How would you describe your job and your career?
It’s fascinating. I am very happy doing what I do. It has given me the opportunity to explore so many different aspects of my own personality. It gives me this unique chance of working with people, getting to know them inside out, because food really is the most integral aspect of our being. When you talk to people about what they are eating, you also get an insight into what’s really going on in their mind. You get to witness the journey of how they start responding to things differently and how that affects the way they are eating. So once they go on to making more sensible choices with their food a lot of things within them really change. It’s just so much more than weight loss. I think it’s been a fascinating journey. I love what I do.
There are so many theories out there about good nutrition what would you say…
I really think it’s like having a theory on who’s the best man to get married to or who the ideal woman is. You know, it really depends on what phase of life you are in, what it is that you are looking for at this point of time, where you are geographically and what makes most sense to you logistically. So I think your food has to be an expression of your own self. It’s very, very important to not go out there thinking that I am going to comply to some set diet rule or I am going to do that diet fad today and maybe another diet fad tomorrow. It has to be something that is permanent, which helps you grow, which is an expression of who you are and which allows you to be more fearless and more free with your own food. Because all throughout lives we work at getting more fearless, more free, more like ourselves and so I guess even our food has to be like that. But I think if there is one rule I think it should be eat more local food and listen to what your mummy tells you. (Laughs)
There’s so much about size out in the world today, about actresses being too big or too skinny. What are your thoughts about perception of size in films, in TV, in magazines?
Right. I think TV and magazines have a big business in declaring some size as ‘the’ size to be in for the season or the size to be in 2013. It’s absolutely right if you are some kind of a media house, a media giant and you say this is the size, or if you are a fashion label – you can say gold is the new black or whatever it is, to come up with all those things. But for you, as a person, you have to know that you are a living being and a real person. To know that your beauty cannot be limited by size, by shape, or by color. So the fitter you are and the healthier you feel from within, the more attractive and the better you start looking. It’s really about celebrating your own unique size versus really being like everyone else because then you are just a poor copy of what they are talking about this season versus really being your own self.
So when a person comes in for a consultation, how do you develop a plan with them?
I’ve been fortunate enough to have clients that come and sit and we sort of chat about their lives. We barely discuss food, about 3 to 4 minutes. When you are really talking about your life and what’s happening that’s when you really get an insight into what kind of food should be planned and then that really takes no time at all. But before we get there all my clients write down a 3-day dietary call. They each start writing down what time did they wake up, what do they eat, how much they eat, what did they feel like later, what were they doing at that point of time: whether they were driving, or shopping or working. Once they’ve put in about 3 to 4 days of their lives that itself gives them a good insight into where is it that they are going wrong, what is it that they can do better. Because most of us are very intuitive and intelligent about food. It’s just sometimes we are not really watching or listening to our own intelligence or wisdom about what we should be eating. At other times we feel that it’s just not important to be listening to our stomachs, we’d rather finish this email right now, or you know maybe I’ll just drive here and I’ll eat dinner later, you know, those kinds of things. It is when people put it in black and white they realize that there is a solid reason why they are getting fat and it doesn’t just seem to be so much of rocket science to crack it. They have the picture right there.
What would you say should be a person’s fitness and nutritional goals?
We all should work towards getting healthier and getting fitter. That surely should be on top of our agenda because the fitter we stay, the better we feel, the more we can achieve in our bodies. Even if you were to look at just one day, if you get tired by 5 o’clock in the evening there are huge limitations to how many things you can do. Maybe you can’t go out for a run or go out with friends for a movie or you may just not have the energy to cook. But if you are energetic through out the day then you can do so much more in just one day that’s going to be so much more in just one life. So I think the first thing that we need to look at is to get healthier and fitter.
The second thing that we all must understand is that eating right requires planning. A lot of times we think that maybe celebrities eat right because they just have huge staff moving around and figuring out what they need. But that’s not really the case. They are mostly just really, really sensible and they plan it at once. It’s just like tax needs planning, and what is it that I am going to wear for New Year’s eve needs planning, what is it that I am going to eat tomorrow is going to need some amount of planning. We should plan up to a point where planning then becomes effortless. It’s like learning a new activity – if you start learning to skate then you have to keep telling yourself move the leg and lift it and move it. Then if you keep at it then you skate like a pro then you are still doing the same thing but now you are no longer thinking about it. So, food planning is crucial.
The third most important aspect is sleep. I think it’s the most undervalued aspect of our fitness. The more restorative sleep we get, the more fat we burn. Especially Asians because we are prone to metabolic diseases like diabetes, obesity, blood pressure, and all of that is linked to the quality of sleep.
