This week we have the pleasure of hearing from Mareya Ibrahim. Mareya is the creator of EatCleaner.com and is a featured chef on ABC’s Recipe Rehab, and is here to tell us about how eating more–but cleaner and smarter–can be yummy and can save your life.
The Slim Is Simple.org Non-Profit Nutrition Education Effort
[Audio Starts 00:23]
Jonathan: Hey everyone, Jonathan Bailor here and I am very, very happy about today’s show because while everything we cover is not going to be necessarily happy, it’s going to end very, very happily because we are going to – we all know life has its ups and its downs, but the answer is not to try to make life perfect, but to try to maximize number of ups we have. To live a life that’s going to maximize a number of ups and to focus on the quality of what we are eating, the quality of what we are doing and our guest today certainly does just that and has some wonderful stories and practical tips to share with us and she is the founder of EatCleaner.com and she is also a featured chef on ABC’s Recipe Rehab.
She is none other than Mareya Ibrahim and she is here to share all kinds of wonderful personal stories, which I am just so honored she is willing to share, and then also some practical tips on how we can improve the quality of our life and our eating habits, so Mareya welcome.
Mareya: Thank you so much Jonathan. That was a very kind introduction.
Jonathan: I appreciate you being here because I know you came on the show with willingness to share your story and your story is not one of just strolling through the meadow, but anyone who sees you and anyone who sees your work, knows it’s extremely positive and that journey while it may not have been an easy one, certainly landed you in a positive place, so please take us through that journey.
Mareya: Yes and you know what, it’s interesting because I think sometimes if you haven’t tasted the bitter, it’s hard to appreciate the sweet, so I think all the experiences that I have had in my life that’s brought me to where I am now, I am being able to talk to people about eating clean and making foods your friend really stems from that. I will share with you and this took me a long time to be able to admit because I think as anybody can appreciate, it’s hard to admit when you’ve really made a big mistake in your life and one of my biggest mistakes was not really understanding nutrition and falling into the trap of developing a really severe eating disorder.
Basically I struggled with anorexia and bulimia for about eight years on and off and it came from a place of — I come from a family who – you are eating breakfast and they are planning lunch and you are eating lunch and they are planning dinner and you can’t leave the table until you have gorged yourself and that all was a sign of just abundance and appreciating that we had the ability to enjoy this food, but that food was really slowly kind of killing me and I say that I literally had – my fear of food was killing me.
Instead of appreciating it and eating it as sustenance in small amounts, I just decided to all together abstain from it. I am a small – I am kind of a petite girl, but I dropped to about 87 pounds, I was starting to lose hair, I had a lot of anxiety and couldn’t sleep. I went through a period of my life where major life events, I just think back and I can’t even remember them in detail and it just is so hard sometimes for people to admit that they have an eating disorder or they have issues with food, but what I found is when you develop a healthy relationship with what you put into your body, it is the most nourishing experience because you are actually feeding what fuels you, you are feeding your organ function, you are feeding your ability to be creative, you are feeding your mood.
If you have ever met somebody who hasn’t eaten regularly, you pretty much know it, they are not the most pleasant people to be around, but when I finally got perspective on that and it was a journey and a lot of that came from my work at the natural foods industry, I started working for a chain of natural food stores and little by little I began educating myself and talked to nutritionists and dietitians and would read every book that I could get my hands on and played with different things and full circle over a decade later, I have worked with, now a nutritionist and a registered dietitian to develop a meal plan and a whole strategy for helping people to eat cleaner by pre-preparing their meals and getting ahead of the “food bus” as I call it, so that you are eating more frequently. You are eating the right combination of foods in the right portions and it seems to me like such a simple formula now that I have dialed it in, but in hindsight I wish I would have had that understanding and I hopefully by sharing this will be able to help other people from what I had to go through.
