Maggie Battista was fed up.
The food blogger and founder of Eat Boutique had struggled with her weight since age eight. By adulthood, her joints ached, her limbs tingled, and she didn’t like how her clothes fit. She’d tried a plethora of diets but didn’t reap any permanent, positive changes. When she woke up in the morning, she fell into a state of desperation, wondering what she would do next to lose weight. One doctor even suggested lap band surgery – if only she gained a few more pounds.
Battista wasn’t ready for something so extreme. Instead, she met with a health coach who recommended an elimination diet. It was tough, but it was also a turning point. Battista cut out alcohol, caffeine, animal proteins, and gluten; she swapped in more fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats. Over the course of several months, as she added the eliminated foods back into her diet, she paid close attention to how her body reacted, noting in a journal if foods made her feel tired or bloated or if they made her feel energized and satisfied.
“I was able to clearly hear what my body was saying to me,” she says. And for the first time in her life, she wanted to listen to -- and respect -- her body’s messages.
After a year of intuitively eating “mostly wholesome” food, she lost 70 pounds. At this lighter weight, she had more energy to move, so she started walking and doing yoga. Another unexpected side-effect: “It’s almost like I could hear my brain more,” she says. She started asking herself deeper questions about her behavior and habits and started therapy to work through those issues.
“Losing the weight was great, but it wasn’t the thing that made it permanent for me,” she says. “The radical self-love that came from it was 100 times more important than the weight loss.”
Battista’s metamorphosis, and the foods that made her feel more alive, form the basis of A New Way to Food, a collection of 100 recipes that are primarily plant-based and often free from refined sugar, dairy, and gluten. But she insists it isn’t a diet book: “I counted calories every day since I was a kid, and that restriction was far more damaging than any elimination diet,” she says. Now, rather than strictly limiting portion sizes, Battista allows herself ample vegetables, nuts, seeds, and even whole grains, but stops when she’s full. Her kitchen is a judgment-free zone: If she wants to eat two made-from-scratch scones, she’ll have them; it just might mean she’ll skip bread at dinner.
A focus on feel-good foods means that she eats primarily vegetarian fare, though she leaves room for a carnivorous entrée, like Roasted Chipotle Chicken or Steak au Poivre, from time to time. She’s also revamped some of her childhood favorites, including Gooey Baked Ziti, a Fried Mortadella Sandwich, and Spanish Turmeric Rice. Recipes are divided by season: spring invites light, refreshing bites (Tuna Salad Lettuce Wraps), while fall calls for comfort food you can tuck into (Roasted Pumpkin Saffron Risotto). Ambitious cooks can try their hand at homemade Sandwich Bread, Cashew Yogurt, or Fermented Spicy Curtido.
Treats are totally allowed, too, in moderation. Splurges like Pistachio Bark Brownies and Blueberry Plum Crisp Pie are still on Battista’s dessert menu every once in a while. A cocktail lover who’s cut back, she mixes up substitute sips, like mango-lime soda, rhubarb honey shrub sodas, and turmeric milk.
In between the sensible recipes and enticing food photography, Battista shares stories from growing up as a “big-little girl” in a food-centric household from Italian and Honduran lineages. Her father was an overweight accountant; her mother a singer and model. The bullying around her weight left lifelong scars, but as she’s made peace with food, she’s come to forgive those who tormented her in her youth. Battista also offers up fashion tips, self-care advice, and mantras to encourage readers on their self-acceptance journeys.
Her new food ethos has spread to her business venture as well. With a professional background in start-up tech, Battista launched Eat Boutique in 2007 as a food blog. It morphed into an online food gift business where she sourced small-batch foods from makers across the country, packaged them, and shipped them to customers. Over the last several years, the business transitioned into a series of pop-up food markets mainly in Boston for around 25,000 guests. It’s now evolved into a permanent boutique opening later this year.
When Eat Boutique started, the company mainly featured candy, baked goods, and preserves. Now it’s more focused on “veg-forward” products, fruits, whole-grain pantry items, and kitchen and table items. “I wanted to shift my business to match up with my lifestyle and what’s worked for me,” Battista says.
Another change has been the growth in her Instagram account, now 10.5 million followers strong, due in part to A New Way to Food’s release earlier this year. Followers come in search of someone who looks like them on Instagram, for tips from the book, and for the vulnerable posts about her life. “I feel understood. They feel more understood. We stay connected. We bond,” she says of her online community. “Instagram has been a re-affirming tool that I use to share my stories.”
Battista plans to make this way of eating a lifelong endeavor, regardless of what the scale says. As she says, “I’m still a fat girl. You would look at me and not think I was the classic definition of what some people might think of as ‘fit,’ but I’m far healthier and I really love and appreciate and respect my body for the first time in I don’t know when.”
Maggie Battista will be part of a panel event at with Minnesota-based food writers Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl, Stephanie A. Meyer, and Melissa Coleman at Magers & Quinn on April 16 at 7 p.m. Refreshments will be provided and the panel will be followed by a book signing.