By Vanessa Packer
WALKING INTO THE AIRY, BRIGHT APARTMENT of health coach and online cooking personality of Robyn Youkilis is akin to stepping into the home of your best friend. You immediately feel at ease as she pours you green juice from the selection of accouterments including just-picked concord grapes, sliced almonds, freshly brewed tea and even a bottle of wine. Since 2009, the IIN grad has led one-on-one coaching sessions, started a members-only cooking club and even launched an online cooking course called Healthy Cooking Camp. “I began hosting a few classes at home and I started a cooking show because I wanted to have a bigger impact so I took it online,” said the Syracuse University alum. Her latest venture, dubbed Rockstar Roadmap is a six week virtual health coaching program that includes weekly hour-long phone calls, recipes, resources and supplement recommendations. “There’s no fluff,” assured Youkilis. “Just here’s what you need to do and here’s how you integrate it. If you want to feel like you have your health handled, this is the foundation.”
When did you first become interested in food as a healing method?
I always thought I was healthy. Tuna on whole wheat, Baked Lays and Diet Peach Snapple. I didn’t understand why I was perpetually 10 to 20 pounds overweight. I decided to go to nutrition school because I knew there was a better way out there.
You graduated from the School of Integrative Nutrition. What did you learn there?
That’s where I learned what it means to be truly healthy. It doesn’t mean a diet or a healthier version of something processed. It means eating as many things as they look are in nature. Whole foods.
Did you learn things you hadn’t known before?
Well, “Kale is God.” Ha. I hadn’t eaten kale before! Also, find your local health food store and learn it. That changed everything for me. Whole Foods was always really intimidating, local shops are more manageable and that’s when those really healthy foods started coming into my kitchen.
Do you believe eating and emotions are linked?
I believe that we have a connection through spirit to our food. If there is something that feels unmanaged or there are feelings that you haven’t dealt with before, it’s going to spill out through your food. Until you unveil what’s keeping you unhappy, you’re never going to be able to heal your food story.
What was your food story?
My father passed away when I was 17 from cancer. He really struggled with dieting and eating. I saw him sneaking food and we later heard from his secretary that he ate bagels on the home from work before dinner. I carried a lot of that with me and I realized that I was trying to connect to my father through my food. I realized that there are other ways I can connect him.
How did you cut that connection between emotion and food?
Before you eat, ask yourself, what am I looking for in this? For me, it was about learning what was emotionally tripping me up that I needed to work though myself.
What is the first thing you always ask a new coaching client?
What is the one thing they feel that gets in the way of being your healthiest self?
What is the most common answer?
Not enough time.
How do you draft a program for each client, is it different for everyone?
I have foundations that everybody needs but I’ll start with their hot button, where is their area that trips them up the most. Usually it’s breakfast. Then we decide on the best plan for them and build from there.
What do you recommend for breakfast?
For my cereal eaters, I swap them over to green smoothies. I find most people don’t do as well with grains in the morning, but it’s a time to experiment. If they prefer cereal, I’ll have them do overnight oats where you just soak 1/2 cup of oats, 1/2 cup milk alternative plus your add-ins like almond butter, pinch of salt, maple syrup or a banana in a mason jar, put them in the fridge and have them in the morning. I tell them to get jars and fill 3 of them in a week so they’re ready to go.
What is something people should include in their diet on regular rotation?
First thing is always water in the morning. I recommend these 24 oz mason jars. It makes it a lot easier. I tell people to fill it up and put it on the nightstand, before they go to bed. Then first thing in the morning, drink as much as you can so before you leave the house you already had 3-4 glasses of water. Even the ones that drink a lot of the water don’t do it first thing in the morning.
What is the most important change you ask clients to make in their diet?
I blow them out of the water with vegetables. They think they’re having vegetables with a little side on their dinner plate but it’s not enough. I always recommend raw vegetables for snacks, I know it’s boring but that’s the best way you’re going to get it in. And for dinner, your protein or grain is a small amount. It’s really about going crazy with the vegetables. No matter what conditions my clients are coming to me with, thyroid, PCOS, weight loss, energy, once they do that and they’re really doing that for 3 weeks, they’re like, “Oh I’m sleeping better, my energy is better, I’m going to the bathroom more.”
What do you recommend clients to buy at the grocery store?
I teach my clients how to shop for vegetables. I recommend they do a box of organic, pre-washed ready-to-go greens for salads, then one green leaf that they can cook and a one-off vegetable. A one-off is a something you have to think about like eggplant, broccoli, sweet potatoes, or zucchini. You have to think about what you’re going to do with it. Just one, anything more than that it’s too much. Also, superfood things. Chia seeds, hemp seeds and nutrient dense foods like introducing nutritional yeast can really change someone’s life. It changed my life. That cheesy taste. I crave it. But really what I’m craving are B vitamins.
What is the biggest misconception about healthy cooking?
That is has to be all or nothing. I call it assembling food. It’s about a few simple ingredients and putting it together in a yummy way. Last night my dinner took less than 10 minutes. I made some tempeh in a pan with coconut oil and Tamari and threw some broccoli with olive oil and red pepper flakes in a pan. Then I had some leftover squash that I turned into a mash with real butter. It’s about knowing how to make shit taste good. Keep cayenne pepper, chili flakes, cumin, nutritional yeast and coconut oil around, and use really high quality Himalayan pink sweet salt.
So you’re not anti fat?
