Mugdha Pradhan describes herself as a ‘skinny child’ growing up. Raised by a mother who was a nurse, they always had nutritious farm fresh food at their house in Whitefield, Bengaluru, which was a village in the 80s. They hardly ate bread or junk food, and Mugdha’s introduction to aerated drinks and instant noodles only began when she moved to college to pursue her graduation.
To fit in, she started eating junk. But it wasn’t until after 2010, when she started working, that she started to gain weight. “In college, I started having hyperstimulation junk food, but that didn’t impact my weight so much,” she says.
“When I got married and moved cities and countries with my then-husband, I was working as an HR manager. But trying to be the perfect wife, daughter, daughter-in-law, and employee, I lost track of who I was,” says 44-year-old Mugdha.
When her personal life started crumbling, and she wasn’t happy, she says she started using food as a coping mechanism. She says she was in a bad marriage, and their move to Toronto, Canada, increased a sense of isolation.
“Pre-pregnancy itself, I was in a bad shape, mentally and physically. After giving birth to my daughter, I was diagnosed with clinical depression and put on anti-depressants. I was having food to numb myself. I weighed 97 kg, was pre-diabetic, depressed, with suicidal thoughts, and had an auto-immune condition called Hashimoto’s disease,” adds Mugdha.
A wake-up call
It was one fine day towards the end of 2016, that Mugdha reached her breaking point.
“It all slowly kept building up. The anti-depressants added to my weight woes. I was living an inauthentic life in a bad marriage. One fine day, my soul screamed from the inside, and I asked myself what I was doing. That was the day everything changed for me. That was my wake-up call,” says Mugdha.
She moved back to India in 2017 and started working on herself. She says she initially went to a few doctors but nothing seemed to work for her. She was not losing weight, her energy levels remained low and her mental health also showed no signs of improving.
She was at such a low point on one particular day when she just had Rs 300, and had to feed her daughter too. She had to borrow money from friends. She describes this time as the low point of her emotional, physical and financial self.
She realised that she had to do something and fast.
Having studied nutrition, Mugdha started reading up and delved into research to help herself. “I had a Master’s degree in nutrition but worked as an HR rep in startups for almost 14 years. When I consulted doctors, I didn’t lose weight and saw no difference. Also, the nutrition I studied in 2001 was not helping me in 2017. As I was researching, I learnt about this field called functional medicine,” says Mugdha.
She dived head first into functional medicine and consumed every book, video and podcast she could lay her hands on. Functional medicine works on identifying and treating the root cause of a disease – which is exactly what Mugdha did for herself.
She ran a series of blood tests and found out that she had several deficiencies, like iron, Vitamin D, zinc, B-complex, protein, inflammation in the body, insulin resistance, liver enzymes elevated, and Hashimoto’s disease, where the immune system attacks the thyroid gland.
Once she found out the root cause, she started treating these problems. She started controlling her food, added supplements for her deficiencies, cut out sugar, gluten and dairy to help her inflammations and found that her weight automatically reduced as a result.
Although it would take a year for her to fully lose the extra weight, she says, “I found out that when you fix the root cause, the symptom (weight gain in my case) resolves itself.”
She adds, “My skin and my hair started growing. My mood improved, energy levels were better. I also worked on my mental health, and got into spirituality and meditation.”
When she started sharing her transformation pictures on Facebook in 2017, her friends and family started contacting her asking for help. She asked them to get a few blood tests done and relied on resolving the root causes, and to her surprise, it worked for them too.
That’s when she wanted to take this up full-time. In July 2017, she enrolled four clients. At the same time, she was also getting better, mentally, physically and emotionally.
Finding your true purpose in life
She started living for herself and doing things she liked. Since she liked travelling, she packed two bags, and travelled across the country, going to Uttarakhand, Dharamshala, Goa, Pune, Mumbai, and even Toronto.
For two years, from 2017-2019, she lived the life of a nomad and was extremely strict with her diet too.
“As I was working on my mental health, I experimented with not having a phone for some time and living a simple life. I only carried two bags, with all my possessions, and worked out of all these different places. I would book bed and breakfasts in most places so that I could cook my own food. Even If I ate outside, I went to restaurants that would serve food as per my dietary requirements,” says Mugdha.
By 2018, she had lost 37 kg. From 97 kg in 2017, she weighed 60 kg
Even as her methods of treatment worked, she still hadn’t registered a company and was only helping people through word of mouth. But things changed in December 2018 with one client who turned out to be an investor.
“He saw how scientific and saleable my way of healing was. I have a dream of healing 10 lakh people. He got me thinking about how would I do that without creating a company and getting investors on board,” says Mugdha.
She then registered iTHRIVE in June 2019 in Pune and received her first round of funding. Since then, the company has grown and runs three verticals – disease reversal, an academy of functional medicine and their supplements brand. They have 45 employees and are looking to raise a second round of investment now.
Their USP, according to Mugdha, is that they have ‘built a community’ and their nutritionists are always available for the clients.
“A doctor sees you only for 5 minutes. We also offer real-time responses for 90 days. We teach sustainable, holistic methods that are useful or the long term, and don’t rely on short-term results,” says Mugdha.
They’ve treated over 2,000 people with over 150 different conditions so far while 70 per cent of the clients have diabetes, high blood pressure, reproductive health problems like PCOS, weight, thyroid, and Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Ankita, a client of iTHRIVE, says, “My friend referred me to iTHRIVE as I had diabetes and PCOS, amongst other deficiencies. They discovered my problems first through blood tests. By helping me regulate my sugar and PCOS, I have lost weight. My acne is also better. I saw a difference in my mental and physical health, as I was unhappy because of the way I looked. They teach you to eat without guilt also, which I found refreshing.”
What’s eating without guilt? Mugdha explains that if you feel like eating chocolate, you should eat it.
There are two approaches – one fills you with guilt while the other empowers you.
“From 2017-2019, I did not deviate from my diet. I had no ‘cheat’ days, which I don’t believe in anyway. It was like a second life for me. I was not going to ruin it by filling myself with food. However, the lockdown in 2020 affected me, like everyone else. My daughter was in Toronto and I didn’t know when I would see her again. I allowed myself to eat something if I felt like it. I had a pizza one day, a cake another. Nothing happened. That’s what we teach people. Deviate, and see what happens. Don’t feel guilty for having chocolate. Enjoy it. It’s empowering,” says Mugdha.
While she has a team of nutritionists to help her clients, she is focusing on helping people with their mental health. She started ‘Embracing the Human Experience’ to help clients deal with mental and emotional problems.
Mugdha also wants to share a message with people, who might be in a position she was in 6 years ago.
She says we must respect our body, it’s not about our weight.
“We get one body. It is our only partner from birth to death and allows us to experience everything. Treat it like a bank account. You can either keep making withdrawals in terms of your health, or you can make deposits. The most important time is your 20s and 30s when most of us make withdrawals by late nights, smoking and drinking. Your body will give you a bill with interest later. It’s good to make deposits so that when you’re 70, you’re not living in debt, by being dependent on anybody,” says Mugdha.
She adds, “I have dealt with so many complex emotions in life. I experienced absolute grief when my mother passed away in 2014 due to medical negligence. I experienced separation from my daughter, as my ex-husband got her custody because I couldn’t afford a lawyer at that time. I have seen trauma and betrayal. It’s in healing people that I find my joy. I have nothing else to do in this world.”
Edited by Yoshita Rao