Jonathan: Mareya, the journey it sounds – it’s one that certainly not in the exact same way I can empathize with, but I can empathize with your message of Eat Cleaner and what you do with Recipe Rehab. I feel almost like little bit of a kindred spirit here because my journey was a little bit more academic, but it ended in the same place where by focusing on the quality of the food we are eating rather than necessarily the quantity, just say if you eat the standard American diet, it’s very easy to see food as a negative, terrible thing that should just be avoided at all costs and then we end up with record high levels of eating disorders and then it doesn’t work for a lot of individuals, so a lot of individuals give up completely and we see record levels of obesity. Whereas if we don’t just focus on the quantity of food, but we focus on eating cleaner or as I call it eating a SANEr lifestyle or as anyone calls it, eating a more nutrient dense diet, you can actually see how eating more, but of the right kinds of foods is one of the most liberating and satisfying things you could ever do.
Mareya: I love the word nutrient dense because I say make every bite count. Everything that you put in your mouth should have a function. It should be nourishing you and a lot of that just comes from respecting your body and respecting that it takes care of you and your health really does depend on so much of it on that even like from a fitness perspective I mean [inaudible 07:18] come out and say I love to exercise and fitness is a huge part of my life but abs are made in the kitchen.
If you are eating poorly, you are never going to see the results that you are looking for. I am very much a proponent of being plant forward, I don’t like to label diets, but I think trying to get at least half of what you are eating for every snack and meal to be a solid vegetable and adding in fruits in there as well and doing a variety of them getting as many leafy greens in there. I blend them into smoothies, I blend them into eggs, I add them even into baked goods. The more you can get your veggies in there, they are the most nutrient dense foods on the planet. The more you can get them in there at every meal, you are not only going to benefit from that nutrient density, but they will make you feel fuller faster too because of the fiber and the fact that you really can eat a huge salad as long as it’s not loaded up with fatty things and a lot of dressing and you can actually feel full and I think until people have tried that they might look at a plateful of veggies and some grilled fish or another good quality lean protein and go “There is no way I can feel full,” but you are eating more and you are eating smaller amounts throughout the day.
Jonathan: Mareya, what do you say – the thing that’s beautiful about what you are doing here is it would be very easy for someone who is not familiar with your work to hear this and say, “Well okay that sounds very, very boring,” but it is the farthest thing from that and if you go to EatCleaner.com and you watch Mareya on ABC’s Recipe Rehab, she does these things with these typically nutrient-poor dishes and she transforms them, she rehabs them into something which is still very nutritious, but also very delicious. Where do you get your inspiration, how do you do that?
Mareya: I think the word “healthy” has just been vilified. It’s almost like people equate healthy with being dull and being not very tasty and I wanted to present a whole different side because I am a foodie, I do love food, I love the art of making food and sourcing great ingredients and feeding people and seeing the smiles on their faces and it really comes from a love and passion for wanting to cook and I go by the foodie.
For me, it’s about making fit choices and I think the great thing about, and I call it nature’s palate, is you use [inaudible 10:09] fruits and vegetables and herbs and spices. They add so much color and you eat with your eyes first, with something is colorful and beautiful on the plate, especially for kids, kids love color. If food is colorful, it will be inviting and people will love the idea of enjoying that. I think it just opens up – it looks so luscious and so bountiful and I think just even playing, like my science background kind of comes in, and playing with textures.
I just on Recipe Rehab made a chocolate cake and I pulled out all of the oil and the butter out of the original recipe which was over 1000 calories and 75 g of fat a slice and put in beets and we were able to get the calorie count down to 400 calories a piece and 10 g of fat and I say cake is not something that you are going to eat everyday, but when you eat it, you want to feel like you are eating cake and this was a hearty cake, it really was very luscious and it ended up winning that challenge and it’s funny because I am sure there was a shriek across the country when they saw that I was putting beets in there, but then the family themselves and the kids that were part of that family picked that one as the winning recipe knowing that there were beets in there.
When you get your family involved in preparing the meals too, there are great statistics that show kids are going to be 80 to 90 percent more inclined to try something if they’ve had a hand in it, so that’s important too.
Jonathan: Mareya, I apologize for cutting you off there at the end, but one thing I wanted to draw the listeners’ attention to is I think it could be easy to hear the story you just said and think about this is again there are two ways to look at what was done to that cake. One is a reduction in calories and certainly that happened, but another way to look at it is a boost in nutrient density and that’s something that I think we also need to focus on as individuals is certainly we never want to deprive ourselves of food and at the same time we also don’t want to overdo things, so if we are going to eat a nice rich, delicious meal, and we do want to, in addition to that meal have a piece of cake. We already ate a full meal, we probably already filling our physiological needs.
