Fitness, Nutrition and Life Balance with Gabrielle Reece

Exclusive Interview with: Gabrielle Reece

Fashion icon, health expert and TV Show Host Gabrielle Reece is an avid proponent of empowering people to take responsibility for their own health. Her commanding presence, passion for healthy living, and fitness expertise makes her a popular public speaker on the subjects of health and wellness. Gabrielle has become a role model to women worldwide regarding how to achieve peak fitness, good health, and overall well-being for themselves and their entire family.

We as a culture are saying that weight-loss is certainly important, but there’s another message also which is, “Can we be our best selves? Can we be strong? How do we maximize who we are and aspire to do that?”

SPEAKING.COM: How did you get involved with hosting the NBC TV show fitness competition series Strong. How were you chosen as the host for this and what was your vision for the show?

REECE: The acronym for the show is ‘Start To Realize Our Natural Greatness’, so right away I was attracted to the idea. I think the producers were looking for somebody who embodied some of the ideas that they’re exploring with the contestants. Quite frankly, I had never lobbied so much in my life before to get a job. This job is something that I feel really passionate about.

The idea behind the show is, “Hey, these people are doing pretty good in their lives”… but they have either lost an edge that they feel they had, or maybe they are looking to acquire this better side of themselves or push themselves further. Another really exciting part about the show is that people can’t phone it in to get the contestants saved or eliminated. The competition isn’t based on this snarky, “Oh you’re voted off.” It’s really about a test of preparation, training and going through physical challenges with their trainer. That’s how they stay or go and I think the producers were looking for somebody who’s already been through that training process in their life.

I always desire to keep improving myself through movement, eating well, and having that conversation about, “How can I be a better person?” In Strong you see some inspiring people who are doing that. The show’s an example of where our culture is right now. If you’re looking at Tough Mudder and CrossFit and even the Ninja Warrior challenges, we as a culture are saying that weight-loss is certainly important, but there’s another message also which is, “Can we be our best selves? Can we be strong? How do we maximize who we are and aspire to do that?”

SPEAKING.COM: What is The Balance Project and why is it important?

REECE: The Balance Project is something that Balance Bar has dedicated a lot of effort towards. When their team goes out to talk to people, especially busy women, there’s this reoccurring conversation that 83% of Americans feel balance is important, but none of us feel like we are in that sweet spot.

The Balance Project is a project dedicated to publicizing, on the internet and through different messaging, different actions people can take to feel balanced and get balanced, whether it’s making time to exercise, little tricks for eating better, or ideas about how to play more with your family. The project addresses things that we all struggle with and that constant calibration of, “How do I have enough time for my work, to take care of my family, to take care of myself AND to enjoy that?” You can hit all the marks in life, but then realize, “Yeah, but I’m also trying to remember the fun factor, the enjoyment factor.”

Quite frankly, in my experience as you go through The Balance Project, the biggest thing you start to learn is that you’ll never hit balance. I liken it to happiness, where it isn’t about, “Oh now I’m happy. I’ve arrived at happiness.” It’s just something that flows in and out through the course of the day and if we can hit it here and there, that’s pretty great.

I think the Balance Project’s about shifting that perspective of balance, too, that it’s not a destination. You always should be in the moment, which is one of the hardest things in the world to do. In getting balanced there’s no perfection, there is no sort of, “I have it all figured out.” It’s about being comfortable with, “How do I work through that constant moving target and process, and feel okay about that?”

If you want to figure out ways to put fitness into your schedule, first of all you’ve got to figure out why it is important to you.

SPEAKING.COM: Could you describe your fitness program HIGHX, and how it differs from other exercise programs?

REECE: HIGHX, I always joke, is a fitness program I created by accident. My family lives six months of the year in Hawaii. My husband Laird is a surfer so we go there in the winter for big wave season. The same weather that brings snow in the Midwest actually brings these low-pressure systems that in turn bring large waves.

