Take it from Mitchell, healthy living wasn’t always quite so effortless. Growing up, she struggled with obesity, emotional eating and depression. At 20 years old and approaching 300 pounds, Mitchell decided to take control and set out to lose weight the old-fashioned way — by transforming her eating habits and committing to exercise.
Ten years and a bestselling memoir later, Mitchell is sharing kitchen tips in her first cookbook, “Eating in the Middle: A Mostly Wholesome Cookbook.” Mitchell believes that a sustainable, healthy lifestyle shouldn’t mean skipping happy hour or staring longingly at your coworker’s birthday cake. Instead, it’s about fueling up on good-for-you eats while leaving room for sweet treats or a much-needed cocktail every once in a while.
Daily Burn chatted with Mitchell to learn what “mostly wholesome” means to her, and how she hopes her new cookbook will bring inspiration to your kitchen, too.
In the Kitchen with Andie Mitchell
The title of your cookbook includes the phrase “mostly wholesome.” What does “mostly wholesome” mean to you?
“Mostly wholesome” is along the lines of the 80/20 principle. Eighty percent of my diet is real foods, whole foods (like fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, proteins) — stuff I know will be nourishing and good for me, and will make me feel really good.
The other 20 percent is obviously the richer, more indulgent foods that aren’t doing me a lot of favors nutritionally — the sugary things like cakes, and the higher calorie items in the “For Sharing” chapter of the book. (Ed. note: There are mouth-watering options like Loaded Chorizo Nachos and Spicy Chipotle Chicken Enchiladas.)
Do you follow this 80/20 principle on a daily basis?
“After losing 135 pounds, I’ve spent 10 years trying to figure out how to maintain that loss.”
On most weekdays, I eat a healthy, wholesome breakfast. A lot of these recipes are in the breakfast chapter of the book — standard breakfast items like oatmeal or an omelet.
I love the idea of putting lunch on autopilot, and I’ll usually have salad. I like the idea of making it so routine that you don’t have to test your willpower. For a lot of us, lunch on weekdays is fairly routine — eaten at the same time, often in the same location — so why not make it healthy? I’ve found that if I have a healthy breakfast and a healthy lunch, I’m much more likely to make a healthy dinner decision.
I like keeping weekdays more wholesome because on weekends I’ll often try a new restaurant. When I go to a restaurant, generally speaking, I get exactly what I want on the menu. I don’t have any hang-ups about the number of calories because I know the healthy decisions I made throughout the week mean I can enjoy a more indulgent dish on the weekend. And I really enjoy it. I’m mindful when I’m eating it so that I know to stop when I’ve had enough. I’ll always get a dessert on the weekends, too.
That’s kind of how balance works to me, but it can always change. The thing about balance is that it’s important to know that it’s not a place you arrive, it’s a practice. Every day that I wake up, I have to choose that balance. It’s about being mindful at every meal.
Is balance the same for every person?
From talking to people who read my memoir and to people who have struggled with their weight or have food obsessions, I’ve learned that we often have a relationship to food where we swing between two extremes — overindulgence or overeating and restriction or extreme dieting. It’s almost easier to tell someone to go on a three-day juice cleanse than to eat moderately because we don’t have a sense of how to be moderate. We don’t have any of that middle ground.
After losing 135 pounds, I’ve spent 10 years trying to figure out how to maintain that loss. I asked myself, “What am I going to do to maintain my lifestyle? How do I find a place where I am healthy, but I’m also happy, too?” Stopping the swinging from one extreme to another is the only way that I can actually sustain this happy weight. I found a way to incorporate some of the indulgent foods, and a lot of the healthy foods, and have that middle of the road approach.
What sets your cookbook apart from ones that only offer healthy takes on classic recipes?
I want this book to serve as a testament to a balanced life. It includes five essays about shifting my mindset and relationship to food. In some ways, the book is as much about sharing the recipes as it is about why balance matters, and why it’s OK to incorporate those more indulgent foods that you love.
