Eight years since hormonal imbalances and injuries landed her at her trainer's door, Sonam Ahuja on going from strength to strength.
Sonam Ahuja working out
They may have struck a chord with only a defined group of cinephiles, but offerings like Aisha and Veere Di Wedding serve as food for thought as to why Sonam K Ahuja shone in films that bank heavily on meaningful friendships. Our guess is, as is with several aptly cast movies, it drew from her off-screen persona. Past interviews are testimony of the earnestness with which she pursues relations with the women in her life — be it with sister Rhea, friend Masaba Gupta, or mother Sunita. But why are we discussing Ahuja's relationships in an interview directed to break down her fitness regimen, you ask? Because fitness is no longer (never was) about the physique alone. Ahuja was quick to learn how every aspect of her life defined her emotional and mental state. "You'll know what to do if you love yourself," she says at one point, making a case for her vegan lifestyle when citing studies that indicate dairy (sugar too) can cause cancer.
A string of "crazy stupid things", involving hours of gym training and unsuitable diets, enabled her to shake off the 35 kilos she had gained in her teens due to hormonal imbalances, before she made her industry debut. But, even five years later, in 2012, when she first met her current trainer Radhika Karle, the actor was fragile, with an immunity that was severely hit following a relapse of typhoid. "[In addition], I had bursitis in my knees since I had been dancing. Even though I've not done films that needed me to dance, I am trained in classical dance and [practised it] since the age of three. Also, I am double-jointed and hyper-mobile, and had damaged my feet and knees."
She landed at Karle's doorstep in pursuit of a trainer who promoted a holistic approach to fitness. "She didn't enjoy it at all," says Karle, of Ahuja's introductory sessions. "She wanted to do weights, and high-intensity work. But I had to keep assuring her that she needed [pilates]. Gaining muscle-mass keeps the body's fat per cent in check. She had achieved weight-loss but hadn't gained strength."
Every 'body' is different
If you haven't had a first-hand account of tackling obesity, it's tough to comprehend why Ahuja — with a seemingly idyllic figure that has lent life to creations of the world's top brass of fashion designers — harbours body-related insecurities. It is her unwavering sense of self that kept her in good stead. "Everyone has a different body, and all one can do is be the best version of that body-type. My friend Masaba [Gupta, designer], doesn't have what one would consider a 'model's body'. But she runs for an hour each day, practices yoga, eats healthy, and is extremely strong. Having a low fat-percentage doesn't mean you must starve. I eat everything; all that I do is monitor how and when I eat it. I had hormone issues, a lot of which were solved through Radhika's nutrition plans."
Being vegan in India, which doesn't spoil you with choice, demands ace negotiation. With plant-based proteins camouflaged within fatty high-carbohydrate foods, it is a fight between upping muscle mass and retaining a healthy waistline. "I constantly tweak her nutrition plan, which varies for each film. We went on a high-protein diet for Khoobsurat because she had to be lean. Now that she isn't shooting, she's off grains," Karle informs.
When travelling with Ahuja on outdoor shoots, Karle, owner of Radhika's Balanced Body, has to be particularly mindful of the food being offered to her. "If we are [shooting] close to home, we will have a team member deliver the meals. Else, I will take something whipped up in my kitchen. If we are in a hotel, I will speak to the chef to create meals according to her plan."
Like the one she is currently on, a regimen involving a mix of pilates and cardiovascular work has usually worked well for Ahuja. The duo kicks off the day with a cardio session in the morning. At her home-gym in Delhi, the actor usually spends evenings tweaking the resistance of her reformer and following the cues belted out by Karle over a video call. "She has been [diligent] with her routine. We've been loading the [reformer's] springs heavy so that the resistance training [component is met with]."
Battle won, and done
"Being slim is the by-product of pursuing a healthy lifestyle," Ahuja tells us when we ask her how she managed to break free from the clutches of obesity, which continues to haunt several B-Town actors. She's quick to express gratitude for her good genes. "For the most part [of my childhood], I was skinny. Also, although I love [junk food], I won't start eating and drinking, just because I've lost weight. You cant suddenly let go of the lifestyle you follow."
Sonam on taking small steps for big results
- My biggest lesson has been to not eat at night, and keep a few hours between the last meal and bedtime. I suffered from acidity. This tip cured me.
- Hydration is important. I still struggle with it but have a minimum of three litres of water, daily.
- Anything in a package must be avoided, as must refined foods like flour and sugar. It's like putting poison in the body. I love packaged food, but find substitutes, or make my own version of it. If I crave for something sweet, I have jaggery or peanuts.
- You don't need to have more than two fruits a day. It's eventually sugar.
- Salads must be consumed at lunch, not in the evening. Also, half of your food plate must comprise greens.
Karle on Sonam's diet
- Before breakfast, she has lemon water. Then, jeera water.
- For lunch, it's sabzi and dal. We may give her curd to soothe her stomach in the Delhi heat.
- Before the evening workout, she has a coffee concoction, fruits, peanut or almond butter.
- Dinner, comprising cooked vegetables and dal, is consumed by 7 pm.
What's your cheat meal:
Although not a cheat meal, being a Bengali, I consume rice often.
Cheat meal vs cheat day: Rice is part of my daily diet. I don't follow a strict diet because I usually eat clean and prefer home-cooked meals.
Do you compensate for it: Since I know rice is a high-carbohydrate food, I try to monitor the rest of my meals. If there is an important shoot coming up, and I need to look fit, I will take to a regimen involving light dinner, and couple it with stretching and flexibility training, on a regular basis.
In Mithila Palkar's fridge
Fitness tip that works for Saiyami Kher
When taking to endurance sports like running and swimming, patience, consistency and commitment are key. With these, you can achieve significant results in six months.
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