I was born in Andheri in Mumbai and as a kid I spent half my holidays on my grandfather’s farm (in Vasai, about 75km from Mumbai CST). So, right from the time I was growing up, I had a connection with food… when one gets to spend time on a farm one ends up learning about farming, about agriculture... and watching how people who are connected to the soil live and how it is different from city life. That, I think, had a very deep impact on me.
From the farm experience, another thing I remember greatly is how on the field men and women did the same kind of work. I think a farm is a big leveller in terms of gender. On the farm, women would do as much work as the men. And they also washed the clothes and fetched the water and collected firewood. Watching women do so many things, I found in that a big empowerment message, that women can completely look after themselves, whether in terms of strength, or economics.
I graduated in industrial chemistry from Mumbai University, which required me to do internships in pharma companies. While I was interning, I realised that I cannot do any job that required me to be in a particular place from 9 in the morning to 6 in the evening! Around that time I had also started working as a warm-up instructor at aerobics classes, because in the ’90s, aerobics was big in Mumbai. A warm-up instructor meant that I had to fill in if the main instructor got late or I helped her by starting the warm-up. In turn I could attend classes free of cost and I thought that was wonderful. I realised that I loved this much more than the internship.
So I started looking for some kind of education to qualify myself in the field of fitness, because I belong to a very academic family. My mother is an organic chemistry professor, my father’s a mechanical engineer, my sister is from IIM Ahmedabad, so there was this pressure that I needed to do some kind of studies. By the time I graduated, SNDT University came up with this course along with IIT Bombay — post-graduate studies in sports science and nutrition…. I almost felt like God had created this course for me! It was exactly what I was looking for — a course that taught sports nutrition, exercise science, basics of nutrition and exercise physiology. It was a course that no one wanted to do, that’s how I even got in!
Wisdom of East, info of West
I think my ideas of nutrition, health and fitness were always there, what this course gave me was the science behind stuff like carbohydrates, protein, fat, calories, understanding macronutrients and micronutrients, it gave me the science behind exercise, behind lifestyle regulation.
Over a period of time I realised that a lot of what we study is not really applicable, because it doesn’t completely resonate with the kind of life that we lead in Mumbai. I realised that if a diet has to be sustainable, if people have to comply with it, it has to be something that people are actually eating in their normal course of life. It cannot just be driven by what is looking higher in fibre or higher in protein on paper. It also has to be something that accounts for cultural differences, for whether or not this is logistically possible, let’s say for a working person to have a garam roti
That, and also at what stage of life a person is, based on what you are going through in life, I think affects your motivation to do certain things or your motivation to look after yourself.
I felt that my health philosophy will have to be the wisdom of the East and the information of the West. You need to speak in a language that resonates with people. But it also has to be something that appeals to their heart and for that it has to be rooted in their cultural background.
Most people get off diets because it’s not a part of their culture to eat in the way the diet wants them to eat, which is largely to starve and buy products from outside. Rarely do we have a diet that says you can spend a little extra time in your kitchen and make sure that it’s well-equipped and you are eating stuff that you have grown up eating.
Now of course, at least the big universities abroad and nutritional academia are saying that for diets to be sustainable and for them to actually have an impact on your lifestyle and health, they need to be culturally compliant, and more than anything else it has to appeal to different people’s taste buds.
Also, by 2030 hunger is going to be a big problem across the world. At the same time we are also going to be suffering from what is known as the “double burden of malnourishment”. So, on the one hand there are going to be people who will die because of hunger, on the other hand there are going to be people who are going to be so overfed that they may die because of disabilities arising out of eating much more than required.
By 2030, there is expected to be a population of 9 billion that we have to feed. Scientists are saying that the only way to achieve sustainable growth for development all the way up to there (feeding 9 billion people by 2030) is if people go back to eating their locally available food. Because that’s when there will be enough food for everyone on earth.
