Fifteen years ago, Dawna Stone knew she was on to something.
An ongoing battle with weight and failed diets led her to cook up a plan of her own. It took a lot of tweaking, but it was the first plan that stuck.
The aspiring executive and entrepreneur shared her notes with coworkers, and then a few friends. Eventually, the former college swimmer and triathlete gave her advice to clients at a personal training business she opened in Southern California. The concept would make for a great diet book, she thought.
But other endeavors kept getting in the way. There was marriage, then her 2005 reality show adventure on “The Apprentice” spin-off with Martha Stewart, which she won. The subsequent creation of a women’s fitness magazine and a national half-marathon series absorbed immense chunks of time, not to mention the births of her two children.
It wasn’t until Stone sold the St. Petersburg-based Women’s Running magazine in 2012 that she put her idea for a diet book back on the front burner. The result, “Healthy You!: 14 Days to Quick and Permanent Weight Loss and a Happier, Healthier You” ($14.99 at dawnastone.com or Amazon.com) will be released Tuesday.
Stone, 45, recently spoke of her resolve to self-publish the eating plan she developed as a young adult — and successfully retested after the birth of her daughter, who is now in kindergarten, and her preschool-aged son.
Q. Most people know you as Martha Stewart’s “Apprentice” and may be surprised that you gained 40 pounds after graduating from college in California.
“I had always been fit, and then I graduated from college and I went to New York and worked on Wall Street. From there, it went haywire. I was working till midnight, one in the morning. People were doing pizza runs and Popeye’s chicken runs and runs for foods that I never ever ate before. ... And I was not only feeling unhealthy, I was unhappy.”
“… I remember being in New York City in my apartment, in bed and in tears thinking ‘I’m smart, I have this great job, I have this great education. Why can’t I control this one thing?’ I mean I was an athlete. I’ve always achieved pretty much everything I ever went after. And I could not achieve weight loss, no matter what. It was the one thing in my life that I couldn’t control at all.”
Q. Programs like Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers didn’t work for you. But you also acknowledge that your concept won’t appeal to everyone. Who is it for?
“I think there are people who need that kind of community, who can go and have that Wednesday weigh-in … to convince them on Tuesday that they might not want to have that giant piece of cake.
“This book is for people like me, who struggle constantly and have given up and maybe have tried those other options. ... The specific plan is really about eating healthy. It’s not a program that counts calories. ... The whole goal here is to make you rethink what you are currently eating.”
Q. Your two-week plan uses the first seven days to eliminate a different type of food one day a time: sugar, wheat, daily, highly processed foods, diet soda and artificial sweeteners, red meat and alcohol. In your own experience, which one did you need to eliminate first?
“I started taking away the unhealthy refined sugars — like KitKat bars for me — and just starting eating in moderation. I remember telling myself, “I’m not asking you to completely eliminate sugar, but maybe Monday through Friday when you are at work. ...
“On the weekends, if I wanted to have an ice cream or a scone, I would ... and I started feeling better and I just started doing the same with other unhealthy things in my diet.
Q. Have people who have tried the plan struggled with giving up certain foods?
“Sugar and alcohol. ... A lot of people, even if they are not drinking a lot, don’t want to give up alcohol. My thing is that I’m not asking them to do it in the long-term. I’m asking them to have a clean week to know what it feels like. You may feel not so great that first week when you are not eating sugar and not having caffeine ... but by that second week, you are ready to eat a diet that’s really clean and healthy. And you feel amazing. I want them to feel that.”
Q. There’s a lot of this plan that looks like a cleanse diet, and it focuses on terms such as “elimination” and “clean.” How is this book different from cleanse diets that deprive the body of a lot of foods and, subsequently, nutrition?
“This is about clean eating. If you told me you were doing a cleanse, I would wonder what kind; is it a juice-only cleanse or water cleanse? … ‘Healthy You!’ is about getting to a point where you are eating cleaner, healthy, more-natural unprocessed food. There may be people out there who want to call this a cleanse. Do I? I don’t. I see it as a way to eat cleaner and eat healthier.”
Q. As a former fitness magazine publisher, you’ve seen a lot of unhealthy diet ideas. And while you have training in personal fitness and weight management, this book is not written by a medical doctor or licensed dietician. Why is it important that you share your own experience?
“I know that even if I just tell people to eat healthy, I’m going to get criticism. I think I could say that everybody should exercise and I will get criticism ... .and that’s fine. To me, I know the book is healthy, the program is healthy. I’m not saying you should restrict calories. I’m not saying you can only have a certain amount.
“… It’s hard to overindulge on something that’s really healthy. It’s easy to overindulge on something that’s not so good for you and very calorie dense.”
Q. You don’t have to exercise to do this diet, but exercise is a huge part of your own long-term ability to stay at a healthy weight. Why not write an exercise book?
“People who know me know that my outlook is about healthy overall living and that I’ve had an emphasis on food more than anything else. Yes, I owned a fitness magazine and I ran running events and I convinced people to get off the couch and just walk a 5K. ... I think that’s also part of healthy living.
“I will never get rid of the part where I believe exercise is important, and I would love to always get people off the couch to do it. But I think a lot of people, until they lose the weight, may never get up and take that step.”