Pona Jella is really winning the battle with diabetes as she promotes a healthy life as a mom and CEO. She became a food entrepreneur in 2014 to help people heal chronic illnesses through the food that they eat. Now, she is on a mission to help female entrepreneurs to help them take hold of their lives and their nutrition to live their life as full and as wonderful as they can. In this episode, Pona really breaks down to the essentials of what we need as women and female entrepreneurs to take hold of our health and our happiness, mind, body, and soul.
How does Pona say we can win the battle?
Do not stress out much…please have realistic goals!
“Yes, stress really can help win the battle!”
- Winning the battle of multitasking as a mom and businesswoman
- Developing a food product
- Promoting a healthy life to husband and others
- Overcoming the struggles of a spouse with diabetes
Resources and links mentioned during this episode:
CAMILLE WALKER [0:02]
Welcome back everyone to Call Me CEO. I am your host, Camille Walker, and today we are talking to Pona Jella, an incredible woman who is born in India, came to America, and planned to follow those steps of her father who was a doctor, but realized that his lifestyle working day and night, having little to no time with his family was not the path that she wanted. Instead, she went into engineering and loved that journey, but it was through the process of helping her husband who was pre-diabetic take a stronghold of his health and her passion for food began.
She became a food entrepreneur in 2014 to help people heal chronic illnesses through the food that they eat. Now, she is on a mission to help female entrepreneurs to help them take hold of their lives and their nutrition to live their life as full and as wonderful as they can. What I love most about this episode is that Pona really breaks down to the essentials of what we need as women and female entrepreneurs to take hold of our health and our happiness, mind, body, and soul. What are the steps to do that? Let's dive in.
So, you want to make an impact. You're thinking about starting a business, sharing your voice. How do women do it that handle motherhood, family, and still chase after those dreams? Well, listen each week as we dive into stories of women who know. This is Call Me CEO.
Welcome back everyone to another episode of Call Me CEO. I'm so excited to have Pona Jella here with us today. She has an incredible journey to share about how she helped heal her body from the inside out using nutrition. She created NutNut Healthy Alternative Snacks without any preservatives or chemicals for kids and also Your Meal Matters. But right now, she's focusing on how she can help strengthen female CEOs to energize their bodies to succeed. So thank you so much, Pona for being with us today.
PONA JELLA [2:05]
Oh, I'm so glad I'm here, Camille and thank you for having me here.
So, take me back to the beginning because I think your background is so fascinating. Please tell everyone how you got into nutrition and where that journey took you.
Yeah. So, I'm actually an electrical engineer by profession. I have a Bachelor's in Electrical Engineering, Master's in Electrical Engineering. I worked for almost 10 years before I pivoted my career to Nutrition and Food Technology. And this happened around the time I was pregnant with my first child.
My husband was a pre-diabetic when I was in my fourth month of pregnancy and his doctor actually introduced us to lifestyle changes and habits, so that kind of intrigued me. And then, I became his accountability partner. And I said, "You know, why don't I do this with you?" And there was nothing around, and I made sure there was no harm since I was pregnant. I made sure with my doctor that I would support him. And she said, "It's all fine because the kind of changes that the doctor gave were way minimal and it was actually healthy for the baby too."
So, I became his accountability partner. And then, within three months, he became quite normal. And that was really fascinating and intriguing and that's where my whole interest in nutrition took a different turn. And until then, I was baking a lot of cakes. I was cooking a lot of food. I really loved to cook, so I was following a lot of these YouTube recipes and so on. And then from then on, I started making healthy alternatives, right? And I said, "If I'm going to start a food company, let me do it right and let me go back to college and learn a little bit more." Because food to me is sacred. I come from a culture where food is considered sacred. We don't waste food.
And so, I went back to college. I went back to Rutger's University where I did my Nutrition and Food Technology and that's how I started NutNut. It's a healthy alternative snacks company for kids ranging 5 to 15 years old. Currently, the product is only available in India. It was available in the U.S. until the last year. Because of COVID, we had to cut down a lot of our operations, and we are currently only available in India. So, it started in 2014, the company started in 2014.
And Your Meal Matters happened by accident because I was in Nutrition and Food Technology. A lot of my friends and family used to ask me what to eat, what not to eat and so on. So, I started advising them and so on. And then, slowly, they started referring their friends, and their colleagues, and that kind of became another side business, I would say. And then, it evolved into a corporate wellness program and then so on.
