Transforming Style From the Inside Out, Women of Style & Faith Series - Nutritionist Sonya Barnes, Owner Nutrition with Sonya


I know, I know, you've been waiting and  it’s been a minute (ok, more like several months, LOL) since I was supposed to launch this series; had quite a few things going on that I needed to go on hiatus. Better late than never, and it is so worth the wait.  I’m writing about Sisters in the faith, that are on the move for God either in business or their respective professions (in some cases both) with a unique style in doing so. I’m not only writing to feature them and highlight their ventures, but I’m writing for them, for us, as a way to impart some helpful knowledge that can add to our lives. The women I’ll be featuring were chosen because as a stylish gal of faith myself, I know how important your foundation is in maintaining strong faith for the long haul. And as witnessed by their stories, they do as well. Similar to how the foundational pieces that we wear under our clothes are key for epitomizing great style. Your inner man, inner being, is no different than choosing the correct undergarments or Spanx to wear under your clothes to make everything look absolutely fit, firm, smooth and in proper place.  Your foundation has to be sure or it can cause everything to unravel.  And I’m sure none of you endeavors to be like the man who built his house on the sand having no solid foundation, then when things became turbulent it all came crashing down (Matthew 7:24-26).  We have to have a solid foundation ladies, there's just no way around it - I'll be the first to tell you!  Looking good and great style, begins not only with the proper bra or underpinning etc, but also with being sound, strong and healthy within, after all our bodies’ are the temple of God and we have to take care of our temples.  Likewise, as I always say, have style, but have it with substance. Doing it as unto the Lord, in excellence, with style and the wisdom He has given!

First up in the series, we have Miss Sonya Barnes, who is going to enlighten us on the subject of nutrition and help us get our acts together from a nutritional standpoint. I promise this will also help us maintain continuity, well beyond January, with all the New Year's fasting, detoxing and cleansing programs that so many of us are participating in now. Sonya is a Holistic Health Coach and Registered Dietitian who currently provides counseling to clients that are interested in weight loss, and addressing disorders such as high cholesterol, autoimmune conditions and diabetes. She also helps clients become intuitive in identifying and modifying food behaviors that lead to an unhealthy lifestyle and decreased energy levels. She began her nutrition career at the US Department of Agriculture where she is currently employed as a Nutritionist. Sonya more recently has become an essential oil distributor as an additional means to assist individuals in achieving the health they desire. More importantly, she’s a believer in Christ, who is firm in her faith and her stance on taking care of her temple and helping others do the same.  We welcome her expertise and enthusiasm on the matter.


 Sonya what prompted you to go the route of a professional nutritionist?

As a child, I was always very chubby and wanted to grow up and help myself learn to be healthy as well as help others. God provided me with a full scholarship to study nutrition as an undergraduate, and I later furthered my studies to holistic health after going through my own health challenges and being determined to find a better way to achieve healing as opposed to pharmaceutical drugs.

How do you balance the different aspects of your life – career, entrepreneurship, personal life and faith? How does your style impact these various facets of your life?

Honestly I think as women we wear many hats and there are never enough hours in the day. I don't consider myself to be the most organized person in the world, however I make it a habit to pray and pinpoint the important priorities at the beginning of each day. What I can't finish can be completed the next day. This helps to minimize stress.

In terms of style, I tend to go for items that can be dressed up or down and that are appropriate for many settings. For example, on days I have client meetings or church events after work, I pick comfortable pieces that are also professional or use layering to change the look from daytime to more relaxed.

Being a nutritionist, how would you describe a healthy diet, what would a day’s menu look like reflecting that?

A healthy diet should consist of as much produce as possible, especially non-starchy vegetables. These can be accompanied by small amounts of high quality protein and whole grains (preferably unprocessed grains like brown rice, quinoa). Vegetables are our main source

For me, I love a smoothie for breakfast, especially in the summer. Many people make smoothies with lots of fruits, but its best to transition away from this to keep the sugar content down. My smoothies usually consist of non-starchy vegetables sweetened with a little high-quality stevia. For lunch and dinner I tend to go for something easy such as lettuce wraps or a veggie stir-fry.

