Deanne Pandey, a fitness expert, lifestyle coach and the author of Shut Up and Train and I’m not stressed (national best seller), has trained many personalities from all walks of life.
In this interview with Sharmishtha Banerjee, she talks about becoming a strong and positive individual in the mind first and then the body.

How did you get into fitness and staying healthy? Were you always interested in it? Where did you draw your inspiration from?

I come from a family of six kids and my eldest sister used to do a lot of Jane Fonda workouts. She used to buy all the international Vogue magazines and follow their diets. She was very slim and fit, due to which my younger sister and I would follow her and imitate her routine of eating healthy and keeping away from sweets. Also at that time when I was dating my husband; my mother-in-law who is a nutritionist would guide us on how to eat healthy and eat a lot of salads. So these were the people who were around me and inspirational at that point in my life.

Of course my journey towards fitness was completely different. As I had already developed the habit of eating healthy and working out from an early age, I was always fit and had a good toned body with muscles, as compared to other people my age. When I got married and had both my children, I used to get calls from magazines and other advertising media to write fitness articles. At that time, the concept of fitness was zero, very less at that time. When I was asked to train the Miss India contestants, nobody believed in weights at that time, I was the only one lifting weights. I remember the fitness experts would make the contestants do cardio and put them on very strict diets. I was the first in the history of the pageant to make them lift a lot of weights.

I didn’t ever want to get into fitness; I wanted to write from home and wanted to be a housewife. But one thing led to another and as I started adding more and more clients to my list I started enjoying it a lot. After nine years with Miss India, I finally opened my gym; I also wrote two books ‘I’m not stressed’ and ‘Shut Up and Train’.

What is your advice to a person who needs to start on some sort of a fitness regime?

When I travel all over the world, I always observe people in the gyms, when I walk on the road I observe somebody’s body if fit not fit, their posture, how they walk. When trainers force someone to train, force them to do a spin class or force them to do yoga, most of the times they are dropouts. They’ll train for 3-4 months and then they’ll stop.

I always tell people to start off with walking. If you are a beginner, then walk. Listen to music and just walk for the first couple of months. Then while you’re walking move onto a faster power walk and then maybe a short run and then walk; gradually build it up till you get used to it.

Unless they are very eager to start training, then of course you sit with them with an evaluation which takes a couple of days. The first thing you need to do is examine their medical history. Along with doctors and nutritionists you need to assess and evaluate on a number of things through their tests, what they lack in whether it is B12 or D3, their entire lifestyle they could be people who like going to the gym or like doing dance, yoga or swimming. You need to conduct flexibility tests, strength tests. Then you revolve your whole program according to what they like, what is good for them and what suits them.

For instance, someone likes to dance but they can’t dance as it may lead to an injury. If you are a dancer, then you have to tell them that strength training is necessary and they need to do it thrice a week. Then I explain to them what only dancing can do. You could injure your knees, back, ankles. These are repetitive movements that are stressful to the joints.

Each client is different, so there is a lot of individual attention that is given. It is very important to sit with their medical history. In India, Diabetes is number one. A person might have hypertension or they may have Osteoporosis or Sciatica and complain about lower back pain and not know what the problem is.

In general, our lives are very sedentary. We have help in the office as well as at home to do everything for us. It could be so many issues that are beyond just the gym, it could be smoking, drinking, late nights, stress. It could be your lifestyle that is not right.
It takes a couple of days where you understand their entire lifestyle and history because all this is very deep rooted. Once you have gauged their medical history, lifestyle, nutrition, vitamins and all of that, you then fix their program and put them onto a good trainer. So the weight loss program is the last. You need to ensure that the program is very interesting and different with lots of accessories, so that they don’t get bored. You need to keep them motivated all the time. When you start to see results, you not only look good, you feel very good.

How soon does a person start seeing results?

It takes minimum three months which is what I tell all my clients. Firstly, I don’t believe in fat burners or supplements. Even if there are vegetarians, usually trainers just force protein shakes onto them. In both my books, I have written about a lot of protein options for vegetarians. You can get your protein source through your food; you just need to make a little extra effort, at the most a little supplementation through vitamins that is needed for vegetarians.
Most people, who go to gyms, swear by protein shakes.

I am simply against all of that. The supplement market is a multi billion dollar industry. I just feel that the people who market these products are so good at it that if they market a nail on the wall, everybody will go and buy it. We are guinea pigs of all these products.

What our grandparents ate was simple food, they never had protein shakes, fat burners or supplements, and they lived long healthy lives. They used to have their milk, work in the fields, and grew and ate their bajra roti and sabzi.
An average Indian body is not meant to be so muscular, as compared to people from Africa or any Europe nation, they are genetically gifted. So as a nation, if we go back to the times of how our grandparents lived, it was a very healthy India. Our herbs and spices are very healthy. We have changed recently in the last 15 years or so, food is cooked with a lot of oil and masala.

Humans just want to be like everybody else and blindly follow. All your fitness and health solutions are all within. You don’t have to go out and look for it. Your body tells you when you are not well, it tells you if you are over training, it tells you if you are smoking or drinking too much. You just have to listen to yourself and go on the right track, eat simpler and include more vegetables and fruits into your diet. It’s actually very simple.

Do you recommend a particular form of exercise which is like a holistic package?

I recommend swimming to everybody, as its physiotherapy in water. You will never get an injury with swimming. Whether you are young, old or overweight, you should swim.

