Julie Wilcox, THE WIN-WIN DIET

Julie Wilcox, THE WIN-WIN DIET

Zibby is joined by wellness consultant and childhood friend Julie Wilcox to talk about her new book, The Win-Win Diet. Julie shares how her experience as an Olympic-aspiring gymnast led her down the path of nutrition studies and creating recipes that offer more than just basic sustenance. The two also discuss how to create a sustainable plant-based diet, Julie’s experience writing this book during Covid, and some of her creative self-marketing strategies.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Julie. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss The Win-Win Diet.

Julie Wilcox: Thanks, Zibby. It’s wonderful to be here, as always.

Zibby: This is so crazy because I feel like we’ve known each other since we were born, basically, right?

Julie: Practically, yes. I’d say probably around three years old. It’s been a long time.

Zibby: Wow. I feel like I have all these baby pictures of me even with your sisters at my birthday party or something. Your older sisters were these cooler older girls. It was just the coolest thing. Here we are.

Julie: It’s awesome to have friends that go that far back, and unique. We’re very lucky.

Zibby: It’s true, probably because so many of us have stayed right here.

Julie: Born and bred New Yorkers. Once a New Yorker, always a New Yorker.

Zibby: Before we dig into the specifics of the book, how did you get into this whole area of interest, nutrition, food, lifestyle, all of this, wellness, everything? Give us the quick background from when you were three and we were hanging out to now.

Julie: It goes back pretty far, but not quite that far. I was an Olympic-aspiring gymnast as a kid. Started about at eight years old and practiced very intensively until I was fifteen. That was under Russian coaches about four hours a day, six days a week, and often competed on the seventh, so a very rigorous training, to say the least. Of course, food and nutrition was an important topic of conversation, and lifestyle. At that time, it was really geared towards showing up being extremely slim, having very low body fat, and enough energy to compete at your highest level. Ironically, it didn’t focus so much on individuality or even, necessarily, proper nutrition. What I did take away from that experience was an extraordinary amount of discipline and structure and the knowledge of how to use that and implement that throughout my life to my advantage, essentially. Later, I became a yoga teacher and studio owner. At that time as an adult, I really learned to bring mindfulness and balance into my equation to soften those rough edges, perfectionist edges that I had as a kid. Certainly until I got to this point, they still sort of lingered with me. That brought me to a much more content place in all aspects of my life. Then finally, I went back to school to get my master’s of science in nutrition and dietetics at NYU. I really was able to learn about the hard science of food and nutrition. That was really important and gave me that knowledge about the personalization. When I spoke just a moment ago about, even as a gymnast, focusing diet on your specific needs as an individual human being was not attended to; when I went to school and I was studying and immersed in the academics of it and reading all the research and the evidence, that’s what came out most powerfully to me. I just am so passionate about it all and finished the degree and dove into writing this book, which really is about how to finesse a personalized plant-based diet.

Zibby: Wow. What do you eat? What did you have for breakfast? Seriously, what do you eat in a day?

Julie: This morning actually was atypical because I developed a new recipe this week which was inspired by a dish I had in Miami about a month and a half ago. My variation on it is half a papaya filled with tahini, drizzled with honey, and topped with some of my homemade granola — the recipe for that is in the book — and some berries.

Zibby: That sounds good.

Julie: That was this morning. Typically, I will otherwise have my antioxidant smoothie, which is also in the book. I will top that with some of the granola as well. That’s a good five-day-a-week breakfast meal. For lunch, I usually have my go-to salad, which is some kind of green lettuce, often romaine or sometimes arugula, cherry tomatoes, walnuts, cucumbers, avocado, and then a plant-based protein or a couple slices of cheese or something and my white balsamic dressing. I’ll usually have an almond flour tortilla with that. If I have some leftovers of something from dinner the night before, maybe my plant-based meatballs or some tofu, whatever that may be, I’ll throw that in. I make it in little piles. It’s really delicious and beautiful. Then for dinner, it changes up. That’s where I really like to have the most variety. I believe in the discipline and the structure and the routine pretty much for two meals of the day, for breakfast and lunch. Then I have anything from fish to veggie bowls to pasta — yes, I eat pasta — pizza. Tacos is a favorite. I’ve been really into Korean cuisine lately. I do eat quite a bit of tofu, so I love that, tempeh, seitan dishes, that sort of thing.

