Sit quietly for 5–10 minutes EVERY DAY. You don’t need to be in an uncomfortable yoga pose or have any special app or tool, nor do you need to call it “meditation.” JUST BE. Our world is full of distractions, and its constant go-go-go hamster wheel trajectory doesn’t lend to mindfulness nor nourishment. Over time doing just this, you will develop a calmness and probably choose to sit longer. In my own experience, the initial thought of this very advice was that it would be damned near impossible — as a type A “doer,” doing nothing was a lazy woman’s world to be avoided unless sleeping. I resisted what I knew I needed for years. And then my mother finally ordered me to do this one night while I was inconsolably grieving the loss of my beloved Newfoundland dog. And. It. Worked: I calmed down enough to breath properly and promptly fell into a much needed restorative sleep. This JUST BE time makes every day that I do it calmer and more filled with gratitude and mindfulness. This in turn facilitates better lifestyle choices.
As a part of my series about “5 Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Dramatically Improve One’s Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dixie Huey.
A lifelong proponent of wellness and the pleasures of the table, Dixie Huey is grateful to have the opportunity to help nourish people in elevating their health. She focuses on integrative health using real, whole foods and straight talk. Dixie offers 20 years of blended experience in the coaching, culinary, and marketing and management consulting worlds. She has also traveled extensively and dined around the world while observing local cultures and norms around eating. Like many she’s endured her share of diet failures and even an eating disorder. Her book, The Slim Book for People Who Want to be NOT FAT, will debut in 2020 revealing her food journey and how positive, prolonged change really is possible. In addition to being a Nutrition Network Advisor, she has a BA in psychology and French from Duke University and a MBA in finance from University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the story about how you first got involved in fitness and wellness?
Fitness and wellness is why I’m still alive. From a very early age, I wanted to be a prima ballerina and pushed myself to dramatic and dangerous lengths to achieve a goal for which my body type was not suited. My family and friends tried to convince me to stop torturing my body and did everything they could including an intervention with a nurse. None of it worked, especially the nurse who prescribed 2000 calories a day to the girl eating 500. Out of fear I dropped that recommendation to 250 calories instead. Finally, a ballerina took me under her wing and told me to do exactly what she did, eating healthfully and lifting weights, which was quite atypical in that world. She also threatened dismissal from her program if I did not follow suit. As I regained mental and physical strength from better nutrition and strength training, I built confidence and began to gain perspective. Most importantly and somewhat paradoxically, I realized that I had to quit dancing to live. So at 17, I painfully left what I most loved and turned to sports and then fitness instructing to share my acquired knowledge. These actions continued to reinforce increased health and improve my wellbeing. There were of course setbacks along the way, but once I felt good and strong, I was naturally motivated to maintain that improved state so sticking to it was relatively easy. Feeling great is a wonderful currency.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
The most interesting thing that has happened to me since I became a health coach is the deeper connections I’ve developed with colleagues, friends and family. Some are clients; others are people who have learned my story and felt empowered to share their own struggles with me. For example, a friend I’d hired as a consultant in the past recently revealed his serious health struggles with me, and how he decided to save his life through lifestyle change “one step at a time.” I had always known he wasn’t “healthy” but I had no idea as to the extent of his sickness and near death experience. The fact that he’s turning it all around is inspiring to me, and I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to cheer him on and know him on a more soulful level.
Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?
A family member played a joke on me right as I launched my business, creating a fake profile and requesting a consultation with voice altering software. I was both excited and nervous AND I didn’t recognize that it was him until well into the process. He fooled me and it was a reminder not to take things quite so seriously: you never know who is on the other line. I’m still hoping he’ll take advantage of my friends and family pricing though.
Can you share with our readers a bit about why you are an authority in the fitness and wellness field? In your opinion, what is your unique contribution to the world of wellness?
