AUDIOCAST: Total Health Makeover with Marilu Henner

Last Editorial Review: 10/23/2003

By Marilu Henner
WebMD Live Events Transcript

Marilu Henner, star of 'Taxi' and 'Evening Shade,' will discuss her new book, 'Marilu Henner's Total Health Makeover,' in this special WebMD audiocast event.

The opinions expressed herein are the guests' alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

Event_Moderator   Marilu Henner is our guest today and she has a lot of great information to share with us. She shows how you can achieve optimum well-being and longevity with her unique ten-step B.E.S.T (Balance, Energy, Stamina, Toxin-free).WebMD Live. Today we will be discussing a Total Health Makeover" with actress Marilu Henner. Marilu has starred onstage, in several hit TV series, film, commercials, television movies and variety specials. She has also co-starred with some of Hollywood's leading men and worked with some of the best directors in Hollywood and on Broadway. She believes that with good health one can do it all. welcome to WebMD Live.

M_Henner Thank you for having me. I love talking about the subject and I love on-line chats so this is going to be a good morning.

 Event_Moderator  Marilu, there are a lot of your fans online this morning. Could you tell us about your acting?

M_Henner I grew up in Chicago and singing and dancing. I was lucky enough to know somebody who wrote the Broadway musical Grease and I went to NY and auditioned for it. That's what started my professional acting career. I did 5 Broadway shows, 25 movies. I've written five books but my finest production is being the mother of my two little boys, Nicky and Joey. I think because I take such good care of myself, my health, I've been into good health for 21 years now after my mom passed away of arthritis and my father died of a heart attack. I became interested and obsessed with trying to figure out what I could do for my health and just over the years developed a program that has worked for me. It took me 8 years to figure it out and 13 years of living it. I think if I didn't take care of myself the way I do, I wouldn't be able to live the life I live. I'm not much of a sleeper and I'm able to get a lot done.

Event_Moderator  What inspired you to write "Marilu Henner's Total Health Makeover?"

M_Henner The death of my parents is what got me into health and after figuring out what was working for me, my friends came to me for advice. One of my friends was a book publisher and she said to me, "You're the only person I know who never gets sick. You eat well. I think you should share some of these health habits with the rest of the world and I think you should write a book". It was something I had been practicing for a long time. I was a teenage yo-yo dieter. I had ballooned up at one time. I'm 5'7". I'm very small boned and that kind of weight was way too much for me. After my father died, I found myself putting on a lot of weight because I was eating my feelings. It was really hard to take that weight off. My health habits were terrible. I wasn't exercising at that time. It was easy to feel sick and unhealthy. I experimented with diets but after my mother died, I said, it's not about my diet anymore. It's really about my health. I read everything I could get my hands on. I studied the human body, the kind of teeth, the kind of tongue, digestive enzymes and I experimented with the different information we have. I came up with the program that worked for me. I never think of it as a diet. I've been able to live it whether I'm traveling or pregnant. I was breastfeeding and ate the same way. No matter what I'm doing, I live this lifestyle all the time. I walk my talk.

I started paying attention to chemicals in food. Now it's easier because before they didn't print out ingredients. The chemicals in your food: More whole foods. Nutrasweet, all of the preservatives are the worse for you. All the dyes and the chemistry that we have in there. I always say if it takes a paragraph to describe it, it's usually not real, ...or if it says continued on the next can. I'm more interested in eating real food. The second step: caffeine and smoking. I paid attention to that and worked on getting rid of the caffeine. You take one step and you feel better. Sugar, refined, white which I think is kiddy cocaine. I feel that this country has a conspiracy to get you to eat sugar. Every treat in school involves sugar and we wonder why we have hyperactive children and obesity problems. Same with red meat. I didn't want sugar anymore and I didn't want red meat because they're compatible. You want something sweet to balance salty. Dairy products, I think, are my real crusade. Once I gave up dairy products, my whole body changed. My skin and digestion changed. I lost the most weight. All dairy is supposed to do is turn a calf into a 300 pound cow in six months. That's why people look so bovine. You see it in people's faces. When you give up dairy products, you find cheekbones that you didn't know you had. I always had respiratory problems. Once I gave up dairy products, it was amazing how much that changed for me, my breathing changed.

Event_Moderator  What was the biggest turning point in your life that made you want to change your health/life style?

