Mayuri Punjabi had an epiphany as she stood in front of a mirror, pinching the fat on her belly before injecting herself with a shot of medication for pre-diabetes. “This is not how I want to live the rest of my life,” the mother of two said to herself.
“I am here to thrive, not to merely survive,” the 42-year-old dietitian and life coach says about the mind shift that triggered the creation of Instagram account MyEurekaLife two years ago.
At first glance, the account looks like one of the many out there that post health- and diet-focused tips. Unlike those, however, the before and after photos of Punjabi’s satisfied clients suggest that her professional advice has made a significant difference in their lives.
One such client, Sushma Tilani, posted selfies dated January 8 and November 29, with the comment: “Working with Mayuri has changed my life permanently. We worked together for seven months and I was able to lose 33 pounds [15kg] and six inches [15cm] off my waist and hips.”
Punjabi’s clients include hundreds of Hongkongers, particularly from within the Indian community. Others live overseas, from Australia to the United States to Thailand, as she can advise and encourage her clients around the clock online or by phone. Demand for her services has grown after the coronavirus pandemic forced gyms and fitness venues to close, and social distancing measures have kept people from getting together.
Apart from her credentials – a Bachelor of Science degree in genetics and biochemistry from Queen Mary University of London and certification as a health coach through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York – Punjabi draws on her personal experience and that of her clients to understand the body’s patterns and responses.
It was her own battle of the bulge that started her on her fitness journey and prompted her to study nutrition.
“Growing up, I never gave my health any thought or considered my lifestyle choices, but I found myself 32kg overweight,” she says. She had, at 32, just given birth to her second child. She was pre-diabetic, had Hashimoto’s (an autoimmune disorder that can cause hypothyroidism), and was suffering from polycystic ovary syndrome (a hormonal disorder involving infrequent, irregular or prolonged menstrual periods).
The reflection of her pudgy self that sparked her transformation is still something etched in her mind. “It is something that I relate to in each of my clients, the moment when you are ready to make a change,” she says.
Armed with a new mindset, she leveraged her scientific background to delve deeper into the impact food had on the body and a person’s state of mind. “It led me down several other paths, such as spirituality, physical activity, relationships and an understanding that mastering our mindset is everything.”
She shed excess weight and resolved her health issues by adopting a sustainable, well-balanced lifestyle “that involves eating to nourish my body, fasting, and also indulging from time to time”.
Punjabi says she’s been called on more than ever during the pandemic. “It has definitely allowed us an opportunity to look inward, forced us to take the time to care for ourselves and prioritise our mental and physical well-being … it is as if a light has been lit across the population, that being healthy is of the utmost importance, and addressing underlying health conditions and hormonal issues is the way forward.”
She offers 12- and 24-week tailored programmes that hold out the promise of a permanent change in lifestyle that must come from within.
“I do not give my clients meal plans, nor do I implement portion control, calorie counting or macro calculating – this is not keto! Rather, I educate them on their bodies, using a holistic framework that encapsulates mind and body,” Punjabi says. “Sustainable weight loss is not only about what you consume, it’s also about how you consume it, what you consume it with, and when you consume it.
“All of this is encapsulated by the mindset of the individual. There is no one-size-fits-all approach and no ‘good versus evil’ food.”
Her plans for each individual depend not only on their weight-loss goal, but also their personality, lifestyle, underlying health conditions and long-term feasibility.
“The work that I do is based on bio-individuality – no two people end up eating the same way, as each person has their own set of unique circumstances,” Punjabi says.
Blood test reports from new clients provide helpful insights. Are they deficient in Vitamin D? Are there high inflammation levels in the body? Is there a thyroid problem, or high cholesterol levels? The answers help her suggest which foods to eat and which to eliminate, and whether to recommend a supplement.
While everyone is different, she sees similarities in that many people share a lack of self-trust and the ability to sabotage themselves.
To help clients stay on track, Punjabi is on call 24/7 and responds within minutes. “Before every meal, they message me,” she says. “I’ve had clients take a picture of a menu when they are on a date and I’ve helped them pick the appetiser and main – if not the man!”
Another commonality is the success that flows from fasting. “A majority of my programmes leverage fasting as a tool to cleanse the body and develop mind skills.
''We are all constantly reacting without thought and as a result of impulse. Fasting is essentially a training field for your mind, showing that you can choose to respond versus react, while simultaneously building willpower and discipline, that are valuable to every facet of your life.”
As her client Raveena Nathani posts on Instagram: “Living a rather active lifestyle, I always considered myself healthy. As we all know, the older you get, the harder it is to achieve your goals. So, I sought out @myeurekalife, and she has completely changed my life.
Not only have I achieved what I thought was impossible at this age, I also went above and beyond to really understand the quote ‘abs are made in the kitchen’.”
While there are many happy-to-post fans hailing her services, some clients do blame Punjabi for their failures.
“I can pinpoint two instances in my career in which their blame boiled down to making the choice to not accept guidance during the programme, and to not maintain the lifestyle after they were no longer accountable to me,” she admits.
“While this saddens me, it taught me to be more rigorous in the consultation process to ensure that clients are committed to making a difference in the quality of their lives. I learned that, as much as I want it for them, I can’t do it for them.”
Punjabi underlines the importance of self-determination. “Participating in a transformative journey requires the individual to come to the realisation themselves that there is another way to live, and to want to make this change for the betterment of their life. This desire has to come from within the person who is embarking on the journey, not another person that wants it for them.”
This article was first published in South China Morning Post.