Zibby: Do you eat dessert? I know you have this avocado — what is it? Avocado mousse or vegan mousse or something. I was like, ohh, I’ll try that.

Julie: Yeah, I do eat dessert. I have a serious sweet tooth. That ranges from dark chocolate to, I’ll have, occasionally, some frozen yogurt, occasionally some ice cream. I have, in the book also, a whole wheat cookie chip cookie recipe. That’s an eggless recipe. That’s delicious. I’ll make those. I’ll freeze the dough. Then when I want it, we just heat them up, my daughter and I, and have our fresh, delicious, home-baked cookies. I do eat dessert.

Zibby: All these recipes — half your book — not half. Yeah, half your book, ish, has all these amazing, delicious-sounding, making-me-hungry-type things sorted by category. Did you invent all these recipes? That’s a whole skill set in and of itself, testing recipes and doing all that stuff. Did you have to do all that?

Julie: I did. I did it all. It was fun. It’s a creative process for me. Ironically, I’ve never been the type of person that can follow other’s recipes, so I’ve had to rely on my own creativity in the kitchen to get anything done. I’ll always make mistakes if I follow other’s recipes. I just decided to start writing down what I was doing in the kitchen on my own and then developing new recipes. I worked with a recipe editor once I had a good portion of them down. That was a fun experience. Viola, ninety-five recipes.

Zibby: Wow, oh, my gosh. They all just sound so good. Did you always like to cook like this? Was this a thing? I know you had trouble following others, but just in terms of an enjoyment standpoint.

Julie: Yeah. When I was young, we always had delicious food around the house. My mother went to the Cordon Bleu in Paris when she was young. She was always doing something interesting in the kitchen, so I had many years of observation under my belt.

Zibby: And she’s a doctor. Look at that.

Julie: I think it was after college and I started living on my own outside of the school context that I really started experimenting with cooking and just over the years became more and more — it’s something I really enjoy. I get my ideas from restaurants that I eat out at, what other people make when I see beautiful pictures. I just harvest ideas from all over the place and then do my thing. Then I start from scratch. I take what I like, what I don’t like. Maybe I want to add something new, some interesting flair or some herbs and spices. That’s about how it goes.

Zibby: For somebody who’s not eating a plant-based diet — I know you have different onramps from this to that, pescatarian to — which is really useful and user-friendly in the book and everything. How hard have you seen it with people you’ve tried to coach into doing this or whatever to really morph into a new category and then be able to maintain that for a while and not just test it out?

Julie: If you do it gradually, which is my approach and methodology, it’s not difficult. That’s the beauty of it, is that it is sustainable. Unlike so many fad diets that are out there that you can do for a few days, a week, a month, this is something you can do for life as long as you go through the transitional periods and you do the assessments and make sure that your body is responding okay, make sure that you’re emotionally well, psychologically well. I go through in the book, exercises and ways to do those assessments. If you go through that process, it’s a smooth ride.

Zibby: What was it like turning this into a book?

Julie: I spent the year of the pandemic writing it. I started January of 2019. I thought it was just going to be a side, fun project. I thought if I ever wanted to get it out there in the world, I might self-publish it. That was the only plan that I might have had in the back of my mind. Then the pandemic hit. I was going to get back to my business and start building out my client base again after I’d finished the four years of school that I had done. When COVID came about, I just decided to put my nose to the computer and make this a full-time ordeal. It took me a year to get a really solid draft done. Then I had some introductions to a couple of agents and publishers. I went out to them. One of them picked it up and was very excited about it. Then it took about a year from the point at which I signed with them — that’s Post Hill Press — to the actual release date, the whole editing process, designing the cover with them, designing the interior layout and structure.

