Change is the only constant, as it is said. In our lifetime we make a lot of changes – to our jobs, to our choices of cities to live in, to our family status, education and otherwise. But what it does it mean to make a life-altering change to YOURSELF? Because when you think about it, all these other aspects will come and go, and who are you left with to rely on ultimately but your own sense of self? I don’t know of too many people personally who have managed to do that, but then I met Chitra Rochlani. Down-to-earth, filled with an understated, no-nonsense determination and loads of persistence, she is truly the epitome of the oft-used word, transformation. This is my interview with her.
AM: Tell us a little about your background – academic and otherwise?
CR: I was born in India, raised in Dubai and currently live in New Jersey with my husband, 2 boys and a fur-baby girl. I went to school in Dubai, then went to Mumbai, India for college and have lived in the U.S. for almost 20 years now.
AM: What was your experience from being in banking to photography and how did that come about?
CR: Citibank was my first job out of college, I met a lot of great people and got a glimpse into the corporate world. When I moved to the U.S. I was stuck home on a spousal visa for 2.5 years. Being home and not being able to work was hard but I kept myself busy by going to the gym/ library and studying photography for fun. I still remember the day I got my work permit, I looked up the classifieds and found my first job doing children’s portraits. I started the job the very next day.
AM: What do you love most about being a photographer? How did you train yourself to be one?
CR: My favorite part is the moment when people start to relax and be comfortable in front of the camera and their natural smiles start to appear. I took a few courses in college for fun and also did a photography course with the New York Institute of Photography when I moved here. But most of my learning has come from reading books, practicing with my camera and just being the unofficial photographer wherever I went.
AM: I know this is not your most important journey in life however. Would you like to introduce to us what was your biggest struggle in the past?
CR: I feel extremely blessed to have found not one, but two passions in life: Photography was my first love, but then I fell into a second and equally, if not more, passionate cause. Being a fitness coach was NEVER something I dreamed about or even remotely considered, but I believe the universe had different plans for me. I struggled with every aspect of weight gain/loss through my life and in hindsight I can see that every experience helped me become a better coach. So now I always tell people, pay attention to your biggest struggle. Often times, that has the potential of becoming your biggest strength.
AM: Talk to us about your struggles with losing weight. Everyone likes to hear a fairytale ending, but what about all those failed attempts and frustrations?
CR: It is not easy being overweight in a world that glorifies size “00” bodies. The majority of overweight people are filling a void in their lives with food. We self-medicate with food, sometimes to the point of numbness, because food provides instant comfort, instant pleasure, it is a quick fix and makes us feel good right away. It is practically a drug. And there’s no hiding from it- it is everywhere. We celebrate with food, we mourn with food, there’s a lot of emotions and feelings attached to food.
I think I made a new year resolution to lose weight every year. I tried every diet and gym anyone ever recommended to me. I’ve been on the GM diet, Weight Watchers, Atkins, South beach, watermelon diet, starvation diets. I tried aerobics, spin, dance, yoga, gyms. Some of them worked temporarily, others were a complete failure. But each time the one thing in common was that the weight ALWAYS came back.
So I’m very familiar with the struggle, the shame and guilt, the yo-yo effect of getting on the wagon and feeling elated with the results, only to fall off the wagon and feeling frustrated again. Each attempt made me more frustrated until I got to the point where I decided I would not try any more diets. I was DONE. Today I tell my clients, if you’re “sick and tired” of being “sick and tired”, then you are at the best place in your journey, because you are ready for change. That said, I am so grateful for my struggle, because it makes me a more compassionate coach and helps me understand my clients better.
AM: How did this amazing transformation finally come about? Who or what would you credit this to, besides yourself of course?
CR: I believe that everything happens for a reason. I gained weight for a reason, I struggled with it for a reason. And I found my way out of it for a reason. I went through my struggles and reached a point of complete frustration. I decided to give up on trying anymore fad diets or programs. I decided I was just going to try and eat as healthy as I could and continue to workout.
But then a friend recommended a program to lose 15 lbs in 30 days and if you did it, you’d get your money back. I reluctantly signed up out of sheer frustration of having nothing to wear at an upcoming New years party.
