Food News

Q&A with Denise Austin, Health and Fitness Expert for the Lifetime Television Morning Talk Show, the Balancing Act

​We could probably all use a little motivation when it comes to staying fit, healthy and happy. But when you have kids, a full-time job -- or both -- it can be hard to find the time to focus. 

That's why (for some) the difference could mean simply finding the right balance -- busy lifestyle and all. 

Luckily, Denise Austin -- the fitness guru who has been coaching people back into shape for more than 20 years -- is back on television with a spot on a new show aimed at helping people do just that! 

How? With her "Wake Up and Go!" fitness routine that airs daily on Lifetime television's new morning health and fitness talk show, The Balancing Act (Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. EST/PST). 

According to Austin, her segment on the show is designed to motivate and support hard-working women nationwide. Thanks to 15-minute morning workouts, as well as health and beauty tips in the form of a weekly special known as "Denise's Daily Dose," you can tune-in 5-days a week keep you on a path to healthier, happier -- and more flattering -- you.

Austin, known for her upbeat, cheerful attitude and sunny smile, recently took time out of her busy schedule to sit down with Charlie and do some dishing about what's changed for her over the past few years. 

For Austin, some things haven't changed: she still has her treats while shunning fake foods and artificial sweeteners. However, now her focus relies more on wholesome, healthy food trends that have her eating more fish than ever before -- even grinding her own flax seeds. 

Here's what the busy mom and fitness femme fatale had to say:

Clean Plate Charlie: Your segment on the Balancing Act covers everything from exercise to eating right, and it's something you've been doing for quite some time now. What is your main goal for healthy eating these days?

Denise Austin: I like to make sure I have a well-balanced meal every time I eat, and that means plenty of fruits and vegetables. And plenty of lean protein.

How has that changed over the years?

The only change has come in the different types of foods I eat. But I like to tell people I eat well 80 percent of the time, and have my treats the other 20 percent. That has been something that has stayed with me over the years, and I've never stopped doing that.

These days, however, the types of treats I have are healthier. Nothing store-bought. Nothing with hydrogenated oils.

What else has changed?

We've learned so much through research how important the omega fats are, and the best way to get that is to eat more fish. So that is one thing that has changed for me: now I eat a lot more fish, especially salmon. It's good for your heart, for increased energy. There are so many benefits.

Another big change was adding flax to my diet. When I started into my 40's, I really wanted to do everything possible to maximize health, and flaxseed has been a big part of the things I do to achieve that. I grind my own flax every morning, and then I sprinkle it on whatever I am eating, like oatmeal or cereal - even fresh fruit and smoothies. Anything, really.

I'm also starting to drink a lot more green tea, rather than coffee. It helps support a healthy metabolism, and is full of antioxidants.

I've read that you like to eat white potatoes, and talk about their health benefits. Yet a lot of people stay away from them because of carbs. But these are good carbs, right?

If there is one point I would like to get across, that's one I'd really like people to understand. There are good carbs, and there are bad carbs, but fruits and vegetables - no matter what kind - are all good for you. They are what fuels your body with the important nutrients it needs, such as potassium. Just one small potato has lots of fiber, and more potassium - double the amount - of a banana. They also have a lot of C and B vitamins. And the B vitamins here are key - they are what give you energy.

I know you're also against artificial sweeteners - and always have been. What else do you say "no" to?

Not much! I enjoy food, and I do eat all good foods, but it's never food that has partially hydrogenated oils, or artificial ingredients. Those are the "no" things.

When people watch you on the show, they can get recipe and cooking tips. Any favorites you'd like to share with us now?

When I cook at home, one of my favorite things to do is grill up a whole bunch of chicken, and chop it into tiny pieces. I do this every Sunday, before the start of the week, when I know I'll be busy. That way, I have plenty of lean protein to use in recipes throughout the work-week, but without the hassle of having to cook it each night.

I'll use it to make bean burritos, quick soups, salads - you name it. It's really a great way to make sure you stay healthy every day.

Do you have any special salad recipes?

Actually, yes. Lately, I've been making arugula salads. Arugula has a very unique flavor, but it's very good for you. This salad is very quick and easy to make, so I'll make it a couple times throughout the week. All you need is some fresh squeezed lemon juice, a drizzle of some really good olive oil, fresh ground sea salt, and some grated parmesan cheese. It's good alone, or you can top it off with some protein - like the fish we were talking about earlier - for a good dose of omega fats.

