How an ‘Indian mindset’ helped my American husband lose 45kgs in one year

US-based creator Meenakshi Dash describes being part of a unique transformation journey of the body and the mind

Meenakshi Dash Published 05.07.24, 06:37 PM
Meenakshi Dash with her husband Richard Williams

Meenakshi Dash with her husband Richard Williams All photos courtesy Meenakshi Dash/Richard Williams

“How does it feel to be married to a whole different person?” a friend asked recently. I was startled yet relieved by her question. She was Indian, like me, and unafraid to delve deeper. It was the question I wanted to answer myself but had been unable to articulate thus far.

My husband, Richard Williams, recently lost 100 pounds (approximately 45kgs) in a span of one year. He became unrecognisable to almost everyone who knew him. He hadn’t just changed his physical appearance, though. He had also transformed his mindset and lifestyle. I was now married to someone who had hit the reset button on almost all aspects of his life, except those that included me, his friends, and his family.


“It’s been a joy to watch and experience,” I candidly replied. I was still in the first flush of watching Rich navigate his new world in his new body. But I was also in the wake of his mental and spiritual self-discovery, which was exhilarating yet unsettling.

‘Once the student is ready, the teacher will appear’

Meenakshi and Richard with Meenakshi’s mother in Singapore

Meenakshi and Richard with Meenakshi’s mother in Singapore

For years, my husband prioritised his career and indulgent lifestyle at the expense of his health, adopting a frustrating “I’ll deal with it later” mindset. That changed in late 2022 after a frightening visit to the emergency room — a case of severe acute gallstone pancreatitis — that could’ve led to unthinkable consequences. Isolated in a hospital room for two weeks, he developed the urgency, clarity and resolve to walk away from a successful career in order to retrieve his health and improve his life. He gave himself one year to accomplish this task. I silently applauded him for this gutsy move and supported him fully. It wasn’t a sacrifice, but a pledge we both made to our future selves.

To kickstart his mission, Rich moved to Singapore to seek help from his Indian mother-in-law who lived there — my mum. I wasn’t privy to Rich’s plan, coined “Project Me”. In fact, I was asked not to visit as I’d be a distraction! On paper, my mother and Rich made for an unlikely pair. I doubted if he had the ‘Indian’ stamina to take her feedback without being personally affronted. As Indians, we don’t subscribe to the personal boundaries Americans are so zealous about protecting — if you are family, your business is our business, period. I was understandably anxious. But I misjudged Rich and my mum completely.

I don’t know many (or any) husbands who voluntarily seek out their mother-in-law’s help to tackle a personal endeavour. According to Rich, “once the student is ready, the teacher will appear”. For her part, my mother said it was a ‘magical’ experience. Although compassionate, my mum provides tough love. She speaks the truth as she sees it. Her expression of love involves plying us with nutritious whole foods with detailed explanations of their benefits. My husband knew this, being part of my family for almost 17 years, and appreciated it enough to seek it out.

My mum is a dietician and a science teacher. I grew up learning to squeeze nimbu on green leafy vegetables to maximise the absorption of iron (alongside hundreds of other facts about food). Like Rich, she pours her heart and soul into a project. When I was young, the project was teaching me all that she knew, nutrition included. When I contracted food-borne hepatitis, she turned to the wisdom of ayurveda to nurse me to health. She embarked on this project with Rich with the same zeal and care.

Richard with his trainer and friend, Muhammad Ashiq, (left) in August 2023 and (right) April 2024

Richard with his trainer and friend, Muhammad Ashiq, (left) in August 2023 and (right) April 2024

Rich enlisted her help to learn to make nutritious Indian meals — daal, khichdi, gobi, palak sabzi and homemade dahi. Having taught at the J.D. Birla Institute (Kolkata) and Le Cordon Bleu (London) among other institutions, she was the apt teacher for this leg of Rich’s journey. While I tried teaching him cooking in the past, my mother was (by far) the superior and more patient teacher. Rich maintains there was something powerful about getting close to Indian food and spending time with it, seeing it, feeling it. He would shop for all the groceries himself, carefully picking the fruits and the vegetables, which he would then chop and prepare every day for himself and my mum. He’d also whisper to the dahi as he made it daily — encouraging the lactobacilli to joyfully multiply — and had duly anointed himself the “Dahi Whisperer”!

Packaged Indian snacks had always been a staple for Rich and I, with a bag of Haldiram’s invariably within reach. Living with my mum while learning the intricacies of nutrition, Rich swapped gupchup peanuts and bhujia for gajjar, oranges and unsalted nuts. He liberally added haldi and adrak, respecting their anti-inflammatory properties. Connecting the good food he ate with how he felt was key to adopting lasting changes in his diet. For the first time in his life, Rich was intentionally flooding his body with the nutrition it needed. Again, his diet was almost entirely Indian.