Within the last few years, there’s been a mainstream trend toward more healthy eating with greater promotion of juicing, making smoothies, eating organic and raw diets, please advise us on these movements in healthy lifestyles. What’s the current pop diet craze? What do you think of low-carb diets? What do you think about herbal supplements and what factors need to be considered?

There are always fad diets of the season, so this is a great question, because many people don’t know how to choose a diet that's best for them. One thing to realize is that the term diet only refers to what we consume on a daily basis. So when choosing a protocol, we always have to look at the major components. If it doesn’t focus on vegetables, and unprocessed foods, this is a red flag. Simple calorie counting can produce weight loss, but is often not sustainable as your body won't be receiving what it needs.

Smoothies are a great meal replacement or pick-me-up, however they often are made primarily of fruit, so try adding more and more vegetables and very little fruit. Organic foods are definitely and always the way to go, especially for animal products. In terms of low-carb diets, they can definitely be beneficial, depending again on the approach. The paleo protocol is probably my favorite in this area, however its important to drink plenty of water and make sure not to consume too many animal products or allowable sweeteners. Raw diets are also great, but many people make the same mistake of consuming too much of certain components of the diet.

My best advice is to study diets and choose the best pieces from those that resonate with you. This is one thing that I help clients to do.

In January, many Christians do the Daniel fast, which is pretty much a vegan or all plant based diet for 21 days.  Even Jay-Z and Beyonce once underwent the 21-day vegan challenge, which brought a great deal of attention to vegan eating. Now, vegan restaurants, eateries and menu options seem to be on the rise and cosmopolitan as of late, what are your thoughts?  Are they more of a trend or do you think they’re a mainstay?  If you had to recommend one or the other, which would you prefer vegan or vegetarian, if either?

I think vegan diets can be great, however again we have to be careful. French fries are vegan, however they aren't healthy. Also, when going vegan/vegetarian, people tend to start eating a ton of soy which studies are showing is not good either.

 The only difference between being vegetarian and vegan are that vegans consume no milk or eggs in addition to no meats, poultry, or seafoods. This is great as most African Americans are intolerant to milk proteins and cow's milk also has many hormones that affect us negatively. Also, high consumption of animal proteins is linked to many conditions. 

Again, there is no need to fit in with a particular name of a diet. I consume mainly a vegan diet, however I allow myself to have organic eggs or poultry, or wild fish a few times a week.

That’s a great point you noted that while French fries are vegan, they’re not necessarily healthy. But so many of us love and eat French Fries, so you have to help us sistahs out with some alternatives! Is frying them in oil, opposed to baking them not healthy or because they're too starchy altogether? I used to eat something called Satisfries from a fast food restaurant that are baked fries, and I still bake fries that I prepare for myself and family at home.  Should I opt against French fries altogether? I also tend to eat baked sweet potato fries 'quite often', much more than I do traditional French Fries, is this a better option?

Potatoes of all kinds are quite starchy. Its ok to have these once in awhile, however the main problem is the oils that are used to cook them, which are typically highly inflammatory for the body. One switch that I’ve adopted is butternut squash “fries.” They are baked and taste like sweet potato fries. Here is one recipe by hungry girl, however I use coconut oil or grapeseed oil as these are much more easy on the body.

Thanks, that is great information. So how can one, with a busy on-the-go lifestyle make adjustments to eat healthier, while fitting it into their busy schedule? I found that making a transition to a healthy diet can be really expensive whether eating out or buying groceries at the store for cooking at home.  Give us some tips and advice regarding recipes, lower cost nutritionally sound options, or stores in which to purchase these options?

Great questions! Well, even though people think eating healthier is more expensive, a huge part of the problem is that we eat out so much and or purchase convenience foods on a regular basis. So getting back to the basics of a healthy diet and decreasing meat consumption help tremendously. You'll also consume less calories, sodium, and preservatives.  I recommend stocking up on dry beans and whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, etc) when they're on sale and choosing a couple of days each week to cook these items in bulk. Freezing is an option also.  These can be paired with veggies for a complete meal. My recommended stores are Trader Joe's and Whole Foods. Trader Joe's has a great selection of organic vegetables at great prices.  