Zibby: It’s so great. How long have you been keeping a plant-based diet?

Julie: I was an omnivore until I was about eight years old. Then I became vegetarian at about fourteen. I saw a film on factory farming in school in the ninth grade in biology class. That really turned me off from meat. At the same time, one of my sisters had already been vegetarian as well. As you may well know, who we surround ourselves with really impacts the choices we make as far as diet is concerned. I became vegetarian. I was vegetarian for ten years. Theoretically, since I was fourteen, I was plant-based. Then after I graduated from college, I became pescatarian, which is also a plant-based diet. I’ve been in pescatarian since.

Zibby: Amazing. You go through all of what those things are, what the differences are with pescatarian, what you can and can’t eat, and all that. What is the main benefit? I know you go through all of the different eating methodologies and everything. If there’s someone listening who’s like, “I’m not giving up meat. I just can’t. You’ve got to really convince me that this is worth it,” why is it worth the energy to convert?

Julie: First of all, that person could be flexitarian, which does allow for some amounts of meat and certainly dairy and eggs as well. The idea there is to reduce the amount that you eat and make better choices about the quality that you’re consuming. To answer your question, any of the four eating patterns I cover in the book are associated with enhanced energy, sleep, immunity, strength, mood. They all reduce the risk of a whole host of chronic disease from type 2 diabetes to obesity, autoimmune disease, cognitive disorders, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and hypertension, of course. The health benefits are myriad. Then of course, you also have doing a service to the environment and animal welfare.

Zibby: Where do you want to take this whole enterprise of yours? What’s your goal? What’s your dream pie in the sky?

Julie: I just want to keep educating people. I’m doing a lot of speaking now at universities. I love working with that demographic because I feel that that age group is super hungry for this information, ready to take it and use it, already kind of thinking along those directions, much more so than our generation and certainly our parents, more concerned about the environment, more concerned about animal welfare, even. Education is a big part of it. I do that also in the nonprofit world, so bringing the knowledge and the information to people that don’t have easy access to it in public school systems, whether it’s in the Bronx or other areas of the city that just are in need of the information and the food itself. I do a lot of work there. Then I’m working on another book as well. That is definitely a project. I’m back to my coaching business. I work with individuals one on one. I work with corporations developing wellness programs for their employees and, of course, educational institutions as well.

Zibby: Wow, that’s really exciting. Is there anything about this lifestyle — do you ever feel constricted, like you want to rebel and go off and eat five bags of M&M’s or something?

Julie: I don’t because I give myself the space and the room and the allowance to basically do that. As I mentioned, I do eat dessert. I love sweets. I am disciplined and structured enough of the time about how and what I eat and how much I eat that if I want to go have — you’ll never see me take a huge bag of Frito-Lay or something like that and eat the whole thing, but I pretty much eat what I want. Ultimately, this approach is not restrictive. I don’t feel deprived. I don’t want anybody else to feel deprived. I don’t want people to feel like they have to make sacrifices. They too learn how to make space for the deliciousness that you want sometimes but just not all the time.

Zibby: I’m sorry I keep asking you about yourself personally. I know this is a program for other people at home. I’m so curious about you. I’m sorry if I’ve put you on the spot.

Julie: You can ask whatever you want.

Zibby: What is your next book going to be about?

Julie: My next book is about the qualities and traits that drive health and well-being, so the internal personal qualities and traits as opposed to the foods we put in our mouth, the exercise we do, or anything else. Typically on this topic, it’s always like, what can we do that’s outside of ourselves to enhance our health and well-being? This is about the internal necessities, essentially.

Zibby: That is really cool.

Julie: Personality character traits, there are eight of them, actually, which I’m not going to reveal yet right now.