I also encourage Yoga for breathing and meditation. But it’s a society which is conscious about being thin, especially in a place like Mumbai, so people want to go to a Yoga class which is fast paced and makes them sweat. But Yoga is not about competition, it is much beyond that. One needs to see the beauty of Yoga in how it calms you down. This is needed because of our fast paced lives. You should go to a Yoga class for the breathing exercises and meditation, and then couple it with something else that suits you, maybe a dance class, TRX or gym. Have a good expert guide you the right way. If any expert tells you to only come to their Yoga class or only do spin classes, then you know that person is not right.

Every individual is different and each ones workout is like their own finger print. You can’t do what somebody else is doing. You can’t follow a star with six-pack abs and say I’ll follow this workout. It is extremely individualised.

Simply listen to your body, what suits you and what food to eat. It’s all very simple- eat on time, sleep early, and wake up on time. But in today’s age, we want to party, drink, earn money, we want everything instantaneously.

If you think negative, it affects your immune system. A lot of people have allergies or body aches and pains; it’s all connected to the mind. If your mind is positive and your thoughts are positive along with your actions, then you will always be happy. But if you are constantly fearful of something or think negatively, then your body starts to tense; this is all psychological. It’s all in the mind and that is what they teach in Yoga on how to think positive.

I do a holistic coaching. You have dots in your life and each dot represents some aspect of your life - your health life, financial life, love life, career and everything else. At the end of it you need to join all the dots together to form a circle. If it is all up and down and erratic, that means your life is not in balance. When there is an imbalance in your life, in your career or love life or you have parental pressures, people gain weight, as all of this is connected. Now if your life is not balanced and you are going to run to the gym every day, it’s only a temporary solution, it’s not going to help in your weight loss. So it’s all very deep rooted.

So if you are not happy in your career or your relationship or anything else is not going right, then get out of it. You need to balance your life in a way that it gives you harmony.

How can working professionals with erratic work schedules and unpredictable lifestyles, start maintaining a fitness regime?

It’s again discipline. Of course if a person is working in a call centre, then they have to work nights and sleep during the day. So these are things that are beyond your control. But things that are within your control are your food habits. Plus you can go for a morning walk, stay around positive people who don’t give stress. Stress is one of the main reasons why people gain weight and causes harmful diseases to the body.

A person, who is always rushing to work, has no time for breakfast and only has coffee on their way out, can maybe keep their breakfast ready the previous night. You need to find ways to find time. If you are not going to eat right in the morning, then you are most certainly going to go towards that samosa or pav bhaji by the time its lunch because you are so famished.

It’s a vicious cycle. Your hormones are anyways out of balance and then you give your body all the wrong signals. So eating right and healthy is extremely important. If you start with a healthy breakfast, you know you will eat a healthy lunch or a healthy snack and not go into a binge. It all starts with a bit of discipline.

Sometimes there is a dip in motivation for people who have been working out for years. What advice do you have for people to keep the rhythm and momentum?

Go to a group class or a yoga studio where the energies are positive. You should be around the things and people that you like. The first initial days are tough to get back into the gym, especially if you are experiencing fatigue or you have eaten badly for months or are smoking or drinking. You should get a workout buddy or a friend who is inspirational or maybe read books that are inspirational. You simply need to make the attempt to be around things that are positive and things that will motivate you. At the end of the day you have only yourself to self-motivate. These external sources will always be there, but after sometime you will get the aches and pains or spend time paying hospital bills or being bed ridden. When your body is telling you that you are feeling lethargic or tired and you have dark circles, why suffer.

Today at the age of 80, my mother-in-law is still so active and this is all because she has been into fitness all her life and always been active.

You need to choose your path, without any excuses. I don’t believe in shades of grey, I just believe in either black or white. I don’t believe in-between, either you’re healthy or you’re not. If you’re not healthy, then that’s not a good option.

Is there an age to start exercising or you can start at any age?

There is no age. It just depends on the intensity. As you age, every 10 years your metabolism slows down, you start aging internally, your organs start ageing, your bones become weaker and you have bone loss. You can’t do in your forties or sixties what you did in your early twenties and thirties. But exercises like swimming, easy paced yoga, and walking you can do lifelong. But an intense cross fit or similar is for young twenty year olds, you might get injured doing it. So you need to be very mindful of what you do. It is very important to move around.

What is your fitness mantra?

I believe in a very positive mind. If the situation is not right, then people get disheartened and they fear. I just believe that if your mind is strong and positive, then anything is possible. That’s what Yoga teaches you, if you have a bad thought, just push it away with the help of meditation. It teaches you how to be fearless about everything. You start perceiving life in a different way. Everything just starts to fall in place.

If the mind is positive, getting in and out of problems becomes easy, even health problems. When you channel good energies you become positive; it’s all up there in the mind.

In the case of obesity, you are not able to control your eating and then you go through a lot of stress, it’s all a lot of emotional baggage. The same is with diabetes or any form of illness. If your mind is positive and strong, you can control all this. It all boils down to your fitness, health and eating correctly. If you keep eating junk food all the time, then you will suffer later.

You should become a strong individual first in the mind and then the body. That’s why I always advise people to do yoga, as it calms you. But it takes years to master the discipline in having patience. You can’t just go to a yoga class and happen to become that spiritual person in a short span.

I tell everybody that you must find that one hour a day to just be on your own and centre yourself. It makes your mind stronger to deal with all the issues in a much calmer way, rather than screaming and losing your cool.

Interviewed by Sharmistha Banerjee

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