UPDATE: The Wellness Project book is now available for pre-order! Buy now at the following retailers:
For a lot of us the first sign that our body is not in fact invincible comes in our twenties. And it did for me in the form of an autoimmune disease.
The year after I graduated college, I was diagnosed with Hashimotos Thyroiditis. My doctor casually explained that it was an autoimmune thyroid disorder and was fairly common in women my age. She told me not to worry – it was completely treatable with Synthroid, the widely prescribed hormone replacement drug. But I’d probably need to be on some form of medication for the rest of my life.
Having grown up with a mother who was an early adopter of the organic movement—in a home where medications were synonymous with “remedies” and came in the form of small white balls that dissolved under your tongue—this last piece of news did not sit well with me. So I did what any super mature 22 year old would do in my situation: I pretended like the conversation never happened and went on living my life.
But then my stomach—that best friend and most trusted colleague—turned on me.
I stopped exercising because of the cramps I would get after running just half a block. I ate everything, but couldn’t put on weight, which was nice at first when it meant losing the 4 years of late night pizza that had gotten lodged in my face, but became less so when my clothes got so over-sized they started to look like they belonged to an Olson twin.
I ended up spending the better part of my mid-twenties trying to get on board with the health hand I was dealt. In the process, I gave up gluten and started this site as a new home for my more health-focused recipes. I read countless wellness newsletters, saw prestigious specialists who didn’t take my insurance, and used my experience as a cookbook author and chef to heal my body with healthy comfort food.
And yet I still felt like I was flailing.
Most of the information in the wellness zeitgeist seemed to contradict itself. In my attempt to sort through it, I spent more money on green juice and supplements than I could afford and felt ashamed every time I indulged in a Bellini at brunch or inhaled toxic fumes at the nail salon. The more strict and obsessive I got in the name of my blood work, the less “well” I ended up feeling.
With a raging case of adult acne that no one could solve and a general halo of guilt that hovered over all my health choices, I knew I had to change my approach.
I couldn’t help thinking: as a spokesperson in the healthy living space, if I’m having this much trouble fitting healthier choices into my life, how overwhelmed must others be feeling who are just beginning to dip their toes into the world of wellness?
I knew there had to be a way to be healthy and still indulge in my more hedonistic, boozy brunch loving behavior. So I decided to start laying the bricks for a yearlong project—to do what Gretchen Rubin did for her happiness, but for my health.
I wanted to discover what it really takes to be “well.” And not just to be healthy on paper, but to feel well—to do right by your body without giving up your life.
The Wellness Project will take shape here as a yearlong blog series, with each month focusing on a different one of my challenge areas. I’ll be filling you in on my experiments, sharing tips from my research, and giving you a first look at the experience of what it takes to challenge your body (and popular health trends) in order to find that elusive “balance.”
But before I get into what to expect here, let me back up and tell you how the idea for this health makeover (a New Year’s resolution on steroids) came to be.
I began by tracking down experts on all sides of the wellness space—yogis, health coaches, aestheticians, nutritionists, chefs, green beauty experts, endocrinologists, gastroenterologists, shaman etc. I started sharing some of these conversations with you via my Wellness Wednesday hangout series. And if you watched, you might remember that I always asked my guests this question: if you could tell someone one thing to change about their lifestyle that would have a profound effect on their general wellbeing, without a huge financial investment, what would it be?
The answers I collected became the backbone of a curriculum to help me tackle all my wellness challenge areas one by one, from cleaning up my make-up to creating Feng Shui flow in my crappy studio apartment to figuring out how to not have a panic attack every time the C train inexplicably skipped my stop.
And now that project has officially begun.
As anyone who’s been chronically ill will tell you, getting well doesn’t always fit into a neat timeline of diagnosis to recovery. So though I’ll be focusing on a different subject from month to month, sometimes I’ll be doing experiments in real time and others, like rehabilitating my back, I’ll be tackling over the better part of this year to find the best solutions.
Since this experiment is all about finding balance, and not just whether something works or doesn’t work, I’m trying to stay pretty metric-free and focus more on the power of my own experience, which is inherently subjective. I want to give myself room to figure out which things improve my life and which changes, despite the best scientific and spiritual intentions, just don’t. Finding balance is often a simple act of writing pro and con lists in the moment, even if the subject at hand is kale smoothies.
Here’s what you can expect over the course of this year:
January: The Vice Detox
On whether life without alcohol, caffeine and sugar is a life worth living.
Since most people like to start the year with a detox, I’ll be sharing some tips from my 30 days without alcohol, caffeine or sugar. But more importantly, I’ll be talking about better ways to re-tox and find moderation going forward.
February: Green Beauty
On cleaning up my makeup and whether or not pretty hurts.
Why would I put something on my skin that I wouldn’t inside my body? To be pretty, of course. But as a wise woman named Beyonce once said: pretty hu-ur-urts. Having spent my pre-food professional years working for L’Oreal (sadly, not as the face of Infallible Lipcolour like lady B), I have a warped sense of loyalty towards generic products that have made me feel so much better about myself over the years. I’ll be doing Make-Up Free Mondays to re-evaluate my relationship with liquid courage in concealer form. I’ll also be sharing the argument for why you should switch your personal care products to naturals. Here are some tips and favorite organic makeup brands to get you started.
