Awareness, Examples and Fun: My Gateway to Healthy Living
When Elisa Camahort announced that Martha Stewart was going to be a keynote speaker at BlogHer '12, a woman-centric blogging conference, and asked if we had any questions we wanted to ask her, the first thing I thought about was how being seen as an icon by so many affected the decisions Martha Stewart made in her personal life.
I want to ask her this because my audience has given me more than page views and comments over the years. You've given me support and had a hand in completely changing the way I live my life -- for the better.
Photo by lululemon athletica. (Flickr)
When I joined BlogHer in 2008, I was a leisurely creature who took pride in enjoying life to the fullest -- and by that, I mean I ate all the bacon and sweets I wanted, went to bed as late as I wanted and sometimes skipped sleep altogether only to crash later for a whole 20 hours, drank gallons of coffee, scoffed at water in favor of Orangina, and generally moved as little as possible.
That I didn't gain a million pounds between then and now is testament to an insanely hyperactive metabolism. But having been thin all my life, I know that this wasn't an indicator of health. I didn't think I was unhealthy, but I couldn't deny that I felt lethargic, unfocused, cranky, stressed out and generally completely low-energy. The accumulation of bad habits and their effect on me had unfolded so gradually though, I didn't remember ever not feeling this way.
And then BlogHer offered me the position of Health Editor. An interest in science communication and a commitment to ensuring that the information presented in the section was reliable had somehow won out over the fact that I was the paradigm of unhealthy living. I dove into the duties of working out standards for submissions, talking with other science communicators and dreaming of bringing science crashing into people's everyday lives. I knew I wasn't a great example, but I felt it was more important to demand that health bloggers cite the original study than it was to quit Kit Kats.
At the same time, though, having effectively become the gatekeeper of health information for so many women, I started to think about how my thoughtless one-liners on social-media might be affecting others. Did tweeting about craving bacon hot dogs and McDonald's Happy Meals empower anyone -- was it ethical to do this given the depth of the obesity crisis in which the nation finds itself? I didn't just sit down and decide I would never update about bad things ever again, but I did, however subconsciously, start to curb these posts.
It was the beginning of a huge and very surprising lifestyle change.
Perhaps not so strangely, the less I tweeted about these things, the less I craved to participate in them. At some point last year, I realized I no longer liked McDonald's all that much. Not long after, I switched from Coca-Cola to mango juice, then to coconut water. I started ordering water with my coffee. I traded in Orangina for mineral water.
The more I hydrated, the less headaches I had, I noticed. The more I hydrated, the better I slept. The better I slept, the more focused I was. The more focused I was, the less I caved in to snaking on foods devoid of nutritional value. The more nutritional my food, the more energy I seemed to have.
My hair looked better. My skin looked better. (That's neither here nor there, of course. I live in Los Angeles, a city that excels at making everything look fantastic, no matter how malnourished and decayed the body to which it belongs.) The key thing was that I felt good. I felt incredibly good.
The experiences of others working through health crises, the news and the research became a silent motivator to get to know my body better. I was fortunate to have been raised by two athletes. If my sister and I came to them crying, they never asked us "oh no, sweetheart, what happened?" No. The first question always was "is it a muscle, a nerve, a bone or an organ?" I don't know how I learned the difference. I just know that by the time I was six, I could tell them, to the best of my knowledge, what kind of pain was assailing my body. It fostered a physical self-awareness I'm glad to have.
But even this knowledge wasn't enough. I'd never learned, for example, what dehydration could do to a body. I didn't know what inconsistent sleeping patterns could do to a heart. I didn't know what taking too much acetaminophen could do to a liver. I didn't know bundling up did little to prevent catching a cold. I didn't know what lives in our make-up brushes (to think I used to wash them only once a month!) and why it's important to mind make-up expiration dates.
The more I worked on this section, the more aware I became. Granted, there are some downsides -- I am considerably more paranoid about what I'm doing to my body than I used to be. But I would rather think about the consequences of my actions than pretend I live in an indestructible machine.
