Exclusive: Nutritionist Neha Ranglani Busts Weight Loss Myths And Talks About PCOS
For people with body image issues, it is the best of times and it is the worst of times. On the one hand, body positivity is having such a moment right now, with the messaging everywhere being about loving yourself, no matter what shape, size or skin colour you are. On the other hand though, the airbrushed, Instagram-filter laden imagery all around forces us to strive for perfection. And when we can’t achieve that, it’s bound to demotivate us and affect our mental health. One of the biggest questions that plagues most people is, “Why do I put on weight?” Luckily, we’ve got two things that might help us answer that question better. One is a new Sony BBC Earth show that talks about different aspects that affect weight gain/loss. The other is this illuminating chat we had with integrative nutritionist and health coach Neha Ranglani on the very subject.
As a 29-year-old who has struggled with being overweight and the consequent issues all her life, I’ve tried to solve this weight loss puzzle for almost two decades now. It’s why Sony BBC Earth’s new show, Why Do I Put On Weight got me quite excited. But I’ve seen the fad diets, the ‘Lose weight without exercising’ claims and shows like The Biggest Loser enough to know what works and what doesn’t. That weight always comes back, doesn’t it? Naturally, I needed someone who could help me understand, one, why this show was different than the rest, and two, if my weight gain could actually have to do with things I wasn’t even factoring in.
For quite some time now, Neha Ranglani has been helping people tackle health issues related to weight, diabetes, cholesterol, thyroid, hypertension, skin and hair problems. With cases of PCOS being on the rise amongst women in these past few years, Neha even offers guidance on how to deal with problems that might arise from it.
In an insightful conversation with us, Neha busts a bunch of myths about weight loss, talks issues like PCOS and trends like body positivity and the perfect bodies affecting our perception of our weight, and why a holistic approach like the one advocated by this new show might just be the way to crack the weight loss code.
Q: Please tell is something about Why Do I Put On Weight?. It sounds like it’s going to change how people think about weight loss? How is it different from other shows on weight loss like, say, The Biggest Loser?
A: The show has a scientific approach to why we put on weight, why not just calories or food are the cause of it, and how our psychology and mindset play a huge role in our weight issues, which we don’t pay attention to. There are going to be five stories on the show that will cover the different factors that affect weight. I’m so excited that there is a show that is highlighting all of the factors that play a role in weight gain, finally!Picture shows: (From Left) Tina Delaney, Tim Rycroft, Sophie Medlin, Dr. Giles Yeo, Shaun Mair, Jade Hamilton, Mica Chaplin
Q: From personal experience, I can say, the weight always, always comes back! It’s a question I know people have about those who lose a lot of weight on shows such as these. Is it true?
A: The weight comes back if you don’t listen to your body or understand it and do the right thing for it. If you follow a fad diet, thinking, “Oh! I’m going to follow this and lose weight,” and then switch back to your old lifestyle later, of course, the weight is going to be back too.
You know how you store money in a bank for later use in case of emergencies? Well, that’s how your body stores the extra fat, for a time when it might need the energy when it doesn’t get food. However, these days, we’ve been feeling so insecure because our lives are so stressful, even the lockdown has made it our lifestyle so uncertain. Due to this, the body feels unsafe, which in turn affects the hormones, cortisol, digestion, the good and bad bacteria in your body…. That’s when your body begins storing more fat, and you put on weight.
Q: What’s the most common myth that you keep having to bust about weight loss?
A: Despite most people knowing that it is not true, I still get a lot of them believing that eating less food helps you to lose weight. When I give my clients their food plan, they’re worried I’ve given them too much to eat and they’ll put on weight. But I have to assure them, that’s not the case. When you eat the right quantity of food, you make your body feel secure that there’s enough food coming in and it doesn’t need to store the food it has consumed as fat. When the clients see their results, they realise that you can lose weight even after eating enough food, and all these fad diets that propagate eating less food, starvation, or being on liquids is not really needed.