Zibby: That sounds very, very interesting.

Julie: Eight qualities of supremely healthy people and how to get them.

Zibby: I like it. I did my senior thesis — I was a psych major. It was on how the application of social comparison theory applies to eating disorders and eating situations and how much you notice what other people eat and how much people are working out. Does that correlate with depression, anxiety, history of eating disorders, and all that stuff?

Julie: Of course, it does. What did you discover?

Zibby: I discovered that. No one had done that study before, so I did it.

Julie: Good for you. Was it helpful to you? How are you feeling about your diet and plant-based eating?

Zibby: I have to tell you, this double combo of keeping Passover and having COVID is working wonders for my intake.

Julie: I can imagine.

Zibby: I feel pretty good this week. My favorite these days when I’m not eating sweets or something is veggie-based, thick, yummy pureed soups. I eat one of those for lunch. It keeps me all the rest of the day.

Julie: Soups are wonderful. Soups are amazing. I have five or six recipes in my book. You have to try the creamy cream-less broccoli soup. There’s a classic lentil soup. There’s a vegetarian French onion soup which is to die for. There’s an asparagus puree, a roasted butternut squash. On my website, I have some recipes that aren’t in the book. There’s a coconut oil-infused roasted carrot soup. I’m totally with you there. Again, I usually like to pair it with a little something on the side, but it definitely powers you through the day.

Zibby: It’s so satisfying. I think I really like hot foods. If it’s not hot, I don’t actually feel satisfied.

Julie: That might have to do with your, if you were looking at it through the lens of Ayurveda, with your constitutional type. In Ayurveda, which is the ancient Hindu science of life, they believe that we each have three elements that dominate our constitutions, which are water, fire, and air. The idea is that we have them all in harmony and in balance. That’s the ideal place that we all want to be. Throughout life, they inevitably get imbalanced. One tends to dominate. If you’re the fire person, the pitta person it’s called, you would want to gear your diet towards more cooling foods, essentially. If you’re a kapha person, the water one, then you might need a little bit more spice and warmth and things that are just more energizing and comforting. That’s a whole area of interest that I learned from my years as a yoga teacher. That’s cool to delve into. You might be a kapha person. Therefore, you are eating pitta foods to sort of balance out.

Zibby: Interesting. Thank you for that. It’s been more recent that I’ve noticed that. I’m like, why? My husband cools things off. I’m like, “It’s ready. Let’s eat right now. I don’t want this getting cold.” Interesting. I love it.

Julie: I’m a fire person. I’m a pitta person, so I’m looking for the cooler foods. That’s why, at night, desserts are typically something that’s a frozen dessert. It’ll be a frozen yogurt or an ice cream or a sorbet or something that’s cooling, a mousse. My salads, that’s what I typically eat at lunch also. I just like colder foods. I believe that is also working out that balance that I don’t quite have.

Zibby: So my life is not in balance.

Julie: Google it, Zibby. After we finish, google. Go look at the doshas.

Zibby: I’m going to. I feel like I learned about that at some point. I did the — what was it even called? I did some online year-long course, Center for something Nutrition.

Julie: Integrative Nutrition?

Zibby: Yeah, Institute of Integrative Nutrition. A long time ago, I did learn about that. Then I forgot it right away, so there we go.

Julie: Time to refresh your memory.

Zibby: Time to refresh, absolutely. Having written a book and gotten through this whole process, what advice would you have for aspiring authors?

Julie: I wrote my entire manuscript before I went out with it. Interestingly, when I met with my editor the other day, I was like, “Can I now just write the proposal and go out with that?” It was great that I got the manuscript done. I don’t think I would’ve gotten a publisher had I not gone that route as a first-time author, but there’s something nice to think that you can just start with a proposal. She told me — I’m curious to know what your thoughts are — that it’s actually going more in the other direction now. If you can have a full manuscript done, that certainly can work to your benefit. What are your thoughts on that?

