“What will she be like?” I wondered as I stepped into the cosy warmth of Harpreet’s Diet Dr Clinic corporate office in Vasco. But the open hearted warmth of this successful entrepreneur , a pioneer in her field,bowled me over as she greeted me with her winning confident smile.

Introducing Dr. Harpreet Pasricha, an enviable mix of beauty and brains , a health icon who is giving back to the society the invaluable gift of  holistic health and wellness.

This petite, suave, stylish businesswomen wears her heart on her sleeves and doesn’t believe in mincing words. You can’t help but admire the great work she does at the same time striking a perfect balance between her personal and family life and her work.

This award winning, celebrity Nutritionist and Director of Diet Dr Clinic, has been actively involved in the wellness space for over 18 years ! Due to her passion in the field of nutrition and health, she was awarded the prestigious “The Best Nutritionist in India” and “The International Quality Awards”. An  author of ‘Nourish with Food and Flourish with Health’, Harpreet is a pioneer when it comes to publishing nutritional awareness in the country.

Her down to earth  demeanor and charm makes it easy to open up to her for a candid interview where she opens up her book of life allowing us a glimpse into her personal life and beliefs, her struggles and her success, her grit and her will power that make her who she is.

“ What does Harpreet mean?” I ask opening the fruitful and informative interview from which each one of us will take back something valuable I promise.

“In Punjab we don’t keep gender specific names .It means love everybody.” She flashes her signature smile.

“ Please tell us something about your background”

“ My Grandfather settled in Ludhiana after partition. We traveled to different parts of India like Assam and Jammu because of my dad being in services,but after marriage (my husband is in the India navy) we went to cochin and then  goa where we finally settled down. We’ve been here for the past 15-16 yrs now” she summarises.

“Don’t you feel a lack of roots , your father being from a service background?”

“ Well that helps you adjust in any kind of environment and to make peace with whatever you get and learn to enjoy it to the fullest” she doles out sane advice.

“ But the disadvantage is that you have to move very often and it is tough to get a hold or establish yourself anywhere.”

We move on to her family next.

“ I had four parents.” She says mysteriously..

“ I had a very protected childhood with an elder brother and sister who are more like a mother and father.”she explains laughing at my confusion.

“ I was pampered but well guided.”

“ Did you always aim to be a dietician?

“I wanted to be a doctor but it was my brother who dissuaded me.”

“Why?”

“ He said that it takes a lifetime to complete your studies and then establish yourself and being a woman if I got married to a husband who is in a transferrable job, I would never be able to establish a practice. On the other hand if I got married to a doctor, though both of us might be equally qualified, somewhere the preference would be given to him which would be highly frustrating for me” she says in all seriousness.

That’s a very interesting observation and brings up a very pertinent and sensitive issue. When a couple is in the same profession, it’s the husband who gets a priority over his wife by virtue of his gender.” I say.

We broach a problem that is omnipresent but seldom addressed..

“ Whatever we may say, how ever much we may shout about gender equality all over the world we are brought up with the concept that the man is the bread winner and the woman has to take care of the house and children”

“ And I think we should accept it gracefully, somewhere we bear the child, nurture the family, I’m not saying accept nonsense but the truth is that that’s how the society is structured” her thoughts flow freely.

“ People will always walk up to a man and ask “Where do you work ?or what’s your salary or position and not how many children you have . He will be looked down upon if he doesn’t have a job even though he may be a fantastic cook or father or homemaker on the contrary it’s ok if a woman doesn’t work professionally, but she needs to be a good care giver”

“ Such thinking might change in the future but by and large that’s how things are at the moment . I’ve travelled across the world and found the same mindset everywhere, even in Games of Thrones you can see how women are treated….”

I admire her candor.

“ But it doesn’t mean that we are weak. In fact we are the support system for our counterparts and without us they cannot even move an inch.” she sums it up beautifully as we move on to the next question.

“ So how did you get interested in cooking and food ?”

“ The credit for my foray into this field goes to my dad.When I was doing my graduation he called me one day and said that from now on you will have to make dinner every night for one year”

“ I couldn’t understand why I would have to do that as we had a cook and mum cooked too.But he was adamant that for an year, exams or no exams, whatever, however I would have to prepare dinner. If you make it we will eat , the day you don’t we won’t. Simple, he said.”

“That sealed it. Initially I was reluctant, I would crib and cry specially during exams but I had no choice…”

“”Then the next year I was given the task of paying all the bills”

And then finally he shared the secret of delegating these tasks, “You may never have to cook or pay bills but I’m preparing you for life. Women have to deal with  pressures and stresses that men do not have to, and I am giving you the exposure right from the beginning so that you can handle it all

No amount of cookery books will help unless you know the basics. You will not know how to tackle the men in the line who might misbehave with you unless you have gone through it.”

“ And he was so right! Though I’ve never had to cook or pay bills thanks to my helpful staff at home, but I can say confidently that even if a hundred people walk into my house and all I have is potatoes at home, I can still whisk up something interesting for dinnerJ ” she says confidently.

“When did you step into the field of dietetics as a professional choice?”

