Hattiesburg, Miss., has long been known for its university; however, thanks to community initiatives, it now also has the reputation of being one of the healthiest cities in the Magnolia State.
The Hub-City is home to more than 15 walking parks, dozens of gyms and exercise clubs, a walkable downtown and plenty of . Katie Dixon, mother, chef, personal trainer and local business owner, is using her expertise to create a healthier Hattiesburg and representing other like-minded Mississippians on a national stage.
Chef Dixon was one of the final six contestants on season 7 of Fox’s MasterChef. She surprised the judges with dishes like healthy “fried” chicken and lamb kidneys with curry.
“I was known as a healthy chef, and that created a platform for me—and Mississippi—to show the healthy things we have,” Dixon said.
“I am proud to say that I don’t fry food. I am happy to promote a healthy culture here.”
After her elimination from MasterChef, Dixon returned to her home in Hattiesburg, where she owns Shine Café and Juice Bar, an all-organic lunch spot located inside Vitamins Plus, a health store with an on-site chiropractor and naturopathic doctor. Her menu features salads, buffalo burgers, Alaskan salmon and her famous curry dishes. Shine also offers healthy take-out meals after business hours.
Dixon’s newfound celebrity has made her an influential community leader and a resource for advice on healthy living. She has made her rounds, speaking to schools and community groups about nutrition and exercise.
“I have people reach out to me often about how to make certain recipes or Southern dishes more healthy,” she said.
In 2011, Hattiesburg was selected as Mississippi’s Healthy Hometown (among towns of 15,000+ residents) by Blue Cross and Blue Shield. The city was awarded a grant to expand on health-related initiatives.
According to Dixon, Hattiesburg is steps ahead of the rest of the state in terms of prioritizing health, starting with the youth. Programs like Stretch-N-Grow and Uproot work with local schools to promote physical activity and nutritious choices.
“The community itself is trying to have a healthier vision,” Dixon said.
She believes that vision includes cashing in on two of Mississippi’s greatest resources—ample access to locally grown produce and outdoor recreation.
The Longleaf Trace, abandoned railroad turned 41-mile linear park, is an asset for the area’s active residents. The walking, biking and equestrian trail runs to Prentiss, Miss. Dixon and her family also enjoy canoeing on Okatoma Creek, visiting the UpDown Trampoline Park and paddle boarding at Paul B. Johnson State Park.
According to Dixon, the downtown area is a hub for the health movement. Residents are often seen walking dogs, shopping at the farmer’s market and popping in restaurants and cafés to try new healthy menu items.
“Downtown Hattiesburg is really growing and restaurants are working to offer healthier options,” she said.
All over town, you’ll find gyms and a multitude of group classes—yoga, barre, spin, Crossfit and outdoor bootcamps to name a few. Dixon trains her clients at Anatomies Family Fitness Gym. She says there’s no excuse not to get involved.
“Hattiesburg offers an over-abundance of options for healthy living,” Dixon said. “There’s something for everyone.”
Katie Dixon’s Healthy Picks at Local Restaurants
Taco Tuesday – Shine Cafe
Veggie Burger – Thirsty Hippo
Edo Sushi – Shrimp Salad
Sakura – Crab and Avocado Salad
Sake Cafe – Tropical Salmon
Chesterfield’s – grilled Mahi Mahi and steamed vegetables
Crescent City – Chilled and grilled chicken salad
Jatsumas – Shrimp Coconut Curry Soup
Donanella’s – Grilled Tuna Steak