown rice is often considered healthier, my doctor said for me to only have white rice as it’s better for my sensitive digestive tract, and this is something Ayurveda promotes too. White Basmati rice was the only thing I could find the day before the lockdown, so that’s what I’m using. Different rice may need different water ratios. Different (or a mix of) lentils can also be used.

This portion will make 4-6 portions. I usually halve this recipe and it lasts me for three meals. I like to have this on its own (with the spiced seed mix…) but of course you can add other vegetables as side dishes, or an omelette if you eat eggs.

My mother's kitchuri recipe
• 1 cup white Basmati rice, washed/stirred several times until the water stops being cloudy, then drained
• ½ cup split yellow mung lentils, washed several times and ideally soaked for a few hours or overnight, then drained
• 2 tsp chopped onions
• 1 tsp minced garlic
• ¼ tsp cumin seeds (I sometimes also add ¼ tsp mustard seeds and a few curry leaves)
• ¼ tsp ground turmeric
• ¼ tsp salt (Himalayan or sea preferable)
• 1 tbs oil (I use olive oil as I do for everything, but coconut, mustard or sesame are also good)
• (If histamine not an issue: add 1 green chilli sliced lengthwise and de-seeded) 
Mix all the ingredients really well together. Then add 3 cups of water.
Put the whole thing into a pan on the stove over medium heat, with lid partially covered. 
Once it reaches a boil (in about 5 minutes), turn the flame to low, cover fully with the lid, and cook until the rice is cooked and soft (about another 5-10 minutes). Watch out that it doesn’t get too dry and sticky to the pot.
Once cooked, you can keep it standing in the pot for a few more minutes with the flame off. I tend to serve it immediately.
VII

One last note: my food consumption has often been mindless. Decades of eating out means I also normalised giant restaurant portions. Even though I’ve never considered myself a foodie (still don’t), I thought it my right to celebrate food by equalling it with rich, opulent meals like, all the time.

So it’s been very sobering that since the lockdown began, my mother and I are constantly checking on each other’s access to groceries, because that’s become precarious for both of us. And this feels utterly surreal. Food had always been abundantly available to me. But not so any more.

Being able to eat healthily under these conditions feels triumphant. I have a newfound and deep respect for real food. As nourishment. And – with an understanding of histamine – how it can help heal me or, indeed, cause me grief.

As for portion sizes – I read somewhere that we should eat not until we are full, but until we are no longer hungry. This happens quite easily (our stomach is actually only the size of our fist).

I’ve had to confront the effort it takes to get food to my plate in the first place. Not just on my end to prepare it, but also the huge effort on part of farmers to grow it, as well as the whole supply chain that enables me to purchase it.

So while the lockdown has been a trial in many ways, it’s also been humbling. Every time I’m able to buy groceries, even with many items not available, I feel as if I’ve won the lottery. The fact that I then get to (not have to) prepare it and eat its wholehearted goodness is hugely rewarding. It feels really, really good to value food for the treasure it is.

If it's financially feasible, there are many charities set up for feeding the hungry. I also like to distribute groceries to the staff in my building who work long hours to keep us safe and clean.

Over at nupupress.com this week: More and Less – what the lockdown is teaching me I want more and less of.

“Happiness is the joy we feel striving for our potential.” — Shawn Achor

Histamine Intolerance: The Cause of Unexplained Health Symptoms?

Sorry, this is already a super long post, but I did want to write a bit more about histamine intolerance (HIT). This is also similar to MCAD (Mast Cell Activation Disorder), sometimes also called MCAS (Mast Cell Activation Syndrome).

Our bodies naturally produce the neurotransmitter histamine, which is essential for our body’s functioning in correct doses. If we imbibe too much histamine from our foods, or if our body doesn’t have enough enzymes (including one called DAO) to manage the histamine, or a few other reasons, histamine can overwhelm our system. And the resulting symptoms can be stunning in their range and effect.

Various things that had both baffled me as well as overwhelmed me throughout my life were probably caused by excess histamine. I had severe depression and anxiety, along with terrible insomnia and excruciating headaches. I had multiple gynaecological issues, excruciating period pain as well as a mysterious abdominal pain that resulted in surgery after surgery after surgery. I once even had an anaphylactic shock, though I couldn’t pin it to a specific food I’d eaten just before it (which is what would have happened if it had been an allergy). I’ve had super severe eczema. Oh, and sticky eyes (plus various recurring eye trouble). Not to mention all my allergies, which are a related but separate issue from histamine.

Other symptoms can include fatigue, nasal and congestion issues, hives, psoriasis, gastrointestinal problems, low blood pressure, panic attacks, tissue swelling, and more (possibly also including diabetes, heart disease, Parkinson’s and even cancer). It really reaches to every part of our bodies and, depending on where our particular weaknesses are, it’s likely to show up there.

It affects 1% of the population, though I’ve also heard it’s chronically under-diagnosed and more likely to affect nine to 17% of the population.

HIT is not something to self-diagnose, so it’s important to work with a doctor. There aren’t any medical tests for it, and some doctors don’t even believe in it. The only “treatment” is really eliminating high-histamine foods for at least a month and seeing if the symptoms improve. If they do, then it means you have histamine issues.

The general protocol is to then slowly add back restricted items one at a time and monitor the body’s reaction. (My doctor is also healing my gut in the mean time.) Imagine a bucket inside us; too much histamine will make it overflow, but once it’s cleared, smaller quantities may not cause problems. So while a food allergy means never, ever being able to have the item, histamine means “maybe”, depending on the circumstances. So it’s not a life sentence.

Because I’m a mad researcher (which can be dangerous when it’s just me left alone with Doctor Google), I’ve been digging deep (but also checking with my doctor). The people I found on the net are those who’ve often suffered from this themselves and, outraged by the lack of information, some have even left their previous careers to dedicate themselves to spreading the word. (Honestly, if my doctor didn’t tell me about it, I still wouldn’t believe it.)

I’m part of the group that was told by doctors at some point that we must be imagining this, and referred for psychiatric help. So I’m really grateful to know that I’m not crazy, and that there’s a reason for these unexplained (and seemingly unrelated) symptoms, and – most of all – that I can do something about it.

The foods I’m eating are: fresh produce (whatever is seasonal and available, barring the restricted items), grains except wheat, lentils (see above), spices, seeds. I eat a lot of fruit, which makes up for the fact I can’t eat chocolate. Fibre (found in all fruits and vegetables, plus grains and pulses) is my best friend. I have nettle tea (which is meant to help clear out excess histamine) and chamomile tea daily.

The most thorough list of histamine-containing foods is provided by the Swiss Interest Group Histamine Intolerance (SIGHI). The English version of the list is here.

Yasmina Ykelenstam had 56 symptoms and consulted endless doctors until she understood what the issue really was. Formerly a journalist and producer for CNN and BBC, she left her career to become the Low Histamine Chef. She wrote multiple digital books to help others, before tragically dying young of cancer. Her work carries on, though, on the website Healing Histamine.

Tony Wrighton presents a podcast called Zestology, and he periodically interviews guests about HIT as he himself suffers from it, and changing his diet dramatically improved his life. Helpful episodes include Ep #216 with Dr Janice Joneja, Ep #234 with Michelle Berriedale-Johnson, and Ep #257 with Beth O’Hara.

There are several books on the subject too. If I read any that I find valuable, then I’ll update it here.

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