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Updated 7:00 AM December 7, 2009

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Spotlight: U-M culinary specialist goes the distance ht:

It's easy to say Lizzie Burt is in tip-top shape. "I've completed three Boston Marathons," she says. She has also competed multiple times in the Hawaii Ironman, and "by the fourth time, I won my age division."

But Burt, a culinary specialist with MHealthy, wasn't always so active.
Photo by Scott Soderberg, Photo Services

After marrying her husband, the young couple moved to London in 1968 and added two sons to their family. "It was during our time in London," Burt recalls, "that I developed a passion for good food." She experimented with an entire cookbook of recipes, focusing on those rich with cream.

However, their "heavy-cream lifestyle" took its toll.

"My husband had his blood drawn at a health screening," she says. "His triglycerides were off the charts, and cholesterol was dangerously high." Burt and her husband knew they had to do something to improve this picture.

The running movement was picking up at the time, and the Burts joined in. After a couple of years, they were competing in marathons. "Our lifestyles changed quite drastically around this time," she remembers. "(But) there were few resources on the bookshelves or in the library (about eating healthy)."

One book that did help Burt was Jean Mayer's "A Diet for Living." "Just to unravel the mysteries of where the calories were, and how the different fats acted in our bodies, was a revelation."

Burt began cooking healthy meals, and the changes were noticeable. She had more energy, was losing weight and her husband's blood readings returned to normal. They continued to compete in the Boston Marathon, making the annual pilgrimage to Boston with their family.

"It is a very special place for us to reconnect with friends and explore Boston's rich history," she says.

Recurrent stress fractures in her tibia drove Burt to cross-train and eventually gain interest in competing in triathlons, which led to the ultimate challenge — The Hawaii Ironman. During her first try at the Hawaii Ironman in 1984, she suffered from severe dehydration, collapsing with a 107-degree body temperature.

"I was written up in a major medical journal to be the first person to survive with blood sodium so low," she says.

But a near-death experience wasn't enough to crush Burt's dream. "I knew I had to return to Kona and do it right," she says. She has since competed in the Ironman eight times, once winning her age division.

Burt's love for a healthy lifestyle doesn't end with exercise. She co-authored two books, "High Fit — Low Fat" and "High Fit — Low Fat Vegetarian."

Now, she works as a culinary specialist at the university, teaching cooking classes through M-Healthy with colleague Kathy Goldberg.

"I continue to exercise, more to stay fit than to compete," Burt says.

Each year, she still participates in a number of events, including triathlons and road races. She also spreads her love for physical activity by volunteering for "Girls on the Run," an international non-profit organization that encourages young girls ages 8 through 11 to lead healthy lifestyles.

For Burt, eating healthy and exercising isn't just a necessity. "A healthy diet can (and should) taste great, and be enjoyed with good friends and family," she says. "And that is the philosophy Kathy and I bring to all of our classes."

The weekly Spotlight features staff members at the university. To nominate a candidate, please contact the Record staff at

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