I was always training in California with my close friends. I joke that a lot of them have ADD -they’re busy women, they can’t concentrate – so I had already started implementing some elements of HIGHX in that training. We moved back to Laird’s native island of Kauai and I said to my eight friends in Kauai, “You guys, I’ll bring my stuff to the community center. I’ll train you.” Pretty soon members of the community were asking me if they could join and it turned anywhere from 70 to a 100 people. I charge everyone a dollar so that they were covered by my insurance. But what I did say to them is, “Hey listen this makes this a dictatorship. It is not a democracy.” And so, through this sort of ultimate classroom I got to work with men and women, people ages 18 to 65, and HIGHX was born.

HIGHX is a high-intensity explosive circuit training. You’re at a station for three minutes. You do an explosive move for 30 seconds, you recover for 30, and then you’ll switch. Maybe from there you’ll go on to something where you work on your balance, then resistance training on you lower body, and later on something with your upper body.

The style goes back to this notion of people saying that they have no time, they don’t know what to do, they get bored, or their body gets accustomed to something. HIGHX workouts on the other hand are always changing. The program is very much so an all in one workout, especially for people who are busy. If you are de-conditioned and you’re just getting off the couch you can do it; you can modify. If you’re highly conditioned you can push yourself either through greater reps or higher rep count.

The most important element for me of HIGHX is you’re on a team and you’re in a room full of other teams, so it creates that accountability, motivation, and inspiration that is necessary for achieving long-term success. Once we turn the music on, I demo all the moves, and you don’t stop moving until the work out’s complete. It’s challenging and difficult, but it’s completely doable, there is a little bit of fun, and you will show up on certain days for your teammate if you don’t feel like showing up for yourself. I would say while there’s no one answer to fitness, this is a very solid answer to being pretty fit.

SPEAKING.COM: What are some of the ways busy people can integrate fitness into their overloaded schedule already?

REECE: Well, I always say if you want to figure out ways to put fitness into your schedule, first of all you’ve got to figure out why it is important to you. Everything has to have an important ‘why.’ For me personally, I decided for whatever reason a long time ago that besides my friends and family, the most important thing that I have is my health, so I needed to take care of it. I always say, I don’t want to lose my health in order to appreciate it.

Second, look at your week and find the days that have a little more give and flex. Some days you know top to bottom you’re stacked: why would you create pressure to put fitness there and then not be successful? So on the days you know you’ve got a 30 minute window, a 45 minute window, you schedule it, you write it down, you plan it out and you treat it like everything else on your schedule.

If you can do it with another person, your tendency to cancel or flake out drops tremendously, because you now are accountable to another person. I think putting that system in place is really helpful for long-term success.

Finally, it takes work. There’s no way around that, but find something that you don’t mind working at because if you’re just doing things that you hate and you feel tortured by, inevitably you can’t be consistent.

If you can start with those four elements, then, it’s a solid way to start.

We all come from different places, different genealogies, and physiologies. We’ll all have different ways to success, and it’s really important for people to figure that out.

SPEAKING.COM: There seems to be new nutrition advice and diets coming out daily these days. Can you share us some tried-and-true tips for eating healthy?

REECE: Diet for me is a very personal thing. For example, you have people who say, “Hey, I feel better eating vegetarian or vegan” and then conversely you have people who feel better and more energized eating animal protein. There are only a few things I know to be universally true. First of all, we should eliminate most of the things that we drink with the exception of water. I think all of us could drink more water.

People can have their coffee in the morning, but it’s better if we can avoid loading it up with artificial sweeteners. I don’t really think caffeine is the end all, be all. I don’t think it’s that bad for you. I think drinking it too late in the day is tough because it disrupts your sleep patterns, so keep it earlier.

Secondly, I think people should experiment with eating foods. Let’s say if you’re trying to figure out, “Should I eat more of a vegetarian style?” Eat that way for a week. How do you feel? How are you sleeping? Do you feel tired? Do you feel energized? Get in touch with it that way.

