Nia Vardalos Gets Healthy

Featured Article, Healthy Living
on October 1, 2012

Most new moms don’t find themselves suddenly in charge of an active toddler, but that’s exactly how it happened for actress and writer Nia Vardalos. The My Big Fat Greek Wedding star and her husband Ian Gomez adopted their daughter at age 3.

“She walked in the door, and she didn’t stop moving that first day. She went all through the house, up and down the stairs,” Nia recalls, laughing. “I was like, ‘Man, I’m going to have killer thighs chasing this kid around!’”

Four years later, Nia’s still busy as ever, working on several TV and movie scripts as well as a memoir to be released next spring, Instant Mom: I Thought I Knew Love, and Then I Met My Daughter. She’s also teamed up with the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) on a consumer wellness campaign called “Life … supplemented.” The campaign offers a free mobile app, WannaBeWell, to help the harried but health-conscious organize their day-to-day wellness routine. Nia spoke with about how she stays on top of her health regimen—“I don’t call it a kick, because that implies it’s fleeting!” she says—and what her daughter is teaching her about staying well.

Spry: You have a lot of projects going on, and you’re a mom now, but I know you’ve made a commitment to healthier living. Tell me about the WannaBeWell app and how that is helping you manage that.

Nia Vardalos: The WannaBeWell app is awesome because it is so simple to download. I’m not looking to complicate my life, because I honestly am not technologically savvy in any way whatsoever. I open my computer and I use it for email and writing scripts … that’s it. So this app is so simple. You download it and it keeps you motivated in the simplest way. What you do is you create your own personalized wellness coach by choosing from these little characters that you can customize. Then they deliver daily motivational and educational messages. I’ve learned a lot about how to just stay motivated through the day, and you feel like someone’s doing it with you without getting yelled at by a personal trainer. Then you receive these healthy mission tasks, and then you get trophies for accomplishing the tasks (laughs). Then you set up reminders to take your supplements or restock your supply, and it’s a wonderful app. It’s really great because you don’t feel like you’re doing it alone. And for each WannaBeWell app download, a $1 donation will be made to Vitamin Angels, which is a non-profit charity that helps get nutrients to children in need.

Spry: What kind of supplements do you like to take?

NV: What I take is probably so much different from what you need. I take B and Biotin and D and E and the fish oils, but you may not need that at all. And why take them if you don’t need them? You can start by taking a multivitamin. A person can do that until they talk to their healthcare professional and find out what they need. Because some people need D, and some people don’t. Some people need calcium, and some people don’t.

Spry: How have you managed to fit healthy eating and exercise into a busy life?

NV: It’s definitely a yin-yang thing for me because if I don’t eat well and exercise, I don’t have energy to eat well and exercise. It’s this cycle, and really all I’m looking for is a lot of energy to run after my daughter. When she comes home from school and she says, “Want to play with me?,” the last thing I want to say in this age that is so beautiful and innocent is “No, I’m tired. I just don’t want to do that.” Just yesterday we were running around playing tag in the backyard and I thought, I couldn’t have done this a couple of years ago, there’s no way. So she keeps me motivated.

How I do it is how any of us do it. I have to be organized and I have to just jam-pack my schedule with little motivational moments for myself. Like I make an appointment with myself: take my supplements. I cross it off on my old-school day planner. I write exercise class because it gives me immense satisfaction to cross it off when I’ve done it.

Spry: I think that’s a big thing, the motivation. We all know what we’re supposed to be doing, but day-to-day, how does motivation help you to take those steps?

NV: It’s simple because I see that it works. If it didn’t work, we would all let it fall by the wayside. We know the answer, you’re absolutely right, what you just said. We know that if we go for a walk, and eat right, and take our supplements, we’re going to feel better. What we call it is the three pillars of health—a healthy diet, plus supplements, plus exercise. Those three things, if you just do those things at the end of the day you will be smiling.

