Last year, I decided to make some radical changes to the way I approached my health. After years of living with autoimmune disease and feeling like I was flailing, oscillating from the extremes of wellness fads, to the confusion that made me want to do nothing at all, I decided to put my New Year’s resolutions on hold. Instead, I came up with a series of monthly challenges that would help me understand what wellness practices really moved the needle, and which despite the best scientific intentions, just weren’t worth my time, money or energy.
For 12 months I anchored my life to these short-term goals. And when my project was finally over in January, it took me a beat to process the impact.
Those of you following along, of course, wanted to know the nitty gritty details: Did I lose weight? Did I wake up every day with a T-Swift star-spangled inferno of energy?
Had I found the magic recipe for healthy hedonism that allowed me to feel good while indulging in all life’s pleasures? Was I fully healed?
In truth, the end was rather anti-climactic. Making over my life one experiment at a time didn’t result in any dramatic weight loss or physical transformation.
On January 1st, I did not swan dive into a tub of Nutella to celebrate the end of my project. Did not open three bottles of fancy wine squirreled away. Did not laze on the couch all day drinking ginger ale and eating macarons. There was no moment in which I woke up and was able to reclaim all of my life’s indulgences … because I never gave them up in the first place.
That may sound like a failure to some of you, and indeed my fear that it would is one of the reasons why it took me so long to write my epic “conclusion” post. And the reason that when I did, I focused more on what I learned than how I felt.
But the funny thing is, the anti-climactic nature of the end was a perfect indicator of my success along the way. It was a sign that I had, indeed, found that elusive “balance.” The physical markers of that success existed too. But like the nature of my disease itself, they mostly resided below the surface.
While a Jennifer Hudson (or, for the NYC set, Dr. Zizmor) style before and after photo would have given my journey more viral credibility, I’ve realized that often real, lasting change happens so gradually that it’s barely perceptible. Pain and exhaustion had become my new normal during the worst throws of my Hashimotos Thyroiditis, without my even realizing it. So when the project was over, it took me a few months to fully comprehend how far I’d come.
But now that it’s July, and I officially have six months post-project under my belt, I wanted to share a little bit about my new new normal. Because, by in large, I’m the healthiest I’ve been in years.
Though my thyroid numbers will always be a moving target, for the first time since being diagnosed with Hashimoto’s, my bloodwork doesn’t hover on the precipice of numerical disaster. The chronically deficient B12, vitamin D, and other nutrients, no longer characterize me as a malnourished chef. And those results have stayed consistent despite not popping hundreds of dollars’ worth of supplements. Now, the only medication I take on a daily basis is my thyroid hormone (Naturethroid) and the occasional probiotic (this one). Without all those day-of-the-week pill cases to lug around, taking care of my body feels a lot less like a full-time job. And it’s certainly a less expensive one.
I’ve gained back much of my old day-to-day vitality and karaoke sparkle. Mornings no longer feel like a battle of me versus the bed, and my days aren’t a walking continuation of that slumber. Despite not doing pelvic floor exercises every day, my back has remained spasm-free since my spine experiments. And in terms of external signs, I haven’t had a single flare-up of Perioral Dermatitis since my vice detox. My most glaring, outward-facing symptom of inner chaos has disappeared entirely.
As someone who started from a place of health overwhelm, it was heartening to prove my hypothesis: that twelve months of small baby steps could amount to a big difference. And, to me, this is the most inspiring part of my project: proving that you don’t have to turn your life upside down overnight to heal. That there is a way to do all of the above, without the financial and emotional stress of doing it all at once.
Of course, while I did harness the power of the “year of x” meme, I never really intended for there to be a finish line. I’m stuck with the body I’ve got, faulty thyroid, gangly limbs and all. And it’s the nature of autoimmune disease that no matter how vigilant I am, there will always be good days and bad.
So I’ll be checking in here every few months to tell you about my progress, the good, the bad and the healthy. I also have a few mini challenges in mind for fall covering subjects that didn’t get their due time in the spotlight (I’m looking at you teeth and hair!). If you have any ideas of things you’d like me to do a deep dive on, please let me know in the comments.
For now, though, I’ll give you a little rundown of the habits that have stuck and those I’m trying to recommit to over the summer.
And finally, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: thank you for all your support throughout this health rollercoaster. Sharing my project with you and hearing your own stories of healthy hedonism made me feel like I had found my true Hashi Posse. The struggle is real, folks. And (to paraphrase Rich Roll), acknowledging that simple fact is the first step in transformation.
So much healthy hedonist love,
Nothing annoys me more than when people ask: what does a typical day look like? Historically, this has been directed towards my life as a freelance food babe. But since my project ended, I’ve been getting the question a lot with regards to my wellness practices. And the answer is the same to both: what the fuck is a typical day?
Like most typical humans, every day forces me to find a new balance.
The biggest value of my project was in getting to know which choices might cause downstream harm, and then when to ignore them in favor of living. I feel like I have a much firmer grasp on this now. And because of the give and take, I rarely have a perfect health day. Instead, I try to find balance throughout the week. Here are where my priorities stand right now, and what I’m striving for:
+ I try to have one dry day out of every week, and one week out of every month. I mentioned back in January that Charlie and I had made this one of our resolutions. And we’ve stuck with it for the most part. Our “week” as been downgraded to just weekdays. But having the break still feels restorative, and I’d say it’s had a nice halo effect on my weeknight drinking habits as a whole.