If everyone is going to give up on their native eating habits and adopt a uniform eating pattern, then the hunger problem is only going to grow, and along with that we are going to have problems of climate change, natural disasters… so it’s not just about looking at food groups, because that’s what people were doing earlier — kitna carbohydrate hai, kitna protein hai, kitna fat hai — but really about food systems, about how what I am eating is affecting my health and how it is improving my health and how it is impacting the local economy and what kind of impact will it have on the global ecology.
Eating for the future is exactly like eating in the past — it has to be sustainable, it has to be commonsensical, and it has to resonate with your being. It’s really all about going back to eating in a simpler, uncomplicated way. And getting out of this whole carbohydrate-protein-fat box that we have put ourselves into.
Bakras for their bottomlines
The minute we think about “weight” we become a bakra or a consumer for the weight-loss industry or the pharma industry. If you just observe around you, when people get on to their first diet... let’s say they are feeling fat at 65 kilos and therefore they sign up for a 5-kilo weight-loss programme... when they lose those 5 kilos, they go back to what is known as “normal life”, and they gain all of that weight back. Then they sign up for another programme, at which point they lose only 3 kilos, but they feel ki may be I have aged, may be I am menopausal, may be I have delivered a child, so they blame themselves for it. Then again they go back to their “normal lives” and they get fat again. And every time they get fatter than the first time that they had felt fat. Their body weight keeps climbing up and they keep taking measures to reduce body weight. But all that happens is reduction of health.
The minute you reduce your health and well-being to a number, you have just been turned into a gain that can be monetised: “Take this pack for 5 kilos at Rs 20,000 and till the end of the month or pre-GST or whatever, and we are giving 2 kilos free so you can sign up for 7 kilos at the same cost.” And people actually sign up for these kinds of things!
What we need to understand is that health and well-being are beyond numbers. It’s like falling in love… you don’t fall in love with someone because he is tall, dark and handsome, or has a takeaway of Rs 30 lakh per annum. You fall in love with people and it’s nice while it lasts. And the whole point with food is that it’s nice even after it lasts because health and wellness are really about an inner experience and there is no method to measure an inner experience. If we have had a bad night, we feel dull and sluggish the next day, if we have overeaten at lunch, we feel heavy for the rest of the day, if we have eaten just the right amount that we want, each one of us feels right. So we really don’t need a health professional to tell us how to eat and when to stop eating. We don’t need an app on the phone to say you should consume these many calories and for your requirement you should have eaten 250 calories less today. These are good for the bottomlines of the health industry but not for the health of people. It doesn’t do anything to serve health, it only serves profit.
What we need to look at is what are the changes that I need to bring about in my life so that I get healthier than what I am today. Am I not exercising? Then I should get to exercising. Am I having very long gaps in my meals? Then I should cut down those gaps. Do I feel hungry between 4pm and 6pm every day and eat junk? I ate junk yesterday and today and three years earlier and 10 years earlier and if I don’t change it now, I will probably eat that junk 10 years later as well, so I just need to get a healthier and wholesome option for my 4 to 6pm meal.
I think for most of us, if we take a step back from the way we are living our lives and rethink the way we are eating every single day we will all know exactly what to do. And once the focus is on “health”, we will not bother about numbers. And also when we focus on our health and not numbers we will be in the best shape of our life. Because the weighing scale cannot measure fatness and it cannot measure fitness. It only gives you a reading of your total body mass with respect to the earth’s gravitational force. That’s all body weight is all about.
In 2009, I wrote my first book, Don’t Lose Your Mind, Lose Your Weight. Honestly, I thought that 235 to 250 people will buy this book because I have a very large family and very kind clients who will buy it just to encourage me. So, I was really very happily surprised and very grateful that people who didn’t even know me also went ahead and bought the book! People have gifted these books to all their employees, some have given it as a return gift on their 25th anniversary, people give it as a birthday gift… I’m very grateful.