Another rule for me is to eat as close to the source as possible, whether you eat animal protein or vegetarian. I don’t think you can go wrong if you’re eating foods that are as close to their natural source as possible: the fewer processes they’ve undergone from their origin to the point that they enter your mouth, the better. Thinking that a one sized diet fits all is not realistic. We all come from different places, different genealogies, and physiologies. We’ll all have different ways to success, and it’s really important for people to figure that out.

The other thing that I know is true is you can’t go wrong by eating less. We have a tendency, especially in our culture, to overeat. We don’t actually probably need as much food as we all eat. Our plates are very big so, just minimizing our portions a little bit is really helpful. If you go out to eat, eat half your plate right away and maybe take half to go, because in the end we eat what’s in front of us.

Eating is also about connecting to food and understanding why we’re connecting to food. Do I grab food because I’m depressed? Did I grab food because I was bored? Substitute those habits with something else more productive like going for a walk or calling a friend. Start to recognize that we use food for everything: for celebrations, for sadness, and so forth. The key is trying to figure out, how do I keep food as something that I am really using to nourish my body while making allowances for celebration.

Beware of mindless snacking, though. We have to be careful of high calorie, empty calorie, high sugar snacking. A good rule for parents to teach their children is “Eat your sugar. Don’t drink your sugar.” So, if my kids are going to a birthday party and they want to eat some chocolate cake, but then they want to have a soda with it, I say, “Listen, both have the same amount of sugar. Why don’t you drink water then, and enjoy the chocolate cake?” It’s important for them to realize that those beverages that we grab and drink so easily are loaded with sugar. Even the natural juices and such will get you. In fact, it’s said that Americans drink 20% of their calories.

Some helpful ways then to eat healthy are recognizing our relationship with food, eating as close to the source as possible, eating foods we enjoy, and eating in a way that is reflective of what makes us feel good.

“Having it all” is a moving target. You can have it all, but just not all at the same time.

SPEAKING.COM: You have said in a recent interview that, “I’m interested in how women can get some version of having it all,” what does having it all mean to you, personally?

REECE: “Having it all” is a moving target. You can have it all, but just not all at the same time. It’s unrealistic to think that you can do that and do that perfectly. It’s about the ‘all’ that’s in front of you in your life at that moment. Let’s say, for example, you’re single – maybe “having it all” is great relationships with your friends, having more time to train, and kicking butt in your career. Then maybe you go to another phase in your life where you meet someone you would like to be in a relationship with, and so “having it all” becomes being in a career and a relationship. Later on that might progress into another situation where you decide you would like to add children, so maybe “having it all” at that moment is a family and trying to take care of yourself.

The notion that I can be the perfectly fit, super mom, at every game, at every PTA meeting, I’m the CEO who works 14 hours a day, and I’m in the bedroom with my lover eight hours a day, is probably not realistic. So, “having it all” is sort of saying: “Where do I want to put my energy? What feels right?”, listening to that and trusting that, because it’s going to differ in each individual person’s life. It’s up to people to understand and honor where they’re at in that moment, and what feels the most important. Go for that, because we do get pressure from outside, and then we think, “Oh, I should be doing this, this, and this.” Yet if we can listen to our inner voice, even though it is scary, I don’t think we can go wrong, because it is our life.

SPEAKING.COM: Do you have some tips you can share for balancing career and family?

REECE: This is a moving target so I’ll give you an example. Right now we mentioned that I am now hosting the Strong show, so we’re shooting for 10 weeks. Well, guess what? This is taking more effort and energy than normal. My husband has stepped in and is helping more with the girls because I do have a little bit less bandwidth there, but having said that, after shooting, I will be dedicating more time to my family.

I think it’s also a timing situation. For example, the last 12 years I have really been here for my husband and my children, and now, my girls are a little bit older; they’re a little bit more independent. This is an opportunity that’s coming to me right at this moment, and I think even collectively, my whole family is understanding, “Hey, we’re going to support mom in this.” My husband’s attitude is, “I’m going to support you on this, because if it’s good for you, it’s good for everybody.”

