Paleo, Keto, Atkins, Whole30, Beans and Greens, lemon water and soup detoxes–the list goes on and on! The options are dizzying and most of us have tried one or most or all of these, with varying results. Sometimes we shed a few pounds and start to feel better, but sooner than later, the weight is back and we’re looking for new alternatives. At some point, we feel like giving up or the effort is too much given our busy schedules.
But a few of us here at altM have found a dietician who has helped us break through all the confusion and find a plan that is easy, intuitive, and best of all–effective. Editors, Asma and Mariam,and altM reader, Melanie, are all on different parts of the journey, some newer than others, but all of us have seen major transformations that are real. Days, and even weeks of “cheat meals” haven’t changed our results, and it’s always easy to correct course and keep going.
Our dietician (and friend and biggest supporter), Zainab Sarwar, joins us in conversation here. This is Part 1 of the conversation. Here’s Part 2.
Asma: Zainab, welcome to altM! You have seriously changed my life. I feel like I’ve found a philosophy of eating that helps me make the right choices and enjoy eating, too. I see foods for the impact they will have on my body, rather than for taste and short-term pleasure. Tell us more about your diet philosophy.
Zainab: Thank you, Asma!My diet philosophy is first and foremost based in my own personal journey with weight loss. I have polycystic ovaries so I used to struggle a lot with weight issues. During the course of this struggle, I went through three miscarriages and an ankle repair surgery so it was a vicious cycle of weight gain and loss for me. I tried almost all of the famous diets we’ve all heard of and none of them gave me sustainable results. None changed my lifestyle.
So I started to dig into the research and I found that a big flaw with a lot of the famous diets is that they don’t provide balanced nutrition. A lot of weight loss strategies are based on counting calories but the source of your daily calories is just as important as the number of calories you consume.
My diet philosophy is very simple and based around balanced nutrition.A balanced diet is important because your organs and tissues need proper nutrition to work effectively. Without good nutrition, your body is more prone to disease, infection, fatigue and poor performance. It is important to lose weight but not at the cost of poor health.
Asma: Zainab, the whole time I’ve worked with you and been part of the health group with your other clients, I’ve felt almost like we’re all your lab rats. In a good way! You’ve got a very precise strategy to help each person reach his or her health goals, and it always works like a charm. Can you tell us more about that strategy?
Zainab:LOL! You guys are more like my kids than my lab rats. And some of you are very compliant and some,very rebellious!
When I work individually with each one of my clients and keep their psychological status in mind, I know exactly where to allow a little space and where to be really strict with them.
As a specialist, I don’t believe in elimination diets, which is what most fad diets are. An elimination diet is the type where you get rid of an entire food group from your diet. But this isn’t sustainable and eventually you’re going to get to a point where you’re adding the food group back into your diet – and then your weight comes back.
The better approach is to create true lifestyle change. The way to do it is NOT to remove food groups but to embrace the right proportions.
As you noticed in my group, though, the “right proportion” is different for everybody. This is where your dietician comes in—you need a diet that is made for you, not something that attempts to be one-size-fits-all.
Asma: How do you even begin to figure that out?
Zainab: The way I figure out the proportions and types of food that are right for a person is by doing a nutritional assessment for each individual. A nutritional assessment involves
I look at objective measurements of the body muscle and fat. I use age, weight, height and skinfold measurements of several areas of the body to help determine the body type of each of my clients. This individualized assessment helps me determine their calorie intake, macros and so many other statistics. I also ask the individuals about the type of physical activities they are into and how many times in their life they have tried to lose weight and adapt to healthy lifestyle previously.
- Biochemical Data:
Biochemical data includes things like Hydration status, Disease status, Digestion status, Hormonal profile, Psychological status (such as depression or stress) and Emotional status (such as low self esteem, relationship issues, irritability, emotional eating, etc.). It gives me a better understanding of who my client is.
- Clinical Data:
Clinical data provides me information about the individual’s medical history, including acute and chronicillness and diagnostic procedures, therapies, or treatments that may increase your need for nutrients or signal to me that your body isn’t absorbing nutrients properly. I document whatever meds you’re taking, including prescription drugs and over-the-counter drugs, such as laxatives or analgesics. I also review your vitamins, minerals, and herbal preparations. I also look for physical signs of malnutrition.
