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If you’re an avid Instagrammer, you probably follow some of those drool-worthy food accounts. You know, the ones with outrageously pretty food spreads and recipes guaranteed to make your stomach rumble. In the recent years, these food accounts have exploded in popularity, leading to the creation of online communities of foodies from across India.
Among this growing crowd of Indian ‘foodgrammers’ is Natasha Diddee, the 40-year-old founder of The Gutless Foodie — an Insta-page with a steadily growing fan following of over 46,000 people.
However, what makes this Pune-based food blogger and recipe developer stand out from the rest is the fact that she doesn’t have a stomach! While this rare health condition would have disheartened most people, Natasha didn’t let it stop her from following her passion. Today, she doesn’t just cooks almost everything under the sun, she has also made food the driving force of her career.
Here’s the story of this talented woman who will inspire you to face life’s challenges head on.
Born to a half Punjabi-half Parsi father, Dr Ravindra Diddee, and a Maharashtrian mother, Neelam Diddee, Natasha had always been passionate about food. After completing school, she was encouraged by her mother to pursue a career in the culinary field.
“I loved doing theatre in school and my mother was terrified that I would become an actress (back in the 70s, it wasn’t considered a good profession)! She knew that I liked food and food-related pursuits, so she insisted that I focus my attention on becoming a chef.
Excited about learning how to make what I loved eating, I accepted her suggestion and joined Mumbai’s famous Institute of Hotel Management at Dadar. Later, I also joined a cooking course at the Sophia Polytechnic’s chef school”, says Natasha.
After completing her training as a chef, Natasha worked in the kitchens of several prominent hotels, restaurants and organisations in Mumbai. However, her hectic work hours and erratic eating habits had started taking a toll on her body.
About five years ago, when Natasha consulted doctors about a constant pain in her stomach, she was shocked to be told that it was due to perforated ulcers in her stomach. A laproscopy further revealed the presence of a growing tumour in her stomach. By this time, the condition had become life-threatening and Natasha had to undergo total gastrectomy (removal of the entire stomach) immediately.
“Dr. Suryabhan Bhalerao of Pune’s KEM hospital saved my life by performing this very intricate eight-hour surgery. I owe him my life,” says Natasha gratefully.
Natasha’s life had been saved but it had also changed forever. Since she literally doesn’t have a stomach, the food that she eats just ‘drops down’ her body and is excreted within an hour. As a result, she has to eat approximately 8 to 10 strictly-monitored mini meals every day to provide the required nutrition for her body.
Also, since Vitamin B is produced in the stomach, Natasha’s body is deficient in it and suffers from a reduced memory retention power (as this nutrient directly affects the memory). As such, she has to get monthly shots of Vitamin B. Interestingly, the absence of a stomach means that the die-hard foodie never feels hungry, a fact that she finds pretty scary!
Natasha says that though there are days when her health begins to deteriorates, for the rest, she is on no medication and continues to heal herself through good food.
“Before my surgery, I was just existing like many of us do. Post surgery, I realised that I had been was gifted a second shot at life. That’s when I decided that I was going to live, not just exist.
I think the biggest challenge in doing this was to understand and accept that I actually don’t have a stomach. As a trained chef, it was just so ironic. I had to relearn things and retrain myself. Thankfully, God is kind and our bodies wondrous. With effort in the right direction, my body began to adapt,” she says.
By this time, Natasha had realised that she wanted to eat healthy and eat clean. She began researching about age-old ingredients that had gradually been forgotten while experimenting with simple recipes that could be made from scratch.
Soon, Natasha set up a Facebook group (named The Gutless Foodie for obvious reasons!) where she would regularly post pictures of her prettily-plated creations, along with the recipe and interesting back-stories. Fellow foodies, who joined the group, were also encouraged to share little-known recipes that had slipped from the popular memory.
In 2014, thanks to a friend who created an account for her, @thegutlessfoodie made its debut on Instagram and quickly became popular. For Natasha, there was no looking back after that.
Today, the popular ‘foodgrammer’ is known for her simple and super healthy recipes. From yam chutneys to dragon’s breath baked chicken, each dish on her Insta-page looks spectacularly scrumptious yet has features that health-conscious people would appreciate.
“I like fuss-free comfort foods and believe food should be comforting, not intimidating. So I post everyday kind of food that I’ve cooked for myself, my family and friends.
Most of my recipes are done in under 30 minutes. My food pictures, taken on my phone camera, are minimalist too,” explains Natasha, adding that its probably her stark white kitchen and training in food presentation that lend that professional feel to her food pictures.
Someone who enjoys drawing, painting, gardening, knitting and singing, Natasha has also written a fiction novel — about the lives of women in Delhi — that is currently being edited.
“People expected me to write a cookbook. That’s predictable. I wanted to do the opposite and so wrote a novel that is exactly that… a novel. It has nothing to do with food or recipes!”, says the Instagram star.
Natasha has also started being invited by restaurants to review their menus and by brands to create recipes using their products. However, her kitchen is still where her creativity finds its best expression, much to the delight of her Instagram followers.
“For me, the act of cooking is akin to praying, an experience that arrests all the senses. For instance, when I remove my footwear in a temple or feel an ingredient, I engage my sense of touch. When I look at the deity or at an ingredient, I engage my the sense of sight. When I hear the chants of a priest or sound of food cooking, I engage my sense of sound.
When I inhale the fragrance of incense or the aroma of food being cooked, I engage my sense of smell. And when I eat the prasad or the food that I’ve cooked, I engage my sense of taste. When all the five senses are arrested by what you are doing, you are completely immersed in the moment. It is humbling, enriching and deeply spiritual at the same time. And this is why I love to cook,” Natasha signs off with a smile.