Nutrition Strategies From A Foodie, with Mareya Ibrahim

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

Most people’s concept of a healthy nutrition strategy has been distorted by the food industry’s messaging tactics. Luckily, we have real nutrition educators such as Tana Amen and this week’s guest, Mareya Ibrahim, AKA the “Fit Foodie.” In this episode of The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast, Tana and Mareya share some of the lessons they learned while on a cooking reality show, as well as a few other proper nutrition strategies you can implement in your family’s routine.

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Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way Podcast, I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.
Tana Amen: And I'm Tana Amen. In our Podcast we provide you with the tools you need to become a warrior for the health of your brain and body.
Dr. Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we have been transforming lives for 30 years, using tools like brain SPECT imaging to personalize treatment to your brain. For more information visit
Tana Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is also brought to you by BrainMD, where we produce the highest quality nutraceuticals to support the health of your brain and body. To learn more, go to
Welcome, so this week I have a very special treat. This is a dear friend of mine, Mareya Ibrahim.
Mareya Ibrahim: Oh it's great to be here with you love.
Tana Amen: It's so great, thank you for being here and so I want to do quick introduction, but before I actually read your introduction, which is highly impressive, I want to talk just for a second about how we met.
Mareya Ibrahim: Yeah.
Tana Amen: So we actually met doing something that you were very good at and qualified for, I was not. I actually got drug onto Recipe Rehab.
Mareya Ibrahim: That's not fair.
Tana Amen: Oh no, it was on ABC, I didn't want to do it, my husband sort of pushed me into it, because you and I were both part of something called The Daniel Plan.
Mareya Ibrahim: Yes.
Tana Amen: And so I met you there and you were one of the only people who was really nice to me.
Mareya Ibrahim: Oh my gosh, how can anybody not be nice to you?
Tana Amen: You know it was this crazy competitive environment, it was so interesting to me.
Mareya Ibrahim: I want to say how much admiration I have for you.
Tana Amen: Well thank you.
Mareya Ibrahim: And Daniel and I rave about you guys all the time and I've been telling people, "Everybody's got to go get their brain scanned," which I'm next.
Tana Amen: We would love to have you to get scanned.
Mareya Ibrahim: But I love that we share such a similar point of view on food.
Tana Amen: We do.
Mareya Ibrahim: And nourishment and being a warrior and taking control of your life, but at the same time enjoying your life.
Tana Amen: Exactly.
Mareya Ibrahim: Enjoying it with the people you love, because that's, at the end of the day that's what we have.
Tana Amen: Exactly, so I want to talk more about Recipe Rehab, but let me just really quickly tell you who Mareya is, because I just am so impressed with what you've done.
Mareya Ibrahim: Aw thank you.
Tana Amen: So you are actually known as The Fit Foodie, which is so true, you can't see her sitting here, but she is super fit. The Fit Foodie, the nationally recognized food safety and clean eating expert, an award-winning entrepreneur, television chef, which I learned first hand, author and inventor, you're the CEO and founder of Grow Green. I've seen your website, you have a lot of green products which I really like.
Mareya Ibrahim: Yeah, I'd love to share a little bit about the Eat Cleaner.
Tana Amen: Goulash and stuff like that.
Mareya Ibrahim: Yeah for sure.
Tana Amen: You patented eatClean, eatSafe and eatFresh line of natural and organic products, which I saw on your website that was really cool. Your book, The Clean Eating Handbook was released in May of 2013, has been tailored as the go to guide for anyone looking to eat cleaner and get leaner, I like that. So rather than a diet book it's-
Mareya Ibrahim: Yeah.
Tana Amen: Which I don't like that either.
Mareya Ibrahim: I don't like it.
Tana Amen: You're a co-contributor to The Daniel Plan, another way that we were connected. We both contributed to The Daniel Plan: 40 Days to a Healthier Life, by Rick Warren and my husband, Dr. Amen and Mark Hyman. You've been featured on the Emmy nominated cooking show, Recipe Rehab, on, and you're a frequent guest on San Diego 6 and Fox 5 San Diego news. Your backpage column The Fit Foodie appears in Edible Orange County Magazine.
