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Published: Saturday, 1/20/2007

Tuning in to healthy eating

BY ANN WEBER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Zonya Foco tapes her show, Zonya's Health Bites, in her home kitchen. Her husband, Scott, is the cameraman. Zonya Foco tapes her show, Zonya's Health Bites, in her home kitchen. Her husband, Scott, is the cameraman.
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A cheerleader when she was in high school, 43-year-old Zonya Foco is a cheerleader still.

But instead of exhorting the student body at Onsted Community High School in Michigan s Irish Hills, Ms. Foco is now pumping up people nationwide to develop healthy habits that will result in lifelong weight control.

I want to teach nutrition better than anybody. That has been my goal, said the registered dietitian, certified health and fitness instructor, author, public speaker, and host of Zonya s Health Bites, a public television show that launches its third season in April.

In Toledo, the show airs at 2 p.m. on Fridays on WGTE-TV, Channel 30. It s also seen in some of the country s largest markets, including New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington, Houston, Detroit, Phoenix, and Pittsburgh.

Ms. Foco has appeared on ABC, NBC, and CBS, and has been published in the magazines Prevention, Today s Dietitian, Total Health, and Fast and Healthy Cooking. She sells books, guides, CDs, and DVDs on her Web site, www.zonya.com, and travels to about 60 to 65 speaking engagements annually all over the country.

Ms. Foco does all this with a staff of three and her husband, Scott, 43, serving as executive producer, out of their home on Osprey Lake in Onsted, about an hour s drive northwest of Toledo. There s no Zonya Health International sign in front of the beige ranch house in the Loch Erin subdivision. The only occasional clue that something s different there is the backdrop that Mr. Foco puts up outside the kitchen window when he s taping segments for the show. For the television audience, it provides a scenic view. For neighbors, it s a signal not to fire up the chainsaw.

Trim no surprise there warm, and exuding energy, Ms. Foco combines fun with facts to make the case for what she calls the Power of One Good Habit.

The idea is that a single change can make a big difference, over time, in one s health and weight. As that small change becomes ingrained behavior, it can lead to another good habit, and another.

For example: Buy whole-wheat pasta instead of white pasta, she suggests, adding that the fiber in the whole-wheat variety provides built-in portion control. Or learn to like skim or half-percent milk instead of whole or 2 percent. Drizzle syrup on your pancakes instead of drowning them. Dilute your juice with water.

You won t weigh less the next day, but over a year s time you ll drop five pounds or many more, Ms. Foco promises.

Ms. Foco also is an author and public speaker. Ms. Foco also is an author and public speaker.
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What I m helping people do is develop an invisible force inside themselves that will operate on their behalf, she explained. There s power in that one habit. I m not talking about waking up on Monday morning and making changes that you re just going to do while you re dieting.

Personal experience taught her that dieting doesn t produce lasting results. Which brings us back to her days as a cheerleader.

The whole reason I got into this was because I couldn t fit into any of my clothes. I was a skinny kid until I was a junior in high school. I packed on 20 pounds going into my junior year, Ms. Foco said.

Her problem became, literally, a burden on the two girls who served as the foundation of the classic cheerleader pyramid. At 5-5, I was the perfect size to be the middle girl in the mount, the former Zonya Edwards explained. She hopped into place at the squad s first practice and the two girls below her sagged. Zon, would you go on a diet? Their exact words, she recalled.

I came home to my mother and said I have to lose 20 pounds, and I have to do it by Friday s game, Ms. Foco said. Her supportive mother helped by going on a drastic diet along with her: On Monday they fasted, on Tuesday they drank only juice, and on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday they lived on a liquid diet product.

I lost like six pounds in five days on this diet, she said. And what do you think I did Friday night after the game? We went out for pizza! And I ate and ate and ate, all Friday evening, all day Saturday and Sunday, she admitted with a hearty laugh.

On Monday, she fasted again.

This yo-yo, on-off, on-off continued for at least two years. My weight went up and then some, Ms. Foco said.