Zibby: It depends. I think it’s always better to have it. When we’re evaluating manuscripts, it’s like, I could hope that this proposal would be good, or I could see that this one is good. It’s not that it would eliminate one, but if you have to choose between an unknown and a known, you can always work with something in the known. You can always say, okay, this is good. Let’s keep this part. Let’s delete this. Start over here. One book, we basically had her rewrite, but I don’t know if we would’ve taken her book if we hadn’t have seen it.

Julie: Right. That’s one piece of advice I’d give. If you can write the whole manuscript, that’s a good way to go. The other thing is, of course, always, who you surround yourself with is really meaningful. Depending on the type of writer you are, you can definitely get your work done and then get eyeballs on it. I personally worked with a development editor, which was necessary for me just because I wanted someone that was really an expert in food given the topic that I was covering. Even the recipes, there are so many details that are needed in how you exactly write a recipe. I didn’t want to have to backtrack a ton, so I had her on from the beginning. That was really, really helpful. Then at other stages of the process later on, I brought in a couple other people that had different perspectives from the food world, like a woman who I was working with. She has a coaching business. Her name is Dana Cowin. She’s amazing for anyone that is looking to write a food-oriented book. She was editor-in-chief of Food & Wine for twenty years. She’s written her own books. When I got to the point of publishing and social media and marketing, she was just an amazing resource of information for all that. That was great. Then lastly, I’d say the more you can build out all your platforms prior to publication, the better off you are. I’m sure many people that are listening to this who have done some research on how to publish a book have heard this, but they definitely look at those numbers and want to see that you have a following.

Zibby: I think maybe more so for nonfiction. I think if you have an amazing novel and it lands on your desk, I don’t think it matters as much. I don’t know.

Julie: That could be. Look, I don’t have a huge following myself. I got my book published. I don’t think it’s always matters, but that’s the message that I got from the very beginning.

Zibby: Seal gave me that message too. I’m like, okay, all right.

Julie: If it’s not true for fiction or for the books that you guys take in, kudos to you. That’s amazing because I feel personally that it shouldn’t be all that important. I think it’s kind of taken up too much space in our world and our lives.

Zibby: I totally agree, as I spend an entire day on social media with my book launch. I’m like, does this even do anything? I don’t know. People are trying to solve this mystery formula all the time.

Julie: You have to find other creative ways, also, of selling books. That’s something that I’m still learning at this point in the process. Speaking at these universities, it’s a great gig because not only do I get to do the part that I love, which is the education and interaction with students, but the universities then buy chunks of books.

Zibby: That’s really smart. That’s smart. I love it.

Julie: For me, I think that I sell more books that way, probably, at this point than I do through social media. Then another route that I’m going, too, is my book is going to be carried in spas. That’s also phenomenal. I think people just really need to explore all different avenues as to how to get the book out in the world. There are many, and so many that you don’t even think of at first.

Zibby: Did you contact each individual spa? Have you partnered with a chain? How are you doing that?

Julie: One that I’m sure you know of is Naturopathica. They have spas in the Hamptons and in New York. Since I and you have been going out East forever since we’ve known each other, that just was a natural collaboration, so pretty much places that I love to go or people that I know. You want to have your allies. Also, I have, definitely, a small crew of people that are doing a lot of work for me for free, whether it’s family, whether it’s friends who are getting the word out and have connections places. They hook you up. That’s great.

Zibby: Love it. Thank you, Julie. This is so fun. Congratulations on your book. I’m excited for you.

Julie: Thank you. I hope you get better soon. Congratulations on everything that you’re doing. Good luck on what’s to come.

Zibby: Thank you. I want to try some of these recipes.

Julie: Yes, you absolutely need to. Please do. If you have any questions about any of them, let me know.

Zibby: All right. Bye.

Julie Wilcox, THE WIN-WIN DIET

THE WIN-WIN DIET by Julie Wilcox

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