Shwetha Bhatia

Cover Story

January, 2018
The Master Responds

It’s the day and age of the millennial, and what better way to understand fitness than from a young and independent woman. An intellectual and our much-loved columnist, a two time National Award winner in the year 2017, and an entrepreneur, Shwetha Bhatia takes us through her views on Fitness and the Industry as it stands today.

Tell me about yourself, your qualification and clients.

By qualification, I am a Registered Dietitian with the Indian Dietetic Association. Having topped my university at the UG and PG levels, I am also a Sports Physique Athlete who has won bronze medals at the National and State level competitions in the year 2015. Among many other things, I also operate a fitness club by the brand name Gym and Tonic in Panjim, Goa. I am a National Level judge in the Indian Bodybuilders Federation. I am also on board with Mobiefit as an in-house Fitness Expert. However, more than my professional and academic achievements, what drives me is the satisfaction of having used my expertise to help others. I have been blessed with clients who come from different walks of life. Talking of clinical cases, I have dealt with conditions like Rheumatoid arthritis, Pancreatic Cancer, Type-1 Diabetes Mellitus, Ulcerative Colitis, Irritable Bowel Syndrome and coma patients. I also consult clients for Sports Performance and have seen both sides of the spectrum, with a geriatric marathon runner - aged 71 years to the current Under-19 National Squash Champion. Also on the list are Bollywood actors and models. To the tune of sounding pompous, this profile is one of it’s kind in India.

What does it take to be a nutritionist/fitness coach?

The term Nutritionist/ Coach are being used and abused by the likes of the many who have achieved fat loss or some enhancement in physical performance.

When you decide to follow an advice thrown randomly at you, the first thing you need to ask is whether the content appeals to you scientifically. When I say scientifically I mean with regard to the principles of human anatomy and physiology.

A coach who does not undertake formal education in fitness or nutrition cannot be deemed suitable to be called a professional. Imagine entrusting your body to a surgeon just for his dashing looks and washboard abs, without giving due consideration to his formal education and his experience of prior success.

I believe a good coach should practice what they preach; the coach must lead by example.

What do you think of modern-day coaches?

Humanity is on the brink of an information revolution; today we have have access to a number of online platforms where we can connect with gurus, coaches and Vloggers alike. However, this is a double-edged sword.

After observing coaches for so many years, I can safely say that they play to the galleries. It takes courage and conviction to call a spade a spade. And to be honest, I have retained more clients by being blunt.

What should a client typically look for before signing up with a fitness trainer?

People usually have the tendency of following regimes prescribed by a celebrity or by a celebrity fitness trainer. When it comes to celebrities, there is more to it than what meets the eye. They are usually a lot more disciplined. The general population is better off taking professional guidance after checking the expert’s qualifications, experience and credentials.

What is your lookout when it comes to collaborating with brands?

I look forward to collaborating with brands which give me a free hand to dictate my space.

What are some of your observations about Indian healthcare professionals as compared to those abroad?

India is blessed with some of the finest medical professionals on the planet, their expertise and skills are second to none when it comes to their respective domains.

There is an established code of conduct wherein the brethren of the medical fraternity do not trespass each other’s specialties, but one sees that lacking in the fitness industry. Everybody seems to know everything!

It’s time we learn to say those three magical words, “I don’t know” . People here are scared of being labeled as a ‘Jack of One’ trade whereas they should know that they are really ‘Master of One’. To keep it simple, the Indian Fitness Industry can progress by specializing in their area of work. I can definitely see a bright future for the Indian Fitness Industry if we keep work ethics at the top of our list.

Tell us some of the stressors you face as a coach?

Clients come in all shapes and sizes, by this I mean their mindsets. The most pressing issue faced by clients is the lack of time. This followed by strong preconceived notions about fitness based on pseudo-science. A strong counseling session helps in busting myths. People appreciate sincerity. I am a healthcare professional, not an entertainer and don’t wish to be a populist.

We are living in an era of super-foods, the emphasis being on local, natural, traditional and seasonal foods. What’s the scientific spin on it?

Scientifically, every food we eat has a chemical structure to it. There is only one way in which a nutrient is digested and metabolized by the body and it does not depend on season, geographical location or on the cuisine. Diabetes is not seasonal, nor does our insulin sensitivity differ with respect to the location of the produce. I cannot eat Khichdi, with ghee splattered on it, just because it is winter.

People are often misguided, as brands say that Ghee contains essential fatty acids. Ghee predominantly contains saturated fat in the form of Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCT’s), it is the Unsaturated fats (Omega-3 and Omega -6) that the body cannot synthesize naturally and hence needs to obtain from food sources.

