While pursuing a journalism degree at UW-Milwaukee, Maria Viall was a record-scoring phenom for the women’s basketball team. In 2004, she parlayed her athletic prowess into playing pro basketball overseas. Her home bases were Hungary and Sweden, where she noticed attitudes and behaviors toward food that differed from the “think thin” American ones to which she was accustomed.
While Viall struggled with nutritional messages as both an athlete focused on performance, and a woman cued into her appearance, she observed that Europeans “ate butter and fat and seemed arguably healthier and happier.” That set the Waukesha native on a course of study toward certification in holistic health before returning home and establishing her practice in Shorewood. In the handful of years since, clients have come to her for holistic help with problems ranging from weight loss and digestive disorders to sleeping problems and symptoms related to autoimmune diseases.
One word that rarely enters her vocabulary: diet. In its place: “lifestyle approach.” No foods are inherently “bad,” though too much of one thing – sugar, caffeine – can trigger unpleasant symptoms. Nutritional changes, Viall says, need to be realistic and easily implemented: “My job is to help people get to a place of balance.”
To that end, she offers individualized one-on-one help and an online lifestyle program called The Mind Body Shift. For close to five years, Viall has debunked myths about nutrition and a healthy lifestyle in her regular segments on TMJ4’s “The Morning Blend.” She shared some tips with us on getting to the place of balance that often seems so elusive.
What’s a simple thing people can do to incorporate a healthy habit into their lives?
Hydrate with water! Aim for half of your body weight in fluid ounces. Being adequately hydrated helps with weight loss, energy, inflammation, healthy skin, and… it helps decrease bloating. If you’re dehydrated, you may end up with headaches, poor sleep and low energy.
Your views on exercise don’t seem to be a rigid, hit-the-gym-five-days-a-week mantra. Can you elaborate?
I like to see making exercise part of the “lifestyle” as much as possible rather than scheduled gym time. Taking walks, gardening, riding bikes, getting outside and getting fresh air and sunshine helps with overall well-being and immunity.… For people who are already active, mix it up between intense workouts with more restorative forms of exercise like Pilates and yoga.
You are a huge proponent of making sleep a priority. Why?
Your body thrives on routine. In terms of sleep, our circadian rhythms can be easily affected by inconsistent sleep patterns. So much healing happens while you sleep, and… adequate sleep allows your body to detox, recoup and recover for the following day.
People often overeat for reasons other than hunger. How do you address those related issues?
There is a huge emotional and mental side when it comes to change and food. My whole goal is to empower them to trust their decisions around food. I had a client who was still feeling guilty for the second piece of cake she ate – two weeks after she ate it. That thinking is more toxic than eating the cake! Make the decision to do or don’t, then move on from it. ◆
Maria’s All Day Energy Smoothie
This tasty drink helps keep your blood sugar balanced with the necessary fat, fiber and protein while boosting your energy with maca, an adaptogenic root known for naturally stimulating energy and even your libido, Viall says.
2 cups water
1 cup ice
1/4 cup raw cashews
1 medjool date (pitted)
2 Tbsp. unsweetened coconut flakes
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 Tbsp. cocoa powder or raw cacao powder
1 tsp. maca powder
(Optional) 1 scoop of protein powder
1-2 handfuls of baby spinach
1. Pour water and ice into your blender/Vitamix.
2. Add cashews, medjool date, coconut flakes
and vanilla extract.
3. Blend on high until smooth.
4. Add cocoa powder, maca and protein powder,
5. Blend until smooth.
6. Add baby spinach to taste.
7. Blend on high until smooth.