My unique contribution is a blend of earned knowledge, paradox and personal failure; I’ve been there and I can relate. For example, I have the nutrition and fitness credentials you’d expect, yet I could have died from an eating disorder. Plus, I absolutely adore food and wine and have worked in the culinary world as a marketer and management consultant for 20 years. In my experience, most health coaches are not foodies, and most foodies don’t have a history of disordered eating nor are they frequent exercisers!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There are quite a few: the ballerina mentored who threatened me with dismissal from her dance program if I didn’t eat and lift as she did; my beloved dance teacher who understood that I needed to stop dancing to save my life; my mom for supporting me always; and my husband for his love and encouragement to follow my nontraditional path with its twists, turns and what I call “pantry sweeps” — the complete overhaul of our food shopping and dining experiences.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, exercise more, and get better sleep etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the 3 main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?
The first blockage is inertia: once we have established a set of habits, they can be really difficult to break. To combat this, I encourage people to commit to a new habit, one at a time and for one day then one week. All doesn’t need to be changed in a day or even a year; elevating your health is an ongoing process.
The second is binary thinking: if we screw up once with a poor meal choice, we tend to give up and continue screwing up instead of getting right back on track. The person who might revise a work project with a mistake is not likely to apply that continuous improvement mindset to her own nutrition, especially if she has struggled with disordered eating in the past. On the flip side, the beauty of food is that we need it daily, so each meal and every day is an opportunity to nourish oneself.
The third blockage is perhaps the most challenging, particularly in the realm of nutrition. There is so much confusing and contradictory information out there that it is downright overwhelming. Nutrition studies tend to be poorly constructed , lacking rigor and causal findings. Yet, there are daily headlines promoting weak evidence and terrible advice. Further, most physicians and plenty of those in the health and fitness industry receive strikingly little legitimate nutrition education and/or promote antiquated advice. When a perceived expert is suggesting the wrong path (and many if not most do), you’re health journey is unnecessarily blocked. Nourishment is actually quite simple: anything complicated or unnatural is bound to be the wrong choice. Your grandmother or great grandmother knew this stuff; our society and world have mucked up what should be one of the most enjoyable aspects of life — deriving pleasure from eating. Wellbeing is not about trying to chase the latest and greatest or live up to an unnatural extreme.
Can you please share your “5 Non-Intuitive Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Dramatically Improve One’s Wellbeing”? (Please share a story or an example for each, and feel free to share ideas for mental, emotional and physical health.)
These are listed in order of importance and reflect the blockages identified above.
#1. Sit quietly for 5–10 minutes EVERY DAY. You don’t need to be in an uncomfortable yoga pose or have any special app or tool, nor do you need to call it “meditation.” JUST BE. Our world is full of distractions, and its constant go-go-go hamster wheel trajectory doesn’t lend to mindfulness nor nourishment. Over time doing just this, you will develop a calmness and probably choose to sit longer. In my own experience, the initial thought of this very advice was that it would be damned near impossible — as a type A “doer,” doing nothing was a lazy woman’s world to be avoided unless sleeping. I resisted what I knew I needed for years. And then my mother finally ordered me to do this one night while I was inconsolably grieving the loss of my beloved Newfoundland dog. And. It. Worked: I calmed down enough to breath properly and promptly fell into a much needed restorative sleep. This JUST BE time makes every day that I do it calmer and more filled with gratitude and mindfulness. This in turn facilitates better lifestyle choices.
#2. Prioritize nourishment. Nourishment in your meals and experiences. Food is not a series of calories eaten, and exercise is not an amount of steps nor burned calories. These heavily promoted mindsets are (brilliant) marketing schemes to sell you crap you don’t need. Our ancestors didn’t have a calorie concept and were not fat; people only a couple of generations ago didn’t go to gyms to “feel the burn” and they weren’t fat either. Animals (including humans) don’t have some internal perfect calorie number that must be met or else. This doesn’t even make biological sense and it’s profoundly false. Becoming NOT FAT and/or elevating your health is actually quite simple: it’s the what and when you eat, nothing more, nothing less. Real, whole foods nourish and naturally indicate how much you need and when you need it. (Hint, if you’re snacking a lot, you aren’t nourished.) This nourishment mindset spills over to the experiences you choose for exercise and beyond — ask yourself before you make a choice if it’s nourishing to mind, body or soul and if not, consider something more nourishing.
