Dr. Maya Rathod is a Gynecologist and Obstetrician based in Mumbai, India. She completed an IVF research in Australia. She is also a professional bodybuilder and has won many state and national level competitions. She also won the IFBB 2021 Championship in Australia. Hence, became the first woman from India to do so.
In this special conversation with medtigo, Dr. Rathod talks about her journey to lead the life she always wanted and how she fought the social battles and broke stereotypes to follow her passion for bodybuilding. Also, she talks about IVF and women’s health.
medtigo (m): First off, tell us about your early days.
Dr. Maya Rathod (MR): I was born and brought up in Maya Nagri (film city), where all the movie shooting happens. I was residing in a non-residential area because my dad was working there. So, we had to travel an hour to reach our school. And then, we had a minimal population staying there because all shootings used to happen.
So, we did not explore much during our school days because as a non-residential area, once you come inside, there was all shooting, which was very isolated. So, we used to be with very limited friends there. So that was my childhood.
(m): What motivated you to do research on IVF?
(MR): After being an obstetrician, I was curious to get into the field of giving life to birth. I did not want to go into surgery or pediatrics. I always wanted to know how the journey in nature has been created. While doing my obstetrician, I saw people suffering because of the hope of not getting babies. And that motivated me to research genetics and everything about IVF.
(m): What is your area of research in IVF?
(MR): I am into IVF research, where we are studying the genetic makeup of the IVF babies from the normal IVF. Like natural conception and the genetic makeup of the IVF happening.
(m): You have been into fitness and various sports; how did bodybuilding happen?
(MR): I have done kickboxing and martial arts in the past. But after my kids and being a doctor, I was overweight. I had to quit sports. After becoming a mother, my journey went off as particular as every Indian woman of being career-oriented with a family orientation.
I was around 78 kg. When I used to look back, I was very super active in my college days. And that, let me find myself somewhere that I must be back, and I can’t be overweight, lazy, and be a doctor who doesn’t understand the health anymore. So that’s how I went into my weight loss journey. So, initially, bodybuilding was part of my weight loss journey.
I had friends who were into bodybuilding. I used to go to their competitions. I used to see how they struggled. So, at one point of a time when I visited two, or three times in Mumbai competitions, I noticed that there were only two-five girls on the stage. And that raised the question of why there were so few females in bodybuilding. And everybody used to answer that bodybuilding is not for females. Also, it is not acceptable to society. And that inculcated a seed into me to get into bodybuilding and then be on that stage.
(m): What is your nutrition regime for competitions?
(MR): I started bodybuilding as a passion, but when I won, it became a responsibility and has become an achievement of my life. So initially, it wasn’t that particular, but now I have to be very particular about my gaining and shredding cycles.
On regular days, I take about 2500 calories; around competition, my calorie consumption would be less than 2000 per day. On my gaining cycles, I’m onto carb and high protein. And on my shredding, I’m on a very high protein and very low carbs, and my meals are very set in with my daily routine for working in a hospital. I have to carry my meals, and I have to have them at a particular time. And that’s how my schedule is with a very healthy and nutritious diet wherever I’m going.
(m): What changes did you feel in yourself after bodybuilding?
(MR): Before bodybuilding, I was sluggish, and I was not able to focus and concentrate. I had lost the spark of being a super active woman. I still remember having seven to eight cups of coffee just to wake up myself on my round-the-clock duties of being an emergency obstetrician.
Also, I have growing kids, and, if I don’t take care of my health, nobody will take care of them. And that was how I inclined myself toward a healthy lifestyle. Nobody pushed me from being unhealthy to healthy. It was my self-motivation and self-realization to accept a healthy lifestyle.
And now I feel very, supercharged. I can work around the clock. I can focus much better than I could. And I have a level of self-confidence which I had lost after being married and being a mother. So that’s how I think now I’m more confident in what I do.
(m): Was your family supportive of your bodybuilding decision?
(MR): Initially, it was a very big no. Then I was also told not to wear a bikini because being a doctor, would have been affecting my professional career. So, I took an alternative to that, wearing sports clothes.
I did not wear a bikini, and, that’s how I competed without not letting me stop because of just an attire which I could not wear. I remember when I played my first competition, the audience accepted me. But when I competed for “Maharashtra Shri,” a judge came on the stage saying that this was not the proper attire. I had to request and make him understand that being from a background that doesn’t accept these things and being a doctor, which society doesn’t take, I want to achieve my dream of bodybuilding, and, only an attire can’t judge whether I can compete or not. And that’s how he accepted it and allowed me to compete on that stage, where I got the silver medal.
That’s how my journey went with many obstacles from family and society. When I won the Australian Championship, I think that was the moment when everyone accepted me as a doctor and a bodybuilder who went on foreign soil and the sole brown skin there.