And although I do lighten things like chicken tenders and fish and chips, I would never lighten a dessert because I don’t find the same level of satisfaction in lighter sweets. On my journey, the more I restricted my diet or the more I ate only “healthy” or “clean,” the more I felt this sense that I was just white-knuckling it until next time I could eat a cupcake. And then I would have 18! I would have a binge that was much grander than I ever wanted it to be.
Writing a cookbook requires lots of recipe testing. How did you maintain your “mostly wholesome” balance while testing the recipes?
“It’s a really nice feeling for me to be able to eat cake, to prove to myself that I can eat foods I love in a balanced way.”
It’s not easy. The reality is that you don’t want to eat all of the recipes you make right when you make them. You’re making so many more dishes than you could ever eat in a day, or a week, or even month. I’d be making three or four recipes in a day!
I’m no longer a member of the clean plate club. I recognize that everything that I eat or don’t eat is going to show up somewhere on me. I would taste every recipe, but I would not go so far as to think “I have to finish this meal.” That would have been punishing!
Portion size was really key when you were initially losing weight. How did you incorporate that into the cookbook?
Ten years ago when I first stared losing weight, I had to learn what a real serving of chicken or cereal looked like — I had no idea. I included the nutrition information on each recipe to show people what I’m recommending as a reasonable serving size, and readers can do with that what they will. It was so important to me when I was changing my life so I’m always mindful of it now.
Also, save those indulgences for times you care about. Something more indulgent can be shared and maybe should be shared, and that’s a great way to be moderate about portions. It’s also about saving those indulgences for important times. Instead of indulging in a cookie at 4 p.m. on a Tuesday, consider special occasions instead.
What’s your favorite way to indulge now?
Definitely dessert. Probably cake, because I love frosting. It’s something that I have always shared with my mom, so it is very nostalgic for me. Even now when I go home, we will go to our favorite bakery and have a cupcake or a piece of cake. It’s a really nice feeling for me to be able to eat cake, to prove to myself that I can eat foods I love in a balanced way.
What do you think is the most important first step for someone just starting to develop healthy habits?
The first step is honestly recognizing that your relationship to food might not be working. Back to that relationship where you’re swinging from one diet extreme to the other — the first step is realizing that it doesn’t work. Deciding that you want to have a better feeling about your relationship to food is the real place to start.
Once you’re there, you start practicing. You start realizing that you want to feel healthy and be healthy, so maybe you have to eat clean or wholesomely most of the time. But you still want to incorporate the foods that you love, because that’s going to keep you happy. Give it some time, and practice it. If you can, keep doing that and see how long you can get and how it’s bettering your relationship with food and probably yourself.
Cashew and Basil Chicken Lettuce Wraps Recipe
Mitchell just had to recreate the incredible lettuce wraps she tried at a Chinese restaurant. “The wraps manage to strike a delicate balance between sweet and salty, crunch and tender, rich and refreshing,” she writes in Eating in the Middle. One glance at that mouth-watering photo and we’re sold!
- 371 cal
- 16 g fat (2 g sat)
- 40 g carbs
- 763 mg sodium
- 6 g fiber
- 6 g sugar
- 17 g protein
1/2 cup unsalted cashews
1/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons canola oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound ground chicken breast
2 scallions, white and light-green parts, chopped
1/2 cup roughly chopped fresh basil leaves
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spread the cashews on a baking sheet and toast until golden and fragrant, about 10 minutes. Let cool slightly, then chop the cashews and set aside.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the broth, hoisin, soy sauce, sugar and cornstarch.
- In a 12-inch nonstick skillet set over medium-high heat, heat the oil. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
- Add the chicken and cook, breaking up the meat with a spatula, until browned, 4 to 6 minutes.
- Add the scallions and the hoisin sauce mixture and cook, stirring frequently, until the sauce thickens slightly, about 2 minutes. Stir in the basil and cashews.
- To serve, divide the lettuce leaves among 4 plates and spoon the chicken mixture into each of the leaves.
Want more delicious recipes from Mitchell? Get your own copy of Eating in the Middle, on sale starting March 29.