Another thing to offer up is that people tend to spend so much money on clothing, automobiles, etc that don’t do much for us in the long run. We pay premium money for these items, but then expect our bodies to run on the cheapest fuel possible. We should take value in how we treat our temples, the rest is just superficial. We all want nice things but I encourage clients to cut back on frivolous spending so they have more to invest in the one body that God has given them.


You suggested Trader Joes and Whole Foods, which are both good choices for organic products, but I also like Wegmans. During one of my past Daniel Fast’s, my friend took me there to purchase items in preparation for our fast and I thought their prices were pretty good. I found them to have a good selection of name brand, organic and gluten free products as well as their own house label brands. They're in-house brand items seemed to be of very good quality, whereas at times when I've purchased in-house label products at comparable grocery retailers, they didn't seem to parallel the quality national brands. Would you as an expert suggest Wegmans as a good source for these offerings?

My apologies. Yes, Wegman’s also offers great options. I would sometimes forget about them since they are farther from me than the other choices. I now visit them often, and fell in love with their organic almonds!

Speaking of gluten free, which you hear a lot more of now (they even advertise Cheerios as gluten free as of late), for someone that doesn't necessarily suffer with an intolerance disease such as Celiac, but would like to consider gluten free foods in aiding in their weight loss or nutritional efforts, what would be your suggestion?

This is a great question and one that is very dear to my heart, as I myself follow a gluten free lifestyle.  Many articles have been written recently on this topic. The majority of them will tell you that if you have not been diagnosed with Celiac disease you should not follow a gluten free diet. This is based on the mindset of Western (conventional) medicine that again does not look at causes but only attempts to address symptoms. It also ignores the fact that many other people benefit from going on a gluten free diet who receive a negative diagnosis when tested for Celiac disease. Many African Americans do not possess the digestive traits needed to process the genetically modified wheat products we have in America efficiently. This inevitably leads to health problems.

 It is true that going gluten free is not necessarily a weight loss tactic. There are many options for processed bread items (donuts, waffles, cereals, breads, etc) that taste great, however often times contain high sugar and/or fat content. They are also often devoid of whole grains. As I first went gluten free, I didn’t know about these options and actually lost about 10 lbs in a month. However, as these items crept into my diet, very quickly the weight came back.

 The best approach is to focus on consuming fresh, whole foods that are prepared at home (vegetables, fruits, nuts, high quality protein etc) which are naturally gluten free. This style of eating puts less stress on the digestive system and helps us to prevent/address many health conditions. Going gluten free helped me to stay away from the medications I spoke of earlier, so please do the research and give it a try if you haven’t already.

 In your response to what a healthy day’s menu should look like, you mentioned using Stevia as an alternative sweetener, is that only a personal choice (why) or is it a healthier option opposed to alternatives like Splenda or Equal? You also suggested not just using Stevia, but using a high-quality version.  Is there a low quality Stevia, if so what’s the difference?

I use Splenda frequently and see it offered quite a bit (just as much as Sweet-n-Low) in drinking/eating establishments such as Starbucks etc but I'm starting to see stevia more, so is there anything we should know and be more conscious of concerning sugar free sweeteners as a whole?  I'm a Splenda junkie myself and think others might be as well, lol!!

Another great question and subject that is dear to my heart as I am a recovered sugar addict. Our diets contain waaay too much sugar, especially from juices, sodas, desserts, etc. Consuming these items on a daily basis keeps our blood sugar levels unbalanced, leading us on a long road to diabetes among other things. 

 Artificial sweeteners like splenda, sweet-n-low, equal, aspartame, etc are highly processed chemicals, not actual nutrients. They are an easy way to stabilize blood sugars, however consuming these items over time can contribute to cancer and other conditions. The better approach is a high-quality stevia liquid purchased from a health food store that contains no other ingredients. Powdered stevia and other sugar alternatives have gone through an extensive bleaching and refining process, rendering them again very hard for the body to process. A high quality liquid stevia can be slightly expensive, however is a much better choice for your health.