But because of the pandemic, since most of the work that I did was all one on one or in person, most of my clients or most of my business revolved around being in human-to-human contact, so the pandemic kind of hit us very hard with respect to both the food business and the nutrition business. So, I had to pivot and I had to lease down a little bit more with respect to Your Meal Matters. And with respect to the food business, we had to cut down on so many levels.
This is what gave me most of the joy. I interacted with a lot of people, and I interacted with a lot of CEOs because I was in that network of founders and entrepreneurs and CEOs. Most of my clients were either entrepreneurs or founders or CEOs, right? And one very common thing that I observed is a lot of them, they complain about having low energy by the end of the day and they felt very bad. They could not give time for their family and all they wanted to do was lay low. And they had to give up their hobbies. On some level, they were not really satisfied with themselves even though their passion drives them. But on some level, their energy would drain so much that it kind of hurt them on their emotional and personal goals, especially female entrepreneurs are the ones, because they were several hats.
Female entrepreneurs or female CEOs, they're multitaskers and men are not so much. Let me be very honest about it. Men are not so much of multi-taskers. All right. We wear hats of a mother, of a cook. Taking care of the household, chores, and yet we also do the rest of the stuff like driving our passion, being an entrepreneur. Sometimes even in your company, you have to be an accountant. You have to wear the hat of an accountant. You have to wear the hat of a salesperson. You have to wear the hat of the CEO. It's not easy. It doesn't come easy, right?
And when you do so many things, it drains you so much, right? And with respect to especially women and energy and foods that you take, everything combined. Being healthy is not just about having some superfoods or antioxidant, foods like blueberries and so on. It's much more than that. It's called a food web, where you need to have enough sunlight, where you need to have fresh water, where you need to have fresh air, where you need to consume information that is positive and where you need to exercise. Because exercise is still food to your body, right? When you exercise, you intake a lot of oxygen and when you exercise, you sweat out the toxins. So, all these things put together is food for your body. It's not just what you eat. It's not just what you eat, right? So, that's how we created Energize to Succeed for Female CEOs and Entrepreneurs and that's what we are focusing on right now.
Oh, I love that so much. I feel like you tapped into so many things that I've discovered in my own life that it is so easy as a mother and a woman to really put those physical needs last because so many other things are so much louder and more demanding of needing our attention. So, really, to put in those ingredients for a successful and healthy body, it really does take concerted effort and I think that that's something that you're really helping tap into is serving those women to know how to squeeze those things in.
So, if we were to break that down, and I loved how you talked about food being sacred. I want to talk a little bit more about that. So how do you break that down in a way so that women, every woman that I know where so many hats, how do you break it down in a way that is tangible and manageable for them?
Actually, it's not that hard, to be very honest. It's not that hard. It's all about knowing the right ingredients. See, after 1940s, after World War 2 was when the Food Revolution and the Industrial Revolution took off with respect to food processing units, right? And during that time, what happened was the food, packaged food, was mainly coined for soldiers because they had to carry their food and everything. So, the shelf life and everything was such that they could have food for extended periods of time during the war.
And then, slowly, what happened they tried to commercialize this. All right. They tried to commercialize this. Come up with ways, products, and so on. And on some levels, it was also for people at NASA who used to go into space and they had to preserve food for much longer time because once they get into space, it used to be there are 60-day mission or a 90-day mission and that's how food processing technology evolved.
And then, they started commercializing for the regular public and when it happened, it became more of business and not much of nutrition, and nothing of that sort. And that's when we started to come across a lot of these chronic diseases. Until then, it was more of elements like chicken pox or those are different kinds of diseases all together. They were not chronic, and chronic is something wherein you get out of your lifestyle depending on your life, what you eat, how you behave, how you sit, how you stand, how you exercise, everything together, right?
So, when this became commercialized and when lots of foods became processed, and highly processed, and highly commercialized, and so on. If you think about it, corn oil. How much does corn even have fat? I mean, the percentage of fat in corn is very miniscule, very miniscule compared to the percentage of fat in either olives or in peanuts or in sesame. It's very, very miniscule. Now, imagine how they actually extract these oils, right? They use a lot of petrochemicals, compounds and everything and they try to extract that tiny bit of fat from there. This whole ratio of Omega 3s to Omega 6s, let's just not get into those details but let's just say there's a lot of chemicals involved to extract those oils which get into the processing.
And then, when you have it, when you consume it, so it's almost like having another chemical in your body, right? And the base of all our foods is oil, right? Majority of the base of our foods, you take it from your stew, you're sorting your onions, you add oil, right? You make mayonnaise, you add oil. For any sort of salad, you add oil, right? Oil is the major base of any of the recipes that you make out, right?
