How Meditation Helped Me Overcome My OCD

When I used to hear the term “OCD,” the first thoughts that popped into my head were always of super-organized sock drawers and Monica Gellar-level cleanliness (thanks, pop culture depictions of mental illness).

But that, of course, was before I was diagnosed.

I have a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder called Pure O (or Pure Obsessional OCD), which means that all of my obsessions and compulsions take place inside my head.

Here’s how OCD works: In an effort to control the severe anxiety caused by their obsessions, people with OCD perform compulsions (also known as “rituals”) to calm themselves down. Most people with OCD perform outward (or physical) compulsions, so things like hand washing, flipping a light switch on and off, or other repetitive behaviors.

But with Pure O, it’s a bit different. I deal with the same obsessive thought patterns, but my compulsions fly under the radar because my entire obsessive-compulsive cycle takes place internally. So, instead of performing an outwardly observable compulsion, like hand-washing, I perform a mental compulsion, like scanning my memories to look for evidence that my intrusive thought isn’t true. You might not be able to see it, but at times it’s like I’m at war with my own mind.

All of this information is fairly new to me. Before I was diagnosed, I had no idea what was going on inside my brain. I’ve always been a fairly anxious person, and I have a tendency to attach myself to disturbing-yet-completely-illogical thoughts. Like at work: If any two people walked into an office and closed the door, I would be 100 percent convinced that this was because I was about to get fired. I would spend hours sitting at my desk, terrified that I was going to be let go, racking my brain to figure out what I might have done that would cause me to get the ax.

You might not be able to see it, but at times it’s like I’m at war with my own mind.

I knew there was no logic behind my thought (I’ve never even come close to being fired), but it was like I couldn’t help myself. A thought came, I attached to it, and down the rabbit hole I went.

These thought patterns manifested themselves in all sorts of ways: fears about my weight, about my relationships, about my future. But for the most part, I just rolled with it. Did I hate the times I felt worried, anxious, and afraid for no reason? Of course. But, for the most part, they were temporary and didn’t interfere with my life in any significant way.

Until one day they did.

About a year ago, I had an intrusive thought that completely took over my life. I became obsessed with the idea that I had committed a crime and somehow forgotten about it. It sounds silly, but once it entered my psyche, I couldn’t let it go.

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Logically, I knew it wasn’t true. But I couldn’t stop myself from thinking about it. I would spend hours reviewing my memories, searching for evidence of a crime. I read an encyclopedia’s worth of articles on the standard profile of violent criminals to see if I fit the bill. It consumed my every waking moment, and the more I tried to reassure myself that I wasn’t some sort of amnesiac criminal mastermind, the stronger the thought became. And the stronger the thought, the more I was convinced it had to be true.

It was a vicious cycle, and by the end, I was hanging on by a thread, convinced I was losing my mind.

That was, by far, the scariest time of my life, but it was also the catalyst I needed to get some help. I started working with an amazing therapist who immediately recognized what was going on and started working with me to help me manage my obsessions, intrusive thoughts, and anxiety.
There were a lot of techniques we explored to get my anxiety under control, but there was only one that ended up changing my life: meditation.

When my therapist suggested meditation as a way to help deal with my Pure O symptoms, I wasn’t exactly enthused. I had tried meditation in the past, and while I thought it was great in theory, I’d never had any success with it. I believed my mind was too stormy to be tamed.

Still, at that point, I was willing to try anything to get my life back. So I decided to give it a shot.

When thoughts pop into my consciousness or I find my mind starting to wander, I acknowledge the thought with gentleness and compassion, let it go, and refocus my attention on the breath.

I started a Buddhist-style practice of meditation called Vipassana. It’s the simple practice of sitting in silence and focusing on the breath. When thoughts pop into my consciousness or I find my mind starting to wander, I acknowledge the thought with gentleness and compassion, let it go, and refocus my attention on the breath.

At first, meditation was painfully hard. I would find myself overwhelmed with intrusive thoughts every single time I closed my eyes. But I stuck to the practice. I acknowledged each thought, and with as much self-love and compassion as I could muster, I let them go and brought my attention back to the breath.

The more I practiced, the easier it became to detach from my thoughts and refocus my attention on the breath. And the easier it became to detach from my thoughts, the less scary and significant they seemed. That practice began to bleed into the rest of my life, and slowly but surely, I regained control over my mind.

That was a year ago, and today, as a direct result of my daily meditation practice, my life—and my mind—couldn’t be any more different.

I’m no longer wracked with anxiety around the clock. I don’t spend hours of my day trapped in obsessive thought cycles. I sleep easier. I laugh more. My relationships—with myself and with the people I love—are better than ever. I feel more in tune with myself, my thoughts, and the world around me. In a nutshell, I’m happy.

And all thanks to a little bit of breathing.

Do I still have intrusive thoughts? Yes. And I probably always will. But since I started meditating, they haven’t had any real power over my life. If I find myself caught in a thought cycle, I’m able to acknowledge it, let it go, and refocus my attention, just like I do when I’m in meditation. I’m able to see my intrusive thoughts for what they are—just random, insignificant brain synapses—and I no longer feel the need to attach to them.

I can’t say that I’ll never battle with Pure O again. But I can say, thanks to my meditation practice, I’m getting better—one breath at a time.

Related: Shop aromatherapy to level up your meditation experience. 

Should You Be Drinking Ginger Water?

Ginger is a heavenly-scented, tropical green and purple plant that has a long and illustrious history as a medicinal and culinary herb. Its plant family contains sister herbs cardamom and turmeric—which is unsurprising given its delicious flavor.

Hailing from India and China over 5000 years ago, ginger made its way around the world as a key import and export. Fun fact: In medieval England it was imported from India to make sweet treats—namely, gingerbread men, which you can thank Queen Elizabeth I of England for dreaming up.

But ginger’s benefits run deeper than baked goods. “Ginger may help to relieve nausea….and loss of appetite,” says Keri Gans, MS, RDN, CDN and author of The Small Change Diet.

Related: Can Drinking Lemon Water Really Help You Lose Weight?

That said, no one should rely on gingerbread cookies to get the benefits of the herb. Easy solution: ginger water. We’ve all heard of lemon water—which is used for weight management, as an immune boost, and to liven up tasteless H20—but hot ginger water is the new water du jour. And research backs it up. 

According to the review Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects, ginger’s antiemetic (anti-nausea and vomiting) abilities have been the most widely researched. It’s used for general nausea, as well as pregnancy-related nausea.

The review also cites several studies that looked at ginger’s bioactive compound, gingerol, which, according to The International Journal of Preventative Medicine, may reduce the inflammation that causes post-workout muscle pain. Good to know!

The same review says that ginger boasts strong antioxidant components (one of the most potent ones it contains is called shogaol), which can help fight against free radicals (which cause DNA damage, leading to aging and disease), promote cognitive health, and support healthy blood pressure. And ginger may promote heart health, as well, says the Current Cardiology Reviews.

Ginger is basically safe to ingest, but do speak with your medical practitioner if you have gallstone disease, use blood thinners, or are pregnant. It may, for some, cause abdominal discomfort, says the National Institutes of Health.

Related: Shop ginger products to promote your health.

Besides eating fresh ginger or taking ginger supplements in tablets, capsules, or liquid extracts, you can drink ginger teas or—you got it—make your very own ginger water.

Drinking ginger water provides an opportunity to slow down, be mindful, and nourish your body directly from the herb (rather than a pre-packaged ginger product). Its calming scent adds to the experience, too.

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Says Gans: “The water’s effectiveness may depend on how much actual ginger is added it. One thing for certain is that the water itself will aid in hydration, and if adding ginger to it helps you to drink more that’s a win-win.”

It’s recommended that you add ¼ tablespoon of fresh ginger to your water, which you should grate yourself to keep it highly bioactive. Don’t peel the skin off—there’s good stuff in there!

Ready to make your own ginger water? Here’s how:

Who’s Good: A Q&A With Fitness Star @KaisaFit

These days, all you need is a basic knowledge of superfoods and an iPhone upgrade to be deemed a social media influencer. So how do you distinguish between the people on Instagram who can provide solid info, inspiring ideas, and encouragement along your own health and wellness journey and the many one-trick ponies filling feeds with butt selfies? We can help you cut through all the noise (and smoothie bowls).

Welcome to Who’s Good, a regular interview series from the editors of What’s Good that catches up with the best, brightest, and boldest social media has to offer.

Up this week: We talked to Kaisa Keranen—a.k.a. KaisaFit. You (and her half-million other followers—or, as she calls them, “team members”) may have taken inspiration from her supercharged, any-time-any-where KaisaFit workouts. Or maybe you heard of the national #LetsMove campaign—on which she partnered with the Obama administration. (NBD, right?) If not, you’ll want to check her out—and get moving.

Kaisa, you’re a powerhouse personal trainer and fitness instructor (with an M.S. in exercise science!)—with half a million Instagram followers! Can you tell us a little about your journey to the life you have now?

Thank you so much! My story in a nutshell: I grew up playing pretty much any sport I could get my hands on and by the time high school came around I had narrowed it down to soccer and track and field. I ended up doing track at the University of Washington and after I graduated, found myself in the field of training. I had been pretty injured in college so when I graduated I had this desire to learn about my body and to have the education to take better care of it. Long story short, I fell in love with this industry and have been in it ever since.

Can you describe the KaisaFit method? How did you create and refine this method—and who is it best for?

The KaisaFit method is about simply moving. I think it’s less of a method and more of a mindset that hopefully, over time, cultivates a way of life. My mission is really just to encourage people to add more movement to their day, in whatever form that may be. It’s about helping people understand that they don’t need to hit the gym to get a good workout in, they have their body and their living room and sometimes (actually, most of the time) that’s all you need!

You were asked by Michelle Obama (!!!) to be part of her Let’s Move campaign. What was that like?

That was an INSANE moment in my life and I’m not sure if/how or when that could ever be topped. Mrs. Obama asked my friend and I to be the head trainers for her “Let’s Move” digital campaign and it truly was a dream come true. She is an incredible woman whom I admire so much, so to have her recognize us was absolutely surreal.

You created the #JustMove hashtag. How do you think people’s sedentary lifestyles are affecting them? Apart from the gym, what are some interesting, effective ways to get out and get moving? I see you on the beach, on the rocks, on park benches…

Really simply put, our sedentary lives are killing us. I know it sounds harsh but it’s the truth and it’s important that people start wrapping their heads around how awful our sedentary lives truly are for us.

This is the main reason why I started #JustMove. I wanted people to understand that at any moment throughout the day, and any location they might find themselves in, there is a way to #JustMove. It doesn’t always mean that you are lifting weights or even breaking a serious sweat, but it means that you are up and moving your body, making the world around you your gym in that moment.

How has your life changed since cultivating a social media following? How has it impacted your approach to fitness?

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My life has changed quite a bit since the moment I decided to share my workouts on social media—and in the best way possible! I get to connect and communicate with so many incredible people on a daily basis, and that is truly a gift. I am constantly motivated and inspired by my team (a.k.a. my followers, but I don’t like using that term). I just feel like we are one big family, and that we’re in this together, trying to support each other to be our best, happiest, and healthiest selves on a daily basis. For that I am constantly thankful!

Do you have a favorite go-to power-up and post-workout snack or recipe? Are there are any vits, herbs, or supplements you take to feel your best—and why?

💥G I V E A W A Y 💥 . In honor of @vitalproteins launching their AMAZING creamer we are doing a little giveaway. . First, it is super important for me to state that my rule about social media is simple. If I wouldn't tell my friends and family about it, I wouldn't tell my team here on Instagram about it. . With that being said, I am a huge fan of @vitalproteins and have been using them for over a year now so I can comfortably tell you about how incredible their product is and how much of a difference it has made in the way I feel. . So in honor of their creamer launching today we are giving a few away! Just comment below and let us know what your morning rituals are. What are some of the absolute necessities you need to start your day off right? Mine include 2 pieces of toast, a huge cup of coffee w/ Vital's creamer and some slow jams playing in the background 🎶😁 . We will randomly pick some winners tomorrow morning and DM you directly 💙

A post shared by Kaisa Keranen (@kaisafit) on

I am a HUGE Vital Proteins fan! My pre-workout is coffee + Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides and two pieces of gluten-free toast with almond butter and honey. I train pretty early in the morning and it’s all that my stomach can handle before I go beast-mode.

