He was Thampy Thomas, the founder of NexGen, Silicon Valley bedrock. I was his wife and The Deepa of Deepa Textiles, an award-winning, design enterprise of my own. We had two sons, graduates of the nation’s top schools, fledgling in their own successful careers. When Thampy was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 2000, we simply added a couple of insulin shots to our daily routine and kept rolling. It was a little achievement surcharge, a small price to pay for all of our success. Ignoring danger signals was routine.
Ten years later, Thampy convinced me to move to San Francisco to be closer to our sons. We traded our idyllic homestead on the old Folgers estate in Woodside for the jewel box house on Nob Hill. We were both semi-retired. I had my first checkup with my new city doctor, a relative non-event. As the appointment was coming to a close, I lobbed a conversational softball to my internist who also happens to be a renowned obesity specialist at UCSF, “Dr. Baron, would you mind explaining the principles of weight loss to me?” You know, boil your career down to a few sentences.
He turned away from his computer, “The first principle: You have to become very serious about exercise. Second: you need to consume fewer calories than you burn.” Obviously. “Are you familiar with the glycemic index?” Dr. Baron gave me a reading assignment for my six-month follow-up. Being a well-trained over-achiever, I finished my homework the first night—truly what I now the consider first night of the rest of my life. The first night of retraining–not a diet, Thampy and I were done with dieting. Diets made us feel like deprived, “hangry” failures. On that particular night, the two of us were probably carrying 40 pounds of extra stress weight between us.
This was the game-changer, the switch-flipper: there, at the very top of the glycemic index charts, sat rice and bread. Rice and bread, two staples of Indian cuisine–they were the culprits for my husband’s high blood sugar! They earned India its title as “Diabetes Capital of the World.”
I wasn’t looking for a third act, dammit—it found me! The next morning, I threw myself head- and heart-long into a months-long cuisine deconstruction/reconstruction project. Five days in, Thampy forgot to give himself his afternoon shot. He tested his blood sugar: normal. I looked at him and said, “Let’s just forget about this shot, Thamps. Do it tomorrow.” And this man, who has been tethered to these shots for a full decade, puts his syringe away. The next morning, his blood sugar is normal again. It’s been under control ever since.
The two of us lost about 25 pounds each in the first six months of “not-dieting.” And I amassed over a hundred recipes. Dr. Baron suggested we collaborate on a white paper. I ended up writing DEEPA’S SECRETS. I suppose at this point, in over-achiever style, I could make myself the hero of a publishing story, debut author, accolades and all. Picture a gold James Beard seal of approval, like a band aid over a gaping hole in my self esteem.
Those recipes, what Thampy and I ate, were only part of it. It was how we ate: several small meals a day, giving ourselves a chance to detect, rather than override, our bodies “satisfied” signals. And we took long walks, giving ourselves a chance to detect our less-than-satisfied signals. The hunger that food and other escapes can mask but never quell. The guilt, shame, and inadequacy that continue to signal that—in spite all of our striving and achieving and everything we have—we are not enough.
We probably aren’t enough—I’ve made some award-winning mistakes in my 68 years. But I have come to recognize that that hunger, or whatever it is, eating away at your soul is actually a luxury. Just compare: one out of five kids in America (yes, the United States) goes to bed and wakes up hungry. Whether you or I will ever be enough in some elusive cosmic scheme of things is beside the point. I am enough and I have enough to help end child hunger now. I partnered with Curt Ellis, CEO of FoodCorps, teaming up for events, raising awareness and forwarding all my royalties from my book to do just that. Those recipes also gave me a way to find purpose, meaning, happiness, along with health—some of the most important assets on a life’s balance sheet.
I could beat myself up, what took me so long? Why wasn’t Thampy’s diagnosis the wake-up call? There are many justifications I could give you for putting my body, mind, spirit equilibrium at the bottom of a life on over-drive. As we used to say at Deepa Textiles, “No excuses, not even good ones.” This could be your wake-up call. Or you could hit “snooze” and roll on.
Deepa Thomas combines her passion for journalism with her newfound passion for cooking, deconstructing the principles of the most successful diets and healthy living practices in order to reconstruct a simple, slow carb “New Indian” cuisine. In 2018, she won the James Beard Award for her cookbook / memoir, DEEPA’S SECRETS. All royalties for DEEPA’S SECRETS go to FoodCorps, a nonprofit that connects kids to healthy food in schools across America. Before she found her passion for cooking, she founded Deepa Textiles in 1985. After 21 years and 23 design awards, the company has been credited with transforming the $10 billion a year contract furniture industry. Deepa has served as a trustee of Rhode Island School of Design and a Commissioner of the Asian Art Museum. She has served as a trustee of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. Deepa Thomas is a graduate of Delhi University with degrees in journalism and political science. She lives with her husband, not far from her two sons, in the Nob Hill section of San Francisco.