celebrity culture

Rujuta Diwekar at her no-nonsense best: ‘Celebrity or not, there is no fooling or cheating the body’

The celebrated nutritionist for celebrities spills the rajma on Kareena Kapoor’s diet and the joys of common sense over faddish thinking.

Rujuta Diwekar is possibly the country’s most followed nutritionist, known as much for her A-list clientele (Kareena Kapoor, Saif Ali Khan, Varun Dhawan) as for her unorthodox views on fitness and diets. Diwekar works with several luminaries, but Kareena Kapoor remains her most well-known client. Diwekar has been closely advising Kapoor through her steadily maintained slimness – dubbed the “size zero” look by the media after her 2008 movie Tashan – as well as the actress’s heavily publicised efforts to lose weight after her recent motherhood. For mortals, the nutritionist uses lectures, social media platforms and her books to dispense commonsensical and easily replicable advice.

Diwekar made her early inroads into Bollywood through the recommendations of director David Dhawan’s wife, Karuna. Diwekar turned size zero frenzy to her advantage with her debut book Don’t Lose Your Mind, Lose Your Weight in 2009. In true Bollywood style, Diwekar tossed up a sequel, Women and The Weightloss Tamasha. Both books were bestsellers and have helped Diwekar reach out to more audiences than a Kareena Kapoor film.

Among Diwekar’s hot tips: ghee, rice and cashew nuts help rather than harm the body. Losing weight is not as important as staying fit, and celebrities need not always be role models, Diwekar told Scroll.in in an email interview.

You have been working with celebrities for years. Has the public perception of their bodies changed over the years? Is size-zero really desirable?
Earlier, I would have to give at least a 10-minute lecture on why my office didn’t have a weighing scale. But now I don’t spend even 10 seconds on it. In fact, I have clients because they know that they won’t be held to ransom on a weighing scale. So yes, the perception has changed. There’s a better understanding about the fact that metabolic health needs to be improved and weight loss follows, not the other way around.

As far as size zero is concerned, it is the media that coined that term. Until they don’t coin a better one, it will surface every now and then. Fitness is always desirable and size zero refers to a size of clothes and not to people.

Kareena Kapoor is your most visible and vocal patron. Does relentless coverage of her diet and of other celebrities increase pressure on ordinary people or does it encourage them?
Celebrities are always in the public eye and the curiosity over their diets and weight loss programmes is natural, but to take pressure to emulate them is plain silly. Kareena is aware of her responsibilities towards her fans, and it was entirely her idea that I write a book post the Tashan phase so that people who were interested in losing weight the right way have complete access to exactly how she did it.

The same with the Facebook live sessions – she really sticks her neck out and generously shares her diet secrets with all those who are willing to listen. Also, ordinary folks are much more intelligent than we give them credit for. They seek not just good content but also value credibility and can tell when someone is faffing.

Kareena Kapoor. Courtesy Sony BBC Earth.
Kareena Kapoor. Courtesy Sony BBC Earth.

Kareena Kapoor’s post-partum look seems to reinforce the notion that women need to lose weight after delivery. However, Aishwarya Rai received flak for taking her time with getting back into shape.
Kareena’s journey towards fitness started way back in 2007. What you see now is the result of a 10-year long dedicated effort. It is anything but rapid.

Any gynaecologist will tell you that in a healthy pregnancy, women will lose most of their weight on the delivery table. The key is to be healthy even before pregnancy crosses your mind, to aim at a pain-free period, for example, and this needs to be taught in schools itself. The fact that Kareena enjoyed and flaunted her pregnancy and even did cover shoots during that time goes to show that she not just embraced but celebrated this physiological landmark.

Kareena’s post-pregnancy fitness is in response to eating home-cooked food, including dal-rice twice a day, working out 150 minutes a week, starting two months post-delivery and following a regulated bedtime. Now all this sounds very boring, but that’s exactly what Kareena has been doing. If the weight loss seems rapid, it is because the last picture of her in public memory was when she was full-blown pregnant.

Comparing Aishwarya to Kareena is like comparing mangoes to sitaphal, it is a silly thing to do.

We have many more media outlets than what we did just 10 years ago and everyone has a health and lifestyle page. And it is mostly about getting quotes from some celebrity dietitian/ trainer before the deadline, making an eye-catching headline, using the right picture and knowing how to make that page. Correct me if I am wrong, but who is asking a lifestyle journalist what their qualification in health or exercise science is? And bear with me here, but the poor lifestyle that journalists lead and their own struggles with food and exercise often make it to the page.

Do you get clients who come to you saying, ‘I want a body like Kareena’s?’
No, mostly I have people who tell me, “Listen, I am no Kareena Kapoor,” either to say that they are not going to be as committed or to communicate an unwillingness to pay my fees. When I started in 1999, yes, some convincing was required. But now thanks to the books and social media, people already know you before they meet you. And they choose to come to you because of your approach and not in spite of it.

Celebrities are often the ones setting fitness goals. What are the challenges for regular people?
People we refer to as celebrities are generally the ones who make it to the top of their field, and generally people make it to the top because they are much more disciplined and have a better sense of priorities than the rest. Chandra Kochar looks in better shape than the average banker, Anand Mahindra is in better shape than your middle-level manager, and this rule applies to actors too.

