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Julie Roberts Combats M.S. With Health and Fitness

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Without the backing of a major-label record deal, Julie Roberts has had to find creative ways to stay engaged with fans all over the world. She’s one of country music’s more gregarious, approachable artists and it just so happens she’s currently working on more than a few projects, not the least of which is herself. Julie, who was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2006, while in the middle of recording her second album for Mercury Records, found herself without a record deal before her third disc for the label could be released. She relocated for a year to Los Angeles to work on a movie about her already turbulent life, then in 2010, having returned to Music City, was further challenged when her home west of Nashville was one of thousands devastated by the May flood that year. Julie recently sat down with The Boot for an in-depth conversation and in the first of an exclusive series detailing her trials and triumphs, tells us why fan interaction is something she craves daily. She also candidly shares how important health and fitness have always been to her and why she’s more focused than ever on staying in shape.

You’ve embraced social media, Twitter, Facebook, and now you’re making videos with the Viddy app. What made you decide to go so high-tech?

I like to stay in constant contact with my fans. If I’ve ever gone out of the country, I kind of get withdrawals and it feels like something’s missing from my day. It would be very difficult for me. It’s hard for me to be away from my phone and to know that I can reach out and say hey. I know that they believe in me and they love my music and they’ve been supportive of me since 2004. They were really my strength through the flood and everything. They’re like my extended family. They might not live in the same house with Mama and me but they’re there with us all of the time. They’re with me more than my mom is honestly, because I’m always talking to them. If I’m doing something like just walking through Costco, that might not seem fun to me but my fans might like to see that. So I’ll Viddy myself in Costco.

Watch Julie’s Viddy videos here.

Do you pretty much start your day by posting on Facebook?

Well, yes, but I didn’t get to post on Facebook this morning because I started this fitness challenge. I cooked and then I couldn’t find my flatiron so I got put behind! I found my sister’s but it doesn’t work as good so, sorry if I’ve got little pieces sticking out [laughs].

You look fine. You always look fantastic, so why the fitness challenge?

I’ve always been into health and fitness. When I got my first record deal is when I started learning how to work out because I went to boot camp. But that was a quick fix. So, honestly, my weight since then, it fluctuates up and down and I always feel like I’m trying this diet out and that diet out. I’ve always loved to work out and to run but I never figured out what I’m doing with my food. So I joined a new cross-fit gym where I live. It was new and it was free to join and try it out. I just bought a car finally, so I’m trying to figure out where I can spend my money now that I have a car payment and insurance. But he offered free nutrition classes, which is something I’ve never done before in my life. I thought, I’ve worked really hard and I’m not really seeing the results I want to see for myself.

Do you have a particular goal in mind?

I want to fit in the CMA Awards dress that I wore when I had just done boot camp. I want to fit in it and stay in it. So I want to learn how to do that by eating right. I knew my workouts were right, and I’m busting my tail working out so much, but he basically taught you how to eat non-processed foods, whole foods — what he calls the Paleo diet. I didn’t know what that was, but it’s things like cooking kale, lean proteins, more vegetables than anything, healthy fat. It’s very balanced but you only have starches right after you work out. I was doing a lot of mindless eating. One of my weaknesses is chips and salsa. I can have that on my cheat meal. I get one cheat meal a week. So a few of us took this class and he said, “I want you all working out hard and let’s do a challenge. Let’s see who can do this for 28 days.” Because his thinking is after 28 days if you feel good and you feel like you’re making progress, you’ll keep going. I’m on day four and it seems like it’ll go by pretty fast. The hardest part is cooking and planning.

You’re comfortable sharing all of this with people on Facebook, Twitter and on your own website?

We took “before” pictures — I took mine myself because I didn’t want anybody to see me like this. When I get to the “after” pictures I may post them on Facebook. Where I’m at right now, I’m not happy with. I want to be able to wear that dress. There’s only one time in my life I felt comfortable in a bikini, and it was right after boot camp. When I go to the beach, I cover myself up. I just want to be comfortable in my own skin. I want to feel good about me when I see myself in a picture that a fan takes and brings for me to sign. Sometimes … if there is a part of the picture I don’t like, like my arm, I’ll sign right over my arm. And that’s so weird, it’s become a habit and I don’t want to be like that. They’re always so complimentary of me but they don’t see me like I see me.

What have you learned about your workout routine that you’ve been able to change?

One of the important things I learned is that one of the reasons I wasn’t making progress with my workouts is that I wasn’t eating enough food and I wasn’t eating the right food. [It was] very interesting watching the Olympics, because they do the same thing. They train for hours a day. I train for two or three hours a day, so you have to fuel your body. If you don’t, your body thinks it’s starving itself and then you don’t lose weight. I’ve always thought if I eat less, I’ll lose weight. I’ve had to really bump up my calorie intake but it has to be good quality. So we calculated my BMI which is your body mass index; how much you burn a day and what you should be eating a day.

What kinds of foods are you eating now?

I do sautéed kale with olive oil. I’ll do omelets with onions and peppers and spinach. A lot of spinach, though, to get to my 1,800 to 2,000 calories a day, which is a lot for me. That’s a bunch of spinach! I’ll do one whole egg and three egg whites. And Ezekiel bread, it’s in the frozen section. It’s preservative-free and gluten-free. There’s nothing bad in it. Other than that, I like grilled chicken or sautéed shrimp with garlic. And vegetables, because you can eat a lot of vegetables.

I would assume that eating right can have an effect on your Multiple Sclerosis?

I saw a video of a woman with M.S., a physician who was in a wheelchair and had tried everything medically that she had been told to try. She couldn’t walk anymore or do a lot of the things that she wanted to do with her family. She had done her own research and one of the big things that she eats now is kale. She makes kale chips and sautées kale. Now, she can walk. She stands and give speeches. She’s totally reversed her symptoms, just by changing her diet and eating colorful things.

So, is it possible that the better you eat the less you would have to rely on medicine?

I think so. She says so anyway and when you see it firsthand … I haven’t had to start medications yet. The thing that I’ve noticed the most is that if I get enough sleep and if I don’t have tons of stress in my life, crazy things like the flood.

Yeah, just little stress things like the flood

[Laughs] Or small things, like wondering how you’re going to get from point A to point B without a car. You try to fix those things one at a time and that takes away the stresses. You can’t fix it all at once. I don’t have symptoms if I get sleep or take away stress. But I want try the food thing because I’ve seen it work with her. I don’t want to have somebody say, “Well, you’re doing all these things but you’re not eating right, so that’s why your symptoms are coming back.” I don’t want to have to cross that road.

What have you done to get fans involved in what you’re doing?

I said,”If you want to join me figure out what your challenge is. Is it to walk a half-mile or a mile, or eat more vegetables this week?” So, a lot of them are writing in to me and telling me what they’re doing and I love that. And I don’t want to disappoint them. I want to see it through.

Watch Julie Roberts’ ‘Break Down Here’ Video

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