“ Again it was my brother who insisted I take it up as being a paramedical field it was of my interest and when I finished the course I would be one of the pioneers in this field. I started consulting while doing my P.G though I didn’t charge at that time and learnt hands on how different body types worked . We didn’t have that much information in this area back then.”

“I think you were indeed one of the pioneers in this then unconventional field.”

“ Yes I started practicing about 18 years back.”

“I remember people shied away from dieticians for no one wanted to eat bimaron ka khaana ( diet for a patient)” I laugh agreeing with her,remembering how either starving yourself or bland food was associated with the word dietician.

“ True, Dieticians back then were only associated with hospitals. In fact while working at a medical college  I looked at the food chart and observed that it was ok for a renal patient to have a very restricted or boiled diet, but why should a person with non-complications like thyroid have to eat unpalatable, bland food or khichdi ?”

“ Food is an integral part of our lives and should be tasty and interesting or else the diet plan can never succeed for long”

“ So did you experiment with different foods and invent new recipes”

“ Yes and along with that I took up courses from trained Ayurveda and naturopathy practitioners to understand body and health from their viewpoint and then assimilated it with what I had learnt. I also studied sports nutrition and neutrogenomics.

‘ So you went for a holistic approach and combined the wisdom of the East with the modern Science “

“ Absolutely.”

“And then she explains what neutrogenomics is all about, “ It relates to our D.N.A which tells us how prone we are to certain diseases so that we can intervene through customized and  right diet and exercise”

How and when did you establish your first center/clinic?

“ I started my practice as a pure consultant. When I came to goa I was told that a dietician will never survive here as people were happy with fish and rice and fenny and wouldn’t take any advice. So I was advised to try Delhi or Bombay, as Goa is no place for a dietician.”

“ But I took it up as a challenge” Her eyes sparkle as she narrates how she proved her mettle.

“ It took me a long while to get a breakthrough as initially the people were not very receptive.There was this perception that you only went to a dietician if you were sick or recovering from an illness or a doctor asked you to do so. And also the myth that a diet meant boiled sabzi with no salt.”

“So I had to make them understand that a diet had to do more with higher energy levels, lifestyle management and holistic well being and not just a doctor’s prescription.”

“Once they started seeing results they spread the word around. I had to do no advertising at all.” She recounts happily.

“ Initially I had a center in the Marriott’s where I would consult for a few hours and was happy with my practice. But people came up to me and said that the benefits should reach more people.  I was skeptical as I thought that if I hired people the quality of my work would get affected.

“ Then during my second pregnancy I was completely on bed rest and was undergoing a lot of  physical and psychological issues. I had stopped taking any any new cases but I couldn’t leave the ones that I had already taken. So I had set up  a mini office in my bedroom and my assistant would speak with the clients and I would guide them from a lying down position.”

That’s true dedication . I marvel at the level of her professional ethics and her will power.

“ When I decided to go back to work after the long break, I was unsure whether people would still remember me or accept me as one year gap is a long time in any profession.”

“But when I got back to work I was pleasantly surprised to find that none of my patients had left, they all came back and had been patiently waiting for me all this while” she says with well earned pride.

“ It made me feel very proud but at the same time I also felt bad that in my absence they had to suffer , the sugar levels of some had gone up while some had put on weight”

“ Mam,why don’t you set up a module so that even in your absence your work can continue? This simple advice from one of my clients set me thinking. I finally came up with a module which would take care of my patients in my absence ,with quality control measures in place and decided to got the franchise model way”.

“ But I wasn’t such a big brand and wondered if anyone would take it up. I needn’t have worried for within  a day I had three franchise offers and that’s how the first three centers in Panjim , Colva and Margao came up.”

“ So you were unaware of your own worth?”

“ Yes,” she chuckles.

“ The mother of the franchise owner in Panjim had been my client and had gained immensely from my health program and so they had lot of faith in my work.” She explains.

I next ask her who has inspired her the most in life.

“Experiences! Mine and that of others that have taught me so much about life. And of course my father. His family, who were quite wealthy and established  migrated from Pakistan during partition  lost everything even a sister to the black days. My grandfather came here with 25000 rs a big amount then and bought a piece of land, but he would give it away to anyone who needed help.They faced a lot of difficulties, lost a sister to dowry, there was financial unstability but unlike the rest of the siblings my father handled it very calmly, without resentment, regrets or aggression.He’s a very spiritual man.”

“ Are you spiritual too”

“ I’m not religious but I definitely believe in the higher power or energy or God and in Karma and good deeds.”

“ How do you handle difficult times”

“ I do get shaken up for a while but then I keep saying to the energy or god around me that whatever you give is sweet, so I’ll take it just give me the strength to deal with it and it always works.”

What in your opinion is the major issue faced by Indian women?

“The problem with women is that they put themselves last. It’s always children first, husband second and house next, in this whole bargain they somewhere tend to ignore themselves. And that’s why at the age of 45 they look like 55 and feel like 65. And I always tell them that if you want your child to give you a bouquet or gift you chocolates and say, “ Happy mother’s day,” you should be  a mother who can take care of him or his kids or be a support system. If you are forever on the bed complaining of aches and pains, that will not happen.”