Fourth aspect is to celebrate our local cooking style, our culinary wisdom. The west is talking about curcumin, which is haldi, or talking about the curry leaves and a lot of these have medicinal and therapeutic properties which we have often overlooked or taken for granted because they are just a part of our cooking. So we have to, maybe relearn or simply start to value our cooking for what it really is. And then start eating our curries the way they are meant to be in their full glory.
The fifth aspect is follow your own diet plan, make time to exercise, don’t keep jumping from one fad to another.
What are your thoughts on exercise and yoga?
I am working on my third book now where I am talking about exercise. Yoga today has become a multimillion-dollar industry and in that part it has surely gained a lot of popularity. It has also now become a diluted form of discipline. It has moved away a bit from what it is really meant to be. So it isn’t meant to be something you do for a six-pack, or lean waist, or a tight butt, it can do much more than that if you pursue it in the right sense. So there are a whole lot of yoga schools, which remain true. There is Iyengar School of Yoga, the Bihar School of Yoga. There are a few of these yoga schools that if you are following those then it’s fine. If you are just following something, which is promising, you a short-term quick weight loss fix, then it’s not really yoga. It’s okay as of means of group exercise, but it isn’t yoga in its true sense. It isn’t what Patanjali spoke about.
Yes, a lot of it is not getting into the mind aspects of the yoga.
Absolutely! Absolutely. You know, when yoga can really penetrate deep within beyond your physical body all the way into your mental, emotional, intelligent state all the way up to your spiritual self. You should pursue and exercise with the discipline that is required so that you really experience that full change versus just experiencing the change on a physical level.
Tell us about working with Kareena Kapoor.
It has been fun. In a way it has been a life changing experience. I feel very, very privileged to be working with her. We have a long association now – we’ve been working together since 2007. She’s really the most disciplined person that I have ever met. In fact, a lot of things that I can now put in words I really think that I learnt from her. For example, she plans her food at least 2 weeks in advance, even now. When she shot for the song that she did for Dabangg 2, the Fevicol song, she worked for everything in advance. At least 2 weeks in advance so she knows what she would be eating the day she is shooting in between her shots. Or when she takes her holiday with Saif she plans and knows what are the things she will be eating and at what time. She does it with so much effortlessness so you don’t really feel that she is stuck up with her whole diet. She has things planned so it doesn’t come in the way of her life, it becomes life itself for her.
You have also worked with Anupam Kher…
I really think he is one of the most insightful human beings I have ever met. He has terrific insight on almost everything I mean on the way one would sip a coffee to the way one would make a career choice. The one thing I can say about him is that he does not feel limited by his profession. You know sometimes there are professions that are so overwhelming. Like acting for instance, where ever you go people know who you are and then you are expected to be and behave in certain ways. He really is one of those people who doesn’t go by those norms. He explores. Even now I can see him exploring so many aspects of his own life. He is currently traveling the world over giving his inspirational and motivational talk, he has written this great book, The Best Thing About You is You, and he really believes in that philosophy. It is one thing to say something because it sounds great. To follow it is another thing. I really think it takes a man of conviction to say exactly what is in his mind. He really is one of those people. For me, for food planning with him it is really easy because if there is something that he doesn’t feel like eating or there is something he cannot do, he will just tell me. I really appreciate that honesty.
So you have written two books, can you tell us what you wanted to get across with them?
More sensible eating. Listening to one’s stomach because I really believe that the stomach is the biggest diet guru. Through both the books, that is really the message, listen to your own stomach and eat more local food. Celebrate your homegrown food wisdom. A lot of times our families, especially our mothers and grandmothers really know much more about what will suit us in terms of our food than any dietitian. Eat according to your genes so you can fit into the jeans you want! (Laughs)
I am now in fact working on a DVD; the working title is Indian Food Wisdom Versus the Weight Loss Industry. We are talking about how our ancient food wisdom talks about celebrating the taste of every single food that you put into your mouth, about relishing it, about eating as for your appetite. About eating food, which grows, around your place and eating what is in season. Versus the weight loss industry which keeps talking about portion control, which tells you to eat exotic food which you can’t pronounce, which doesn’t grow anywhere on your continent. And the foods just don’t taste good, most of the diet foods really taste like cardboard or they are just liquids they are not even food to begin with. Kareena features as a major part in the DVD because I really think that she is the brand ambassador for eating more local and home cooked food.
She eats all the simple home cooked food and looks exotic. She looks like this glam diva. You know, a lot of people think that if you look like that you are probably eating something that is very glamorous but the key is to eat simple so that you look glamorous.