M_Henner It was my parents' death. My mother's death in 1978 changed me forever. I watched her in the hospital and I said to myself, with all these procedures they're putting her through, can you imagine if you do something good for yourself how your body would rally. I feel stronger and healthier than I did 20 years ago. 

Event_Moderator  Do you think that if you had another stressful situation you could still follow the lifestyle or is there a chance you would revert back?

M_Henner There's no way I would revert back because I know how I want to feel and how eating this way helps me deal with the stress of life. I feel like it would just cause so many more problems--it would compound the stress if I didn't eat this way. If anything, I would try to be even more careful.

Event_Moderator  Do people hate you because you're beautiful?

M_Henner (laughing) I'm not beautiful, I just clean up well. I've never thought of myself as beautiful but I feel like I'm at healthiest time in my life and I think that that's maybe what people are seeing. I've never gotten more compliments in my life and I think it's because of my health, not beauty.

Fat: learning about differences in fats. I learned how to food combine. Butter is a bad fat. Animal fats are not good for us. Plant fats like olive oil or avocado are much better for you. I eat fish and fish has fat in it. It's the good fat. If you're going to do an animal fat, you're better doing a fish oil fat than a meat fat.

Next step? Food combining: You think of your life as eating fruits, proteins or starches. When I'm talking about starches, I'm talking about the good grains like oatmeal or brown rice.

Event_Moderator  Thank you for joining us @ WebMD Live with Marilu Henner. The chat is audiocast.

M_Henner  It makes me sick when people say I'm off carbs. I'd rather eat eggs and cheese and bacon than a good bowl of oatmeal. That is so not the way to eat in terms of good health. You cannot give up grains. You just don't combine them with your proteins. I usually eat fruit for breakfast. I eat protein lunch and I eat a starch dinner, like brown rice and vegetables or something like that. I eat a lot of beans, a lot of soy products. Every single day I eat soy.

Event_Moderator  I follow your program. I noticed that after each meal that I was starving. What am I doing wrong?

M_Henner  What you have to do is eat 5 or 6 smaller meals to keep the fire stoked. You're processing the food so quickly that you're ready to eat again. What you have to do is--that's a good sign. It's like having the best garbage disposal in your kitchen. Everything is moving through you quickly. I have a chapter in my book called What's the Poop and it's a whole chapter on your digestive system. The whole thing is that we should be eliminating--digested properly and eliminated properly.

The next step: exercise and stress. It's ideal to break a sweat for 10 minutes every day. If you aim for 10 minutes, you should do it 4 times a week. You can just put on a CD and dance around your house. You can think of yourself as an athlete all day long. When you pick up the groceries, the kids, you really pick them up. If you really live your life as though you were constantly working out, it's amazing how much you work out in a day. Just move all day long.

Event_Moderator  I saw you in Man on the Moon, you look great. Was this a bittersweet project for you?

M_Henner  Definitely. Thank you for the compliment. Yes it was definitely bittersweet. Jim Carrey was so much like Andy, it felt like we were back in time. It was great to see everybody. This cast has stayed close over the years. It was just great to be on that set again. The first thing I did was bring my kids and take home movies of them. I didn't know their dad when Taxi went off the air. 

Event_Moderator Is your sock drawer as organized like the photo in your book? The photo in the book is a photo of her sock drawer.

M_Henner  I grew up in household of 8 people and one bathroom. The only thing I was allowed to organize were my two little drawers. I just had maybe 4 pairs of socks. As a grownup, I love being organized. My sock drawer is always organized because I like to move through my life so quickly, that I like to know where everything is at all times.  live in the hills and you have to be careful because it's easy to get moths. You have to be careful about your food and put it in those plastic containers. 

Event_Moderator  Do you recommend a heavy reliance upon vitamins or supplements in achieving total health?

M_Henner Because we can't get all organic food and we eat in restaurants and on airplanes, I think it's important for us to take right kinds of vitamins. A good multi-vitamin is important. I think if you work with a knowledgeable nutritionist or doctor, they can recommend a good supplement that can enhance a healthy lifestyle.

Event_Moderator  What is one of your favorite snacks to give your kids?

M_Henner  My kids eat soybeans everyday. It's soybeans thrown in salted boiling water for five minutes and left in their shell. They love soybeans. The other day I sent my son's class a bowl of soybeans. All the mothers wrote that the kids wanted this snack. They eat guacamole and chips or they'll have a thing called ants on a log which is celery and healthy peanut butter and raisins.

