What Happens When You Seek A Food Professional

“Oh my God, what if she scolds me for my chocolate habit?”

“I Wonder if she’s gonna believe what I have to say about how little I eat, after she sees me in person!”

“I wonder if she’s gonna believe what I have to say about how little I eat after seeing me in person!”
“Do you think my food coach can tell if I cheated just a wee little bit?”
There, there! Let me introduce you to my tribe 🙂

There are many different types of food professionals these days – registered dietitians, educators, coaches, and so on. Generally speaking, any food-related coaching has two components to it – one is the education about Nutrition, the second one being the behavioral aspect of it.

A food professional helps you understand the science of Nutrition AND gives you the support required to translate that knowledge into behavior. That said, you must have clarity about what this involves.


But even before we get to that –

Please understand that most food professionals have a deep appreciation for how slippery these food journeys can be. 

Therefore this means they are empathetic to your struggles and stories. They are your allies. They work on your side, which means that you must bring your honest and real selves to the table – for your own success.

Do you remember some of your best teachers? The kind of teachers that were gentle and firm at the same time??

These food professionals are very much like them – they are not so much for making you feel nice. And they don’t fluff you up over your goof-ups. But they are hugely invested in making you feel good and help you make some essential distinctions concerning food and eating. It is #NiceVersusGood

But good doesn’t exclude gentleness and caring at all. I’ve seen, worked with, and trained under many food and health professionals in my career. This description of my league is very true to what I’ve known and seen closely.

Now, getting back to what this post is all about –

1. YOU, as a client, are the one to decide what you will do.

Dietetics and food-related counseling moved away from the paternalistic I-tell-you-listen kind of approach, which was common when I started my practice in India in the mid 90 s. It is an autonomous position for both parties concerned in the current times.

By this, I mean to say, no one as in NO ONE can persuade you against your choice to eat (or not eat) a certain way and eat(or not eat) a particular meal. A client wholly owns and takes responsibility for the decision and practice parts.

For instance, I am a plant-based food professional. Those intending to eat plant-based or at least explore what it feels like to eat that way, seek my support. Then I get to educate them and offer support for them to incorporate the new learning into their lives. But I DON’T GET TO DECIDE FOR THEM OR EVEN PERSUADE THEM, especially against their wishes. It would not be ethical to do so.

2. As a food professional, I am responsible for presenting and interpreting science to people.

With the clients, all the more so – to help them appreciate the merits and demerits of different approaches and help them grasp the technical aspect of Nutrition. Even more importantly, be of assistance in bridging the knowing and doing gap for the clients. What this also means is that I assume and expect that you would NOT take offense when I present facts.

By this, you must realize the importance of client participation and how central it is to this. One has to come prepared to take on this responsibility without which a professional has not much to do at all with a client. It is for the clients to seek the knowledge and take action, experience the challenges, and describe them to the professional – so that they can support.

If this post was of interest to you, I highly recommend that you sign up for the FREE course in Food Journalling on the home page. Your Food Journal is the most basic context for your work with a food professional.

Desi Visitor To The US – Part 3

Hello there,

I’ve been waiting to tell you this ..!

After I last spoke with you, I had some shopping to get done before the upcoming weekend, and off we went. Now, this is a warehouse store where you get to shop when you are a paid member with them. One thing about these places is that you get giant quantities at bargain prices. (And you’ll end up eating more than you want to, just because you bought it. Well .. that’s a topic for another day!) But like I said, the best of us can go down a rabbit hole if we don’t watch out. And this time, it was ME!

Here’s what happened.

