Real Words

6 questions for Krista Scott-Dixon

Krista’s not a natural jock. In order to become an authority on fitness, she had to lose 50 pounds herself and conquer her genetics and fear of the gym. What’s her advice on fitness and nutrition?

I’m fascinated by what successful people do.

Krista Scott-Dixon is a successful person.

Krista’s not a natural jock. She spent her first 23 years as an unathletic bookworm. She was picked last for teams and faked illnesses to get out of gym class.

She understands the struggles that people face when trying to get and stay in shape. In order to become an authority on fitness, she had to lose 50 pounds herself and conquer her genetics and fear of the gym.

At this point in her life, she is still fit and healthy. Krista has competed in BJJ and grappling and currently stays active by training in boxing, judo, BJJ, cycling, running, rock climbing, and weight training.

Krista earned her PhD in Women’s Studies from York University in 2002 and serves as the research director for the Healthy Food Bank and the editor-in-chief of Spezzatino magazine. Both projects promote good nutrition and the joy of eating well.

Krista’s perhaps best known for her gym rat alter ego “Mistress Krista” and her website She’s also a top coach for the Lean Eating Program.

When she isn’t eating, cooking, writing, or thinking about food, Krista lurks in organic grocery stores, farmer’s markets, and the small supermarkets around Toronto.

I caught up with Krista and had her answer these 6 questions.

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1. What are the top 3 things you see people do to mess up their nutrition?

Assuming that good nutrition is somehow miserable and difficult.

Who wants to be like that? Of course people resist eating in ways that they associate emotionally and mentally with frustration and pain!

People assume that those who eat well are “different” in some way – better, more morally righteous people, rigidly restrictive, or so-called “health nuts”.

We’re not.
>We’re average people with jobs and families and other life demands, just like you. We just make different choices.

If you think that eating well is hard or unpleasant, then you’ll find all kinds of ways to avoid doing it. If you look at good nutrition as a pathway to feeling and looking good for life, then you’ll be more inclined to choose it.

Not learning how to cook well.

Consequently, people don’t understand quality food.

If you cook well, you eat well. You appreciate better-quality food and a rich world of flavors that just isn’t available in commercially prepared, highly processed foods. Cooking is a basic skill, but in North America many folks have lost it.
But a lot of cooking is really, really easy!

Here’s how to roast a chicken: Turn the oven on. Throw the chicken in. Go do something else for an hour or so. Pull the chicken out. The end.

Then, when you’ve eaten the chicken meat, dump the bones in a pot of boiling water. Go do something else again. Come back and pick the meat off the bones. There, you have chicken soup.

A six-year-old child could do this. (And arguably, they’d be better at picking the meat off the bones with those little fingers. Hooray for child labor!)

It’s ludicrously simple to prepare good, and good-tasting, food. You don’t have to be Julia Child.

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Woowee giant artichokes!

Not being honest with ourselves.

As a species, humans are incredibly self-delusional.

Either we outright lie to ourselves, or we simply don’t grasp reality as it truly is. We underestimate our food intake and overestimate our activity. We “forget” all kinds of things. If we start a nutrition plan on Monday, by Tuesday night we’re convinced it’s been ages and we “deserve” a “cheat meal”.

Write stuff down and make yourself accountable. Get real with yourself. Those pants didn’t shrink in the dryer and your body does know when you eat those Mallomars.

2. How has your perspective on nutrition and exercise changed over the years?

I can’t believe how much I’ve learned since I started. Every year I think, “That’s it. I can’t possibly know more or do better.” But, of course, that’s ridiculous. There is always more to know. I can always improve.

I’m really oriented towards lifelong wellness and disease prevention as my primary goal.

I like athletic performance (who doesn’t?), but ultimately for me this whole project is about staving off an atrocious genetic destiny. (Thanks, mom and dad, for nuthin!) A big turning point for me years ago was visiting my dad in the cardiac ICU after his two heart attacks. I decided that I never, ever wanted to see the inside of a cardiac ICU again.

Ten years ago I was much more into bodybuilding-style eating. Now I feel that many folks in the fitness and nutrition world are focused on things like “nutrients” or “glycemic index” without really understanding the foundational principles of wellness.

They are happy that they ate 150 g of protein today, but their psychological state regarding that protein consumption is dysfunctional.

Or they ate a bunch of stimulants that mimicked the chemical process of fat utilization, but burned out their adrenals. (And the body probably corrected for it 24 hours later, anyway.)

