Who’s Good: A Q&A With Orgain Founder Dr. Andrew Abraham

Whether you’re looking to bolster your wellness routine, learn more about healthy eating, or find an inspiring Fitstagram account, look no further than Who’s Good, a regular interview series from the editors of What’s Good that catches up with the best, brightest, and boldest the wellness world has to offer.

In 2008, Dr. Andrew Abraham founded Orgainthe go-to brand for clean organic shakes, nutritional powders, and more. We caught up with Abraham to learn about his inspiring journey from teenage cancer patient to medical doctor to entrepreneur, as well as the genesis of Orgain.

Thanks for joining us for Who’s Good, Dr, Abraham! To start off, can you tell us a little about your background as a doctor and wellness enthusiast?

I come from a family of physicians. Nearly everyone in my family is in the medical field, so it was instilled in me from a young age that I would also practice medicine. As a child, I enjoyed going along with my dad to see his patients, and as I grew up I continued to be intrigued by medicine, so after college, I went to medical school to become a physician.

Because of a serious battle with cancer as a teen, I started medical school with an unique interest and focus on holistic wellness and nutrition—focusing on preventative measures over simply treating an illness.

How exactly did your battle with cancer reshape your perspective of health and nutrition?

When I was 17, I found a small lump in my abdomen. I went from playing sports and feeling great to being diagnosed with aggressive sarcoma. We were praying that it was localized, but the cancer spread to my lymph nodes. I had radiation, chemotherapy, and even surgery. 

I was in and out of the hospital and my body was really getting tested. I got down to less than 100 pounds, and at that point, my doctor explained that while the cancer was dangerous, malnutrition might be the thing that would kill me. He handed me a conventional nutritional drink, and told me to drink as much as I could. My mom—God bless her—bought 14 cases of the stuff.

I drank these shakes every single day under the assumption that they were good for me. They tasted horrid, so naturally, I thought, whatever is inside of this…if it tastes this bad it has to be good for me.

In an effort to pass the time while on bed rest, I started to read all about nutrition. One book turned into five, and then 20, and then 100. I think I read about 150 books about nutrition in total. 

As I read and learned about nutrition, I came across a page in a book that listed ingredients one should never put in their body. So I checked what I’d been drinking—and was horrified to see that it contained all of those bad ingredients: high fructose corn syrup, genetically modified soy protein, artificial flavors, and preservatives.

It read more like a synthetic lab experiment than a food, which was horrifying. Because of this, I started to blend my own nutritional drinks at home, replacing those ingredients with organic whey, pea protein, and fresh fruits and veggies. Pretty soon, I was better tolerating treatments, gaining weight, and my energy improved. Essentially, I taught myself all about nutrition and wellness, and I learned along the way that treating yourself as a whole (rather than just treating the issue) is really powerful.

Related: Shop all of Orgain’s healthy products

That’s incredible! So there was absolutely nothing like what you’d made out there already?

There was nothing like it! I asked around, “Does anyone make an organic ready-to-drink shake?” The answer was no. So I decided to make one, and it caught on. 

Down the road, I was supposed to take over my dad’s family practice, but I was sure I wanted to focus on Orgain. I felt strongly that I could help many more people through Orgain than as a doctor.

Your story is so inspiring. What should people take from it, and what should they know about the intersection of nutrition and wellness?

Most people don’t know how good their body is actually designed to feel. When our bodies are properly taken care, we can really feel it. We have more energy, we can heal, we can avoid disease, and we feel better overall.

Even small changes in the right direction can improve our health. Invest in yourself and your body today, because it will pay dividends in the future. We live in a time when everything is moving more quickly and the body gets bombarded by pollution and stress. We have to do our best to counteract that. Nutrition is one major way.

Yes! Even small victories count! Now, who would benefit the most from your range of products?

A vast majority of our consumers are people who lead an active, busy lifestyle. Orgain products are for someone who wants convenience post-workout or a quick and easy breakfast or snack on the go.

It’s for anyone who wants to replace an entire meal, as well, since our shakes are a complete organic meal in a bottle. They contain protein, fat, and complex carbs. In fact, we receive lots of heartfelt letters from people who couldn’t tolerate conventional shakes and use Orgain products as a sole source of nutrition.

What sort of ingredients will customers find in your products?

We’ve got strict standards and are relentless about clean nutrition and great taste. Nearly all of our products are certified organic. We never use artificial ingredients or flavors or preservatives, and avoid sourcing proteins that have pesticides, antibiotics, and hormones. We encourage consumers to look at the label, too!

Can you tell us about your partnership with WhyHunger, and why it’s important to you?

We believe so deeply in the importance of quality nutrition, and see good nutrition as something everyone should have access to. So, we’ve partnered with NY-based nonprofit WhyHunger on a campaign called Shake Hunger, to help change the way food banks work, and increase access to healthy food. (You can support this initiative by here.)

Diggin’ Who’s Good? For more essential health facts, tips, and inspiration, join our Facebook communities, Eating Healthy and Staying Fit, today!