During my workout I am sipping on Vital Proteins Beauty Water and post-workout I have my first big meal of the day: anything from an omelette to last night’s dinner. I’m not a picky eater but it needs to be good quality food and I need a lot of it.

What was the single most empowering or inspirational moment you’ve had as a trainer?

Oh maaaaan! That question is nearly impossible to answer. I have been a trainer for over eight years now so there is no way I can narrow it down to a single inspirational or empowering moment. Honestly, working with people day in and down out is inspiring in and of itself. I get to witness first-hand the changes that people make. The things they go through and come out of. The struggles and the triumphs. Everything. I’ve been there through it all and they’ve been there with me. It’s incredible to have a career that truly centers around community and connection, and I am thankful for it every single day!

So, what sort of amazing stuff are you working on these days?

Putting in wooork! 👊💪 #tbt

A post shared by Kaisa Keranen (@kaisafit) on

I am super excited to announce that I am in the process of creating my first monthly movement plan. I have been wanting to venture out on my own for quite some time and create and share content the exact way that I would want to use it if I was on the receiving end. The monthly plans will have varying degrees of difficulty, which means they are suitable for all fitness levels. They plans are basically designed to be everything that I ever wanted in an at home program and I am SO pumped to share them with you all in early 2018. If you want to stay up to date with release information, click here!

6 Healthy Habits You’ll Thank Yourself For Starting 20 Years From Now

For many of us, living a healthy lifestyle in our 20s and 30s is all about the here and now. Eating the right foods to feel and look good today. Or using that trendy sheet mask to get glowing skin for tonight. Rarely do we consider what our bodies will need and want down the road. After all, “future us” seems so far away.

But adopting certain healthy habits at a younger age (read: right this minute) can not only provide benefits for you in the present, but reap major rewards down the road.

Consider this: A study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings revealed that exercise capacity is “strongly associated with cognitive function.” Researchers learned that participants who actively worked out a few times per week lowered their risk of cognitive decline issues, such as Alzheimer’s disease. So when you’re hitting the treadmill, you’re keeping yourself looking good today, sure—while doing all you can to safeguard the future.

But this isn’t only about putting in time at the gym. There are plenty of good-for-you habits to incorporate into your everyday that are excellent investments in your future health. And some of them won’t even require you to break a sweat.

1. Turn Off Your Tech

“Try doing a digital “detox”,” says Samir Becic, fitness trainer and author of ReSYNC Your Life. It may sound harsh, but remove the TV from your bedroom in order to have better REM sleep (rapid eye movement, or deep sleep), he explains. “People don’t realize the enormous negative impact technology has on our health if it is used excessively,” he says. “Not only on our joints, but on our eyes, back, cognitive thinking, and mood.”

A 2013 study published in Current Biology determined that modern light exposure contributes to later sleep schedules, which only serves to disrupt our natural sleep and circadian clocks. By removing the presence of the dreaded “blue light” emitted from our phones, TVs, and computers in our bedrooms, we’re giving our bodies a better chance at a more restful, productive sleep.

Related: Is Lutein All It’s Cracked Up To Be?

2. Start flossing.

While daily flossing may seem like a no-brainer, a 2015 Harris Poll conducted on behalf of the American Academy of Periodontology revealed that 27 percent of U.S. adults lie to their dentist about how often they really partake in the activity (we won’t tell if you start flossing today!). For the sake of your mouth, dentists would like to see this number turned around.

“Flossing may seem like a nuisance when you’re young, but later down the line, you’ll be glad you started early as flossing can help avoid periodontal disease,” says Dr. Katia Friedman of Friedman Dental Group in South Florida. “At a later stage in people’s lives, periodontal disease is responsible for bone loss, mobility of teeth and ultimately tooth loss.”

Related: Shop oral health products to give your chompers their best chance. 

Pro-tip: According to Oral Health & Prevention, you want to floss and then brush—not the other way around—to get the most out of the habit. When you floss and then brush, you’re able to get all that gross plaque out of your mouth, instead of lingering there after it was extracted.

3. Wear Sunscreen

This advice probably sounds like a broken record, but consistent sunscreen application is one of the most important things you can do for your overall health and well-being.

“UV damage from the sun is a significant factor in skin aging,” says David Lortscher, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Curology.”

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The hard part is, there’s a delay between when sun exposure occurred and when its effects manifest. For example, it may take decades—yes, you read that correctly—of cumulative sun exposure or indoor tanning to cause skin cancer. It’s reasonable to expect that sun exposure 10 or 15 years ago may result in wrinkles appearing now. So, be sure to use sunscreens with SPF 30 or higher that protect against UVA and UVC rays.

According to The American Academy of Dermatology, broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or more should be used year-round, not just when the sun is high and hot. The lotion should be reapplied every two hours for continuous coverage, or more frequently if you’re swimming or sweating.

Related: Shop UVA- and UVB-blocking sunscreen to protect your skin. 

4. Add Retinol to Your Routine

Take good care of your skin now to reduce the effects of aging later, says Lortscher. “An over-the-counter cream with retinol offers anti-aging benefits, but prescription-strength tretinoin (the generic name for retinol) offers a potent punch that just can’t be beat.”

What’s tretinoin? It’s considered to be the gold standard in reducing fine lines and wrinkles, as well as boosting collagen growth. And, says Lortscher, “It’s the main anti-aging strategy (after sunscreen) of many dermatologists for their own skin.”

But what is retinol? According to the Mayo Clinic, it’s a vitamin A compound and an antioxidant. It neutralizes free radicals, those pesky unstable oxygen molecules responsible for disrupting skin cells and, inevitably, causing wrinkles.

You can start by adding this Ann Webb Super Retinol Slow Release night crème to your bedtime ritual.

5. Eat Mindfully

How often have you heard a friend or co-worker complain that they were so busy during the day that they “forgot” to eat? In our hectic lives we’ve become conditioned to either eating on the go or while we’re zoning out in front of the TV. But by choosing to eat mindfully we have the opportunity to not only appreciate the food on our plates, but make better choices as well.

“Try not to eat while doing other things like driving, watching TV, working, or another activity,” says Samantha Scruggs, a registered dietitian and blogger at Nutrition to Fruition. “When you actually pay attention to your eating and your food, you feel more full and are more aware of your portion sizes.” Notice how it tastes and smells when you’re eating.

According to a 2016 study published in Health Psychology, mindful eating was proven to reduce impulsive food choices in both adolescents and adults, decreasing the risk of obesity.

6. Eat Good Fats

Omega-3 has been a buzzword in the world of healthy nutrition for some time now, and with good reason. These fatty acids are work horses in your body, and to build a better one for long-term health experts want you to get your omega-3s straight from the source whenever possible.

“One of the healthiest habits to adopt now for major benefits down the road is eating two servings of fatty fish per week,” says Lainey Younkin, MS, RD, LDN, dietitian and founder of Lainey Younkin Nutrition in Boston, MA. Fatty fish, like salmon, albacore tuna, mackerel, and sardines, are chock-full of omega-3 fatty acids, “which lower inflammation in the body, leading to a healthier brain and heart, as well as glowing skin. One serving is just three ounces, or the size of a deck of cards, so top your salad with some salmon or swap the chicken in your taco for tuna,” says Younkin.

7. Meditate

Considering the difficulties we face finding the time to eat a meal in peace, you may be wondering when, pray tell, you’re supposed to have the time to sit and meditate. But carving out even just a few minutes for the practice can harvest benefits far beyond clearing your mind.

According to a study published in Psychosomatic Medicine, mindful meditation can actually boost immune function, with researchers finding increases in antibody titers (the way doctors learn if your body is fighting a virus) to the flu vaccine among those who were in the meditation control group.

And don’t worry about being a meditation pro, says positive psychology and coach Dr. Barbara Cox, PhD, who encourages her patients to find a method that works for them.

What works best? “It can be something as simple as focusing on calming music or saying a positive affirmation,” she says. “Meditation is a very helpful tool for stress because by doing it regularly it can prevent stress. And if stress builds, it can help release stress, too.”

Plus, according to Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, meditation may actually improve the cellular aging process and reduce oxidative stress, which can age us and make us sick.

Related: It’s Time To Stop Being So Scared of Meditation

Who’s Good: A Q&A With Clean Foodie Sisters @RawAndRoasted

These days, all you need is a basic knowledge of superfoods and an iPhone upgrade to be deemed a social media influencer. So how do you distinguish between the people on Instagram who can provide solid info, inspiring ideas, and encouragement along your own health and wellness journey and the many one-trick ponies filling feeds with butt selfies? We can help you cut through all the noise (and smoothie bowls).

Welcome to Who’s Good, a regular interview series from the editors of What’s Good that catches up with the best, brightest, and boldest social media has to offer.

Up this week: Swiss-American sisters and foodies Isa and Lou a.k.a. @RawAndRoasted. The girls’ colorful posts feature clean, wholesome dishes arranged in delightfully artful ways. But their interests go way beyond #FoodPorn: Between the two of them, they’ve got MUCH knowledge about health, fitness, and nutrition.

Isabella just finished a two-year stint as the Brand Director at Deliciously Ella, a site dedicated to honest, healthy food, and is now heading back to school to study Clinical Nutrition in London.

Louisa volunteers with food organizations like Edible Schoolyard, City Harvest, and Wellness in Schools. She is a certified yoga instructor and was recently working as Anna Wintour’s assistant. (We bet she’s got some stories…)

Get to know them!

I love the idea that two sisters joined up to share their knowledge about nutrition. How’d you get started—and what are your individual passions and focuses?

Growing up on Eastern Long Island, we were fortunate enough to experience farm-to-table culture in our everyday lives. Our father raised his own chickens and bees and had an abundant vegetable and fruit garden. Our Swiss mother instilled in us eating values that celebrated fresh, local, sustainable food, and an enjoyment of the beauty behind a meal—the tastes, smells, and how it makes you feel, whether alone or with family or friends.

Going to school in Boston and later living in various cities (including New York, Zurich, and London) expanded our tastes buds. We were always on the hunt for the best ingredients, new kinds of food, and interesting restaurants. And our friends encouraged us to start sharing!

Being Swiss-American, is there anything you notice about how Americans eat versus the Swiss?

Definitely! The Swiss don’t restrict themselves to certain diets or fads. Instead, the focus is on local, sustainable, in-season foods. Dairy comes from Swiss cows and meat is grass-fed and generally comes from continental Europe. Fruits and vegetables are eaten in-season. The amazing Swiss bakeries use freshly ground flour and natural ingredients, and the bread is eaten fresh and never has preservatives. Desserts, chocolate, and ice cream are enjoyed and savored and always made and sold in the most natural state—these treats don’t last years, but rather days or month because they’re so natural!

The Swiss don’t obsess over what they are or aren’t eating at the moment. Rather, they eat what they love, what’s made fresh, and what makes them feel great.

Related: This New Study Has A Lot To Say About Fat, Carbs, And Our Health

Americans tend to focus on what they are not eating—whether it’s fat, carbs, gluten, dairy, or sugar. America’s food problems don’t come from the underlining food groups themselves (unless you’re actually allergic or have another serious medical condition) but from the additives and preservatives that are put into nearly everything.

As a country, the U.S. is waking up to the problems in our food systems, but one thing we tell all our friends is to never feel guilty, enjoy your food, and to enjoy it with friends. If you eat something that disagrees with you, move on! Life is too short to be only preoccupied with your diet. Also, learn to read food labels and do your research!

Environmental advocacy is important to the both of you, which definitely plays into how we eat and where we get our food from. How can people support the environment, eat healthy, and not over-splurge all at once?