I use straight up grass-fed organic butter. If I can find goat butter, that’s always easier to digest. Butter is good. Your body knows what to do with butter. It adds something to that dish that leaves you satisfied and won’t have you digging into the pantry later. I also like coconut oil, cold pressed olive oil and unrefined sesame oil. Paul Pitchford who wrote Healing with Whole Foods said it’s one of the least processed and easiest to digest. People only think of toasted but if you get the untoasted, unrefined, it has a much more neutral taste and it’s delicious.
What is your favorite healthy dish to serve for entertaining?
Recently, I made three butternut squash and sage lasagnas and cauliflower with parsley, capers and preserved lemons. I like to do black rice with carrot ribbons. It’s really pretty and you could do it for Halloween. I also like to do baked spinach with fish on top.
What does a day in the life, diet wise, look like for you?
I’ll wake up and have water. I recently started journaling where I’ll just write anything that I need to work through, tasks for the day, anything that I feel is coming up, I’ll get that down. Then I put the kettle on and I do my tea. I love Runa tea for energy and I’ll also do a medicinal tea bag. I’ll put nettle leaf and ginger in there and then I do lemon in a cup with a little bit of hot water. I’ll meditate, sometimes it’s 30 seconds but when I hear that little voice that says “Sit longer,” I will. Sometimes I’ll go for a run. I’ll come back and have my green smoothie. At lunch I love my massaged kale salad, I’m really into seasoning my salad. Sometimes I put scrambled egg in salad, it sounds weird but I like it. I’ll put cumin or herbs de Provence with avocado or nutritional yeast. At snack time, if I’m on the go I’ll have a Kind bar or a Health Warrior chia seed bar or I’ll grab a green juice or apple with almond butter. Then dinner with my husband.
What about sweets?
I’ll eat half a chocolate bar. I’m a quantity person. God bless the person who can have one square.
Do you take any supplements?
I do a Garden of Life Primal Defense probiotic because it’s shelf stable and I feel like my digestion is better and I’ll take B Complex. Most women are deficient in B vitamins. It’s really important for balancing moods, hormones, cycles, energy and good for weight loss. Depending on time of year, I’ll take Olive Leaf extract, which is more mild than Echinacea or Wellness Formula. In my running training, I’ll sometimes take L-Glutamine after a run because it’s really good for muscle recovery. It helps break things up and is really good for digestion. Dr. Lipman recommends it for sugar cravings. When I take it my muscles really do feel better. There’s a supplement if you drink alcohol, it’s called NAC, and it’s amino acids. If you have a glass of wine or vodka, I’ll recommend that supplement because it helps your body metabolize the alcohol.
What is always in your fridge?
I always have greens, usually the boxed kind. I really mix it up. Escarole, bok choy and red leaf. I vary it so I stay interested. I always have Tempeh in there because it has a really good shelf life. Soy can go either way but fermented is a little bit better and for people who can have a little soy, it’s an inexpensive quick protein. Lemon, apples, nut milk, avocado, miso, eggs, hemp seeds and Maille Dijon mustard. One thing I always have in my freezer is nuts and seeds. They go rancid really quickly. If people get a stomachache in the afternoon, it’s the nuts.
What does your husband eat?
I usually keep Sunshine burgers in my freezer. They have four or five ingredients: brown rice, carrots, spices and that’s it. He’ll put avocado on them, Ezekial bread and he’s done. I leave him little trails of crumbs that he can follow for his food.
What is your favorite fitness routine?
I genuinely love working out. That’s my non-negotiable. It is my work to take care of myself. I love the Jillian Michaels DVD because I found that it’s really effective. I love Soul Cycle. This one teacher Bethany Lyons is my absolutely favorite teacher in the world. She’s led the Crunch yoga department and now she’s opening her own studio in Tribeca. She’s one of Baron Baptiste‘s disciples. I like Barre 3 for an online workout and I have a trainer who’s vegan.
What is your guilty pleasure?
I’m kind of a nerd. We go to the movies and our favorite thing to do is make popcorn with coconut oil and truffle salt and we each get a Kombucha. We started getting M&Ms and throwing them in there but whatever.
ROBYN’S COOKING ESSENTIALS
- Always lemons and limes. People get bored with lemon in their water AND limes are actually more alkalinizing. If you make a green smoothie in the morning and want it later in the day, citrus will help hold the color more.
- Apples are the perfect snack. They’re loaded with fiber. Carrot sticks and apples. It’s never going to get that much more interesting. I also recommend slivered almonds because one almond makes ten slivers.
- Nutritional Yeast.
- I love this Italian jarred tuna. The flavor is amazing. Not that often, just a few times a month, but having this quick protein is great.
- Cayenne pepper. Add a pinch to whatever you’re making. It doesn’t necessarily add spice or heat but it warms the whole dish and brings the flavors together. It’s also good for your blood, metabolism and gets everything going.
- Nori wraps. Anything you’re having for lunch, just dump it in a nori wrap and roll it up. Even if you’re having a salad from Chopped, throw it in the nori and you have a wrap.
- A Global chef’s knife. “It’s your best friend. Go to a cooking class and learn how to really use it.”
- Flexible cutting boards. “It takes the same time to wash four as it takes to wash a regular one.”
- A salad spinner. “I use it for everything.”
- Microplane grater. “I like to use it for garlic.”
- Vitamix. “Obviously.”
- My Cuisinart. “I make salad dressing in there, banana soft serve (frozen banana). I’m always experimenting with healthy, crumbly sweet things that you don’t have to bake, like a power ball that’s oats and peanut butter–for my girls that need something sweet in the afternoon and their office is filled with candy.”
- My cast iron pan.
- A good nonstick enamel covered pan (not Teflon).” Even my husband uses that pan because he loves it so much.”