So, we say food is sacred because when you try to mess up with food, it messes you up, right? So, that's how food is very sacred. And in our culture in India and in Hinduism, you don't waste food even if you're full, you still don't waste food. You have to either eat it or give it to someone who will. You get tired of food, but you don't waste food. You just don't throw away food. Otherwise, it's said that if you throw away food, you don't get food. So, that's what I meant by sacred. So, when you mess with food, it messes you up.
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Okay. So, take me back into the journey with helping your husband to overcome. He was pre-diabetic and in a course of three months, you were able to reverse those effects. And did that culture and mentality affect your ability to make those lifestyle changes because you had to course correct or do you think that influenced the eating behaviors you had? And how did you move forward so that it wasn't as much effect and you were able to make those healthy changes? Was it more about serving up less on your plate or just changing what was on your plate so you could still eat it all? Or how did you make do with that change?
So, with respect to my husband, it was more of the advice of the doctor. But before, we had the interest of food, of trying different cuisines and so on, it wasn't that difficult. And we love our curry and our rice, but we also love our salads as much. And even until today, I think since 2007, we've been having salad every day for dinner along with maybe I'll have some meat. If I don't have meat, then I'll have some curd rice. Anything that is fermented for dinner.
So, it wasn't that hard, to be very honest, because it was very tiny changes that we had to do. So, for example, we just completely switched from vegetable oil. That was the first thing we did when my husband went pre-diabetic. That was the first thing we did is we completely switched from vegetable oils to cold pressed oils or organic oils, organic cold pressed oils. That was the first thing we did. Then, the other thing we did was instead of using the elevators, we started using the stairs. So, these were habits wherein we tried to use mobility throughout the day instead of using it only as a 30 minute in the morning workout or 30 minute in the evening workout. We really didn't have to put a workout schedule separately. We tried to incorporate within our daily lives and that was the second thing we did.
And then, the third thing we did was proportions. We tried to include the good amount of fats and good amounts of protein with our lunch and dinner. With breakfast, it was not really possible because we really didn't feel like having a lot of bacon and a lot of eggs in the morning. We used to have eggs once in a while, but not as much. So, breakfast would be more of fermented foods like Idli and Dosa, which are more heritage to the Indian culture. But when it came to breakfast, we had a good combination of our fermented breakfast foods, and also sometimes we used to have garden omelets. We used to have pancakes made of almond flour instead of white flour. So, what we did, starting to completely eliminated refined flour but instead of all bleached purposed flour, we started using unbleached all-purpose flour. So, it has a little bit of less, one stage less processing than the bleached refined flour or bleached all-purpose flour.
Now, there a few technical details which I learned during my Food Technology courses where I went back to college and when I combined it with Nutrition it was not really hard, to be very honest. I still have a slice of cake. Now, I don't know where the source of the flour came from, but I know when to have it and how much to have it versus if I made the cake by myself, I could probably binge on it.
So, we know where to draw the line. So, that's why we say when we put out this program, right? We didn't want to deprive people of their foods that they love. It's not about depriving yourself. It's not about starving. It's about enjoying food in its fullest form, in the way which nature intended you to enjoy it.
So, just to give you an example. A lot of people, especially diabetic people, they think if they eat a lot of fruits, their sugar levels rise up, which is true. But then, it's much better than having either sugar or having either Splenda or Equal, right? So, if I have to give you a decreasing order of the worst possible sugar alternatives that you have, I will say first cut out the Splenda and the Equal. The second-best option would be the sugar itself. The third best option would be honey or maple syrup and I would also eliminate Agave. Agave is also very high processed because it goes through a lot of processing before coming that sweet Agave syrup.
So, yeah. Agave is promoted as a healthy alternative, but it's not.
It is. Yeah. You're kind of blowing my mind right now because if I'm making protein bites or something like that, I have some that will ask for honey, and some that would use Agave, and I've always understood it to be superior. That's really interesting that you're saying it's not.
No. Honey or maple syrup would be better. And there are many different processes that maple syrup goes through, so you need to find the one that is less processed. Compare it. So, everything has its own pros and cons. All right. But, sugar dates back way more than 300 years or so.
So, it's not really that bad and you see all these chronic diseases on the rise only especially in the Western countries after 1950s and 1960s. But in India, only after 1990s. So, it wasn't much until 1990s and this whole culture of using processed foods, cakes, and sugary foods only starting and coming during that period of time in India. So, it is still not that late for any of us, it's just that we need to dial it a little back.