Go to your local farmers markets! Buy your food in bulk—it’s cheaper and uses less packaging. When you buy vegetables in the supermarket, don’t use the little plastic bags (you wash the vegetables at home anyway, so bring your own canvas tote with you!).

Use a refillable metal or glass water bottle. Wash your Ziploc bags after using them and re-use them. Instead of using paper towels for spills, use a sponge and rinse it out! And bring a refillable mug with you to the coffee shop and ask for a discount if you don’t use their cup.

You both work out and do yoga, so let’s talk about sustainably fueling up our bodies. What’s the best pre-workout food you can recommend?

We focus on three full meals a day, so we’re not a big fan of pre-workout food. You should feel satisfied from your last meal, but if we need a snack, we always honor that need. If it’s first thing in the morning and you need something to eat, fruit is great because it digests quickly and gives you a burst of energy. In the afternoon, we will grab a rice cake, a spoonful of nut butter, or carrots and hummus—something that doesn’t leave us too full to work out!

Do you have a powerhouse, energizing smoothie recipe you’d like to share?

Yes, we have so many! Check out our Instagram @rawandroasted for inspirations. One of our favorites is made with spinach, banana, almond butter, and hemp seeds (for protein). You can also put cacao nibs on top for some crunch and an energy boost. It’s so simple, satisfying, and energizing. Another favorite is green apple, romaine, chard, cucumber, lemon, and ice.

Being cross-continental, how do you stay healthy when traveling?

We almost never eat on planes, unless it’s our own food. We always try to get in a smoothie with lots of vegetables or a salad and a liter of water before leaving for the airport. Our favorite trick is bringing whole avocados on the plane (don’t forget plastic utensils!).

Some other travel favorites include rice cakes, apples, nut butter packets, carrots, unsalted mixed nuts, dried dates or figs, or dark chocolate.

Related: Healthy snacks, coming right up!

Bring your own tea bags and you can ask for a cup of hot water anywhere—most places are happy to give it away. Having a mix of snacks like the ones above ensure that you can satisfy any hunger craving—sweet, crunchy, or savory. More is always better, and you can use whatever you don’t eat at your destination.

You often share gorgeous pics of the clean food you’re eating. How can people get started eating clean if they’ve never done so before?

We love to focus on fresh, natural foods full of taste. Eating well is a process, so give yourself time and space to let your taste buds develop. Seasonal produce always has the most flavor, so try eating more apples in fall, tomatoes in the summer, and root vegetables in the winter. A variety of foods (and their nutrients) will serve you best, but don’t force yourself to eat something you don’t like. Try to focus on what you do like and what tastes good to you!

Who’s Good: A Q&A With Yoga Goddess @FitQueenIrene

These days, all you need is a basic knowledge of superfoods and an iPhone upgrade to be deemed a “social media influencer.” So how do you distinguish between Instagrammers who can provide solid info, inspiring ideas, and encouragement along your own health and wellness journey and the many one-trick ponies filling feeds with butt selfies? We can help you cut through all the noise (and smoothie bowls).

Welcome to Who’s Good, a regular interview series from the editors of What’s Good that catches up with the best, brightest, and boldest that social media has to offer.

We’re kicking off the series with a Q&A with Irene Pappas a.k.a.@FitQueenIrene, a yoga guru with 550k IG followers who leads workshops and retreats and offers digital classes.

Hi Irene! Tell us a little bit about who you are, why you do what you do, and what led you down this path.
My name is Irene Pappas and I am from Washington, DC. When I was younger I hated team sports, and was never really into health or fitness. I also struggled with depression and low self-esteem. I seemed to be stuck in negative cycles. I reached a point where I decided that maybe if I could work out enough to have the perfect body, then I would be happy. So, I worked out twice a day, every day, and counted all of my calories, until one day I looked at my body and realized that even though I was “happy” with how my body looked, I still wasn’t happy.

That’s when I found yoga. Fast forward six years and here I am, spreading the same message to my yoga students and the world. Using the discipline of yoga to train my body and my mind, I have become a happier and healthier person.

Now I focus on traveling to teach workshops, as well as retreats, but the most fulfilling part is definitely leading yoga teacher trainings. In these trainings we (myself and the other teachers) are able to provide an environment that allows for tremendous growth that goes beyond yoga as we see it in the western world.

Jungle vibes + practice. @bodhiyogaacademy

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As a yoga instructor, you’ve grown a tremendous following (553,000 followers!)—what do you think it is about your page that is resonating so much with people?
I think that people are inspired by my photos, but I truly hope that they take a moment to read my words. I believe in being the love you wish to see in the world, holding space for people to grow, and sharing my own growth in a reflective way.

I want people to know that they are not alone, but that only they have the power to change their lives. This takes time and dedication, and is a never-ending journey that we have to wake up and recommit to daily.

You’ve been vocal about having surgery and being told you’d never use your wrist again. It’s a scary thought, especially for someone whose life (and even spirituality) is entwined with their physical movement. How did you physically overcome that—and how can people who might have similar injuries or arthritis modify yoga poses and the practice as a whole so that they can take part?
My wrist injury was definitely one of the scariest things I have been through in my adult life, mostly because I felt like so much was unknown. I had no idea if I would be able to continue my career as a yoga teacher, and I felt like a stranger in my body.

But the real challenge was mental—not giving up on myself even though I had no guarantee that my wrist would heal. I still have days where my wrist pain is so bad that I can barely put weight on my hands, but on most days I can handstand. And for that I am beyond grateful.

This continues to be one of my greatest lessons and gifts as a yoga teacher, because of the patience and commitment that rehabbing required. People with similar injuries (or arthritis) might explore slower moving styles of yoga, working their way up to the vinyasa style, depending on their specific needs. For stretching and calming the mind, yoga is amazing. But if it is stability that they need, finding someone who specializes in rehabbing injuries is best—second to Pilates and weight training.

What sort of lifestyle habits do you maintain that also support your yoga practice? Are there supplements or foods you eat and swear by to power up and stay healthy?
My lifestyle habits tend to fluctuate depending on the seasons and where I am in the world, but there are a few things that I swear by: In the winter and while recovering from surgery, I would drink homemade grass-fed beef bone broth.

In the summer I use collagen peptides in my smoothies. I maintain a mostly vegetarian diet, but I think these are important sources of amino acids and proteins.

You’ve talked about pushing yourself too hard and it not actually being good for the body, and I find that really interesting—how do we achieve balance as we strive to grow?
That is the question, isn’t it? I think that the key is learning to stay present, in order to know what my body needs in each moment. Some days I feel strong and I am able to push pretty hard, and other days I just need to relax. I can’t assume that every day I will be strong, or every day I will be weak- so I have to listen to my body so that I can practice accordingly. The same is true in life I suppose.

What is some advice for people who have no idea how to get started in yoga? And for people who love cardio and the go-go-go of fitness, how can yoga fit into their exercise regimens?
I usually say that the best way to learn about yoga is to try local classes. Especially in the beginning, because it’s important to learn from a teacher who can see your body and make sure that you are doing the movements correctly.

I know this is hard, because many people are self-conscious when starting something new (especially something like yoga), but finding a beginner’s class is a great place to start. Also, don’t be afraid to shop around.

Not every style or teacher is right for every person. For the people who love the intense aspect of working out, the most enjoyable class would likely be a power flow vinyasa, for example. But I would encourage them to also seek out more relaxing styles of yoga, as this will bring more balance into their lives—even if the slow pace is hard at first.

Travel is such an eye-opening adventure at times—because we’re out of our comfort zones and learning so many new things. What are some the things you’ve learned about yoga (and the self) while traveling and teaching?
I’ve learned so much from both! Traveling has taught me how to create elements of consistency for myself and my sanity, how to appreciate other cultures and differences, and how to be grateful for everything in my life. To me, all of this is yoga. It is the ultimate practice for dealing with different people and environments, and allowing  myself to move fluidly through it all, without getting stressed or losing myself. I’m still working on it. Teaching has taught me just how much there is left to learn, and that we are all students and teachers in different ways.

What is the most resonant piece of health advice you’ve gotten over the years?
I don’t know who said it first but it goes like this: “Yoga is strong medicine, but a slow medicine.” And I think this is true in many areas of life. It is in our nature to seek quick fixes, but most things take time to change.

This quote reaffirms one piece of health advice that will never get old: Be consistent and loving to yourself over a long period of time, as this is how all things are changed for good.

6 Life-Changing Things I Learned When I Started Working Out Regularly

Confession: Before I started working out, I was confused by people who willingly woke up early and went straight to the gym. My god, I thought, that sounds terrible.

I truly thought most gym-goers were shallow and superficial. Scrolling through my Instagram feed only cemented my ideas: People lauding body “transformations” hinged on nearly-disorded eating. They bought into the idea of “bikini bodies” sold by the Dalai Lamas of fitstagram. And they paid a premium for cultish studio classes where competition mattered more than health. I wanted no part of it.

You get the point. I was all vitriol—as judgmental as the people I deemed judgmental. My mind was filled with tropes and stereotypes. Now, the reality is that while there are some damaging ideas proliferated by the wellness industry, there’s also a LOT of awesomeness out there. Take it from me, because I’m now one of those people who wakes up at 7 a.m. to work out.

Three months ago I had high cholesterol and blood pressure, I was overweight, and I was uncomfortable. I have arthritis and the extra weight was putting a lot of pressure on my joints. I needed to get fit.

I am by no means a fitness expert after a few months, but here’s what I learned when I started working out regularly (four-five times per week, every week).

1. Don’t let aesthetics guide your workout.

Obviously there is an aesthetic component to any fitness regimen, but obsessing on the inches and numbers will only drive you crazy. (A watched pot never boils, and all that.) We all want to look our best, but letting looks lead you entirely probably won’t get you anywhere but stuck in an obsessive rut. You’ll definitely want to hop on the scale every day, clinging to some iota of physical progress—I get it. But don’t.

If you work out with discipline and regularity—without checking the scale every day—you will eventually start to feel and see the changes. The number one most important thing I realized is that change happens when you’re not looking for it, so enjoy the process. Work out because it does good things for your mind and body, and know that you’re buying yourself years of better health. Your midsection will follow suit (and if it doesn’t, it’s OK; the way we feel is key).

2. Exercise changes your psyche.

Flat abs and the ability to wear cute yoga pants are fine goals, okay? They’re totally FINE. But the real benefit to working out is found in its transformative effects to your psyche—your relationship to yourself, your mood, and the way you move through the world. Going from feeling tired, lazy, overwhelmed, and out of touch with my body to feeling confident, strong, energized, and self-loving was a major emotional process for me. It may sound woo-woo (I totally recognize my soap box here, but I’m on it because I want others to be happy), but this transformative process is so much more intense than I ever imagined.

I’m talking life-changing. These days, I’ve got toned legs, strong arms, and killer endurance, but I’ve also got a sense of self-sufficiency and pride. This colors the way I approach the world. I feel capable, in-touch, and totally alive. I give thanks to all those wonderful little endorphins that flood my system when I work out.

Related: Shop protein to amp up your workouts.

You can have the good feels, too. According to the British Journal of Pharmacology, exercise creates its own kind of euphoria—it elevates endorphins (happiness chemicals), stabilizes your mood, favorably influences cognitive functions, facilitates recovery from depression, and mitigates psychological stress. I can vouch for each and every one of these benefits (and remember—I was the exercise-hating curmudgeon).

3. You might not lose weight.

When I started working out, I dropped 10 pounds within a month. I thought, success! (My doctor had recommended I lose about 15 pounds to be in a healthier range.) But guess what? I checked my weight a week or so later—without having changed my eating or workout routine—and it had gone up a bit.

Newsflash: Unless you’re working with a medical professional, nutritionist, or fitness coach on a major body transformation (where, say, your goal is to lose a great deal of weight), your weight fluctuations may elude you. Water, sodium, and whether or not you’ve gone to the bathroom—all of these might change your weight from day to day or hour to hour.