What can a person who always craves sugar or better yet, sweet foods such as cakes, pies and cookies incorporate in their diet to help satisfy this craving? I've found this to be a big issue with women who are trying to lose weight, especially myself. I love dough-y type desserts, so much so that I’d rather eat them than food!

 The easiest thing I have clients do to start weaning away from sugar is to start using fruits. With a decent quality blender it is quite easy to whip up easy smoothies, sorbets, etc, just using fruit without added sugar. Stevia can be added if the individual feels they need a little more sweetness to start off with. Adding essential oils like doTERRA wild orange, lemon, etc can help to add great flavor to fruit items without the need for additional sugar. You can also switch white sugar for more natural sweeteners such as honey, brown rice syrup, or agave nectar. These items still contain natural sugars, but can be easily incorporated into recipes for baked items, allowing us to still consume treats once in awhile in a way that is much better for us. Adding an all natural supplement such as doTERRA Slim and Sassy metabolic oil blend to your regimen can also help to balance blood sugars, boost metabolism and minimize cravings.

Ok, I’m notorious for my quick-fix can of Starbucks Double Shot Espresso for a quick burst of energy.   If one wanted to eliminate coffee from their diet, but feel they need something to act as a jet fuel pick-me-up, what would you suggest as the replacement, especially, if you don't have access to a smoothie at your desk or forgot to bring one or didn’t have time to make one that day? What can help with the mid-day crashes and feelings of fatigue? My former aerobic instructor/fitness professor, years ago told our class not to eat starchy foods before 1:00 to avoid against that mid-day slump, what would you say to this to give us stylish girls the energy that we need to keep it going consistently throughout our day?

Coffee and caffeinated beverages often give us a false energy that brings us up and crashes us later, creating the perceived need for more and more caffeine. A high quality green tea can be a great segway into ditching caffeine. I find that consuming healthy smoothies like I mentioned previously, exercise, and incorporating essential oils all work wonders for energy level. I personally carry doTERRA peppermint oil, citrus bliss blend, and slim and sassy which all have very energizing qualities. This has allowed me to remove sugar and caffeine from my diet but keep up the energy needed to get through busy days.

This has been a wealth of knowledge to help us sistahs become nutritionally sound. Sonya what’s next for you a cookbook, nutrition manuals, branded lines of oil, tell us?

I actually do have some books on the way including cookbooks, so stay tuned. I'm also teaching classes and hopefully developing large scale curriculums to be used in large settings like corporations. At this point, I'm just seeking God to order my steps in how to best serve His people with knowledge of health.

Now that we’ve addressed topics that will help keep our temples fit on the inside, let’s move on to topics that deal with our style on the outside! Do you have a favorite designer(s) or a person or celebrity whose style really inspires you? Why and in what way?

I am honestly not very brand conscious and tend to find discount versions of many trends that come on the scene. Its hard to pick one person's style, but I probably have a cross between Keri Washington and Gabrielle Union. Keri has a wonderful classic style, and Gabrielle chooses very fun pieces with a trendy flair.  

I have a witty style question that I pose to all of you style gals of faith that I interview, “What’s your Style Innuendo” (after being in your presence, the way you would like others to consider or view your style without even saying anything - your silent style suggestion)?

I love for people to consider my style as cute, classy, and comfortable. Again there are days where I end up in different settings, so these three aspects are at the top of my list.

This blog series is about transforming style from the inside out, thus how can one transform their style and faith in a positive, progressive manner, and do so without compromise?

Well, I say the easiest approach to taking on a large goal is one step at a time. The more we read our bibles and spend time in daily prayer, the more spiritual progress we will make over time. The same is true for living a healthy lifestyle. We can incorporate healthy foods into our diet one by one, and start with a small amount of activity weekly. Over time continued small changes can lead to the healthy diet and activity levels that we desire, and we'll begin to see results in our waistline and other physical attributes. It is important to note that we can ask those around us for support, but at the end of the day, we are accountable only to ourselves and God. Even if no one is on board with the lifestyle and spiritual changes we are making, we have to put our health at top priority. This is God's will for our lives and by staying committed, we can also influence others to change for the better as well.

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