Part 2: Forget Keto! Meet Zainab Sarwar

Paleo, Keto, Atkins, Whole30, Beans and Greens, lemon water and soup detoxes–the list goes on and on! The options are dizzying and most of us have tried one or most or all of these, with varying results. Sometimes we shed a few pounds and start to feel better, but sooner than later, the weight is back and we’re looking for new alternatives. At some point, we feel like giving up or the effort is too much given our busy schedules.

But a few of us here at altM have found a dietician who has helped us break through all the confusion and find a plan that is easy, intuitive, and best of all–effective. Editors, Asma and Mariam, and altM reader, Melanie, are all on different parts of the journey, some newer than others, but all of us have seen major transformations that are real. Days, and even weeks of “cheat meals” haven’t changed our results, and it’s always easy to correct course and keep going.

Our dietician (and friend and biggest supporter), Zainab Sarwar, joins us in conversation here. We’ve also taken a few questions from readers who reached out to us after reading Part 1 of this conversation. We feature those questions below.


Mariam: Zainab, welcome back. Can you start us off by sharing some thoughts on what you think prevents people from changing their diets and breaking out of their rut?

Zainab: In the typical modern lifestyle, time is a precious commodity that we always seem to be running low on. For many people, taking control of their health equates, in their mind, to yet another thing they have to make time for in their busy schedules. Running low on time is also the reason people resort to convenience (ready-made) food, with little attention paid to the quality of the ingredients going into that food.

Homemade food requires effort and time so it’s a bit challenging to convince many people to take time out for themselves and prepare their food at home.

Making food at home serves two benefits:

  • You know what’s going into your meal.
  • It’s a psychological fact that when you cook food for yourself, you tend to eat less of it. (That’s not a joke – though it sounds like one!) Cooking is a practice of mindfulness. The actual act of making sustenance for yourself and taking the time to feed your body is significant. While cooking, the sense of smell represents 80% of the flavor, which explains why the person who actually cooks the dinner tends to eat less of it when it’s served.

Another big factor that prevents people from breaking out of their rut is their “Self-Pity Syndrome.” The most common excuses I receive:

  • No matter how much effort I put into losing weight or whatever method I use, I simply don’t lose weight.
  • I eat nothing throughout the day, so I don’t know where this flab comes from.
  • My bone structure is heavy.
  • I blame my genes.

Other big hurdles include self-image, self-esteem and your level of motivation – all of those different psychological factors I mentioned in Part 1.

The way our body works is that the more we love and respect it, the more it starts to show us positive results. And the more we reject or ignore it, the more problems it will create for us. If you stop stressing about how you look, you’ll see that your body will start to change.

Asma: That is truly profound. And it makes so much sense. One question, though, about ready-made’ foods: these days there are so many subscription services, for example, Daily Harvest, where healthy meals made with fresh ingredients are delivered right to your doorstep. Why are homemade meals still better than these options?

Zainab: Well, I don’t believe in healthy “ready-made” convenience foods. It’s all too commercial these days. To me, it’s more like exploiting the food psychology of a potential client. These companies know that  people generally don’t have time to cook for themselves and even if they have enough time, they don’t want to spend it in the kitchen. These healthy ready-made options are based on “one size fits all” approach. How do they know the specific needs of a person? The truth is that nobody can cook healthier for you than your own self.

Photo: Asma’s transformation so far. Zainab helped her lose her recent pregnancy weight–plus more.

Mariam: I wanted to pick up on your point about psychology. What do you recommend to your clients who keep falling off the diet bandwagon?

Zainab: The No. 1 thing most diets have in common is the lack of stick-with-it-ness. Many of us equate the word “diet” with short-term deprivation, something you go and ultimately go off.

The lower one’s self esteem is, the more mistakes you tend to make, like trying to lose weight quickly, not eating enough, and some of the other things I mentioned in Part 1, like following fad diets or drinks. But the key to lasting weight loss is consistency and gradualness. Don’t be in a rush to lose weight! Health miracles will happen but never in the time frame of days and weeks—more so, over the course of months and years.

The biggest advantage of hiring me is that I provide personal assistance throughout your journey to make things easier for them. I don’t let you fall off the diet bandwagon. My company, Moksha Dubai, is the only platform I know of that provides complete 24/7 supervision to every single client, regardless of where in the world they live.

The journey from not-so-healthy to being healthy and fit requires a great shift in mental attitude. Seek all the help you can. Get rid of all of your excuses and hurdles. People working with me know that I am here for them whenever they need me. And once you find a supportive friend or coach, grab on and get started on your journey!

MelanieIm in my 40s, I have both thyroid and diabetes. These two make for a sure fail for weight loss but the diet you have prescribed and the exercise routine have both helped immensely to lose some tough fat. How do you know whichdiet will suit which client and what do you keep in mind when designing these combinations? Have you been able to help many and change their lifestyle and perhaps even bring the diabetes to a controlled level?