#3. Give yourself permission to screw up; better yet, laugh at your mistakes and practice humility. We all know that it is human to err, but we don’t necessarily use our personal failures as opportunities to learn, laugh and relate. This mindset makes it much harder to change our behavior and much easier to break attempted new, healthier habits. I’ve had clients call me crying that they “fell off the wagon” and “all their effort is now ruined” after a week vacation or a disappointing weigh-in. Your health is not a scale number nor collection of your wins and losses; our bodies are more complex than that.
#4. Make your morning a win and get outside. The typical person awakens with his face indented from the I Phone he checked right before bed and immediately logs back on first thing in the morning. Not only is this not good for melatonin production and sleep, it is not good for your soul. We’ve allowed ourselves to become robotic prisoners of technology and “connectedness” losing part of our humanity and mindfulness in the process, and it’s only getting worse. Instead of this habit, choose something you love to do each morning, even if for five minutes. Ideally, go to see the sunrise as it is good for both body and soul, and this early choice leads to better sleep later by optimizing circadian rhythms. If you can’t be outside early, make sure to get out there at some point during the day to enhance your Vitamin D and cellular functioning. We are not meant to go from house to garage to office (to gym) to home, all indoors and at an ambient temperature. Get outside — get hot, chilly, wet or whatever is out there and JUST BE in nature.
#5. Take a COLD shower. This was another tough one for me and something I thought about long before I made it a habit. I hate being cold and have a history of taking 15 minutes to ease into an even 80-degree pool starting with a couple of toes dipped. To be frank, this practice sucks when you start and I still scream out “wooooo!!!!” every time I shower. But I’ve grown to love it. A cold shower is an invigorating blast, great for your circulation and our environment — think of the gallons of water you’ll save weekly not waiting for your shower to heat up.
As an expert, this might be obvious to you, but I think it would be instructive to articulate this for the public. Aside from weight loss, what are 3 benefits of daily exercise? Can you explain?
I actually disagree. Exercise is not a great weight loss tool. It tends to increase appetite and lead people into thinking they can “work off” poor nourishment choices, especially among people who don’t like to exercise. I know that this sounds bizarre coming from an exercise specialist. The whole “feel the burn, burn calories” mentality comes from big food, which promotes the lie that “a calorie is a calorie” and created this focus to shift us away from the ills of sugar and junk, processed foods. One doesn’t need to “burn calories” to lose weight, let alone count them.
This certainly doesn’t mean that (daily) exercise doesn’t have tremendous benefits! It brings endorphins and pleasure, improves your circulation, sleep, resting heart rate and insulin sensitivity (meaning your body more effectively uses insulin which is a broken system in many). I’m all about exercise, just not as a weight loss focus or tool.
For someone who is looking to add exercise to their daily routine, which 3 exercises would you recommend that are absolutely critical?
The most important exercise choice to make is to do something that you ENJOY. Exercise as a chore will not become a habit let alone bring you pleasure. This can be different given a person’s interests and there are so many options. For example, walking is a terrific exercise and can be an opportunity to connect socially or the inverse, to disconnect and enjoy some solo time. In terms of specific exercises, strength training, stretching and stability/balance are three very important activities and should be done correctly. A good personal trainer or physical therapist can really help here, or even a YouTube video demonstrating proper form.
In my experience, many people begin an exercise regimen but stop because they get too sore afterwards. What ideas would you recommend to someone who plays sports or does heavy exercise to shorten the recovery time, and to prevent short term or long term injury?