- Dietary Data:
During a nutritional interview, I ask the individuals about their dietary habits, their lifestyle, the number of meals they eat everyday and when they eat those meals. I also ask about which foods they crave, allergies, food intolerances, food avoidances such as personal likes and dislikes, how much caffeine & alcohol they consume, etc.
Based on all of these factors, I come up with a diet that has the right foods in the right portions.
Asma: Wow! That sounds really complex. I also never realized that psychology and emotion would be part of a nutritional assessment, even though, now that I think about it, our thoughts and emotions around food are some of the biggest hurdles to weight loss.
Zainab: Yes definitely. The more emotionally and psychologically vulnerable a person is, the more mistakes he/she tends to make to lose weight quickly like using over-the-counter weight loss drugs, starving themselves and following fad diets or drinks—all of these things add up to their level of frustration. Being consistent is the key for losing weight. One needs to be patient and realize that weight loss will not happen overnight just like weight gain didn’t happen overnight.
Mariam: Zainab, I have seen the impact your diet plans have had not just on me but also my husband and many of my friends. In what way do you think your diet strategy is different from the popular diet trends of today?
Zainab: It all goes back to“Balanced Nutrition.” I design my diet therapies so that my clients not only lose weight but also lose fat from their overall body, which means dropping dress sizes. For me, it’s a complete waste of time and effort if my client is only losing weight on the scale and not losing fat (body inches). Losing fat is more important than losing weight on the scale because body weight on the scale can fluctuate daily – your weight is influenced by your stomach/bowel/bladder content, water loss/retention, muscle loss/gain, fat loss/gain, etc. In contrast, when we take fat loss into consideration, two people with similar height can weigh the same, but look completely different because one has lower body fat than the other.
Secondly, my diet plans are different because my diet plans do not provide a simple piece of paper (written plan). I don’t just give you a diet to follow and then disappear. Instead, my program is a diet therapy program — I supervise and assist my clients 24/7.
Mariam: Yes, I love your constant supervision. It helps me deal with frustrations along the way, and any times I may slip off the diet because of work or travel or family obligations.
Zainab: I agree – supervision is key. It’s what my company, Moksha Dubai, specializes in. I provide a highly supervised and guaranteed weight loss diet therapy that will not only help people lose weight the right way but also help improve their overall health under my complete supervision.
Lifestyle change is a process that takes time and requires support. Once you’re ready to make a change, the difficult part is committing and following through. Starting with the right steps is the most important step in bringing about a physiological and metabolic transformation.
To guide my clients with the right approach, I am there for them 24/7 so they know they are not alone in their struggle and my guidance is just a Whatsapp text away.I have a WhatsApp group for the women across the globe who are following my therapies. The group really keeps my clients motivated. I encourage them to be open with me and with each other because women generally suffer from self-esteem issues and have so many underlying psychological and behavioral issues. When everyone posts their meal pictures and talks about their struggles, they relate to each other in a positive and important way.
I have witnessed my clients’ mood and behaviors change. This approach of including everyone in a group works like a safe space where everybody is encouraging each other without judging anyone. If a client loses some weight on the scale and posts about it in the group, everybody congratulates them and at the same time is motivated to stick with their diet plan.
My clients takes pictures of whatever they eat and send it to me on Whatsapp. Whenever they feel low, depressed, demotivated and feel like quitting, I provide them the emotional and psychological support they need. I take ownership of each client – meaning, I am devoted to them and their success completely, and I think they’d all attest to that.
Asma: Yes, I definitely feel like you’re invested in my success! I think your tone is always a perfect balance of sternness and gentleness. Thank you for that. I also love that you’re always accessible, especially when I find myself in tricky circumstances.
Zainab: Yep, even when my clients are on vacations or dining out, they can reach out to me for better food options or when crazy cravings kicks in, they know I am there to give them options to eat…. And that somebody is always keeping a check on them. Providing this level of support to people not only helps them learn about their bodies and about mindful eating but it also helps them achieve quality lifestyle change and a complete metabolic and psychological transformation.