We Asked, You Answered: Your Favorite Workouts

The secret to a sustainable (and fun!) workout routine is finding the right workout for you. After all, one person’s CrossFit could be another person’s worst nightmare.

Do you look forward to leg day, or do you loathe it? Are you the deadlift’s Number One Fan? We asked The Vitamin Shoppe Instagram followers to share their favorite workouts, and here’s what they said:

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Diggin’ What’s Good? For more essential health facts, tips, and inspiration, join our Facebook communities, Eating Healthy and Staying Fit, today!

I Tried Using Vitamin B3 To Calm My Nerves

Anyone who suffers from a panic disorder, like myself, knows that feelings of panic or anxiety can be predictable—or they can pop up out of nowhere. While I have learned to anticipate—and take measure against—situations that may set me off, I am still vulnerable to the unexpected. To manage my anxious feelings (at one point I was having panic attacks up to six times a day), I’ve had luck using benzodiazepines (one of a few types of anxiety meds, which includes valium and xanax).

In fact, they’re pretty much the only drugs that have ever had the power to alleviate my own hardcore panic attacks in the moment. However, I make it a point not to use them regularly, because, in my experience, if you can ‘ride out’ an attack, it helps to build resiliency.

These drugs can also present some challenges if you take them regularly and then decide to discontinue use (common withdrawal symptoms include sleep disturbances, irritability, and anxiety). My fear lies more in knowing I could build up a tolerance to them if I use them enough, which introduces the bloodcurdling possibility that the drug might not work when I’m really freaking out and desperately need it to work.

So, after doing some thorough research, I learned that a more sustainable, everyday, safe solution might just be readily available—right at my local health food store: vitamin B3.

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Studies, like this one published in ISRN Psychiatry, suggest that some people who experience unstable moods and anxious feelings can benefit from regular, daily use of vitamin B3. That’s because, as was published in another study in Orthomolecular, the vitamin influences the balance of brain chemicals like serotonin, noradrenaline, dopamine, and GABA (all of which control our moods).

After reading the studies, and figuring that I had nothing to lose, I purchased some B3 and tried it for myself. I took 500 mgs a day in the morning and I used no other drugs daily. It’s important to note that people, especially with any sort of health condition, use B3 under the supervision of a doctor.

Related: I Tried Meditation Every Day For A Week—Here’s What Happened

The results

I’m happy to report that I noticed real improvements in the way I felt! Within the first two weeks of taking the supplement, I was much calmer in general. My anxious feelings, which were usually loud and noticeable, quieted down—more like the dull roar of a distant engine. The general feeling of daily distress, which I’d lived with for so long, had subsided, and I had more room to move around in my own psyche without being constantly bombarded by my own anxious thoughts.

Encouraged (and elated!) by these unexpected developments, I wanted to further dive into my own mental wellness. At that point, I started combining the use of B3 with regular exercise, which is known to improve mood and anxiety levels.

By the third week, things only got better.

A month into exercise and B3 usage, I had only had three serious panic attacks. These did require pharmaceutical-drug intervention, but this was a real departure from the number of panic attacks I was having before starting B3.

It was nothing short of a breakthrough for me, as I’m something of a cynic. I didn’t expect the vitamin to work for me (or at least not work to any degree worth mentioning).

Sure, some of this might be the result of a placebo effect, but all I know is that I feel better (and the science backs it up!). I’m no doctor, but I definitely see B3 as a sustainable way to manage my own anxiety. On top of that, I am elated by the prospect of managing my condition more naturally.

Online Wellness Communities: What’s In It For You?

Whenever I embark on a personal transformation—be it trying to eat better, get more sleep, or be more intentional in my everyday life—I find it hard to motivate without having anyone pushing me to be accountable. Sure, I myself am reason enough to motivate, but let’s be honest: Changing your life, changing your body, and changing the way you think isn’t exactly a cinch.

Throughout our lives we are conditioned to self-soothe (think: snacking, napping, daydreaming). We grow to believe these indulgences are good for us, when maybe they don’t actually serve us well at all.

I thrive when other people inspire me. The people I do spend the most time with (my boyfriend and close friends) are all so busy working, hustling, grinding, and rushing; we don’t spend what little spare time we have together at the gym or talking about fitness and life transformations. So I turn to digital communities for support in reaching my goals.

At first, I created an email thread with several friends of mine from all over the country—we’d email one another pictures of our workouts and recipes and fitness ideas, usually joking or complaining about how hard it was. Sometimes we’d go deep and express annoyance at our limitations and frustrations around finding workout pants that actually fit well (this is surprisingly difficult). It felt good to talk to people about real things: being too tired to work out after work, being too busy to make food, being too lazy to wake up early for a class.

Related: Peer Pressure Has Always Been My Best Fitness Motivator

In time, we moved our group over to Facebook groups so we could all talk and relate in an easier way. Instead of responding to dozens of emails, we now create threads. We have a file for pictures, a file for local gym classes and class prices, and a file for silly stuff, like fitness horoscopes. (Yes, this is very much a real thing.)

