South Asian cultures are eclectic in more ways than one. While there is a general sense of homogeneity in the media representation of brown people, the reality is rarely ever as simple. One thing that has remained constant over the centuries and across the different groups of people, however, is their relationship with food. From Chicken Biryani to Achaar Gosht, the dishes are a treat through and through, but they are usually not the healthiest option. Lifestyle and wellness influencer Mina Hasan has an exciting solution to the problem.
Mina Hasan is a Boston-based artist, influencer, and entrepreneur. Born to immigrant parents who moved to the US from Pakistan shortly before her birth, she has seen their struggles to assimilate with the Western ways of living. One thing that she believes has not changed is her family’s relationship with cultural food. It is a way of staying in touch with her roots and celebrating her legacy, especially when everything else is categorically different from her culture. But it can, at times, get difficult to balance a healthy diet with cultural food.
During the pandemic, Hasan came to the realization that Pakistani food isn’t always the healthiest. It is saturated with a high carb and fat ratio and bloats one up fairly quickly. The practice of eating till one’s plate is empty, common among brown families, makes it additionally problematic. As a result, she found herself gaining weight without the energy to work out after meals. That is when she knew some important changes had to be made.
One of the most effective additions Hasan made to her diet was healthier sides. This meant that she was still eating oriental food, but in less quantity and fulfilling more dietary needs. For instance, instead of having Chicken Tandoori with bread, she paired it with a wide variety of sides: sauteed vegetables, mixed vegetables salad, low-fat yogurt, and spinach salad. She also switched her breakfast meals from oily and carb-heavy dishes – typical for South Asian families – to lighter, more organic options. These varied from greek yogurt with granola to apple and berries with peanut butter. Doing this ensured that her overall consumption of fat in a day was still within dietary limits.
This approach to diet is called calorie-deficit, and can sometimes be taxing for people. Most of them end up binging at the end of the week from the stress incurred by the demands of such a strict diet. To counter this, Hasan suggests taking a small sweet daily without indulging in it. She did this while on her diet to also keep her sugar levels balanced and to feel energized throughout the day. Other habits that she added to her routine included waking up early to go to the gym, pairing weightlifting with cardio and brisk walking, and writing her thoughts down in her journal.
As a result, in less than a couple of months, Hasan had managed to lose over 12 lbs and is now in the best shape. She strives hard to maintain her physique and credits her hard work and commitment to healthy living. She also does not believe in the common notion that an ideal physique can only be attained if one has ‘good genes’, usually citing her family’s history with obesity as a reference.
Most importantly, Hasan documents her journey with close consideration of the nuances of body dysmorphia and eating disorders. Her primary goal is to contribute to the popular understanding of body positivity, especially among South Asian youth. And while she celebrates her efforts to achieve the body she feels happy in, she is just as proud of individuals whose understanding of an ideal physique is different from hers.