The right diet
Meet Fiber Girl. She’s here to save you from dumpiness, discomfort, disease and death. Her alter ego, Bronwyn Schweigerdt, is a teacher, author and speaker on matters of nutrition. She holds a master’s degree from Tufts University’s school of nutrition, and has written two books. One of them, The Undiet: Painless Baby Steps to Permanent Weight Loss (Without a Day on a Diet), lightheartedly teaches how to make easy lifestyle changes.
Are you vegan?
No, I’m not completely vegan. I’m not out to make the world vegan necessarily, but I’d like everyone to be more vegan.
How often would you recommend people have meat or dairy?
I would say, look at the rest of the world. [Elsewhere], it’s a luxury, and meat’s very, very expensive. And a lot of it in the United States is so subsidized that we really don’t know the real cost. It’s a luxury item, so I would make it as a luxury item in your diet as well.
Why did you go to school for nutrition?
Well, I believe I started studying nutrition because I wanted to save the world. I saw so many people getting diseases like heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes at such young ages, and knowing that it’s absolutely preventable—and absolutely reversible, even—it just really motivated me to study nutrition and to help people.
You are depicted as a superhero on the cover of one of your books.
So why and when did you write your first book?
The first book I wrote in 2002, and I was teaching at the junior college, [Sacramento City College], at the time. … I’d had so many students have amazing experiences where their blood pressure went down during the class, or they’d lost weight or their diabetes was in check. That’s what prompted me to publish the first book, just to get the message out to more people.
Where do you teach now?
I teach at CalPERS now; I teach the employees there.
People liked your first book?
It started selling like crazy. … We sold probably 12,000.
Describe what it’s about.
Free to Eat is largely on weight loss, but through that context it’s mainly a high-fiber diet. I cover preventing type 2 diabetes, which is totally doable; lowering blood pressure; preventing cancer and osteoperosis. I talk about why beans are the new meat, why dairy is scary.
What do you lecture about?
I remember I recently did a lecture on lowering blood pressure, and one of the women afterward was talking to another woman right in front me, and she said, “That rocked my world!”
You know, most people have never really heard the types of things they hear from me, and they’ll say, “You know, that’s not what I learned at Kaiser [Permanente],” or they’ll say, “I’ve always heard something completely different.” And when they do make those changes, I’ve heard about how some people have, for example, lost 54 pounds and kept it off. … People have been able to discontinue their diabetes medication, [or] their blood pressure has gone way down. So this is what keeps me going. Hearing these testimonials over and over and over. It makes me feel really good because it works.
Do you have any children?
Yes, I have a daughter and a husband.
What is your daughter’s diet like?
My daughter is pretty much a vegan—and she’s always been, pretty much since I weaned her. The hard part is staying away from candy. … The advice would be that legumes are wonderful sources of protein for growing kids, and a lot of kids just love beans or things like hummus. They love nuts, and nuts are so good for them. They love peanut butter, almond butter; lots of kids love lentils. Make your own trail mix, and invite your kid to help make it, and put the kind of stuff they want in it. And as they make it and make those decisions, it’ll help them want to eat it. And remember that fruits are just as nourishing as vegetables, and a lot of kids will eat fruits [if] they don’t like vegetables, and a lot of what we think of as vegetables actually are fruits—tomatoes, avocados, squash.
Did she always want to eat what you put on the table?
Yeah, because I make her diet a pretty simple one and don’t give her a lot of choices. And we wait to eat until she’s really hungry.