Losing weight can be a frustrating process for many people with diabetes and an underactive thyroid. There is no one best thyroid and diabetes diet, but making a significant lifestyle change is usually necessary in order to successfully lose weight when you have these conditions. What type of diet to follow, however, depends on your unique physiology, food sensitivities, ability to absorb nutrients, and how effective your body is at metabolizing, storing, and burning carbohydrates, among other factors.

I have worked with so many people suffering from these conditions and I find it challenging to help organize their eating behavioral patterns primarily because these conditions come with symptoms like tiredness, body aches, mood swings, and sugar cravings. They really need extra support to bring about a lifestyle change, which is why my 24/7 supervision is so indispensable.

Especially with an underactive thyroid, weight loss without professional supervision is almost impossible. And the longer it takes you to get on board with a healthy lifestyle, the more weight you could gain.

It’s important to limit the intake of foods that slowdown thyroid production or produce inflammatory response in the body. For many thyroid patients, calorie restriction isn’t enough for weight loss. Hypothyroidism can lower your metabolism, which means you need fewer calories, making it more difficult to cut enough calories to generate significant weight loss.

The other big thing is exercise. Working out helps make your metabolism more efficient by burning calories and fat, reducing blood sugar levels, and balancing weight-loss-promoting hormones such as leptin. If you want to lose weight, you’re going to need to do more exercise than people without these conditions. The right combination of diet and exercise is very crucial in such situations.

A few important tips for people with these conditions:

  • Stay Hydrated: Water helps your metabolism work more efficiently. It can also help reduce your appetite, eliminate water retention and bloating, and improve elimination and digestion. Drink at least 3 liters of water daily.
  • Get Enough Sleep: One of the most important things that you can do to help weight loss is get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation has been linked to a slower metabolism and obesity. Not getting enough sleep may also make you more vulnerable to developing heart disease or diabetes. So, if weight loss is a challenge, aim for seven or more hours of sleep every night.
  • Lifestyle Change: It’s categorically different for everyone. After evaluating a person’s body statistics and eating habits, I determine the course of action needed. For people suffering from certain conditions, it’s important to connect with them emotionally so to avoid any psychological stress they go through when dealing with sudden lifestyle changes. Changes should be gradual for them. It’s always easier to advise than to help people get through the process of lifestyle change and I personally think that this is what makes all the difference in my 100% success rate.

Melanie: How much time would you typically give your client to lose their desired weight. For instance in my case, I actively engaged in sports from childhood to my early 20s but for the last 20+ years have pretty much led a sedentary lifestyle other than bouts of exercise and diet in an attempt to lose weight (all of these attempts failed miserably)My goal is to lose 25 kgs, what should I do and how should I remain focused?

Zainab: Well, it again depends upon how overweight you are. Normally, people achieve their weight loss goals within 3-6 months time at the average rate of 5-6 kg (11-13 lbs) per month but results may vary for some. Some end up losing more and some less than average but everybody loses weight. Regarding the last part of your question, you should only act upon whatever advice I give you and stick to it and leave the rest up to me. With me, your weight loss becomes my responsibility provided you do exactly as I say.

Asma: Thanks, Zainab, for these detailed answers. One of our readers asked how you come up with such an individualized approach based simply on our answers to a questionnaire? How do you do it without even meeting the clients you have across the globe?

Zainab: Good question!

I have delivered more than 3,000 power yoga weight-loss classes over the span of 6 years since the formation of my company, Moksha Dubai, where my clients are provided exercise and diet solutions under my complete supervision. So I work with people in an environment where they speak openly about their eating and psychological behavior patterns, giving me insight about their personalities.

As I mentioned in Part 1 of this interview, each of my clients is like my child – to understand them better, I connect with them on their level. After years of experience with dealing with different personalities on a daily basis, I no longer need to meet them in person but only need better communication with them. People actually talk about their insecurities, fear of failures, their weight loss struggles more openly in private texts than in a one-on-one meeting. Over the course of time through my own struggle, I realized that the problem with many people’s lifestyle is not with theirdiets but rather in our food psychology.

Habit taming is one of the important aspects of food psychology. The questionnaire I have my clients fill out gives me a idea about their habits, how they were formed, their underlying cause (if any) and how I can change the habits that don’t serve them well.

Behavior modification is emerging as a highly beneficial aspect of a weight loss plan and in keeping off the lost weight. Over time, individuals should become aware of the limiting behaviors that prevent them from reaching their goals or their maximum potential. An example in the case of weight loss might be eating when bored or eating a large meal so as to not waste food.

The environment that we create has an influence on the success of behavior modification for weight-loss programs. Environmental factors such as the placement of food, where food is eaten, how food is presented, and family support should be reviewed in order to provide every opportunity for success. Habit taming is the area of behavioral change that is potentially going to be one of the central factors in the success of our eating habits.

There are two phases of habit formation:

Phase 1: Where you feel really motivated after seeing initial positive results. That’s also called the “honeymoon” stage.

Phase 2: Time goes on and your enthusiasm fades – this stage is pivotal since that’s the time when a person come off their initial excitement. This is the phase where people need my maximum support and I know exactly how to motivate them in the right direction by keeping their history in mind.