Don’t Lose Your Mind has now sold over 5 lakh copies and Women & The Weight Loss Tamasha (2011) 2 lakh copies. Both have been translated into six languages. It’s really very flattering. One of the big reason why my books got noticed is because of Bebo, Kareena Kapoor... because of her glamour and the credibility that she added to the book.
I feel I am incapable of bringing about a change in anyone’s life or lifestyle. That is only possible when you find committed and disciplined people to begin with. Then it’s a matter of chance that they are working with you. In my kind of a profession, you walk away with your client’s hard work. All that you can do is you can educate what you know but you can’t ensure that they are actually going to do everything that they say they will do. But what I know now is that if people are educated on the basic concepts of fitness and well-being, that in itself is good enough motivation for them to put in that effort. Then they don’t need the motivation out of a weighing scale or an app or from buying smaller clothes.
Fitness education is like knowing about traffic lights, that when it’s red you stop, when it’s green you go, otherwise it’s dangerous. Fitness education is very basic, but a lot of times we just don’t know the basics. Once you know the basics it’s very easy.
It’s been 10 years that Kareena and I have been working together. In many ways we’ve actually grown together, we are hugely influenced by each other. Wherever I go, I am known as “Kareena Kapoor’s dietician”. Whether or not they know my name they know that I am Kareena Kapoor’s dietician. It’s been wonderful for me. Ten years ago I had no idea that she could even marry, but then she got married and got pregnant and now she has a son, so it’s been quite a beautiful journey together.
What I told her and what I tell all my clients is really to have your meals on time and maintain a regulated bedtime. She also trains at least four or five days a week. The key is to not overthink your food and not overdo your exercise. I think that’s the main advice.
One of my first clients was Karuna Dhawan (wife of filmmaker David Dhawan and mother of Varun Dhawan). In fact, it is thanks to her that I even have clients within the film circle. When I started working in 1999, it’s only people from the film industry or industrialists who would engage with someone like me. It’s only after 2003, when salaries went up and malls came to India, that I actually started working with people who were not from films.
Karuna Dhawan really hand-held me in terms of how to conduct myself within the industry, what is okay to say, what is not, basic etiquette... and I am always indebted to her for that.
Granny knows best
When I was writing Women & the Weight Loss Tamasha, a lot of people told me that “tamasha” has a negative connotation and I should just call my book ‘Women & Weight Loss’. But the thing is, most of us actually reduce our life to a fullscale drama, it’s not very unusual for women to say that if I only lost 5 kilos I would be so much happier, if I fit into one size smaller clothes, it will improve my confidence. You will find perfectly normal, smart, intelligent girls making such statements about themselves. What we need to understand is that in spite of all our education and in spite of the fact that most of us are financially independent, we are not as liberated in our heads as we think we are. We are liberated only in terms of voicing our opinion or talking about things, but when it comes to real things, when it comes to our own bodies or our own health, we are still the same old abla nari who just wants to comply with societal standards. If the society or the glossy magazine is saying “lose 2 kilos to get into this bikini”, or “six ways to get washboard abs” we are all wanting to project this really “thin person image”.
By saying that losing weight or fitting into a smaller size will make me happy, we are just lying to ourselves. All that it will make us do is make us comply with a societal norm and therefore we feel it is going to buy us love and acceptance. But I feel that’ll only come our way when we start behaving nicely towards ourselves — eating on time, getting regular exercise, maintaining a regular bedtime…. It is all about being committed towards our own health and well-being, and I think every human owes that to herself.
There is a lot of wisdom within our kitchen but because it’s our mothers and grandmothers saying it, we kind of don’t value it much. May be because they don’t say it in English, may be because they say it in Bengali or Marathi, we feel that it is not scientific. And then 15 years later science says that your grandmother was always right, that all you should have done was listened to her.
NEW MOMS ASK, RUJUTA ANSWERS
Q: After nine months of food restrictions, post-childbirth you feel like gorging on all kinds of junk. How do you contain that impulse or how much junk is permissible so that one is not compromising one’s health?
