Toni’s High-Performance Meals
How tragedy turned into triumph and a dream for a better future after Toni Julian lost her best friend and found her true calling.
By Daniel Brown
Double Runner Magazine | November/December Issue 2015
Toni Julian was 48 when her best friend, Barbara, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. “And there’s no good end to that,” Toni said.
The two had been pals since they were both 11, a bond that only intensified as the years passed and the women reached every signpost of adulthood – graduation, marriage, kids.
Still, as Barbara’s condition deteriorated, Julian kept at least one secret from her best friend.
“She was so sick that I couldn’t even tell her what was going on with me,” Julian recalled. “She was on her death bed. I didn’t want to worry her. It wasn’t something she had the bandwidth to even deal with.”
The truth: Julian had early stage cervical pre-cancer. It was a high-risk version, but fortunately doctors caught it early.
Barbara died with Toni Julian by her side. and even though Julian and her family immediately embarked on a planned trip to Italy, her thoughts never strayed far from back home in San Jose.
“I was really distraught because of what had happened,” Julian said. “I had to find some reason to make some good out of this.”
She decided to use Barbara’s death, as well as her own medical scare, as a rallying point for a better life. Julian promptly walked away from her marketing communication and jumped full bore into the world of fitness, nutrition and a healthier lifestyle for her and her family.
The ripples of that decision made their way to the starting line of the Double Road Race this summer. Toni’s OatMEAL – the signature product borne from Julian’s transformation – is a key sponsor for the San Jose Double Road Race on Aug. 22.
“Helping people to have lives that are sustainable is my whole goal,” the San Jose State graduate said. “I’ve applied that to myself, I’ve applied that to my family. To me it’s really personal. And so I’m very, very motivated by it.”
Having learned that nutrition alone can only get you so far, Julian also jumped in as a Double Run coach. She set up Double Training runs three days a week starting July 1.
The schedule is disciplined, with an emphasis on having all the runners finish together (or roughly so). At one recent session it was 13 minutes out, 13 minutes back and 13 minutes of core exercises. to simulate the second leg, runners then ran again – this time 6.5 minutes out and back.
Such workouts underscore that, in an odd confluence, the dish that Julian set out to make for her family wound up well-suited for Double Racing’s unique format. Toni’s OatMEAL for breakfast was created with the goal of delivering a slow burn — food that metabolizes at an even rate.
Having turned competitive herself, Julian said she’s seen plenty of athletes slam sugary fuel just because they’re looking for calories the fastest way possible. Nutrition is often an afterthought (if it’s a thought at all).
“So I thought, ‘What if I could give them both? What if I give them something that provides a slow release of energy over time?'” Julian said.
“If they need something to supplement, they can. But at least they’ll have a really strong food foundation, so that they can get through many hours (of activity) and actually feel good.
Bob Anderson, the founder of Double Racing, is among the early supporters. At Julian’s urging, he tried her OatMEAL before one of his races. Anderson reported back that he mostly felt the same for the first leg of the race — then discovered a new well of energy for the second.
“I was delighted to hear that,” Julian said. So I think we had a mutual respect for each other. I decided to sponsor his race and help spread the word about his new sport.”
It’s been a remarkable transformation. At the time of Barbara’s death, Julian was approaching 50 and hardly a fitness guru. “Back then, I was called ‘skinny fat,'” she said with a laugh.
At 5-foot-3, she weighed about 125 pounds and was a size-6. That doesn’t sound so bad, but Julian was out of shape. A Hydrostatic Body Fat Test revealed that her body fat was at 30 percent — a far cry from the 20 to 24 percent normally considered healthy for a woman.
Julian began doing resistance training three or four times a week and eating with discipline. Within two months she shed 14 pounds of fat and gained six pounds of muscle.
She was soon lean enough to compete in a Natural Figure Competition. Julian, at age 48, took first place in the sports model category (“I got pretty cut,” she said).
Along with her workouts, she took nutrition into her own hands. There was more than her own waistline at stake. Julian had a husband and four kids. She wanted to bring them along in her quest for a healthier life.
When Julian started experimenting with her OatMEAL, the family breakfast table served as her laboratory. The three girls and one boy were happy to play the role of guinea pigs.
“Kids get bored with food very easily,” Julian said. “And they wouldn’t eat breakfast before they were running out the door for school. “So I thought, “Okay, I’ll make something convenient for them.’ The first formula I made wasn’t all that good. I was all about the ‘healthy’ and the taste came secondary. They weren’t overly in love with it at first.”
But with her offspring’s input, Julian wound up creating a whole new line of products. Two of her kids have celiac disease, so her offerings included gluten-free breakfasts.
The flavors are clearly kid-approved, as the menu at tonijulian.com makes clear — “Savory Cinnamon-Raisin,” “Sweet & Creamy Coconut-Blueberry”, “Tart Cherry Chocolate-Almond” are among the possibilities.
Julian said that she is a Certified Sports Nutrition Coach and earned her Nutrition and Personal Training Certifications through the National Academy of Sports Medicine. She’s also written a book – “BITE ME! Change Your Life One Bite at a Time.”
She’s also selective about where she plagiarizes. She ripped off the basis of her OatMEAL recipe from Mother Nature.
“I was in athlete mode and I wondered, ‘How do I find something that’s going to give me all the nutrition I need, plus keep me full for a while?” Julian recalled.
“I actually looked at mother’s milk. What’s the macro-nutrient combination of that? It’s 20 percent healthy fat, 20 percent protein, 60 percent carbohydrates. So I thought, ‘Okay, I guess Mother Nature wanted people to have that formula.'”
Julian has plans to expand her OatMEAL business soon, launching Grab and Go cups and 7-meal foil pouches at more Silicon Valley-area markets. She also has a booming online business.
Still, she thinks of Barbara often.
“I want people to be healthy,” Julian said. “If they get their food and fitness in order, they can become role models, inspiring others to do the same. That’s my bigger vision.”
See the story on Double Runner Magazine’s website at: Toni’s OatMEAL–A Gift From Mother Nature
To sign up to join Team Toni at the Pleasanton Double Road Race click here.
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Toni’s OatMEAL is a trademark of Toni’s Kitchen LLC