How ‘Normal People’ Eat: Rachel Blakeman

Genetics aside, Rachel Blakeman has engineered the  ultimate healthy lifestyle for someone who loves food and hates

Genetics aside, Rachel Blakeman has engineered a fantastic healthy lifestyle for someone who loves food and hates to work out.

I’d gotten away from doing “Normal People” interviews, in part because of the extra work involved but primarily because I started wondering if such beings actually existed, or whether they were just a figment of my food-obsessed imagination.

An awful lot of people I’d always thought of as thin turned out to have secret battles with their weight. And once I adjusted my vision as a normal-sized person myself, I began to see how being even a few pounds overweight can make you look and feel “fat.”

Then I found myself at a social event where talk turned to diet — and the most animated person in the conversation also happened to be the  thinnest person in the room.

Yeah, Rachel Blakeman probably does have an unusually revved-up metabolism, for which she good naturedly apologized. But the law student, former public information officer for Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry and fellow Unitarian also clearly puts a lot of thought into her healthy lifestyle.

I had a pretty strong hunch that even now, after all I’ve read, thought and written on the topic of diet and exercise, I could learn something from quizzing Rachel on how she goes about doing this thing we call eating. And I was right.

Q. You don’t look like the type of person who’s ever had to worry too much about her weight. Should I hate you?

A. Hate is kind of strong word, don’t you think? But seriously, my weight has never been much of a problem. I was thin as a child, probably in part to being a picky eater.
Something else that shouldn’t be overlooked is the fact that my dad and his side of the family is relatively thin, not to mention tall. I think there’s a genetic component here that deserves to be mentioned. I can’t say that it’s entirely genes, but I can’t help but wonder if this is part of it.

Q. Do you pay attention to how much you eat at any given meal or on any  given day, or is it more a case of setting up a routine that you follow?

A. I have a general routine, but that does not mean I will not vary from it.  Generally speaking, I count calories. Not in a direct, 200 calories here, 400 calories for a snack kind of way, Rather I have some sense of how much I have eaten in the past 24 hours and adjust accordingly. Thus if I have a large dinner out, I am likely to have a small breakfast and even small lunch the next day. Additionally, I am very deliberate about not drinking many calories. As much as I love smoothies, milkshakes or even pop and juice, I don’t have them very often. Liquid calories are kind of sneaky.

Q. What do you eat for breakfast?

A. I’m very traditional when it comes to breakfast foods. Also, I need something that doesn’t take much time to prepare in the morning. Usually it’s cereal, either whole-grain cold cereal (I love Mini Wheats) or oatmeal in the winter with a touch of brown sugar and cinnamon. That said, I also sometimes have whole-grain toast, a homemade breakfast sandwich of cheese and egg on an English muffin, or a grapefruit on the weekends (too much time to prep on weekdays).

Q. Does it bother you to get overly full?

A. Yes, but in a physical sense, not psychologically. A few times a year I will eat so much that I think that I will never need to eat again.

Q.  Do you ever pig out? If so, how do you respond afterward?

A. Never at home; only at a restaurant. I have a weak spot for pizza and Sunday brunch (the all-you-can-eat version). Often I will know a day in advance of such an event so I may eat a smaller dinner the day before or have a light lunch. Also, I find the day after I eat a huge meal I’m not that hungry. I really try to let me hunger guide me on how much to eat.

Q. What’s your biggest weakness, and how do you deal with it?

A. I have an amazing need for what I call “little snacks,” as in I often think I need a little snack of a few potato chips here, some cheese and crackers, hummus and carrots, a snack-size candy bar, a cookie, etc. between meals. I guess you could say I’m a grazer. I know that that kind of snacking can add up calorie-wise. Therefore I try to account for that when fixing a snack by making a small portion and then serving myself a smaller meal later on.

Q. What would you order for an imaginary “Death Row” meal?

A. Pepperoni pizza and soft-serve ice cream. It’s not exotic or fancy, but I love them both.

Q. What’s your favorite meal at your favorite restaurant, if it’s different than above?

A. I don’t know that I can say that I have one favorite meal. If I go out to eat, I want to order something I can’t or won’t make at home. I like to cook, so going out is a treat and it better be worth the calories and money, i.e. better than what I can do at home. Since I don’t have a deep fryer at home, fried food is on this list, or whatever the house specialty is. I figure if the restaurant is famous for a particular dish, it’s probably worth trying.

Q. How often do you step on a scale?

A. Once or twice a week.

Q. You mentioned that you incorporate activity into your life so you don’t have to “work out.” What are some examples?

A. I find that self-powered transportation is a big one. For example, if the building has four floors or fewer, I take the stairs. I’ve noticed that newer buildings often feature the stairs as part of the architecture rather than making them feel like an emergency-only fire escape. Also, I try to walk to destinations rather than defaulting to the car for short trips, such as my library branch or meeting a friend for lunch downtown.

In the summer, I’m a pretty dedicated bike commuter (I wear my street clothes; no spandex jerseys here). It’s kind of awesome to get to work at 8 a.m. knowing you’ve already had an intense 10-minute workout before you’ve started your workday.

Also, when the weather is nice, i.e. April-October, I’ll often go for a 45-minute walk in my neighborhood after dinner. It’s nice to get moving and see what’s happening around me. I do that as much for  the mental and emotional benefit as I do for the exercise.

Q. Anything else you’d like to add?

A. I just read something interesting on Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project blog about abstainers vs. moderators. Abstainers find that it’s easier to give up something entirely. Moderators, on the other hand, like to have small portions and find it nearly impossible to give up whatever it is. I am entirely a moderator. I can’t imagine giving up a particular food; it kind of scares me just to think about it. However I know abstainers who know that one scoop of ice cream results in an entire pint eaten in a single sitting. I think it’s about knowing who you are and what works for you. Don’t presume that if it works for someone else that it will be equally good for you. As my mother likes to say, you have to know how your body works.

Q. Ok then, I have to ask: How many of those lovely Valentine’s cookies (saw them on Facebook) did you end up eating? Were you in full moderator mode there?

A. I had two cookies. And yes, full moderator. I have to thank my mother for setting a really positive tone about food early in my life.

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2 Responses to How ‘Normal People’ Eat: Rachel Blakeman

  1. Eric L. says:

    Good info on the abstainers vs. moderators. Helps me realize what I’ve already known deep down – I’m an abstainer all the way 🙂

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