Injuries can create physical and psychological pain and stress. The most important advice here is to start slowly and listen to your body. This is of course repeated constantly and that’s because it’s true. Significant soreness is a message that you worked too hard (or with poor form) and need to back off. A few ways to shorten recovery time and prevent injury are as follows: commit to a regular full body strength and stretching routine; add stability and balancing exercises; when exercising ensure proper warm up, gradual progression of difficulty/load, stop when/if there is pain (not discomfort, but pain is a message that continuing will make the injury much worse), do a proper cool down (this should never be skipped; make the work out shorter if time is limited), and stretch.
There are so many different diets today. Can you share what kind of diet you follow? Which diet do you recommend to most of your clients?
Diet is a four-letter word. Plus it rhythms with “riot,” which how most people feel they want to do after a short period of time on a diet. In my younger years I tried plenty (some of them really dumb hence why I still can’t stand cottage cheese) and those that “worked” were temporary at best. So I don’t do diets and I advise against them unless there is a medical reason to be on one.
What we need to focus on, again, is nourishment. The quality and timing of our meals. It’s all about real, whole foods eaten periodically: if mother nature made it, super. If she didn’t, ditch it. This means the vast majority of inner aisle super market “food” (aka, processed junk) is not nourishing and should be very limited or completely avoided.
Real, whole foods also means things like meat with its skin, fat and bone, full fat dairy, the apple over apple juice, the whole egg (not whites or substitutes). When food manufactures substitute for the real deal, they add chemicals and sugar or fake sweeteners, all of which are hormone and gut disregulators. The best way to explain it is how I teach my six year-old son: “If the product has to market its ingredients or benefits, it’s almost always lying.” So things like “fortified” cereals, “natural flavors,” “heart healthy” whatever, etc. are really disguised gunk. Same applies for the new rage trend of fake “plant based” meats which are riddled with chemicals. If you don’t want to eat meat, fine, but please do not substitute real meat for chemical garbage.
When we provide our bodies and minds the nourishment they need, we are less hungry. Snacking to me is an indication that you didn’t adequately nourish yourself at the last meal; plenty of people do well on one to two meals daily; the concept that we should all be eating every couple of hours is baloney and created by big food to sell you more junk. Never mind that your average dietician agrees with this myth; (s)he is largely indoctrinated by big food. In short, to really nourish yourself you’re going to have to disregard big marketing money as well as conventional “wisdom.”
To boil it down to two simple takeaways: 1) when you eat, nourish yourself with real, whole foods; and 2) make sure you have plenty of natural dietary fat (i.e., animal or fruit fats like skin, butter and olive or coconut oil, but not industrial seed oils like canola, soy and sunflower) in each and every meal to help satiate and improve hormone function, etc. A meal without fat is a wasted opportunity to nourish yourself and sets you up for poor choices and unnecessary use of insulin down the line.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
I’m so glad you asked this question. YES. And I’m thrilled to report that I now know the author personally and find her to be one of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met. Nina Teicholz is a champion of evidence-based science showing the critical nature of dietary fat. Her book, Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet is a tome that transformed the way I think about food and health, plus challenged me to determine a way to share her story and return to health and wellness professionally.
Like most Americans, I long held a belief that dietary fat was bad for health and over many of my 20 years in culinary industry, I’ve felt guilty for “indulging” in cheese, butter and even red meat. Buying her book was a challenge to my beliefs and everything I’d been taught… and taught my personal training and coaching clients over the years.
In America, over two-thirds of the population is overweight or obese; 88% is considered to be metabolically unwell. We are constantly thinking or worrying about food yet are rarely satiated. I personally gained 10 pounds in a 10-year period despite being very physically active and “eating healthy.” As a former fitness coach and age group competitive triathlete, I was embarrassed, frustrated and wondered if I’d just have to accept this as an inevitable part of middle age like wrinkles and graying hair, or perhaps the price of my work in the culinary industry. All my attempts to exercise “more” just resulted in injuries which were physically, psychologically and financially stressful.