It can be hard to make vegetables interesting - especially when you just don't feel like another salad. What do you suggest instead?

Another thing I've been making a lot of recently is swiss chard. I put it on a cookie sheet, brush on some olive oil, salt and crushed red pepper. Then I bake it in the oven for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees. It comes out slightly crunchy, but full of flavor - and very good for you.

I also do the same thing with tomatoes. I buy the tiny cherry tomatoes and slice them very thin. Then I dump them in a bowl where I mix in olive oil, salt, and fresh crushed garlic. Next, I take the mixture and spread it in a thin layer across a cookie sheet, and bake it for a few hours at a low heat - about 200 degrees. When it's done baking, I turn off the oven, but I leave it there for a few more hours. When I take it out, I have my very own sun-dried tomatoes. You can eat them alone, on a bit of cracker. Or you can add them to any dish for a whole lot of flavor.

With all this eating, you must do a lot of cardio!

Actually, my workout regimen is pretty consistent. I never do more than 30 minutes of exercise a day.

Really? That's amazing. Never more than 30 minutes?

No, but it's not the duration - it's what you do. Each day I do a different workout to switch it up. I change things constantly, and that keeps me fit, and minimizes my chances of an overuse injury. It also keeps me motivated, and it's more fun that way. But, most importantly, it helps your body to not reach a plateau. My daily workout is typically around 30 minutes, but on the weekends, I try to do something outside. I'll play tennis, or go swimming - even a long walk.

So you don't need to go to the gym every day for over an hour to keep in shape?

No, I truly believe it's all about balance. And that's also the name of the show: the Balancing Act.

What's different about this show from those you've done in the past, and what do you love most about it?

First of all, this show is to help busy women get going in the morning. It's a quick, 15-minute workout - a wake-up and go routine. I'm giving you 15-minutes of compound exercises, which is double the workout in half the time. It's also known as interval training. We'll be working on the thighs, while at the same time doing a good upper body workout. So you're really getting a lot out of a small period of time.

These days, that's what everyone needs: a quick and easy workout.

And this is what I do. This is my my own home. I'm not a member of a gym, and I don't go to a gym. This is truly the way I stay in shape.

What is your favorite part of your exercise routine?

The end! When I know it's over! When I can say, 'I've accomplished this.' That feeling of doing it - getting it done, and the energy you have after a workout. I look forward to the stretching and the cool-down.

As far as fitness is concerned, what has changed the most for you in the past 20 years?

Fitness has gone in trends, and because I travel so much, I like to stay where the trends are. When I first started [in this industry] I did a lot of high-energy aerobics. Then I went into step aerobics, and after that, it was pilates and yoga.

Now, my routines have a lot of boot-camp-style exercises. They're designed to really blast fat and get that heart rate up quickly.

Mainly, I've really tried to stay where the public tells me to go. I listen to my viewers, and ask them what they would like to see from me. Do they want more cardio? More toning? Much of my work is influenced by my audience - by what area of fitness they would like to explore next.

The Balancing Act covers more than just fitness, though...

That's right. What's great about the show is that I can give more information with Denise's Daily Dose. I get more of an opportunity to give of myself than I have in the past, where it was just pure exercise.

This is truly me. It's a chance to show my favorite recipe, or to give tips on how to sleep better. I tell people what I feed my own kids, and show them beauty tips, or explain to them how I keep a positive attitude. It's more about the entire picture of how to have a healthier lifestyle. I want people to wake up with more energy, and be happy.

What is your biggest message to your viewers now?

My message is to get fit, because you're worth it. You deserve to look at feel your best. We only have one life to live, after all.

To catch your daily dose of Denise, tune-in to her show Monday through Friday, from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m., and get 15-minute workouts, health, beauty and cooking tips. For more information about her show visit the Balancing Act website, watch videos on YouTube, or follow the show on Facebook.

Follow Clean Plate Charlie on Facebook and on Twitter: @CleanPlateBPB.

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Nicole Danna is a Palm Beach County-based reporter who began covering the South Florida food scene for New Times in 2011. She also loves drinking beer and writing about the area's growing craft beer community.
Contact: Nicole Danna