I don’t consider myself an expert in many of these categories, but if there’s one I’m more knowledgeable in than any other, it’s of course food! That said, I still face the same paradox of choice that most of you do when it comes to what healthy ingredients are worth the money we spend on them. This month is all about sorting through those questions and finding some practical solutions to making healthy home cooking easier and more affordable.
April: Water Works
On eating, drinking, and filtering my way to healthier hydration.
One part of being a New Yorker, in addition to a lifetime of bagel consumption and a penchant for sidewalk road rage, is being proud of our drinking water. I don’t know why that is. But I grew up with an inexplicable loyalty to the deliciousness of our dirty city tap water. The more research I’ve done, the more ridiculous I realize this is. I’ll take you through some methods of filtration and explore ways to make my body better at absorbing and retaining the water. Is coconut water actually good for you? We shall see.
There are many aspects of my autoimmune disease that have made me feel like 29 going on 90. But more so than the inability to function on less than 8 hours of sleep, having to carry several pill boxes in my purse, and getting winded climbing a simple flight of stairs, the thing that’s made me feel the most terrifyingly old was the first time I threw out my back. I wasn’t carrying groceries or lifting a heavy skillet—two daily activities I often blamed for my chronic back pain. I was simply putting on my pants. And a piece of advice: if you ever throw out your back, hope that you do it when you’re not partially naked. For more info on why bad backs happen to good people, watch my hangout with the founder of The Healthy Back Institute.
As women, we spend a lot of time and money grooming ourselves. And we don’t often stop to think about whether our investment is actually worth it. For instance, I calculated that I’ve probably spent over $4,000 on bikini waxes in my lifetime. Now that I’m a grown woman, I have to stop and ask myself: are my pubes really worth this price tag? I’ll be talking about all types of hair health this month. In the meantime, you can check out this Wellness Wednesday with Alexis Wolfer.
July: Making Moves
On making exercise easier, cheaper, and into something that I might actually want to do on a regular basis.
For the last 5 years, I’ve been on a pretty steady fitness downward spiral. And while in my early twenties I could go a month without exercising and then snap my droopy delts back into gear with a 4-mile run, when months turn into years, you eventually reach a point when you’ve officially “let yourself go.” I’m going to attempt to get it back, just in time for summer bikini season. Here are some tips on how to fit fitness into your everyday life from Coach Be Moore.
August: Moon Sisterhood
On periods, sex, and all the other things you should be discussing with your Gyno.
From dealing with thyroid problems, I’ve already become intimately acquainted with how hormones rule the body. Many of the factors that cause endocrine imbalance are covered in other months—chlorine in the water, endocrine disruptors in beauty products, and pesticides on our vegetables. Now it’s time to put all those pieces together and better understand how I can fuel my life, love, and desires according to my cycle.
This month is about learning new sleep habits, both physically and emotionally. If being unconscious for 8 hours feels like a waste of time, how can I make it a necessary and productive part of my day?
October: Eater’s Digest
On how to make your digestive system your new BFF.
The goal of this month is to understand the digestive system and all the little things that improve it (chewing your food until it’s mush while wearing a moomoo) and impede it (inhaling your dinner semi-whole while your stomach cries uncle in the world’s most restrictive pair of Spanx). There are many digestive supplements and probiotics that can help repair your system. But I want to focus not just on what you’re eating, but how you’re eating it.
November: Relaxation Station
On taking your soul vitamins and how to not be such a stress case.
Stress is one of the most corrosive things on the body, and being complicated emotional beings, alleviating it is a deeply individual process. It’s become apparent from the hours I spend zoning out on the couch, or with my face planted in the cradle of a Korean nail salon’s massage chair, that my current system of unwinding does very little to help me relax on a deeper level. Here are some rituals I’m starting with in 2015, inspired by this hangout.
December: Connecting the Dots
On spirituality and the kind of healing you can’t always explain.
I’ve looked towards all kinds of therapy to heal my spirit. At the end of my project, I want to focus on the types of healing that you can’t always explain. Good energy can be found at the hands of a Shaman or Reiki master, or you can just as easily generate it for yourself by taking a leap of faith and starting an adventure. Part of this month will be about letting go of all the things I’ve learned up until this point. I need to find freedom from restriction in order to design a perfect Goldilocks life of wellness that feels just right. And I hope to figure out the best road forward just in time for 2016.
UPDATE: In the spirit of letting go and leaving time for reflection, I didn’t end up taking on any formal challenges this month. But for my big “putting it all together” post on what I learned from my year of wellness, click here.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
1. Follow along! I’ll be sharing my progress on twitter, facebook and instagram with the hashtag #thewellnessproject and #healthyhedonism. I’ll also be giving weekly updates in my newsletter. Make sure you sign up! The posts here can be found in the column The Wellness Project. I’ll also be updating this page with links to my monthly recaps as they’re written.
2. Let me know what wellness areas most concern you and send me your burning health questions. I’m doing this project for the sake of my own health, but the reason I’m writing about it is to help all of you out there who want to do right by your body but don’t know where to start. Write me an email or leave a note in the comments section below. I’d love to address your worries, fears, and conundrums on my journey.
3. Become a fellow guinea pig! I’m putting together a small group of “life recipe” testers who want to go through some of these challenges with me and coach each other along the way. We’ll be communicating via a private facebook group, and everything will be confidential. Shoot me an email if you’re interested in being a more intimate part of this project from the ground up!