'Rich opened his mind and heart to our Indian ways, our habits, our food, our philosophy'

Richard (extreme left) with his father and younger brother; Richard (extreme right) with his mother and younger brother

Richard (extreme left) with his father and younger brother; Richard (extreme right) with his mother and younger brother

My parents had mastered the power of good habits early on in life, and seeing and living what my mum practised repeatedly for six weeks straight helped Rich create his own muscle memory for his newly curated habits. My mother pushed Rich to connect the dots between habits and health, while keeping him objective and honest.

Curiously enough, Rich began changing how he described himself. He has always been consummately disciplined about his work, and a committed vegetarian. But perhaps not as diligent in other areas. Rich recognised that the problem was how he identified himself. So, he changed how he thought. Rich started identifying as a “healthy person” even though he didn’t look like one, and established a regimen to cement this identity. He now talks about our “future selves”, teaching me that it doesn’t matter what one’s health status is today. Each of us can still make extraordinary, life-changing gains without being limited by our minds.

At some point during Rich’s transformation, I recognised that, with or without taking a sabbatical, his mind was resolved to take action. He has the ability to focus with surgical precision and drive, something he attributes to being put to work in the cornfields early in his life by his parents. During his six weeks in Singapore, not only did Rich change his diet, but he spent hours being as active as possible, including stair-climbing, weight-training, walking and swimming. He never missed a single day of training his mind and body — every single hour was accounted for on his calendar. I envy his thirst to learn, absorb and apply, but I also accept that this envy is an expression of my aspiration to do the same, and not necessarily the green-eyed monster that causes havoc.

Rich chose, independently, to move to a country and continent where my family lived. He opened his mind and heart to our Indian ways, our habits, our food, our philosophy and sought new ways of doing things. He believes that “being Indian is a mindset”, a mindset he has embraced with love and gratitude. He harnessed the benefits of fasting and the electrifying power of positive thinking. He particularly honed in on Vipassana — a way of life he had seen my father practise daily — realising that all things are impermanent and the (positive) energy we extend into the universe is repaid.

Growing up in a home rooted in discipline, I had found a way to circumnavigate my parents’ and brother’s enviably healthy lifestyles. Perhaps it was because I was a rebellious artist. Perhaps the reality was I left home too early to properly appreciate the long-term benefits of discipline. Serendipitously, I was learning my parents’ habits and getting in touch with my Indian roots through my American husband. Rich was now the teacher and I was the student. Rich had become the conduit between my parents and me. As a result, we became a half-Indian and half-American family — he is half-Indian now and I am half-American.

To live the longest life in the happiest way possible

As part of their transformation, Meenakshi and Richard have lost a combined weight of 150 pounds

As part of their transformation, Meenakshi and Richard have lost a combined weight of 150 pounds

Could Rich have accomplished what he did staying back in his own country surrounded by everything familiar to him? Certainly. However, if one’s given the opportunity to reinvent themself from scratch, isn’t it far more appealing to do it away from the familiar? So that you can unceremoniously break old habits and fearlessly build new ones?

Rich’s unwavering discipline with food and exercise eventually flooded into other aspects of his life and, by extension, into mine as well. “Project Me” inspired me to launch my own journey of transformation back in February.

Rich and I went back to Singapore in April. We were finally on the same page when it came to our personal growth. Instead of whiling away our time with inaction and leisure, we worked out together and found meaningful ways to discuss our respective and combined goals. I reconnected with Muay Thai (which I have been practising on and off since 2017) while Rich focused on weight training with one of our dear friends (who is both my Muay Thai trainer and Rich’s coach).

Like Rich did last year, I have, since February, given up added sugar and processed foods. Rich introduced me to stair-climbing too. Nowadays we both climb a minimum of 500 floors a week carrying weighted vests — sometimes as much as 53 pounds for me, and as much as 85 pounds for Rich. Together, we have lost a combined weight of 150 pounds (68kgs). We both constantly set personal goals to meet and beat. While I don’t fault people for thinking we are crazy, we’re driven to share this madness because we both feel stronger and healthier than we ever have — both in mind and body. Suddenly no task or project seems insurmountable.

Ultimately, we are on this expedition together. If you ask why Rich is re-inventing himself and influencing me to do the same, he has a simple but resolute answer: “I want to live the longest life I can in the happiest way possible. I can only accomplish that with a healthy mind and body.” I have gladly accepted that I cannot refute that.

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