I needed two items – Basmati Rice and a big bag of baby organic greens like Spinach or Kale. So, I pulled the cart, and my husband showed the id card, and we were ushered in. Right by the entrance was a sampling booth handing out Trail Mix – it’s a mixture of dried fruit and nuts. So, I accepted, and Venky said a terse ‘no.’ I dismissed it as his grouchiness that comes up when we go shopping! Earlier it was worse, and now it shows up only now and then 

Well, I was walking as I was still munching this when the next sampling lady offered some Lemon Tea. It got me curious, and I stopped to see that it was a new brand, hmm. The lady said how she loves it when she carries it in the car for long drives. I tasted it and moved on. As I came out from the produce section and went towards the rice aisle, there was a long line to taste some Ice cream samples. This wasn’t my thing, and I wanted to get done with shopping and so took a detour around two other aisles to get to where the rice was.

Now, here was another sampling booth with almost no takers, w-a-y in the back. And the sample lady was breaking slabs of chocolate and filling them in tiny paper cups. It had specks of green and red and looked very pretty even from far. Before I knew, I was chatting her up and eating that absolutely beautiful, inviting, divine chocolate! And asking her which aisle it was in!! It felt soo good upon finding it and then picked up the rice. My husband was wearing a full-blown grouchy expression at this time. I gingerly asked him why – he gave me that look and said, “I thought we came here to buy exactly TWO things!!”

So, add this to your shopping smarts list as the #6:

Shop like men – go precisely to where your required item is, in the shop, and refuse samples entirely if you don’t want to be lured. Two reasons why –

a. It is not rude to reject it.

b. You’ll not miss what you don’t try.

If you’re curious what I fell for, here it is –  http://www.deavas.be/belgian-thins-dark/

It helps to know that sample stations are strategically placed, and samples are handed out – not because the stores love you – but to sell it to you, so you don’t even realize it! We both ate some of that damn chocolate, and now he’s hidden it in a safe place. So all’s well 🙂


Ready for label Gyan?

There are two crucial pieces of information on the back of a package.

1. The Nutrition Facts – a nutrition table

2. Ingredients – the list of ingredients in the decreasing order of weight, which sits right below the nutrition table. I tend to start with the ingredient list.

1. Make sure it reads like a list of things that a seven-year-old can read. Such as this one here: http://www.foodforlife.com/product/breads/7-sprouted-grains-bread

You do not want something that feels like it was put together in a chemistry laboratory. Check this one out: https://www.kelloggs.com/en_US/products/kellogg-s-froot-loops-cereal-product.html

2. Since the ingredients are listed out in the decreasing order of weight, they’re present, and you do NOT want sugar, salt, or oil to be your top ingredients.

Now, this is easier said than done. Because, often, sugar is not written as plain sugar. They may call it fructose, dextrose, glucose, sucrose, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, malt syrup, evaporated cane juice, cane sugar, fruit juice concentrate, and so on. There are close to sixty or so different names for sugar alone!

Fats similarly, comes in many guises. Oils of any kind, hydrogenated, partially hydrogenated, are ALL fats. Laughably, even when the front of the package says zero-fat or low-fat, the reality is often the exact opposite of that description.

Salt goes by names such as table salt, sodium, sodium nitrite, sodium benzoate, disodium, etc.

3. It would be great to have the word ‘whole’ before as many ingredients as possible, which would mean that fiber content is intact. If you spotted the word ‘sprouted,’ that would be a huge plus, as sprouting enriches the nutrient density big time.

Let’s now read the Nutrition Facts, the table you’ll find above the ingredient list. If we used my favorite tortilla example here http://www.foodforlife.com/product/tortillas/sprouted-corn-tortillas

1. First, look for calories. This one has 120 Calories.

2. Make sure that calories coming from fat is always less than 20% of the total calories. So, 20% of 120 would be 24, and we want it to be less than 24. Now, let’s check! Fantastic, it’s only 15.

3. Then, make sure the Sodium content is the same number (or less) as Calories. This one rocks it – it’s Sodium number is 10!

So what this means is, for every serving size mentioned, you’ll get 120 calories. Out of this, 15 comes from fat. This amount of serving will also give you 10 mg of sodium. ( 2 tortillas is the serving size mentioned on the label)

Next, you know what? Ignore every other number! They don’t matter.