Career and family balance is difficult and I feel like I fail at it all the time, I feel like I’m never with my kids enough, or I’m with them too much, but I have sort of come to understand that it is something we don’t master. Sometimes I have to get it down to the fundamentals: “Are the girls safe, are they fed, are they clean, are we here, are we loving them?”

Giving advice on this is impossible because it’s a very difficult thing to do, and a process that’s one of the ultimate teachers of life.

Going into a marriage thinking, “What can I do for this other person?” and hoping that you have chosen a partner that has the same attitude, is really important.

SPEAKING.COM: You’ve had a really great marriage to professional surfer Laird Hamilton for nearly 20 years. What marriage advice would you give your own daughters on their wedding days?

REECE: Again, advice is a very personal thing to each individual. My three children are all very, very different. First, I would encourage each of my daughters to understand what makes them happy as a person. The expectation that another person’s going to come in and make you happy is not only unfair, it’s unrealistic so I would say to each young woman, “You have to identify what makes you happy.”

Second, I would always encourage them to do their best to make the marriage better for the other person. Going into a marriage thinking, “What can I get?” is tricky. Going into a marriage thinking, “What can I do for this other person?” and hoping that you have chosen a partner that has the same attitude, is really important. I would also, for my daughters, say not to take things personally. I would always encourage them to express their feelings, and as they got older and more mature, to do it in a kind of matter-of-fact way especially to a man. Saying, “When you do this, I didn’t love it,” is better than nagging.

Also you shouldn’t blame your spouse, because people get defensive. Saying, “Hey, when this happened it hurt my feelings.” is more effective than saying “You’re this, and you’re that.” Above all remember that your opportunity to do the best you can is when you’re in the marriage, not after.

So I would encourage my daughters just to start there; obviously, their personal journey into their own marriage will be very different than mine. In fact someday I’m sure I’ll learn something about marriage from them.

SPEAKING.COM: You have had great success in many areas of your life, what do you attribute your overall success to?

REECE: I think my success first of all is rooted in a couple of different things. My fear of failure and my understanding and appreciation of opportunity live very close together so I think that’s one. Number two, I’ve learned through athletics and through some other things that everything’s hard work, and hard work is a part of the process just as failure is. For example, when you’re going to accomplish something, you will fail; that is a part of the process and you can’t let that shake you.

Part of success is understanding, “Hey, I’m going to bust my butt. I’m going to understand who I am, and what my strengths and weaknesses are.” If I’m not good at something I’m not going to kid myself.

The ability to learn plays a part as well. For example working on this new show, I say to the people around me, directors, producers, “What’s not going well? Tell me. I’ll work on that.” Work on your weaknesses. I think that has been very helpful for me personally on my quest to trying a few different things and having a level of success at some. I think I’ve had a lot of grace or good fortune or blessings, bestowed upon me, as well.

Service is sort of like brushing your teeth or showering; it’s not only good to do but it’s also good for us.

SPEAKING.COM: You have given to many meaningful causes. What are some of the ones that are the most important to you and how do you think we can get more people involved with good causes?

REECE: Myself individually, and my husband and I collectively have done a lot of things for the environment, children, and children’s health. While people talk about children as our future, in general they deserve a chance. They have the right to have their health, their safety, and a clean environment.

We try to teach our children that service is a part of life, just like work and like everything else because that mindset creates a balance. Service is sort of like brushing your teeth or showering; it’s not only good to do but it’s also good for us. It keeps us grounded and it’s a part of being a human and being connected to humanity, because when you reach out to someone, the day that you need a hand you might be lucky enough to have someone reach out to you in return. I even joke with one of my daughters, who’s a little more insensitive, that even if you just look at service like it’s good for you, you should help someone out. It’s the ebb and flow of life and it’s really important.

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©, published on December 3, 2018

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