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Q: A lot of dieticians and nutritionists I’ve met advertise the whole ‘no exercise’ weight loss. What’s the truth? is there a minimum that one has to exercise to lose weight?
A: Look, our lifestyles have shifted so drastically. We were never meant to sit in one place, with our eyes and hands stuck to a computer. Humans were hunters and gatherers, our limbs were made for walking long distances. We aren’t really living the lives we were designed for. So it’s not the ‘exercise’ which is important, but the movement, the activity, that is. How active or sedentary you are through the day matters. Since most of us sit in one place with our computers and our food all day now, and barely move our bodies, that dedicated one hour of exercise is needed by our bodies.
It’s great to do a one-hour or 45-minute work out but again a lot depends on your stress levels. Because not every workout works for everyone the same way. A workout should make you feel good and not stress your body out, otherwise, once again, you’ll actually end up storing more fat than losing it. Listen to what your body likes—maybe you want to stretch, or you want a cardio session or even some yoga and breathing exercises. You need to figure out what works for your body and not just go by someone’s suggestion of a strenuous workout.
As someone who instantly pulls a long face when told to work out, I had to ask the follow up question on the kind of workout that works best for someone who is trying to lose a lot of weight. And more importantly, when do I fit one in, considering I barely get time in my busy schedule! Neha elaborated how a combination workout depending on my individualistic lifestyle would be my best bet. So, sure, yoga would be great for relaxation and bringing my stress levels down or stretching my body, but I’d also need something intensive like an HIIT or Crossfit in combination to make it work for me.
Q: How does one mentally prepare themselves for weight loss?
A: The only mental preparation you need to lose weight is to not be too negative judgemental about it and not doubt the process. When you’re doubtful about anything, your body will once again not feel too secure, and you know what happens then! You need to pick a coach or guide to help you choose a process, trust it completely, observe how your body is reacting to it and then make any alterations if needed. If you have doubts from Day 1, you’ll never really get there.
Surrender to the process and trust the journey. It’s never about reaching a certain weight and then being happy. It’s about enjoying the process of losing weight, while feeling energetic, healthy, light in your body, active in your mind…. That’s what you need to experience!
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Q: How big a role does genetics play in a person’s body type? I’ve often been told that after a point, you cannot lose weight because because you’re genetically predisposed to being a certain weight or size.
A: You know what? Genes actually play just a 5% role in any health issue. It’s majorly a lifestyle factor. Our genes carry a lot of genetic information of what our ancestors were like and have been through. But the genes get activated only when they get the right environment to get active. So your genes are not your weight gain trigger, your environmental factors are.
For example, a mother is overweight and so is the daughter, and we think it’s because the latter is genetically predisposed so it’s inevitable. But what we don’t realise is that they’re both living in the same environment. The daughter had the same gene but the reason it gets triggered is because she is also eating the same food her mother is, probably even has the same living conditions and routine as her mother does.
Hence, it’s important to rectify any faulty lifestyle patterns followed by your parents or grandparents so that you don’t activate the gene.
Q: With September also being PCOS Awareness Month, I want to talk to you about how the incidence of women suffering from it has increased. How do you advise these women who get shamed for their weight and find it difficult to lose it?
A: PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) is a very complex disorder. It’s different in different women and even the causes vary with each case. Lifestyle factors play a massive role in PCOS—how your body detoxifies, how well you sleep or what your stress levels are, all that affects your hormones. PCOS is a reproductive disorder, and even though it affects your metabolism and your entire body, it is majorly your hormones that are playing up.
Our reproductive system is not an organ that our body requires for survival. When your body is really stressed out, and the environment is not conducive to having a baby, your body shuts the reproductive system because it doesn’t feel ready to have a baby or allow it to grow. That’s when it starts affecting women’s hormones, which in turn affect your skin, hair, weight, insulin resistance which causes a lot of weight issues on the stomach, thighs and hips which is really difficult to budge because it is stubborn fat.