Related: Why You’re Losing Inches But Gaining Weight

I went from wearing a size 12 to wearing an 8, but my weight hasn’t changed all that much. What gives? I lost some body fat but mostly I increased lean muscle tissue. It’s not that muscle weighs less or more than fat (it doesn’t, a pound is a pound)—it’s that muscle takes up less space. Muscle is more compact and tight, and (bonus!) it’s more metabolically active (which means having more muscle helps you burn more calories and feel more energized). In short, don’t let your weight guide you.

That’s also why BMI isn’t everything. According to the World Health Organization, a normal or ‘healthy’ BMI would fall between 18.5-24.99, an overweight BMI would be between 25-29.99, and an obese BMI would be anything 30 and above. But your BMI doesn’t count muscle, bbone mass or other metabolic factors.

In short, numbers around weight and fat aren’t everything. When you’re exercising and eating healthy, checking your blood pressure, cholesterol, and insulin resistance levels is probably more effective a marker for your success. Your progress is so much more than a number.

4. Fitness can be super-expensive—or super-cheap. Whatever gets you going is what matters.

I used to think it was ridiculous for people to spend hundreds of dollars at fancy boutique studios. It felt excessive, especially when running is free. Why go for pricey gyms when low-cost alternatives like Blink exist? Well, it’s personal (and obviously contingent upon your finances). I decided that I didn’t love the grunt-y, smelly, dude-bro-filled gym, and that I loathed everything about running. To top it off, I wasn’t disciplined enough to do HIIT routines on my own in my house. (And when you hate a workout, it’s really hard to motivate yourself to do it.)

However, I did fall in love with swimming and aqua cycling—both of which were expensive to a stupid degree. But I decided, since the water got me moving, that I’d budget for it. And I’m glad I did.

All day mermaiding 🌊water is transformative from the inside out.

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On the flipside, I do the occasional Blogilates routine at home, for free. Basically, whatever gets you moving is key—and free YouTube videos absolutely have the ability to get you in shape. You have to find the workout that works for you; sometimes that requires challenging sacrifices—and a little money management. But again, the Internet offers a treasure trove of free workouts.

I think of it this way: It’s definitely a privilege worth recognizing, but spending a little more now may help me save money later on when I might be knee-deep in medical bills due to health negligence.

5. Promoting body positivity is SO important.

Fitness is an incredibly loaded topic, and the people around you in the gym or in the pool are each on their own journey. When I felt down on myself, weak, and overwhelmed, I surrounded myself with people and instructors who made me feel good.

It’s a challenge, but don’t talk badly about yourself or others—at the gym or outside it. I’ve overheard people say things like, “I hate my body” or ” she’s fat.” These comments (and they happen a lot) only serve to greenlight self-hate and judgement. Fitness and healthfulness is a process—at times an emotional one—and treating yourself and others with respect is key.

Make space for all bodies and fitness levels and never beat yourself up. If you hear people making fun of someone at the gym, or if you think an instructor is guilty of inappropriate behavior, don’t stay quiet. Finding gratitude is key, too. Some people with disabilities don’t have the option to work out, while others may find the gym intolerable due to chronic illnesses.

6. One day you will magically become more powerful than you think.

I remember my first week at Aqua Studio, a studio that lets you cycle in water AKA oh-my-god-this-burns. It’s intense—the water provides tons of resistance and really ups the ante. On the bike, there are two standing positions—with my butt hovering just over the seat I felt like I would actually just explode. I couldn’t do it, I thought. Lactic Acid became my mortal enemy, and I was convinced that I wasn’t strong enough! So I sat down. And then I’d stand up for a few seconds before sitting down again. I gripped the bike like I was falling down into the depths of hell, and my breathing sounded like a medical emergency.

Then one day I did it. I didn’t sit down. I stayed up. My posture was tight and strong. And I killed it. But this happens—it takes time and work—without you even noticing. Enjoy the process, whether that means you need to take several breaks or not. There’s no speed you need to meet, no one you need to compete with, and nothing more important than your happiness.

These New Probiotics Promote Good Health Beyond Your Belly

Ever wish you could simplify your morning routine by combining your supplements into one capsule? Well, we’re getting closer to making that a reality.

ProBioCare now features something called DUOCAP technology. (Don’t worry, it’s not as complicated as it sounds.) Essentially, the brand offers six different probiotic products that have dual supplement release systems, meaning that in one capsule you get an inner supplement—the probiotic—along with an outer supp of your choice, depending on your health goals. Gut and mood support all in one? Sign. Us. Up. 

Check out the video below to learn more:

I Tried Clean Eating For A Week—And It Wasn’t Actually Awful

I’ve always experienced an almost visceral reaction to diet and food trends. Despite my desire to eat healthfully and intelligently, I don’t believe that restricting myself or limiting the scope of my life (I’m Italian—the food is the life!) is worth it in the end. So, my food rules are simple: Eat healthy as often as I can, enjoy all foods in moderation, and have waffles after midnight every once in a while just because.

When I first heard about the “clean eating” trend, I was a little put off. Not only can it come off elitist (not everyone can shop at a farmers market or afford healthy foods all the time), there are also links between healthy eating trends and orthorexia, a kind of disordered eating that hinges on an obsession with eating healthy foods, according to the National Eating Disorders Association. Still, I couldn’t help but be intrigued: Clean-eating advocates (they’re all over Instagram, where the #CleanEating and #EatClean hashtags reign) do have a point. Clean eating is all about mindfully eating and eliminating the stuff we already know is bad for us: processed, packaged, nutritionally-lacking foods. The goal is to eat whole foods, lean proteins, legumes, whole grains, greens, and fruit. (You can learn more about which foods count here.)

Other clean-eating tenets include eating locally, eating more plant-based foods, and adopting a cleaner lifestyle in general.

The gains? Plenty! You nourish your body by eliminating extra sodium, totally unnecessary extra sugars, unhealthy fats, and empty carbs. After all, so many of our favorite foods contain so much crap. A trip through the grocery store is legitimately like a gut health horror movie: packaged pizza loaded with saturated fats and processed dough, juices jam-packed with added sugars and syrups you can’t pronounce, and bleached pastas.

As someone with an autoimmune condition that comes with its side of gastrointestinal issues, becoming more aware of my food intake—as I’d begun to do lately by reading labels and balancing my macros—was like winning the gut lottery. I spent a lot more time eating well and a lot less time worrying if I’d end up feeling bloated all day.

So, after a friend of mine did a month of clean eating and loved it, I decided to try it myself, for one week, to expand my healthy-eating habits…and to see if the trend would really interfere with my attitude about living life to the fullest. Here’s the list I used when shopping.

Day 1:

I found myself googling things like, “Can I drink wine?” (YES, thank god, but only a little.) Another one:  “What kind of snacks can I have?” (There are definitely some—but that heavily depends on your definition of “snack.”)

All in all, nothing else surprised me. I was supposed to eat whole foods and loads of fruits, veggies, and legumes. Easy! Right?

Breakfast was a veggie scramble (with a little olive oil) and lunch was a tuna salad with arugula, chickpeas, and tomatoes. Dinner was from an organic food chain called Sweet Green. It was a warm Portobello bowl with veggies and lean chicken. I went to bed itching for a snack (I was hungry all day)—but ended up popping some (well, like, 50) grapes.

I’d cut out a few things: cereal, the candy I sometimes eat, healthy snack bars (like Clif Bars), sardines and most canned foods (apparently canned foods are off-limits because they contain aluminum). Many fresh “clean” foods also contain aluminum.

Days 2 & 3:

I was invested by now—so I went ahead and started bringing my own breakfast to work: yogurt with fruit. I REALLY wanted to add Muesli for a little kick, but it’s boxed and I decided against it. I remembered how hungry I was the day before, so I made about a thousand pounds of boiled eggs and ate 2-3 throughout the day. Lunch and dinner were salads—with chicken, sliced avocado, and lots and lots of cannellini beans (beans are great because they promote heart health and are loaded with antioxidants and other goodies, according to Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism).

Days 4 & 5:

I woke up and made myself a smoothie with almond milk, bananas, cinnamon and a half teaspoon of peanut butter (apparently, the jury is out on whether some peanut butters are clean eats or not; I decided to live on the edge).

Related: Here’s What A Day Of Clean Eating Actually Looks Like

As the day went on, I would want something hot and delicious, like mashed potatoes and fried chicken, and I also wanted peanut butter cups. The desire was REAL. But I stuck it out and ate salads for lunch (I added a bunch of tofu to bulk them up).

I made myself a huge, clean meal for dinner: a warm spicy (olive oil and jalapeno) quinoa bowl with chicken breast, lentils, peas, carrots. It was amazing.

Days 6 & 7:

These days got a lot easier, and I had food left over from the days before. Lots of places cater to clean eating, I realized, but they can get pricy. You really need to get creative and make lots of food at home so you can feel full and have options all day long.

The Bottom Line

I felt really good eating clean. I was rarely bloated, I was energetic and not deprived nutritionally (my taste buds would beg to differ), and I felt confident in my food choices. It’s not the sort of diet you can’t get the hang of, especially if you already eat well, but I imagine those whose lives are filled with fast food or packaged meals might have a harder time.

What’s not so fun? Standing in the grocery store aisle manically googling “clean eating” foods. (You’d be surprised what’s not allowed: Goodbye, smoked salmon!). It’s also really hard to eliminate canned foods.

And I won’t lie to you, dear reader: I definitely had a slip-up. I ate a dish of gnocchi (from a bag) and I attacked a bag of fruity wafers (also from a bag). These two things were so beautiful I feel no regret.

Related: 7 ‘Shrooms You Should Be Eating For Major Health Benefits

However, it does underscore the idea that, to me, clean eating is a goal one should work toward most of the time. It can function well as a sort of quick nutrition detox, but it seems unsustainable as a long-term habit for most people. For me, enjoying a few processed things here and there is what makes life delicious—and doing so every once in a while allows us to be mindful about our indulgences without feeling restricted or self-punishing. Also, some processed foods, like whole grain breads, can still be ok for you in moderation.

I won’t hop on the clean-eating lifestyle any time soon, but I will adopt some of its tenets, say, 80 percent of my time. 80/20 rule! Eat healthy 80 percent of the time and enjoy anything 20 percent of the time. Because I will never give up my late-night waffles.

Should Your Kids Be Drinking Fruit Juice?

You’re probably hearing it more and more these days: Don’t drink fruit juice—it’s loaded with sugar! But is fruit juice really that bad for your health? Well, it’s not as black and white as critics may suggest, especially when it comes to kids’ consumption.

Earlier this year, the American Academy of Pediatrics released its May 2017 policy statement, Fruit Juice in Infants, Children, and Adolescents: CurrentRecommendations, which said that fruit juice and fruit drinks offer no nutritional benefits for kids under one year of age. Previously, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended four to six ounces daily for kids under one.

As for current suggestions regarding kids over the age of one, the policy states that only 100 percent fresh fruit juice (made purely from the juice of natural fruits, without any added sugars, preservatives, or additives) should be consumed, and only if it’s part of a balanced diet.

But not everyone agrees with the AAP’s recommendations.

According to Taylor C. Wallace, PhD, CFS, FACN, kids under the age of one should be consuming 100 percent fruit juice. Wallace co-wrote a July 2017 review (Satisfying American’s Fruit Gap: Summary of an Expert Roundtable on the Role of 100% Fruit Juice) that was published in the Journal of Food Science, which stated that 100 percent fruit juice:

  • Offers essential vitamins and minerals.
  • Does not compromise fiber intake.
  • Contains health-supporting antioxidants.
  • Does not lead to weight gain when consumed in accordance to the AAP’s prior recommendations for children under one year—four to six ounces daily.

Other research backs up this claim: According to Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition,
the consumption of 100 percent fruit juice can provide beneficial nutrients without contributing to pediatric obesity.

Wallace believes 100 percent fruit juice should be consumed by kids of all ages: “Kids lack nutrients that fruit juice provides, like potassium, vitamin C, and magnesium,” Wallace says. For many kids, especially those in lower-income families, 100 percent fruit juice helps to comprise a healthy diet, according Wallace.

