Deccan Chronicle

The Problem is Not Rice, It's Lack of Activity, says Luke Coutinho

Deccan Chronicle.| Reshmi AR

Published on: November 20, 2023 | Updated on: November 21, 2023

Learn from different cultures, but not blindly. We should use common sense as well, says Integrative Lifestyle Expert, Luke Coutinho

LukeCoutinho. (Image by Arrangement)

LukeCoutinho. (Image by Arrangement)

Luke Coutinho's Pioneering Odyssey: From Nutritionist to the Vanguard of Lifestyle Medicine: In an exclusive interview with Deccan Chronicle, Luke Coutinho talks about the transformative power of personalised health plans, where nutrition, exercise, sleep, and emotional wellness converge to create a roadmap tailored to the individual, and not a generic diagnosis.

What is integrative lifestyle medicine and life coaching?

I work in the field of integrative and lifestyle medicine. We're not alternative medicine—as we speak, our patients are going through chemotherapy, radiation, they're on pills, but we work in integration with doctors to change the lifestyle of patients, their nutrition, the kind of exercise, they do, their sleep, their emotional wellness, and managing the side effects of the medicines that they put on. So that model together is integrative and lifestyle medicine. And that's exactly what we do because we respect every human being is different. We don't put them in a box and say everyone should not eat carbs. Everyone should be vegan. Everyone should be a carnivore. No, everyone's different. We need to find out what works for you. Eight hours of sleep is not for everyone. Some do well with six hours, some need seven. So we break the boxes that humans have been put in by certain cultures. And we try to make them identify that we are uniquely different. And now build your health and plan around that.

Do you think food can actually be a substitute for medicines?

No. It’s impossible. Food is supportive. When you have a disease, it can be a preventive medicine. But if you have a disease, I can't say there's a food that can replace chemotherapy. But if I'm looking at preventing a disease, of course, I can use food, nutrition, quality food, to build a strong immune system that helps me prevent diseases. But there is no food that reverses diabetes. Food is supportive of reversing diabetes, with lifestyle changes, and with medicine if needed. So that's how it is.

You said, some people could do with just a few hours of sleep. But I have often heard that lack of sleep could adversely affect your health

It’s not the quantity, but the quality of sleep that matters. So if you're sleeping three, four or five hours, but it's deep quality, and you can wake up in the morning, you're ready to start the day and not sleep deprived, you don't need coffee to get you out of bed, that's good. You'll find some people sleep eight hours, and they're so tired. It is the quality that matters.

What has been the journey from IHM (Goa) and the field of applied nutrition to "Integrative Lifestyle Medicine and Life Coaching"? What was the motivation/trigger to explore the field of Holistic Health?

I'm not really a life coach. We do lifestyle medicine, life coach is part of what we do. I studied food science and nutrition as part of my hotel management. And that's where I got introduced to the subject. I didn't do anything about it. After that I went to the corporate world, but I kept studying. And then one fine day, I got my calling to get back into health, because I was realising that there are so many nutritionists, personal trainers, yet India's getting sicker and sicker. So I started to study the system. And I realised that there's a gap in lifestyle. While people know everything they're doing, the lifestyle part isn't there. So I was in the US with some patients. And then there was a doctor who introduced me to the subject of lifestyle medicine and said, "Look, when I hear you talk, what you really want to do is move your nutrition model into lifestyle medicine." That was a subject that was being taught in colleges across the US, American College of lifestyle medicine, and so many universities that have not yet come to India. So that's when I figured that this is where I want to move. And then I formed integrative and lifestyle medicine in India. So we were the pioneers 13 years ago. And now we run our own institute, which is affiliated with Mumbai University where we teach students, doctors, nutritionists, the lifestyle aspect added to their qualifications.

You have authored six books—Eat Smart Move More Sleep Right, The Great Indian Diet, The Dry Fasting Miracle, The Magic Weight Loss Pill, Back To The Roots, Small Wins Everyday. How did the transition from lifestyle and nutrition coaching to author happen?

