Hueligan Asha Pancholi used her divorce, and the stigma around it she experienced as an Indian woman, as a springboard to a happy, healthier life
In recent years, everything from lockdowns to the cost-of-living crisis have caused many young people to move back in with their parents. But for Asha Pancholi, returning to the nest was even more bewildering, forced on her in the wake of a divorce that came out of nowhere.
“I made it very transparent that this is only temporary, I don't plan to live with you guys long-term,” Asha tells us. “They were just like: ‘you're coming home kid’."
Her heritage only made things harder. Being an Indian woman, Asha concedes that there is a lot of stigma in her culture around divorce. Her parents were supportive, but cultural mores are hard to shake.
With her sense of self in a state of uncertainty, Asha threw herself into a rigorous workout regime and a stack of self-development books – The 5am Club, by Robin Sharma, and Steven Bartlett’s Happy Sexy Millionaire were (and still are) particular favourites.
She re-dedicated herself to her work as a senior recruiter at a multinational and buried herself deep in the worlds of manifesting and the law of attraction. True to her word, within three months Asha had bought her own place.
With the pieces of her new life starting to fit together, the whole experience had made Asha reflective, and she found herself opening up more.
“The people closest to me were like: ‘Your energy's contagious, you need to share it right?’"
The Instagram (@ashadpanch) that had previously been private when she was married was set to public, and she jumped at the opportunity to sit on a panel for International Women's Day at her company, speaking about her experiences both as an Indian woman in the workplace, and one who had been through the turmoil of a divorce.
“The topic was ‘Break the Bias’ and the senior directors, who had supported me massively when I was going through everything, were like: ‘Would you be comfortable talking about your experience? If you go public with it on social media, let's do it through work.’ So I did that and then I started to have people from other countries reaching out to me for support and book recommendations.”
Asha’s Instagram is now awash with positive, motivational messages – her divorce being the making of her. “You can clearly tell I'm very happy with the outcome,” she beams.
By this point, Asha’s workouts had become daily, and realising the needed to feed her new active lifestyle she asked her growing follower count which plant-based protein powder brands they’d recommend (Asha is a lifelong strict vegetarian: “The only reason I can't be vegan is I love cheese too much”). One stood out, not least because it was a brand she’d heard mentioned a lot by Bartlett on his podcast (“Not to sound creepy, but it all started with Steven Bartlett”). And that is how Asha met Huel.
“I was in Sainsbury's and they had the Ready-to-drink meal there. I was like: ‘I've not got time to get lunch, let me try one of these’."
It was love at first sip.
“I posted it on my Instagram, and then the customer service team at Huel, who are f*cking awesome by the way – sorry about the swearing – instantly responded to me.”
At the time Asha, was training for the Three Ps challenge, raising money for the charity End Youth Homelessness.
“Huel sent this massive package and I was just, I'm all for gratitude, there was nothing more to it apart from just wanting to say thank you because it was such a generous gift. There was truckloads in there.”
The Three Ps stands for pedals, paddles, and peaks, and took place on and around Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in England.
Starting with a 12km cycle to its foot, the challengers then hiked up the mountain – a climb that took around seven hours to complete.
Next up was a cycle from Scafell Pike to Lake Windermere for 12km, before kayaking 5km through Lake Windermere. In total, the whole challenge came to a monumental 50km.
“I was the first one to finish, which was a surprise to no one. I'm sure you can tell there's quite a lot of energy in me”
During the whole day, Asha only ate Huel. “I had a Complete Protein Bar going up and I had Ready-to-drink meals in my bag. When we got to the top of Scafell Pike, that's what I had. So while everyone was sat there munching on their disgusting sandwiches, I had a nice Huel Ready-to-drink meal. Then when we came down I had another bar.
“I don't think I'd ever had so much protein in one day but I felt like they just kept me full. You know when you eat something that you like the taste of and you can’t stop – that's literally what I am with Huel.”
Climbs up the highest mountain in England aside, Asha, who wakes at 5am most days and starts her day with meditation and some morning reading, likes to use Huel in her breakfast recipes.
“Once I’ve done some form of exercise I come back, and will likely have a smoothie bowl. Nine times out of ten, there's some kind of Huel in it, whether I'm making a smoothie bowl or my pancakes. I love making nice breakfasts. So many people have asked me: ‘Do you just make your breakfasts look like this for Instagram?’ I'm like, no, I'm eating it, it needs to look goddamn good!”
Some of Asha’s favourite recipes using Huel include chocolate fudge brownie pancakes with peanut butter and a strawberries and cream smoothie bowl with banana, cocoa nibs, and granola. “I had that the other day, and I kid you not, I was full till dinner."
Next on the agenda for Asha – besides coming up with more delicious Huel breakfast recipes – is something even more challenging. “I'd love to do the London Marathon. That one is top of the vision board.”
Having raised £1,700 for End Youth Homelessness during the 3Ps challenge, there’ll be a lot of people benefiting should Asha achieve her goal.
“I want to associate them [marathons] with charity. I do it for me because I feel freaking great mentally by working out, but more than anything as well I feel like I've got a good support network who, if I'm raising money for a charity, they're all up for supporting.
“I'm just very conscious that I want my social media to just be about things that I strongly believe in, which is the charity work, and which is why I keep posting about Huel. Every single person that I have dealt with has been so nice, and so is every product. I resonate with the values so much. If you opened my cupboard, it’s just all Huel.”
Photographs: Rory Langdon-Down
Words: Richard Jones
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