There, I met some of the most amazing, inspiring coaches who changed my life. The program focused on all my needs – the food plan was genius, it worked like a charm, the workouts were super fun and motivating, and the support was beyond anything I had ever experienced. I was no longer a number at a gym, but I became part of a fit family. I got to meet several others who were struggling with similar issues and had similar goals.
But you know that saying, when the student is ready the teacher appears. Credit goes to my mentor and coach Joe Pappalardo. He has always been a source of positivity/ inspiration for me. He constantly empowered me to believe in myself and encouraged my efforts every single day. He pushed me past my limits in every training session and that made me see my own strengths in a way I had never seen before. He took the time to help me understand that I deserved to look and feel good in my skin. He not only helped me work on my body but my mindset as well.
AM: And when you got there, were you able to finally breathe a sigh of relief and enjoy the moment? Or was it not quite the case?
CR: I definitely enjoyed watching my body get leaner, stronger and breaking physical barriers every day. I loved doing things I never thought possible. But I struggled with the attention that came from losing all that weight. Everywhere I went, people immediately saw the change and wanted to know how I had achieved my weight loss. It made me a little uncomfortable because even though it felt different this time, the fear of going back was still huge in my head. I think in my head I was still the overweight girl. I read somewhere that it takes people 1 year to mentally catch up for every 25 lbs they lose. I had lost 80 lbs in less than a year, so clearly I had a lot of catching up to do. It took a while before I felt comfortable in my new body and stopped worrying about going back to the “old me”.
AM: Many people turn to food for comfort. What is your take on emotional or binge eating?
CR: I think if we only ate when we are hungry, nobody would be overweight. Unfortunately food is a very commonly available drug. It provides instant comfort and is one of the easiest ways to light up the pleasure centers in our brain. Humans are designed to seek comfort, and binge eating or emotional eating is just another response to our need for comfort and pleasure. And of course, unlike the stigma of smoking, drugs or alcohol, food addiction is easier to deal with and much easier to hide because food is everywhere.
AM: You are a full-time fitness coach now! What are your days like, and who are your typical clientele?
CR: Yes I AM! How crazy is that? Lol.
I spend most of my day working with my one-on-one clients or teaching boxing bootcamps. I also run online support groups for the fitness challenges we run at the gym. My clients are typically people trying to improve their overall health, some are trying to lose weight, others are looking to put on some lean muscle, and yet others have specific goals like wanting to run a 5k or do an obstacle course. The common thread is that they are all trying to become better versions of themselves. My favorite thing is watching them break barriers every session and help them see the progress they make every month.
AM: Where do you work, and what kind of fitness programs do you focus on?
CR: I am blessed to do what I love on a day to day basis. I work at Xcel Precision Training, based out of Powerhouse Fitness Center in Whippany, NJ and spend most of my time working one-on-one with my personal training clients. I love teaching group fitness classes, currently I teach a boxing bootcamp twice a week. My approach to fitness is 3 fold- I focus on educating my clients on eating clean wholesome foods, strengthening their body using correct form, posture and breathing and of course their mindset – which I believe is the number one factor that helps with lasting success.
AM: It is very easy to give people advise on how to exercise and eat right. How do you deal with the resignation in the mind though, of a person who has tried it all and failed?
CR: Agreed. Everyone and their cousin can lecture you on how to lose weight and get fit.
If someone has tried everything and failed, I’d ask them what have they tried and why they think they have failed. If you think about it, weight loss is not rocket science. There are many proven ways of achieving weight loss and many people have done it before us. It’s not like global warming or gun violence where we don’t know how to solve these problems.
While diet or exercise can help you get quick results, lasting change requires a little bit more. It requires a shift in mindset, developing new habits and learning what works for you personally.