Mareya Ibrahim: Yeah.
Tana Amen: So you're super busy when it comes to food, I like that. When we went on Recipe Rehab, I just have to like, this is just so funny. So I really wasn't a huge fan of going on a cooking show, because I've always made it clear, when I got into this I'm a nurse, I'm not a chef, right. My husband always says I went from disaster to master, I did it strictly out of necessity, it was survival for me. It was to get healthy, to get my family healthy and I did it at a time when it wasn't a super common thing, to get into food as medicine, and so that's why I got into doing it and so I'd written a couple of books and they were doing pretty well and somehow ended up on the show, and I didn't realize that everyone on the show were master chefs, right. And so I go on the show, I'm like, "You guys know I'm not a master chef right?" They're like, "Oh you're not?" No, I'm a nurse and so when I sent them my, earlier you have to send them your list of ingredients, they argued with me.
Mareya Ibrahim: Oh gosh.
Tana Amen: And they literally were arguing with me, I'm like I cannot use white flour. They're like can you replace your flax meal for, I forget what they wanted to replace it with, it was something gluten laden and I'm like no and so they give me this like...
Mareya Ibrahim: It wasn't worth, it wasn't jibing.
Tana Amen: They're like no one's going to understand what this is. I go, "That's the whole point, I'm an educator," and so we kept going back and forth, so I get on the show and they literally gave me, everything they gave me was almost wrong. So rather the flax meal, they gave me flaxseeds and you know that you don't have a lot of time.
Mareya Ibrahim: You can't use-
Tana Amen: No, I'm like I'm trying to cook with flaxseeds.
Mareya Ibrahim: Where is the coffee grinder?
Tana Amen: I'm like, what is going on, they didn't have the coffee grinder. I'm like, oh my gosh this is a disaster. So I did the best I could and the producers were nice, but I had a hard time with a couple of the chefs that were, they were highly competitive. I'm like, I was just there to have a good time, but then I met you and it made it worth it.
Mareya Ibrahim: Thank you.
Tana Amen: And you were just so much fun and I realized you were also part of The Daniel Plan, which was so coincidental.
Mareya Ibrahim: Well what I loved about Recipe Rehab was, you have all these families that have these classic recipes-
Tana Amen: Right.
Mareya Ibrahim: That have been passed on aunt-
Tana Amen: And they're not healthy.
Mareya Ibrahim: Aunt Emma's double chocolate cake that have like 500 000 grams of sugar, like insane and that we got a chance to make it better for them.
Tana Amen: And I loved that.
Mareya Ibrahim: You know what I mean and I think that we can take that approach in so many things in our lives, like food doesn't have to be replaced. I think we have this idea in our minds that in order to eat cleaner or eat better for you, I don't even like the word diet-
Tana Amen: Me neither.
Mareya Ibrahim: But an eating plan that's sustainable that we have to replace all these things and that's just simply not true. There are always better alternatives and smart swaps and at the same time I always go back to family is everything, so at the center of your family is where your traditions are, it's where you enjoy your food together, it's where you come together in celebration and every day can be a celebration. Food and sustenance is such a tremendous glue and it engages all your senses and it gave us a chance to really like say, "You don't have to do it on your own, you can do it with your family," and by the way I replaced all of the butter in one of my dishes with pureed beets.
Tana Amen: See I love that.
Mareya Ibrahim: And that cake won.
Tana Amen: It was so amazing.
Mareya Ibrahim: They were doing it with the beets and it stills won, so we can overcome a lot of perceptions when we show people how to do it the right way.
Tana Amen: And I think a lot of it, and this is where my expertise has been, is educating people, because even on that show they had no idea at the time what I, they're like why are we noticing all of these ingredients, because that's what I do. These people were diabetic, someone has to explain to them it's not a hard swap.
Mareya Ibrahim: Yeah, it's not.
Tana Amen: It's really not a hard swap.
Mareya Ibrahim: It's really about that demonstration and the beautiful thing about that show and I think when, even in The Daniel Plan, is when we would do demonstrations in front of-
Tana Amen: They get it.