The last stage of the transformation began to unfold after I moved a few streets west from where I used to live. Closer to the beach, in an area with more houses instead of buildings, the new place was a dream. Unlike my old place which was in a more commercial area and where people were mostly running from point A to point B as quickly as possible, the new place was always alive with that unheard-of urban breed of human: neighbors. People who stopped and said hello when they saw you, asked how you were, brought over their gluten-free muffins when they made extra, invited you to their dinner parties if they saw you reading by yourself on your porch. The whole suburban nine. It was weird.
What was even weirder is that they all looked like an ad for a sports drink. "Is it just me, or is everyone in your neighborhood always on their way to the gym?" my friend Jordan asked me walking into my new place. He wasn't kidding -- I've yet to see a single person in anything other than yoga pants and sports bras. And it isn't a question of comfort, either. Regardless of age, gender or body shape, everyone is fit. You can't swing a Birkin in this place without hitting someone's six-pack.
I wondered if my neighborhood attracted this kind of person. Maybe all the best places to work out were only a block away? No, that couldn't be. My old place had been right around the corner from an Equinox and no one around there seemed much improved for it. I couldn't figure it out.
One morning, while checking for mail, I was startled by a neighbor jogging past in fuchsia yoga pants and a white sports bra. "Sorry about that!" she called out, turning around while still jogging in place to check on me. I smiled and told her I was fine, trying not to stare at her abs (I could have grated cheese on her abs, I swear to God). I couldn't stop thinking about it afterward. She'd looked like she was having so much fun, standing there, jogging in place. Was it fun?
I hate jogging. It makes my ankles hurt. But I couldn't get her smile out of my mind. She looked ecstatic. I remembered the stuff about neurotransmitters and exercise. And of course the research about women who orgasm while working out. If I was missing out on anything, I would sniff it out. Not jogging, though. Something else. Anything else.
Rodrigo was a cyclist, I remembered suddenly. He still rides his bicycle from time to time. Cycling might be a reasonable option. So I called a friend who'd borrowed my bicycle a year prior when he'd first moved to Los Angeles. "I never ride it," I'd told him then. "Seriously, I've ridden it twice. Once because it was new and another time into storage. You can borrow it as long as you need." He confessed he'd never ridden it either and would be happy to bring it back to me. I rode my bike that same day, terrified I would fall over or get hit by one of L.A.'s notoriously impatient and distracted drivers. Or both.
Fortunately, neither horror befell me. Instead, I learned what it meant to fly. As the cars lingered in traffic around me, I cruised with the sun on my back and wind in my hair. It took me less than 20 minutes to get to Venice. From Brentwood at that hour of the day, you'd be lucky to get there in 45 minutes in a car. I was free -- free in every conceivable way. I could go to the beach whenever I wanted no matter what day it was. Most people avoid the beach during holidays and weekends because of traffic, but that no longer applied. Traffic didn't apply. Gas didn't apply. Finding parking didn't apply. Paying for parking didn't apply.
Soon, I decided that I would ride to any meeting or errand I had that was under five or six miles. Riding had become more than a neurotransmitter fix -- it'd become a sort of real-life exploit where I got to access places in L.A. faster than anyone else could in their cars. I'm a nerd, so the idea of a real-life exploit was exciting enough to get me out of bed earlier, which simultaneously landed me in bed sooner.
And of course, all that riding made me somewhat sore -- and I hated how much effort it took to carry my bike down the apartment steps -- so out came the Wii Fit. Like a trail of dominoes, everything in my life fell into place one after the other. Without a single resolution, without self-doubt, fear or shame, my whole life had changed. And it all had to do with my environment, the stuff I was reading and working on and the people around me.
I find it interesting that over the years we've spoken so much about whether bad habits are contagious or not, but haven't deeply explored the more positive side of that equation.
I think knowing there are alternatives to the way we currently do things is important. There are tasty treats out there that aren't bad for you, for example. There are activities out there that are good for you that don't feel like a chore. It's not hard to imagine this, but we're social animals. Nothing beats seeing this right in front of us, true as the sky above. Maybe that's what's "wrong" with my neighbors. Maybe that's the appeal of workout blogs, Pinterest boards, and sites like DailyMile, where people chronicle their workouts the way foodies check-in and do on-the-go reviews for Yelp.
It all did start with Twitter in a way.