By Shilpi Madan
She is your ultimate diet saviour. Your unbeatable mentor and guide, for healthy eating, everyday. A published author (Eat Delete; Eat Delete for Juniors; and soon coming up N for Nourish for 10-15 year olds), an internationally feted speaker at TedX, conferences, health panels. Pooja Makhija is an absolute delight to speak with as she steers her own brand, Nourish, with the ease of a born trailblazer. Humble, happy, honest, she sets the tone for a candid chat, sharing lovable insights into how she is bringing up her daughters, Ahaana, 14, and Amaira, 11. Excerpts from the conversation:
How do you manage everything – balancing home, clinic, sessions with clients?
I come to the clinic (a cobbled pathway, with a beatific Buddha statue, leads to her quaint cottage in Bandra) when my girls leave for school. I stop working at 4 pm when they return. Then I am with them till the time they sleep, at 8:30 pm. That is when I resume work, online. Through my website and app, people all over the world can consult me and get a personalised diet without actually coming to my clinic in Mumbai.
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Honestly, what is the worst thing people do to lose weight?
(Raises her eyebrows) They go on these crazy diets and the horrible impact is visible on their hair, skin, menstrual cycle…I always say, Eat with Thought. You are what you eat, so pay attention to what you put inside your gut. It shows on you.
What is your opinion on the various diets that are trending these days, such as intermittent fasting, Keto?
You need to eat four meals a day, eat every two hours, exercise for an hour daily. A diet needs to be nutritionally sound, sustainable. Short-term diets wreak more damage than good. Eat a balance of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals. You can consume pasta, white bread, noodles…but in the right quantity and at the right time. I would not recommend any fad diet, unless, in a very uncommon case a particular diet is needed first to bring the medical parameters under control.
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What is the best indicator of weight loss?
The weighing scale always tells you the truth. Inch loss without weight loss means nothing. It simply means that the fat has rearranged itself from one area to another area of your body. The concept of having "heavy bones" is ridiculous. Adult bones do not add up to more than 3 kg of your total weight. The rest is fat, muscle, water. Yes, some people have a bigger body structure as compared to others who look petite. In that respect, the stockier built look bigger than others.
What is your comment on water intake?
Water is tasteless, odourless, colourless. Develop a taste for it. Drink 2-3 litres everyday. The temperature of the water does not matter.
You are remarkably slim yourself.
I am at my ‘happy weight’ and work hard towards maintaining it. When my ‘badi’ (elder one) was born, I lost the post-pregnancy weight easily; it took me longer to shed the weight the next time around when my ‘choti’ (younger one) was born. That is true for every woman.
Pooja, why did you become a nutritionist?
(Thinks for a second) My mother thought I would be brilliant at this. So when I was contemplating my choice of subjects, she advised me to pursue home science, nutrition….I am so glad that I did. And here I am. This is my calling in life. I believe every person is on earth for a purpose. To spread the word in health and nutrition is why I was put on this planet.
Mothers often tend to eat up what is left on their child’s plate. What is your take on this?
You are not a dustbin. You have eaten your fill from your own plate. Children know their capacity. They stop eating when they are full. Adults must eat the same way and not expand their stomach lining by stuffing themselves. You know when you are full. Stop. You do not need that unfinished food from your child’s plate. Waste it, else it will add to your waist and then you will need to slog it out doubly to get rid of it.
What about new mothers: do they need to eat the gond laddoo, methi laddoo…when they are lactating?
Everything within reasonable limits. For the first six weeks, I allow new mothers to eat one portion of whatever their mother or mother-in-law gives them; it’s necessary as it contains natural goodness as well. This would be that panjiri, or laddoo. Having three laddoos or three bowls of panjiri a day does not work right; that becomes a fat pile.
A pearl of wisdom?
Teach your kids about good food. Inculcate healthy eating habits from the very start. It is easy to teach young ones than to undo what an adult has learnt.
A tip for new mothers?
Your needs are more important than your child’s needs. Your little one might be the centre of your universe but learn to prioritise your own health. Plan your diet beforehand. Don’t we think about what we are going to wear when we go out? Likewise, no one else should come before you. Take care of your own self. Make one hour of me time, everyday. Nap, meditate, watch a movie, do Zumba, laugh, talk to your mother, spend time with friends, read a book, run, write….do something that makes you feel happy. This is very important for your emotional and physical stability.
With you as their mother, Ahaana and Amaira must be walking ambassadors of good health?
(Laughs) Yes. They know everything. They tell other kids to eat fruits and how it is a must to get the necessary dose of vitamins and minerals through the fresh, seasonal fruits. They look at my plate sometimes and tell me what is missing, like "Mama, your food lacks enough protein, or could do with more carbs"! The other day, I woke up a little late, and they had already made their breakfast of pancakes ("We put two eggs instead of one"), fresh strawberries and blueberries, no sugar and a dash of nutella at the table. Perfect. Where do I find fault in that (laughs)?
So they could teach you a thing or two?
Of course. They do that all the time. I learn so much from my girls. There is painting in progress at our house and Amaira tells me, wearing that know-it-all expression, that we may be exposing ourselves to harmful and "addictive" toxic vapours. I did not know this piece of information, even though I read aplenty and am aware of what is happening in the world.
Does your ego get dented then?
Oh no. They are my children. So the credit goes to me (laughs). I fuel their questions. When I do not know the answer, this also refreshes my learning; we are growing together. Parenting teaches you that learning is a two-way street. You might be a mother, but that does not mean you know everything. You only know better, most of the time. That is a truth of life.
What has motherhood taught you?
Patience. My own mother makes me stay grounded all the time. She always tells me that I am simply doing my bit through my profession. My mother is my anchor, my teacher. Many a times when I am flummoxed, I call her and she clears my thoughts in seconds. Life is simple again (smiles). I hope my own children feel like this about me when they grow up.
What have you learnt as a mother?
Listen. Listen to your kids. Like my ‘badi" is a teenager now. Earlier it used to be, "Mama, can I do this?" and I would retort "No!" I have learnt to listen to my children. Listen to what she wants to do, why she wants to do something or eat whatever; hear her out, understand her point of view before reacting.
According to you, what holds a parent in good stead these days?
Being adaptive. This is a digital generation, we were an analog generation. The kids have vast knowledge these days, easy access to so much more information. Our kids our tech savvy. Like my daughters asked me why on earth I would spend on an expensive watch, when I could simply get the time from a digital assistant. They have a point! So their way of thinking and perspectives are completely different from ours. We have to accept that.
I went through a challenging phase, when my elder one was a picky eater till she turned five. I had to sneak in nutrients, reinvent, diguise vegetables, till she outgrew that phase, thankfully. But since I had that experience of dealing with a picky eater first-hand, I wrote my book Eat Delete for Juniors.
You have just launched healthy snacks. What’s next?
I want to do so much. Spread the word about everything I have learnt, in the field of health and nutrition, touch as many more lives as possible, expand my line of products. My next book releases in a couple of months. And yes, I want to bring up my children the best way I possibly can.