“ True. Our lives as mothers revolve around our children. Unfortunately they grow up and become independent but we end up being dependent on them and then force our expectations and happiness on them. That is not correct.” I add.

“ Exactly” she concurs.“ If you are constantly sick ,even if your son may be a very good son, after a while he’s bound to get tired of taking you to the doctor and will be stressed out all the time. So for your children to be happy, you have be happy first. Today every one is so stressed out that we should not be a burden on them.” She says straightforwardly.

“ If you are not spending any time on yourself you are teaching your daughter that she should do the same when she grows up . That  she can be considered a good daughter or daughter-in -law only if she is sacrificing or messes up with her health and only cares about others or household chores. I have two daughters I don’t want to teach them that. “ she asserts.

“I want them to take care of themselves first as only when they are healthy can they keep their family healthy too. I would like that tomorrow if my daughter is going through a tough phase at her office I should be able to take care of her children allowing her some respite rather than asking her to take care of me in addition to her own worries.”

Perals of practical advice for a happy life and healthy relationship with your children.

“If you love and respect yourself others will love and respect you too.”

“ Women must have a me time where they do something for themselves rather than just whining and complaining. The children then prefer the company of their friends to de-stress or hang out with them which makes the mothers feel more lonely and looking for sympathy.The common refrain is, “ I used to get up at five in the morning to make tiffin for her and today she doesn’t have the time for me.”

“ This is wrong. If you wake up at four you MUST take rest in the afternoons…..there should be no excuse for not looking after yourself.” She says without mincing any words.

“ What do you think about thebitches platform?” I ask her this last question.

“ I think it’s a very interesting platform. I love the name. My first impression was that it’s a humorous and attractive name. But when I got to know the concept and the idea behind the name  I loved it even more. I think it will encourage a lot of women to come out of their comfort zones and display their talents as each one of us has some talent or the other. It will also initiate and promote women into entrepreneurship. For instance if a lady wants to start a tiffin service, I can refer many of my clients to her who are always on the look out of one. So by connecting with each other we can all grow. It is an amazing initiative indeed”

With this we draw the curtain to a very enlightening and rewarding interview.

Quality checks / standardization/ Activities/ Guidance at DIET clinics

I now quiz her about the kind of quality one can expect at the DIET clinics. Something all of us would like to know about.

“ How do you ensure quality control and standardization in all the franchise centers?”

“I have developed a software in all the centers that has the details and database of each patient which I can access at my corporate office. The diet plans go to our corporate nutritionist and then come to me.” She explains.

“ So there is a strict quality control?”

“ Yes, I can’t play with people’ s health” she emphasizes.

“ We have a consultant at every clinic who is well versed with my concept, in fact I ask them to unlearn their own concepts and to only go by the training I have given them as it is my concept that has worked ultimately.”

“ So whether you get a Harpreet Pascricha diet from Hyderabad, Chandigarh or Goa center, thought the food choices may vary according to local and seasonal availability the concept and pattern of detoxification, nourishment, rejuvenation will remain the same.” She clarifies.

“ For us money is secondary and I do not believe in converting a client to a bigger package. We suggest and advice them to take up a month’s plan initially and after seeing the benefits to take up a longer plan.”

“Most people want quick results not long time commitments.” I say

“ Yes people do come for quick fixes like this recent client who wanted medicines to get slim and said why should we charge if we are not giving anything? But we refused to give any such shady medicines and gave her money back instead.”

“ Often people start a diet with enthu but give up mid way..”

“ Yes it often happens so. That’s why we have regular visits, motivational talks and keep sending them complementary health tips and newsletters to encourage them to stick to the diets.”

“we also acquaint ourselves with the life and personality of each individual and have counselling sessions. We follow a holistic approach to health.

“We also have free talks and sessions on thyroid, diabetes and other women related issues at our clinics. We also have different food contests with interesting themes where participants are asked to prepare recipes from locally available ingredients with innovation.

“ Often if a woman loses weight, the others ask for the diet plan she has been following as no one wants to pay and it’s easier on the pockets to simply copy. What is your take on this?”

“ Yes, it’s a common mentality. But women don’t understand that what is good for one may not be beneficial for the other. You may lose weight but if your core issue is low energy or water retention, unless that is addressed it will all come back again. That’s why I’m putting up a free diet plan on my website that is safe for everyone. My thought is if you want freebies, go to the website not to google. At least the information will be authentic and will not harm you.”

That is a great idea.

“ You are also involved in a lot of social activities”

“ Yes, we are working with a lot of schools as I believe teach them young and watch them grow healthy.We have worked with many schools and the results have been amazing. We taught them about good nutrition in a very innovative way.”

“Like we told the students to get immunity booster foods in their tiffins on Monday. We gave them a list of 8 to 10 ingredients and the mothers were asked to use these options to prepare the items. So we had some making chaat , others paranthas or sandwiches from the ingredients. We also gave an added facility to the mothers to call us and ask for recipes if they were stuck somewhere.

So while some kids would regularly get bread jam or butter , they asked their mothers to use nachini instead !It was great to see the children go back home and say, “ We want this as this is healthy” instead of the other way round.

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