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Darya Pino

By her mid-20s, Darya Pino Rose had been dieting for 15 years — and was miserable. “I was hungry all the time,” says the now-33-year-old author and healthy eating expert. “And, even still, I wasn’t happy with my body.”

So Rose, who was enrolled in a PhD neuroscience program at the University of California, San Francisco, did what scientists do: She dove into the research.

As she waded through dense academic papers looking for the best way to shed pounds, she discovered something that surprised her: The most effective way to lose weight and the best way to eat for health are actually the same thing.

“It was an epiphany for me,” says the California native. “I’d never thought of it that way before, oddly, and I think that’s one of the problems with the diet industry. They’ve succeeded in convincing us that these are separate phenomena when really they’re the same.”

Rose was so compelled by her discovery that when she completed her PhD program in 2010, she decided to steer her attention to her website, (launched in 2009), a health-focused nutrition and lifestyle blog that was named one of Time magazine’s 50 Best Websites of 2011. Her first book, Foodist: Using Real Food and Real Science to Lose Weight Without Dieting (HarperOne, 2013), hits bookshelves in May.

Experience Life | You have a long history of dieting. What kick-started your obsession with weight loss?

Darya Pino Rose |I started dieting in the sixth grade when my mom started using Slim-Fast. I wasn’t thinking about losing weight. I just wanted to drink a chocolate milkshake with my mom for breakfast.

That breakfast shake turned into this pattern of trying to be thinner and trying out the next cool fad diet. I’ve done all of them: After Slim-Fast, I didn’t eat fat for years. Then the Atkins diet became popular and all I ate was fat — meat, bacon, cheese. I lost a lot of weight on Atkins, but it was horrible, because your brain isn’t getting any carbohydrates, which it needs for fuel. Then I tried South Beach, which is a lighter version of Atkins. Dieting just became this habit that I had; it became something that dictated my life and my relationship with food.

EL | So what is your take on healthy eating these days?

DPR |The best thing to eat is real food. What is real food? I describe it as food that you can envision where it came from. A vegetable clearly grew from the ground. Fish clearly came from water. You should be suspicious of anything that doesn’t look like it came out of the earth, air or water. Also, it is about diversity, about getting as many different nutrients in your body as possible.

What it isn’t about is restriction. Restriction and sacrifice always fail because willpower is exhaustible; you can’t maintain it forever. So my advice to dieters — and it’s really hard to do when you’ve lived this way for so long — is to not restrict your food intake. If you’re eating whole, real, seasonal foods, you’re doing the best thing you can do for health and weight loss. You don’t need to restrict your food intake anymore.

The other thing you will discover with this way of eating is how amazing it tastes. Real food has flavor. It’s not just gobs upon gobs of sugar, salt and hydrogenated fat. It’s nuanced, and it’s amazing, and it never gets old because it changes with the season.

EL | What are your thoughts on food detoxes?

DPR |I’m very careful when I talk about this because, like I just mentioned, I’m not a big fan of intentional restriction. That said, I do recommend what I call a “recalibration,” which is a simplified version of what a doctor or a scientist would call an elimination diet. Specifically, it’s no sugar, no wheat, no dairy, and no alcohol for two weeks.

The goal of recalibration is to get yourself back on track and prepare your body to eat healthily. Also, if you have certain problems, like digestive issues or acne, or you’re fatigued or having headaches — things you think might be food related — recalibration is a great way to troubleshoot things like that.

EL | Aside from our eating, what else do we need to pay attention to? 

DPR |No matter what, I always recommend people avoid having a sedentary life. Activity is incredibly important for maintaining your insulin sensitivity. I’m also a big fan of incorporating mindfulness (though not necessarily a religious meditation) in one’s life. I think of meditation as going to the gym for your brain. It trains you to have more control over where you focus and where you put your energy. Instead of being a victim of our crazy distracted society, you can have better control over what you do and how you feel.

EL | On, you talk about “upgrading your healthstyle.” Can you explain what that word means and why you chose it? 

DPR |I use the word “healthstyle” for a couple of reasons. One is to avoid the confusion around the word “diet.” The problem is when you’re writing about food, health and weight loss, it’s almost impossible to use the word “diet” without conjuring the idea of restriction.

I also use “healthstyle” to illustrate the fact that health is something you can’t escape. I think people regard diets as something temporary, but your healthstyle isn’t temporary. You have it no matter what. You can either have a good one or a bad one, but you have one — one that doesn’t just take the weekend off because it’s your friend’s 30th birthday or one that you’re “totally gonna start on Monday.” Your healthstyle is everything you do that affects your health.

EL | Are there any healthstyle upgrades that you’ve struggled to implement yourself?

DPR |The hardest for me has been to eat slowly. Even with healthy food, it’s important to eat consciously, and to be aware of what you are putting in your body, rather than just devouring it.

So I started looking into ways to try to monitor how much I eat without feeling like I was depriving myself, and found the best way to do that was to eat slowly and chew my food thoroughly. That way you actually get more satisfaction out of your food and you need less of it to feel like you’ve gotten what you want out of the meal.

Go Behind the Scenes with Darya Pino Rose.

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