Event_Moderator  Do you offer your son a piece of candy?

M_Henner  Yes and he turned it down. He said, no thanks, I don't eat sugar. There was a woman who wrote to me and said, if he can turn down sugar so can I. 

Event_Moderator  Do you miss Andy Kaufman?

M_Henner  Oh yeah. I had seen Andy a few months before he died so I knew he was really sick and this wasn't some publicity stunt. I think he's still misunderstood. My understanding of the film is that they sensationalized some of his feelings about Taxi and maybe didn't capture how normal he was in a lot of situations. He was a really sweet guy. He was interested in great conversation.

Event_Moderator  Do you have beauty tips?

M_Henner  I think total health is not just about what we eat but how we think, how we set up our environment and relate to people. I wanted to do a book that had not only recipes but also seven tips to get you through the day. They are food for thought. In the book, I have a beauty tip, organizational tip, food tip, exercise tip, and spa on a budget tip. I just felt that these were some of the things that I've learned over the years that have helped me to create a total health environment. Sleep is very important and it determines how the rest of your day is set up. Sleep is crucial and the right kind of sleep is very important. I think so much of our sleep habits have to do with how we sleep or eat before we go to bed. Have we exercised at all, have we dealt with things emotionally. The environment that we set up. When you do so many things in your bed besides sleeping or making love, what happens is you're still in your office. 

The last of the ten steps: Gusto and it's really your attitude. 

Event_Moderator  Physical fitness and beauty go without saying, but if in the future you felt you needed a little help, would you consider plastic surgery?

M_Henner  I get asked this question often. People think I've already had it. I'm always saying, when you come to get your book signed, come and check for scars. I think being Polish and Greek, I have good middle European skin so I've been lucky that way. What probably gave me acne besides bad health habits has given me thicker skin as an adult. It has to do with genes and also how I take care of myself. As for the future, I don't know. I always say never say never. I'm leaving the door open.

Event_Moderator  Do you promote sunscreens?

M_Henner  I think it's important to stay out of the sun. I use moisturizer with sunscreen in it. If you're outside a lot, you should put sunscreen on your hair. There are so many hair products today that are natural to protect your hair.

Event_Moderator  Do you recommend an exercise regimen for someone who works all the time (me) and has very little time for fitness?

M_Henner Every morning, wake up 15 minutes earlier and stretch while you're still in your bed. Do as much as you possibly can before you get out of bed while body is warm from sleeping. Stretch while you're in shower or bathtub. Even if you do it for ten minutes, it's going to make a difference. If you can some time in the day, walk as much as you can. On the weekends, try to take a good, long walk or put on a cassette and dance around your house. Move as much as you possibly can. It's amazing how one step leads to another. If you're driving or riding, every time you stop at a stop light, do some isometric exercises. Tighten those butt muscles or abs or arms, whatever it takes to get your body moving in even smallest ways.

Event_Moderator  As a dancer, can you recommend music?

M_Henner  Any kind of disco music will get your heart rate up. Any of the female rock singers, Madonna, Janet Jackson, always have a lot of dance music. I also love the Gypsy Kings. Recently, I'm a big Sugar Ray fan. The new Sting album has some great exercise type songs as well.

There's two health books. The first book is called The Total Health Makeover in all bookstores now. The second one is called The Thirty Day Health Makeover and that's in hard cover only and that's in bookstores as well. I also have a parent book called I Refuse to Raise a Brat. My original book was called By All Means, Keep on Moving. The new book will be out next June called The Total Health Kitchen. It's about redoing your kitchen and substituting. They're available on is my website.

Event_Moderator  What types of food make you feel most energetic!

M_Henner  The foods that are the energy robbers. If someone is tired all the time, I always say to them I don't do any of the health robbers, sugar, red meat, dairy and caffeine. Those foods will take energy from you. If they give you a burst at first, eventually you're going to come crashing down from them. If you take even one of those foods out, it's amazing how much it will change. You do one step for three weeks and then try it again, you cheat. You understand the difference in how you feel. It takes about 4 days to clear it out of your system and some time to get over the emotional dependence. With dairy products. If you give up dairy for 3 weeks and then go back to it, you won't believe the difference in how you feel. Sometimes it takes a little longer depending on how addicted you are.

