Luke Coutinho believes that a lot of people who have four meals or more a day are actually undernourished. ‘They are overeating but are undernourished,’ says the 39-year-old holistic nutritionist who was recently in Dubai to present the keynote address at the recently held Dhyanotsav Wellness fest. Organised by the Sahaj Marg Spiritual Foundation, the event attracted hundreds of people who were keen to listen to the popular lifestyle expert, and pick up tips on nutrition, fitness and healthy practices.

Stress, he says, is one of the reasons people overeat. During stress, cortisol, a hormone that increases sugar in the bloodstream, is released. This has the potential to induce fat deposition. Some people who are stressed seek comfort in food and end up binge eating, particularly consuming unhealthy foods. Luke suggests trying to pin-point the cause of stress and bringing that under control to avoid the tendency of overeating. ‘Meditation can play a major role in soothing the system and taking the mind off worries,’ he says.

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An author (he most recently co-wrote with Anushka Shetty The Magic Weight-Loss Pill: 62 Lifestyle Changes), Luke, a much sought after speaker on nutrition and health, is the co-founder of GOQii, a digital healthcare platform that offers personalised coaching. The father-of-one who has several A-listers among his clients and visits the UAE regularly to offer personalised advice to his clients on improving their lifestyle, Luke has a major social media presence as well.

Listed by GQ magazine as one of the 50 most influential young Indians and named by Vogue India last year as the best nutritionist of the industry, Luke offers commonsensical advice and tips that can easily and inexpensively be included into one’s lifestyle to improve health holistically.

In an exclusive interview with Friday, Luke, who also works closely with a team of nutritionists and doctors of the Tata Memorial Hospital of Cancer Research in Mumbai, India, to enhance the nutrition and lifestyle of cancer patients, reveals how we can take small steps to change our life for the better. Excerpts from the interview:

You believe in taking a holistic approach to healing the body. Could you explain?

There’s a joke that health care has actually become sick care. But for a long time, we have been seeing a very symptomatic approach to health care. If you have a headache, you take a painkiller; if you have kidney problem, you treat the kidneys; if you have a cardiac problem, you treat the heart… We have lost sight of the fundamental principle – that everything in the human body is interconnected. For instance, in the case of diabetes, you [should] not look only at sugar levels – which many people are doing today – and get medication to control the sugar. The root cause or the behaviour which caused the diabetes in the first place needs to be identified and treated.

The medical community is trained to heal people and our job should be to get patients off medication at some point. This can be done by encouraging [caregivers] to address the root cause and suggest changes to people’s lifestyle. In holistic health, we take a 360-degree approach – we study a patient’s emotional, physical and spiritual health as well before creating a treatment plan.

If a patient comes to me with a headache and the headache I discover is because he is constipated, we treat the constipation and thereby cure the headache completely, rather than just give him medication to cure the headache every time he has one while the root cause of the condition is still present.

In holistic healthcare, we address nutrition, exercise, quality of sleep and emotional health. If we can cover these four verticals, it is possible to enable the patient to get better or to prevent the disease.

Veganism is becoming popular these days. Do you think it is only a fad or is there something more to it?

Today, the world is looking for the next new thing. From the point of respecting animals, veganism is a yes, absolute yes.

Once upon a time there were a lot of people who were vegetarians and they were all living well. But now people are making a lot of changes to their diet without using much of their common sense.

Luke Coutinho believes a holistic approach is key to healing the body

If a vegan says ‘I want to protect animals and that’s why I became a vegan’, fair enough. But if people are just jumping on to the vegan bandwagon hoping that it will help prevent cancer, diabetes, that’s wrong. Some of my most ill patients are vegetarians. A lot of people think non-vegetarians are the unhealthiest people but I have no data to prove that a vegetarian is healthier than a non-vegetarian, or vice versa. So, it is not just about the food you eat. You could be a vegetarian but be highly stressed and so have diabetes. It is important that people approach [diet] with a logical and calm mind. If it serves the purpose, do it; but do it the right way.