At this point, we are doing something a little bit more psychological. If we are going to do something little bit more psychological after we’ve already eaten a full meal and that could either be 1000 additional calories or that could be 400 additional calories and it could be 1000 poor quality calories or 400 more nutrient dense calories, I think it’s pretty clear which one we should chose.
Mareya: Definitely and we live in a time where food is just – it’s amazing how plentiful the options are and sometimes you actually have to weed through them because they are not all nutrient dense even if they have a natural label. I think the idea that you can pretty much swap out almost anything for something that is a fitter choice or a more nutrient dense choice, it totally is possible and I think that’s what we’ve really been able to do on Recipe Rehab and also at Eat Cleaner being able to say “You can have your cake and eat it too and feel actually good about it.”
You can make a cookie. We have a great recipe for cookie called Fit Bites and they are super nutrient dense. They have got unsweetened coconut and they have got oats and protein powder and flax meal. That is really – you can take anything pretty much and transform it, but I think the key to is just being able to when you eat clean and this is a big part of what we advise people to do is knowing the right way to combine foods, so you are really optimizing how your body is processing those nutrients and doing it so that you are maintaining your blood sugar because one of the reasons that we are seeing such as huge increase in overweight and obesity is an inability to control blood sugar. Those all went into our plan and how we present clean foods as well.
Jonathan: Mareya, what – I also like about the site and I like what you are doing with Recipe Rehab is frequently on this show we talk about how certainly my research prescribes a methodology of eating and I talk about how SANEity often times is going to have some common denominators no matter what, you are going to have eaten lots of non-starchy vegetables, you are going to have eaten lots of nutrient dense proteins and you are going to incorporate some low fructose fruits in there and you are going to enjoy healthy natural fats, but I often find that individuals vary sometimes on whether or not they are going to get more or less of those high quality calories from natural fat sources or from more nutrient dense and hormonally healthy carbohydrate sources.
Actually some people I have seen do well on both and a lot of the more “Let’s go Paleo, low carb,” there is a lot of those sites which show you how to make, for example, cookies without using flour and things like that, but it seems like your work might skew a little bit more towards – a little bit more moderate in the fat intake and a little bit more moderate in the carbohydrate intake, but still providing that diversity where if you want to just not eat a regular cookie, you can go Recipe Rehab that in a lower carbohydrate fashion or you can Recipe Rehab it in the way you would do it and in both cases you are getting a better choice, which is cool because not everything works – there is some variability, right?
Mareya: Yes, definitely and everybody’s needs are going to vary slightly. In our Cleaner Plate Club membership program, we break it down by what your needs are, a man who weighs 180 pounds is going to have different dietary requirements than a woman who weighs 100 pounds. Based on male/female and if you are trying to maintain or lose your weight, we [inaudible 16:44] on portion sizes and more specific guidelines on what types of foods to eat.
No, it’s not Paleo, it’s not restrictive. We found that in order to metabolize proteins, you do need complex carbohydrates, so we are not saying eliminate any one type of food, but we are giving you guidelines on portion sizes because people do sometimes have a tendency to may be lean towards one or maybe they have no idea what a portion size looks like, they have never actually really equated that, may be they think brown rice is good, so I will eat a whole bowl of it while may be you don’t eat a whole bowl of it, maybe you eat half a cup of it and combine that with two cups of vegetables, your greens and then three to four ounces of your lean protein and that’s a meal; helping just also people visualize – help people visualize what those portion sizes look like and how to combine them.
Jonathan: Mareya, certainly the story so far has been a wonderful one where it’s not about starving ourselves, it’s about enjoying food and eating nutrient dense foods and that can be different for different individuals. Some individuals may go higher on the complex carbohydrate end of the spectrum, some people may go higher on the natural healthy fat end of the spectrum, but regardless, I sometimes hear people say things like ‘well either way that’s going to take too much time and I am a single mom, I don’t have time to do this’, what do you say to those people?
