I’d been toying with the idea of interviewing a nutritionist for a while now. The subject of what, how and when to eat has always intrigued people. More now, than ever. So when I stumbled upon Avanti’s impressive profile, I couldn’t miss the chance.
Avanti Deshpande is a leading nutritionist and health consultant based in Pune, India. Her clientele covers most business verticals, including the food and pharmaceutical industry, education, catering, retail, corporates, gyms and fitness centres, NGOs and more. She’s also a complete technophile who has turned the social media revolution to advantage with the option of consultations via Skype, a YouTube channel for easy and healthy recipes, a Facebook and an Instagram account for health and wellness guidance as well as targeted Q & A. After a recent certification in Nutrigenomics by GeneSupport, she has immersed herself into understanding metabolism at the cellular level and to advise customised diets on a case-by-case basis.
From the moment I stepped into her office, I knew I’d made the right choice. There she was – lean and tall, great hair, glowing skin and toned arms. Her smile was that of someone who knew what they’re doing. As you’ll discover, she did.
Avanti, it’s interesting how you were battling your own weight issues before going on to become a full-time nutritionist. How did that happen?
I could say that the birth of my daughter became a turning point.
I’d always been passionate about food, which is why I studied Food Science, Nutrition and Quality Control at the Bachelor’s and Master’s level and worked for over ten years in the food industry, shuttling between R&D, Quality Assurance and Production. But the work was getting hectic and I found it increasingly hard to strike a work-life balance . So I decided to move to academics, teaching Food Science to undergraduates and postgraduates.
Then things changed drastically. My daughter was born and I put on a lot of weight. It wasn’t an easy pregnancy, and I was at home most of the time. I felt the urgent need to lose the excess weight. That’s when I started reading a lot about nutrition, focusing on how I could lose weight in a healthy manner. Because of my education and experience in Food Science, I could understand the terms and concepts better and link them together. So I applied what I read and understood, and lost my pregnancy weight, all of 20 kgs (smiles).
You lost 20 kgs just by reading books? That’s incredible!
Reading, yes. But also practising what I read. I took it upon myself to incorporate those principles as a lifestyle, and that’s also when I started working out. I started running, going to the gym, picked up Yoga, while also understanding the principles and the benefits behind each.
Once I got into it, I really enjoyed it. I also tried to study why I lost weight in a particular way. Around the same time, my aunt who is a doctor, suggested that I start counseling people for weight loss, since I’d been through it myself.
So that’s how you switched to private consulting?
Yes. I began by taking up cases, and then one by one people started getting results and the word spread. The thing is, I never stuck to a stereotype. I designed tailor-made plans for diet and exercise. For instance, if someone liked to run, I researched the nutrition that complements running and advised them accordingly. And it would be very different for someone who is into say, weight training. So I studied each and every concept, and kept reading a lot in parallel.
This is also around the time I took up the course in Nutrigenomics. Luckily enough, there was this company that was into genetic testing. They could study people’s metabolism at the cellular level and classify them into different panels; one for Obesity, one for Oestrogen, one for Gluten intolerance and another called the General Health Panel.
Could you explain some of the panels in more detail?
Sure. Like I said, there are four panels: General Health, Obesity, Gluten Intolerance and Oestrogen. The Health panel studies the metabolism of nutrients like B Complex and Calcium, and focuses on Arthritis, bone health etc. There’s great emphasis on an in-depth understanding of genes and their consequent impact on metabolism. Then the Obesity panel talks about the distribution of carbohydrate-protein-fat to be consumed in a meal. If you have a snacking tendency, what is the best time of the day for you to exercise. Someone who works out in the morning but whose genetics say he’ll burn more calories by working out in the evening, might not see results. The sports panel actually helps you decide the kind of sport that is best suited for you, determined genetically. And then there’s the Oestrogen panel. Your tendency to accumulate or expel Oestrogen determines whether you should be consuming Soya products, for instance.
How does this in-depth understanding of metabolism help you in your practise?
It helps me figure out the root of the problem, at the very core. If you look around, you’ll see a lot of people trying everything they can to lose weight but going nowhere with it. In these cases, there is something gone wrong at the cellular level. After all, you are what you eat. My job is not to alter their genes but to work around them to make the process most effective.
Different people come to me with different goals. There are bodybuilders who want to gain muscle and lower their fat percentage, then there are models who are already thin but wish to get even leaner. There are marathon runners, mountaineers. And there are also people whose ambition is to start walking as an exercise.