Event_Moderator  What would you consider your biggest vice?

M_Henner  I was on Politically Incorrect the other night and I said I think the biggest vice should be sex. I don't have any food vices. I'll have some wine or champagne or something like that. I don't consider that a vice as long as it's combined properly. I don't know. 

Event_Moderator  Do you recognize poor health or poor digestive habits in friends and family and if so, how do you help them without forcing your views on them?

M_Henner  I can instantly recognize bad health. I walk around reading people's faces all the time. The face is such a blueprint for what's going on inside of us. I always look at someone's face and I can spot their biggest weakness right away.

Event_Moderator  How is this accepted?

M_Henner  I never talk about it unless they want help. If someone asks me and says okay, read my face.

I was at dinner at Fran Drescher's house and she was making a salad and I told her I didn't want cheese. She said I'd like to try that and now she's dairy free for the most part. She talks about it in her book. Anytime I can help somebody that wants my help, I'm eager to share the information. I'm just the messenger of good information. I just know what's been working for me. If they don't want to hear it, than that's okay too. Most people prefer to be healthy. If you don't have your health, you have nothing. People who say I have no time, I say then you're going to have to take time for bad health later on.

Event_Moderator  When were dancing, did you have particular food you'd eat before going on stage?

M_Henner Between shows I would have small piece of salmon and steamed spinach. I usually had fruit for breakfast. If there was nothing else around, I'd have a piece of fruit. If you want a good solid work-out--if you're running a marathon, you need a carbo load. If you need a shot of energy then you want to have protein but I never mix the two.

Event_Moderator  I know people that followed the healthiest lifestyle they could, depriving themselves of things they would normally enjoy and still developed diseases like cancer and diabetes. Some feel it was an exercise in futility. Would you feel this way?

M_Henner  We are all genetically predisposed to certain diseases, to certain characteristics. We've been dealt a genetic hand. What we have to do is find out what we've been dealt and deal with that. I know that I have arthritis and heart disease running rampant in my family. Because of that I had to develop a certain lifestyle that is helping me not to develop those diseases. I don't eat like my parents ate. I love living this way. I would never go back to eating red meat and dairy even if you paid me a lot of money and told me it would have no connection to bad health. It smells bad and tastes bad. I've changed my palate over the years and I love the food I eat. I never think of myself as living a life of deprivation. If you're sitting around denying yourself and feeling punished then certain diseases are going to come out anyway because you don't have the right attitude. It's not about attitude for me anymore. It's about preference so I don't want the overly sugared, salted, fatted foods of my youth.

Event_Moderator If you could go back and change anything in your life what would it be and why?

M_Henner  No doubt about it. It would be that I would have gotten into health earlier and maybe saved my parents. My biggest regret is that I didn't know as much as I know now. They shouldn't have died as young as they did. It defined my life, my parent's death.

Event_Moderator  What do you advise a person to do when they hit a "plateau" in their weight loss attempt?

M_Henner  I would say analyze it from every angle.

Event-Moderator  Has your body gotten so used to your routine that you need to shock your system a little bit by taking time off or going back to it or stepping up your work-out?

M_Henner  Our bodies will get used to the same thing over and over again. It's important for us to do different things. Your body will become complacent and think it's getting the same thing all the time. If you're trying to lose weight, the best thing to do is to make sure you break a sweat for at least 20 minutes a day, every single day, food combine and not eat dairy. That's the most important.

Event_Moderator  What about actresses being too thin?

M_Henner  In my experience, it's not the camera that adds weight. It's the lack of balancing what you're wearing. I think it's important to be fit, depending on character or role. I think that what's happened is that people have become obsessed and they're too thin for their bodies. There are some that are naturally smaller than other women. They have model bodies but can still look fit. There are other women who have starved themselves to be thin that you can tell should have 10 to 15 pounds more on their frame. That's what you're seeing today. Now they look thin but unhealthy. I look for sparkling eyes, healthy luster to skin. If they have a shallow face and their eyes look dead then you know they're not healthy.

Event_Moderator  If you had to gain weight for a role, what would you eat?

M_Henner  I still wouldn't eat the bad food. I probably would just eat more of what--I would have to force myself to eat more of what I already eat. I'd probably exercise less. I wouldn't work out for a while at all. I don't think I would gain so much weight but I could gain 10 pounds and then dress a certain way and look 25 pounds heavier for a certain role. I would be able to take it off quickly as long as I put it on with good food.