Nina reminds me of my favorite farmers — she’s as passionate about evidence-based nutrition as an organic cheesemaker is about the health of her herd or a biodynamic vigneron regarding his methods. Her nine year journey to write The Big Fat Surprise began with an assignment from Gourmet magazine to review the literature on trans fats — an interesting challenge for a long-time vegetarian. The article turned into an all-encompassing pursuit where she took a deep dive into the scientific literature on all fats, reviewing nearly every study ever done on the subject going back to the early 1900s. Her book was praised by several major scientific journals and named a *Best Book* of the year by many publications, from the Economist to Mother Jones. She is now also the Executive Director of The Nutrition Coalition, an independent, non-profit group she founded to promote evidence-based nutrition policy.
Struggling with food and weight takes the pleasure away from the table, and for me The Big Fat Surprise has brought back that pleasure while helping me drop those 10 pounds and improve my biomarkers. It also inspired an additional direction for my culinary marketing business — sharing these insights with as many people as possible, as well as the launch of my health coaching business which is unsurprisingly named Favor Fat.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I can only hope to be a person of moderate influence and I still have a very long way to go. The movement I’d like to champion has already been started but it’s relatively tiny. Getting back to supporting the local farmer and eating as the generations before us ate. Choosing nourishing, real whole foods and ditching “products.” It is particularly frustrating for me that those who need the most nourishment — hospital patients, inmates, low income families, military members and the worst… school children, are all imprisoned in a terrible web of food nearly void of nutrition. Our US government funds the dietary guidelines which influence and basically “own” the food choices for all of the aforementioned populations and they continue to promote low fat, grain-filled diets while demonizing dietary fat and more recently, animal products, which provide the absolute best nourishment per serving and dollar spent. To me this is criminal as it creates the lifestyle diseases which are sickening the vast majority of us, as well as maniacally laughable since American taxpayers are funding this nonsense as well as agricultural subsidies to grow junk we don’t need.
This rant has made me think of that crazy idea you desire. Given that we need additional political parties in our two-party, corrupt system, I’d like to see a new one that focuses on nourishment. Our nation’s obesity related disease is our number one problem, and the government should either get out of the way of progress or focus on improving our health. We all stand to make better decisions and live happier lives when we are nourished. Right now, it seems as though we are angrier, lonelier, sicker and less nourished than ever.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
“Not what we have, But what we enjoy, constitutes our abundance.” — Epicurus
I was given a book, Bob Buford’s Half-Time: Moving from Success to Significance, by my husband after the birth of our son while struggling with life balance. At the time, I had no idea I wanted to get back in the health and fitness world. This book sparked my curiosity and creativity, and most importantly let me know that many people struggle to find deeper meaning professionally and personally after they’ve built their chosen careers to “success.” In other words, my sense of imbalance and desire to change what I’d determinedly worked toward was a sign of important needed change — an opportunity, not a failure or psychological problem. It took me nearly three years of discovery and education to figure out exactly what that might look like, and since I’ve made these changes (and some others like adding dietary FAT, mediation, and working out less), I am a much more content person. Nourishment and seeking contentment through enjoyment is the name of my life game. For my recent 42nd birthday, I drew “artwork” for a little focus plaque that states, “BE present, grateful and gracious.”
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)
Not too long ago I would have said Anthony Bourdain, who sadly passed away on the same day as my beloved chocolate newfie, Rebelle, in 2018. Now that I’ve met but not dined with her, it is of course Nina Teicholz, author of Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet. Since we’re dreaming here, to this table I’d like to add Adam Carolla, Dr. Drew and Vinnie Tortorich. And it would need to be at least lunch if not dinner as I don’t want to put anyone in the awkward position of enjoying wine with breakfast!
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
@slimbooknotfat on Instagram or https://www.linkedin.com/in/dixiehuey/
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!