For parents worried about sugar intake, the polyphenols (antioxidants) found in 100 percent fruit juice may help to block up to 40 percent of the sugar from being absorbed, Wallace says.

So, what, technically, is a fruit juice? The U.S. Food and Drug Administration mandates that a product must contain 100 percent fruit juice in order to be labeled “fruit juice.” Other juices, like those made from concentrate or those containing less than 100 percent fruit juice, must be labeled a “drink,” “beverage,” or “cocktail.”

Although national guidelines suggest kids get one to 1.5 cups and adults get two cups of fruit per day, dietary patterns in the U.S. reflect a deficit (up to 80 percent of the country fall below fruit goals), according to the Satisfying American’s Fruit Gap: Summary of an Expert Roundtable on the Role of 100% Fruit Juice. Hence why Wallace believes fruit juice offers a valuable and affordable way to meet those dietary needs for everyone.

The benefits of 100 percent fruit juice are plenty: The Journal of Food Science study found that children who consume moderate amounts of 100 percent fruit juice are less likely to consume soda, and that the antioxidants within it may have health-promoting effects, especially as it relates to cardiovascular disease and cognitive decline. Adults and kids who drink 100 percent fruit juice usually meet their daily fruit needs, too, on top of having an improved overall diet and nutrient intake.

The bottom line

According to American Heart Association, kids should be getting less than 25 grams (that’s six teaspoons) of added sugars (like those found in fruit drinks that don’t come from 100 percent fruit juice) daily. Adult women should aim for less than 25 grams and adult men should aim for less than 36 grams per day.

Read drink and food labels, and reach for 100 percent fruit juice over other juice products. Even better? Consume fresh fruit over drinking fruit juice when possible.

Here’s Why Everyone Swears By Oil Of Oregano

Sure, oregano might be one of your go-to herbs when making a deliciously cheesy pasta (we heart cheat day!), but it offers a lot more than just flavor. In fact, this tasty herb can have major health and wellness benefits. Move over, Rosemary—your Italian cousin Oregano deserves some of the spotlight, too.

Oregano’s Origins

Oregano originates in southwestern Eurasia and the Mediterranean region. It’s super-popular in Italy, especially in the south, and it’s used in a wide variety of foods across global cuisines. It’s probably known to most as a spice, but it’s also a medicinal herb.

Oregano is filled with plenty of health-promoting goodies, like thymol (which has antibacterial properties), antioxidants (vitamin A, carotenes, lutein, and more), potassium, vitamin C, calcium, iron, manganese, magnesium, and fiber.

Its benefits are wide-reaching:

Immune System

According to a study done by Pharmacognosy Research, supplementing with oregano can improve immune system functions. Oregano, especially oil of oregano, boasts bioactive phytochemicals (good, plant-based compounds) with health-promoting properties. The antioxidant activity helps to stimulate our internal immune systems, kicking our disease-fighting abilities into overdrive.

Cholesterol

According to Taylor C. Wallace, PhD, CFS, FACN, the herb may also help boost healthy cholesterol: “Emerging clinical research suggests that taking oregano after each meal for three months can reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol and increase high-density lipoprotein (HDL or “good”) cholesterol in people with high cholesterol.”

Related: Adaptogens 101: These Herbs Are Trending For A Reason

Gut Health

“There is evidence to suggest that taking oil of oregano for six weeks can kill the parasites Blastocystis hominis, Entamoeba hartmanni, and Endolimax nana, all of which live in your intestines and cause illness,” says Wallace. That’s because oil of oregano shows strong antimicrobial properties, according to Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease.

In fact, a study by Global Advances in Health and Medicine found that oil of oregano directly kills or strongly inhibits the growth of intestinal microbes. Here’s to a healthy gut!

Skin & Gums

The oil can also be used to help promote skin healing. According to the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, using 3 percent oregano extract may support the healing of superficial wounds.

And since we already know oregano offers a lot in the way of antioxidant activity (which fights skin-damaging free radicals), it can be placed in your toolkit for maintaining youthful skin, according to Evidence Based Complementary Alternative Medicine.

Because of its cleansing properties, some people even include a few drops of oil of oregano when oil pulling, in order to support healthy gums.

Related: Shop oregano products for healthy skin

Protection Against Insects

One unexpected usage? Oregano can help ward away insects! You can thank its main active ingredient, the antioxidant carvacol, for that. According to the Journal of Insect Science, oregano offers broad insecticidal and acaricidal (spider) activity against pests. To use, place a few drops of oil of oregano on your outdoor furniture (or on your skin, near your ankles, wrists, and neck).

Want in on some oregano stat? You can drink oregano tea, use oregano oil topically (be sure to mix with a carrier oil like coconut oil to prevent irritation) or internally (it should be diluted to one to four drops in a glass of water), or supplement with oil of oregano capsules.

Note: Most oregano oils are “standardized to 70 percent carvacol,” so be on the lookout for that on the label.

I Biked Under Water For 30 Days—And Here’s What Happened

I’ve always loved to swim, but about two months ago I started doing it pretty regularly. The impetus: I was in the midst of a minor health crisis. A metabolic test had shown that I was about 20 pounds overweight, my blood pressure was a bit high, and my HDL cholesterol (high density lipoprotein a.k.a. the “good” cholesterol) was low. The extra weight was putting pressure on my bones and joints—the last thing I needed as someone already dealing with chronic autoimmune arthritic symptoms.

It was time to make a change for my wellbeing and my future.

I didn’t need scientific proof of water’s benefits, but there are plenty: Water exercises improve body fat percentage, increase physical strength, and decrease blood lipids (fatty substances found in the blood), according to the Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation. Plus, I hated the gym. So when a friend who learned of my newly-minted mermaid status told me about Aqua Studio, a breezy, chic “wellness sanctuary” in New York City, I felt a magnetic pull. The boutique studio offers salt water aqua cycling classes (yes, you bike under water, where the bottom half of you is submerged) in addition to “land” classes (like yoga on the mat), health coaching, and boutique-y goodies like creams and turquoise swim gear.

Related: I Drank Collagen For 30 Days—Here’s How It Turned Out

The studio is a haven. The scent of mint wafts throughout, and it’s immaculate, airy, and stunningly beautiful. Oh, and it’s the only studio of its kind in NYC (we can thank the French for inventing this workout, as well as Aqua Studio’s owner, Esther, for bringing it to NYC; merci!). Did I mention yet that the classes can burn up to 800 calories?

I decided to do a 30-day challenge (I managed 18 45-minute classes in one month), not only because I am an insane person, but because if you’re going to take care of yourself, you might as well go hard.

My First Class

I took the Blend class first (composed of three of their popular classes: Power, an utterly intense, legs-only class; Interval, an arms-and-legs class; and Restore, a calming, stretch-focused class). The instructor, Ed, was thoughtful, enthusiastic, kind, and nurturing. He helped me adjust my seat and figure out the four bike positions (one sitting, two standing, and one in the water), and I felt super at ease. P.S. They dim the lights, line the room with candles, and play great music—like a cocktail party!

Me with Aqua Studio instructor Alexia.

We powered through the different focuses. I was a mess. The water offers a billion times more resistance (take that, SoulCycle), while also massaging your cellulite away, limiting impact on your joints, and increasing circulation.

Because you’re in water, the pressure is on YOU to pedal faster to increase resistance (unlike a normal bike, you don’t set a level—you work for it). This means you use your core to seriously round out each pedal, which, in water, is difficult as hell.

I was like a kid at the beach. Totally intoxicated by the water’s power and fully detached from any worry. I felt alive, I worked hard, and I didn’t feel out of place. Unlike many other studios, there’s no sense of clique or exclusivity here. People of all shapes, sizes, and fitness levels share the pool and work hard together. (This, for me, is key; fitness is personal and shouldn’t be a competition or social status symbol.)

The Next 17 Classes

In the beginning, I sat down a lot. I needed to take a break because I wasn’t strong enough. My body quickly adapted, though. By week two, I started trusting my body and pushing past those awful lactic acid bouts. I cycled harder and harder, working closely on my form.

I cycled through their various classes (you can see them all here) and found that my favorite is Plyo, a full-body class that combines exercises on and off the bike. For folks who want a hardcore workout, I recommend their Boost, Plyo, or Power classes. For yogis who want to stretch and ‘be one with the water’, I recommend Restore. Their schedule also includes classes in French, some live music classes, and some with specific music (like all-90s playlists. Yes, please).

By week 2, I started trusting my body and pushing past those awful lactic acid bouts. I cycled harder and harder, working closely on my form.

Halfway through the month, a death in my family occurred. My natural response was to hide away, but I pushed myself to attend classes, since they gave me a chance to be quiet in my thoughts. I found myself grieving silently while in the water. The grounding effects of exercise allow you to focus on the now, which can you help you find hope and purpose.

Related: How Zumba Helped Me Lose 30 Pounds And Become The Life Of The Party

But it was the kindness of the instructors that actually helped me the most. They didn’t know it, but their encouragement was healing. I took most of my classes with the wonderful Ed; Alexia, who is detailed and calm and caring; Moses, who is fun and fiery while pushing you harder (he calls you a warrior); and JC, who is exceptionally form-focused and super encouraging (he regularly gives you high fives). They are all full of light (yay for non-judgmental instructors!)

I was like a kid at the beach. Totally intoxicated by the water’s power and fully detached from any worry.

The Results

With my mental state as it was, Aqua Cycle became a second home for me. It truly is a wellness sanctuary, and a place where you can work out in a meditative and beautiful setting. I felt I was able to not only work on my body but move through my pain while there, and that’s not something I say lightly.

For anyone who’s unsure of whether this is actually a workout, please let me illuminate you: You absolutely get what you put into it. You could slowly peddle and wiggle your arms about. You could forget your core and overcompensate by jerking around on the saddle. OR you can engage your core, peddle hard, and move your arms through the water with utmost focus on resistance. Your choice. Although, at the risk of sounding like a PR person (Dear Aqua Cycle: Let me please be your PR person), the instructors are so encouraging you will not be left in the dark; they will inspire you. You will leave there having worked really hard, but thanks to the water, you won’t be sore.

On the cash front, Aqua Cycle is a bit pricy (and it should be; it’s worth it!). It’s an investment in your mental and physical health. An intro class is $35, and they offer several packages.

You will leave aqua cycling having worked really hard, but thanks to the water, you won’t be sore.

I know you’re all waiting for the results. I can sense you there, scanning this article. So without further ado: I eat a mostly healthy diet but I do not believe in depriving myself of the finer things in life (I’m the anti-Gwyneth Paltrow, although I bet she’d love this studio). So, combined with a mostly-healthy diet, the physical benefits of these classes were 100 percent measurable.

I lost three inches off my waist, along with about 10 pounds (maybe more? I don’t look to the scale for results). My legs and hips have tightened up, my arms are more toned, my tummy is stronger and flatter, and my butt is noticeably perkier. Verification? An honest mirror and even more honest boyfriend.

Related: Shop products directly related to your health goals

Other important benefits are less physical, which I must impress upon you. Aqua Studio claims its classes can promote better sleep, less stress, increased flexibility, and better cardiovascular performance. I can attest to all of this, and I emphasize better sleep and less stress.

Since I began regularly attending Aqua Cycle classes, I’ve been a happier person. My feel-good hormones are through the roof, and I have connected with my body in a deeply spiritual way. I trust myself, I push myself, and I love myself. Sounds a bit cheese, right? Just wait until you try it. You’re welcome.

Want to locate an aqua cycle class near you? Good news: It’s growing in popularity all over the country. It exists in Los Angeles,   Miami,   Washington DC, New York state, and in plenty of other locations. And if you can’t get onto the bike, you can still find a local pool and experience the proven benefits of water exercise. 