Best of all? We self-moderate the group so that it is inclusive (we invite friends and friends of friends), respectful, and body-positive. If I can’t sync up my schedule to work out with friends in real life, this is the next best thing.

I love sharing pre- and post-workout selfies, instead of flooding my personal Instagram with them (my whole social network doesn’t need to endure my vanity) and I really depend on others’ motivational ideas.

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Perhaps the biggest benefit of a group like this is knowing I’m not in a tunnel, working toward wellness with preconceived notions of what that means or looks like. I have all these people telling me what their versions of wellness are, and what body positivity looks like. I don’t have to sit alone with my thoughts, fears, limitations, and self-expectations.

Also, it’s nice to see that other members who’ve been invited over time have auto-immune conditions, like me. I have Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS), a spinal condition—so working out isn’t exactly easy (I have to be careful what I do and how I do it). Meeting others with arthritis and joint diseases helped me find better workouts for myself. For example, I realized by talking to others that running actually negatively impacted my spine—and that swimming was by far the best for my body, both in terms of its low-impact and high calorie-torching benefits.

I’m now also in a few groups for people with AS. The thousands of members share diet tips, recipes, fitness routines, and personal experiences that I can relate to and use in a real way. Honestly, this has changed my life, giving me back a sense of control of my body.

Over the past few months, I have put this inspiration to use for The Vitamin Shoppe, helping to create two digital communities: Staying Fit with The Vitamin Shoppe and Eating Healthy with The Vitamin Shoppe. They are spaces where members can discuss everything from stories of personal transformation to healthy snack recipes, and we have ongoing Q&A sessions with The Vitamin Shoppe’s nutritionists.

Although the groups are brand new, they are growing and blooming. These spaces are so important and necessary; they cultivate a sense of community, while providing a safe space to ask questions, share concerns, and offer up ideas. We might all be at different stages of our wellness journeys, but there’s one thing we can 100 percent agree on: We want to be our best selves.

Like what you’ve heard here? Join our Facebook communities, Eating Healthy and Staying Fit, today!

 

We Asked, You Answered: Top 15 Gym Pet Peeves

The gym is a place of transformation, inspiration, and hard-earned victories. But let’s face it—it’s also a place full of, well, personalities. From the people who grunt extra loudly to the folks who refuse to wipe their mats down after use, there’s always someone bending (or full-on breaking) the rules of gym etiquette. We asked The Vitamin Shoppe Instagram followers to share their biggest gym gripes, and here’s what they said:

 

 

 

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Like this post? Get more like it in our Facebook group, Staying Fit With The Vitamin Shoppe. 

6 Supplements I Take To Grease My Achy Joints

Waking up feeling like the Tin Man—back so stiff I can’t bend over to touch my toes and knees so achy they feel glued in place—has been my reality for nearly five years. It takes a good half hour before I can get up and move around as normal, and even longer until I feel like I’m oiled up enough—yanked and pulled and stretched out—to be a human being.

I have an autoimmune disease called Ankylosing Spondylitis that causes super-duper stiff joints (commonly referred to as arthritis). I’m not alone—an estimated 54 million Americans live with daily joint pain or joint disease. That’s a lot of people feeling like me, all of us aching for some sort of respite from feeling creaky, cracky, and crooked.

Of course, successfully treating the various conditions that affect the joints is like finding your way out of a particularly tricky maze. I can’t say I’ve gotten out quite yet, but I’m closer than before.

I started by talking to a doctor and a nutritionist about medication and diet, but I’ve also had a lot of luck with vitamin and supplement use.

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When I started really feeling the effects of joint pain and stiffness—before I was medicated and even during medication—I did a lot of research on vitamins and supplements. For one, you can never be too certain of what you’re putting in your body. And second, it’s good to have that autonomy and knowledge. (That said, just because the Internet’s endless stream of immediate information is available to you does not mean you know everything. Always check with your doc first before starting any supplementation!)

Here’s what I use to juice up my achy, break-y joints. I take each of the below once a day (except where otherwise noted) in the morning with my coffee and some fruit. Before supplementation, I was still doing much of the same: stretching, taking pain relief medication, and eating as well as I could. I can successfully report good news: I’ve noticed a significant increase in joint mobility and pain level after taking these supplements for about a year. Three cheers for knees that don’t pop and crunch with every jaunt up the stairs!

1. SAM-e

It might have a weird name, but SAM-e (or S-Adenosyl-L-Methionine), which is found naturally in the body and made by amino acids that we get through food, has been shown by studies to improve joint function and tenderness. It could help with joint discomfort, potentially reducing the pain you feel when you’re all locked up.

2. Cat’s Claw

I won’t lie—the oh-so-witchy name of this supplement is what caught my eye. But cat’s claw (this shouldn’t be mixed up with Devil’s Claw—which also aids joints but has a different set of benefits) has got some convincing science to back it up. First off, it may contribute to a reduction in joint discomfort, while also benefiting the immune system. Yes, please! A study showed that cat’s claw, when compared to a placebo, effectively worked to promote a reduction in pain, swelling, and tenderness of joints.