Besides, acting is a physically challenging profession. You won’t find an artiste sitting at one place for too long. They walk, they move, they dance much more than regular people. So when Madhuri Dixit or Juhi Chawla look great even today, you have to acknowledge that they are starting at a different baseline. When Karisma Kapoor was giving her 12th retake for “Le gayi, le gayi,” you were chilling with a bowl of instant noodles.

On a serious note, diets fail because they are not a culture fit. So choose a diet that is sustainable, make exercise a non-negotiable part of your life and regulate your bedtime to keep life-threatening illness at bay.

Women dominate conversations about fitness and weight loss, while the focus with men is on the workout regime.
I think the diets of both male and female celebs get discussed. I remember reading about the diets of Hrithik, Aamir, and even Atul Kulkarni. But while we are generally appreciative of men being on a diet and see it as a measure of their commitment, focus and discipline, for women, we see it as their way of showing us down and putting pressure on us to lose weight. Blame that on patriarchy. If your husband knows how to make a chai, wow, how lucky you are! And he is very unlucky if you don’t know how to make garam chapatis.

When I work with Varun Dhawan, Saif or Anupam Kher, the focus is on the complete lifestyle – food, exercise and sleep. Celebrity or not, male or female, there is no fooling or cheating the human physiology or its ability to adapt to the stimuli of diet and exercise.

Varun Dhawan.
Varun Dhawan.

You have been a champion of Indian superfoods, but your support for such foods as ghee and cashew nuts has drawn criticism. Is this because we have been conditioned to believe these foods are bad for health?
On the contrary, most people are relieved to know that ghee and cashews are not the villains that they were made out to be and regularly share how they lost weight or achieved better blood glucose control after incorporating these in their diets. But is there skepticism when they first hear it? Yes, and I welcome that. We must learn to question health professionals and not just believe their word because they have some degree or no time to answer our questions.

The main reason for a bad reputation for ghee and cashews is that people who give us health advice – doctors, dieticians, trainers – have no clue about how food grows or have a single paragraph in their text books on agro-ecology. They sound more like spokespersons of the food industry than anything else. We were systematically put off ghee by using these influencers and converted to consumers of refined vegetable oils first and then of virgin olive oil. So people to whom ghee is native are scared of it and a start-up in the US was recently in news for making millions selling it. Back home, our farmers have given up rearing indigenous cattle, as they don’t find good money for full-fat milk.

The economics of this aside, the United States Department of Agriculture, in April 2015, declared cholesterol as a nutrient that is no longer of concern for over-consumption. So if you quit ghee over fear of cholesterol, USDA is now singing your nani’s tune and saying, beta ghee khao, and don’t count how much you are eating. But you see, grandma speaks in a vernacular language, and in our heads English is the language of science, so we quit all the good stuff and suffer.

Anyway, I am happy to report that we are making a slow but a sure comeback to incorporating ghee in our daily diets. The fact that someone like Kareena wholeheartedly endorses it has an effect not just on people’s health but also percolates all the way to the farmer. In all the glitz, we don’t notice, but celebrity endorsement of local foods is a great thing for our agricultural communities.

As for cashews or coconut or peanuts, vegetarian food is zero on cholesterol and we have been fooled into believing otherwise by everyone – from the doctors to the media and everyone in between. Thanks to this, the business of the chana-sing-wala selling you a five-rupee packet of healthy peanuts is now bust and that of franchises bringing you pizza within 30 mins with a free cola to boot is booming.

You have also been vocal about local alternatives to exotic foods such as kale and quinoa. What are some of the overlooked superfoods that could be incorporated in our diets?
We only need alternatives when we think that what we have is not good enough. The dal-chawal and roti-sabzi that we eat is great, but our grandmas never indulged in nutritionism and sold us the idea of eating a certain food based on a single nutrient. The idea was to always eat in a sustainable way, to follow a food pattern that is region and season specific, something that the nutrition scientists are talking about now.

The world over, nutrition bodies are also saying that the food of the poor in one continent becomes that of the rich in another. So the kale of the poor European farmer and the quinoa of the poor Peruvian/ Bolivian is the food of the rich in London, Paris, New York. While burger and fried chicken, the food of the poor in the US, are the foods of the rich in countries like India.

Superfoods are foods that are local, versatile and blend with the ecology of the region you belong to. So in India we have the banana, ghee, turmeric, nutmeg, jackfruit, ragi, sugar cane, ambadi. In fact, my most recent book is Indian Super Foods and it lists 10 different super foods native to India.

Losing weight over being healthy – why are we unable to distinguish between the two and can they be achieved together?
It is because when we go to see a doctor for backache, blood pressure, fertility, anything at all, we hear the words “lose some weight”. It is the same thing we hear at parties or weddings: “She is so pretty, if only she lost some weight toh shaadi jaldi ho jayegi.”.

Loss of weight can be achieved by loss of health too – diarrhoea does it, so does AIDS. It is important to focus on improving metabolic health, to carry more muscle and bone than what we currently do, to make long-lasting changes in our lifestyle that lead to sustainable weight loss. And the only thing that can bring that ideal balance is education about the fact that fitness or fatness cannot be measured on a weighing scale.

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Some of the many things a mother packs in her travel bags. Source: Google Images
Some of the many things a mother packs in her travel bags. Source: Google Images

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