Sometimes there are more complicated cases, say a Marathon runner with Arthritis or Diabetes or high blood pressure (BP). So many of my clients struggle with PCOS, Diabetes, Thyroid Dysfunction, Hyperacidity or Digestion issues. We have to accommodate for that. For each of these people, it is important to study their metabolism at the cellular level and advise them the combination of diet and exercise that suits them the best.
And how do you decide what diet is best suited to someone?
It depends on a series of questions I ask them during our private consultations. Right from how long or well they’re sleeping to relationship strategies. These are factors that have a direct impact on health.
What happens after people finish your course? Do they manage to continue independently?
Anyone who comes to me for the programme understands the concepts of food groups – what are proteins, what are carbohydrates, in what quantities to consume them. It’s an education. They learn what works for them and what doesn’t, and by the end of it they’re independent enough to make their own smart choices.
What are your thoughts on fad diets? They never seem to go out of fashion, despite their known ill effects.
Look- anything that is sudden or unhealthy like a fad diet slows down your metabolism. Of course you’re going to lose weight; after all you’re starving yourself. But then after a point, you damage your own metabolism and then get stuck. Sometimes you’re stuck so bad that even a dietician can’t help you.
But what about celebrity diets, like the Werewolf diet or the Baby Food diet? Why don’t we see any visible side effects?
That’s because they don’t tell you the full story. They also take a lot of supplements to balance their diets, under the guidance of an expert nutritionist and a fitness trainer who work together to figure out the best outcome for you. Celebrities don’t tell you all that, and even if they do, we don’t end up following all of it.
Take the Keto diet for instance, where you’re supposed to eat high fats and high protein. If not done under expert guidance, it can put a lot of strain on your kidneys. There are so many youngsters, who do a lot of weight training and gulp down 2-3 scoops of Whey protein a day. They’re often found in the Orthopaedic wards, complaining of severe pain in the joints due to the accumulation of Uric acid.
So fad diets and supplements should only be taken as part of a complete, balanced diet plan. Or it can prove hazardous.
What is your take on emotional eating? How do you overcome it?
Emotional eating is a very tricky thing. For some it could be a momentary craving, especially when you’re PMSing. But sometimes there are also serious cases of depression related to emotional eating. In those cases, it has to be a team effort by the person, their counselor and nutritionist to emerge out of it, victorious.
Of course, if you tell me you ate up an entire tub of ice-cream, but it was just a one-time thing and you’re someone who exercises regularly, I’d ignore it. If you go wrong once in awhile (and you will go wrong once in awhile, which by the way is completely okay), just make sure you follow your diet and exercise regimen the next few days and you’ll be fine.
Then there are also times when you overeat, or crave sugar because something went wrong in the earlier part of the day, like if you skipped breakfast. So it’s more important to understand why it happened, forgive yourself and move on.
Almost every diet we know of advocates cutting down on sugar. It seems impossible for someone with a sweet tooth..and I say this from personal experience.
Even we encourage cutting down on sugar. The carbs we eat get converted to sugar anyway, so you don’t need more of it. It’s actually just upon your palate; your taste buds get used to the sweetness. It’s a simple fact you need to realise and overcome. The most sensible way to curb sugar cravings is to cut it off completely.
But some people need something sweet by all means after a meal. So I ask them to switch to something like a small piece of dark chocolate post meals. And even if they insist on indulging in controlled amounts of sweets or desserts, I give them that. If they can make ten adjustments for me, I can make one for them.
You seem to be quite tech-savvy, what with YouTube channels and Facebook Live sessions. You also accept Skype consultations as legitimately as the ones in-person.
Because I feel there are so many people who are surfing the net and there is so much I can share with people. They can see the work I have done. And there are so many things that I am doing and want to do, such as healthy cooking classes, my upcoming Q & A videos on Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOD), information-sharing on causes of belly fat and so much more. Social media is a great way to reach out to people.
Thanks for speaking with us and sharing your valuable insights, Avanti. Before we wind up, could you tell us how we could access the various resources you have to offer?
You can get an overview of my profile, what I do, quick fixes, nutrition advice, Q&A and much more on my Website, Facebook page, Instagram, YouTube channel and Twitter. I often work with Slim Bite Eat Right to share quick, easy and healthy recipes that you can check out on their YouTube channel.