Zonya's in the News:
Dietitian from Onsted has her own TV Show on PBS Stations

Tuesday, January 24, 2006
By Monetta L. Harr
(mharr@citpat.com -- 768-4972)

Next time you sit down at a restaurant, instead of salivating over the menu, feel that tugging on your forehead.

Across it is a wide strip of white tape with the word "sucker" written in big red letters. If you ignore it, your forehead won't be the only thing tugging after consuming all those calories and fat grams.

"We can't keep buying into what we are served in restaurants. We have choices," Zonya Foco says.

Instead of taking big bites and quickly wolfing down the whole thing, Foco is teaching Americans how to slow down and enjoy their food -- and a long life.

Foco, a registered dietitian, has a health-and-fitness television show on PBS, gives motivational talks to more than 15,000 people a year, has written a cookbook, and in March will have her first novel published about a woman who undergoes a personal transformation.

She does all this from her Onsted home, which doubles as an office with a handful of employees and a TV studio.

Foco, 42, lives what she preaches. She looks thin in a horizontally striped turtleneck sweater; her complexion is of Olay dreams; and her eyes aren't glazed over in a sugar-fat-sodium stupor.

Yet, years ago, Foco struggled with her weight.

"You need to think in one-year terms," Foco said. "You have to commit to a habit for a year. If you can't commit to that habit, pick another one."

Accomplishments, she knows from experience, are achieved in small increments.

"It's the power of one good habit. Not an all-or-nothing approach that forces you to try and be perfect, which won't happen," she said.

This common-sense approach to a healthy lifestyle began when Foco cooked family dinners as a teenager. Her mother, who worked outside the home, paid her to do that and the grocery shopping.

That experience -- finding easy, nutritional recipes and trying to figure out how to get the entire meal on the table at once -- was the basis of her cookbook, "Lickety-Split Meals."

After high school graduation, Foco agreed to follow her mother's recommendation and take a nutrition class at Jackson Community College. Foco sat slouched in the back of the classroom until the first words out of the instructor's mouth resonated with her: Americans were making sandwiches with white bread, instead of the much more nutritional whole wheat.

"I knew right then I would teach nutrition some day. And at the next class, I sat up front," said Foco, who earned a bachelor's degree from Eastern Michigan University and worked for eight years as a clinical nutritionist for the Michigan Heart and Vascular Institute at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ann Arbor.

This enthusiasm for making healthy lifestyle choices has never waned, especially after seeing people like her grandmother suffer broken bones from osteoporosis -- which could have been prevented, or at least lessened, with the right diet and exercise.

For years, she has taken that message on the road, speaking to everyone from 20-somethings to those in the corporate world to retirees.

And last year, PBS began broadcasting her weekly television show, "Zonya's Health Bites." It is carried locally on WKAR (Lansing) at 1 p.m. Fridays and on WTVS (Detroit) at 3:30 p.m. Saturdays.

The show is produced by her husband, Scott, at their home and is currently aired in more than 45 markets, including seven of the top 10. It includes a lively cooking demonstration and smart-shopping and exercise segments and is peppered with "bites" of information on topics from heart-smart foods to portion size.

The couple have a 5-year-old son, Ridge, who has already come home from kindergarten and told his mother she has to come to his classroom and talk to the students and their parents because they pack white-bread sandwiches and Fruit Roll-Ups (instead of fresh fruit) in their lunch boxes.

Whether it is to the pint-sized set or grownups, Foco has found the most effective way to get information out about making good lifestyle choices is by using stories, an idea that is being taken to another level when her book, "Water with Lemon," is released in March.

Written with Stephen Moss, the book is about a woman named Karen who has a new baby and an unhappy marriage and is carrying 60 extra pounds. She meets someone who reveals how small choices have the power to shape the way people live into the life they want to lead.

"I think the book is empowering and motivating with eight lifestyle habits that can really change your life," Foco said.

And just like the main character in the book learns, it's all about choices.

"My goal is to make people think. And when you make the right choices (with nutrition and exercise), you can see such great results."