Ideal bodyweight is not a calorie game. It's a result of living a healthy and happy life, says celebrated nutritionist Rujuta Diwekar. In a forthright manner, she busts many myths that have come to be associated with weight loss. Excerpts of a thought-provoking conversation she had with Manoj Khatri
Manoj Khatri [MK]: First of all, my compliments for writing such an amazing book [Don't lose your mind, lose your weight]. I actually don't need to lose weight, so there is no question of my losing my mind. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the book very much.
Rujuta Diwekar [RD]: Thanks, I am glad you liked it.
MK: The pleasant surprise for me and my colleagues was that many of your philosophies—if I may call them so—are the ones we propagate too. Complete Wellbeing is based on a copyrighted concept of the Three chakras, the idea being that individuals are not sum of parts—we are not a mind+a body+a soul.
RD: That's true and I think it is high time we all wake up to this truth.
MK: Absolutely! That's basically our objective when we bring out the magazine. We too highlight the hidden interconnections and interdependencies between various aspects—including relationships and satisfaction at work—and how these affect our physical health. This brings me to my first question—in your opinion, what is the number one reason for people to lose their mind when they attempt to lose weight?
RD: The top reason for people to lose their minds is lack of awareness—of themselves and of the uniqueness of their bodies. This unawareness leads them to try out every fad possible in order to become the 'ideal' size, shape or weight. If only such individuals spend time understanding their bodies, they will begin to appreciate and love themselves exactly as they are.
Desperately wanting your body to comply with the current fashion trends is what produces frustration and anger towards it. This anger with your body makes you starve it, which is obvious—if you don't love your body, then there is little motivation to feed your body. And, an unfed, undernourished body has a restless mind. It's a downward spiral.
MK: So what you're saying is that acceptance of oneself is imperative for losing weight.
RD: Yes, accept and love your body, but do so unconditionally. Do not love your body only if it loses 10kg or becomes two dress-sizes smaller.
MK: Talk of obsession about size! I know of people who weigh just right but they just want to get into the right size. Then they end up losing what we call the 'good weight'.
RD: Again, this is mindless obsession at work. A couple of decades ago, when the fashion market in India was still under-developed, international brands introduced ready-to-wear garments, which adhered to the sizes and shapes of western natives. Soon, everyone began to hate their bodies thinking that they were the wrong size and shape. Little did they realise that they don't fit into those western clothes because they were never meant to.
Each one of us is different: the Oriental body is different from that of an African, which again is different from an Indian. Even within India, a North Indian is different from a South Indian.
But instead of celebrating our differences, we are all trying to mould ourselves into a one-size-fits-all standard. As a country, our strength lies in our diversity. Our culture is all about celebrating the differences, which can happen only when we accept those differences in the first place.
MK: How true. Standardisation is absurd—it is almost like treating our bodies like machines.
RD: Yes, it is like treating our bodies as items—as bodies without any minds, souls, feelings, or karma.
MK: The clothes we wear are actually supposed to be made for us, but we have ended up trying to become something different for our clothes—how ironical. This discussion about Indian culture reminds me of your book—you discuss the Ayurveda philosophy that states that eating at the right time is as important as eating the right quantity/quality of food.
RD: Absolutely! I think the real challenge for all of us is to stop thinking in terms of numbers. In our career, we must give more importance to job satisfaction and less to the salary package.
In our relationships, love and compatibility must precede everything else. But look at the matrimonial ads—they are all about numbers: weight, height, salary and so on.
When it comes to food, we are paranoid about 'number of calories', whereas we must actually think in terms of whether the food we are eating is nourishing my body, mind and soul. Only when we begin to think about food in the right way, will we become more sensible about what we eat instead of being as frivolous about it as we are now.
MK: Surely you must be encountering many people who struggle to lose weight, give up, then label themselves as failures.
RD: Yes. But what I have realised over a period of time is that in such cases body weight is not really the issue. The real problem is a feeling of inadequacy arising out of challenges in other areas of life such as relationships, career or even personal fulfilment. It's unfortunate that body weight has become one of the most acceptable expressions of this inadequacy.
MK: Can you give me an example of this?
RD: Sure. I know of many women, who have this distressing feeling that they have zoomed past life without doing anything meaningful. So, if you love playing the guitar and complain about not being able to play it for 20 years, you don't find much support from those around you.
But if you say, "I really want to wear low waist jeans, but just can't! Look at my flab," you will be surprised to find a lot more people who empathise with you. Somehow, being obsessed about body weight is much more acceptable than being obsessed with a passion.
MK: Hmm. Perhaps they are just trying to evade the real problems by looking for fulfilment and satisfaction elsewhere. Chasing financial success, for instance.
RD: People haven't really figured this out: there is a cost of making money. Once we figure out the cost, and we are at peace with it, then it's OK. But sometimes, the cost is much higher than the money made and then discontent sets in.
MK: That's a nice thought, and it's almost counter-intuitive. In fact, so much of what you've written in your book, is counter-intuitive. For example, most people would find it difficult to believe that one can actually lose weight by eating more. How did you discover this approach?
RD: This approach is not new. it's ancient. Every single religion talks about going beyond the limitations of the body. To take your body beyond limitations, you have to nourish it.