I think when you meet so many patients, you learn so much. A book is a nice way to share learnings. So every book has been based on our patients, what we learn, how we can put it in a simple form and use a book as a medium. We were lucky that some of them became bestsellers. So now they want us to write a book every year.

You have collaborated with Shilpa Shetty Kundra, Anushka Shetty and Tamannaah.

Yes. And we've done some solo books as well. We did one with a Sheikh in Dubai on dry fasting, because it's always nice to bring in perspectives. And in our country, a lot of people look up to Bollywood and Tollywood. So when people know their real journey, because sometimes no one gets to know their journey. The best is through a book because it can become very authentic.

Who is Luke Coutinho as a person beyond the public persona of Celebrity Lifestyle and Nutrition Coach? Passions, apprehensions, beliefs, motivation etc.

I don't know why people say celebrity, because I'm the same everywhere. I think I dress the same when I'm with a celebrity or not, when I'm with you or when I'm going to see my patient. I've never really been star-struck as a person ever. So I think I've been able to fit into this role very easily, because I see everyone the same as they're supposed to be. Also, I think it's easy for me to be that way.

You mention that "I continued to have a passion for nutrition and health as I saw the health of upper management of most companies deteriorate in pursuit of the corporate dream." Is there a plan to increase the reach of your programs to benefit a larger number of people in terms of awareness and affordability, especially the younger lot as a lot of the chronic diseases have started afflicting younger people? 

So, the day I started charging people for programs, I made a commitment to myself—I will do educational content. So today, people who can afford our programs come, people who can't have followed my videos and even reversed their conditions. So nothing is hidden. If I'm going to speak to someone about thyroid, it's already down on YouTube. So what people come to us is for personalization. Some people follow videos, and then they realize that they need personal help. So they come to us, but we have no trade secrets. Everything is out there on YouTube, it became a business model, because there's human laziness, they don't want to do it on their own. So it worked out perfectly. So we don't have to create an affordable program. There are free programs, we have a cancer program called ‘Aap Ke liye’. That's for the less privileged, you have to submit your government salary certificate, and we treat you for free. So we've already done 200 plus patients which are currently live that we treat. We have those programs for cancer, which are free. And for someone who wants to reverse their diabetes, all they need to do is go on to my YouTube channel, which is free. And they will find so much content and videos that teach them how to reverse their condition. In fact, people have found help in our videos for their cancer. So we've created that platform. It's out there, there is no trade.

Any lifestyle tips for people working in professions that have no fixed schedules or erratic timings, especially in view of the debate around whether young people should work 70 hour a week or not.

I think the first thing that came after the 70 hours remark, is a reflection of how weak our society has become. Someone made a statement. It wasn't a law. But the way people reacted to it. I can understand if every company says we are going to start 70 hours, then react. Otherwise, it just shows how emotionally weak, everyone is. That's his opinion. Someone may have another opinion for a four-day week. But you see how we've reacted, we're moving away from—‘Hey, it's not about whether I work less. There are people who work three days a week and still have a work life balance because it's how they manage their time." It comes down to human behaviour. Where am I putting my time. Most people say I don't have time for a one-hour exercise, but they have five hours for social media, because exercise is not important to them.

I found no problem with that statement. He's built his empire using that philosophy. Nothing wrong. If people want to work for him, they'll work. If people don't want to work, he won't have an employee workforce. Think about it. But everyone reacted like someone's made a law. Our health problems start from weak emotions. That's the point. So a lot of people today work nine-hour jobs or eight-hour jobs, and yet they don't have a work-life balance.

So my lifestyle recommendations are

1.    Stop spending so much time on social media and if you are not following the right accounts, it can really mess up your mind

2.    Work first with your mind. You can have a great body, but if you're depressed, you have mental issues. It's a big problem.

3.    Food, keep it simple. Don't forget the wisdom of your own country. Stop trying to copy cultures around the world, who have messed up their countries so much. And India just keeps following them more and more. But now while we follow them, they're taking yoga, our traditional ways of eating. So be smart about it. Be proud of your own country, grow your own country, use your expertise, learn. Even I learned from the West. But with common sense, not blindly.