Similarly absurd is the notion of Carbohydrates being essential. All carbohydrates are converted to glucose and in the absence of carbohydrates in your diet; the body can convert Protein to Glucose. Equally ridiculous is homemade versus processed argument. Packed Biscuits and Nankatai are both made from “maida.” The body cannot differentiate if the maida comes from Nankhatai or Biscuits. Hence there is nothing holier than thou about the homemade Nankhatai. It’s appalling the way sugarcane and white rice have been promoted as Superfoods. There is nothing super about them apart from the fact that they are super insulinogenic.

A Carbohydrate rich diet is certainly calling for trouble in the long run.

What are your views on Detox Diets?

DETOX (short for detoxification) diet is one of the biggest shams in the fitness industry. Detoxification refers to processes that eliminate unwanted substances from the body via organs like Liver and Kidney, daily.

In fact, the detox process is aided by nutrients which need to be supplied through the diet. To summarize: detoxification is not in our control. Fasting and simply adding some juices or infused water does not facilitate it. The best way to aid detoxification on a daily basis is by adding the necessary nutrients to your diet, exercising and reducing the exposure to toxins.

Today cross-functional training is getting quite popular, do you prescribe it to your clients?

The word functional implies any activity which has relevance to our daily life and training for it in order to get better at it. Cross-functional training, as the name suggests, combines Cardiovascular training along with Strength training.

The programs are designed in a way wherein you perform exercises one after another without resting, this although makes one feel tired, is not the optimal way to improve neither endurance nor strength. For an untrained individual, it might show some results initially.

Such programs are often conducted in a group set-up, due to which individual attention becomes difficult. Unlike advanced trainees, beginners often are more prone to injuries due to the high impact nature of the movement and their lack of conditioning.

A typical day in your life.

My day is a mix of consultations, meetings or seminars and a workout. I divide my time between Mumbai and Goa, so travel is an inevitable part of my life. When in Goa, I usually try and hit the gym at 6 am at least 3/week (alternate days) to oversee the operations. The other 3 days is an evening shift as the gym is open from 5 am to 10 pm and I like to personally meet all my members at least once a week.

Mumbai is usually a late start-late finish. I work two Sundays of the month when I’m in Mumbai and that leaves me with only two weekends off for the month. I try to max out on my rest and strictly do no work on those days. I try and get at least six hours of sleep. I limit my social commitments to the weekend, and take some time out for myself. With power naps and meditation, I am able to recharge between appointments. Music works like therapy for me; I begin my day by playing some of my favorite tracks. And finally, I unwind by playing with my pet.

How do I maintain my fitness regime amidst a busy schedule?

I give my fitness regime priority over everything else. I maintain 3 days of intense weight training sessions + 1-2 days HIIT cardio (mostly swimming) routine. I follow a ketogenic diet 95% of the time and the benefits are I don’t have to eat every 3 hours, I carry my protein/coconut oil combo in case I’m held up for my meal. Nuts and cheese are the next go-to options. Meals are typically on the go and I excuse myself during a long consultation for 5 minutes if I have to. Being a jury member, I don’t compete anymore but I ensure I am in best possible shape, year long.

I get paid to teach people how to manage their regimes amidst a hectic lifestyle; I can’t justify that if I’m unable to apply it to my own life.

How has your professional life changed since the last time we did a story with you back in 2015?

I moved to starting my own gym in Goa by the brand name “Gym and Tonic”.

I am also a National Level jury member of the Indian BodyBuilders Federation (IBBF). Invitations for guest talks and seminars keep pouring in regularly and I am more than happy to oblige. I am soon planning to launch my own healthy food segment. The past two years have taught me the most as I made the shift from a freelance professional to entrepreneur. My learning through it all is: never look back; every cloud has a silver lining. The only way is the way forward.

I’m super blessed with a support system of family, friends, colleagues, coaches, associates, clients and staff that bring out the best in me.

Tell me about your experience working with celebs?

In my experience working with celebs is easier owing to their high compliance. The real challenge is working with regular people. To be honest, every person who comes to me for consultation is a celeb in his own right. I have worked with a lot of high profile clients but I prefer being known for the kind of work I do instead of the mass appeal of the people I consult.

It’s New Year time. Any resolutions?

Well, having won two awards of National repute this year (Exceptional Women Of Excellence awarded by the Women Economic Forum and Best Fitness Consultant-Western India, awarded at the 7th International Healthcare Summit and Awards), the onus is on me to work harder the coming year and make it even better. I am also preparing myself to get a fitness certification since I am a firm believer of the importance of formal education in fitness. Walking the talk!!

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