3. Turmeric

Golden lattes are incredibly popular and delicious, yes, but not without good reason. Turmeric—or more specifically the compound found in turmeric, curcumin—has been found to be effective in promoting relief from temporary joint discomfort. According to the Arthritis Foundation, turmeric has long been used by Chinese and Ayurvedic medicinal systems as a way to promote relief from pain caused by joint issues. In addition to taking one capsule of curcumin daily, I also frequently drink golden milk (made with turmeric powder and hemp milk or almond milk). Some experts say that taking curcumin with black pepper has been found to increase curcumin’s bioavailability (which is a fancier way of saying its “effectiveness”).

4. Fish oil

There’s something about fish oil that, for a lot of people, just seems gross. I get it. When you really think about it, it is kinda gross. However, I swear by it. Those little golden capsules, full of yellow-y joint-lubricating goodness, were one of the first supplements I took for my joints. And it helped. Bonus: Because fish oil is an omega-3, it’s also chock full of brain, gut, and skin benefits.

5. Ginger

I never liked ginger. But when my rheumatologist suggested that it might actually work to nix the symptoms I was experiencing, I decided to give a go—at least in supplement form.

According to Arthritis Foundation, ginger has been shown to reduce joint pain when taken twice a day. I take one or two capsules of ginger root daily (depending on my pain level), and often drink ginger tea for additional supplement. The bonus? Ginger seriously helps to settle any stomach issues, so it’s a win-win. (This is especially the case for me, since my autoimmune disease, like many others, causes digestive problems.)

6. Boswellia Serrata

Boswellia is the newest addition to my supplementation ritual. Interestingly, Boswellia is a plant found in India, the Middle East, and Northern Africa—and it’s known for producing sweet-smelling frankincense. However, its root has also been found to be effective for joint related issues. According to study, there’s some strong evidence suggesting that it is good for inflammatory conditions, although more research is necessary.

Bonus: Capsaicin

Studies show that capsaicin (the active compound in cayenne pepper)) has a pain-reducing effect on discomfort caused by joint and muscle issues associated with physical activity or overuse. I swear by capsaicin gel. It’s got a tingly, cooling effect—which, for me, distracts from the deep throbbing pain of a stuck knee or tight upper back. Plus, it’s safe to use. Some people might not fall in love with its extreme hot-cold effect, but it does work to disguise the pain. If you’re not into that tingly feeling, you can also find capsaicin in cayenne capsule form. 

 

I Thought I Was Too Young To Get Shingles

Whenever I used to hear of someone getting Shingles, I’d think of a dreary Victorian period piece and shoddy medical practices like lobotomies and bloodletting. And then, at age 30, I actually got the Shingles.

Luckily, the doctor didn’t order a lobotomy, but I probably wouldn’t have minded given how much pain I was in.

I was also really confused. Isn’t Shingles an older-person’s disease? I thought to myself. My friends asked the same when I told them.

The fact is, while seniors are at higher risk, many people of all ages are susceptible. One in three people will get Shingles, in fact—and plenty of them are young!

Shingles, according to the Mayo Clinic, is a viral infection that affects the nerves and causes a horrifically painful (and itchy!) rash—along with exhaustion and flu-like symptoms. It’s caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which is the same virus that causes chickenpox (which I had when I was two).

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You have to have had the chicken pox to get the Shingles. If you have, the virus—like a nasty little termite—will remain dormant in your nerve tissue near your spinal cord and brain. Then, when it feels antsy (i.e. when your immune system is taking some time off), it comes out to play. Fun, right?

In general, risk factors include having infections (like HIV) or cancers, being immunocompromised, or taking certain drugs. Many sources claim stress can lead to Shingles as well, since stress can wreak havoc on your immune system.

That’s sort of why so many older people are at risk for it: Their immune systems tend to be compromised. For me, I was taking an immunosuppressant drug that, in essence, let the virus out of the gate. (Cue images of viral cells wearing war paint.)

I fit the “get Shingles” bill perfectly. I was two months into using a biologic drug called Humira, an immunosuppressant used to treat an autoimmune condition called Ankylosing Spondylitis. I was warned that I could get sick—and sure enough, it happened!

One evening, I noticed that my ribcage was on fire. Touching my skin hurt like hell, as if someone scraped me and was rubbing salt into the wound. It was seriously the weirdest physical sensation I’d ever felt. I thought I maybe snapped a rib while swimming. I had no language for the pain, simply because there’s nothing like it.

The next morning, right before getting an X-ray, I spotted the rash: a few tiny red spots on my right side had emerged, a bit like heat blisters.

“You’ve got Shingles,” my doctor said immediately. What tipped her off? The fact that Shingles normally appears on only one side of the body. “It doesn’t cross the midline,” said my doctor.

The rash, by day 2.

And the rash, by the way, is just the icing on the cake. It’s the nerves under your skin that hurt the most. For me, it felt like someone had cut, burned, and bruised me all at once—in a sort of stripe formation, from my chest to my back, right along my ribcage. And the strangest thing is that the area with the heaviest rash was less painful than other un-rash-covered parts of my skin. It plays by its own rules, I suppose.

