If you don’t know Bob Greene, you’ll find his name listed among the pantheon of fitness gurus. An exercise physiologist, Greene is best known as Oprah’s trainer (and friend). He’s also the author of the Best Life books and lifestyle plan, and he contributes regularly to Oprah Magazine.
In short, Greene’s spent a lot of time writing about food and nutrition—a lot more than most exercise physiologists, who are supposed to focus on calories burned rather than how they’re consumed.
That’s because Greene’s equally passionate about food and fitness—and bridging the two disciplines, saying he’s never written a book or met a person where these two factors weren’t relevant. How does this play out at home, where two children help him fill the freezer with, well, popsicles? We investigated.
I love that your fridge is so well organized. Are there things you took out for the photo? It’s funny you say that. When we were taking these pictures, I was joking with my wife, “I wonder if people will think we choreographed this fridge?” Really, this is the way we eat. And here’s the thing, I’m the one who writes about food and health in the family, but I’m also probably the one most likely to enjoy treats. Like? Fortunately dark chocolate is what I like, and with that you get more of the antioxidants. Actually two cupcakes went missing from the fridge and didn’t make the photo. I didn’t eat them, though my wife suspected me. They were found in our car the next day, uneaten.
Ha! The Great Cupcake Caper. I know you’re a fitness guy, and an exercise physiologist, but you’ve written a lot about food and nutrition. You don’t see them as two distinct fields? It always bothered me that fitness and food were separated. From a young age I was into healthy food. Fitness came later. I was probably 8 and saying, “Watch the salt!” I was in tune at a very young age, so for me you can’t separate diet and exercise. It’s kind of a pendulum, the way they interact so powerfully. I’ve never written a book or worked with a person where you didn’t have to take both areas into account.
Do you have a name for the way you eat? Vegetarian, pescatarian? There are eggs, chicken, and a lot of fish in our home—especially when we’re in Hawaii. (We live in Hawaii and Calfornia.) I see the wisdom of being vegan, especially when you study the field. And ethically, I really get it. But it’s a very hard way to live, though it’s getting easier. I’m a little torn because it can be hard socially, and for kids. That said, we were going to a Memorial Day barbecue where we knew there would be hotdogs and hamburgers, which we don’t eat. So we just ate first!
What are some typical meals at your place? We’re in striking distance of a farmer’s market, and it’s very easy to get organic produce. So there are always two colors of veggies in a meal. My wife is Spanish and grew up with beans—I call them superfoods—and I’m really into blackeyed peas, crowder peas. We have a lot of quinoa, in a salad or in a pepper, or fish or some chicken.
Tell me about the Earth Balance Spread in your fridge. I never know what to make of butter substitutes. Yes, we use Earth Balance, and I actually created a product called The Best Life Spread, and I did a lot of homework on these. I believe they both have some health properties. Butter substitutes got a bad name out before they could really take off because of transfats discussion… But also, I won’t write off butter completely. I’ll have a little, especially if it’s on a really good piece of bread.
I see wine on the door of your fridge. I’m glad you brought that up. It’s something we use in cooking. I don’t really drink, maybe just 3 or 4 glasses a year. When I met Oprah, it was in Telluride, Colorado, and at 10,000 feet, I noticed that if I had a glass of wine, I felt it. I think I’m sensitive and it’s probably just me—like if I were a person allergic to dairy. But it’s also possible that more people have a mild to severe allergy to wine, and in particular the preservatives. I’m not a teetotaler, I’m just personally really affected by it.
Do you drink or make green juice? That’s so funny, right now I’m drinking one. Well, it’s Carrot Apple by Suja. I think they’re amazing. They’re cold-pressed, with an okay shelf-life. We pretty much just drink fresh juices or sparkling water and flat water. [Pauses.] Oh, my son, who’s four, just popped in to the room with a lemon; they grow in our backyard. He wants help slicing them. Lemon water is a staple in our house.
As if on cue! Let’s take about carbs. I love them, and the measurements show that there’s actually just a small percentage difference between a low-carb diet and a higher one. I need a lot of carbs or I can’t finish a workout. That said, I’d say that breads and beverages are the most abused food groups. Cutting out white bread and soda can drastically change a life.
What else really works for people in your experience? What I think is at the heart of eating well is your willingness to care for yourself. I know that sounds odd, but the people who really struggle with food, they might not have a high regard for themselves yet. Kind of like if you’re willing to smoke. When you do that, you’re making a statement that you don’t matter. But when you can tie your daily choices to your ability to look after and nurture yourself, what you eat is no longer an uphill battle. There’s an epidemic of unworthiness—and I mean this on the food topic. When people make that shift in behavior and view themselves as worthy, the food doesn’t matter, it’s no longer an issue. —Melisse Gelula