I love my cuppa, preferably the South Indian kind — dark, strong, and sweet bedecked with a layer of froth. However, it is sheer poison as far as a macrobiotic diet goes; a stimulant laced with milk and sugar is a complete no-no, says Mumbai-based Shonali Sabherwal, India’s first certified counsellor, chef and instructor in macrobiotics, who is here in the city to conduct an interactive demonstration and talk at Ottimo Cucina Italiana, ITC Grand Chola, Guindy.
“Drop the milk, the sugar and the coffee,” she says, “You will never have a weight problem again.”
Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food, said Greek physician Hippocrates, over 2000 years ago. And this is the principle that macrobiotics works on.
The approach believes that the food you eat is a powerful indicator of your physical, mental and emotional health and emphasises a diet rich in whole grains, pulse, vegetables, fermented food, soy, nuts, seeds, decaffeinated beverages, fish and fruit. Notably absent in the diet are not just the usual suspects like sugar, caffeine and processed food but also rather surprisingly dairy products, eggs and meat.
“The calcium in dairy is not absorbed by the body — in fact, excessive dairy leaches calcium out of bones.
Also, most of us do not have the enzyme required to digest it. Besides, the cows used by the dairy industry are pumped with growth hormones. Avoid all dairy products completely; you can get your calcium from green vegetables and whole-grains like Ragi,” says Shonali.
She is also not a proponent of a paleo-style, grain-free, high-protein diet. “Meat puts a lot of stress on your digestive system and takes longer to digest. It also causes the over-production of dopamine which is a hormone linked to addiction. Besides, we all need complex carbohydrates that provide insoluble fibre and release serotonin in the body,” she adds.
Her first brush with macrobiotics was in 1998. “When my father was diagnosed with prostate cancer, I began looking at alternative methods of living for him,” says this former marketing professional, who, however, admits that she always enjoyed cooking and eating food.
She trained with Dehradun-based Mona Schwartz and researched extensively about this sort of lifestyle. And though her father didn’t stick to it for long and soon passed away, the seeds were sown. In 2005, she opted to train for a course in macrobiotics at the Kushi Institute in Massachusetts (“Madonna’s chef is also from the same school,” she laughs.) and in Yoga Pilates from Australia. And there was no looking back. “It was a four-level course and I began counselling and supplying macrobiotic tiffins to people after I was done,” says Shonali, whose clientele includes Hema Malini, Katrina Kaif, Esha Deol, Jacqueline Fernandez, Neha Dhupia, Shekhar Kapur and Kabir Bedi.
She has also written two books and conducts health workshops and weight-loss camps that teach people to eat better. “You need to look at a person holistically and one size doesn’t fit all,” she says. “You need to develop your own unique eating style that takes into account activity level, need, age and body type.”
On her own experience with this lifestyle she says, “I turned to macrobiotics in my early thirties and it really did help me. I used to have a very high level of candida (yeast infection) in my system because of my non-vegetarian, milk-based diet,” and adds, “Once I got rid of the trigger food, my emotions settled down, I lost 10 kilos, my skin improved and I felt a lot better.”
And the best thing is the diet doesn’t really deviate too much from the Indian way of eating, “We already eat plenty of vegetables, fermented food and whole-grains. Remove the dairy and the meat and eat your regular food. You will be fine,” she says.