When the painkillers wore off, I felt like I was actually broken—and I truly (no exaggeration) wondered if I could take it anymore. Let it be known that my autoimmune disorder causes chronic pain, but nothing—not even an iota—like this. In the “worst day ever” category, Shingles takes the win.

I couldn’t leave the house for a week, since I was super-contagious. (Hi. This was very boring.) A person with active Shingles can spread the virus (as chicken pox, not Shingles), though when the rash gets crusty, contagion is reduced.

I was prescribed antiviral medication, which I had to take three times a day for 10 days. Without rapid medication, Shingles can cause something called post-herpetic neuralgia, which causes chronic Shingles pain (without the rash) for months or years after the episode. I was lucky I began treating it within 48 hours, although statistically, I could still get post-herpetic neuralgia. Shingles—depending on severity and location—can also cause other complications: inflammation of the brain (encephalitis), facial paralysis, blindness, and hearing or balance problems.

In order to combat the pain, itchiness, and general awful-ness of the experience, I took my medicine and also looked into more holistic remedies, throwing everything I could at the problem. Shingles, according to National Institutes of Health, can last anywhere from three to five weeks—which was absolutely not okay by me. No, thank you.

Here’s what I did:

I heard that tea tree oil could help keep the rash clean, so I diluted four-five drops in a base of witch hazel and applied it to my rash several times per day. The coolness of the tea tree oil felt incredible, and I believe it helped shrink the rash within about seven days. Keeping the Shingles rash clean is important because it can develop bacterial issues. Witch hazel is also very light and cleansing, and doesn’t burn irritated skin at all.

I also adopted a specific supplement regimen: I took 1000mg of Lysine daily, which I’d found may help promote healing. Additionally, I loaded up on vitamin c to boost my immune system.

But I didn’t stop there. I’d also read that Manuka honey can both clean Shingles and keep the pain at bay, so I decided to try it.

When my skin was fresh and clean (after wiping it down with witch hazel and tea tree oil), I’d apply a light coating of the Manuka honey and leave it on for a few hours. Later, I’d wash the honey off gently with some cool water (hot water aggravates Shingles—stay away!).

FYI: You can’t spread Shingles from body part to body part (they sort of evolve, from the nerve root, on their own). It’s not like poison ivy, for example.

Related: I Added Vitamin C To My Skin-Care Routine—Here’s How My Face Reacted

The worst of my Shingles pain lasted about six days. I slept a lot and wriggled in pain even more. Nights were the worst. The rash was well-controlled, too: After diligently cleaning it, in about six days it also started to shrink considerably.

Given how terrible Shingles are, it’s odd that we don’t hear more about the condition. Part of me wonders if there is a stigma attached to it: Rashes tend to gawked at, and people with skin disorders often face judgment by strangers. These stigmas are problematic, since the more we communicate about our experiences, the more we can potentially help others.

Next time you hear of someone having Shingles, offer to pick up their dinner or bring them some Manuka honey. It may not seem like a common condition, but it’s out there—and it’s awful.

What It’s Like Staying Fit With An Autoimmune Disorder

In the past year, I’ve become super-fitness-focused (did I just write that?)—because I was tired of the old, high-blood-pressure-me, and because I have an inflammatory disease called Ankylosing Spondylitis. In short, it’s degenerative, and it can cause my spine to fuse, leaving me with no mobility. It can also affect my heart, eyes, lungs, and stomach. Let’s just say, it seriously sucks.

If this disease were a vampire, it would feed on the sedentary. It looooves the sedentary. Sitting for 20 minutes? Not stretching all day? Not exercising? It’s all like porn to this disease. But that’s just me—there are plenty of other autoimmune diseases that don’t have the same effect, of course. However, research shows that many of these diseases (and remember, there’s over 100 of them!) respond really well to clean eating and tailored fitness regimens.

That’s because people with autoimmune diseases have some obstacles. Many of us are plagued with constant fatigue (you can go to the gym at 5 a.m., but I’m good, thanks), deal with some range of chronic pain or mobility loss (my inflamed joints have banned burpees for life), or deal with complications that prevent us from simply hitting the gym like everyone else.

But this isn’t a sob story! This is a victory story. This is what I’ve learned about staying fit, despite my limitations—and hopefully, no matter your current state of health, there’s something here that may apply to you.

1. Understand what an autoimmune disease does to you.

If I had a nickel for every time someone asked, “What is an autoimmune disease?” I’d be rich. Just kidding—but I’d probably have about $50 bucks, which is not bad at all for a hypothetical situation.

It’s one thing to explain to someone the mechanics of an autoimmune disease (inflammation in the body runs rampant, attacking itself and making the body sick), but it’s another to contextualize what this means for you.

Related: Millions Of Americans Have Autoimmune Diseases—Could You?

Because inflammation is at the core of these diseases, you can know that it’s the culprit behind many of your symptoms. Inflammation makes us tired because the body is fighting its own healthy cells. Inflammation can also cause pain. (Anyone who doesn’t believe in chronic fatigue or pain should stop and look up “Science” in the dictionary, please.)