Event_Moderator  How do you recommend dressing to hide weight?

M_Henner  You accentuate the positive. If you have good legs but thick waist, then show off your legs. If you can't hide it, decorate it. Show off your legs and as you're slimming down on top. Don't wear baggy clothes on bottom. If you have a tiny waist but legs are thick then you show off that waist. Show off your assets and hide your liabilities. There are so many slimming tricks with clothes. Some of my heaviest episodes on Taxi I actually look thinner because I was so careful about what I was wearing. This is a lot of the stuff in my blue book. There are so many things that you can do.

Let's talk about posture for a second. Posture will make you look thinner. When you sit, if you have a picture taking, make sure you're sitting on your jacket and holding your head up. I use tricks all the time. Have your shoes the same color as your pants so that you have a nice long elongated look. You don't block it off with different colors. You don't chop up the line with different colors. I thought heels would make me look taller but I shouldn't have been walking around in those boots. I should have been in more comfortable shoes because I would have been walking around more. Baggy clothes hanging from someone who is busty will look like a big shelf where as something more fitted will make you look better.

Event_Moderator  what is your favorite movie?

M_Henner  Ever? I like so many movies.  I think if I were to vote for best movie of the year it would be American Beauty but I wouldn't call that my favorite movie of all time. I would say maybe my favorite movie ever...I don't know. I appreciate the Godfather, Gone With the Wind, Two for the Road.....and more.

The tenth and most important step of my program is Gusto and it is all about your attitude. It really makes or breaks your life because attitude is everything. It's how you approach health, relationships, life. You could say what's this opportunity around the corner. If you think of yourself as work in progress than you'll be much more forgiving and you'll have fun. It's never too late and it's never too early for good health and habits. Each day there is a new opportunity. Gusto is that energy that somebody has that you notice as soon as they walk in the room. t has nothing to do with good looks and nothing to do with money. It has everything to do with attitude. It's the ability to take life as the rollercoaster ride that it is and say I still want to put my hands up in the air when I get to the top.

Event_Moderator Do you know how to get there?

M_Henner I think you have to do--whenever I would go through periods of wondering how I would face this. I'm a list maker. Make a list of assets and liabilities and see how they can help each other. Get up and you do something small to make yourself feel better, whether it's call a person who can put you in a good mood for the day or cleaning your sock drawer, writing a letter, organizing something, etc.  Do that small accomplishment and hopefully that will lead to the next thing and you'll start kicking off things that make you feel like you've got control of your life. People feel so overwhelmed in their lives. I think that if you take these small steps, one step will lead to the next. I think so many people are so worried about other people. People say I want to take care of my husband or kids. I always say you know how when you're on an airplane and they tell you if oxygen masks come down, you should put yours on first. Do something for yourself first. If you need to close the door and exercise or meditate, that is going to refresh you enough that you can go on and do something nice for yourself.  One of the best ways for me to get something done is to do something that I've been putting off. If you have huge task at hand and you do something small, you'll eventually get to that big task. People want to feel little successes along the way and those small things will make you feel successful.

Event_Moderator  Thank you for all of your advice.

M_Henner  You're welcome.

Event_Moderator  What projects would you like to accomplish in your future?

M_Henner  Right now I'm writing more books. I would love to do another sitcom. I love doing movies and Broadway as well. More of the same and more sharing information with people especially.

Event_Moderator  YOU ARE AWESOME!!! I feel so motivated. Thank you for today.

M_Henner Thank you. It's really great to chat with everybody on a Friday morning. 

Event_Moderator  I get home from work I'm so tired. How can I motivate myself to get to the gym?

M_Henner  Stop thinking of the gym as something outside of your house. You have to find ways around your house to get started. Until you get into gear where you can't wait to get to the gym, do something small at home to get yourself kick-started.

Event_Moderator  Is there a chance of you ever doing a Taxi follow-up movie, etc?

M_Henner  Oh I hope so. Maybe Man on the Moon just got everyone excited about seeing us all together.

Event_Moderator  We enjoyed chatting with you and wish you continued success in all aspects of your life.

M_Henner Thank you so much. I feel the same way and best of health to everyone.

Event_Moderator  Thank you for joining us and thanks for the book, The Gusto.

M_Henner  Thank you.

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