Better diet and flag football worked wonders

Subject: Philicia Harris

Age: 30

Residence: City Heights

As a girl in Buffalo, N.Y., Harris knew nothing about healthy eating. She ate what she liked, and she liked a lot of pizza, wings, steak hoagies and fries. There weren’t a lot of veggies and salads.

Back then, though, it didn’t matter. Harris played basketball, volleyball and ran track in high school, then played basketball, ran track and played a year of soccer as a goaltender at Alfred State, an NCAA Division II school in upstate New York. She incinerated calories.

Things changed, though, after earning undergraduate degrees in architecture and interior design. She moved to San Diego to get her master’s at the NewSchool of Architecture and Design in 2010 and for the first time — with school and work — didn’t have a sports outlet. She gained weight, didn’t feel good and missed the activity and camaraderie of being on a sports team.

Shortly after she received her master’s in architecture, two things changed: She discovered flag football and healthy eating.

A co-worker suggested she try the San Diego American Flag Football League. She went to a clinic and was smitten. She’s played the game almost year-round ever since. It’s a wide-open, seven-on-seven game of co-ed teams where she can use the speed, footwork and athleticism she honed as a varsity prep and college athlete.

Her diet became healthier when her fiancé, a chef, introduced her to things such as Brussels sprouts, quinoa and brown rice and taught her about good and bad carbohydrates. Now she doesn’t even want the food she grew up eating.

“I was 50 pounds bigger about four and a half, five years ago,” she says. “It took me two and a half years (to lose the weight), and it’s because I eat right now. I don’t crave the things I used to crave.”

And, she says, she has more energy than ever.

Workout regimen

During football season, from January through June, she has two practices and one game per week. The season can extend from July through October if she’s chosen to be on the league’s select women’s team that plays in the national LGBT tournament called the Gay Bowl. She also lifts weights at a gym two times a week and plays basketball at the Muni Gym in Balboa Park once a week. She’s also done some boxing and likes to go for hikes.

She loves the constant activity. “My biggest fear is getting injured, because then I’ll have to sit still,” she says.

Camaraderie

Her favorite role is as a linebacker, where she and her teammates have to learn to work together as a unit. She loves the fact that they can all be so different but so in tune.

“When you have that one good play built on everybody doing what they were supposed to, everybody’s on the same page,” she says. “So often we’re not on the same page in anything, a conversation, whatever. And you’ve got seven people? That’s why I love it.”

Other interests

Harris makes the long commute each day to Carlsbad, where she works in interior design as a project manager. She also has a community initiative called Project Home Grown in which she and her fiancé spend one day a week distributing food, clothing and hygiene packets to the homeless. Together, they cook up fresh food to distribute, with the help of volunteers and money and food donated to their cause.

Diet

She does occasional cleanses, where she cuts out grains, sugar and alcohol. She says making small, simple choices each day makes a difference. If she has a latte, she orders it “skinny.” If she’s craving bread, she has a small piece.

“Do things that don’t make you feel deprived,” she says. “I think that’s a key.”

Motivation

Why focus so much on health and exercise? “I plan on (this life) being really good, so if I can stay here for 100 years, I want to do that,” she says.

Williams is a San Diego freelance writer.

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