Which leads me to number two…

2. Listen to your body.

This mantra is often tossed around—but the fact is, it can come off as a mindless platitude. You can trust me, though, that I’m not blowing smoke: You need to listen to your body. Learning to understand when your body needs rest—versus when it could use a healthy dose of movement (whatever that means to you!)—is key. Become a psychic to your poor, ailing body. It will thank you. Ignore its needs, and you will feel worse.

Here’s why you need be more vigilant: People with autoimmune diseases often deal with flare-ups. This word is like uttering “Voldemort” to us autoimmunies—it means a whole slew of things, and none of them are good. Flares are what we avoid at literally all costs, be it taking medicine, getting enough sleep, exercising, eating right, or keeping stress at bay.

Related: I Won’t Let My Thyroid Disease Stop Me From Staying Fit

Healthy people can go hard or skimp on some sleep and still be more or less OK. But for us, going too hard—or not moving enough—can result in a flare. I love my 7:30 p.m. aqua plyometics class (water is divine for anyone with joint issues, since it’s so low-impact!), but there are days when my body feels like it’s got nothing left. Gas tank empty. And I have learned to listen in order to prevent a flare.

Because you don’t always know when you’ll be too tired to muster a workout, it can be smart to take advantage of the times you do feel well enough. That could mean breaking into a spontaneous stretch, yoga, or plyo session—or rerouting your weekend plans to include a quick lap swim. I’m not saying this is easy or doable—and it’s a luxury to be able to make room for movement—but it’s something to consider!

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3. Small victories matter.

If you can’t get in a full 30 minutes or an hour at the gym, that’s OK. When I can’t, I try to do a variety of stretch sessions or short walks. Treating my body like it is capable is what matters. This might mean I do five minutes of yoga mid-day, or that you take the stairs instead of the elevator.

The point is, you can do something (anything!). For many autoimmunies, feeling out of control—like the disease is your boss—is the reality. When you can’t predict flare-ups or your reaction to a certain medicine, it’s important to do what you can to reclaim autonomy over your body. Don’t think you need to be an athlete or overcome disease by running three miles every morning despite the pain. Those victories are incredible, but so are the smaller ones.

You’ve got this dumb monster raging inside you, so be a friend to yourself!

4. Use fitness as mental therapy.

Obviously, there’s no complimentary therapy that can take the place of professional mental health care. However, there are ways to augment your mental health rituals—and fitness is totally one of them. Autoimmune diseases are basically free passes to the local pity party: You feel tired all the time, your body hurts, your friends don’t get it, your job doesn’t get it, and your spouse is tired of hearing you complain.

This is why, for me, I like to use fitness to get my endorphins rolling. I feel like I am making strides to feel better, and sometimes this is a key that unlocks that coveted sense of okay-ness. Suddenly, with all those post-exercise feel-good hormones flooding my body, it’s a little easier to feel celebratory and joyful. With time, it’s even made me feel like the disease takes up a just a sliver of my life—and not all of it. Feeling strong, capable, flexible, and in control reduces the number of times I feel badly.

Related: How Fitness Became My Drug Of Choice

But maybe you’re not in a position to get a rush of endorphins from working out—there are other ways to up your happiness levels: meditation, slowly walking in nature, journaling about your gratitude, or simply laughing (seriously, making time to laugh can change your physiology). Taking the time to slow down and care for yourself—in any way—can make a big difference.

5. Make fitness part of your wellness routine.

Maybe this seems insanely obvious by this point, but fitness isn’t an extracurricular to wellness. To me, it’s a part of the wellness pie-chart (which includes eating well and supplementing, engaging in pleasurable activities, using de-stressing tools daily, managing illness (medication, physical therapy), meaningful social interaction, and exercise). Making the conscious effort, day in and out, to move and strengthen your body, can be extremely empowering.

Just having the option to move your body is a privilege, especially to someone with disabilities. For example, when my disease is at its worst, people can become wheelchair or bed-bound, unable to move, turn, or even walk. I recognize that this could be me, so while I have the time to use my body, I do!

I swim or aqua cycle four or five times a week, and it impacts my overall wellness in a variety of ways: It lowers my blood pressure, it strengthens my body, it raises my good cholesterol, and it decreases my pain. (And, not going to lie, because I work out in water I get to buy bunch of awesome, neon-colored bathing suits that freak everyone else in the pool out.)

6. Ask the disease what it wants to eat for dinner.

I have never looked at food like an enemy, and I don’t believe food should be used as a tool for punishment or shame. We are pleasure beings and we like wine, cheese, fatty meats, and sugar. And that’s OK. But these pleasures must be indulged in in moderation, especially with an autoimmune disease.

In fact, research shows that many autoimmune diseases are deeply rooted in gut health, according to a study in Autoimmune Diseases. I know, for a fact, that eating cheese and most grains disturbs my gut flora and can trigger a flare-up.

Related: Shop probiotics to keep your gut healthy. 

There’s a two-fold benefit to eating well and eating for your body: One, it keeps you fit so that you can stay moving. Two, it keeps you energized and feeling good. Three, it keeps you from feeling shackled to frustrating digestive and disease symptoms.

