Our exposure to nutritional information has never been more abundant and yet the understanding that informs our choices has been muddled in the same deluge.
For this reason, Mira Khattar has made communicating the science of food in a straight-forward and effective manner, her life’s mission. She is a trusted Clinical Dietitian who has impacted the lives of many in the Middle East by steering them towards a healthy lifestyle that brings out their best self. Mira discovered her passion for educating and empowering people in their food choices through her own personal struggle with weight loss.
“I was struggling with weight problems in my teens. I would begin a diet at the start of the week on Monday and lose my resolve by Wednesday. I had a very superficial understanding of food so I was gaining weight instead of losing it.”
She then consulted a dietitian and found the process enlightening, “On this new diet, I was eating everything. I would have never guessed that to lose weight, I would need to eat that much. I learned that timing is important, moderation is vital and knowledge of what your body needs is paramount.” Mira promptly dropped 20kg on her new diet and exercise regime. “I believe that weight loss is determined 20 percent by exercise and 80 percent by food. If you don’t pay attention to your food, the exercise won’t work.”
The dietitian had not only changed Mira’s relationship with food but also sparked a curiosity for nutrition, “I loved the way she worked and saw that she was a really good influence. I became very interested in nutrition because I wanted to help people in the same way she had helped me.”
Mira enrolled in the American University of Beirut and on completion of her studies, interned in a hospital in Lebanon before making her way to Kuwait and working for a diet care center. She also has certification in Sports Nutrition from the International Sports Association.
“I love nutrition as a subject. If I had to go back to University, I would study again. It is very empowering to know what you are eating,” she remarked. After ten years in the industry, she now provides consultations and personalized packages to help her clients reach their fitness goals via her website eatlikemira.com. She reaches people in Kuwait, Lebanon, and the wider Arab region. Her food philosophy is based on creating healthy habits instead of fixating on restrictions, “If you want to lose weight quickly, there are a number of diets you can be on.
But if you want to keep the weight off for good, you need to make a lifestyle change. You need to focus on small, realistic goals and more importantly, be ready deep inside to commit fully to the process.” What Mira enjoys most about her job is seeing people regain their confidence, “Change is hard. So it is very rewarding for me to see someone lose weight and reach their goals. When you work one-on-one with patients, you can identify bad eating habits and overcome them with communication and accountability.”
She defines success in the same measure, “You are successful when you can make even a small change in someone else. Success for me is when people believe in me and trust my knowledge. I think I have proven myself when they return to me for advice.”
Communication, she holds, is vital for results. For this, she keeps herself available to her clients at all times. They send her regular updates of their food intake throughout the day, even sending her photos of menus when dining out, seeking her suggestion or approval of their pick.
Her quick tips on making better choices when dining out include – not going to a restaurant hungry, drinking water before the meal, not filling up on bread, starting with a salad and main course, and always sharing dessert.
The clients who consult with her are not just made up of those looking for a better physique but also those who suffer from varied medical conditions. Considering the high incidence of diabetes in Kuwait, she shares that there is a huge gap in the understanding of the matter among people.
“People often think that they should just cut out all carbs and everything sweet. But in most patients, diabetes is linked to obesity. So the first thing to do, if a patient is overweight, is to lose the extra kilos.”
She points out that obesity has adverse metabolic effects on the systems of the body and “when you are losing weight you are changing the way you are eating. You have to know what to choose. There are foods with a high glycemic index and those with a low glycemic index.
Foods with a high glycemic index need to be eliminated because they increase blood sugar levels and importance should be placed on consuming low glycemic foods.” Knowledge of food is critical in making the right choices, she stresses, and shares that fruits and vegetables have a low glycemic index because they have fibre. “But once we remove this element i.e. peel off the skin of the fruit or just drink the juice, we are removing the fiber content, and then it becomes a high glycemic food.”
Many also fall prey to the sway of the hype, trendiness and captivating testimonials of fad diets that promise fast and easy weight loss without guidance from an actual authority on the matter. Commenting on the recent popularity of the ketogenic diet, she points out that it can be beneficial to those who are obese, “People who are really obese are insulin resistant and so to lose weight they should go on a protein, fat diet. It can work for them as long as they watch their carbs.
Once they introduce carbs over the prescribed limit, they will gain weight and increase their cholesterol levels because this diet is very high in fat. If they stick to it right they can lose weight.” Detox diets, similarly should only be undertaken by people when a special event is coming up so they can shrink in size and fit in their clothes.
But all short-term diets will only spur short-term weight loss. “Any diet that you cannot continue for a lifetime it is not a healthy diet. A diet that brings balance and that you can live on, is a perfect diet. Our bodies are wonderful because they will adapt to all kinds of food.
Once you eliminate what is not good for you, it will be very hard for your body to accept it again.” Mira shares her own struggle with the scale, “When I first started dieting as a teen I was very fixated on the numbers on the scale.
I would weigh myself multiple times in one day and starve myself if my weight had gone up by a kilo.” She warns against an obsession with the scale or being in pursuit of the perfect image. “Today, women feel a lot of pressure from social media.
We really shouldn’t be concerned about how others look on Instagram and constantly compare our bodies to theirs. The women we see in magazines or online shouldn’t be our benchmark. You should do for what is best for yourself, be concerned about your health, do what makes you happy, and live your life.”