A: It’s important to make the distinction between “junk” and “tasty”. Unfortunately, the weight loss industry would have us believe that tasteless food is healthy.
So, to begin with, eat food that is fresh, seasonal and cooked with joy. Chew slowly and enjoy the goodness of home-cooked food. If you do that, you won’t feel the need to eat “junk”.
Q: I delivered two months back. How to get rid of the tummy after a C-section?
A: By eating right, exercising and paying heed to the needs of the body. It’s important to get there a step at a time and not rush there. And yes, a flat stomach is within everyone’s reach whether the delivery is vaginal or a C-section.
Q: Is it okay to consume dry fruits like cashew and walnuts because, I am told, lactating mothers tend to feel more hungry? Or do these add kilos, when at the back of your mind you actually want to shed some...
A: Dry fruits are a great source of minerals, vitamins, flavonoids and are literally a storehouse of all nutrients that are crucial for a lactating woman. That’s exactly why many post-pregnancy traditional recipes, be it laddoos or halwas, make liberal use of dry fruits. So, eat them without any fear, without good nourishment it’s impossible to knock off the weight and sport a toned body. Also don’t forget to stay well-hydrated.
Q: It’s been a year since I delivered and I have been on a diet to lose weight for the past six months. I have shed a few kilos but it’s been a very slow process compared to the effect the same diet plan had before pregnancy, when weight loss had seemed easier and quicker. Any tips to boost my weight loss plan?
A: It’s important to regain the lost bone mineral density and muscle tone post-delivery and that’s much more important than knocking a few kilos off the scale. So, get off the scales and focus on eating better, exercise as a way of life and nurture your body back into shape.
Q: You have always linked good sleep and good health in your books. But as a new mom, there’s no way I am getting enough sleep. Any solutions?
A: Put your husband to work. Get him to contribute to the act of raising a baby. Other than feeding, men are biologically, socially and emotionally capable of all aspects of raising a baby. So, get him to change diapers, rock the baby in the arms, put her to sleep etc, and you focus on recovering, get your dose of good sleep and enjoy both the return to work life and being with your baby and feeding once home.
Q: My TSH level has shot up three months after childbirth. Other than medicines, what can I do?
A: Back to basics — eat, work out, sleep and find time to be with yourself every single day, even if it’s just for a couple of minutes. TSH levels tend to fluctuate during and post-pregnancy, and that’s where a good, disciplined lifestyle comes to the rescue.
TRENDS RUJUTA WISHES TO SEE MORE OF IN INDIA
♦ Eating local ♦ Eating seasonal ♦ Valuing our heritage recipes
♦ Learning to eat with gratitude ♦ Preserving our diversity in cuisines and cooking
♦ Men taking an active part in all aspects of running a house, more importantly procuring fresh produce and investing time in the kitchen, cooking and feeding the family
HELP AT HAND
Rujuta Diwekar’s latest book is Pregnancy Notes: Before, During & After (Westland Books, Rs 250), where she hand-holds a woman’s journey from preparing for conception to going through pregnancy to the post-delivery period. The section on pregnancy is divided into three trimesters and other than health tips and answers to FAQs, there are recipes gathered from different parts of India pertaining to each trimester. Post-delivery, Rujuta lists the top nine foods that new mothers should include in their diet and answers some common questions.
Kareena with son Taimur
The book begins with a ‘personal note’ by Kareena Kapoor Khan, revealing how an insensitive comment by someone that she was looking fat post-pregnancy made the actress think about how women must feel about the changes in their bodies after they’ve had a baby. That is what led her to prod Rujuta into writing this book. Kareena also gives readers a peek into her own views on fitness, her experience of pregnancy and her post-delivery health plan. “If I could shoot during pregnancy, walk the ramp (picture on t2oS cover) and travel the world, it’s only because my body was healthy. Healthy enough to do some heavy lifting and not feel tired just because I was pregnant. Getting back into shape post-pregnancy was the work of my commitment to eating right for the last ten years,” Kareena writes.