(m): How challenging it was for you to compete as a doctor?
(MR): It wasn’t easy because in India, at least we had a helping hand to take care of our kids. When I was in Australia, there was already a COVID scenario, so there was a lot of work pressure on doctors. My husband is also a doctor. So, we did not want our kids to suffer because we did not have any helping hand. It wasn’t easy to take time from a busy schedule to work out.
So, we decided that it would be either late at night or early morning when the kids sleep. And, so early morning cardio, it was supposed to be at around 4-4:30 because I had to leave for the hospital at six o’clock, and we used to drop kids off at around seven o’clock to the school. My little one is a special needs child. She doesn’t go to school. So, for her, daycare was the option.
So, this became a routine for almost seven-eight months. So, the night was the time when everybody was in bed, I was in the gym. During the daytime, it was not possible as the medical fraternity was overwhelmed during the COVID. Patients were not in the hundreds; they were in the thousands. So, it was a super hard time for me.
(m): Coming back to IVF, why do you think more people are choosing IVF today?
(MR): Ideally for an IVF, you need to completely try naturally for one year. This is what our normal protocol is, where you, where you want to have a baby, take one year out and plan it for one year and one year when it is completed, then knock on the door for the IVF.
Now, what is happening with the young couples is that they are super busy in their profession and don’t want to give time to themselves. All these factors are coming. Family pressures are getting married at a later age and starting family planning at a later age, all these pressure factors are not allowing them to give the natural course of one year for their baby to come.
Every other girl coming to me has PCOD. And this happening is all because of the lifestyle. And what is the treatment? It is a lifestyle change. But now, they don’t want to accept the lifestyle changes; they want to take all kinds of medicine. They want to take all kinds of treatments, but they don’t want to reduce weight. They don’t want to accept a healthy lifestyle because that’s a long process.
Other than that, when it comes to being a part of a doctor, you are in a competitive world where the doctor wants to compete with the increase in the patient flow, wants to make their, generate their own number or name into the market where they’re practicing. So what happens is, even if, the doctor knows that they can give time to a patient for the natural course, they don’t.
But the primary root cause is your lifestyle change and weight loss, which they don’t want to accept it. So this is a prevalent thing happening. So once you inculcate a healthy life, half of your medical problems disappear. You don’t even require doctors for your treatment any further.
(m): Do you think people still hesitate to go for IVF?
(MR): Yes, there are a few reasons for this. One of the biggest reasons is that there are religious barriers to it. When I was in Australia, I met Pakistani women who were not allowed to do it on religious grounds. And we had a, a meeting about making the myth clear about them, that how it is acceptable.
Another reason is the lack of awareness. The creamy population understands. They Google, they understand the pros and cons and they accept it. But the people who are in the periphery, who are not much educated, and not much aware are still do not have those hope of IVF in their life, that they might get their own child. They might get biologically own child, by doing the IVF because there is still a lack of knowledge among people.
(m): How do you think IVF can be promoted?
(MR): We can’t incorporate something into people’s mindset by giving them the news articles or giving them a printout about what it is. We need to demo them. We need to show the real basis to them. We need to discuss this with them. That’s what I think will be the best way to make them understand.
(m): How do you manage to play different roles in your life?
(MR): I think I don’t disturb my routine. When it comes to my profession from morning to evening, right around the clock, I am a doctor. When it comes to my passion for bodybuilding, I utilize my night-time. I don’t disturb my kids. When it comes to being a mother, I’m very protective. I don’t want my kids to go through the orthodox restrictions that I faced while growing up. I don’t want those gender biases to be happening with them, which we had. It’s a journey of your life, where you are the decision-maker; your gender doesn’t decide what you need to do and what you don’t need to do.
(m): Being a doctor or a bodybuilder, what do you enjoy more?
(MR): As a woman, I have accepted all of them, but yes, when it comes to, my profession, it is very challenging because every patient is new to you and every patient’s results are new to you. And when it comes to the gym, it is physically challenging. I always want to be an inspiration for my kids.
(m): What message do you want to give the youngsters, especially the girls?
(MR): Don’t worry about the judgments you face on what you do. If you dream of something, you achieve it. What happens with most women is they dream of becoming singers, models, or anything else. But when it comes actually to doing it, they start searching for a support system.
When you have a dream, you be with it. Don’t watch left or right. Unless you prove yourself, nobody will believe you. So, I think the younger generation needs to understand that they have to be strong enough rather than depend on people’s judgment.
And, should I do, or should I not? I think it’s essential that if you dream, you have to achieve it yourself, and you have to make your own plans to achieve those dreams because nobody else will do it for you.