This piece originally was published April 15, 2016, on Healthline Contributors. That site no longer is live. Reprinted with permission.
By David Heitz
What’s not to like about Sonja Percy (Shalita Grant), the sexy special agent on “NCIS: New Orleans?”
She hasn’t even hit 30 yet and is quickly amassing a large following. Schooled at Julliard and having already appeared on Broadway, stardom came quick after a guest appearance as an undercover ATF agent when “NCIS New Orleans” debuted in 2014.
Now a regular cast member, it’s clear why America likes Grant. She’s smart, she’s fit, she’s down to earth, and she’s fearless.
In fact, she does everything you see on that show without a stunt double.
Healthy mind, healthy body, as they say. I wasn’t about to pass up a chance to speak with Grant when her publicist reached out to me a couple of weeks ago.
After getting sober two years ago, and after caring for my dad for many years before (and after) that, and then after going through some heavy trauma leading up to dad’s death from Pick’s Disease in September, I’m all about me now. From working out at the gym every day, to eating healthy, to seeing a therapist twice a week, I’ve been “work, work, work working on my sh*t,” as Iggy Azalea sings. And I knew Grant would have lots of tips for me.
“First of all, congratulations,” the bubbly but no-nonsense Grant told me when we began our 45-minute telephone conversation on Wednesday. “My manager has been sober 16 years, and I understand what she goes through and what that’s all about.”
What’s great about Grant is that she does not believe in one size fits all for getting fit (which is what I always say about getting sober). She readily admits that when she got to Hollywood, she wasn’t getting parts because she had a few extra pounds on her. It was so disheartening, she got rid of her television set. She didn’t want to see all the new shows premiering that had passed her over.
That said, she wasn’t going to go on some fad diet and become a bag of bones either. Grant is proud of the muscle in her body. “I wanted to be strong.”
Why ‘poor people food’ is now $5 a bag
Shalita let me in on a secret. “A lot of people, even people I work with, think that I’m a vegan because the character on the show is vegan, but I’m a serious carnivore,” Grant said. “I’m trying to do more vegetarian options, but my body craves beef, or meat, maybe the week before my period. And I really listen to my body.”
While she says she mainly eats a lot of fish and shrimp, she will eat red meat the week before her period. Otherwise, “Typical dinners include some salmon, with the skin nice and crispy, I love that.”
She stressed that when prepping meals, even when eating healthy, “You still want it to be delicious, flavorful and done well.”
One of her favorite dishes is kale. “It’s poor people food and immigrants have eaten it for years,” she said. “I didn’t grow up with any money. Collard greens, that’s the same thing. But people have found out how healthy it is. Now that stuff can cost $5 a bag!”
Grant likes her kale cooked in the oven at 350 degrees for maybe 15 or 20 minutes, or sautéed in the skillet with garlic and olive oil. “It’s so tender, it’s easy to prepare, but very hearty and fills you up.”
She said dandelion greens also are delicious and “not as spicy as arugula, which I think is just too much. It’s sort of a mix between that and Chinese broccoli. You can get it cheap at the Chinese market. A real bargain.”
Other nights she will have ground turkey, ground beef, with bits of tofu and onion, some pepper, and half of a sweet potato.
She likes to have two large eggs in the morning with sautéed mushrooms and Amy’s vegan chili, she said.
And when she craves carbs? Go with rice, she said, instead of bread. “Get Japanese brown rice, she said. It tastes a lot better.”
Working out: Beyond the BS and the asterisks
When it comes to working out, she said fad exercise trends need to be avoided as much as fad diets.
“My journey to fitness was plagued with trying a bunch of different things before finding what works,” she said.
“I’m black, so I already had a booty. But I don’t want it to sag! I want a booty that makes me proud of myself. I want hamstrings that go into a nice booty. So I did dead lifts. I wanted curvature in my legs, so I did weighted squats.”
She said she tries to strike a balance between cardio and weight lifting. “You can’t do just one exercise in one area and think you’re going to kill the fat, no, not even in the tummy area. It is scientifically proven that that is complete BS. That’s why people who advertise that always have to use an asterisk.”
Grant uses kettle bells for working out, which she describes as “the new rage in fitness,” adding, “It just keeps it interesting.”
For tracking what she eats, Grant finds My Fitness Pal useful, she said. “It’s great, because if you want to lose weight it tells you exactly how many calories you need to be taking in to lose weight. You can scan the barcode of different foods and it will give you all the calorie information. You also can connect with other people and publish a diary.”
She may be a 28-year-old actress with a hot body and a hot television show, but Grant likes to talk about more than just diet and fitness.
Think racism is a thing of the past? Think again, Grant says
Shalita is passionate about keeping the conversation going about racism. She wants to make it clear that racism is not a fringe issue, or a passé issue. Racism is alive and well.
“As a country we have crippled ourselves with even trying to grapple with it,” Grant said. “The explanation of what racism is has become so murky. We as a country are often shortsighted. When it comes to democracy, world peace, hunger, we will say, ‘This is what we need to do. This is what we have to do.’ With racism, it’s more dubious. It’s, ‘Well, I don’t know.’”
Grant describes racism as “prejudice plus power,” adding, “We’re only just now starting to understand the power element. Our brand of racism is wholly systemic: In the Constitution, in state legislatures, in health, we are stymied with racism.”
She said social media has given rise to voices on the fringe, voices that for years have been pushed to the margins but now are being heard. The voices of women of color, for instance.
“Our voices can be heard now and we can hold the mainstream accountable in terms of where we have failed our citizens,” Grant said, adding that she is a proud supporter of The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond.
The institute puts on anti-racism workshops and educational programs to teach people what racism is.
She said that our country needs only to look at its past to make sense of the present, including some of the ugly racial clashes that have been seen in the current environment of the presidential campaigns. “This isn’t new. Slavery was abolished, we went through reconstruction … and we heard the same rhetoric on both sides,” Grant said. “This is what we were talking about in 1865.”