You can have your rice and eat it too, nutritionist and fitness expert Rujuta Diwekar told Indian women. And turned upside down all notions of starvation diets. Eat six small meals, she said, and more women flocked to her. No need for fancy foreign food, eat what your mom and grandmom did, she said, and now clients from the world over pay lakhs to Skype with her and seek her advice on how to get healthy, not thin.
Anil Ambani and Kareena Kapoor are among the people she has helped. Author of bestsellers like Women and the Weight Loss Tamasha, Don't Lose Your Mind Lose Your Weight, where in a chatty tone she tells you "ki baba, this is so simple," she made her way into our lives. In Bengaluru on Women's Day to launch her latest, The PCOD-Thyroid Book, she talks about how many of her clients are from the city. "I guess they are health conscious by nature."
Excerpts from an interview:
Why a book on PCOD/PCOS (ploy cystic ovarian disease/syndrome)? Seems like such a medical thing?
Because it’s not really a medical condition and we need to understand it as a lifestyle issue. This book is extracted from my first book Women and The Weight Loss Tamasha. Now PCOD/PCOS is becoming an urban epidemic. In fact I feel that as more women work and the brighter they get, the more they tend to be prone to these kind of hormonal disorders. And I have to say this on Women's Day – part of it is because we tend to pick up all the bad habits of working men – delayed lunches, not sleeping on time, socialising pressures that a working life brings in. Exercise is never really a priority; we think ‘I should exercise if I become fat’. And when we get fat we think, ‘why should I exercise. I’m fat anyways.’ We don’t do the basic. A whole lot of insulin resistance is at the root of PCOD/PCOS. And that starts with bad habits. There’s a lot to do to help ourselves. And if we can change ourselves, we don’t need to depend on drugs.
Do you think we wake up late to all this – our health consciousness?
Yes, anything we have, we tend to take it for granted. Same goes for health. Each of us is born pretty healthy. With time we lose it. Unfortunately we lose it a drop at a time, and by the time we realise it, we’ve lost a whole chunk and it’s really late. The best way to not get fat is to never get fat – stay fit. But it needs to be ingrained into us. Like ‘I must study’ ‘I must get a job where I find meaning and purpose’. Same attitude must go for ‘I must stay fit’. These things should be non-negotiables of our life. We shouldn’t be exercising because we are growing old, or a cousin’s wedding is coming up, or we are menopausing. There can't be a reason to get fit.
The whole world tells us 'Don’t eat sugar, rice, ghee'. And here you are saying eat it all. How do people react when you tell them that?
They are very happy (laughs). Mostly I get people who have tried giving up on every single thing and it hasn’t worked, because statistics say that less than 20 per cent of people are able to keep the weight off – they lose it, but it comes back. All that you really need is good homemade local food. If we don’t pay attention to our local food systems, then we have a whole lot of disasters, not just with our health, but with the local economy and ecology. We need to eat food that we’ve always been eating — ghee, sugar, rice, banana, jackfruit, mango — our local food, we’ve given up on it. And what do we want to eat? Kiwis, berries, quinoa — stuff we can’t even pronounce properly. This whole thing of people like us from lower middle income countries wanting to ape the West and eat more western food, and therefore more packaged food is called "nutrition transition". It’s like daal in your home and mine will be made very differently because we are from two different cultures. Instead of taking pride in that and retaining our diversity we are all turning uniform. Maybe both of us will go have a Subway. We need to review and change quickly enough – realise that our food systems have value and are rich in micronutrients and if we eat them we wouldn’t be insulin resistant, and not have PCOD or thyroid.
What's usually on your plate?
At home I eat poha for breakfast, bhaakri (jowar roti) for lunch, varan bhaath (rice-sambar) for dinner, peanuts and nariyal pani and its malai (tender coconut water and its flesh) in between. I was in Kenya recently and ate githeri, ugali and su-kumawiki – their local dishes. Wherever I go, I eat the local food, because it's the best way to cope up with the climate.
Your food philosophy?
Eat local think global, as I always say. I also feel that if your grandmother doesn’t agree to the advice you received from your doctor or dietician, then listen to your grandmother and not to the professional advice.
Because she knows better. No degree teaches you what to eat. Her wisdom is timeless. Nutrition science is a new science. It's not even 30 years old. It keeps changing its mind. One day fat is something you should avoid, 10 years later there’s good and bad fat. Another 10years later there’s no such thing as that – all fat is good. Then it’s “You shouldn’t have avoided cholesterol at all. It’s a nutrient that helps with heart health”. In the meanwhile you have South Indians who have gone off coconut. There are people doing silly things like eating idli with chutney with no coconut in it. How silly is that! Our grandmother knows what is good. She believes in what her grandmother told her. That’s why her complexion is better than ours, her waist is smaller than ours.
So much of what you say is common sense. Do people ask why they need you?
Good for me if you need me (laughs heartily). Someone told me ‘I don’t believe you charge lakhs for telling people what they already know’. I guess sometimes you need to hear it from someone outside. Because in a way you’re just hearing yourself.
Take care of yourself first
Rujuta has seen hundreds of women come to her with a myriad problems, very often in great distress. So what are Indian women doing wrong? "I think what Indian women are doing wrong is taking the 'I have to nurture everyone' thing a little too far. First they have to look after themselves. It’s like what we learn on flights – first wear the oxygen mask yourself and then help your child. Women are earning and adding to the finances of the household but we currently do not have men who are adding to nurturing or nourishment of the household. So till we don’t raise a society where we have men who are courageous enough to do their bit at home, we have to know that we will need to look after ourselves and we should be equipped to do that. And one of the ways to do that is to make time for ourselves. And not monopolise guilt for our life. Constantly feeling guilty about even having a good time. We must make time for a hobby, to cook a meal we enjoy eating, sleep on time."
Celebs and us
We have this notion that celebrities have money/time/people at their disposal and therefore are in great shape easily compared to us lesser mortals. But Rujuta just dismisses it. "It’s a nonsensical notion. Every working woman should know that. We all started working and earning money. Did it make our home and kitchen lives easier? It made it that much harder. A celebrity or not, each one of us has to work towards planning our meal, remember to eat on time. That’s a personal responsibility. Our profession, how high up or low on the corporate ladder, has zero influence on it. The only thing I have seen is that people we call celebrities are people doing well in their careers and what comes naturally to them is the ability to plan and prioritise – they have that innate advantage, and protect themselves from others goofing up. They have the same trouble with food as we have. They don’t have it any easier."