 

What 9 The Vitamin Shoppe Health Enthusiasts Always Pack In Their Beach Bags

We all love a day at the beach—but going unprepared can be a recipe for disaster (or at least a dose of epic sunburn and some unhealthy, last-minute snack attacks). To avoid that lobster-y look, dehydration, and a bad case of the munchies (just say no to under-cooked boardwalk hot dogs!), we asked nine The Vitamin Shoppe Health Enthusiasts to share some of their beach bag must-haves. Because, hey, we know our stuff.

Related: 7 Beach Activities That Double As Great Workouts

1. Lauren Del Turco, Associate Editor
“My beach bag is always stocked with a book, a giant water bottle, an Rx Bar or Garden of Life protein bar, some nuts, an apple, and lip balm that has SPF in it (my lips always get burned!).”

 

 

 


2. Brian Tanzer, Manager of Scientific Affairs
“Since I despise just lying in the sun and usually can’t sit still for more than 10 minutes on the beach, I typically spend my time in the ocean with my daughters. We use Kiss My Face Cool Sports Sunscreen Spray. We also pack plenty of bottled water, fresh fruit, nuts and seeds. If we plan on a long day in the sun, I’ll bring a few packets of BodyTech Electrolyte Fizz (which can easily be mixed in water) to help make sure my family stays well hydrated.

I also enjoy a good beach workout. Once in a while I’ll hit the beach alone and just bring my 35-pound kettlebell (which usually results in a “what the heck is that guy doing?” look), a towel, and a few bottles of water with BPI Sports’  grape-flavored Best BCAAs mixed in.

 


3. Robert Bishop, Category Manager
“I bring Bare Republic‘s mineral-based sunscreen for body and face. It’s non-whitening and is loaded with great plant-derived ingredients like grapeseed and raspberry seed oils. It offers broad-spectrum UVA/UVB protection and it’s also scented with coconut and vanilla essential oils!

For post-sun, I bring Alteya Organics‘ after-sun rosewater. It’s great to use as a skin toner and refresher after sun exposure. I also have Goddess Garden‘s after-sun gel. It’s a non-sticky, lightweight, and fast-absorbing moisturizer that helps to soothe sunburned or irritated skin. This product is great for after sun, but also can be used to counter the effects of chlorinated pools or salt water. ”


4. Neha Agarwal, Senior Project Manager
“I always have c20 Coconut Water (with pulp) with me at the beach (although I drink it all the time, especially in warm weather) because my goal is to stay hydrated. I have tried almost every brand of coconut water out there and find this the most natural in taste. What I love about it is that it’s 100 percent all-natural with no artificial ingredients, colors, or preservatives.”

 

 


 

5. Priscilla Segarra, Manager, Distribution Center
“I always bring my towel, water, sunscreen, Badger Lip Balm (I like the cocoa butter one because it’s the best at keeping my lips from getting dry), fruits, snacks and a book!”

 

 

 


6. Lisa Marie Basile, Senior Editor
“I never go to the beach without a few snacks (I like Buddha Bowl’s Himalayan Pink Organic Popcorn) and a couple of huge bottles of water. I’m also a fan of Mad Hippie’s Broad Spectrum SPF. It’s got the cutest packaging, it goes on really nicely, and it has avocado oil!”

 

 


7. Elissa Kaplan, Private Brands Project Manager
“I have hats for the kids, a small tube of Vaseline (Chapstick that won’t melt!), bottled water, baby powder, an extra phone battery (for pics!), suntan lotion, snacks (whole avocados, peanut butter/Ritz sandwiches, grapes) and baby toys.”

 

 

 

 


8. Carl Borman, Social Media Specialist
“I always have a few cans of BANG and ONE bars on me at the beach. I usually go to the beach early in the morning, so the BANG helps me wake up. The bars are for my crazy appetite—I’m always hungry! Both fit easily in my small cooler and are always crowd favorites if I choose to share or bring extra.

 

 

 


9. Rachel Clark, Production Traffic Manager
“I bring sunscreen, earbuds, sunglasses, a book or magazine, fruit snacks for my daughter, and baby powder to get the pesky sand off before heading home.”

Which Type Of Multi Is Right For You?

In a perfect world, we’d get all of our vital nutrients straight from our diet. But the truth is that it can be challenging to squeeze in the one and a half to two cups of fruit and two to three cups of vegetables the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends adults get every day.

In fact, up to 87 percent of Americans don’t hit their veggie target, and 76 percent are falling behind when it comes to fruit intake, so covering all your bases with a multivitamin may be a wise choice.

Related: Shop multivitamins for all your health needs.

“Maybe you’re constantly on the go, traveling a lot, or just don’t eat a lot—something that’s applicable to smaller people with a lower metabolic rate,” says Serena Goldstein, ND, a naturopathic doctor in New York, NY. “Vitamins and minerals [from food] may [also] be depleted through sweat, stress, caffeine, alcohol, and certain prescriptions, so a multi can give you ‘a little extra.’”

And no matter what kind of multi you take, you’ll want one that supplements—not replaces—a healthy lifestyle, explains Dr. Goldstein. So make sure you’re eating a well-rounded diet on top of taking your multis.

That said, when you start shopping for the best product to fit your needs, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the multitude of options. Here, what you should know about the various types of multis—and how to choose one that’s right for you.

Whole food vitamins

Whole food vitamins contain vitamins and minerals derived from whole foods, versus those that are made in a lab—[which are] synthetic,” says Dr. Goldstein. They’re easier on your stomach, which is why Dr. Goldstein prefers them.

When taking this type of multi, you may want to consider upping your dosage. They have a larger variety of nutrients to offer than other “one-a-day” products, but not necessarily a high enough amount of each to meet your daily requirements. “Generally, if a bottle says ‘take one,’ it’s less likely there’s all that you need, or it’s a lower dosage,” explains Dr. Goldstein. Many whole food vitamins require taking anywhere from two to six pills per day.

Related: Shop PLNT’ Whole Food Multis.

Targeted multivitamins

Many targeted vitamins are made for specific concerns, usually based on age or gender (such as men or women 50+).

[A targeted multi] may have more calcium and vitamin D, like for bone and heart health,” explains Dr. Goldstein. This is great for anyone who wants to hone in on specific health factors. Just make sure your multi meets your goals and provides all the other vits an supps you need on a regular basis.

 Related: Should You Switch To A Whole Food Multivitamin?

Liquid And Powder Multivitamins

If you’re concerned about the timing of absorption, you may want to consider a liquid multi. “Liquids and powders will get absorbed faster,” explains Dr. Goldstein. “[With] capsules…the body has to go through that extra breakdown step.”

While this form is usually easier to ingest than large capsule or tablets, you’ll want to pay special attention to the dosing, which can vary from product to product. Also good to know: Liquid multis often require refrigeration and may be pricier than other multis.

dosage

No matter what type of multi you’re taking, it’s best to make sure that your multi offers roughly the recommended daily value of all the vitamins and minerals, as opposed to one that gives you 500 percent of one vitamin and only 20 percent of another, notes the Mayo Clinic. (The exception is calcium, which you won’t find 100 percent of in any multi, as that would make the supplement too big to swallow.) You can get the full list of recommended daily values at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Related: Should You Be Taking A Multivitamin?

Gummy multivitamins 

We tend to think of gummy multis as go-tos for kids, but there are so many on the market for adults, as well. (It’s not surprising someone would like to nosh on something healthy and delicious over swallowing a capsule!)

However, some gummies do have drawbacks: “Gummies tend to have sugar and other preservatives that counteract why someone is considering a multivitamin,” explains Dr. Goldstein. Want a more natural gummy? Check out The Honest Company’s Multivitamin, made without GMO, gluten, soy, high fructose corn syrup, or gelatin.  Or, try Garden of Life’s MyKind Organic Gummies.

I Ditched The Gym For The Pool—And It Changed Me

I was diagnosed with arthritis in my 20s. Super-fun, right? Technically, I have Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS), which primarily affects my spine but causes all of my joints to feel swollen, click-y, and achy. According to the journal Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, AS is a complex, potentially debilitating disease that basically fuses your vertebrae. It’s chronic and lifelong. And if you google AS, you’ll see hundreds of pictures of people hunched over, totally incapable of walking. (A good rule of thumb: Never google anything ever).

In the past few years, I’ve really noticed my AS’s progression, mostly marked by profound stiffness—all of the freaking time, especially in the morning. It’s like I wake up super-glued to the bed, and when I move, all of my back bones are super-glued together. (I want to remind you that I am not 80 years old, I’m 31.)

When I finally stand up, it’s like ripping bone from bone, which, if that isn’t melodramatic enough, only gets better if I finagle myself into multiple positions on a yoga mat, trying to pry my body open. The key, any rheumatologist will tell you, is to always keep moving and keep exercising, in order to prevent the vertebra from fusing.

It’s like I wake up super-glued to the bed, and when I move, all of my back bones are super-glued together.

So when I say I needed to find an exercise regime that works, I don’t mean it in the “yoga bores me” or “SoulCycle is a cult” sort of way (although SoulCycle is 100 percent a cult). I mean it in the “I’m going to end up paralyzed if I don’t work out” sort of way.

I’d exercised a bunch. The elliptical was a favorite for a minute there because it’s lower impact than the treadmill, which makes me feel like all my bones might break immediately. But it gets kind of boring swinging away in one spot. I also really liked belly-dancing class because the music is amazing, my hips don’t lie (sorry, I had to), and it blends cardio and dance elements. But I couldn’t belly-dance every day. And everything else is fairly high-impact, so I’ve had to limit my kickboxing, pilates, and HIIT classes.

Related: Shop proteins for pre- and post-swim power-up and recovery.

And then I went to Miami for a quick weekend vacation (from NYC) a few months ago. I’d been to Miami a dozen times, and every single time, I spent half my vacation swimming. I am an actual mermaid, it turns out. Laps, doggy-paddling, headstands—you name it. When I’m swimming, I feel much lighter, I move with grace, and my body isn’t screaming with pain. (Any good specialist will also tell you swimming is the number one exercise of choice for AS patients.) After I leave Miami, I always wish I had a pool back home, and this time I decided to do something about it.

Riding high on the after-glow of water’s benefits (excess weight dropped, joints well-oiled, feeling energized, strong, and flexible, and AS symptoms less noticeable), I decided to join the gym near my workplace simply for its 25-meter pool.

For the past month, I’ve been swimming almost daily—and it’s changed me. Instead of feeling like getting into and out of water is a chore (ahem, gym), I look at it as life-bettering fun-time. It’s literally healing me every time I get in. It’s buying me a future free from disability and endless pain, but more so, it’s given me back a sense of connection to my body.

When I’m swimming, I feel much lighter, I move with grace, and my body isn’t screaming with pain.

It used to be that I was just dealing with this chronic illness silently. It was me against It. Regular swimming has changed that. Now I look at It as a friend who I must take to the doctor, and it just so happens that the doctor is water. Instead of thinking about how weight gain impacts my joints or how I’m weak during yoga class because my wrists can’t hold me up, I think about how every time I get into the water I get stronger, fast, more resilient.

At first, I could do one lap. One. I was breathless, I was struggling through that horrific muscle burn. Then I did two laps without rest. Then four. Now I can do six. (Also, hello biceps, perkier butt, stronger abs, a flatter tummy, and greater lung capacity!) For me, that’s huge. It’s a process, it’s a ritual, it’s self-healing. And it requires a mental sacrifice; I have to give up all the fear and self-doubt and disconnect and commit to the water.

It’s literally healing me every time I get in.

That’s not to say there aren’t obstacles. I’ve learned that although water is low-impact, chlorine is rough on the lungs and the millions of flaps you do with your feet will totally strain your ankles if you don’t properly stretch. I have to realize that no, I cannot eat a box of pizza just because I went swimming today. I have to figure out how to share a lane with another swimmer without being fully annoyed by them or annoying them. I have to learn when my body is fatigued, because swimming is a full-body workout. I have to learn how to stay awake afterward, too, because swimming wipes you out (fun fact: you get super-tired because your body is using its energy trying to regulate your body temp). Not to mention the horror movie that is gym showers (let’s just say I do not attend a luxury gym).

