In the name of Nutrition

I am saddened to see the face of nutrition today. Saddened to see how my clients walk into consultations with me, having visited many other nutritionists before me and, to still not have their health condition sorted out, but botched up even further. It saddens me because these clients are intelligent people: doctors, lawyers, business people, artists; people with a mind. Why is this happening? I feel it upon myself to discuss this topic, only because we need to start talking ‘serious health’ in a time like today, where it is even more imperative that we take people’s health conditions more seriously. Especially us ‘nutritionists’ as we are at the helm of sorting things out. 

I come from two standpoints today – first, from an ethical standpoint, that of just being an upstanding person in this field. Second, from an allegiance to the field of health and nutrition – to better people’s lives. Ethical because, when people like Dr. Vijaya Venkat or Kavita Mukhi started in this country, they were never into just making money, but just work for the pure good of bringing people back to health. So, my question is where are those kinds of people. Why has an industry that started so well, moved away from its very ethos? 

When I look back at my 14 years in this industry, I can only tell you what did not exist, and how we worked at the time, to get an idea of why we still held on to our values in. this industry. Dr. Venkat was still around, here energy still permeated down to all those helping people to turn around their health conditions. Kavita still had Conscious Foods and was working to do more and bring organic to us in the most authentic way. 

In 2007-2008, print media was the only source of communicating anything to anyone, so I remember being covered by the local magazines and papers. Any PR (public relations) we had to do for ourselves; getting covered by the papers or have journalists cover us for the work we were doing. I was catering to Bollywood at the time, so I got some publicity when Katrina, Jacqueline, Neha decided to talk about my food to the press. I wrote a book called The Beauty Diet, and because Hema Maline endorsed it, and more happened with my work. The nutrition industry was still very credible. This was because of 2 reasons: (1) You got covered for your work (2) You got trained for what you do, and journalists gave importance to that fact, they researched you and only then approached you. 

What’s gone wrong? Three things have changed to sway people in the wrong direction:

(1) Social media channels

For all the good we can do with these channels, there is also a downside; all social media channels have become our TV stations. They have sometimes been misused and become a place of projecting more than who you are. In my line of work, that’s dangerous because you could overnight be assumed to be someone you are not; someone not qualified or certified to practice nutrition, but someone who would sound knowledgeable because they have a gift for talking, look good, know how to use big words. For example, just because Facebook decides to have an algorithm that throws out more videos, some person decides this field fascinated him/her; then sits and re-reads every blog there is on health and churn out videos by the 1000’s. Suddenly good old Harmant Singh in Bhathinda is watching him/her and suddenly thinks this person’s a genius. 

I love the fact that starting with Facebook and now Instagram, as creators, we have a chance to showcase what we do and share what we know. However, social media does not discriminate between someone whose qualified or not qualified to dish out information. That decision is a personal one, so it boils down if you have scruples of staying true to yourself? The truth is 85% of the people in the nutrition industry today are not cut out of that cloth. Everyone’s here to enjoy the current ride the health revolution is providing us. Yes! sadly there is no value system about who you are.

(2) People who are qualified and certified as Nutritionists do not put their qualifications to view for the public or lie about them

Two things have happened to spur this on – 

One – Whatever happened to put out where you have studied? Where you got qualified from? How many cases have you worked on? Ask potential clients, to speak to their past clients. The trend in the last five years has been to not be transparent about what you do, this has happened for many reasons: social media numbers have assumed importance over everything else, so who you are is largely determined by how many followers you have (sadly enough, these could have been bought by boosting for numbers) and it’s a vicious cycle; the more numbers you have, the more social media throws out the stuff that you do. Once this happens, people do not feel morally obligated to put out their qualifications. Let’s say, on their website (which is a window to what they do). Health-related social media websites are looking for content, so most of them are happy to publish a piece by someone who has large followers, as they will get more eyeballs; here I blame many of the health media websites, and also many papers/magazines that now have their online channels. Most of them go by what the nutritionist says, and do not bother to check them out and their background and if they are certified or qualified. 

Two – Many online courses have started up that do not need you to have any background to do a 3 or a-6 month course to become a ‘nutrition coach’ – we Indians have a craze for those who float the words New York, U.K., etc. While the course may be of 3 or 6 months and done online (which is fine), but qualifies you to just ‘coach’ people (we all know what a coach is; just a ‘coach’). I have seen people graduate from these courses and use very fancy words that the institute ‘has not’ bestowed upon them, but words like ‘Gut Expert’ no one has this kind of a degree in the World, but yet these fancy words are used when describing themselves. Now you think about this if you read these words alone? Will this convince you to put your serious gut ailment in their hands? Sadly, enough people do, because a good-looking website and the fancy words used; have led many of my clients in that direction, and then come to me bungled up with their cases. It’s a good thing they have not been so far gone, for me to take over. But I get hurt when I see this happening to them. 

To be a Ph.D. in nutrition in India, you have to have an undergraduate in nutrition and a Ph.D. in it as well. For this, (and I have checked this out with the department University of Mumbai and spoke to the President Dr. Jagmeet Madan of IDA-Indian Dietetics Association of India) you need an undergraduate in home science or Nutrition, otherwise, a Ph.D. is not possible. Now maybe you can answer this basic question for me: If a person applies to a third-party organization for an application for an Honorary Ph.D., this is not ‘working’ the 4 years to get a Ph.D. (just so we are all-clear), can they use the qualification Ph.D. before their name or would they say Ho. Ph.D.? Even my 10-year old niece can answer this – No. You have to (if you are at all tied to the field of nutrition honestly) say Hon. Ph.D. Yet I see people use the term Ph.D. Nutrition, they self-bestow this title and what do you public think, oh! she/he has got her Ph.D. Did you bother to ask them? And yet, no government organization asks for our qualifications the cycle repeats, Dr. Madan assures me this is about to change in this country, but who knows when?. 

To me, Macrobiotics is sacred, I came to India after studying it with a mission, this does not mean I am the best nor do I say this with eg. However, after me there have been women who have done courses, and still talk about all the principles that Macrobiotics does not advocate; and fit it within the Indian ‘weight loss’ paradigm to suit everyone. Using the term ‘macrobiotic coach’ but not truly practicing what Macrobiotics is; essentially, making a nice ‘cocktail’’ of their nutrition advice, and passing it off as a Macrobiotic approach (being a coach). 

Third – Marketers of new health products, (not in the health industry) at first need a face to sell their products. They go out looking for people, they are willing to spend a lot of money on their product but do not want to spend too much on a health expert who will endorse their brand. So, the first person who comes their way, who looks good and has a social media (again) following will work for them. On one hand, they are creating a health product (s) and on the other hand, they are happy not researching the person who will endorse their products. Here is a marriage, that is disastrous from the very beginning; the goal is simple: you scratch my back and I will scratch yours. The marketer says “look you make me look good, and I will also make you look good.” If you sell my products, I will plaster your face all over town, and in just 2 years you can start charging people much more than what you charge now. Now, people’s mindsets (the public) are also geared towards pricing, the more expensive the person, the better they are. But THINK!!! People, please THINK. 

I decided to write this piece, and I hope will get a lot of ‘flack’ for it. Someone needs to be talking about this issue, and if it isn’t me who has been tied to the field of nutrition for all the right reasons, then who will? (I say this with no ego)

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