The pandemic has spotlighted the need to build our immunity. But popping Vitamin C supplements or loading up on superfoods is not the sole answer, it is our lifestyle that determines the state of our immunity, argues holistic lifestyle coach Luke Coutinho. Having recently authored an e-book on the subject The Magic Immunity Pill - Lifestyle, Coutinho breaks down the need for a lifestyle change to take control of one's health.
During Covid-19, immunity has come to mean eating foods that have Vitamin C in bulk or taking supplements. You argue that lifestyle is the ultimate drug for immunity. Could you elaborate on that point of view?
Immunity is simply not just about having vitamins in bulk or even eating immunity-boosting superfoods, for that matter. Yes, they help support immunity, but it is not the only thing. Our immunity is not a unit, it is a system based on multiple factors that are lifestyle-related. Apart from eating the right kind of food, our immunity also depends on adequate movement and activity, the quality of sleep we get every night, and the state of our mind and emotions. In short, our entire lifestyle.
You can be eating the best nutrition or sticking by with the best exercise plan, but if you are compromising on your night's sleep or are stressed, you are compromising your immunity to a great extent.
Lifestyle changes are simple and inexpensive and we have seen how, when one starts making changes in the nutrition, activity levels, sleep routine, emotions - they also see an improvement in their immunity and if someone is already sick, then the recovery is faster and with lesser dependency on medications.
Would you say the pandemic has changed our approach to wellness?
Absolutely, it has and, unfortunately, it took a crisis of a virus for us to realise how important it is to take care of our health. The pandemic has forced us to focus on boosting our immunity, which was always the foundation of good health.
Today, everyone is running helter-skelter finding top immunity-boosting foods, ordering supplements, etc. Where was the focus on clean eating all this while? All of us are left with a hope that our immune system will help us sail through this and are hence finding ways to enhance it.
Yes, there is stress for everyone, because we are all affected. However, what matters is, how are we dealing with this stress? While some people are living in fear and stress, so many are also using this to fuel motivation in them to take action and start making lifestyle changes like eating a little better, exercising a bit more, sleeping earlier, and looking at things in a positive light.
Stress and worry are absolutely wasted emotions because it does nothing to make our situation and lives better. It is about what we make out of it.
How has the modern lifestyle altered our approach to fitness? Why do we conflate fitness with weight loss?
Our modern lifestyle has made our lives easier and this has led to people getting lazier, not ready to move out of their comfort zone, needing instant gratification, quick fixes, quick results, and hard-wired for pleasure.
Today we have so much more in terms of technology, fitness gadgets, step trackers, gym equipment, connectivity, workout ideas, and professionals from different fields of health and fitness, but if you see the statistics of the disease, it tells us a completely different story. There is nothing wrong with living a modern lifestyle, but one must understand that what works for the human body is plain simplicity.
No matter how advanced we get, our body needs us to fulfil the basics of nutrition, exercise, sleep, and sound emotional health. We still need to eat fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, dals, cereals, pulses, and good quality oils. Nothing of those changes, even though our lifestyles have become modernized.
Why is it that some people struggle with weight loss? What factors can contribute to facilitating it?
When it comes to losing weight, keep it off in a sustainable manner, and gain health in turn, it is necessary to first identify the root cause of weight gain. Unless and until the root cause is not addressed, one can go on weight-loss diets, extreme exercise routines, etc, and yet see no results.
The root cause of weight gain could be varied - a hormonal imbalance, diabetes, thyroid dysfunction, lack of sleep, overeating, emotional distress, metabolic syndrome, etc. Depending upon what the reason for weight gain is, one must begin on working to correct those, and weight loss is then often seen as a positive side effect. No amount of fat loss foods will ever work if our hormonal health or thyroid health is not fixed. This is where most people go wrong and miss out on and as a result losing weight seems like a never-ending struggle.
How can we benefit from intermittent fasting? Is it sustainable in the long run?
Intermittent fasting, especially done in alignment with the circadian rhythm (sunset to sunrise), is by far the most powerful lifestyle change embraced by people all across the globe. Just by putting discipline into their eating times, people have noticed improvements in their immunity, energy levels, gut health, sleep, moods, cravings, insulin sensitivity, skin and hair health, focus and concentration, spiritual health, inflammation, pains to name a few.