Or they sought substitutes for so-called “cheat foods” that ultimately didn’t bring them joy or actual benefit. (Anyone care for a chocolate-flavored, sugar-alcohol-sweetened, glycerin bar?)

These days I feel an increasing chasm between how I eat and how the rest of the world eats. And it isn’t because I eat weird stuff (I don’t think). It’s because the mainstream world has become so unbelievably full of non-food.

I’ve always been interested in eating well. But now I’m terrified of the broad-ranging health consequences we’ve wrought as a society by allowing grocery stores to fill up with chemical garbage.

Athletes are drinking blue drinks. Kids are developing their brains in a chemical and sugar stew. There are omega-3 cookies. Some days I swear I’m gazing into the Matrix.

In terms of exercise, again, I used to be much more into bodybuilding. Then for a while it was powerlifting. These days I’m focused on a variety of fighting sports and fun stuff like climbing and cycling.

I’m interested in things like evolutionary fitness, work capacity, real-world strength, and developing a well-rounded skill base. I like to get outside and move some heavy stuff around… or at least to entertain the neighbors. I want to be fast, technical, strong, and prepared for anything — whether that’s choking my opponent unconscious, pulling myself up from a cliff’s edge, or tearing up the dance floor.

Basically, I want to be James Bond.

I used to be focused on what exercise would do for my body. I still am. But these days I’m also interested in what exercise teaches me about my body, and about myself.

My body has this capacity already built-in. I don’t need to force it. It already knows how to perform, just like plants already know how to grow. I just have to provide the soil and the fertilizer, and nurture it along.

3. What is your favorite quote?

This question kind of stumped me, because who doesn’t love all the same old clichés? “Be the change you want to see”, blah blah.

Everyone loves that crap about shooting for the stars or pursuing excellence, but so few people ever really implement those ideas.

Thus, to celebrate the passing of my childhood crush, I present an alternative view that guides my approach to martial arts training – the immortal words spoken by Patrick Swayze in Road House:

“Be nice, until it’s time not to be nice.”

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Drilling for grappling training

4. What are the top 3 things you see people do to mess up their exercise?

Assuming that exercise is only something you can do in an approved facility.

Which, often, you must drive to, be under the qualified supervision of an “expert” (or the substitute, the minimum-waged salesperson at Big Fitness), and with the constant fear of hurting oneself.

This activity must be done – reluctantly – for the American Heart Association-approved time limit.

Also, it must not be fun.

Geez, that sounds totally motivating to me. Not.

People, get outside. Your body knows how to move – look at children, who already know how to squat. And oh yeah, they have fun too, don’t they?

Exercise is life – it’s everything your body does.

Compare these two things:

  1. Cardio
  2. Getting outside for some fresh air and sunshine

Which one sounds more appealing to you?

Or how about:

  1. Plyometric shoulder rotation exercises combined with core training
  2. Throwing a frisbee

There’s a whole world of joyful, practical, useful movement out there. Start looking for it.

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Thinking of exercise as a way to “burn calories”.

Again, who could be motivated by that forever?

Exercise helps the body be more effective and efficient. Exercise helps the body do its jobs better. The body is the only machine that works better the more we use it.

We’re like sharks – if sharks stop swimming, they die. If we stop moving, we die prematurely too, whether that’s literal or metaphorical.

Not addressing challenge properly.

Either people set ridiculous goals for themselves (“I’m gonna run a marathon in 2 months!”) and fail then get demotivated or injured. Or they don’t believe enough in their possibilities.

I tell women they can do a pullup and they look at me like I’m nuts. Of course you can’t, when you start. But you couldn’t read or drive or speak a language very well at birth, could you? You learned. You kept at it, and got better.

Can your toddler read existential philosophy or Sanskrit? There was a time in my life when a 20 km cycle seemed almost insurmountable. (Don’t laugh. OK, laugh.)

Be realistic in your understanding of challenge, and give yourself the time you need to adapt and improve… but with a long-term view that eventually, you will almost always surpass your perceived limits. Always.

You’ll do that pullup one day. Then ten pullups. Then who knows?

Now Krista, finish the following sentences.

5. Fast food is…

…a blight on the industrialized world. And completely unnecessary. A piece of fruit is the original “fast food”.

6. The key to my fitness and health success is…

…considering it the center, not the periphery of my life.

Bonus: What is your favorite supplement?

Real food.

Most folks can benefit from a good fish oil. And vitamin D deficiency has been linked to many chronic diseases – so I’d say vitamin D is really important. Probiotics keep my tummy happy.

That’s more than one, which is probably cheating!

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