Navigating your way through the Health labyrinth in India
The other day I stepped out with a friend to visit stores in Mumbai, I know for a while she’s had a bad gut issue and keeps falling sick, but she always asks for ‘over the counter’ advice from me. By this I mean advice from me because I am a dear friend and a qualified Nutritionist, but she also follows 100 other people and googles everything. God knows she needs advice, and someone to sort her diet out, but because I come 'free' and I love her to death she doesn't believe she needs to spend money on a consultation with me. Why would she? Since she's got me a call away. We entered the store and she quickly got a shirt and accessories for over a lakh of rupees. This is much more than what she would have spent on me in my one month on my plan. And believe me, I would have sorted her out for life!
My blog is not about friends who have me as a benefit in their lives, my blog is about the millions of Indians lost in this labyrinth of the Indian health scenario, for reasons they do not understand. I blame the Indian Health Ministry for not having a more organized approach. When I spoke to the President of the Indian Dietetics Association 5 years ago, she said they were getting organized; but I am still waiting. I have trained with the Kushi Insitute as I decided to take up an approach new to this Country, I trained for over 6 years till I finally finished my Macrobiotics Counsellor (Nutritionist) Program. I very proudly state I am the first Graduate from India of this Institute and a practising Nutritionist: which is the truth; the program teaches us to be not only Nutritionists but Chefs and Instructors. A few Indian women are claiming to be Macrobiotic Nutritionists but they have done programs online, not with the Kushi Institute and I know for a fact are not practising the Macrobiotics diet as it meant to be its true essence; while a few did manage to go through the Kushi Institute (and are doing some work with their education) no one is a practising Counsellor/Nutritionist and working on lifestyle diseases. I say all of this with no ego.
What makes me state that I’d like to write this piece 'Calling it out' is because of the years I have put into the business and the space of health which is sacred in many ways to me. Social media has not made it any easier, it's given everyone their little platform to talk about anything and everything, just like I am here. It’s made algorithms in such a way, that Nutritionists see an opportunity and jump on it and then numbers grow due to this and in this world of social media and Indian mindsets it's a numbers game and following a ‘herd’ mentality. It's difficult to be certain who can be trusted, and who is qualified (since there are so many self-made nutrition gurus, and health coaches [the new term used for those who do online programs in a short duration] and so many who use the term ‘Dr’ (signifying they are Doctors) before their name without really having worked for it like any Doctor who has slogged to get his or her MBBS. But this new breed of Nutritionists somehow managed to get an honorary doctor title and use it indiscriminately on their social media profiles. When in fact they should be saying ‘honorary doctorate.’ By the way, this is happening only in India, as if you’d do this in the US or UK you would be flagged off by the Health Ministry. I even met one Nutritionist who said to quote her: “I just knock my clients down and bombard them with supplements first,” no diet just supplements, can you imagine?
So, this piece is just to open your eyes if you are reading it to some truths about you, and the Health Industry in this Country, which will make more sick people than healthy people. Why, because a few things are going on:
- People are willing to spend on luxuries, but not their health: This is happening for a few reasons people do not wake up till they are hit with a big illness when there are many walking around with bad breath (most often reflective of a bad gut), bad skin, or even low immunity: catching colds and coughs often. What's it going to cost them a spend on a good Nutritionist and save themselves from many tests in the future, or supplements they are taking, not even knowing whether they are absorbing most of them? Nothing really, but most of them will follow all the advice that google dishes out, because google is their new doctor and follow those who dish out free advice on social media, drink kombucha and think that's healthy and it’s enough, they don’t need to do more. Other people who think that spending money on nutrition advice to sort their health ailments is not a worthwhile spend, but yet drop money on designer clothes, bags, holidays and vacations. I see this happening all the time in my profession. Like another 2 friends with severe gut issues; wanting discounts for my cooking class, they also are from the breed that would drop 1 lakh on a bag without even thinking. So why is luxury shopping and buying branded stuff valued more than good sound advice on your nutrition, coming from an expert, that would sort you out for life? If you are willing to pay Sabyasachi for clothes, why would you not pay Shonali Sabherwal or any other credible Nutritionist for a diet plan that would hold you in good stead for life and sort out your issues?
- The Indian Health Ministry and FSSAI need to tighten their screws: Sorry to say but no one’s paying attention. All we need is an FSSAI license to start a product. No one’s checking labels. Unless you are a conscious marketer, anything sells. It could scream ‘gluten-free’ which is good for some who has celiac disease, but yet not great if the product has some kind of starch in it for someone with 'Irritable Bowel Disorder' (IBD) and if the person who has IBD will pick it up and have and face issues, because the marketer who is selling the product does not know whether it is kosher for those with IBD. Why? Because he or she has decided it's 'gluten-free' so okay for everyone to eat. For example, kombucha became a rage when it first started. True, it's a great option for a soda, cola or an aerated beverage. False, that it's good for everyone across the board. Who is telling you this? I've had many cases of IBD land up, over drinking kombucha, not knowing what has triggered them. How about the FSSAI making it mandatory to test labels? And list which products are not good for certain lifestyle diseases or even taking the opinion of Nutritionists like me?
- Consumers need to discern the information they are getting from social media on health: I urge all of you to start being more conscious as consumers. Dr. Nozer -- The Co-Author of my last book ‘Finding Your Balance Your 360 Degree Guide to Perimenopause and Beyond’ and an eminent gynaecologist told me this "You will always attract clients who resonate at your frequency" and yes, I do. My clients are searching and land at my clinic's doorstep when they need help, with 99% of them do their homework. They do not follow the 'herd' these are those people who are wearing blinders and following social media numbers alone to make a call on who their health practitioner will be. They research everything, then land up for a consultation with me. Many times, I have encouraged them to talk to my other past clients who have gone through similar conditions as them and they do end up calling each other. A person committed to solving your health condition (i) needs to be accessible (ii) needs to be available (iii) needs to be credible. Above everything, needs to be qualified and certified. Unfortunately, these are not the traits the ‘herd’ is looking for. So, identify where you are 'Are you a part of this herd?' I have had cases, where someone with a very serious issue like ulcerative colitis did her search on google and because a health coach had a good SEO (Search engine optimization), but a bunch of plagiarized stuff on her home page, this client decided to go to her. Landing herself in a further soup, as the dietary recommendations were out of line with her condition of ulcerative colitis.
In conclusion, all I am trying to say is navigating your way through this Health labyrinth in India, where there is an exit, but the path is difficult to find: please be discerning, do your research and be willing to spend on good credible advice for your health issues.