A lot of people follow the keto diet, for instance, but they may be falling ill because they are not doing it the right way and are overdoing it consuming the wrong fats and proteins. Some vegans go carb-heavy and end up getting diabetes. So if you are a vegan, follow that diet properly.

What are the 5 things we can do to change our life for the better?

1. First, remember diets don’t work; only lifestyle changes can. If people are opting for a fad diet, they need to analyse what in their current diet is making them sicker or fat. Are you overeating or eating out frequently? Are you consuming too much of transfats? Are you having a lot of junk foods/drinks? Is your sugar consumption high? Most people don’t need a diet; they just need to eat at the right time, eat the right quantity, in the right way (without distractions from social media) so the body is able to digest the food properly. So my first point would be to stop overeating/ eating your food too quickly. Overeating can cause acidity while eating quickly could lead to you consuming more food than your body requires.

2. Exercise. You don’t have to join a gym. Go for a walk, do yoga, be active. I like to use the word ‘movement’. A sedentary lifestyle is making people sick. A simple lifestyle change you can make is to include movement into your life. Of course if you want to develop muscles, you need to go to a gym and start training.

3. Sleep well. A major cause of many illnesses today is sleep deprivation. Anxiety and depression are just two issues caused by lack of quality sleep. I encourage people to look at their sleep pattern. Be sociable; two days of partying in a week is fine. But on the other five days, get to bed on time AND wake up on time. Sleep is extremely important for recovery from – and prevention of – diseases.

4. Eliminate stress. Everyone is going through stress. We know this because people go on holidays more frequently (if 15 years ago it was once a year now it is twice or even thrice a year). They crave more entertainment and [often talk about the need to] unwind. If you aren’t under stress, you wouldn’t need to do these things. People travel to escape from the stress they are in. Solution? Adopt meditation practices, deep breathing and exercises. Start living more realistically. People are more attached to technology and for a lot of people technology is defining their world. [Tech advancement may be necessary in some areas], but [tech should not have an impact] on your inner self, your emotions, feelings and thoughts. Only you should be responsible for that.

5. Make these little lifestyle changes which don’t cost you anything and your life will improve.

Commercially available dairy is receiving some flak of late. Is eliminating dairy from our diet an option?

The quality of milk available commercially has changed. [We’ve been hearing about] how cows are ill-treated, pumped with hormones and oestrogen, and antibiotics so they don’t fall sick. These substances can enter our system through the milk that we consume.

Early puberty among girls, increase in number of ovarian cancer cases, oestrogen and hormonal issues among people, increase in gut problems [could be a result]. So the moment you change from commercially sourced milk to proper farm milk from cows that are treated well, grass-fed and not pumped with antibiotics – completely and truly organic milk – it will work for you because milk is rich in calcium and minerals. To make it clear, there is nothing wrong with milk. It is only the quality of milk that should be considered.

If procuring organic milk is difficult and a person chooses to eliminate dairy from the diet, what options should they consider to ensure they get the daily recommended dose of calcium and minerals?

In the UAE, there is a good substitute – hummus. It is calcium-rich and is a super food on its own because of its lovely ingredients – garlic, lemon, tahini which is super rich, and chickpeas which is a great source of calcium. You can also include walnuts, almonds and cashew into your diet. Then there are green leafy vegetables. So people who don’t drink milk can get their daily requirements of calcium by including these foods in their diet.

Losing excess weight is the biggest issue for a lot of people. What should they be doing it correctly?

Having more discipline. This is a common issue because people are not doing the things they should be doing. The reason we struggle with weight is because it is mostly a behavioural issue. They start an exercise programme but fall off it quickly. They may eat well for five days, but overeat and binge-eat junk food over the weekend. The body takes about 10 days to recover from the weekend madness.

Actually it’s only in very few cases that out of sync hormones are a [reason for weight issues]. In such cases, of course, the person needs to undergo treatment to get the hormone balance corrected. Those with a thyroid issues or hormonal problems may struggle to lose weight, but 95 per cent of [weight] cases or even more are all behaviour related.

People are looking for quick fixes, instant gratification. They expect results the moment they do something. And when they don’t see that, they lose patience and stop doing it. People need to start taking more small steps and be more patient on their journey of weight loss.

