Weight loss and fitness through rice and ghee, says celeb nutritionist Rujuta Diwekar in an exclusive
Rujuta Diwekar’s name started trending in 2009 when Bollywood star Kareena Kapoor told the world the secret to her robust health and gorgeous figure is Rujuta’s custom diet. In the last 10 years, this Mumbai-based Maharashtrian dietician and nutritionist has not just garnered celebrity clients, but has also stayed accessible to everyone through her actionable advice in public and online platforms. We talk to Rujuta about how she managed to help Indian food – poha, kichidi and ghee – regain its glory and get accepted as healthy. With over seven lakh followers on social media, she is able to reach out to lakhs of Indians everyday and help them make wise diet decisions. Excerpts from an interview with Rujuta.
We all knew Rujuta Diwekar as Bollywood star Kareena Kapoor’s personal dietician about 10 years ago. Today, the Rujuta we know is accessible to the common man. Was that part of your online strategy?
Being Kareena’s dietician is a still very much a part of my identity, one that I cherish. The social media following, however, has been an organic process. I signed up for it, like everyone else. But thanks to the fan following that Kareena enjoys across the globe, I got some part of that attention. Big names like business tycoon Anil Ambani and actors Alia Bhatt or Varun Dhawan bring credibility, curiosity and opportunity around your work. So the whole access thing actually works the other way around. People want access to you once there’s a big name attached.
Where do you think Indians went wrong in the last 10 years that there has been a rise in diabetes, cardiac disease, arthritis, asthma and so on?
We were just victims of poor planning, poor policies and completely misplaced diet and exercise advice. Not just in India, but across the globe there has been a rise in diabetes, cardiac diseases and arthritis. The thing that is missing is the confidence in the native diet, pride in the diversity and the practice of cooking traditional recipes that involved all genders and age groups of the household. Our native diets that are based on eating local, seasonal produce using traditional recipes for cooking are robust enough to not just keep us in good health, but even to prevent climate change. We have been affected by nutrition transition, pretty much like other developing economies of China or Brazil. Nutrition transition means you give up on diverse diets and eat more packaged, processed food and with that you move less. Brazil has now officially changed their dietary guidelines to explicitly say eat local, seasonal and traditional foods versus coming up with reference ranges for carbs, protein or fat that often alienate the common man and only lead to confusion. We must take the lead from them, but we are unlikely to do so until, let’s say, the USA or the UK adopt these kinds of guidelines.
What kind of a research has gone into your work to be able to come up with these recommendations? Do you study the Ayurvedic texts? Do you conduct experiments or studies? What has been your method before you recommend or suggest meal plans to your followers?
Right from the beginning, I have strived to strike the right balance between our ancient wisdom and study of nutrition science. So if I am spending time studying yoga and Ayurveda in Rishikesh, I also update myself from a university/conference in the West.My guess is we will see that change in five years. Till that time, we can rely on our home grown wisdom of keeping life simple and eating local, seasonal and traditional. When I pay in Euros and attend these courses, I come back home feeling that all ancient cultures were in tune with this climate resilient and sustainable lifestyle and consumption practices for centuries together, and it’s a shame that we have undervalued the free access that we have had to this through our grandmoms. Clearly, these women and their collective wisdom haven’t received their due and all of us are guilty of that. As far as studies go, our latest and amongst our biggest experiments has been the 12-week fitness project 2018 which involved giving out a health guideline every week to 1.25 lakh registered participants from more than 40 countries. The tips were simple and the idea was to build fitness one step at a time so that its sustainable. The 12-week fitness project 2019 started on January 8.
You are also popular when you go for talks on public platforms. Do tell us any interesting incident you faced that perhaps shows the kind of attitude we have about our own rich food culture?
Indians across regions and even globally are not ignorant about the goodness of their traditional, diverse diets, they are simply in awe of it. I mean it’s a case of being too good to be true. They are like, ‘really, dal chawal ghee kha ke patla ho sakte hai?’ Can we really lead ourselves to sustainable weight loss by being simple and no-fuss with our diets?And most times, I just throw some non-layman terms like lacto-fermentation for simple things like pickles or how dal chawal is a good mix of essential and non-essential amino acids and then they are like, yeah, it’s in English and some confusing terms so it must be scientific after all.
Give us a glimpse of your new book Notes for Healthy kids?
Sometimes I worry that our future will be everyone eating the same food, speaking in the same language and reading the same book, and where would that leave us as people and the planet? The diversity our diets offer is a legacy of health, fitness and happiness that is worth passing on and my hope for a better future is my motivation behind the book Notes for Healthy Kids (and parents too). It talks about why grandma’s wisdom is even more relevant today, about what you can eat for different age-groups, the need to keep moving and to sleep on time. I am happy that it has turned out to be an interesting read.
What are your plans for 2019? What else can we expect from you? Right now we see Facebook lives, online challenges etc. What next?
We will soon go live with the Fitness project 2019 which will be a family project with kids health at the centre of it. The ragi kheer project in my ancestral village of Sonave will expand itself to cover 1,000 kids.
What should our health resolutions be for 2020?
Keep up and do better at what we have been doing; plant more native trees and raise the population of local birds, bees and butterflies.