4.    Keep life simple. You know, you don't want to get sick. It becomes very expensive. And the suffering for you and your families. Prevention is better than cure. Eat simply, make some time for movement and exercise, try to prioritise your sleep and keep yourself as happy as possible, even if life is not going well for you.

These are my four lifestyle tips that we integrate into every patient, whether they're billionaires, or whether they're everyday people like you and me.

Talking  about food. People say that you can't eat rice at night—you know, this roti versus rice diet debate that you are not supposed to consume rice at night?

It's common sense. Let's go back to traditional India, where carbs were never a problem and diabetes was non-existent. Today, people are eating the same amount of carbs, but they have become less active than before. You have a maid to clean your room, you have a driver, you have public transport. So the activity has reduced, but the carbs haven’t. So now it becomes a problem. If you are going to eat a plate full of rice at night, and you've had an inactive day, and you're going to sleep in one hour, it's a problem. The problem is not rice. Farmers eat rice morning, afternoon and night. They are fit, healthy, they have activity, they have consistency. Now if you're having a roti and rice together, you don't need to double the two carbs. Choose  one of them. Then there's the quality. Where's the quality of your wheat coming from? It's not grown the same way it was grown 10 or 15 years ago. That's why people are becoming gluten intolerant. So you have to look at the quality. The problem is that. So everyone has to decide what works for them. If I did an evening workout, a carb will help. But if I've been sedentary the whole day, does my body need that much carbohydrate? It doesn't. So the debate around it comes back to us individuals—as a person. If I'm active, if I'm doing everything, and it suits me. If I'm eating too much of rice and I have less protein, it's a big problem. But if I have rice and I have protein, it's well balanced and if I have my veggies, it's not a problem at all. So it's not the problem of rice, India's lived on that as a staple. Disease came in when junk food started coming in, when people started getting sedentary. When people had more access to restaurant food. So you see, it's the over-consumption that has tipped the balance. Otherwise, India should have been a diabetic capital of the world even 15 years ago. But it wasn't. So again, it comes down to lifestyle.

People swear by intermittent fasting these days. Is that an ideal diet plan?

Intermittent fasting is not a diet plan. When I'm eating, I am eating. When I'm not eating, I am fasting. So cultures that put us into a 16/8. Why not? 17? Why not 15? We don't ask these questions. Just because someone in the West said it, everyone's doing it today. We have people who fast for 12 hours and get great results. Some people fast for 14 hours. Some do it for 19. It's different according to everyone. But that 16/8 is a box. You don't have to do it that way. But fasting is therapeutic. And again, it originates in our own country, our own religions and our practices like fasting once in 15 days, stop eating after Sunset, eat only after Sunrise. So it's not a fad. People have made it a fad. But fasting is therapeutic.

Name 5 unhealthy foods or ingredients that people must avoid to stay healthy

All the whites—your white sugar, white flour—anything that is processed. I'm not against sugar completely, but if you're overdoing it, you're going to have problems. And then of course, anything that is junk and ultra processed food. If you do it in excess, you're going to have health problems. You do it in moderation, you're fine. Let's put it this way. Anything that is artificial, the body is going to have a problem with. Anything that's come from nature is fine. But you can't overdo it. Like some people have this full fruit platter, which is bad—too much fructose. So you can't overdo anything that's even good. So it simply comes down to nature over artificial, that's the balance we need.

How about cold pressed oils?

Cold pressed wins. If you go back to traditional India, you had to take your coconut to the mill, and they pressed it and gave you oil. We were already doing it. They would wood-churn the oil. That was how we lived until processed oils came in. Olive oil came in from other countries, which were not even local to us. And then people started saying coconut oil is bad. But today, the West is saying it’s the best. And now, India stopped coconut oil because they said it was bad. So you see what's happening. Go back to your roots. There's a lot of wisdom. Learn from different cultures, but not blindly. We should use common sense as well.

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