Interviews / August 16, 2012

Kami Gray

By Charles Platkin, PhD

She doesn’t trust the bathroom scale, but says a pair of jeans will never lie. I agree. While her jeans were once much larger, she lost that weight, and says she keeps a slim pair of pants around to keep her on track. With hilarious real life stories, gourmet recipes, and an infectious positive attitude, Kami can give you just the dose of motivation and energy you need to jump start your diet.

Name: Kami Gray
Birthday: 10/18/1966
Location: Portland, OR
Website: www.thedenimdiet.com, http://blog.kamigray.com

Diet Detective: Hey Kami, thanks for the opportunity to interview you. My first question is really curiosity — why would a stylist focus her attention towards nutrition?

Kami: I can definitely understand your curiosity! I became passionate about good nutrition and maintaining an ideal healthy body weight long before I became a wardrobe stylist. Admittedly though, getting proper nutrition wasn’t my original goal. I’ve loved fashion and dressing up my entire life and when I became overweight in college and stayed that way for several years, I hit a low, pretty depressing point in my young life. I couldn’t fit into any of my stylish clothes and resorted to wearing sweats and other elastic-wasted clothing, which I now know makes you look even heavier! Towards the end of my junior year in college, I had an epiphany, which I elaborate on in my book, and realized that my excess weight, my lack of energy, the reason I was on high blood pressure medication, and the fact that my jeans were six sizes larger than they are today was largely due to what I ate! How much I ate and a lack of exercise obviously played a role as well, but I was eating all the wrong things.

Diet Detective: You have a new book — The Denim Diet: Sixteen Simple Habits to Get You into Your Dream Pair of Jeans — can you explain the title? — Kami: I’m very motivated by my love of fashionable, stylish clothes and designer jeans in particular. Jeans are something we can all relate to. What was the first thing Oprah wore on her show to unveil her new body four years ago or so? Jeans! Not only can your jeans help keep you motivated to make good decisions, they can let you know when you’re over doing it and need to rein it back in. Jeans don’t lie. That muffin top that has formed near the waistband of your jeans forcing the excess stomach fat to mushroom over is telling you something…loud and clear. Your bathroom scale can’t do that. For a variety of reasons, the bathroom scale is not a great indicator of where you want to be. I haven’t used one in years and I close my eyes when the nurse at my doctor’s office weighs me. I don’t want to know!

Diet Detective: Where did you come up with this concept?

Kami: I’ve been living it for over twenty years. My sister, who is a central “character” in my book and has been overweight most of her adult life, has been telling me how vain I am forever. My response? Good for me! That so-called vanity has kept my energy level up, has prevented knee, foot, and back problems (all things she has suffered from), and kept the prescription drugs at bay. I see nothing wrong with a little vanity or being motivated by something as superficial as a pair of jeans if it helps you to become healthier, pain free, and maintain an optimum body weight.

Diet Detective: It appears that you don’t have any experience in the areas of nutrition or fitness – what knowledge do you have about diet? Were you ever overweight?

Kami: As I mentioned, I was overweight for several years in college. I was also lucky enough (although I didn’t appreciate it at the time) to be born into a household that valued real food and also valued being extremely active. My Mom’s favorite thing to say was, “go outside and play and be home in time for dinner.” I learned about organic food, whole grains, plant-based foods, lean meats, and limiting packaged and processed foods before I started kindergarten. In my house, we ate meals made from scratch with ingredients grown in my mother’s organic garden or purchased from our local food co-op. Our bread and sugar were brown. To me, this was normal. Then I went out on my own as a young adult and ate like all the other kids and got really fat. It wasn’t until I returned to my roots that I was able to shed the weight and keep it off without much effort for the past twenty-two years. Just like I’m doing now, I speak to my readers in a very regular person voice. I am a regular person, just like they are — you don’t need a PhD in nutrition to know how to eat. Good thing since we all need to eat! This is not to say we don’t need experts. We absolutely do and I call upon them regularly. My book takes all that good information from you experts and explains it all in a no-nonsense, straightforward and might I add entertaining and sometimes even laugh-out-loud way. We’ve made the idea of eating so complicated and difficult — I say let’s all lighten up while we literally lighten up! Lame pun, sorry.

Diet Detective: Tell us about the sixteen easy-to-remember habits to make and habits to break?

Kami: Unlike many other diet books, mine is not about giving up your favorite things — like coffee, meat, eggs, and dairy. I’d be lost without those things. The habits to make and habits to break are more about tweaking your current habits. I’ll give you a few examples to show you just how easy this is. Love carbs? Great! Eat them! Habits to make are eating 100% whole grains, beans, lentils, and of course, fruits and vegetables. Habits to break are eating processed carbs and white bread, pasta, and potatoes. Sweetener gets its own chapter in my book. This is a big one for many people. Habits to make? Low glycemic sweeteners that don’t spike your insulin levels leading to fat storage. My favorite two are agave nectar and maple syrup and I use just a touch of either one in my morning coffee, nonfat plain yogurt, or bowl of oatmeal. Habits to break? White sugar and sugar substitutes like Splenda. For good reason, I pretty much go off on Splenda in my book. There are plenty more, but as you can see, it’s just about making minor adjustments that with repeated practice can easily become a habit — good habits that will help get the weight off and keep it off.

