By Binjal Shah
This “virtual nutritionist” prescribes diets that include everything from chaat to pasta, meant for everyone from ‘deskies’ to travellers – tailor-made for the needs of the new-age Indian
For every internet crime perpetrated against women or every faceless internet user spewing hate speech – the internet also has beamingly positive stories of women-run communities in the form of various groups and forums on social media sites, where people from all over the world bare their souls and talk to each other on problems ranging from body-image issues to PTSD.
Right from legitimate solutions to simply solidarity, support and a few encouraging words – these symbiotic “safe spaces” have been the watershed, turning points in the lives of many.
Khyati Rupani – once the youngest ever chief nutritionist in a major hospital in India, stumbled upon one such forum when she was battling weight-gain, post pregnancy.
As she offered informed opinions and unbiased advice, the community, in turn, gave her the necessary groundwork for a flourishing business. Today, as she spearheads a 55-member team and works with a client base of 10,000, she tells us how it all began.
Khyati wanted to become a doctor. But when her CET scores only got her through colleges in remote areas for MBBS – it was a hard no from her family. So, she decided to reappear for the exams the following year and with a year at hand to kill, she signed up for a BSc in Nutrition. After that, she never looked back. “I liked it so much that I decided to pursue my career in Nutrition and Clinical Dietetics. Having the aptitude for medicine, I found Nutrition very easy and excelled at it,” she recollects.
As is the case for any medical aspirant in Mumbai, she also hoped to work at the Lilavati hospital. At the age of 23, she had not only cracked her dream job but also performed exceedingly well – enough to be appointed as chief dietician – the youngest in India. She also worked in senior positions at various institutes gaining rich experience in weight loss and clinical dietetics.
“In India, it is mostly women who opt for being nutritionists and dietitians, so, the field is rife with opportunity for you, and you can grow exponentially like me as well if you if you are smart and ambitious,” says Khyati.
However, while her career thrived, she was diagnosed with PCOS and the hormonal imbalances led her to gain substantial weight. The tables thus turned, and she found herself in the shoes of the many clients she had counselled. “While battling my cravings, I understood the practical issues a person goes through during weight loss. I was told to lose weight to be able to conceive naturally too,” she recalls.
Compelled to create a scientifically-sound diet that would also allow her some leeway, she crafted her own cheats, incorporated rules to be able to eat meals at restaurants even, and arrived at a safe proportion of alcohol intake. Following that diet religiously, she successfully lost weight and delivered a healthy baby girl.
Fork in the road
As a working professional who was at home for the very first time due to her maternity break, she started getting restless and would spend time on Google and Facebook to read and stay connected to her subject of interest. It was then that she stumbled upon communities of mothers who had weight issues post pregnancy.
She started using Facebook and other social media, joined groups, and spoke to struggling mothers to keep up the momentum and swap notes. All the women who took her advice wrote back to her with positive reviews.
One Indian woman who was based in Singapore, in fact, asked Khyati if she could help her professionally because she was unable to find an Indian nutritionist in her city. “I made a basic assessment on a document and sent her a diet plan, what she could eat when out and even sent her a weight tracker online. I started getting many similar requests thereafter and therefore decided to make a website,” she says.
In six months, she had more than 150 clients for that diet programme – and that was all the validation she needed to turn it into a full-blown entrepreneurial venture. She made the Balance Nutrition Facebook page in December 2013 and the immense traction on it eventually led to the birth of balancenutrition.in and in August 2014.
While chalking out her offerings, she observed that a lot of the women she consulted with were either geographically separated, or had time constraints due to their professional commitments. Moreover, it was highly unfeasible for executives to follow a textbook diet-chart, and needed a slightly more practical diet plan. Thus, she crafted balancenutrition.in with certain key differences in its model.
For starters, she began emailing the nutritional assessment sheet and diet plans to her clients, rather than calling them in for sessions. “Unlike other clinics, you didn’t have to travel, wait in long queues or take prior appointments, our nutritionists are always available to answer all your queries over email and calls,” she explains.
Secondly, since no executive could realistically avoid meals outside, she researched the various dishes that were relatively safe to consume at restaurants, spanning roughly 36 cuisines – from chaat to fining dining. These food guides could also be adapted to suit the needs of frequent travellers.
A business like a community
By January 2015, she decided to build a team and took up office space in Mumbai for her team of five, which, today, is 55-strong with departments like diet, care, tech, HR & admin, and social media marketing. Its client base, in turn, spans 10000 members across 65 cities all around the world.
In November 2016, she also opened her first retail franchise in Rajkot called Balance Nutrition EX2.
“Luckily, our field is gender specific in India and we, therefore, have only women nutritionists. The only challenges were to bust the myths that people have around the word diet and to build a competent team. We overcame the latter by offering a training programme to all our recruits,” she states.
Bootstrapped since inception, it has also been profitable since day one because Khyati already had 150 followers when she decided to turn the page into a business.
“We are looking at raising our first round in 2018 as we intend to invest heavily in developing our web and mobile-based platforms,” she states.
She is rolling out two different products to cater to different needs, namely pregnancy and child nutrition programme. Her corporate wellness division will encompass menu planning and cafeteria management consultancy services, and will even be partnering with gyms to provide consultation to their members.