A healthy lifestyle has become a buzzword on social media and is touted as the one-stop solution for everything from depression to diabetes! However, it can be difficult to know exactly what a healthy lifestyle means and how it differs from person to person.
Nutritionist Swetha Ashokkumar from The Gut Guru is here to help dispel some of the myths surrounding healthy lifestyles, diet plans, and exercise. A nutritionist, microbiologist, and biochemist, she is intimately aware of the roles played by hormones and metabolism on each individual. Due to her multiple degrees, Swetha encourages a holistic approach to living rather than short-lived fad diets that can do more harm than good.
In this interview, we discuss the various ways an individual can utilize the power of a balanced and customized nutrition plan along with regular exercise for overall health and immunity.
Q: How do your degrees in Biochemistry and Microbiology help you formulate the ideal nutrition plan for a person?
A: Biochemistry requires us to learn the physical and biochemical functions of the body to help us understand the role played by hormones, metabolism, food digestion, and much more. Microbiology helps us understand the bacteria and microlevel functions happening in our gut. These two, along with my nutrition course, helps me understand and plan for the physical and mental aspects of my client’s overall lifestyle.
When it comes to healthy living, no one subject plays a role in helping the client, but a combination of many things is what allows me to help them grow and flourish.
Q: Good health is a long-term lifestyle change rather than a fad. How do you deal with clients who come to you with short-term and sometimes unrealistic goals?
A: A holistic approach is not a diet or a one-time solution – it is a way of life.
So, the first, and most important step, to be taken is to help clients understand that food needs to be treated as a whole and not as individual components such as carbohydrates, proteins, or fat. When we eat, we eat all these elements together, so why look at them separately?
This is a common issue now with fad culture – food being looked at as separate entities – but all foods have macro and micronutrients. Additionally, no food is ‘bad,’ it is our choices that cause our lifestyle to go haywire.
When dealing with clients, I try to understand where they are coming from, what is their general knowledge about nutrition and food, and then explain to them how and why it’s important to accept a holistic way of living.
Deprivation only leads to crankiness, and at this point, you need to ask yourself: do I really need to feel this way?
The way you look and feel is important, but not at the cost of your health. Sadly, this is what people are doing, and these drastic measures will only lead to short-lived results that are unsustainable in the long run.
A well-balanced lifestyle is what will give you good health throughout your life.
Q: Takeout culture and a fast-paced lifestyle have led to a rise in unhealthy food habits and lifestyle disorders. What is your advice to a young professional who would like to change this?
A: Jumping straight in and providing young professionals the right knowledge is my preferred way.
Here, I would show people:
- How easy it is to work on your goals
- How I can help them change for the better
- Offer my continuing support until they make it happen
Ordering food once in a while has never been a result of unhealthy conditions – it’s the regularity of it that needs to be changed. It is also important to know that food is not to be feared. If we are traveling, we will be going out and ordering food more than usual.
Education plays a great role here. It is very important to help people understand the importance of WHEN you eat, HOW you eat, and WHAT you eat.
When it comes to young professionals, food is just one aspect of helping them change their perspective on health. In my opinion, the most important aspects are time, stress, and sleep management, as all these factors contribute to an erratic lifestyle.
Things around us are always going to be fast-paced – we need to learn how to slow things down for us.
Q: Comfort eating has risen during this pandemic, leading to more stress regarding weight gain and more comfort eating. How would you help someone stuck in this cycle?
A: Comfort eating arises due to emotional instability and boredom. All these factors depend on the mindset, age, and the current emotional status of the client.
I help my clients understand their daily routine as this helps in understanding where they tend to get overwhelmed, tired, irritated, or bored. This awareness allows both of us to nip unhealthy habits in the bud. Once we get to the bottom of that, I help them work around it by helping them build better relationships with food.
There are never any restrictions in my meal plans, just replacing an unhealthy habit with a healthier one, and learning how to moderate the unhealthy ones.
Q: What are some of the most common vitamin and mineral deficiencies present in Indians? Does this differ according to diet, i.e., non-vegetarians, vegetarians, vegans, Jains, etc.? What foods should people include in their regular diet to correct this?
A: Vitamin D, Iron, Vitamin B12, and Folate are common nutritional deficiencies present in Indians due to the lack of well-balanced meals, lack of exposure to morning sunlight, and many more factors.
No deficiency is due to the lack of one particular food, but it is due to the overall nutritional profile that we lack due to our lifestyle and unhealthy habits. A good combination of the right foods according to one’s culture, exercise routine, and change in one’s lifestyle would bring a tremendous difference to the lack of micro-nutrients in our diet.
When people opt for the fad culture, they often end up cutting out a lot of important elements such as fats and carbohydrates that actually help them in the assimilation of these vitamins and minerals.
It is not about what your food preference is, i.e., if you are vegetarian, non-vegetarian, or ovo-vegetarian does not matter, as we all have enough choices to ensure that we get the right amount of vitamins and minerals. To give you an example, we are told that as vegetarians, we lack Vitamin B12 because we don’t eat meat. But did you know that our homemade pickles could take care of that deficiency?
Hence, I encourage my clients to ask me questions as that will help them learn, grow, and include the correct food groups in their regular diet. Abundant options are available, but how we utilize them changes our mindset around health.
If we eat according to the season, locality, our culture, and without cutting out food groups, we will automatically receive the right nutrition.
Q: Fat loss is a common complaint; however, each body is different, and stores fat in its own way. What would you say to someone who is fixated on this particular aspect and may often try fad diets to achieve this goal?
A: Fat loss happens not from one particular region, but the entire body. So, no one ingredient, diet, or exercise can reduce fat from a particular spot.
Cutting out certain food groups altogether could prevent you from receiving the important nutrients and vitamins your body needs to function properly. These diets are often high in protein and fat, so you may lose weight, but your immunity may also be compromised, leaving you susceptible to illnesses.
Carbohydrates are what help you fight the fat!
Each food group is essential for building your health and plays an important role in your metabolic activity.
It is possible to achieve your fitness and weight goals without fad diets. You simply need to understand and balance your meals better and have some patience in yourself and the process.
It all boils down to whether you are ready to deprive yourself for the rest of your life, or would you rather take the effort to know your body better.
Q: Is it possible to lead a healthy lifestyle with minimal or no daily exercise?
A: Absolutely, not!
Regular physical activity helps you lose weight and improves your overall health and immunity. Additionally, it helps boost the production of happy hormones (endorphins), thus improving your emotional state. So, regular exercise is advantageous not only for its physical benefits but also for the betterment of your mental health.
The choice is between popping pills and paying expensive hospital bills or taking out just 15 minutes of your day for some light exercise.
I am a big believer in the combination of a healthy diet, regular exercise, and lifestyle changes, as all these factors go hand-in-hand in helping you maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Hence, choose the holistic way of living!