+ I try to choose my events more wisely. I’ve realized that it’s not just alcohol or sugar or gluten, but the hustle and bustle of a night on the town that overwhelms my sensitive system. I don’t front load the week so that I have some days to recover from the weekend. And if I aim to have a perfect health day, I do it on Monday to set the tone for the days that follow. But generally, I’m a lot more cutthroat about the things I’ll say yes to and try to feel less guilty about the no’s. Still working on that.
+ I try to get outside every day. In an ideal world, that would mean going for a 30-minute walk in the afternoon. When Charlie and I first moved in together, I used my new step-son (Baron the Beagle) as an excuse. But days when I was too busy or running around town to meetings, made me begin to resent the dog. So we now have a wonderful dog walker and I try to fit in my walking during other parts of my day. Which brings me to…
+ I try to work around people for half the day. I spent a lot of time during my project rehab-ing my posture and making my “office” more ergonomically friendly. But I realized that my hidden anxieties had a lot to do with my back pain. The problems were in my head just as much as the structure it sat upon. Many of those corrosive thoughts stemmed from having a job that comes with a lot of uncertainty, something I can’t necessarily fix. But I discovered they were fueled by the isolation of working alone. So even though the chairs are wobbly and non-ergonomic, I try to relocate to a coffee shop for part of the day and make co-working dates with fellow self-employed friends. Getting out of the house and experiencing a dose of vitamin D on the way is an added bonus.
+ I try to go to Pilates or yoga once a week. During my fitness experiments I discovered that a walk outside was more efficient for my schedule and left me feeling less guilty than the days I scooted away from my desk for an hour of aerobic twerking in a hot crowded room. But in order to stay strong and switch things up, I commit to doing a pilates mat class once a week (usually on Monday or Tuesday). That frequency might sound like small potatoes to you gym rats out there. But for me, it’s the most sustainable. I don’t have to overthink my schedule or overspend on exercise. And one class is enough to keep my core strong for the days in between, even with lots of bad back behavior at my desk.
+ I try to only bring good quality food into my home. Though I obviously already have a leg up on the healthy cooking front, my project helped give my budget a necessary makeover that aligned better with my values. I now invest in organic and farmer’s market produce without a second thought. And 6 months’ post-project I can honestly say that by giving my money to the farmer, I spend a lot less of it at the doctor. Plus, by being better at home, I feel less guilty when I eat out. And I waste a lot less time mentally obsessing over those choices.
+ I try to batch cook on weekends. Moving to an area of the city that has far fewer takeout options has made me recommit to always having a premade meal on hand. Believe it or not, the things I make for my day job do not always amount to me being well-fed! There have definitely been times when I’ve treated myself to a margarita with a side of energy balls as a 4pm desperation lunch after a long day of recipe testing. Batch cooking, though, means I always have brown bag swag at the ready. I’ve tried to keep the Farmer’s Market Challenge going, and as a result, I eat a homemade balanced lunch nearly every day and my takeout orders are down to twice a month.
+ I try to hydrate on the regular. My water habits were perhaps the easiest to maintain. I may have bought the most products for this challenge, but I still use most of them. I bring my reusable bottle everywhere, and legitimately get more compliments on it than any article of clothing I own. I also buy fewer “healthy” drinks, which has been very positive for my budget. Kombucha is pretty much the only store bought bev I spend money on and I choose brands that don’t have added sugar.
+ I try to let my skin breath. My green beauty experiments were among the first, and I’ve come a long way since then with my approach to “mindless makeup.” Now that my skin is in a better place, I’m much more conscious about being gentle with it. But even a few weeks ago when I had a little setback (a story for another time), I resisted the impulse to slather on foundation before leaving the house. I think that’s helped my skin bounce back faster from periods of chaos. And only using natural products doesn’t hurt either.
+ I try to keep a consistent wake time. I know that picking and choosing social plans so I can get eight hours of sleep will make me a better friend to others and myself. And I know that waking up at the same time every day is the best way to get the most out of my nights, no matter what time I end them. But I’ve also learned not to stress about sleep thanks to the CBT for Insomnia program.
+ I try to eat a probiotic a day. Usually this is in the form of one of the 4 K’s: kraut, kombucha, kefir or kimchi. Often, it’s also Greek yogurt. But on days when my stomach is feeling off, I’ll pop a probiotic in pill form.
+ I track my cycle and plan around it. I’m still using Kindara and the Fertility Awareness Method as a method of contraception, and also to know where I stand with my hormones. After learning the way of my FLO, thanks to Alisa Vitti, I try to plan in advance for my week of menstruation and not schedule a lot of activities so I can get some facetime with my pillow.
+ I try to meditate once a day. This is the habit that I felt the most dedicated to at the end of 2015, and yet, it’s been the one that’s fallen most off the rails in the New Year. I’m going to meet with my teacher in the next few weeks and see if I can resuscitate my practice! Stay tuned.
Phew. Well there you have it. That was a long one, so if you managed to stay with me, I salute you!!
The best part of my project is that so many of the above have become second nature. I don’t have to labor over the decisions or be my own drill sergeant.
Not everyone has the luxury of taking the scenic route around health mountain. Some of you might be so sick that an overnight overhaul is very necessary. But for the rest of you, who are putting one foot in front of the other, I can attest to the awe and humility you experience when you take a step back, look over the edge, and gawk at how far you’ve come.
I hope I can inspire a few of you to continue making the ascent alongside me.
Today’s post is taking the place of my monthly confessions column! I hope the extra dishing makes up for the lack of interweb links and musings. If you like what you’ve read, you can find out more about my wellness journey here and check back with past challenges here.