If you study the traditional Indian scriptures, you will find that there is a scientific basis for the way we consume food. We sit on the floor, for instance. Even the food is served on our plates in a certain way: certain foods go on the right side of the plate, certain on the left and a few stay in the centre.
Eating at the right time, in the right quantity, and with the right attitude is an important part of the process of nourishment. The ancient scriptures outline that we don't eat simply to feed the body–we eat for a higher purpose. All this is deeply ingrained into our culture and is something our mothers and grandmothers have always spoken about. A lot of it is actually what I have seen being practised in our homes.
MK: I was wondering, what made you write such a book?
RD: With globalisation, we have lost our perspective a little. We've become intrigued with the concept of calorie-intake. It's the result of this fascination we have for the West.
I wrote this book because, as a nutritionist, I was unable to find a good Indian book on diet and nutrition. Whichever books I picked up, discussed nutrition in a predominantly Western way—that too mostly with respect to Western dishes and cuisines. Nobody was talking about samosas, gulab jamuns, puri bhaji, srikhand, idlis and dosas that we regularly eat.
Trying foreign cuisines is fine, but ultimately, food must appeal to our taste buds. I believe that when you continue to eat against your taste, there comes a point you give up everything and come back to home-cooked food. What's sad is this new trend where home-cooked food [roti, sabzi, dal, chawal], is not considered healthy, when in fact, it is probably the healthiest.
Then there is this new fad of eating low-calorie foods. People drink a diet-cola thinking it is calorie-free and, therefore healthy, when in reality it is not so. Advertising makes us believe that it is free of calories. But, calorie-free does not mean it is not getting converted into fat in our body. Another example is that of ghee, which was a part of our Indian household for ages. All of a sudden now, there is no ghee. We have started replacing it with olive oil!
So, in writing this book, all I did was brought back the ancient Vedantic principles into limelight in a language that was easy to understand.
MK: Can you give us an example of how this approach has helped someone?
RD: I am working with a 76-year-old man in Kerala who was put on a restricted diet because he had some disorder. Going from one dietician to another, he was eventually made to give up everything that he traditionally grew up eating. So whether it was ghee, bananas, rice or even coconut—everything was taken out from his diet. He was only eating low-fat biscuits, high-fibre chapattis, but nothing that he enjoyed or relished eating. Now, if the food you eat does not appeal to your senses, your digestive system does not secrete the right kind of enzymes essential to extract the goodness from the food. Ever since I put ghee, rice and coconut back into his diet, he is doing so much better—his lipid profiles have improved, his kidney too is functioning better. The recovery is because his system is now getting a feeling of being taken care of. Food is really the best way to take care of ourselves, of showing love to ourselves. The last time I met him, he said, “The voltage on my face is back, I’m actually glowing”. For a 76-year-old to say that is amazing. Food can indeed bring back your youth.
MK: Wow! That’s an inspiring account. But along with right eating, regular exercise too had a role to play…
RD: Of course! The human body has been designed for a lot of activity. So a villager who leads a simple life, whose only means of locomotion is walking and who lifts, carries, pushes and pulls, enjoys much better health than the city-dweller who even has his car’s door opened by a chauffeur—all he has to do is sit! Biomechanically, urbanites are leading the most unscientific life. Even if we think of just the body, it was never meant for sitting but for regular activity.
MK: I agree. Our lifestyle, especially in cities and towns, is deteriorating by the day. Where owning a car was once a luxury, today every household has two or even three cars. Sometimes it’s just a status symbol.
RD: Cars are a necessity. But viewing them to measure how well one has done in life is silly. How well you are doing has nothing to do with the number/size of the cars parked in your garage.
MK: In fact, how well you’re doing in life has got nothing to do with accumulation of wealth and status in life. It is about how happy you feel about yourself.
RD: Absolutely! And happiness has got nothing to do with age, mind—least of all, bodyweight! The idea that ‘I will really be happy if I just lose those two kilos’ is ridiculous. Once you want to be happy, you will be happy even if you are 20 kilos plus. You don’t have to lose any weight to be happy. Ironically, the only way your bodyweight will reach an optimum number is when you experience a sense of happiness, calm and peace within you. If you are not happy with yourself, your body is only going to swell.
MK: How do you deal with clients who come to you with this belief that they’ll be happy once they shed a few kilos or a few inches?
RD: I begin by making my new clients write down a three-day record—what time they wake up/sleep, what they do throughout the day, what they eat [what time, how much quantity]. Most of the times, at the end of three days, and even before the first consultation, clients themselves realise that they need to change their lifestyles.
When you come to my office, you won’t find a weighing scale. That’s because I do not measure progress by the amount of weight lost. My parameters for progress are answers to questions such as “Are you feeling more energetic than before?”, “Are you sleeping better?”, “Are you getting hunger signals?”, “Are you feeling like eating?” For me, these parameters matter. Consulting a dietician is not about losing a few kilos—it is about adopting a lifestyle change. It is only when you change how you think, what you eat and how you sleep, that you can bring about a real change.
MK: In other words, aim for “Complete Wellbeing”, not just for weight loss! Thank you for sharing such refreshing insights with our readers.
RD: Thank you for the opportunity, Manoj.
[Watch out for Rujuta’s second book titled, Women and the weight loss tamasha]
Spot an error in this article? A typo maybe? Or an incorrect source? Let us know!