Mareya: I am a single mom too. I have two kids, 11 and 7, and I started my business about four years ago and I was a single mom when I started my business and if you look at it, I think in a grand scheme of things, it’s really about priorities, right? If we need sustenance, we can’t survive without food or water, then shouldn’t have rank kind of high in our priority and when it really is kind of the gateway to health, I think first of all really understanding and prioritizing that in your life and then secondly, I think with our plan, we’ve really tried to make it so that it’s very easy to follow and it’s not labor intensive.
A lot of it just has to do with pre-washing your fruits and vegetables and you can use our Eat Cleaner wash to do that because it helps to extend shelf life whereas water doesn’t. So, you get that pre-washed and [inaudible 19:24] and you make your refrigerator kind of salad bar and then you grill off whether it’s chicken or turkey or [indiscernible 19:34] or any other vegetarian or vegan protein source, you pre-cook those and then you have your staple pantry items, maybe it’s unsweetened coconut milk, you have got your flax meal, you have got good quality oils, you have got raw nuts, you have all of those and then you portion out your snacks and then you literally just use all of those pre-cooked items and assemble them in a myriad of different ways and that’s our plan.
Basically, we are saying dedicate two hours on the weekend or whenever you have a down day to pre-prep those items and then you are eating all week long, so you talked about saving your SANEity, it’s totally about saving your SANEity because you are not wandering the grocery store at 6 o’clock after work when you are brain-dead and you can’t possibly think about what you are going to make and then you are eating out like 8 o’clock. Those two hours of pre-prep just are worth their weight in gold and helping you to feel a lot more stress free.
Jonathan: Mareya, I couldn’t agree with you more, literally that seems to be like the common denominator, I don’t care how an individual is eating to achieve their goals; if they are achieving their goals, assuming their goal isn’t to develop heart disease and become obese, but there is a common denominator and that common denominator, I like to say is they have actually simplified their dietary life dramatically by not making it so that everyday at every meal you have to be like make a decision, what’s going to happen, where am I going to get this from, that just complicates your life so much.
If you are just one down day, you put in two hours, you do it in batches, you pre-prep those components, those key components of the meal, there is so much complexity in life already, just do that and you will simplify things dramatically and you will find that people who have success, they are all doing that, they are all setting aside sometime, they are cooking in bulk, they are potentially buying in bulk, they cook for their freezer, I have heard a lot of people call it, and it’s so much simpler that way.
Mareya: It’s so true, unlike exercise where you want to vary your routine to kind of shock the body so it doesn’t get into a regular mode, your body actually really likes a pretty regular way of eating and pretty similar foods all the time, it actually likes that dependability and you don’t have to reinvent mealtime every time. You can make certain adjustments, you certainly don’t have to eat the same thing every single day and in our meal plan you don’t eat the same things everyday, but some things you might eat a few times a week. It’s okay to eat oatmeal few times a week, it’s really simple and super nutritious, but it’s not reinventing the wheel, it’s not making mealtime, like you said, a chore.
Jonathan: I think the key thing, Mareya, that is so important here is that also make sure that what you are doing works for you and I think for some of the listeners of this podcast, some of the things we have covered here, they may not be the exact dietary choices you would make as an individual, but for example, for Mareya and for her clients, they are working for her and they are rooted in this common denominator, which is avoid the processed garbage and if you have to choose between two options, choose the option that is more nutrient dense, right?
If we even want to go back to more of a tribal or an ancestral view of this, we have ancestors that survived on a wide array of different diets, but the key common denominator of all of those diets were they are foods we find directly in nature and those foods are generally foods that are extremely nutrient dense and if we find an approach that works for us, we were not starving ourselves, we are not hungry and we can keep it up consistently, what else could we ask for.
Mareya: It’s so true, when you can get your food dialed in, it’s amazing. I just look back and I will tell you, it hurt. Those eight years, I went through a lot of pain. I wish I had the wisdom that I have now about it because I see even kids my daughter’s age at 11 who are very diet conscious and I am like, “No, no, you need to be eating more, you need to feed your body” and I think it’s something that we really need to pay forward to our kids and instill those values and be the role models because if they are not learning it from us, we have no one else to turn to, to teach them that.