For example, if you told me juicing or intermittent fasting was the way to weight loss for me, I would never make it. Simply because I love to EAT my food. I cannot survive on juices to save my life. And fasting is beyond consideration for me. But either of these may work perfectly for others. I LOVE to workout, while others may hate the idea of being inside a gym. Some people love to do yoga, others have no patience for it. The bottom line is that most people follow the “herd” and don’t realize that what works for some, may not work for them. Then they end up frustrated. Think about your life situation, your schedule, your stress factors, your family, your responsibilities and then find a qualified coach who can help you find what’s best for you. I think that is the question that most fitness coaches are NOT asking their clients. That’s why I always say: “Win the mind, win the body”. The battle is between the “old” you and the “new” you, not between which programs will produce the best results.
AM: Do you think people view you differently now? How and why?
CR: I’m blessed with good friends and family who have always been loving and supportive. But I think when people hear my story, it inspires them to do better. That in turn, feeds my focus and makes me work hard to stay in shape and keep learning more about my field, so that I can impart the right knowledge to my clients.
AM: Is fat-shaming prevalent in society at large? What do you think we as women can do to bring about a shift in the mindset?
CR: I think women tend to shame each other for being too fat, too thin, too dark, too light, too tall, too short, too loud, too timid, etc. I don’t think we need men or the rest of society to do that, we do it to ourselves. And so I think the change needs to come from us women. We need to embrace ourselves first, and then embrace each other AS WE ARE. The key to feeling less threatened by each other is to fill up our own cups with self-care and self-love first; we need to stop putting our mental and physical health on the back burner. Think of it like this: when your cup is filled, you’re bringing a better, happier version of yourself to every relationship you have, whether it is at the gym, your work, your family or in any social setting.
Also, can you imagine all the companies that would go out of business if only women fell in love with their bodies and stopped trying to achieve an idea of perfection dictated to us by magazines and social media? We go to great lengths to look like the girl in the magazine, but even the girl in the magazine doesn’t look like the girl in the magazine in real life. It usually takes hours of effort by a village of people to make her get to the final stage.
AM: Who are your biggest supporters? And your mentors, in fitness and otherwise? Do you think you can be a mentor to someone seeking help?
CR: My biggest supporters are my family: my husband and my 2 boys. They have cheered me on since day one and I know they will always be there for me. And then my coaches who I can always turn to for guidance, my fit family and my girlfriends who always have my back, my mom-preneur friends who encourage me to reach for more and my clients who inspire me with their hard work and dedication every single day. I am truly blessed to have so much support around me.
As a fitness coach, I definitely find myself in a position of influencing both adults and kids and I take that responsibility very seriously especially since there is so much misinformation out there in my industry. I am blessed to have a great team of coaches around me who have been doing this much longer than me and I love learning from their experience as well as furthering my education.
AM: What else are you working on at present?
CR: As a passionate fit warrior, I am always looking for ways to make an impact and help as many people as I can. I recently got my nutrition coaching certificate and am taking on clients who need nutritional guidance and accountability even if they cannot come work with me due to distance or schedule conflicts. I love doing kids workshops and feel very strongly about empowering boys and girls to love themselves and their body, no matter what size or shape they are in. The earlier we can teach them self-care the better it is. I’m also collaborating with some fellow mompreneurs to create workshops on health and wellness. It’s been an amazing journey so far and I’m excited to see where it takes me. You can learn more about future events by following my FB page at https://www.facebook.com/FitWarriorChit/
AM: What are your future plans as regards fitness and photography, since you are equally involved in both?
CR: I love photography, its a creative outlet for me and would love to combine it with health and wellness if I can. One of my dreams is to create a photo gallery of inspiring women in the fitness world. Not just bodybuilders or fitness enthusiasts, but everyday men and women who have overcome the odds and can inspire the average person to take a chance on their dreams and push past the limits that hold them back. I would love to photograph them and showcase their stories in a photo gallery or in a coffee table book.
I’m also working on an idea for a kids cookbook inspired by my little guy’s love for food and my desire to find healthier options for him. This would be another opportunity to tie in my photography and wellness work together.
Thank you Anu for creating a platform like this. I’m inspired by all the amazing women you have interviewed and honored to be a part of this amazing group.
No, thank YOU Chitra, for sharing your amazing life-transforming journey with us. You are truly inspirational and we wish you loads of success as you do the same for others!