Apparently, actor Sathyaraj likes to cheat on his diet when his daughter Divya is not around. “I’m a bossy daughter and dad’s very scared of me, so he’ll listen to me. But the minute I leave the house, he’ll be happy to grab a burger,” says Divya with a chuckle. A practicing nutritionist for the last seven years, Divya, with an MPhil in Nutrition and Counselling, has always been interested in the nutritive value of food. But as a child, she hated the sight of food.

“I was such a poor eater and my parents would encourage me to eat by telling me the benefits of what they wanted me to eat — carrot for my eyes, bananas for energy and all that. We are a very health conscious family; I grew up talking about food and its benefits.” In practising therapeutic nutrition, she helps people with health issues — such as diabetes, PCOS, BP, thyroid, etc. — heal through food.

In 2018, she started working with Akshaya Patra to increase the nutritive value of midday meals by researching the prevalent deficiencies amongst students in government-aided schools. “There are certain protocols in pediatrics — a 10-year-old needs to be of a certain height. If that isn’t the case, then it has to have something to do with the food. I met students who said they had colds that had lasted a year. That’s not normal for a common cold. That only happens because of a chronic Vitamin C deficiency.”

Divya has proposed the inclusion of calcium, iron and Vitamin B, apart from other members from the Vitamin family into lunch menus. “The idea is to avoid school dropouts because of hunger. A lot of students can’t study because of malnutrition; they are unable to focus and concentrate. They can feel stuffy and weak because of a cold, which comes from a Vitamin C deficiency, and this can directly be addressed by tweaking the nutritive value of their meals.”

Girls versus boys
Children emulate adults. Since we are quick to grab a coke or stuff down more carbohydrates than we ever burn off, we can’t expect them to make choices that are any different. “What children eat, plays a definite role in how they develop as individuals. If a child hates milk, you could try yogurt, buttermilk, or blueberries and cheese. There are always many options depending on different needs.”

And these needs, for girls, change once they near menstruating age. Their entire system goes through an overhaul, and the loss of blood from the body needs to be supplemented with adequate nutrition. “Pre-pubescent girls need to have a lot of protein and iron to make up for the blood loss. Fatigue is common as the body is not used to going through the period process. Girls need to be nourished a little more because of this.”

The awareness about nutrition, finds Divya, is often lacking amongst parents. They measure the nutrition given to the child by the quantity of food they eat, not by quality. This is only further compounded by gender-based partiality. “After getting married, many families tell the girl to eat well because she needs to give birth — but what about earlier in her life?”

Poor diets — including low-carb, fad and crash diets — can cause one’s periods to get cranky, making the entire system cranky. This not only affects a young woman’s growth, but also her concentration, mood swings, periods and fertility. It could also lead to lifestyle disorders like PCOS.

The course correction
“It’s never too late; you can go back to healthy eating habits at any point in your life. You just need the inclination to do so. This involves telling yourself that you love yourself enough to not smoke to keep stress at bay or douse yourself in coke to stay awake at the office table.”

It is often the expectations from nutritive therapy that leaves her concerned. She’s had clients who are okay to faint, as long as they get skinny. “It’s not just women; men are equally vain. They are concerned about skin and dark circles, hair fall and pot bellies, and they want a solution to these problems overnight. Women are more patient that way; they aren’t as anxious as men, who I need to talk to and counsel to tell them I can’t fix any problem immediately.”

But the biggest and most predominant problem with women, says Divya, is the guilt. Not just the guilt others place on them for not taking care of themselves, but the guilt they place on themselves for the same reason. “It irks me when people tell their women that they are obsessed with themselves for taking care of themselves. In my family, we encourage each other to go to the doctor even for a cold — because you don’t know what triggered the cold. A woman can only take care of others if she is well herself.”

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