To deal with PCOS, you have to deal with each case individualistically, and understand where the person is coming from—do they have any emotional trauma that is affecting them? Is there something that they’re eating wrong that’s causing inflammation? Even the things in our environment that could be toxins need to be taken into account—your makeup, household detergents, plastic bottles, even sanitisers and air fresheners that are used…. They all enter our body and affect our hormonal functioning, which in turn causes problems.
And that’s why, there is no copy-paste solution to PCOS.
Q: The kind of lives we live right now, temptation is at every corner. People are eating out more. Do you ever get people who want to lose weight but are sabotaged by all of this? How do you deal with them?
A: I get a lot of clients wondering if their social life will be over or they’ll need to stop partying to lose weight! So, the first thing I do now is give my clients an eating-out guide, with tips to help them choose what to eat. This removes any fear about their social life being affected and they’re more mindful. There’s also a lot of coaching and making them aware that while their social life is important, their health, and what they put in their bodies, definitely matters more.
Q: It’s such a paradoxical time right now. On one end, we’re baking desserts and homemade pizzas for the ‘gram. One the other hand, obesity has been listed as a co-morbidity in COVID-19. Have you seen an influx of people seeking health advice in the wake of the pandemic?
A: I think a lot of people have shifted their perspective towards health and are now aware that it’s the most important asset they possess. A lot of them are now investing in being healthy by exercising or cutting out the junk from their diets and eating healthy, also because they’ve got more time on their hands to do it. Of course, there are also many people who’ve gone the other way, saying “Chhodo yaar, there’s nothing else to do, let’s just eat and binge Netflix all day”.
I’ve seen both kinds of people, even some COVID-19 patients who now want to maintain their health post their bout with the infection. And I think this turn towards a healthy lifestyle is a great step.
Q: Do you think the current body positivity movement sometimes covers up genuine concerns about weight?Image: Pixabay
A: You’ve got to strike a balance. Self-love is more about loving yourself for the person you are and not how you appear. It’s improving every virtue in yourself and improving the way you are. But I think, when you say, “I love myself so I don’t need to bother about my weight issues,” you still need to improve yourself.
I think there are more people who hate their bodies as opposed to loving them. It’s very difficult to get to a point where you love everything about your body; somebody has acne, someone has hair fall, someone wants to lose weight around their hips or thighs, there will always be something that pinches you about your body.
You don’t need to hate your imperfections. The idea is to accept all those things about your body and work towards getting better.
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Q: Alternatively, what’s your take on photoshopped images of models and actresses, with slimmer waistlines, leaner thighs, etc. How does that affect the psyche of people who are already struggling with their weight?
A: Everyone’s comparing themselves to someone and wants to be like them. It’s not great because the idea is to be more like yourself. If you don’t like your thighs and think they’re too thick, then work out and make them thinner, but not because some celebrity’s thighs look the way they look.
When it comes to our bodies, you always want something that someone else has. But it’s important to remember that you might have features that someone else probably covets too. So improve for yourself, not because you want to be like someone else. We’re all human so comparison is quite natural, but we need to stop obsessing and fussing over it. Nobody wants you to be, say, a Kareena Kapoor, they want you to be you!
With all that new info being digested by my brain, I was ready to absorb whatever weight loss gyaan was going to come my way through the new show! I circled back to it, asking Neha Ranglani one last question, you know, so I take the right lessons from the show….
Q: What’s the biggest learning that you hope people take away from Why Do I Put On Weight?Picture shows: (From left) Jade Hamilton, Professor Jane Ogden (University of Surrey – psychologist, nutricionist, dietician), Tina Delaney. At University of Surrey, Psychology Dept. – Emotional Eating Experiment.
A: You know, a lot of people are looking for quick fixes for their weight. I want them to watch the show and understand that a lot of factors affect weight and doing a quick-fix diet for one week or ten days isn’t going to solve their weight problems. It can actually cause more harm than good to their bodies!
Witness a whole new way of looking at weight loss with Why Do I Put on Weight, which premieres on September 7, 2020, at 8:00 pm on Sony BBC Earth.