We really kind of have to practice what we preach and walk the talk. I get my kids involved in the kitchen when we are pre-prepping meals, even my little guy, I will have him help me with peeling things or helping me with the blender or mixing things, just even those little simple tasks he gets so excited about and I think that’s really important. I think keeping your kids out of the kitchen is probably one it’s not what I would do. I would encourage them to even make a mess with you.
Jonathan: I love that Mareya, the key is like the two R’s here, it’s “role model” and also “results” because let’s also just stay dialed in on how this is making us feel and how this is making our kids feel and if it’s not working for us, again don’t be constrained by anything outside of yourself and your body because what I hear you saying is you really got to be tuned into your body and whether or not these foods are serving you and making you feel good and improving your health or whether or not – even I don’t care who tells you that X, Y, Z is good for you; if it makes you feel terrible and your health is suffering, stop, the result are what matter.
Mareya: It’s so true and if I can share a true story that happened and I was kind of – I’ll make it brief, but I was on a flight coming back from New York and I was waiting to use the restroom and there was a woman standing behind me and she – I was on a plane which can sometimes be chilly, but she had like four layers on; she had a turtle neck and a sweater and a scarf and a full length coat and she goes “I am freezing, are you cold?” I was just wearing like a long sleeve, kind of light T-shirt and I said, “No, I’m comfortable,” I said “May be you are hungry, when I am hungry, sometimes I feel cold.” She goes, “Oh no, no, no, no I ate a lot before I got on the plane.” I said “What is a lot to you?” because she was kind of petite also. She is like “I am a cancer doctor; I know how to eat properly.” I said, “Oh okay, my experience has been that if you eat the right combination of proteins with complex carbs and fats, it has really helped me a lot” and I was kind of like just trying to talk to her not by any means overstepping, I respect the fact that she is a doctor, but just kind of sharing my own experience and she went on to say “I really only eat protein” and I said “May be that’s the problem.” I said, “May be just not eating enough of the other things, you are not metabolizing that protein and you are not giving your body available energy.” She is like, “No when I eat, I just feel really sleepy and very hypoglycemic” and I wanted to bang my head against the wall and I literally wrote a little blog about it and I said “Eat five to six clean meals a day and call me in the morning.”
I guess the moral of that was the truth is really – and how your body feels and nobody can tell you what you should be eating really at the end of the day, but if you have allergens, if you don’t process certain glutens correctly, if you feel very lethargic after you eat certain types of foods whatever they might be, definitely listen to your body and examine that and pretty much again anything can be modified I think as long as you are staying very unprocessed and as close to nature as nature intended with your food choices, I don’t think you can go wrong.
Jonathan: It almost seems like Mareya that we’ve arrived at a pretty awesome definition of healthy eating and that healthy eating is something that is very enjoyable to do and that makes you feel very good as well and if it’s not those things, it’s not healthy because if it’s not enjoyable, you are not going to keep it up and you are probably going to yo-yo and that’s not healthy and if it doesn’t make you feel good, well you are not feeling good, so what’s the point in the first place.
Mareya: Definitely and really I think there is a lot to be said about stopping and really savoring your food. We get into this mode of just quick “I am going to go grab it, don’t even taste it while it’s going down.” Really take a few minutes to digest, eat slower. Even just chewing your food properly is really important in maintaining your weight. If you are gulping your food down and you are not chewing it, you are not giving your body a chance to break it down and the enzymes in your mouth to do what they are supposed to, that can also cause problems; indigestion, bad digestion. Just take the time to respect it; it’s what keeps us alive.
Jonathan: I love it Mareya. Her name is Mareya Ibrahim and she is the founder of EatCleaner.com. She is a featured chef on ABC’s Recipe Rehab and please go do checkout her website EatCleaner.com because some of the stuffs she is doing with recipes is literally magical.
My traditional podcast co-host is Carrie Brown and she does something similar albeit with a little bit of a different bent, but just what you do with transforming these recipes I just love. So folks, please go give that a look and Mareya thank you so much for joining us today.
Mareya: Thank you Jonathan, it’s been great talking to you.
Jonathan: Everyone please remember, this week and every other week after that to eat more and exercise less, but do that smarter. Talk to you soon.
[Audio Ends 30:27]