Today we chat with fellow Chicagoan, Sarah Baker. A model turned health and wellness entrepreneur, founder of BalancedBabe.com, BeHealthful Retreats and StyleBodySoul. This ambitious babe is dedicated to transforming the way women relate to food, a purpose she discovered during her travels and modeling abroad. We wanted to know what fueled her quest for a healthy lifestyle and of course, to pick her brain on eating healthy in Chicago!
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Before health and wellness coaching, you were modeling quite a bit. That must have taken you to some beautiful locations! Do you have a favorite? Are there any cultures or places that fueled your quest for a healthy lifestyle?
I loved traveling to Milan, Italy. I lived there for three months and cherished the culture! Even though a lot of people say it’s very industrial, I still think it had charm. I always walked around the Duomo and the city center daily going from casting to casting so I was able to explore a lot. I also enjoyed living in Istanbul, Turkey for three months as well. I think if I would have been there as a tourist I would’ve enjoyed the experience a bit more, but I was able to take in the ancient architecture at least! The food was also - AMAZING.
What inspired your journey in health and wellness? Was there a specific event or issue that acted as a catalyst?
My passion about nutrition research and holistic health was a process that started to take hold when I was in my late teens, but I was always either focused on modeling or acting. Finally, once I lived in a small area in Istanbul and ate nothing but plant-based, fresh and local produce, I realized that I needed to promote this lifestyle in my community.
Being in the modeling industry is also very tough. There is a lot of criticism and it seems as if there is constantly a microscope on the model’s body image. I’ve been around a lot of young girls who had very poor self-esteem and extremely bad eating habits, especially being in an international meeting point for models all around the world in Istanbul. That trip turned a light bulb on in my head.
I decided then and there that my real passion is to help young girls and women love their bodies and have healthy relationships with food.
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In creating a lifestyle you love, what major steps did you need to take to get where you are? Were there difficult choices, risks or acts of faith that led you to today?
First, I needed to quit smoking. Can you believe that I was a smoker on and off starting at age 16?! It’s a common way to keep slim in the modeling industry. It took me about 7 tries to finally kick it, and I am SO glad I did. If you can quit smoking, you can take on the world!
No one is perfect, there's always room for personal growth, so I don't dwell on past bad health habits or feel ashamed that I didn’t treat myself well when I was younger. I look at them as great obstacles conquered.
I come from a family background of faith in God and goal-setting. I probably started writing down my goals at an earlier age than most. I also realized that I have an entrepreneurial spirit and that the best way for me to have the freedom to pursue my goals would be for me to start my own business rather than work for someone else. My health/wellness website, Balanced Babe, led to launching BeHealthful Retreats and branching out to consulting via SBS Image. So it wasn’t a difficult choice at all to switch my major from Fashion Business to Nutrition while also completing certifications in plant-based foods and holistic health coaching.
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Chicago is a haven for foodies, however healthy restaurants seem hard to come by. As a Chicagoan, I'm super excited to have discovered your plant-based dining guide that's an extension of your "Be Healthful Retreats." For those that feel it's difficult to find healthy, organic options in restaurants, do you have any tips when eating out?...Who's at the top of your list lately?
It is sooo hard not to dine out regularly in Chicago. I am probably out to eat about 4 nights a week, which can add up in boat loads of calories if you are not careful. Here are some tips that work for me when dining out:
Order at least one veggie dish: This could be a salad, side of sauteed spinach, or a vegetarian entree (a lot of Chicago spots are catching on to the vegetarian movement)!
Vegetarian does not mean PASTA...Sure, pasta is technically vegetarian if there isn’t any meat in it, but it still isn’t the healthiest option. If you truly want to order vegetarian while dining out you have to look for the veggie options!
Choose wine, carbs or sweets, not all three!
Sarah's Top Four Plant-based Options in Chicago:
1 Lyfe Kitchen 413 North Clark Street, (River North)
Loocal & organic American fare in a bright, cheerful space with outdoor seating.
PHOTO: KIRSTEN SCULLY
2 Taxim 1558 North Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago (Bucktown)
Upscale modern Greek dining with an all-Greek wine list & a full bar plus stylish decor & a patio.
PHOTO: ROGER KAMHOLZ
3 Karyn’s on Green 130 South Green Street (Greektown)
New American dishes go vegan at this stylish restaurant with a sprawling bar & upstairs lounge.
4 Duseks 1227 West 18th Street, (Pilsen)
Imaginative pairings of high-end pub grub & specialty beers offered in a funky, historic building.
PHOTO: ANNA KNOTT
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When cooking at home, it's easy to get stuck on a few go-to dishes. How do you keep things interesting?
I love cooking and do it often, so I buy a bunch of local and in season produce that I know I should be eating and experiment with 5 ingredients daily. It is also crucial to have the kitchen essentials:
- complex carbs like quinoa
- leafy greens
- seasonal veggies
- onions and garlic
- almond milk or coconut milk
- fruits like apples, grapes, berries
I choose three veggies that I want to eat and make a lot of stews and soups that will last me for the week. If you are not an avid chef, you can choose a vegetable that you want to focus on and simply google “spinach vegan recipe” (I would google vegan recipes just because there is now an abundance of this dietary cuisine and the majority of recipes are delicious)! Googling recipes with the ingredients you have handy can do wonders and may broaden your go-to cooking list.
As a health and lifestyle consultant, what are the biggest challenges that you see people facing these days?
The biggest challenge hands down is the HOW. Everyone knows that you should eat healthy and you should do this and that, but few know how to make it work for them and how to sustain it. It’s so important to focus on the “how” when making lifestyle changes.
You must be quite busy running the blogs, and various wellness offerings, how do you keep from burning out?
I am a strict time management gal! I have so many time management techniques that I use - they allow me to work on multiple projects daily without being all over the place. My consulting company, StyleBodySoul, LLC not only offers holistic nutrition and lifestyle consulting, but also offers small business coaching to holistic entrepreneurs and businesses, so I use a lot of time management techniques with clients as well.
I have three main sectors to my brand that I focus on: Balanced Babe, my consulting services, and the holistic health conference series, Be Healthful. Managing those three parts of my brand along with the projects that go along with each venture (launching some fun projects for Balanced Babe and Be Healthful in 2015!) can take up A LOT of my energy and time. Because there is so much going on with me, I work like a dog on the weekdays, and take my break on the weekends. Saturday’s are my days off where I relax, do yoga, say adios to emails (which is hard!!) and zone out from the world (this means watching Real Housewives on Bravo). I also make sure that I exercise in the morning or at lunch time to keep me sane during the week.
Before you leave us...tell us, what's the most important thing that helps you to embrace life with curiosity and awe, to live like you're traveling?
More than just one...
Passion, determination, and the urge to always grow and create!
GET MORE HELPFUL TIPS
1 - EathHealthful.com for the full directory of plant-based restaurants and reviews in Chicago.
2 - BalancedBabe.com for more holistic health and wellness tips and inspiration.
3 - BeHealthful Retreat to participate in, or attend the next event coming up on March 22!
4 - StyleBodySoul for lifestyle and business coaching.
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Get everyday adventure ideas @LiveLikeYoureTraveling