I pay close attention to information given by my clients. When creating individual goals, I consider the obstacles that might be in your way. I review which attributes and abilities you have that will help or hinder your success. I think about what will keep you motivated and what you be will be distracted by. And I focus on creating strategies that meet these so that your chances of success can be increased.

Photo: Mariam and her husband, Haroon, both worked with Zainab.

Asma: Another question we received is about market sustainability – how sustainable is it to make an individualized diet regimen the primary way people diet, as opposed to one-size-fits-all diets like Paleo and Keto? For Moksha Dubai, how do you know what the right number of clients is? And how to make your plans affordable for people in very different financial situations?

Zainab: Since no one is genetically the same, how can a one-diet-fits-all approach fit individuals who have a unique body chemistry? People only tend to lose weight once their body adapts to the right mix of macro-nutritents suited for their body.

To me, this approach is quite sustainable since I have been doing it for the last 6 years. In the beginning, everyone needs more attention but gradually when they understand the process, I am only there as a guiding force for them. This change in how much I am needed helps me manage my clientele well and deliver on my promises.

I strongly believe I am quite affordable, considering I have witnessed 100% of my clients achieve their weight loss goals. When people realize that the money spent on their health has yielded the right results through my plan, they inevitably end up spending a lot less than they would have spent on fad diets and plans that donotdeliver real results.

Asma: Can you speak more on the role of exercise? Weve all heard it before: losing weight is 90% diet and 10% exercise. But many people ignore that and do the opposite, exercising vigorously and then eating whatever they want. Why is this a bad approach?

Zainab:Well,in my opinion, both diet and exercise go hand-in-hand. Healthy diet is important to lose weight on the scale whereas exercise is very critical in sculpting your body shape post-weight loss. So many women do diets and lose weight, but even after losing about 10 kg of weight, their fat is still hanging around their bodies. On the other hand, those who do exercise with diet successfully drop their dress sizes as well as their weight on the scale and look more sculpted.

Having said that, this 10% of exercise should be based upon the right approach,otherwise your body suffers. So if you are eating right and exercising incorrectly (or vice versa), the whole combination will turn out to be a disaster for you. Killing yourself in the gym doesn’t serve any good. Taking off a day or two in a week gives the body time to recover from the stress of exercise. I have seen so many people working out vigorously and then stuffing their faces with junk food. Intense workouts won’t make you lose weight. Low to moderate intensity exercise is recommended for fat loss for those who struggle with activity due to body weight. This level of exercise is also achievable for most of us regardless of our body shape or our level of fitness. Exercising at this level also means that most of us are able to sustain our workouts for longer.

Breathing is also very important in oxidizing fat, so incorporate proper breathing in your workouts and you will see a remarkable difference in your body shape.

Asma: And finally, a basic question in Part 1, you used the term balanced nutritionin contrast to diets that exclude an entire food group. Can you expand on that a bit and explain more about what you mean by balanced nutrition?

Zainab:All the elimination diets always land you in the phase of  “Weight Cycling”. Weight cycling is the cycle of losing weight and then gaining weight.Fad diets often make false or even outrageous claims about the amount of weight that can be lost and the time in which the loss can be achieved. Many offer unsound nutritional and dietary advice; others incorporate the use of substances that may have sideeffects.

By Balanced Nutrition, I mean a diet that:

  • Encourages a variety of foods and food groups at each meal.
  • Covers the individual’s caloric needs each day and generally involves no fewer 
than 1200 calories per day.
  • Ensures adequate protein is taken in at each main meal.
  • Provides adequate sources of healthy fats (20-30% of total calories should come 
from fat).
  • Ensures adequate quality carbohydrates and fiber to provide energy and satiety.
  • Offers whole, unprocessed foods, especially grains, fruit and vegetables.
  • Promotes permanent lifestyle changes through a change of habits.

Many weight loss programs provide unqualified dietary counseling, often via salespeople. Even with appropriate training, the conflict of interest can stand in the way of an objective evaluation and program. Generally, all of the elimination diets focus on the short-term goal of weight loss but if you have a long-term goal in mind (that is, maintaining the lost weight) than what you’re really looking for is not weight loss by a lifestyle change.

A diet shouldn’t put you in a state of distress mentally. I only limit intake of certain food groups for people with particular medical conditions such as food allergies, high cholesterol, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, hypothyroid, etc. Having said that, I believe that there is substitute for every food I eliminate.

Education alone is not enough to instigate permanent lifestyle change; behavior modification appears to be the central issue.

In sum, eating plans should meet nutritional and psychological needs. Physical activity should be specific to the needs of the individual and should be well-planned. Emotional support should come from as many areas as possible, personal and professional.

Part of the empowerment of an individual seeking to be free from any obstacle is their ability to solve their own problems. Empowering clients does not involve giving them answers, rather it involves guiding them to find answers to their issues themselves.

If you have questions for Zainab, please send them to altM at We will feature them in our next Q/A with her.

If you’d like to reach out to Zainab, you can find her on WhatsApp at +971 52 986 5868 or via email at


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