Mareya Ibrahim: An audience and they see it, they're like, "Oh wow, I get it!"
Tana Amen: And they taste it and it's good, yeah.
Mareya Ibrahim: It's that connection and I think that's why cooking shows are so popular.
Tana Amen: Right.
Mareya Ibrahim: I was on an episode of Cutthroat Kitchen on the Food Network and I was like, I never want to do a competition show again.
Tana Amen: Right, no.
Mareya Ibrahim: But I want to educate people and show and tell, because that's really where my heart is.
Tana Amen: Me too, see that's what I really love and I actually think that that is... So I worked with you, I worked with Jenny Ross and I really felt like that, so I actually was clear, the one good thing about being on a show like Recipe Rehab was, I became very clear about what it is I do. I already sort of knew, but I don't want to go on competitive shows about being a chef and that's not me. I'm an educator, so what I actually talked to The Daniel Plan about is, look I am your educator, I partner with chefs and I think that that's why it worked out so well. I gave them a ton of recipes, I provided recipes because that's what they need, but it worked so well to be able to partner with you, and Sally, and Jenny and you guys would come on and do the food demonstrations and I did a lot of the education, because that's how we forge a path.
Mareya Ibrahim: Sure.
Tana Amen: That's how we actually educate people, look we were never as a species, we never ate the way we eat now, a hundred years ago. That only happened when we all of a sudden we were able to store massive amounts of food. We ate seasonally, we ate what was fresh, we were just talking about being in Italy.
Mareya Ibrahim: What was local, exactly.
Tana Amen: We were talking about being in Italy and even though they eat pasta, I never feel sick when I go there, they serve tiny portions, it's homemade-
Mareya Ibrahim: It's the flour is locally milled.
Tana Amen: Fresh made.
Mareya Ibrahim: It's not processed.
Tana Amen: Non GMO.
Mareya Ibrahim: It's two ingredients usually, maybe three.
Tana Amen: And it's tiny amounts.
Mareya Ibrahim: And it's small amounts in proportion and it's eaten slowly. This is another thing that we have and I talk about it in Eat Like You Give a Fork.
Tana Amen: Show them your book, I like the title.
Mareya Ibrahim: Yeah, I was so excited for this book.
Tana Amen: The title was so great.
Mareya Ibrahim: Because I think it's-
Tana Amen: Eat Like You Give a Fork.
Mareya Ibrahim: It's so liberating and when I was in culinary school, I went to culinary school in France and that was a long time ago and this was before flax and chia and all of the other like-
Tana Amen: They think you're weird.
Mareya Ibrahim: And I just, I was not feeling good, I was constantly feeling bloated, I was constantly feeling heavy, not motivated and I was like, I ended up dropping out and I'm saying it.
Tana Amen: Oh wow.
Mareya Ibrahim: I never finished because it just wasn't working for me and then I got on the holistic nutrition path and I started organizing culinary events for a chain of natural food stores and I was like, okay this feels better and I'm Middle Eastern so a lot of my background is the Mediterranean diet, it's beans and grains and all of these things that worked for me, but I wasn't seeing that in the cooking that I was learning. So I started merging culinary perspective with the Better-for-you food and that was the magic combination. That's where the book really gives you a path, it's an eight part strategy and within each strategy you get a chance to dive into more of a culinary point of view.
Tana Amen: So let me ask you a question, because this is a beautiful book and I love the title Eat Like You Give a Fork.
Mareya Ibrahim: Thank you.
Tana Amen: So but I need to understand something, this is not just a cookbook?
Mareya Ibrahim: No, not at all.
Tana Amen: It's a lifestyle book, it's teaching you strategies.
Mareya Ibrahim: It's eight strategies and they are based on strategies that I've tried and tested with literally thousands of people that I've coached. So beyond The Daniel Plan in my health coaching, I've done corporate health coaching, health coaching with individuals and the first thing that I find is when you tell people to eat a certain way, if they've never eaten that way before, you have to start by retraining their taste buds.
Tana Amen: Absolutely.
