The inspiration behind the The Fitness Project 2018 by Rujuta Diwekar is simple but compelling: “eat local, think global.” Rujuta Diwekar, who is a nutritionist based in Mumbai, India piloted the 12-week fitness project which features weekly cumulative guidelines. The project kicked off at the start of 2018 and continued until the end of March. More than 125,000 participants from over 40 countries registered. Throughout the process, Diwekar encouraged participants to “move beyond the carbs-protein-fat-calories narrative” and, instead, approach diet holistically and contextually. The initiative not only produced lasting effects for Diwekar and her team but she believes it showcases the importance of approaching nutrition in a way that integrates accessibility, cultural relevance, and environmental sustainability in addressing diet and health worldwide.
The 12-week guidelines fall into three categories: food and eating, physical activity, and lifestyle. Food and eating-related guidelines suggest a “daily incorporation of local, seasonal, diverse, and traditional foods and food practices, as well as the reduction of packaged, processed, and non-native foods.” For physical activity, Diwekar and her team outline the use of culturally relevant exercise to counter noncommunicable diseases. Guideline nine, for example, recommends the incorporation of a daily Surya Namaskar practice (sun salutation asana sequence) for strengthening and regulating the endocrine system. Lastly, the project’s lifestyle guidelines center around the regulation of gadget use and the reduction of plastics. These habit focused guidelines help to broaden the definition of health, reduce energy use and waste, and bridge the divide between health and the environment.
Shaped by the principle to “eat local and think global,” Diwekar believes tradition, heritage, and family share inextricable ties with eating and locality. “As a multicultural, diverse nation, it won’t be an exaggeration to say that we have at least a 1,000 different methods to just cook lentils and rice—our staples. There is a storehouse of genetically compliant food and health knowledge in each household, passed down from generations. What to eat for different seasons, reasons, and occasions. This is the food wisdom of our culture,” Diwekar tells Food Tank.
Incorporating culturally-specific food wisdom, Diwekar believes, is key to future global health policy. Placing traditional methods of cooking and eating at the forefront offers a bridge between social development and environmental sustainability. The guidelines, developed using food systems theory, are good for the body, the environment, and the local economy. “In a way it is impossible to dream of good health without building sustainable practices of growing and consuming food. The [Dietary Guidelines for the Brazilian Population 2014] and now [Canada’s Dietary Guidelines] too, reiterate what every human being always knew—uncomplicated eating, traditional foods are good for people, stay away from processed foods and make activity and exercise a part of your life,” says Diwekar.
With the themes to guide them, each person progressed through the fitness project by tracking their health and waist measurement weekly. “Participants self-rated their score on six metabolic health parameters: energy levels during the day, sleep quality at night, sweet cravings after meals, acidity/bloating/indigestion, exercise compliance, and PMS/period pain,” Diwekar explains to Food Tank. By the end, participants reported a significant improvement (40–65 percent on average) and more than 80 percent lost at least an inch from their waists. Encouragingly, Diwekar and her team also reported that, “the easy and sensible nature of the guidelines also ensured that even after one full year, most of the participants (more than 90 percent) continue to inculcate them in their daily lives.”