If I ask my Ankylosing Spondylitis what it wants for dinner, it says salmon, avocado, arugula, and cauliflower. If I ask myself, Myself says pizza and cookies. You have to get in between them and figure it out!

7. Supplement for you.

People always say “take your vitamins and supplements!” and there’s a great reason for it. Whether you’ve eliminated food groups (something us autoimmunies do a lot in search of the least inflammatory diet) or are simply looking to increase health by getting more of the good stuff, supplements can make a big difference.

Research what works for you. I know that fish oil has been found helpful in patients with Ankylosing Spondylitis, for example. Start with a multivitamin to fill in any nutritional gaps, and work with a functional medicine practitioner, if possible, to identify what else might work for your body and your autoimmune disease.

Related: Shop joint health supplements to keep your body feeling its best. 

What Is African Black Soap—And Why Does Everyone Swear By It?

There are plenty of trendy health and natural skin-care products on the market (hello, apple cider vinegar!) these days—and black soap (a.k.a. African black soap) is now emerging as the latest star. Purported to provide ultra-deep cleansing of the skin and praised by people with skin conditions like rosacea and eczema, black soap is quickly accumulating super-fans, with beauty experts extolling its virtues.

A quick scan of the beauty-care aisle will tell you that black soaps, like Shea Moisture’s Organic African Black Soap, contain a few leading ingredients: plant ash (such as cocoa pod ash), shea butter, and various oils. Each brand may carry products with slightly different ingredients, but it’s the ash that plays a core role due to its skin-cleansing abilities.

Originating in West Africa, black soap comes from something called agro-waste—or, parts of plants (ashes from shells, husks or barks of plantain, palm, cocoa pod, or shea trees) left out in the sun to dry. The ash from these parts is mixed with water, shea butter, and oils (like coconut oil or palm oil), and is then cooked, saponofied (made hard, like sap), and cooled.

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Though more conclusive studies are needed on African black soap’s seemingly magical skin-cleansing properties, research in the Journal of Bioresource Technology found that the ash in black soap, which gently exfoliates the skin due to its makeup from dried plants, offers “excellent solubility, consistency, cleansing, and lathering abilities.”

On top of its skin-cleansing properties, the shea butter in African black soap is lauded for its moisturizing abilities. “Shea butter can help soften cracked dry skin on heels, elbows, and knees,” says Brian Tanzer, Manager of Scientific Affairs at The Vitamin Shoppe. “It also contains essential fatty acids, along with vitamins A and E, which help maintain your skin’s elasticity and suppleness.”

The oils found in black soap, which can vary by the region in which the soap was made, are also highly moisturizing.

Who Should Use It?

Most people can use African black soap on their face and body for general skin cleansing. And according to a survey published by the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, people also use it for minimizing acne, dark spots, and razor bumps. This could be due to its deep-cleansing abilities, although more research is needed to validate its mechanisms and its effectiveness on specific skin conditions.

10 Things That Will Help You Get Your Hygge On

If your favorite thing to do during the wintertime is drink a warm cup of cinnamon tea by the window, tucked under a baby-soft blanket—or if you’ve decorated your whole apartment with distressed wood and tiny candles, chances are you’ve probably already fallen in love with the trendy concept of hygge.

Hygge (pronounced “hoo-gah”) is a Danish word that can’t exactly be translated into English—although it’s both a noun and an adjective that falls somewhere in between cozy and content, especially as it relates to mindfully indulging in simple pleasures (think: listening to the rain fall, or reading a good book in bed while still in your pajamas). Fun fact: The Germans have their own version of this word (gemütlichkeit) and the Dutch do, too (gezelligheid). To the Norwegians, it translates to “well-being.”

Want to conjure some hygge for yourself? It’s more than a mindset—you’ve got to set up your space for ultimate warmth and comfort, and we’re here to help you do just that.

Here’s what you’ll need:

1. Himalayan Crystal Salt Lamp

Beloved for their supposed air-clarifying properties, salt lamps are probably the most hygge light source of all—aside from the actual sun on a snowy day. With their natural, orange glow, even small salt lamps can fill a room with magic and calm.

Related: Should You Jump On The Bandwagon And Buy A Himalayan Salt Lamp?

2. Golden Milk

A nice cup of chamomile tea or a mug of hot cocoa are both superbly hygge, but Golden Milk takes the award for coziest of all. First off, its scent is enchanting, as it’s blended with spicy turmeric, ginger, honey, cinnamon, and cardamom. On top of that, the turmeric promotes a sense of well-being. Simply mix with warm coconut milk or any other milk base, and you’ve got a saffron-colored winter-weather concoction that’s good for the soul.

3. Pumpkin Banana Bread

If you take a moment to google “hygge,” you’ll find loads of gorgeous food blogs out there, brimming with delectable treats displayed on candle-covered long wooden tables. Now you can make your very own hygge dessert—one that is both tasty and Instagrammable. #hygge.