So, just to give you an example. When your grandmother or my grandmother had a cup of tea, it would be this much. The cup would be this much. But now, when we have a cup of coffee or a cup of tea, the mug would be this thick.
Yeah. Portion size is such a difference. Yeah.
Exactly. And then, you would probably put half a teaspoon of sugar in this kind of a cup versus three teaspoons of sugar in this kind of a mug. So, the average conversion of sugar went by almost sixteen times from 1960s until today.
Wow. I think you're right. I think especially in America this mentality of bigger is better and get as much as you can. Now, as far as creating this into a business and offering it to business owners, CEOs, women who are trying to take better hold of their health and their ability to really enjoy their life, what would you think the biggest hurdle has been for you as a business owner creating that business to really help your clients feel connected to your journey.
I think as an entrepreneur, there are ups and downs, right?
And I saw more of downs than ups in my food business in NutNut, right? And that kind of took an emotional toll on me. I went into a depression for around almost a year. And I see this way common with other female entrepreneurs as well, right? When something doesn't work the way that you anticipated, it kind of demotivates you, right?
And then, I came across this beautiful video by a monk, an Indian monk called Gaur Gopal Das, which kind of changed my whole perspective about life. And it goes something like this, "If you have a problem, do you a solution? If yes, then why worry? If no, then why worry?" But I would slightly change it, and I would say if no, then take help. Then, seek help, right? Because you really can't just sit there and do nothing about it, right? So, always ask for help or always seek for help. And that kind of changed my entire perspective and that kind of pushed me back to reality, kicked me out of depression. So, that really helped me a lot.
And what I tried to do with the women entrepreneurs, it's not just about food. It's about your mindset as well, right? And the first question that I ask to any client that wants to enroll in the program that we approach or they approach us is, is there anything that they are stressing about? That's the first thing we ask. And if they are really stressing about, how can we help them with our mindset exercise, right? And if it something that is in our control, we do go ahead and enroll them. But if it is not in our control, we do not.
And let me be very honest about it, if somebody came with a problem. If it's a financial problem, yes, the mindset is entirely different versus someone who has lost someone a near and dear one. That takes time. That takes time to heal, right? And we are seeing all the past six years that I've been treating a lot of these clients, plus also with my research across the other universities. These were done in other universities. 70% plus, actually 75% plus founders get a lot of chronic disease just because they're stressed. This was done in UCLA by the way. This research was done in UCLA. 75% plus founders and entrepreneurs go through a lot of chronic diseases because they are under so much pressure and so much stress.
And until you have that mindset approach, and have that approach towards your goals, your clarity, your focus and everything. And then, you add nutrition to it. It's beautiful. And if either one of it is deprived, either your mindset or nutrition. You might have a very good mindset but then, if you're feeling all trapped to your body, it's still going to go through a lot of turmoil, right? So, it's a combination that we use in our practice.
Yeah. I believe there's so much power in that because it really does go hand in hand and I've seen it. My father-in-law owned a car dealership and lost it during the pandemic here in America. It was in 2008 when things were just really rocky, and he was able to hold on for a few years, but he wasn't able to sleep. It was really affecting his health.
And like you say, our stress and our cortisol levels and all of that all goes to fuel our body. And I think that if we really listen and get better at being at tune to what our bodies are telling us that they want that fresh air, they want the exercise. They want that good food that actually gives us the nourishment that we need.
Okay. So, tell me a little bit more of your process of an entrepreneur and how you're able to get through the highs and the lows.
So, I went through more of downs in my food business than ups and at one point, I went through depression for almost a year, right? And the way I actually came out of it and the entire perspective towards life changed.
I came across this video by a monk called Gaur Gopal Das and he said, "If you have a problem, do you have a solution? Then, why worry? If you do not have a solution, then why worry?" Now, as an entrepreneur and a CEO, who has a lot of passion and who has a lot of drive, you just can't sit there and say, "Oh, I don't have a solution, right?" So, I would slightly change that and say, "Seek help. Ask for help." And that kind of gave me a new perspective to life and that changed the entire way I look about problems and I look about challenges. And that's one of the instances and that's how I overcame depression, to be very honest with you. That one single video changed my entire life.
That's also what we teach, the whole mindset. Mindset is very important for entrepreneurs. And you come across a lot of these challenges. Other than challenges, it's also some of them might be motivating you, some of them might not be motivating you. People around you, your friends, your family, whoever it might be, right? But you know exactly what you want.
