Fitness expert Ramona Braganza is an accomplished author and retreat leader. Her clients include Scarlett Johansson, Zac Efron, Eva Mendez, Ryan Reynolds and Liam Neeson, but she has a special message for Indians and Indian Americans. (photo courtesy Ramona Braganza)

SAN LEANDRO, Calif. — Fitness guru Ramona Braganza made her name training celebrities such as Jessica Alba, Scarlett Johansson, Eva Mendez, Zac Efron, Ryan Reynolds, Liam Neeson and Halle Berry to reach peak fitness in films.

But Braganza, a Canadian fitness expert and entrepreneur of Indian descent, is just as dedicated to helping everyday Indians and South Asians take better care of themselves.

“Everything, to me, begins in your mind. We are all created equally. We all have a chance at life to decide to do something or not to do something,” she says in a video on her Web site.

She has been a competitive gymnast, an NFL cheerleader, a fitness contestant, a model and a wellness coach, and says that her true passion is “guiding all walks of people toward a better life – body, mind and spirit.”

In an e-mail interview with India-West, Braganza described her work in India and how it fits in with the material in her book, “Feel Fit Look Fantastic in 3-2-1” (HarperCollins).

Q: Indians and South Asians tend to gain weight around the middle, due to genetic reasons, and I wonder if you can share a couple of diet or exercise tips targeted just to them.

A: As someone who is from South Asian descent, I am familiar with this problem and address it extensively in my new book, “Feel Fit Look Fantastic in 3-2-1,” written specifically with the Indian body type in mind. Here are a few quick diet and exercise tips to target this area:

• Reduce your starchy carbohydrates. Cut rice portion sizes in half, and, if you can, try to switch to brown rice instead.

• Keep breads such as roti, naan, etc., to breakfast or lunch, and skip it at dinner.

• Increase protein sources: eat more chicken and fish if you’re non-veg, and, if you’re veg, add more beans, like dal, or dairy like paneer or yogurt, or maybe some soy products to your meal plan.

• Drink more water, and, instead of drinking juice, eat the fresh fruit. It will have more fiber and less sugar.

• Drink low-fat milk, and eat low-fat milk products.

• A few times a week, eat vegetables steamed to get the maximum fiber and vitamin benefits.

• In general, cut down portion sizes on your plate, eat healthy snacks between meals, and don’t eat later than 8 p.m.

• When it comes to exercise, get moving whenever you can. Walk faster, like you’re late for an appointment. Set time for a gym visit at least 3 times a week, and do strength training. Try swimming laps, or join a group fitness class for cardio — things like Zumba or Bollywood dance are great, as is martial arts.

Q: You speak eloquently in a video on your site about how we make a choice in our actions. What do you say to the person reading this article who thinks they don’t have the time or energy to work out?

A: We all need to make time to exercise if we want to live a quality life. When we are older, our genes demand it. Many of us are eating like our parents ate, with large portion sizes, but we are not exercising like our parents did, such as walking, physical labor or even just household chores. We are more sedentary, in front of computers or the TV.

Not having time now to get active will only translate to reduced years on this planet, or living with disease. Consider it necessary, like brushing your teeth; reduce your time on the computer or watching TV by 20 minutes, and get moving instead.

Q: As a female entrepreneur, how did you feel inspiring so many Indian women on this last visit to India?

A: I get very excited knowing I can open the eyes and maybe doors for women in India. It has become a passion of mine, and I return several times a year. It’s not only women — I am happy when I hear from men asking me advice on exercise and eating right. In addition, the project I am doing with young ladies with an NGO is something very exciting that can help many young girls from many countries find fitness and a job.

Q: Some of us “laypeople” suspect (tongue in cheek) that your clients like Jessica Alba or Scarlett Johansson are just different from us on a molecular level! Can you share some down to earth info about what challenges any one of your celebrity clients have overcome?

A: The biggest challenge for Jessica Alba and Halle Berry and Ashley Simpson was getting their post baby bodies back after their first children were born. I was there helping all three new moms achieve this.

It was tough for them, as it is for all new moms. Having to get up early to train, while not having sleep, or having crying babies to deal with, just like any new mom, was challenging. Feeling heavy and out of shape was something they had to handle as well. But they did.

I think the unique quality that actors possess is their tenacity and their ability to focus on a goal. It is something we can all practice doing; it is not something that they possess on a molecular level. Athletes, too, can hone in on this quality. If we practice, we, too, can achieve what they do. I believe it, and I have seen it.

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