As we begin the new year, many of us aspire to be healthier, stronger and leaner. How do we know what to eat? How do athletes eat? While there is no one-size-fits-all answer, we turned to a professional who has dedicated her life to healthy living. Enter Gabrielle Reece and her approach to whole-body health.
Many of you know her as a world-class beach volleyball player, but Gabrielle Reece is a champion on and off the court. She has created a life toward making the world a better place. She uses her athleticism, wisdom, life experiences, and beauty to help others, especially women, achieve peak fitness, good health, and overall well-being for themselves and their entire family.
Her list of accomplishments is long: a mother, a wife, a health and fitness expert, professional volleyball player, first female spokesperson for Nike, host for NBC’s competition series STRONG, a bestselling author, a model, and a mentor to children. Adding to this already remarkable list, she and her husband, Laird Hamilton, co-manage a training program called XPT and Laird Superfood – a product line of coffee supplements to fuel you through the day.
Gabby has become a dominant influencer in health and wellness over the years. But it is her warmth, honesty, and toughness during training that sets her apart.
I met Gabby at XPT Elite, where my son and I signed up for the Malibu training program that requires you to adapt quickly to various physical and mental situations. We were looking for a fun end of the summer adventure before he entered The Marines, The Basic School. We wanted to optimize our overall physical fitness, mental toughness, and recovery. Of course, we learned a lot more than that. We also learned more about how and why we eat and how that plays a critical role in how we function every single day.
Endurance training at Reece’s XPT Elite Program. Left: Lucy scaling the deep end with weights. Right: Reece fitting Lucy with a weighted belt for more underwater exercises.
Eating without Thinking
We all do it. I just sat down and ate a dark chocolate bar. Why? Was I bored? Was I hungry? Did I crave chocolate? Until I talked with Gabby, I never asked myself these questions. I just reached for a snack. Most of us do exactly that. We eat for all kinds of reasons besides being hungry. We stress eat. We eat to reward ourselves. We eat because it is lunch time, but not necessarily because we are hungry. We eat a snack out of boredom. We eat for comfort after a difficult conversation.
But that is just it — I wasn’t thinking. I was not asking why. What struck me as unique was Gabby’s approach to food – and to life. Gabby is very self-aware. Gabby watches the world, watches her reaction to it and doesn’t judge either herself or others. She has an uncanny ability to see and immediately understand a person. Her ability to identify someone’s reason behind an action, or non-action, was what made the greatest impression.
By practicing awareness and looking within for the answers, Gabby brings mindfulness into her daily life, something we can all challenge ourselves to do if we really want to achieve whole-body health and wellness. My conversation with her forced me to look inwards at decisions I make all the time and brought a new level of understanding about my habits.
Here are some insights from our conversation…
Lucy: Let’s start with the basics. What kind of foods do you eat?
Gabby: I eat foods as close to the source as possible and avoid processed foods. If you looked at most of my meals, I have a type of vegetable, good quality protein, maybe a sweet potato. Quinoa comes in and out. Rice is rare. Our family’s dinner plate is colorful with a variety of vegetables.
“I don’t believe in any single diet – I just believe that eating a moderate amount of healthy wholesome food is good.”
Sometimes I eat popcorn with coconut oil. I manage my sugar intake. There are better kinds of sugar like coconut sugar. When I do eat sugar, I honor myself with it and don’t make it a habit. If I feel that I can eat whatever I want, then my impulses are minimized. I feel it out. I liken it to a rest day with training. The same is with food, I can occasionally splurge.
L: You see a lot of people come through your XPT program. What do you say to them about their diet?
G: I always find it fascinating that people don’t know what to eat. It is so simple yet the media and product marketing messages prop things up as healthy when in reality, they are not. The other day I was in the grocery store and I saw a very sweet couple whose daughter was friends with ours. They were picking up a vegan pizza because they were making a ‘healthy’ choice. Just because something says vegan doesn’t necessarily mean it is good for you.
L: Do you count and watch your calories?
G: I don’t. I eat and listen to my body. There are cycles when I am more hungry other times and will eat more. I stay hydrated and eat healthy fat. If I don’t, I end up having different cravings that I have to manage. For instance, I will go to sugar if I am not doing those things.
I focus on what I could eat right now that makes sense. I used to eat a lot of food when I was training all the time. But right now, my training isn’t as much so I eat when I am hungry. I might have a giant lunch and skip dinner, or a light lunch and a bigger dinner. It depends on my day.
I do pre-decide, though. For instance, before we go out to dinner, I will decide not to eat the bread that gets passed around before dinner begins. That usually works for me.
L: Besides healthy eating, what is your philosophy around food and diet?
G: When I look at food, I always look inward. I ask myself, where I am at and why I am eating it. I stay self-aware.
I tap into how I am really feeling and why I have those feelings. I try to understand the impulse of chewing. A lot of this is just biological impulses. Am I really hungry? Or do I just want to chew something? I might be hungry, but I might be bored. Am I eating because I am mad or feeling belligerent? Either one is ok. I accept where I am in the moment and I am ok.
It is important to have a truthful dialogue with yourself.
When it has moved into negative behavior – then there can be shame. We internalize that, which isn’t any good. Instead, just take ownership of it. Let me see how I can deal with these feeling to make myself feel differently. Then will the impulse to eat something diminish?
I don’t judge. I check to see if I can make myself feel differently. I will breathe, walk, or even give myself the permission to be unreasonable. Can I focus on myself and be just be grateful for something in my life?
“I believe that the only way to understand one’s self is to have that brutal honestly. The only way we can talk ourselves off that ledge is to understand how we feel. We are responding to that. That is power. And we have the power to change.”
We need to understand we have a choice. I am choosing to go to work, to go to the grocery store. I am taking personal accountability and responsibility for my actions.
L: What are your thoughts on the challenges to maintain a healthy lifestyle as we grow older?
G: A lot of people diet and exercise and don’t lose a single pound. Even though they are moving, they are still not losing weight. It is not just about calories in and calories out.
They have to go to the next level and identify their constant level of stress. Staying up late, not hydrating, holding onto childhood trauma are reasons why weight won’t come off. People connect weight with food and exercise, but there is a lot more to it.
I see some clients who have a small accumulation of bad habits that they don’t get away with as they get older. People tend to chalk it up to age, but it is so much more. It can easily be something inside, for instance from childhood, and then you must get rid of that. The frustration of not losing weight can be related to holding onto what happened in the past.
L: What do you recommend for a healthy lifestyle?
G: Pay attention to a mind that is open and honest with yourself. You can shift negative patterns to positive: meditations, breathwork, and being kind to yourself. Think about yourself as an entire organism – your diet, your mind, your feelings, your exercise are all connected. Finally, know that you have the power to change what you want about yourself.
A Common Thread of Mindfulness
I was sitting out on the porch again, like usual, enjoying a chilly evening with my husband and I thought about that chocolate bar. Instead of mindlessly meandering to the kitchen to grab it, I remembered Gabby’s words — why? Why am I thinking about eating that chocolate? Am I bored? Am I stressed? No and no. I am happy. I break off a small piece and treat myself to a bite. Smiling, I am reminded to be forgiving and kind to myself.
For more on Gabby, listen to Mark Devine‘s podcast.
For more on Laird’s diet, listen to Graham Bensinger interview
The Bottom Line
Gabby’s views on food provide great questions for understanding how we think and operate on a higher level. By being mindful of our actions and practicing honesty with ourselves about our feelings, we can not only improve our health and well-being, but also challenge and surprise ourselves to grow in unexpected ways.