She was a fan favorite on this past season of NBC’s “The Biggest Loser.” Tanya Winfield, former Chief Operations Officer of the legendary Chicago based Harold’s Chicken, was a successful millionaire businesswoman and entrepreneur, but could not find success in taking care of her health. The mother of three, including one toddler, had developed detrimental eating habits, was experiencing high levels of stress and feared that her life was in jeopardy. She became so determined to transform her health that she auditioned for “The Biggest Loser” and earned a spot on the show. Not only did she receive the opportunity to renew her health, but she also renewed her soul and learned that experiencing abuse as a child also contributed to her obesity. Read or listen to our interview with Tanya as she discusses her life, career, forgiveness and future plans to create healthy soul food eateries around the country!
BFT: So as a successful business executive and entrepreneur we may look at your lifestyle and say that there’s nothing to change, you what else can Tanya possibly do. So why did you feel differently about that?
TW: Well, the biggest thing is because I was dying and it doesn’t matter what your career is or how much money you make, if you’re not healthy none of those things matter. So for me it was about really trying to live longer not just for me but for my children and to have a better quality of life. That was the biggest thing.
BFT: As a former COO at Harold’s Chicken Shack how did that role as demanding as it was contribute to the challenges you faced in terms of your eating habits?
TW: Well the biggest thing was of course I was in the stores often and so I was around the food and one of my responsibilities really was to make sure the quality control component was where it needed to be within the company. So quality control meant tasting the product but for me it was more than just tasting the product, I was eating the product. [laugh]
So it really was a matter of you know if you have a food addiction and you work in a restaurant you’re going to have some major problems and at the time I didn’t realize I had a food addiction, I was just eating, I was just living my life, everybody has to eat, you have to eat everyday but for me it was excessive and so having that food addiction and being around that type of environment all day, every day definitely was a challenge for me. Now that I look back on it, it was definitely a challenge. I use to see it as a convenience, you know I’m hungry hey I’m in one of my stores I can eat but it definitely was a challenge and it was one of my downfalls, if you will because it wasn’t something that was conducive to where I was mentally and emotionally at that stage.
Yes, so it definitely was a challenge for me and I had to kind of break away from the activities of all that to get myself right and to be able to balance it mentally, emotionally, and physically going forward.
BFT: So many people love Harold’s, even President Obama have raved about the restaurant but is it true that you’re adding or that Harold is adding new healthier menu items?
TW: Well I can’t say that, Harold’s is but as a licensed owner of Harold’s, I am…that is my pledge.
We’re in the community and we’ve been in the communities for the last 60 years and how dare I change my lifestyle and not try to share that with the community and so that is a passion of mine. So every store that I own will definitely always have grilled chicken, salads, as well as wraps, and that’s all under my Livin Soul brand which is my new brand that I created.
So that’s what I’m going to do in every store, every Harold’s Chicken Shack that I own and that I open.
It’s important that we give people options. That’s the biggest thing, I’m not going to force it down their throats, I’m not going to do any of that but I am going to give them an option and what’s working for me. I’m a serious entrepreneur, I spend a lot of time in any business that I own and so it’s also for myself, I want to make sure when I’m in any of my restaurants I have healthy options that I can go to while I’m there. I don’t want to leave my restaurant to go to another restaurant to get healthy food. I should be able to offer that to myself and to my customers.
BFT: So as a successful entrepreneur your career has built over the years to be you becoming a high level business executive, what was that journey like for you?