After graduating from high school, she decided she d learn to manage her weight by enrolling in a nutrition class at Jackson Community College in Jackson, Mich. She found her calling there, and went on to earn a bachelor s degree in general dietetics at Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti.

That s where she and her husband met. Mr. Foco received a bachelor s degree in television production from Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Mich., but worked out at EMU, they explained. Today they have a 6-year-old son, Ridge.

Zonya Foco and her husband, Scott, edit tapes for her show, which airs at 2 p.m. Friday on WGTE-TV, Channel 30. Zonya Foco and her husband, Scott, edit tapes for her show, which airs at 2 p.m. Friday on WGTE-TV, Channel 30.
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Ms. Foco learned something else at EMU that knowing and doing don t necessarily go hand-in-hand. I graduated from college knowing everything, right? At my highest weight ever, almost 30 pounds overweight, she said.

From that came her nondiet, small-step approach that she intends to be sensible, tasty, and do-able. I believe in the real world, Ms. Foco declared. I would love it if a person is willing to say I ll never eat fast food again. Hallelujah! I can t even be that person.

You ll see her car in the fast-food drive-through every now and then. Snoop a little more, though, and you ll see she makes healthful choices. Hold the mayo, the cheese, the garlic toast, the tartar sauce. Don t even think about onion rings, fries, and donuts.

You can make wise choices, Ms. Foco said. And just because you slipped up and had some potato chips doesn t mean you blew it for the day so you might as well finish the rest of the bag (pouring it directly into your mouth to get all those little bitty pieces at the bottom). We ve all been there, and it s a mentality that s got to go, she asserted.

Ms. Foco began writing her cookbook, Lickety-Split Meals for Health Conscious People on the Go!, while she was working at her first job out of college, as a clinical nutritionist for the Michigan Heart and Vascular Institute at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ann Arbor. Clients there told her that they needed a cookbook to help them put her guidance into action with healthful and easy-to-make recipes that would fit into time-challenged lives.

Her cookbook, which includes nutrition information for every recipe and tips for healthy eating, drinking, and living, is organized into categories including 1-Minute Mini-Meals, 5-Minute Meals, 15-Minute Meals, and 30-Minute Meals, as well as food categories such as Pasta, Pizza, Stir-Fry, Salads & Sides, and Sweet Treats. The book came out in 1998, four years after she left the hospital to start her speaking, writing, and publishing career.

Her television show, which debuted in April, 2005, is made up of three parts: first, grocery shopping in the Adrian Country Market for ingredients that she ll use in the cooking segment that takes place in her home kitchen, and finally a fitness tip, such as stretches to ease tension headaches or exercises to work the kinks out of an achy shoulder.

I try to be real and fun and to present advice so people can say, I can do this, Ms. Foco said. Gourmet s not my thing.

Her latest project is what she calls a new literary genre a health novel that she wrote with novelist Stephen Moss. Released this month as the first book in the Power of One Good Habit series, the 242-page paperback is available through www.zonya.com, www.WaterWithLemon.com, and Amazon.com.

It s promoted as an inspiring story of diet-free, guilt-free weight loss that aims to teach eight basic eating habits through its characters Karen, who s 60 pounds overweight, and Fowler, a neighbor whose Power of One Good Habit philosophy has allowed him to maintain a 150-pound weight loss.

Through their example you re learning, Ms. Foco said, saying that readers emotional involvement with the characters and their challenges will more readily translate into action than a traditional how-to book.

Like impatient readers who want to skip ahead to see what happens in the end, people ask her what those eight habits are, Ms. Foco said. She tells them to read the book because knowing isn t the same as doing.

And she s ready for people who try to cheat by going to the book s Web site and printing out a list of the eight habits. You can t do that without first entering as a password the correct answer to this question: What is the name of Fowler s dog? And for that, you d at least have to flip through the book.

Still, it s probably OK to reveal one of the eight good habits in Water With Lemon: Drink water.

Contact Ann Weber at: aweber@theblade.comor 419-724-6126.



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