Molly Kimball has perhaps one of the most challenging jobs in New Orleans: to provide dietary and healthy living advice to New Orleanians. Let’s face it, advising a population of people in a city where there’s a festival for every major New Orleans food group – and there are many, from fried chicken to beignets, poorboys, seafood, daiquiris and more – cannot be an easy task.
As a licensed nutritionist, Kimball has embraced the culinary cravings of the city and provided a “cheat sheet” for those who still want to dine out through the Ochsner “Eat Fit” program, with healthy eating options at many restaurant favorites in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, the north shore and beyond.
If that weren’t enough, Kimball has taken on one of the toughest challenges: the Lenten pledge to forgo alcohol for forty days. Alcohol-Free-for-40 has gained momentum in the past couple of years, with more and more signing on to drink mocktails after Mardi Gras, with many lasting even past the challenge deadline. But don’t hold Kimball’s good intentions against her, she’s all heart and loves the soul of the city. She just wants to see us all around a little longer to enjoy it healthy and whole.
New Orleans and New Orleanians are obsessed with food. How do you approach nutrition in a town that is so food-oriented? It’s all about finding what drives and motivates people to be their healthiest, strongest selves; recognizing and respecting that what works for one person may not work for others. We also can’t be finger-wagging or judgy when it comes to nutrition – especially here in New Orleans – nobody wants that. I’m grateful to have so many opportunities to have a positive impact on the health and wellness of our community. In addition to one-on-one nutrition counseling, our team of dietitians also runs Eat Fit NOLA, a nonprofit initiative of Ochsner Health System. When I first started the nutrition program at Ochsner Fitness Center nearly 20 years ago, I held my breath and crossed my fingers that it would stick, and the journey has been rewarding beyond words.
New Orleans has been accused by some by not having any “healthy options” (hello: KALE), how do you respond to that? There’s no doubt that we have an abundance of not-so-healthful options – that’s just part of our culture, our history, and isn’t going to change – nor should it, necessarily. There are plenty of quintessential New Orleans staples, like local seafood, red beans and greens that can easily be among the top healthful foods around, depending on how they’re prepared. With Eat Fit, our motto is “indulge without the guilt!” With nearly 100 Eat Fit NOLA partners, we’re thrilled that so many restaurants now offer incredible dishes that are Eat Fit-approved, meaning no white carbs, very little (or no) added sugar, reduced sodium, and lower in animal-based saturated fats. And to make it even easier, we have a new Eat Fit smartphone app.
Now that we have made it through Carnival, people look to kickstart healthy eating and less or no drinking alcohol. How do you suggest people get started? Each year we organize the #AlcoholFreeFor40 challenge, a free community initiative centered on not only giving up alcohol for the 40 days of Lent, but also making it our own self-experiment. The response has been amazing, and the #AlcoholFreeFor40 Facebook group page has become a great resource for inspiration and support as participants share their personal tips, challenges and victories.
And whether it’s giving up alcohol, sugar, carbs, or any other nutritional change or plan you decide on, the key is to make a very specific, conscious effort to focus on the small, daily benefits you experience. Too often we set these gigantic long-term goals, and it’s discouraging when we’re not there immediately. Even if your goal is to lose a certain number of pounds, for example, focus on the daily benefits of fueling your body well. Clearer thinking, better mood, sounder sleep, healthier-looking skin, less bloating, less reflux, not feeling the usual afternoon energy slump – these are the daily improvements that can motivate us to stick with our new plan, even if the scale isn’t moving as quickly as we’d like.
What do you love about New Orleans, other than the food? Everyone always says “the people” – and it’s so true. We’re warm, we’re welcoming, we’re unapologetically over the top. There’s always a celebration going on with something new to experience, and unique, interesting people to meet, learn from and be inspired by.
True Confession: I head to the pottery studio weekly. I love it, it’s so calming, relaxing, and so rewarding to create something right then and there. Home Malone and Wilkerson Row are two local stores that carry a few of my pieces; it’s the coolest thing to know that people like something you create enough to give it as a gift.
At a Glance
Age: 43 Profession: Registered dietitian & nutrition journalist: Nutrition Manager at Ochsner Fitness Center. Weekly columnist for NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune and weekly TV segment on WGNO’s Good Morning New Orleans Education: LSU; B.S. Nutrition & Dietetics, B.S. Food Science & Technology, licensed registered dietitian Favorite Book: “Thrive” by Arianna Huffington Favorite Food: There are so many. But as for dinner, it’s often seared salmon when I’m home, and filet when I’m out (cooked “black and blue” style: charred on outside, rare on inside) Favorite TV Show: Ellen Favorite Restaurant: This is impossible to answer! We work with so many incredible chefs and restaurant owners who offer amazing food and experiences, there’s really no way to pick just one. Uchi Sushi is one of my weeknight staples when I’m looking for takeout. They’re one of our Eat Fit partners, plus we can walk there from our house.