Let’s see how you do it on your own. http://www.hellmanns.com/product/detail/97902/low-fat-mayonnaise-dressing

Would you buy this? Why or why not?

Waiting for your answer,


Desi Visitor To The US – Part 2

I hope you are doing fabulously. 

The strange thing my aunt noticed about the States is how every gas station doubles up as a mini food shop. She soon changed her stand and said how e-v-e-r-y shop carries food items here in this country – hardware shops, home improvement shops, even laundromats! She says she got tired fighting her temptation for chocolates, my poor aunt.

Food scientists have pointed out that there is a food ad every five minutes or so on the television at any given time. And needless to say, they are NOT advertising the goodness of eating veggies! It is important to realize that you will be bombarded with food cues to the point that it will wear your resistance down and push you towards making some choices that may not be typical of you. So, please be aware.

The second point to observe about the food scene here is the size. A regular cookie in a coffee shop will look like the size of homemade poori. Coffee or tea bought outside is given black, and you are free to take as much milk or cream as you desire. Less said the better, about the cold beverages – they come mostly in super large bottles and smaller ones cost you disproportionately more in price. The desserts such as cakes and pastries are just frosting more than two-thirds of the way. Single-serve portions of anything are huge for one person.

Then, you will also find that foods tend to err on the sweeter side, actually cloyingly so. Even the supposedly savory ones like ketchup or salsa! Some call out to you as “health foods” – for example, granola and yogurt – granola usually has a lot of oil, and yogurt has a ton of fat. The convenience of pocket foods can be tempting too – for example, granola bars. With misleading names and deceptive descriptions like ‘all-natural’, ‘honest goodness,’ the best of us can fall hook line and sinker for these things.

Please also keep an eye for the sneaky salt in foods where you least expect to see, in really ridiculous amounts. The breads, pizza bases, dinner rolls, ready to eat soups, even soda has it! Look for salt in the sauces, ketchup, canned rajma, chana, and other cooked beans. All these above factors can cause you to gain weight if you are not watchful.

Did you say, “enough already, this is depressing?” Oh, nooo – I only meant to alert you, that’s all. When I see my relatives when they visit here, I find them erring on the extremes of too much trust or too wary. But knowing these things can help you navigate much more confidently.

So, what do you do differently? Number one thing to do is,

1. Do not shop or even step out to these stores when hungry.

2. Make sure to carry a little food in your bag all the time. This way, you’re never at the mercy of a poorly stocked shop for food, ever.

3. In a Departmental Store, all the safe foods are in the periphery, usually near the entrance – colorful fruit, veggies, and so on. The aisles are where the junk is.

4. This one is the most important – if you have to go to the aisle and buy packaged food, DO NOT pay any attention to what the front of the package says.

5. Always turn it around to read the ingredient list and the nutrition label.

I will stop at this, and we’ll go into detail about these two things – the ingredient list and the nutrition label in the next post.




Desi Visitor To The US – Part 1

The coming summer months in the US bring a lot of Desi visitors – both at home and business.

There is a definite concern to stay healthy through their stay and make the most of their travel. So all this month, I’ll stick with this theme and share some essential tips to eat healthy while in the US. This could be of interest to you right away if you or your dear ones are planning to visit here soon. So feel free to forward the mail to whoever needs it.

This part is all about shopping for vegetables and fruits while in the US.

The most prominent question I get is whether to buy organic or the regular non-organic produce and the ‘why’ behind it.

If parents visit their children here in the US, first responsibility they take upon themselves is the kitchen department cooking, grocery shopping the whole nine yards! The place where I live shows a lot of business visitors as well – round the year, but spiked around this time when they tend to combine a family holiday with work. All these situations involve some produce-shopping instances. And if you have a standard mantra that’s like “buy what _looks_ good AND reasonably priced,” it’s likely going to be disappointing to you often. My relatives often grumble about veggies being tasteless here.