And I have to tell you a very interesting story over here, Camille. Back in my Engineering, when I was going to take Electronics because I had made up my mind. I had done my research. I had asked my brother, cousins, and everybody. I was telling them, "My dad is always pushing me to take Computer Science but I know that if I take Computer Science, I'll be known only as a Computer Science Engineer. But if I take Electronics, I can still learn Computer Science on the side, so I want to take Electronics." And I gathered all this information. And then, when I went and told my father, he's like, "No. I already spoke to this uncle, that uncle. You're only going to take Computer Science."
And then, when the time came to actually go and sign up for the seat, sign up for the place at the college. My mom came along with me. It's called a counselling session. And then, I told her, "You know, I don't want to take Computer Science. Whatever dad might think, I don't want to take it because it didn't make any sense." And I gave her my argument about the same thing. And she said, "Okay, fine. If you are that confident, go ahead and take Electronics."
My dad didn't speak to me for six months after that. And then, after my Master's, because my Master's was also in Electrical Engineering, I was the only person who got a complete full-time job out of college, even before college to be very honest. And people in IT and in Computer Science were still struggling to get jobs at that time. This was in 2006.
And my dad was so proud. He's like, "I think you did a good choice in taking Electronics and Communications as your subject." So, you really can't explain it to everybody. You really don't expect everybody to understand. So, passion can drive you but please remember if you don't take care of yourself, if you don't take care of your body, you will not have anything to drive your passion.
I love that so much. Oh my gosh. Six months that he didn't talk to you. That's hard as a daughter and for a family, but you stuck with your gut. You followed that intuition and look where it's brought you. That's incredible.
So, stick but also take care of your gut.
Stick to your gut and take care of your gut. That is the perfect way to wrap it all up. So, how would someone be able to contact you and go through this process?
So, they can contact me through my Instagram profile or my email or even our Facebook group. We have a Facebook group called Reduce Stress, Improve Sleep and Clean Energy Naturally. My Insta handle is yourmealmatters. My Facebook page is Your Meal Matters and my email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Okay. So, Your Meal Matters. And we will go ahead and link that in the Show Notes below. But before I let you go today, if there was one piece of wisdom that you could share with female entrepreneurs today starting this new year, what would be your piece of advice be to them for creating a better vision for mindset and nutrition?
So, I would say, do not stress out much. Please have realistic goals. And this is something that I have done. I used to have goals too far out of reach. And this is something that I always did. And only now, I'm trying to do it a little better.
So, try to have realistic goals and it is very important for you to shut off yourself completely sometimes. Shut down completely to reset your brain, to reset your parts, to reset your body, to have that energy. And energy comes from resetting and energy comes from giving those breaks, so don't forget to take a break. If not, if you're unable to take a break, at least take a break every two hours. If not, for one hour. That frequently, at least take it for every two hours and just reset. Just don�t do anything for five minutes. Don't think about anything. Don't do anything. Just lie down. Just simply lie down.
It's called Shavasana. Sava means dead body. So, shavasana means lying down like a dead body. So, that is more of a meditative approach. And just lie down there for five minutes. And you can see the kind of focus and productivity. You improve and it's amazing. Yeah, try to shut off.
I love that. So, that's like Shavasana that you do at the end of yoga. A lot of us might be familiar with hearing that word. Oh my gosh. At the end of yoga, when it's time to do Shavasana, I'm like, "Yes! It's such a reward."
That's such a good idea. Every couple of hours reward your body and your mind and give it a minute. Set that timer. And I actually found a yoga practice this morning that was just three minutes. I just YouTubed three-minute meditation and it was simple. I knew I had time for three minutes, so take that time to really cover is so important.
I wish that was more part of our culture. So, I appreciate you sharing that, that you do that so often. That is really cool.
You're welcome. Thank you.
Well, thank you so much for your time today. It has been such a joy learning more about your program and how you have such a wonderful approach to health and helping us to be whole. And I really appreciate that so much.
Thank you. Thank you, Camille, for having me.
You are so welcome. And for all of you who want to know more about the program, we will link to that in our Show Notes below and we will see you next time!
Thank you so much for tuning to today's episode of Call Me CEO. If you found it helpful or inspiring, I would love it if you would share it with a friend. And also, I would love it if you came and joined me on Instagram at callmeceopodcast where you can join other likeminded mommas like you who are looking to step up in their lives and make it even better. Thank you so much and I will see you next week!
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