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All By Myself: Teena Singh

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Text by Meghna Pant. Photograph by Joshua Navalkar

Teena Singh, Actor, model

Alone At A Table For Two
The image that comes to our mind when someone says ‘model’ is often of someone who starves themselves, literally and figuratively. So you can imagine my surprise when Teena Singh, who’s been the face of a legion of commercials, films and web series, tells me that she’s a big foodie. “People think that actors and models don’t eat. That’s not true at all. We eat, but only the right kind of food,” she says, as I look at her waif-like body in disbelief. “As a sardarni (a Punjabi Sikh girl), food is obviously a big part of my life. I eat a lot, almost six to seven meals a day,” she adds. “Food gives me solace.”

Food unites people. It is the social currency around which most of modern life is centred.

We work to fill our bellies. We entertain to fill other people’s bellies. We socialise over lunches and dinners. We travel to sample exotic cuisines. It’s therefore nice to see that food can unite us with ourselves.

And indeed, Singh’s relationship with food has been like a journey in itself, as she explains how it’s evolved over the years. “Not many people know that I used to be a fat kid. I ate what my family fed me and, unfortunately, they didn’t pay much attention to calories,” she quips. “I grew up eating heavy food like paratha (flatbread), makhan (white butter) and butter chicken. When I was eight years old, I was sent to a boarding school in Dalhousie and then later, to Shimla. There, we kids were served jail-like food — watery dal, coarse rotis, and insect-infested vegetables. Inevitably, we turned to junk food like chips, Maggi and Nutella. So while my idea of food changed completely during that time, I remained chubby till I was 18.”

That’s when the actor, who played the antagonist in Sonakshi Sinha’s recent film Akira (2016), decided to transform her life. “I realised that I was not healthy. I began to run, and I ran every single day for a full year. More importantly, I completely changed my food habits.”

From becoming vegetarian to eating only fresh unprocessed food, Singh’s makeover was nothing short of miraculous. “I worked very hard to become skinny and ended up losing 20 kilos. I began to get noticed. This led to me accidentally becoming a model,” she adds. “Changing my relationship with food has changed my life.”

The actor, who has had to fight discrimination in the industry due to her dusky complexion, has taken to food to make her life delicious, one bite at a time. “Over the last 10 years, I’ve continued to find comfort in food, but my perception of what good food is has shifted. Today, I don’t eat packaged or junk food. I don’t buy a packet of chips over the counter. I don’t eat bread made with maida. I don’t drink tetrapack milk. I avoid refined sugar. Instead of snacking on chocolates, I snack on berries, almonds and pumpkin seeds. I only eat nutritious food made from fresh ingredients. This way I can continue to eat a lot without becoming unhealthy or putting on weight.”

With food still her greatest escape, Singh finds such companionship in it that she’s content to eat alone at restaurants. “I often go to Kitchen Garden by Suzette or The Village Shop in Bandra both of which serve organic food like salads, warm-grained bowls with quinoa and millet, gluten-free bread and sugar-free dessert. I sit there by myself at a table for two, sometimes with a book, and spend hours in the warm ambience, savouring my food. I have learnt that to value your food is to value yourself, which is the most important.”

Kate Moss had once famously said, ‘Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.’ She’d obviously never heard of Singh’s diktat: “Nothing feels as good as good food.”

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