I can never go back to not-swimming; wherever I go, I know I’ll need a pool. It’s not a vacation experience or a perk for me. It’s a necessity. That, and a swim cap, because four weeks of chlorine-soaked hair is not a cute look.

What It’s Like To Work At The Vitamin Shoppe For 27 Years

There are jobs, and then there are careers—and if you’re lucky, your career is also your passion. For these The Vitamin Shoppe Health Enthusiasts, that is certainly the case. Here, Marvin Barton (a Health Enthusiast for 18 years), Lily Hariprasad (a Health Enthusiast for 22 years), and Melvin Summerville (a Health Enthusiast for 27 years), share their career journeys and reflect on how much The Vitamin Shoppe has changed since they started. In fact, Melvin recalls when the company only had nine stores total!

Today, 40 years since opening its first location, The Vitamin Shoppe boasts nearly 800 locations in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. Imagine being part of that sort of evolution?

Marvin, Lily, and Melvin were dedicated when The Vitamin Shoppe was more like a Mom & Pop Shop, and they’re dedicated now that the company is an industry leader. Hear more from them on what it’s like to be a The Vitamin Shoppe lifer:

 

These 4 Health Enthusiasts Credit The Vitamin Shoppe With Transforming Their Lives

Working at The Vitamin Shoppe, I’m constantly learning about new and powerful ways to boost and sustain my health. Editing stories about nutrition, fitness, and wellness for What’s Good—on top of being surrounded by super-passionate Health Enthusiasts—inspires me daily.

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of The Vitamin Shoppe, I asked some Health Enthusiasts at the stores to share stories of how their jobs have personally transformed them. Here, you’ll see what happens when you focus on a goal and have an amazing company behind you all the way. (Hint: You succeed!)


SCOTT ROMANI
Store#167—Fresno, CA 

Scott Romani Blog

This is the story of how The Vitamin Shoppe saved my life.

During Christmas of 2015, I heard my six-year-old daughter, Emma, talking to one of her toys. She was crying out, “Please tell Santa to help my daddy not be so fat anymore.” This cut me pretty deep—knowing that even my daughter could see that I was overweight.

By the summer of 2016, I stepped on the scale and saw that I weighed 333 pounds. Before then, I had tried to lose the weight, but I failed. I couldn’t stick to anything! I made excuses and allowed self-doubt to dominate my actions. Now, I was serious.

For the next week, I focused on my diet and supplements. I didn’t exercise at all for that 1st week because I just wanted to focus on my diet first. I bought a fish oil, a multivitamin, CLA, Psyllium Husk powder, and Glucomannan. I concentrated on lots of lean protein and veggies and made sure I took my supplements religiously.

After one week, I had lost nine pounds. Then I added the exercise. I started weight training and doing cardio workouts five days a week, pushing myself in ways I hadn’t before. I woke up in pain but I didn’t quit. I used the pain as motivation and kept on going. Something was driving me this time, and it took me a while to figure out what that thing was. Then one day I realized why I hadn’t quit this time—it was because I worked at The Vitamin Shoppe (since 2008). But now, I was finally ready.

I started sharing my story with anyone who’d listen. I started telling the customers who came in about the things I was doing and the results I was seeing. They’d come in and ask, “How much weight have you lost so far?” One customer joked that I was “the incredible shrinking man.” That just added fuel to my fire! I couldn’t let them down.

The biggest push by far came from my staff and colleagues. I began to send out mass messages to my staff and other district managers about my progress. And every time I’d send a message I’d get back a tidal wave of support.

Sure, I did a lot of the work, but I would be nowhere without the support of my family or my customers, staff, and peers at The Vitamin Shoppe. They have given me a strength that I never thought I had, and I owe an awful lot to all of them.

Without The Vitamin Shoppe, I am sure my little girl would be crying to Santa again this year. Now she doesn’t have to, because as of May 5th 2017, I have lost 92 lbs.


KAREN HILSENBECK
Store #714—Stony Brook, NY

Karen Hilsenbeck blog

When I joined The Vitamin Shoppe in January 2012 my life was changed forever. I was on my third round of Weight Watchers in five years (I was about 25 pounds overweight). I had a tendency to fall back into bad habits, so it was hard for me to stay consistently healthy. In fact, my closet was filled with three different sizes of clothing—and at this point, I was slowly moving back into the higher sizes.

By the time I joined The Vitamin Shoppe, I decided to really get serious yet again. But it was different this time; I took a different approach. I came to the realization that it wasn’t just about losing weight, it was also about changing my lifestyle and committing to it.

By working on the field, I learned all about supplementation, healthy eating, and nutrition. I had an increasing interest and fascination with the vitamins and supplements industry, and this inspired me to start making better choices in every area of my life.  I added exercise too, starting just with walking two miles a day. I began really reading food labels, and within a few months the rest of the weight dropped off for a total weight loss of 30 pounds. I was feeling better than I had in over 10 years. To celebrate, I decided I wanted to become a runner.

A customer told me about the Couch to 5K program and I decided to give it a try with the goal of being able to run (not walk!) during the annual Santa Toy Trot that I had been participating in with my sisters for years.

It took me 12 weeks to get through the nine-week program, but I finished, and I ran (no walking!) that entire 5K. A few months after that I decided to try kickboxing. One of our The Vitamin Shoppe customers had just opened up a studio and invited me in. It was a very tough first class, but I loved it so much that I immediately signed up. I’ve discovered that it’s one of the best workouts ever (not to mention, it’s great for relieving stress).

Fast forward to 2017. I have maintained that 30-pound weight loss. I exercise regularly, I rarely get sick, I regularly read food labels, I rarely crave unhealthy foods, and I eat a nutritious diet. On top of it all, I truly enjoy my job and have found my passion at The Vitamin Shoppe.

Being here has changed my life and I’m so grateful for all of the opportunities I have been given and the people I have met here. I also have had the opportunity, as a Field Training Manager, to teach others all about healthy living. The best part? I’m able to share my successes with our customers.


OLIVIA BYRAM
Store #040—Levittown, NY

Olivia Byram blog

At my heaviest weight, I was 302 pounds. And at 5’9, I resigned myself to the idea that I was always going to be, well, big. I also felt that my love for food would always be more of a driving force than my desire to be fit (I had previously worked in the culinary field).

I wasn’t exactly the type of person who might shop at The Vitamin Shoppe—or so I thought. I believed that vitamins were for people who were already fit and healthy—and I thought that would never be me.

All of this changed when I was looking for a career change that would allow me to spend more time with my child. In 2015, I went in for an interview at The Vitamin Shoppe. I was surprised at the size of the store and the amount of products that were available, and I was absolutely thrilled when I got offered the position and began training with Karen Hilsenbeck.

When I first met Karen she was enthusiastic and engaging, and she was definitely healthy—so I wasn’t sure I could exactly trust her healthy snack recommendations. I was wrong!

Karen had actually worked to wean herself off of unhealthy sugary snacks and junk foods, too. In fact, throughout my training, I learned more and more about the importance of nutrition and supplementation. With this knowledge, I began to see The Vitamin Shoppe’s role as a leader in the community.

Because I had learned so much by working at The Vitamin Shoppe, and because I was surrounded by encouraging people and healthy products, I dropped 100 pounds (in the past two years I’ve lost a total of 187 pounds). I had more energy and felt so much better physically. I was able to work out and learn more and more about all aspects of wellness.

I shared all of my new knowledge with my customers, too, who became friends to me. While my wellness journey may seem weight-focused, it’s so much more than that.  This career choice—and the people in this company who have supported me—-has made my entire life so much better.


SAIF SALIM
Store #011—New York, NY

Saif Salim blog

My story begins when I first came to this the United States from Saudi Arabia at the age of nine. I was constantly bullied by classmates because of my accent, and every day after school some kids made a habit of chasing me. This continued for a couple years, so I really learned how to run fast.

Then, one day, my classmates finally chose me to play tag football. They hiked the ball and when it magically landed in my hands, I frantically wondered what to do next. They all looked at me in regret and screamed, “RUN!”

As soon as I heard that, I was gone like the wind. I sprinted the whole field, scoring a touchdown without anyone getting anywhere near me. They were all in awe of me, and that’s when I realized my talent. (Not surprisingly, the bullying stopped as well).

So, I joined the track and field club, and I ran my first track meet after a week of training. I started qualifying for youth national races, and later, I ended up qualifying for the 2008 Olympics in the 100-meter dash, but I tore my ACL three weeks prior.

The doctor said I would never be able to run the same again without surgery, but I shunned his statement. This is when I started learning all about vitamins and supplements (particularly for inflammation and joint health). And because I started taking them, I experienced a total health transformation.

I wanted to help others with their own health and wellness journeys, and I wanted to introduce them to the power of vitamins and supplements. I was already working in the health field when I found out about an opening at The Vitamin Shoppe. I was very attracted to its engaging culture; I wanted to truly listen to customers and help them. I got the job in 2010 and it remains a privilege to work for a company that is always evolving to better meet the needs of our customers.

Ever since I started working for The Vitamin Shoppe, I continue to train, and I run faster than I ever did.

My new goal? To qualify for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

Is Rosemary The Key To A Longer Life?

Everyone’s favorite Italian herb, rosemary, has garnered a good amount of attention lately. Not only does the herb take grilled chicken or olive oil to the next level, new studies show it may be associated with slower aging and increased vitality. Grazie!

Scientists recently found that there were more than 300 centenarians living in Acciaroli, a coastal Campagnian hamlet in Italy, and that—you guessed it—rosemary was at the center of the village’s long-life phenomenon.

Given that the global average life expectancy is 71.4 years, Acciaroli’s centenarian trend may make you think twice about this tasty little herb.

Related: Know Your Supergreens: A Cheat Sheet On What’s What

Beyond consuming a Mediterranean diet (which is one of the healthiest ways of eating, and connected to greater physical and cognitive health), the villagers were said to infuse everything with rosemary. For having a century of life behind them, they had almost no cataracts, a low occurrence of Alzheimer’s Disease, excellent microcirculation, healthy hearts, regular sexual appetites, and a low incidence of broken bones.

Coincidence? Maybe not.

The Many Benefits of Rosemary

According to Keri Glassman MS, RDN, Nutritious Life, rosemary is a power player: “It has compounds linked to improved immunity, circulation, and digestion. It even plays a role in improving memory and reducing feelings of anxiety and stress.” We’ll take that!

And according to Keri Gans, RDN, Nutritionist, Certified Yoga Teacher, Author of The Small Change Diet, “Rosemary contains antioxidants which may protect against harmful free radicals and help strengthen our immune system.”

In fact, rosemary actually has one of the highest antioxidant counts of all the spices, according to the Journal of Agroalimentary Processes and Technologies. Fresh rosemary leaves are also filled with vitamin C, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, vitamin A, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, sodium, zinc, saturated fatty acids, monounsaturated fatty acid, and polyunsaturated fatty acids.

A study done by Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine shows that the diterpenes (a class of chemical compounds thought to have health-boosting properties) in rosemary provide antioxidant-mediated neuronal protection (which may help fight against disease).

Related: Shop rosemary products, from essential oils to supplements to snacks.

Additionally, the carnosic acid in rosemary has been shown to potentially help to promote apoptosis (the naturally-occurring death of cells) and inhibit something called the ‘PI3K/Akt signaling pathway,’ which regulates cell survival, according to Frontiers in Pharmacology.

And back to that bit about anxiety and stress: According to Scientia Pharmaceutica, inhaled rosemary essential oil has been shown to positively affect the mood and promote nervous system stimulation, leading to feelings of energy and alertness.

Adding Rosemary To Your Diet

While the residents of Accioroli are ingesting rosemary of a stronger variety than we may be eating here in the United States, it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy rosemary on the regular. As a spice, it can figure prominently in plenty of dishes, savory and sweet.

You can infuse rosemary in your olive oil, make a rosemary-lemon sea salt rub for fish and meat, mix it into Greek yogurt for a healthy, protein-rich spread, eat it with fresh peaches, or simply cook it into some fresh grilled veggies.

