When a young Zoha Matin fell in love with all things healthy, she never imagined that it would develop into a career as one of Pakistan’s foremost nutritionists “I wasn’t influenced by anyone around me” she says, when recounting her teenage foray into healthy eating, “it was just something in me.” She caught the health and fitness bug in her tender, high-school years, and it followed her all the way to her undergraduate studies.
Initially pursuing a degree in biology at the University of Toronto, Zoha made the switch to nutrition when a single elective course rekindled an old flame. Soon, she switched to the famed dietetics program at Western University. Two degrees later (she went on to pursue a masters’ degree at McGill University) she not only has a wealth of experience, but also finds herself at the helm of the Pakistan’s movement towards sensible health.
A Leap of Faith
When you look over Zoha’s retinue of celebrity clients, and impressive social media following, you wouldn’t think that her foray into Pakistan’s health and fitness industry was unplanned.
After completing her undergraduate studies, Zoha was more than content with a career in Canadian healthcare. Over the course of a few years, Zoha had amassed a variety of experiences. She had worked under the chief of pediatrics at Humber River hospital. She worked with weight loss clinics, assisting patients who had undergone bariatric surgery. Following this, she also worked with the company Doctor Care, assisting doctors with patients who needed nutritional advice.
What this meant, was that after she completed her graduate studies, she had amassed a resume that made her a highly qualified young professional.
Based on her qualifications, acquaintances encouraged her to capitalize on a gap in the Pakistani market. While visiting family, she was bombarded by well-wishers, who insisted that, “there’s no one with as much education as you here (in Pakistan).”
Emboldened by their confidence in her, Zoha decided to take the plunge. And, to say that it paid off, would be a ludicrous understatement.
The Fire Starter
“I feel like I moved here at a really good time,” she says, highlighting that Pakistani health and fitness, albeit a growing industry is still in its very, very early stages.
She moved back to her home country approximately two years ago and launched a nutritional counselling business. Since then, it has been a meteoric rise for the young nutritionist. Apart from working with popular Pakistani celebrities like Naveen Waqar and Ayesha Omar, she has also collaborated with the likes of Daraz, and local digital media mainstay, Mashion.
What makes this journey even more impressive is that it was quite organic. There was no PR company waving its magic wand, and Zoha was able to stockpile a loyal following just by appealing to her audience’s common sense.
An avid believer in sustainable, long-term changes, Zoha found herself at odds with longstanding, and often dangerous fitness advice.
“In Pakistan,” she explains, “healthy eating was not as much of a thing; it was all about dieting,” with the word ‘dieting’ being synonymous with a short-term, restrictive eating plan that would lead to rapid weight loss. Simultaneously, the idea that weight loss could be achieved in an enjoyable way was also an anomaly. As Zoha explains, “people used to relate losing weight to eating boiled chicken, boiled vegetables and eating really unappetizing foods.” In contrast, Zoha was advocating for long-term healthy eating, and lifestyle changes that would improve her client’s overall health. She was also sharing incredibly nutritious, and assuredly delicious recipes.
Given the bland state of affairs, it wasn’t surprising that Zoha’s sensible advice, and tasty, healthy recipes struck a chord.
A Plugged In Clientele
Zoha was careful to highlight the ethos of her argument from the onset. In fact, she highlighted even before her business had an onset.
As soon as she moved back, she initiated her blog. Its focus on carefully curated, educational content helped her draw the attention of Pakistan’s burgeoning health aficionados. It also became an efficient marketing tool. “That’s how I got most of my first clients,” she admits.
As a business owner, she was quick to understand and appreciate the potential of a well thought out social media presence. “Everyone is online,” she says, emphatically, “any business owner, any independent contractor who has a message to give health wise, they need to be online for people to know who they are.”
Combined with her affable demeanor, Zoha’s carefully curated and thoughtful social presence meant that she was a magnet for media collaborations. She drew the attention of local television channels, media sites, and even food companies. And her message to budding entrepreneurs is to embrace the trend, emphasizing that, “your exposure increases when you’re online, so it just makes sense.”
Zoha On Popular Diets
Now, it would be a missed opportunity if we spoke to Zoha, and didn’t get her to weigh in on popular fads. As someone who simultaneously influences others, but is also vary of the negative consequences of ‘influencer culture’, she insists that educating oneself is key. “Always do your own research,” she suggests when commenting on the current state of health and fitness, highlighting the importance of credible sources of information, and educated professional advice.
And, as we just got done with a decade of dietary fads; I thought that it would be fun to have Zoha comment on some of the most popular eating recommendations of our time. Here is what Zoha Matin thinks about;
“Very unsustainable, and socially excludes people from enjoying meals with their friends and family.”
“It’s good. Very restrictive, but can be helpful.”
“Very difficult to follow.”
“Very unhealthy. High in saturated fat.”
“A little hyped, but good for you.”
The Cabbage Soup Diet
“I hate any restrictive diets. It’s restrictive, unnecessary. Sounds gross.”