Is it possible to spot-lose weight from the tummy or thighs?

Of course it is. Those who say they don’t see results are those who are not working hard enough. Remember, if it took someone two or three years to put on abdomen fat, how can it disappear in just two months? You have to be consistent.

It also depends on the age when you start to want to lose fat. If a person who has not looked after himself for 40 years suddenly decides he wants to lose all the accumulated weight in five months, that’s not possible.

Women who wait until menopause to start to lose weight will surely find it difficult because their metabolism rate could have become slower. That’s why it’s important for people to take care of their health right when they are young. Be disciplined and consistent in your exercises, follow good food habits, sleep well, manage stress and you can enjoy good health. There is no magic foods or fancy programmes to follow.

But if after all of this you are still not losing weight, check you thyroid levels and your hormones.

PCOD is a common complaint among a lot of women. What are the main reasons?

The number one cause is stress followed closely by consumption of junk food and poor sleep habits. The more junk food young women consume the more difficult it is for their bodies to source the right nutrients to balance the hormones. Hormonal balance happens when you sleep, but when you have poor sleep habits, the hormone levels go out of sync. Stress too takes a severe toll on a woman’s system leading to PCOD and other reproductive issues.

Breathing correctly is an important factor in holistic health care, you have said. How does one breathe right?

Follow and be mindful of your breathing. Try to be aware of your breathing. If you are in a stressful situation, try to slow down your breathing. When you inhale, your tummy should go up, quite like how a balloon will expand when it is inflated, and should go down when you exhale.

Place your left hand on your tummy and as you inhale through your nostrils, you should be able to see your hand rise. Most people breathe from their chest. The right way to breathe is through your belly. It is called belly breathing or diaphragmatic breathing. This will help you to keep your stress levels low. Practise this every day.

A flat tummy is something many strive for. Any tips?

Training and having a protein-rich diet are not enough without discipline. Keeping late nights, and binge eating on the weekends won’t help.

The simplest exercise to lose weight are doing sets of squats, deadlifts, lower body training and back training. Once you train the big muscles, you will end up burning more fat.

Cut down on sugars and refined carbs. Eat clean food. Exercise regularly. Sleep well. Avoid takeaways.

Do this for two weeks and you will see your weight falling.

You can have a reward meal once in a while but importantly, never use the words ‘cheat meal’. When you cheat, you will have guilt which causes stress that can undo all the good work.

What is a regular day like for you, Luke?

I wake up early and one thing I do not do immediately is look at my phone. I do so only well after I have done all my morning routines. I do some yoga, practise pranayama, spend some time saying some prayers and meditate for a while.

Then toilet done, I wake up my daughter and we – wife included – have breakfast (if I am not fasting) together, before I drop my kid to school and go to my office. If I’m fasting, I end it only when I’m hungry.

I then see maybe four patients, take a break and work out, then see patients again until lunch time when I take another break. Lunch over, I return to office, more consultations and return home around 6pm and spend time with my family.

If I have calls to make with my team in the US, I do that, have an early dinner, watch a movie or some television for about an hour or read some books.

Every day, I set aside 30 minutes to learning something new. That’s mandatory. I then spend about 15 minutes in meditation or deep breathing and head to bed. That’s my life. I socialise only rarely.


Health tips

What are the 3 worst foods we are consuming?

White sugar, processed carbs and junk food/fast food such as  commercially prepared French fries and aerated drinks. Our body struggles to break down junk food because they are laden with chemicals and preservatives. I often tell my clients ‘if you want French fries once in a way, make them at home’. But going carb-heavy regularly and having a sedentary lifestyle will seriously affect your health.

What are the 5 lifestyle things we are doing wrong?

1. People are eating too much and eating the wrong foods.

2. Becoming too sedentary.

3. Sleep deprived. People are compromising their sleep for other ‘priorities’.

4. Getting stressed – and not doing anything about it. This is harming them severely.

5. Spending way too much of time on social media, watching streaming programmes, videos, etc which is robbing them of their real life. These are reprogramming their minds and belief systems.