'Sugar is poison': Fitness expert Yasmin Karachiwala on how she makes celebrities reach their health goals

If you enjoy the workout you're doing, you’re going to make it a lifestyle, says the celebrity trainer, who was recently in Dubai


Somya Mehta

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Yasmin Karachiwala, celebrity trainer
Yasmin Karachiwala, celebrity trainer

Published: Tue 15 Aug 2023, 3:24 PM

Last updated: Wed 16 Aug 2023, 7:24 PM

Known for pioneering the Pilates movement in India, Yasmin Karachiwala's journey began as a group fitness instructor and evolved into much more when she decided to embark on the transformative path of pursuing Pilates 15 years ago. Today, she holds the position of master Pilates teacher, not only training celebrities such as Deepika Padukone and Alia Bhatt, but also teaching aspiring instructors and fostering a network of Pilates trainers in India and beyond. In a conversation with City Times, Karachiwala, who was recently in Dubai to commemorate the fifth anniversary of her Pilates and Dance studio (The PAD), talks about her Pilates journey, the healing power of exercise and her experience, training some of the most celebrated names in Bollywood.

Karachiwala with her team at The PAD DXB
Karachiwala with her team at The PAD DXB

Edited excerpts from an interview:

What is the biggest takeaway you have experienced from Pilates?

Pilates works from inside out, it focuses on your core. So whether you're working on your arms or your legs, whether you're working your upper body or your spine, you're working right from your core. Pilates makes you do anything else you do, better. If you're a housewife, you will be more conscious about the way you move around and your posture will be better. If you work in a corporate space, you will sit up up better. We're so abused by our phones and the computer that we're all in a forward neck, rounded shoulders posture all the time, Pilates corrects that. If you are recovering from an injury, Pilates helps you recover faster. It's so versatile that almost everyone and anyone can do it.

Have you helped treat any critical cases with the help of Pilates?

Most recently, we trained Hardik Pandya before he went for a spinal surgery. He needed to strengthen his core before he went for the surgery because of cricket. So, we made sure he was strong enough to go for surgery.

You’d imagine someone like Hardik Pandya to be fit as he’s a sportsperson. Did he struggle with Pilates?

Yeah, in fact, I have a video of him on my Instagram where he's doing the simplest exercise and collapsing because Pilates makes you use muscles you’ve never used before.

You’re also known for making celebrities such as Deepika Padukone, Alia Bhatt and others look the way they do. How did your celebrity training journey begin and how has the experience been?

I don’t make them look the way they do, they look good anyway. I just make them better. I never advertised what I did, it spread through word of mouth. My first celebrity client was Kareena Kapoor, probably 15 years ago. She heard of me through a friend, she was really young. She saw the results and started speaking about it to other friends. Then, slowly people started coming in and being curious about what Pilates was. Before that I had group classes for step aerobics, where I had Twinkle Khanna, Chunky Panday, Gauri Khan and several others coming in. I remember, Shah Rukh literally used to come pick Gauri up after the class.

So, Shah Rukh Khan never tried Pilates?

I did tell him to try it out. When I started with Pilates in Mumbai, all his leading ladies were working out with me. So, he did stop by the studio and he was interested to know more about it. He made me get him a Pilates machine, which he's kept in his house. But he never tried it. Not yet.

You also flew with Deepika Padukone for her appearance at the Oscars, where she did a Pilates session with you before attending the awards ceremony...

I flew with Deepika for the Oscars to Los Angeles for two days, literally. And it wasn’t as though I made her do Pilates, she herself chose to do it before the Oscars appearance. We literally started at 6:30am. The hotel she was staying in had a reformer and we did a full one hour session. She usually starts her day with exercising because it makes her feel good. She's one of the fittest people I know and she looks amazing so people wonder why she needs to workout. But it’s very important. The exercise brings in that posture and poise to her already beautiful personality and physique.

With the video shared of her training before the Oscars, you wrote, “The secret to her gorgeousness besides her genes is also her discipline, dedication and commitment to maintain a balanced lifestyle”. People often see how glamorous a celebrity looks but don’t acknowledge the work that goes behind the scenes. You see that process very closely. How is it like?

Absolutely, they work for 12 hours, sometimes 14 hours in a day but they make time for fitness. It's such a big part of their life. Sometimes, Deepika would ask me to train her at 5:30am if she’s got a 7am call time. That’s the discipline and consistency with which she shows up. And that’s true for all of them. That’s why they are where they are.

You never see the actors slacking?

Of course, there are those days. Every day is different. But in Pilates, we are taught to train the body in front of us. So, it depends on what your days have been like. If Deepika’s working out at 6:30am and I know that she has a whole day to go, especially something as big as the Oscars, you have to make sure that the workout is challenging, as well as energising. You can't do a challenging workout and then be tired for the rest of the day. It has to make you feel good. If you enjoy the workout you're doing, you’re going to make it a lifestyle.

Karachiwala with Bollywood actor Katrina Kaif
Karachiwala with Bollywood actor Katrina Kaif

You also focus a lot on food and nutrition on your social media, creating healthy recipes with a creative spin on it. Do you give nutrition advice to the actors?

All the time. You have to be mindful about your nutrition because you can only workout for an hour in a day. What you do in the rest of the 23 hours after your workout is going to determine how you're going to look. So, people who’ve been working out with me for many years know that nutrition is extremely important. I’ve been working with Katrina for over 20 years, Alia for over 10 years now and we discuss how to eat and what to eat. For example, when we’re eating a full-on sugary chocolate cake, we don't stop at a bite. We feel the need to have a big slice or stuff ourselves with junk till we feel sick. Even if you want to eat the cake, eat a bite and satisfy your taste buds, it won’t harm you. That's what Deepika does beautifully. Don't eat till you're sick.

Karachiwala training Alia Bhatt
Karachiwala training Alia Bhatt

Since you train celebrities, do you ever get people coming up to you and asking “Can you make me look like Deepika Padukone”?

Yes, of course! And why shouldn’t people want to look like celebrities? They are role models, right? What I do is just change the narrative a little and tell them ‘I'll make you look like the best version of yourself’. If you're five feet, two inches in height and want to look like Deepika, it's a very different body type. What I really really enjoy is educating people on what their potential is and how they can achieve that. They might even look better than Deepika Padukone or Katrina Kaif because they have that structure but all of us need a role model to look up to. So, it’s great.

Deepika Padukone in a Pilates session
Deepika Padukone in a Pilates session

Lastly, sugar is something people have a love-hate relationship with. Do you avoid sugar completely or does a little go a long way?

According to me, sugar is poison. The best example of when I realised how poisonous sugar was when my father had cancer, around eight years back. He went for a PET scan to check for cancer. We travelled to Mexico, to this place called Oasis of Good Hope, which is a cancer clinic but it's not traditional, it's alternative medicine. What the oncologist explained to us was, the injection you take before the PET scan is a sugar injection. So, they basically inject you with sugar to check if you have cancer or not because the cancer cells feed on sugar.

All of us have dormant cancer cells. When your immunity is low, your sugar levels are high, you tend to feed into the cancer. So, that's how poisonous sugar can be and refined sugar is the worst. Of course, there are healthier versions, every fruit has sugar. Dates have sugar but the dates we get in the market now are all injected, so we have to be really careful about the kind of natural sugars that we're putting in our body as well.


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