Mareya Ibrahim: So that's the first strategy in the book is, let us reset what you are eating so that you crave differently.
Tana Amen: Yeah we find that within about seven to ten days, blueberries taste sweet.
Mareya Ibrahim: Exactly.
Tana Amen: But they're not candy.
Mareya Ibrahim: It's an eight day reset, anybody can do it, you eat a few bites of the foods that I recommend and then all of a sudden you start to crave bitter and sour, and new mommy flavors that then open up the world to the things that are better for you.
Tana Amen: That's so interesting. So that's your first strategy, what's the second strategy?
Mareya Ibrahim: The second strategy is to really transform your kitchen, so in your real kitchen you're taking out all of the things that don't serve you, and I kind of make the analogy to a great wardrobe. When you go into your refrigerator I think some people expect the food to pop out at them and be like, "Eat me," and it doesn't work that way, you have to be intentional and there's only a few things we need to survive, right. Foods on of them, so if we would just give a fraction of the attention to what we're eating, more than social media, you know what I'm saying? It's perspective, so I'm telling you that when you get your real kitchen in order, you get your food house in order, you get the right tools, everything changes.
Tana Amen: So one of the first videos that Daniel and I did together for The Daniel Plan was a pantry cleanse for this women, so people were volunteering to do this and this women said, "I actually eat really healthy, so I would love to have you come," she thought that it was going to be like this great experience whatever, she was mind blown, because when we got in there we're like, "Captain Crunch?" Most people don't even understand what is healthy, what's not healthy, because we have been so trained by the food industry rather than by our grandparents, right?
Mareya Ibrahim: Yes.
Tana Amen: My families from Lebanon so-
Mareya Ibrahim: Oh I didn't even know that, that's so great.
Tana Amen: My grandmother didn't even speak English.
Mareya Ibrahim: No wonder we have this connection, I love it.
Tana Amen: So when you have these grandparents that, they cooked fresh every day, they did this stuff, I didn't grow up like that sadly because my mom ended up being a runaway, we were poor. But when my family cooked and when Daniel's family still cooks, he's from Lebanon as well, he's Lebanese, It's just fresh, the ingredients are fresh, they're clean, they're you know what I mean?
Mareya Ibrahim: Yes.
Tana Amen: And we've gotten so far away from that and those people think that if it says healthy on the label... This is where you and I, I love your, the reason you're here, your strategies and I love your philosophy, because we're so on the same page.
Mareya Ibrahim: Yeah, I mean think about that. Our parents, they would bring home meats and fish and-
Tana Amen: Right, fresh.
Mareya Ibrahim: Produce and they would literally cook it every day and go to the market the next day and see what's fresh.
Tana Amen: And they walked, my grandmother couldn't even drive, she walked-
Mareya Ibrahim: With their bags.
Tana Amen: Stopped at the grocery store, walk out, but it's so interesting. Now we think if it's got a label that says, "Health food" on it and if you read the ingredients that's rarely true.
Mareya Ibrahim: Yes.
Tana Amen: And so you have to really read labels and you have to understand what processed food is.
Mareya Ibrahim: And beyond that I think when we can get away from just surviving on what's in our pantry and really reevaluate our refrigerator. I call it rehabbing your refrigerator, because if half of our eating plan should be fresh produce, shouldn't half of our refrigerator be too? You know what I'm saying? So take advantage of eating with the colors, the colors-
Tana Amen: The rainbow.
Mareya Ibrahim: The rainbow. I know it sounds like maybe we've been talking about it over and over again, but isn't it more attractive-
Tana Amen: But it's so beautiful.
Mareya Ibrahim: When you see this array of color in front of you.
Tana Amen: Natural food is so beautiful.
Mareya Ibrahim: It can't be skittles, it's got to be a real rainbow.
Tana Amen: Yes yes, the real rainbow. When we come back let talk about the rest of your strategies, I'm actually really enjoying this, it's just totally in alignment with what we do turn in to clinics.
Mareya Ibrahim: I love it.
Tana Amen: And so, I love being able to offer more resources to people and this is just a fantastic resource. We'll be right back.
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