Joy Bauer is one of the country’s most recognized nutritionists and the go-to expert for everything related to health, nutrition and well-being. In addition to her fame as “America’s nutritionist,” she is also a bestselling author, TODAY Show regular, founder of Joy Bauer Nutrition Centers in New York AND mom of three kids.
She recently talked to contributor Jeana Lee Tahnk about her two recently published books, Your Inner Skinny  and Slim and Scrumptious  and the ways in which they can help people live more healthfully. Joy also shares advice on ways we improve our children’s health and despite her incredibly hectic schedule, still manages to cook dinner at home and eat with her family at least five nights a week.
When people start a diet, many lose steam or quickly revert back to “the diet really starts tomorrow” because of the difficulty in breaking bad food habits that have been engrained over time. Why is it so hard for people to commit to change when it comes to food and what has made the Your Inner Skinny plan different for the thousands who have realized such great success with the program?
I think that it’s difficult for people to accept the fact that, in order to finally lose the weight and keep it off, they really need to make a permanent lifestyle change. It’s much easier to tell yourself you can eat well for a few weeks to shed pounds fast, and then go back to eating your favorite foods—but that never works in the long run. Weight loss is just as mentally challenging as it is physically challenging, especially since food and eating is so tied to your emotions and mood.
With Your Inner Skinny, my goal was to put together a realistic, foolproof plan that knocks off the pounds, but gives you enough freedom and flexibility so that it’s easy to stick with and incorporate as part of your regular lifestyle. Your Inner Skinny is completely doable AND it delivers remarkable results. And throughout the process, I teach you how to prepare healthy meals, make smart choices when dining out, and indulge appropriately so you don’t fall back into old habits after you reach your goal.
The recipes you created for Slim and Scrumptious look so delicious, it’s hard to believe they’re all so healthful! Did the recipes evolve from tastes that you and your family enjoy?
Yes! My three kids Jesse, Cole, and Ayden (plus my husband, Ian) were my guinea pigs for all the recipes in the book—and my toughest critics! My family inspired many of the dishes in the book. For example, my kids love to order chicken lettuce wraps at restaurants, so I mastered a leaner, healthier version for the cookbook. My daughter Ayden looooves mac and cheese, so I came up with a slimmed down version using whole grain macaroni and reduced-fat cheese that I feel good about feeding her. They also love sweets (who doesn’t?!), so I developed decadent yet light splurges like oatmeal cookies and frozen hot chocolate. The Bauer brood ate very well this past year.
As the nation’s premier nutritionist, your illustrious career started from college and has been catapulting since then. Did you always have a passion for nutrition and good health from an early age? Were there any childhood experiences that nurtured this interest and how did your family approach nutrition when you were growing up?
I was a competitive gymnast growing up, so I developed a strong interest in sports nutrition and the best way to fuel my body for performance. As an undergrad at University of Maryland (Go Terps), I studied exercise kinesiology, which goes hand in hand with nutrition. After graduation, I decided to get my Master’s in nutrition, and within a month of starting the program, I knew I had found my calling. Made total sense; I have a passion for health, I love to cook, and I loooove to eat.
It seems ironic that food and nutrition awareness is reaching new levels, yet statistics about childhood and adult obesity continue to be alarmingly on the rise. Do you think we are making progress and what dire changes need to be made by us as parents to ensure the health of our children?
I do think we are making progress, and obesity rates appear to finally be leveling off, but I realize the road to a fitter, healthier nation is not going to be an easy one. I am so thrilled that Michelle Obama has decided to take on the issue of childhood obesity and enlist the help of experts across the country to brainstorm solutions. We’re going to need everybody’s help and cooperation to overcome this epidemic—health professionals, food companies, schools, and of course families and individuals. Parents really need to make healthy living a priority in their home. That includes learning to prepare healthy meals at home, keeping the kitchen stocked with produce and other nutritious options, and encouraging kids to turn off the TV or computer and become more active. Parents also need to serve as healthy role models for their kids by eating well and staying fit themselves. In the end, everyone wins!
I know you are a huge advocate of childhood obesity awareness and appeared with Shaquille O’Neal on his ABC series entitled Shaq’s Big Challenge to shed light on this epidemic. From your experiences taping the show, what did you find to be the most troubling and the most promising from the kids you interacted with?
The most troubling was definitely their poor diets and lack of nutrition knowledge when we first started working together. But their willingness to follow my advice (for the most part), and to watch how quickly they started to feel the results, was incredibly rewarding. Their transformations, both physically and emotionally, were amazing.
You mention in Slim and Scrumptious that you let each of your three kids plan a dinner menu for one night of the week. It’s a fantastic idea and great way to involve them in learning about nutrition. Despite your busy work schedules and that of your kids, do you still try to eat dinner together every night?
I’d say we eat together as a family at least five nights each week—and it’s the favorite part of my day. I try to cook dinner at home most weeknights, even if it’s something simple like whole wheat pasta with turkey meat sauce, tacos, or baked chicken parmesan with frozen vegetables. On busy nights, I’ll pull something I’ve made in advance out the freezer, like turkey-bean chili or shrimp jambalaya. Even when we rely on take-out from a local restaurant (thin crust pizza with mushrooms, onions and spinach—yum!), we still sit down together at the kitchen table so we can spend some quality time and chitchat about our day.
What is your favorite healthy food? What is your favorite unhealthy food?
That’s a tough question—I have lots of favorite healthy foods. But nuts are definitely high up on my list…almonds, pistachios, cashews, pecans, I love them all! I also love Greek nonfat yogurt (plain, unflavored), and any vegetable (like red bell pepper sticks and carrots) dipped in Sriracha hot sauce. For the unhealthy food, it’s a tossup between hard, crunchy sugar cookies, melty vanilla ice cream, and frozen peanut M&Ms. Or maybe a giant sundae with all 3?!
What are the biggest challenges you face in your daily life as a career woman, TV personality, mom, wife, etc.? And, do you ever sleep? J
Biggest challenge: helping my nine year old with her math homework. The equations and new techniques make my head spin!
Yes, I sleep. But like every mom on the planet, I fantasize about getting more!
Author and Nutritionist Joy Bauer was interviewed by Jeana Lee Tahnk . As a writer and professional photographer, Jeana's work and personal essays on parenting have appeared in high profile outlets as The Boston Globe, NPR's This I Believe and Woman's Day. She is also a public relations consultant with an agency in San Francisco. She currently splits her time between her dual careers of PR and writing from her home on the North Shore in Massachusetts.