Nia Vardalos on Keeping Thyroid Health in Balance

Nia Vardalos balances a busy Hollywood career with motherhood, and staying healthy despite a thyroid condition. Frazer Harrison, Getty Images Entertainment

Nia Vardalos is an Academy Award and Golden Globe nominated screenwriter and actress. Vardalos gained international acclaim when her independently-produced semi-autobiographical film, "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," went on to become a worldwide hit, and one of the most successful and highest-grossing independent films in history.

Vardalos, now 46, has two new films out during the Summer of 2009, the romantic comedy "My Life in Ruins," stars Vardalos as a tour guide in Greece.

In the romantic comedy "I Hate Valentine's Day," which Vardalos wrote and directed, Vardalos plays a florist with a unique dating rule -- she always breaks up after five dates. That film reunited Vardalos with her "Greek Wedding" co-star John Corbett, of "Sex and the City" and "Northern Exposure" fame.

It's been a busy year for Nia. She has tackled health challenges, launched her two new films, and most exciting of all, Nia and husband Ian Gomez recently adopted a 3-year old little girl. Vardalos has said in interviews that she had struggled for 10 years with infertility before she and her husband made the decision to adopt.

At the beginning of the summer, as Nia hit the red carpets to premiere her films, fans noticed that the actress was looking healthy and trim. Nia shared in interviews that she "had a blood sugar issue," as well as thyroid disease, and diabetes in her family tree, and her doctor insisted that she lose weight.

Vardalos said that over the course of a year, by following a low-glycemic, reduced calorie diet, and taking her dog Manny for long walks for exercise, she was able to sensibly lose 40 pounds.

I'm pleased to have been able to interview Nia Vardalos by telephone, to learn more about how the accomplished actress, writer, and director keeps her health and life in balance.

Mary Shomon: Nia, I'd like to thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me.

Nia Vardalos: Mary, you really, really helped me so much. I was diagnosed with thyroid disease years ago, and a friend who also has thyroid disease hooked me up with your site. And I learned so much that I couldn't ask my doctor. I've eventually found a better doctor, and now I can ask my questions. So thank you for your site.

Mary Shomon: What do you want people to know about your thyroid issues and your subsequent weight loss?

Nia Vardalos: My basic philosophy is that it's not an excuse, it's not a's a motivator. For me, there have been several moments with my doctor that really brought clarity. The simplest being when he said, "Yes, you have to work harder than everybody else." My feeling is, everybody's got something. For me, it wasn't an excuse, it was an explanation. What I really want to talk about, for me, is how to grab hold of your life and feel better.

I don't want to be lauded and applauded for having lost weight.

But I do have control back. If any person in the industry is touting their weight loss as an achievement, they are losing sight of the fact that they are an actor or a creator of material first and foremost. When I write and create material, that's to me as much a process of taking control as controlling my blood sugar. I have to be disciplined. I must sit down in front of my computer and write every day, in the same way I have to be disciplined about the food choices.

Mary Shomon: You've always been a positive role model for women, in that you've always said that you love your body, and that you have always felt attractive, back when you shot My Big Fat Greek Wedding as much as now. Where do you feel that confidence has come from, and do you have advice for other women and even younger girls like our daughters about how to be happy in your own skin, even if they're not -- and I love how you have described it -- "blonde and delicate?"

Nia Vardalos: In my family, you got attention if you were funny and smart, and if you had something to say. You didn't get attention if you were the thinnest bridesmaid in the parade of the 14 cousins. That I think is where I got the self-confidence from. My cousins, and my aunts and my uncles, and my parents, and sisters and brother...we all are loud and gregarious and outgoing, and again, we weren't applauded for our bodies, for our achievements physically -- except for athletic prowess of course, or doing well in school sports. That's I think is where it comes from and what I hope to pass down to my daughter.

For me to have this newfound credibility because I've lost weight, is, for me, of all the achievements of my life, the least important. What's important is that I've gotten healthy again. I say again, because I really want to point out, I was healthy during "My Big Fat Greek Wedding,"-- it was the years in between that I lost it. That I got healthy again is a bigger achievement.

Mary Shomon: You got healthier in a straightforward way: you cut back on higher calorie foods, you logged your food intake, ate low-glycemic meals a day and healthy snacks, and walked with your dog Manny. How did you decide on your approach? Was there anything in your approach to getting healthier that didn't work that you discarded along the way?

Nia Vardalos: Before I was diagnosed with thyroid disease, I didn't understand why I could hang out with my girlfriends, and just suck on a toothpick all night and gain weight . I couldn't figure it out, and so of course, like most of planet earth, I had tried every diet. I had tried no-carb and high fat; it was too hard to stay on, I got hungry, and the minute you smell a piece of bread, you gain ten pounds, so that didn't work. I had tried food delivery services, or just frozen foods, but they were overloaded with salt.


Now, I stay away from diet foods, they're filled with salt and sugar. I don't do diet soda, I don't do artificial sweeteners, I don't do any of those things anymore...but I did in the past.

Now, I get full from a cup of coffee, with half and half, and a teaspoon of sugar, and regular breakfast, with a little bit of butter. I don't use margarine, I just use real, whole foods. The reason I did that is because, when I was in Europe I noticed that nothing is low fat!

And I thought, "Oh that's what they do! They eat less, and they move around more!"

Mary Shomon: As a patient advocate, I'm often asked how we can balance staying healthy -- eating well, exercising, finding time to de-stress -- with the many other demands we have, including work, family, children, parents. As a woman in your 40s, with a young child, husband, a busy, successful career, a close family, and no huge entourage of nannies, chefs and personal trainers, what's your secret to a healthy, balanced life?

Nia Vardalos: I think the simplest secret is that it's all a facade! Nobody is really balanced. Every day is a constant checking in. What time is my daughter going to school? What time am I picking her up? What meeting do I have? It is no more fantastic than any other working parent.

Every day a new schedule is made and broken. Especially because my husband is shooting a TV show right now and the schedule changes every day.

They'll tell him the night before that he's due in at 8 a.m., and then they'll change it to 10 a.m. And we're just, "Thank God for cell phones!" We'll find each other, and he'll say, "Okay, so I have time to go to the gym," and I'll say, "Okay, good, I'll go get our daughter!"

Thank God there are two of us.

You know who I applaud? It's the single parents.

Mary Shomon: Nia, you and I have both adopted children, and you are now a passionate advocate for adoption, including helping people learn about children who are legally available for adoption now in our foster care system in the US. Seeing you talk about your daughter in interviews, it's clear that becoming a mother has been truly transformative, and a wonderful blessing. What do you think you learned about yourself in your odyssey toward becoming a mother?

Nia Vardalos: I learned that I just don't take no for an answer. I think I learned that you have a plan, God has a plan, and your plan doesn't count. And I learned the power and serenity that comes from watching my daughter sleep. It's all a fantastic, fantastic experience. I just love it. I'm just awed by it.

Note: Nia Vardalos is active on Twitter, and you can follow her at

Continue Reading