Diet Detective: How has being a stylist affected your perspective on nutrition and dieting?

Kami: I work with actors. Many of them are weight-obsessed and are what I would consider underweight. Even though film sets have food aplenty, I rarely see actors eat much of anything. Many of them don’t look that healthy to me and many aren’t always in the best of moods. Being a stylist and being around actors has reinforced in me how important it is to have balance in your diet — and in your life! Eating enough food and eating the right foods can do wonders for your health, but also for your mood and energy level.

Diet Detective: What’s your fitness philosophy?

Kami: Move more. Everyday. I’m not hardcore, but I love to walk, always take the stairs, dance around my house while I’m cleaning, do cartwheels on a daily basis, and take a Pilates and Jazzercise class regularly. That’s what works for me. It’s so important to find what works for you. Some people like routine and going to the gym before or after work is best for them. Others would rather go for a run. Whatever gets you moving, gets your heart rate up, and gives your muscles a chance to strengthen and stretch — every little bit helps and every step in the right direction should be celebrated. Making a plan that suits your individual needs and personality is the key. My chapter on fitness is subtitled, “Customize the Way You Exercise.”

Diet Detective: What makes it so difficult for the everyday woman to find a pair of jeans that are flattering?

Kami: This answer won’t make me very popular…especially in a lousy economy, but they need to spend more money. I would rather have two pairs of $200 jeans than eight pairs of $50 jeans. Designer jeans are made by expert patternmakers whose sole job is to make the jeans look flattering on the female body. I have a bachelor’s degree in fashion design and took several patternmaking courses. Patternmaking is a science and an art. Higher quality denim with the perfect amount of stretch is critical too. I offer some advice on this topic in my book. Here’s a brief excerpt:

Jeans should not be too short — they should almost reach the floor. Make sure your jeans have back pockets. Pocket free jeans don’t look good on any body type. If you have a muffin top, get a larger size or choose a different brand or style. Jeans that come up too high on the waist create the appearance of a long behind. A boot cut jean is by far the most flattering hem type; narrow hems are for skinny, trendy, and young people. The darker the denim, the more flattering and no pleats in front!

Diet Detective: What do you consider the world’s most perfect food?

Kami: That’s a tough question because I believe it’s a combination of perfect foods that creates optimum health. If I was stranded on a desert island and there was only one food available, I would hope it would be avocados … preferably accompanied by whole-kernel corn tortillas, Pacific salmon, black beans, shredded cabbage, and chunky mango salsa. Avocados are vitamin and nutrient-rich, contain the good fat we need, are incredibly satisfying, and I can also use them topically on my face to maintain a youthful appearance (very important when stranded on a desert island since you never know when you’ll be rescued or by whom).

Diet Detective: What’s your favorite healthy ingredient?

Kami: Walnuts! I throw a few in my salads, pastas, yogurt, and oatmeal. They keep you satiated as well as contain the type of good fat that lowers bad cholesterol and the type of antioxidant that can prevent dangerous visceral fat from forming around your organs.

Diet Detective: Is always in your fridge?

Kami: Two drawers full of fruits and vegetables, light string cheese, and nonfat, plain yogurt.

Diet Detective: What’s the worst food you have in your house?

Kami: I follow how I was raised and don’t keep “bad” foods in my house. Sometimes I break that rule when my son visits and brings junk food into our house.

Diet Detective: What’s your favorite “junk food?”

Kami: My worst indulgence is too much of good things…red wine, guacamole, and raw nuts.

Diet Detective: If you could have a healthy meal cooked for you, what would you order, and who would you like to have cook it for you?

Kami: I like bowls that contain one lean meat, a whole grain, lentils, and assorted vegetables like grilled chicken breast with quinoa, fava beans, kale, sweet potatoes, onions, and carrots. At age 42, I would still like my mom to make meals for me because I trust her completely and know she wouldn’t sneak anything unhealthy in my meal!

Diet Detective: Your favorite healthy cooking website?

Kami: I like cleaneating.com, but I do make modifications to their recipes because they use some ingredients I don’t approve of like cooking oil spray, white potatoes, and white rice. I like reading their magazine and looking at the pretty pictures of beautiful, healthy foods.

Diet Detective: What was your worst summer job?

Kami: Funny you ask! I talk about a horrible summer job in my book. I was a telemarketer for a hardwood company and had to ask cranky cabinetmakers what they thought of our hardwood products. The worst summer job though was working at Sunshine Pizza Exchange when I was fourteen because other kids in my neighborhood teased me because I always smelled like pizza!

Diet Detective: What’s your motto?

Kami: This isn’t really a motto. It’s a quote by Aristotle. “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is therefore not an act, but a habit.” It’s all about habits. Get into some good ones and watch your life change.

Diet Detective: As a child you wanted to be?

Kami: An Olympic gymnast, but I wanted to design my own uniform because I thought the US team had really ugly ones.






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