When Renata Beata Kowalczyk became CEO of Wilmington Alliance in 2019, she felt the weight of high expectations on her shoulders. “I am now running a new organization with a very small team, an influential board and a partnership with the mayor’s office,” she says. “I needed to figure out how I could maximize my energy level to sustain myself and this work. Food gives you energy; how can you use food to source energy?”
Today, the exercise enthusiast—who is also a full-time University of Pennsylvania grad student—practices intermittent fasting. At least once a week, she consumes only liquids for 48 hours. The approach is working. “A lot of my friends say, ‘Renata, I’m exhausted just by hearing what your day looks like,’” says the Wilmington resident.
According to Merriam-Webster, a diet is defined as “food and drink regularly provided or consumed” and “habitual nourishment.”
Kowalczyk is not the only one whose diet isn’t about shedding pounds. Not only are more people following a lifestyle diet but more restaurants are catering to them.
Like Kowalczyk, many people adopt a diet due to a life event—or a reckoning. Sara Duncan of Pike Creek became a vegetarian after an encounter with a crab awaiting the steamer.
“He put his little face over the side of the bucket, and we looked at each,” she says. “We had a moment, and I felt so guilty. That did it. I didn’t eat the crabs that night, and I never ate meat again.” That was 15 years ago.
Suzanne Goode turned to a meat-free diet after viewing college “mystery meat.” Her father, a Julia Child fan, had spoiled her, and she couldn’t handle institutional food. The diet stuck. “I love animals, but it was really more about taste preferences,” she explains.
In the past, following a plant-based diet could lead to problems when ordering at restaurants. No longer. Duncan often orders from the sides menu. Chefs are also accommodating. She’s a fan of Chef Robert Lhulier’s mushroom and eggplant dishes at Snuff Mill Restaurant, Butchery & Wine Bar in Brandywine Hundred.
“He’s super accommodating, if not excited, to make something that’s vegetarian,” she says. The chef agrees with her. “That’s entirely true,” he confirms.
His creations have included vegan Sicilian eggplant steak glazed with white miso, ginger and sesame, and served with grilled royal trumpet mushrooms, Jersey greens beans and a spiced vegetable purée of heirloom tomatoes, peppers and eggplant.
Home Grown Café in Newark has built a business by appealing to people on different diets. The menu indicates which dishes are gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan. Fried oyster mushrooms pop up in tacos. In addition to a variety of grain bowls, there is a delicious tofu banh mi.
In Rehoboth Beach, SEED Eatery takes a fast-casual approach to healthy food. Customers come to the counter to request bowl ingredients, such as Japanese kale, Dijon Brussels sprouts, vegan cheese and pesto chickpeas.
Mainstream restaurants are also stepping up to the plate. Big Fish Grill has separate menus for vegans and diners avoiding gluten, garlic, eggs, dairy or shellfish. Mrs. Robino’s in Wilmington’s Little Italy even offers a vegan menu.
Some diets are easy to accommodate. Paleo proponents, for instance, eat foods that hunters and gatherers would have found in the Paleolithic Era, roughly 2.5 to 10 million years ago and before farming. Hold the grains, legumes and dairy, but order a nice steak.
The goal of a keto diet is to reach ketosis, during which the body turns to fat—not glucose—for energy. To succeed, you must get about 75 percent of your calories from fat. People with diabetes have benefited.
The Mediterranean and DASH (dietary approaches to stop hypertension) plans embrace produce, whole grains, low-fat dairy and lean protein.
For Kowalczyk, who shuns sugar, timing is everything. She eats her meals within an eight-hour window, an approach known as intermittent fasting. On a typical day, she eats between 1 and 8 p.m. On days that she completely fasts, she has water and bone broth.
But she won’t give up coffee. “I love the taste!” No one is pointing fingers. Duncan won’t give up feta and Parmesan cheese. “I’ve tried vegan feta, and it’s horrendous,” she says. Goode has enjoyed bacon in potato salad and pancetta in pasta. She’s even had a few bites of her husband’s steak.
Few would call it cheating. Because with today’s lifestyle diets, it’s OK to do it your way.