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Diet trends keep me in business: Rujuta Diwekar

The celebrity nutritionist explains why she will never tire of giving ‘dieting’ advice and sets out the basic principles to follow for a healthy life

Celebrity nutritionist Rujuta Diwekar

By Mahalakshmi Prabhakaran

LAST PUBLISHED 12.03.2024  |  08:00 AM IST

When it comes to dietary advice and fitness, Rujuta Diwekar likes to tell it like it is. “Weight loss advice is like stock market advice; if everyone is asking you to bet on the same thing, the ROI is going to be much poorer than you expected," she says during an interview with Lounge. One of India’s leading sports science and nutrition experts, Diwekar has long been a proponent of a diet fortified by local, seasonal foods. 

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The author of several books on subjects as varied as weight loss and diet, PCOS, Indian superfoods and health notes for kids, Diwekar in recent times has also donned the role of a podcast host. Her podcast, Secrets of Good Health, on Audible has her taking a deep dive into “various aspects of health and offering a healthy dose of wisdom from the generation of grandmothers". I enjoy the silence and solitude of the medium, she says before diving in to discuss fad diets and basic principles for a healthy life. Edited excerpts:

This is an open-ended question but what explains the trend of new diets every other month? Are you tired of explaining to people that fads are short-lived?
No, I love what I do. I find it challenging, exciting and even grounding to find new ways to say the same old thing—‘eat at home’, ‘make exercise a daily habit’, ‘hit the bed early’, ‘nothing works like consistency’, ‘success is in sustainability’ —but dress it according to the newest trend in town. It’s heart-breaking to watch people go to extreme lengths just to knock off some weight, only to gain it back in no time. And it’s heartening when they break that cycle, re-discover themselves and the joys of eating and living in a wholesome, free and full manner. It’s ironic but trends keep me in business. I get to tell the same story but this time with new characters, the hero is the same, but the villain is different, a Marvel universe of sorts.

A popular diet trend last year was the whole-food plant-based diet. Another one was intermittent fasting. What’s your take on each of them?
All diet trends work, till they don’t. Irrespective of the pitch, every diet trend is simply business as usual. It’s about profits and not people, and much less the planet. Common sense will tell you to not skip breakfast or eat alien or processed food just because it’s plants or whatever. You have studies now that show that people who skip breakfast routinely are at a higher risk of gastrointestinal cancers. 

The same companies selling you meat/ dairy are also the ones selling plant-based or dairy- free alternatives. But weight loss advice is like stock market advice; if everyone is asking you to bet on the same thing, the ROI is going to be much poorer than you expected. You will be lucky if you didn’t sacrifice your principal (or body composition in case of weight loss) while at it. So, save yourself the trouble of taking an extreme approach towards anything, especially related to food, health and fitness. 

Years ago, you were the sole voice advocating ghee for good health. Today, everyone is on that bandwagon. Do you enjoy these ‘I told you so’ moments?
No, not really, because I am well aware that science is on the same page as grandma’s wisdom when it comes to food and health, and that it is always only a matter of time that the advice will go mainstream, even if it’s receiving flak at the moment. The danger, though, is in our collective wisdom or goodness getting commodified for profit of few versus health of many. So be it grandma or simply millets, you will find many on the bandwagon now selling processed, packaged products in their name; I mean we turned haldi into a pill and ghee into a shot. Our greed and naivety are insatiable. 

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So, what are we really missing in this world of information overload of how to get fit?
What is missing is that we don’t see how we routinely get manipulated into eating things that don’t belong to our culture, cuisine, or climate. And how casual, even dismissive, we tend to be about our collective food wisdom, just because the bearers are women, speaking in vernacular.  We give too much importance to English and peer-reviewed studies, but food wisdom is an open secret that lies in our kahanis (stories), kahavats (proverbs), kitchens, and is a way of life. So, it was ‘tumhare muh mein ghee shakkar’ and not ‘stevia-extra virgin olive oil’ for a reason. 

What are the basic principles one needs to get in place to get started on a healthy way of life?
Don’t make it about weight loss or chasing any number at all. Don’t make it about single nutrients like carbs or even sugar. Don’t make it about deprivation either. Health is multifactorial, so like I said earlier, collect data points on your day-to-day functionality, do a fitness assessment at home and adopt a commonsensical way of life. Eat local, seasonal, traditional food. Don’t forget to exercise or sleep on time.  Make time to connect with friends and family, pursue what you do with all your heart. And vote for governments that prioritise walkable cities, clean air, water and protection of green spaces. No one is healthy, till all of us are. 

Why do you think we need to focus on our mental health alongside diet and exercise?
Because we live in our minds as much as we live in our bodies. And when we deprive our body of food, we deprive our mind of reason and the ability to navigate through rough emotions. When food is used as a means to nurture, and not deprive, our body for being out of shape, the mind feels a sense of security. 

When exercise has the structure to optimise muscle fibre recruitment and recovery, and is not just a punishing, gruelling routine to show off or burn calories or break personal records, there’s a positive impact on brain health. When sleep is adequate, memory functions properly and you forget what is not worth remembering.  It is impossible to pursue better health while ignoring mental health. These aspects of mental health are now a part of the discourse at international health and fitness conferences, simply a reflection of the rising awareness of how mental health impacts physical health. And how you could use diet and exercise as meaningful interventions for mental health. 

My top four health hacks   
1. Strength train at least once a week
2. Don’t leave home without breakfast
3. Plan a wholesome snack for the 4-6pm window
4. I swear by Iyengar yoga 

Also read: How to incorporate wellness into your everyday routine