Intermittent fasting is a newly coined term, but if you really study the lives of our grandparents and most religious texts, fasting has always existed in some form or the other. It was a way of living for them during previous times because they lived a disciplined lifestyle of not eating beyond a particular time of the day. The human body needs fasting or in simple words, a break from eating when it can focus on other aspects like repairing, detoxification, healing, recycling, etc.
Intermittent fasting is sustainable and can be made into a way of living only if it is not practised as a fad. How does one make fast a fad? By trying to compete with one another in terms of fasting hours, drinking tea and coffee during fasting, not being mindful about when to break the fast, under-eating during the building phase, and not customising fasting according to an individual's needs.
Many women also struggle with body image issues. In your role as a lifestyle coach, how do you address those who find it tough to come to terms with their bodies?
Over the years I've had moms and dads come to me with their daughters who were in the age groups of 16 - 19 with a desperate request to 'get them thinner', and the answer to having such a goal, has always the same. 'We have to get them married.' Body image issues and insecurities around their physical appearance in women start from a very young age for most.
I cannot stress on the number of depressed young girls, young married women, women with kids, who come to me with health problems ranging from PCOD, diabetes, skin, and hair issues, to cancer, emotionally stressed beyond imagination. Most of this stress comes from these young girls trying and wanting to be like someone that the media projects as sexy, beautiful, and hot. Our society has become the main promoter of an 'untrue' and 'false' way of living, that defines our 'human body' and 'looks' in an incorrect way.
People have forgotten how to accept themselves, love who they truly are, in their own skin. They have forgotten how to respect themselves. The benchmark for progress is never themselves, but someone they saw at a party, or in a movie, or in their own friend's circle, and most of them want to be someone and look like someone other than who they truly are. So, the latest exercise or diet programme in the market will be the one that some movie star or model has adopted, and the country blindly follows that thinking if they do the same, they will look like that star.
Slim doesn't have to mean beautiful. You can have fat too, and be beautiful, we all know deep inside of us that beauty lies in the heart and is projected in our outward appearance. You can have a super slim woman who looks stunning on the outside but on the inside, you have an insecure, lost, depressed heart, always working so hard to maintain that figure because she believes that it's her figure and the way she dresses that earns her respect and love. And I can promise you, there are so many lost girls and women and men out there who have such poor body images of themselves that they can never ever be happy, as long as they continue trying to be and look like someone that they are not.
You work closely with many Bollywood actors. The industry often sets impossible standards for beauty and fitness. How do you separate the larger message of your work from the standards set by the industry, if at all?
Unrealistic standards and stereotypes are everywhere, not just Bollywood. It's about how that affects you and your self-worth. Look at social media today. It also has a huge role to play in promoting unrealistic body expectations. It is full of content that has brushed images, the so-called perfect body, the perfect figure, etc, which, if mindlessly consumed, can put a human mind to feel inadequate about themselves. When I consult cases of poor emotional health, it's not surprising to know that these people who are in a bad space emotionally spend a lot of time on social media too. Social media makes us subconsciously compare ourselves with others - our thoughts, bodies, how much we have, holidays, dressing sense and so much more. Our minds have been designed to compare, no matter how much yoga, pranayama, and chanting you do.
They are constantly comparing themselves with an actor/model who they don't even know may have even got cosmetic surgery, photoshopping or airbrushing done to look that way. And that's how body shaming and feeling insecure about their appearances crop up. They think they aren't doing enough - diet, lifestyle and begin punishing their body with fad diets and exercise programmes.
It robs us of common sense, logical thinking, and wisdom of intuition. It weakens our intuitive skills - the inner voice that guides us to do the right things.
It is so important to work on our self-worth, self-esteem, and know that not having a model figure doesn't make is anything short of amazing. If we are healthy, grateful, kind, grounded - we will be beautiful inside out. Even that casual body shaming that parents, siblings, friends may do can scar someone's self-worth so much. It wreaks self-worth and confidence.