Patricia Heaton Q&A: "The Middle" Star Gets By Without Gluten and Dairy
The star of Everybody Loves Raymond and The Middle lives well without gluten and dairy
Four years ago, Patricia Heaton celebrated her 50th birthday in Hawaii, splashing in the blue waters of the Pacific Ocean with her four boys and husband. The actress, who spent most of her youth attending Catholic schools in Ohio, received two Emmy Awards as the long-suffering wife, mother and in-law Debra Barone on the popular sitcom, Everybody Loves Raymond. Now Heaton stars as Frankie, mom of three, in ABC’s hit sitcom, The Middle. In between working on these television shows, Heaton penned a best-selling book, Motherhood and Hollywood—How To Get A Job Like Mine. She’s currently writing a second book. She is also working behind the camera, producing and directing.
Life has been full of surprises and sadness for the 5-foot, 2-inch comedian. Growing up the fourth of five children, she was only 12 when her mother died suddenly of an aneurysm. On the flip side, she married British-born actor/producer David Hunt in 1990 and the couple has four boys. The oldest son is in college; the youngest is 13.
Heaton recently talked with Living Without about her life and special diet.
Q: You’ve been known to call cheese and bread your favorite foods.
Patricia Heaton: Yes—but in the past year, I’ve gone off dairy and gluten.
Q: Did you omit these food groups for health reasons or strictly for weight loss?
Heaton: I’m not sure. Without eating these foods, I’ve lost some weight. But I seem to feel lighter and I don’t mean lighter just in weight. More buoyant. I also have more energy throughout the day now.
Q: What prompted this change in your diet?
Heaton: I had consulted a nutritionist just for general information on keeping up with new health trends and possibly help in losing five or six pounds that just wouldn’t budge. I was dieting and exercising regularly and I could not lose those few extra pounds. The nutritionist gave me supplements—one chock-full of vitamins and the other a liver-cleansing supplement that has milkweed, thistle, and other herbal ingredients designed for women. They’re also anti-inflammatory. But the important thing was eliminating the dairy and gluten.
Q: What was it like to give up your favorite foods?
Heaton: I won’t lie. I loved cheese and still do. I still miss it. I start the day with a protein shake I make with nondairy almond milk and I don’t eat any cheese at all anymore. The gluten—I try to stay away from a lot of carbohydrates anyway—but when I have bread now, it’s gluten-free or I’ll have a rice cake or rice crackers. I’ve found a trick for my gluten-free bread: I toast it and it tastes so good.
Q: With four strapping boys and a husband, is it a challenge to maintain your special diet while preparing meals for the family?
Heaton: I’ll cook for them and I’ll sit there and eat the protein and vegetables. The boys aren’t big carb eaters but they do like pasta. I won’t eat the pasta. Usually it’s meat, vegetables and rice. I’ll keep chips and cookies around but I’ve developed an ability to resist them for some reason. After a while, it’s not a big deal.
Q: Do you buy organic foods?
Heaton: When the kids were little, I always bought organic milk, organic eggs, organic fruits… it’s pricey. I’ve cut back now that they’re older.
Q: Do you take better care of yourself now than you did 20 years ago?
Heaton: If I had known that once I hit menopause, I couldn’t eat anymore without having it go directly to my arms and waist, I would have eaten a lot more in my 20’s. I wear stilettos, two or more inches of extra height, to make myself look longer and leaner. [Laughs]
I think one of the advantages—and curses—of being an actress is that you constantly have to be aware of your body and how it’s looking, how it’s feeling and your energy has to be good—that’s how the gluten-free, dairy-free diet has helped out a lot. I’ve always taken care of myself. I’ve always stayed on top of things and never really let myself go so I feel I’m a little ahead of the game. The exception is the four times I was pregnant—I ate with complete and utter abandonment and gained 50 pounds with each pregnancy. I really let myself go but then really whipped myself back into shape. I exercised pretty intensely after I had the kids.
Q: What exercise program do you prefer?
Heaton: My thing is I get a little bored with doing the same exercise. I just took up skiing two years ago so that’s been kind of fun. If I had time, I’d love to get back into golf and tennis but I just really have so little time. These sports are time consuming. It’s too bad with golf because it’s a mind-clearing activity for me. I just started going to Pilates classes, which is also good for clearing the mind while getting some exercise.
Q: What empowers you as a woman of today?
Heaton: I’m fortunate that I’m in a position where I have a well-paid job. That makes a lot of things so much easier. This wasn’t always the case. When I first came to Los Angeles, I was 32 years old and working just odd jobs. All my friends were married with children and homes and I didn’t even have a car. But I loved having the ability to pursue what I wanted to pursue.
I think there are so many things open to women now, many more choices. I think it will always be a challenge for women with children—whether to work outside the home or not. In this economy, most women have to work… if they can find a job. I’m in a business where women are always objectified and the older we get, the harder it is for us to find work. But women directors are finally getting recognized. Women are running studios and networks—so that’s really great.
Q: You were 32 when you arrived in L.A. and now you’re in your 50’s. How would you say you’ve changed?
Heaton: I’m more patient and forgiving. And maybe—I don’t want to sound like I’m a saint but what I’m trying to say is, as you get older and you’ve seen your own mistakes, your self-righteousness tends to dissipate. You start understanding and becoming more comfortable with the fallibility of human nature. You just learn more about life and getting through it.
Celebrity correspondent Bonnie Siegler lives in California.
Note: Doctors strongly advise that people be screened for celiac disease before embarking on the gluten-free diet.