Well, until they went shopping with me!!

I shop for organic everything, as much as I can. This is because natural farming works towards preserving long-term soil fertility, preserving genetic diversity, and reducing all forms of pollution. Which is in complete alignment with my values, so I don’t think twice about my organic produce preference. Besides, the taste is just bursting with flavor when it’s grown with care.

But I like to remind my people that a mere organic tag does not make ALL food choices healthy! For example, potato chips made from organic potatoes and fried in organic sunflower oil!!

So, here we go – Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen are your two critical lists.

Dirty Dozen is a set of twelve produce items that are best bought organic. These were found to be the most pesticide-laden of all when they are non-organic.

Clean Fifteen are the ones that are least likely to be contaminated by pesticides.

This list is put together by EWG, which stands for Environmental Public Group. They are a non-profit organization with a mission to “empower people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment.”

I feel compelled to educate you, my dear Desi reader, about these things that you may not know, as a visitor. I want you to have a whale of a time here!

Dirty Dozen – Strawberries, Spinach, Nectarines, Apples, Peaches, Pears, Cherries, Grapes, Celery, Tomatoes, Sweet Bell Peppers (Capsicum), Potatoes.

Clean Fifteen – Sweet Corn, Avocados, Pineapples, Cabbage, Onion, Sweet Peas, Papaya, Asparagus, Mangoes, Eggplant(Brinjal), Honeydew melon (a variety of Kharbuj with a smooth light-green or light-yellow outer skin), Kiwi, Cantaloupe (a type of Kharbuj with a wrinkled dull yellow skin), Cauliflower and Grapefruit.

A big part of visiting a new place is getting to shop and eat for local produce and specialties. Here is a link for you to locate a Farmers Market near you and check out the offerings. What you’ll find at these markets is way superior to a big box store, given that everything here is very fresh.  http://www.localfarmmarkets.org

In my next part in this series, I will address a hot-pain question “last time I came to the US and gained all the weight in the world!how do I eat smart this time?”. So be on the lookout for that as it’s all about smart shopping.

Ask away any food questions you may have about your US visit in the comments section.


Knowledge And Behavior Are Two Different Things

Let me share with you this insightful conversation I once had with a stranger. We were both at an airport, having some time on our hands before we could board our airplanes. She goes, ‘we all know we shouldn’t be hogging on potato chips. But I do! As a dietitian, do you also feel like it sometimes, and more importantly, how do you deal with it?’

Here’s my confession: I love deep-fried food, I always have. Chips, banana fritters made the Indian way, Onion and Cashew Pakodas (haven’t heard ..? go look up!) don’t even get me started. I can hog on these any time of the day or night, but I don’t.

Until my mid-twenties, I just ate whatever my heart yearned for, so long as it was vegetarian. Around this point, I took a course to learn what it meant to be a counselor. And my mentor said two things – first, to be helpful to others and understand them, one needs to understand oneself. The second one was, writing is a handy tool to look inwards.

So, I got into the habit of keeping a journal. It was a no holds barred kind of writing. It would have all areas of my life running into each other in a way it made sense ONLY to me! From this, I’ve dug out four findings of myself over the years, that helps to this day, in managing my ways with many things, definitely around food.

  1. Am somewhat lazy
  2. Love simplicity
  3. Need routines
  4. Am highly motivated to do the right thing

Laziness is an admirable trait to have if you want to eat healthily. It is laziness that drives me to cook a one-pot meal in a pressure cooker versus deep frying fritters, standing the entire time in front of a hot stove, making it. Rather than fight laziness, I’ve found ways to use it to my advantage creatively. For instance, we keep cookies or other treats in the top cupboard, above the refrigerator, in our house. And for extra discouragement, I’ve put our water filter over the step-stool! It takes me a good fifteen minutes PLUS back-breaking hard work to get to that damn thing that I rarely ever eat what’s up there!! Storing it out of reach is such a foolproof method for me, you have to try to see what I mean.