Spry: What’s your favorite way to work out?

NV: I take classes. I take cardio barré, which is fast ballet, and you don’t have to be a dancer to take it. I’m a testament to that. And it’s really fun, and it’s fast. You’re in and out in an hour—showered and at my desk writing.

Spry: When I’m procrastinating, one of my favorite things to do is to eat. Is that something you can relate to and how do you deal with that?

NV:My daughter likes to use a knife, so I put her to work. Twice a week we will chop up a whole bunch of vegetables and I leave them in water in the fridge—celery, cauliflower, and little cherry tomatoes—and then I grab a bag of those every morning before I go to work. I just grab that.

Spry: What’s one of your favorite healthy meals?

NV: I make my own soups. I’ll just take 12 zucchini, cut them up, and just put it in enough water, boil it, and then you use a mixer to blend it. I have one of those hand ones. You put it in five times (makes mixer sound). You eat that with a little bit of lemon; it’s awesome soup.

Spry: We talk a lot now about how to make sure our kids grow up with healthy habits. How have you approached that with your daughter?

NV: To tell you the truth, I’ve learned from her. She’s a very active child, and she eats every 2 hours. I used to eat 6 small meals a day, but now I find myself eating every 2 hours. I graze through the day, so when it comes to lunch, I’m not that hungry. And when it comes to dinner, I’m not that hungry. It really helps through the day. So I would say it’s sort of the reverse.

Spry: It sounds like she really likes being active and running around.

NV: She doesn’t stop. It’s amazing to watch! She’ll be comfortable eating 6 blueberries and 2 almonds, and then she’s off and running again. That’s a very healthy snack. I find sometimes when we go for a picnic, I’ll have packed really healthy things for her, and then for me, not so much. So I’ve found if I just snack on her food, I definitely feel better at the end of the day.

Spry: You have a book coming out next spring about the process of adoption. How did that come about?

NV: Well, I couldn’t find one book that was a credible source of information that would explain terms and tell me how to do it. So I wrote the book that I wish was out there when I was trying to find out how to adopt. And I told the story of how we were matched with our daughter. She was a preschooler. She was almost 3 years old. We had 14 hours notice, and then she walked in our door. So the book is called Instant Mom.

Coincidentally, that is exactly the time that I got on my health regimen. It was at the time that I was about to shoot the movie My Life In Ruins, and I didn’t feel well. I just wasn’t eating well because I was writing! I was rewriting that script. I was writing other things; I was writing Larry Crowne with Tom Hanks—I name dropped just a little bit—I was writing so much! And I was eating more and sedentary. So that process, I am so happy that I started to shoot that movie exactly as I was in the process of adopting, because I got so healthy and fit, that by the time my daughter walked in our door, I was ready to be a parent.

Spry: You talked about losing weight at one point a few years ago and you said you “broke up with cheese.” Do you still have things that you don’t eat, either because they’re triggers or they just don’t fit your plan any more? Or do you find ways now to fit in the things you really love?

NV: Definitely both. I find ways to—I went to Italy this summer, and I ate my weight in burrata [an Italian cheese], because we were there and it was fun. You just can’t be punitive, I find. And on a day-to-day basis, for example on Friday I have my photo shoot for the cover of my book, and then on Wednesday I’m going to be on local television talking about the “Life… supplemented”campaign. So I have to be careful. I just can’t completely let go, like I did in Italy. That was fun, but I was coming back to not being on camera. And I don’t really worry about my weight on camera; I worry about that feeling of clothes not fitting. And that’s what cheese does to me; it bloats me.

Spry: And also like you said, the energy. I’m sure there are weeks when you just have to be on top of things.

NV: Yes. Like this morning I knew I was going to go take my exercise class, so I had a quick egg white omelet, and then I took my supplements, and then drove my daughter to school, so that I would have a least 40 minutes for everything to digest. That’s how I have to be organized for my day.