Whenever possible, grab fresh rosemary for its full flavor profile (it won’t survive long, but you can preserve it by drying it, icing it, or putting it in oil). Dried rosemary is great, too, and still very flavorful—just make sure you’re buying organic rosemary.

As Glassman notes, “There’s no harm in trying to use rosemary more in your kitchen. Looks good, smells good, tastes good, and good for you.”

8 The Vitamin Shoppe Health Enthusiasts Share Their Best On-The-Job Moments


It’s The Vitamin Shoppe‘s birthday! And, to celebrate 40 years of thriving, our very own Health Enthusiasts are sharing their most rewarding, on-the-job moments.

Besides being incredibly knowledgeable about our many products, every Health Enthusiast aims to truly connect with our customers. From helping you draw a map to your personal wellness goals to explaining the benefits of any given supplement, they’re always there to nourish and inspire—which is clear from the stories they tell. Take a look.


CAL RAWLINGS
Store #287 South Burlington, VT

Cal Rawlings Blog

Right after New Year 2017, a young woman came into the store with a determined mindset and a list of resolutions. Her main goal was to manage her weight and get healthy.

We talked through her current goals and past weight-management attempts, and I learned she had tried everything: Atkins, Paleo, fasting, Weight Watchers—but she was still struggling. She was frustrated, understandably.

Together, we talked through a diet and weight-management plan. She was going to start slowly increasing her physical activity from once a week to four times a week (she was going to start taking Zumba, because, like me, straight-up cardio bored her). She also mentioned she was struggling to get enough protein in, so I told her she had come to the right place. We grabbed her a dozen Quest bars to get her started and a few sample packs of the Next Step single-serving packets. She also picked up a sample container of AppeFit to jumpstart her new diet plan.

Amazingly, that very same customer came in again recently and looked very different. She was picking up more Quest and Next Step products, as well as a plnt product to help get more greens in! It is amazing to see a customer’s progress and to think that I played even a small role in it.

These interactions really motivate me to do my best and help every single customer to the best of my abilities.


ASHLEY BRIJMOHAN
Store #575 East Rutherford, NJ


ERICK SOLIS
QA POS Analyst, North Bergen, NJ (CSC)

Erick Solis Blog

Becoming a Vitamin Shoppe Health Enthusiast has been a life-changing experience. I have a background in science, and I wanted to work for a company that allowed me to use my knowledge in that area. Before I worked in corporate for The Vitamin Shoppe, I worked in the field. I learned so much! The team I worked with taught me to be positive about challenging situations, to be resourceful, and to have patience, which helped to make my moments with customers that much more rewarding.

I remember working with a middle-aged couple that came into the store for the first time. They mentioned they were sleeping enough and eating well, but still feeling very tired. They also mentioned that they were preparing to send their son away to college in a few months. I got the sense that they’d been struggling with a bit of stress—so I let them know that The Vitamin Shoppe carries a few products that may help promote stress relief. That night, they went home with a jar of The Vitamin Shoppe brand turmeric.

A week before my last day in the field, they both came in again—and they hugged and thanked me. They mentioned that at their age, it’s easy to just overlook feelings of tiredness, to just ‘power through it’. They also said that they learned that it’s necessary to listen to our bodies, and I think I helped them do just that.

It can be overwhelming to walk into a store with thousands and thousands of products surrounding you, but I believe I helped make their experience simple and gratifying. I was overwhelmed with their happiness, and it reminded me just about how important it is to communicate my knowledge.

They promised they would continue to be loyal to their health—and to The Vitamin Shoppe. I thanked them for their loyalty and promised them that we are a brand that can trust.



OLIVIA BYRAM
Store #040,  Levittown, NY


ALEXANDRA HOFFMAN
#531 Westminster, MD

Alexandra Hoffman Blog

I get a lot of mixed reactions when I tell people I work in retail. They assume it’s a lot of hard work (and it is!), but they don’t know how rewarding it can actually be. I love telling people about The Vitamin Shoppe’s culture and values, and that every day I leave work knowing that I made a difference in someone’s life—that’s what makes this career experience so fulfilling.

I think back on the man who came in ready to give up on his diet plan because it wasn’t yielding results and was just too expensive. He felt hopeless, worried that he’d eventually have to turn to surgery to manager his weight. But when he left my store, he was filled with renewed hope. I helped him find a new set of supplements, protein shakes, and healthy snacks that didn’t break the bank—and could help get him back on track. It was so incredible to see his dedication to his health in this moment.

When he came back in weeks later, he was so excited. In fact, he’d already lost 10 pounds and was feeling great. He was so incredibly thankful that he’d decided to stop by The Vitamin Shoppe weeks earlier. Those are the kinds of stories I tell when people ask me what I do for a living. Those moments give me a sense of purpose and joy.


STEPHANIE PEACOCK
Store #218 Hurst, TX

Stefanie Peacock blog.jpg

One of my best moments at The Vitamin Shoppe occurred when a very, very thin young man came into the store and shared with me that he was fresh out of rehab from drug use. On top of that, he was struggling to conquer feelings of stress and anxiety.

We immediately connected. I shared my own story of recovery with him (I am now 13 years sober), and I talked to him about the importance of nutrition in the process. I told him a little about the things (like supplements) that helped me feel better physically and mentally. That day, he purchased a multivitamin, a B-complex, and the L-Theanine. 

Nine months later, a very fit young man entered my store and said he was glad I was there. He asked if I remembered him (of course I did!) and held up an Alcoholics Anonymous One-Year Chip. He was sober and healthy.

He told me he was grateful for my help months earlier, and thanked me for sharing my story with him. He’d even been working out at a gym, had gotten himself a nutritionist, and had been coming back to The Vitamin Shoppe for refills on his supplements.

He asked if he could give me a hug, and I just burst into tears.

Knowing that I had helped someone who had walked a similar path to my own is one of the most precious gifts working for The Vitamin Shoppe has given me.



MUSTAFA HASHIMI
#828 STATEN ISLAND, NY


SABRIE FLORES
#747: Colonial Heights, VA

sabrie flores blog.jpg

A married couple came in looking to manage their weight together. They were both feeling pretty discouraged, so I listened to their story and aimed to get them the best setup for their health. I set them up with fish oil, CLA, L-carnitine, BCAA’s, pre-workout, isolate protein, and multivitamins. 

I explained to them why each of these products were beneficial to their overall health, and how they might help promote health and weight management. The couple was so happy that I took the time to really explain everything for them. In fact, the woman was so excited that she hugged me! They told me they had really never met someone who cared so much about their goals, and I let them know that I did care and that I believed healthy eating, exercise, and supplementation would definitely yield results. I also asked them to come back and let me know how it was going.

Related: Shop for products to support your unique health needs.

A month later, they both came in to see me. They had both lost 15 pounds and wanted a re-up on their products. On top of that, they wanted to tell my manager how I’d helped them!

It felt amazing to know they had put their trust in me and ended up happier for it. They also told me they’d been telling their friends and family about me and the store. It’s always a great feeling to be a part of someone’s journey toward a healthier life.

The Weird Thing I Do For Stress Relief—That Works Every Time

I can vividly remember the first time I realized that I could attain a sensation of calm by totally natural (albeit totally weird) means. I was sitting in my high school science class waiting silently to take a final; our teacher was quietly passing out the test packets, one by one. We were all in the zone, anxiously hoping we’d do well (hello: the periodic table isn’t exactly riveting subject matter).

And as she passed out the tests, the sounds of the paper—gently swooshing against the others, being written on by pencils—made me sort of feel, well, calm and tingly. Totally at ease. (Yes, you heard me correctly: The sound of the paper made me feel at-ease. What!)

You know when you suddenly shudder out of nowhere? It was like that—all along my scalp and back. The paper sounds made me feel sleepy, while also sort of ticklish. It was intoxicating, euphoric, and, clearly, tremendously strange.

Related: What Happened When I Drank Golden Milk For 30 Days Straight

I would come to experience this phenomenon for years, but I had absolutely no context or language for it. I told one friend about it (she was one of the only people who wouldn’t be convinced that I was a serial killer or total maniac). Years later, that same friend asked me if I’d heard about something called ASMR. It sounded like an abbreviation for a nerdy science conference or a sexual kink. Naturally, I needed to know.

“ASMR is this weird phenomenon where people have all sorts of pleasurable reactions to noises,” she said—which didn’t exactly sound not creepy—“and it sounds like what you’ve experienced before. Being relaxed by sounds and stuff,” she said.

Yes, you heard me correctly: The sound of the paper made me feel at-ease. What!

Sure enough, ASMR had me pegged.

Defined as Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, ASMR is an experience characterized by a static-like or tingling sensation (in response to slow movements, whispers, soft sounds, or even personal attention) on the skin around the head, back, and neck. But it’s also very internal; it’s a feeling, a mind-state.

While there remains a need for more in-depth studies, science hasn’t junked the phenomenon either. According to Peer J, ASMR is experienced by thousands of people. It causes euphoria, relaxation, and feelings of general wellness.

I took to the Internet for further investigation, and sure enough, I got more information than I could have imagined. YouTube was filled with ASMR videos—actually, it was a fully-formed community. Thousands of videos (viewed millions of times) offered up ASMR “triggers” created by ASMR artists, or ASMRtists; these videos showcased people whispering, or doing smalls tasks or talking with mindful movements and making deliberate, soft noises.

Related: Shop products to promote stress relief and mood support.

I have to admit this: At first, I was deeply put off by these videos; they seemed completely foreign and bizarre. A few of them were blatantly sexualized (though this was not the majority at all), and the rest were just overwhelming: forty-five minutes of watching someone whisper or tap? What sort of strange kink is this, I wondered?

Half of the videos were focused on role-playing videos, like one ASMRtist who pretended to be a hotel receptionist. She’d click her keyboard lightly, and tap her pen against paper, and whisper to the viewer, who was supposed to be “checking in to a hotel.” I’d never, ever seen anything like it.

Forty-five minutes of watching someone whisper or tap their fingers? What sort of strange kink is this, I wondered?

It was a community-created corner of the Internet and once I got over the confusion, I actually felt grateful to have found it. I found the videos soothing, sleep-inducing, and peaceful. Some of them are actually really funny or educational, so they’re sort of like stress-reducing tools that offer up other benefits, to boot.

Related: Shop yoga accessories to get your de-stress on.

It wasn’t just me. Thousands of commenters consistently thank the artists (many of whom make a living by creating YouTube ASMR content) for helping them sleep, easing their stress, reducing their symptoms of PTSD, or giving them (not x-rated) tingles at the end of the day.

81 percent of ASMR enthusiasts engage with it before bed, using headphones, and 80 percent of participants said it had a positive effect on their mood.

Suddenly, ASMR stopped being “that weird thing that happens to me sometimes” and started becoming a legitimate tool for stress relief. It wasn’t weird. It was real.

Now that my secret phenomenon had a name (and one that apparently even celebrities celebrated), I wanted to know if there was some real science behind it. What actually caused the tingles? After all, millions of people weren’t just making it up!

I found that some researchers, like in this piece published by IOSR Journal of Research & Method in Education, argued for the use of ASMR as a tool for stress relief, despite their own understanding that ASMR necessitates additional research. It was a start—and I dug for more.

The International Journal of School & Educational Psychology likened it to the notion of Frisson, which is a sensation somewhat like the shivering caused by emotional stimuli. And according to one study done by Peer J, 81 percent of ASMR enthusiasts engage with it before bed, using headphones, and 80 percent of participants said it had a positive effect on their mood, especially immediately after listening. Interestingly enough, people with depression benefited the most.

While I’ve tried to figure out the exact science behind the sensation, there are no hard answers. I know others are trying to figure it out, too. I recognize that there are loads of people who probably think ASMR enthusiasts or artists are freaks, but the budding conversation around the phenomenon comforts me a bit.

Until I understand it better, I’ll be over here, listening to people whisper into a binaural microphone, as I fall asleep happier and less anxious than I was before.