And if you combined this love for simplicity with laziness, you can get more uses out of the combo. Like, eating salad becomes a breeze. Especially if you’re the kind who has trouble getting started with a veggie dish but eventually love that you decided upon it. Or you may come up with new ways of substituting elaborate meals that take only a fraction of the time. 

For example, Medjool date stuffed with nuts makes for a very satisfying dessert. We were served this at a party recently, and it vanished off the plate in just minutes. Nobody thought it was stupid or blah! The hostess here definitely came across as someone who embraces her simplicity. We have another couple in our friend circle. And in their house, breakfast for the warmer half of the year is always fruit. Just plain fruit – a bowl of berries or sliced melons or a banana or some fruit.

How rattling it is if I have to figure out a schedule for the basic stuff daily—not happening! Mondays and Thursdays, I walk with friends – it is all fixed – time, duration, where we meet, everything. Three days a week, we eat some dishes made of greens. Then, our Indian ritual of skipping the elaborate cooked meal on the Ekadashi. Many of us have and like our routines, but it is vital to understand that they are not set in stone. If there are some habits you had as part of your routine that isn’t serving you well, they can be changed. Practices do fall off with me too, and I put them back from time to time. Recently I’ve re-introduced the sprouts into my routine.

When you are highly driven to do the right thing, even slight support from people in your lives can do wonders. And it is even better when we can articulate how we’d like to be supported and delegate. For example, you can ask them to encourage (or discourage) at the right times. Last evening, I wanted to munch on something very badly. My husband was his usual generous self to get up and bring some goodies on a plate. Then I went ‘oh, my mouth is all too sweet, and now I want some savories.’

I’ll pause right here. This is where endless sweet-savories-sweet craziness can use some help.

On my own, I tend to forget to get mindful. I am all caught up about the party in my mouth, and little else matters. But! If there is a well-meaning person that can recognize the craziness on your behalf and help you get aware, it can be averted.

Over time, I’ve come to a point where I need only a slight help and not a lot. If we’ve company, then my husband says a blank-faced” huh??” and pretends not to have understood me. It’s enough to redirect me to whatever activity on hand. If we’re by ourselves, he may suggest that I fetch it for myself.

Going back to the story, he quipped just in time ‘sure, just bring it’ – I took the cue and decided to focus on the movie instead! The tricky part here was to see that he was helping me and, therefore, not get sour about him. Was it purely my motivation to do the right thing, it’s difficult to say for a fact. But in combination with my laziness, it sure worked in my favor.

One month after that airport lounge chat, my new friend, facebook-ed to say she had figured out one useful finding of herself: how she likes four of everything. She went by the number four as if on an autopilot – four spoons of oil, four cookies with tea, four servings at meals! Next, she decided to pre-cut all the cookies in the jar to a half. She switched the spoon next to the oil jar to a smaller one. And when she baked a pizza next time, she first packed away one half and only served the other, cut into four wedges. She noticed she did not even miss it. And it was a treat to have more left for tomorrow’s lunch, without also trying! I remembered her saying she was a leading Actuary in her town, and it all made sense of how she had expertly drawn these conclusions.

So, why am I sharing all this with you?

Here’s why – I’d like you to understand one thing deeply – we don’t get healthy by reading a book or getting a master’s degree in health sciences. All this adds to your knowledge base. It’s like saying, I’ve got bags of food loaded in my pantry. But it does NOT mean your hunger is satiated. Right? You have to put in some effort to translate that knowledge to real action steps, which comes down to what we do in tiny increments day after day.

It would help if you took the time to observe yourself for these traits and quirks that drive your behavior to modify them in a way that works for you. It is like acknowledging the motorist tendency to speed at particular points and putting a speed breaker in place. Only you are responsible for installing your behavioral controls for certain things in life.

Did you find this useful? Share about one behavior that you’ve happily retained or modified, and what was your tool to achieve that?