4. No Cow’s Fluffbutter

This brownie batter-flavored fluffbutter is the equivalent of eating a pink cloud. Step one: Wrap yourself up in a big, wool blanket. Step 2: Eat this stuff by the spoonful. Infused with both pea and rice proteins, you’ll have yourself a delicious and healthy hygge snack.

5. Ashwagandha Extract

Beyond décor and Instagram-friendly hygge aesthetic is the core concept of self-care via simplicity and coziness. Basically, if hygge were a supplement, it’d be ashwagandha—and that’s because this popular and powerful adaptogen promotes natural feelings of energy, vitality, and emotional well-being. Used to adapt to stress, sooth the nervous system, and support sleep, you can bet this little herb will inspire hygge from the inside.

6. SpaRoom Aromascape Diffuser & Essential Oils 

Hygge is all about the sensory. From the feeling of a fluffy puppy to the pitter-patter sounds of rain, you want to settle down and take it all in. And with this SpaRoom Aromascape diffuser, you can do just that in a scent-sational space. Its glass-blown sculpture is super-pretty to look at, since its spectral color-changing ability adds major ambience. You can pick any scent you want—but we recommend lavender or vanilla oil for a truly hygge vibe.

7. Nubian Heritage’s Patchouli Body Wash

Pour yourself a very hygge bath with Nubian Heritage’s patchouli and rosehip body wash. Simply pour a bit under the water, sink into the bubbles, and enjoy the skin-softening goodness of this calming, aromatic wash.

8. Natural HBC’s Peace Pearl Pillar Candle

This lavender-and-tangerine-scented candle has been hand-crafted in small batches—and ain’t it darling? The combination of these aromas is sure to leave you feeling relaxed and soothed, while the candle itself will pretty up any living space.

9. Love My Coloring Books’ Love Is…

Coloring books aren’t just for kids! This beautiful little book is made for anyone looking to get creative. Settle in for a weekend evening with a few Crayolas—and prepare to escape.

For any cat lovers out there, we’ve also got you covered.

10. Gaiam’s 3MM Purple Mat

Hygge isn’t just about cozying up under the blankets. For you, it might mean pulling out the yoga mat, putting on some soft music, lighting a few candles, and moving through the poses. Make your yoga experience more comfortable—and much more pretty—by using this comfy mat by trusted brand Gaiam.

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Who’s Good: Meet Yoga Guru And Best-Selling Author Sara DiVello

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 Sara DiVello, yoga instructor, Athleta brand ambassador, and author of the best-selling book, Where in the OM Am I? One Woman’s Journey from the Corporate World to the Yoga Mat. You may have seen her work in the The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, Marie Claire, or MindBodyGreen, where she shares inspiring, friendly advice on how to bring Zen to a busy lifestyle. (More on that below!)

Sara, thanks for chatting with us! Let’s start with your yoga practice. How did you come into it, and what are your focuses as a yoga instructor?

Tuesday Truth: an Open heart is a brave heart. 💙

A post shared by Writer • Speaker •Yoga Teacher (@saradivello) on

So happy to chat! I love The Vitamin Shoppe and find myself in-store a healthy number of times per week. I started doing yoga because my heart was broken—I continued because it gave me tools to manage my anxiety and insomnia, which totally changed my life. The full story is, my boyfriend at the time dumped me, and shortly thereafter, I got laid off when my company was acquired by a much-larger one. Talk about a personal-professional double-whammy! I felt rejected in both spheres of my life and plummeted into depression—and the fact that it was a dark, dreary, freezing cold winter in Boston probably didn’t help. The post-practice peacefulness I felt after yoga helped me through that. I then stayed with my practice for next 17 years because of the ways yoga changed my life. It helps me feel calm, grounded, and centered, which is literally life-changing for a chronically anxious person like me!

My focus now as a teacher is to share the same tools that helped me. I lead a slow, mindful, therapeutic-oriented practice, and I set a tone that is warm, welcoming, and accepting of ALL, regardless of age, ability, or experience. I have people in their 70s and 80s in my classes and I also have super-flexible professional dancers. Often, I have people who tell me they hate yoga but somehow like what I teach. But they’re all there because something resonates with them in some way.


My theory is that when you set a tone of welcoming acceptance, and give people the tools to slow down, tune in to the deepest parts of themselves, and—in the process—connect to something sacred, you provide a key that they can use for their unique journey and healing.

I don’t teach, preach, or practice any of the “cool stuff” you may see on Instagram (like headstands or arm balances). I’m here to give myself and others the tools to slow down, connect, and heal anxiety, insomnia, and the terrible sense of being chronically overbooked and undernourished when it comes to time, energy, and resources.

Tell us a little about your book, Where in the OM Am I?One Woman’s Journey from the Corporate World to the Yoga Mat. It was an NIEA winner for Best Memoir and Shape Magazine selected itas a best book. Who is this book for?  

OM is for anyone wondering where they are in their life, what the heck is going on, and if this is all there is. It’s for people feeling stuck, who have a gnawing sense of deep-down dissatisfaction, or a gentle yearning for more. It’s also for people who just need a good laugh. One of my favorite reviews said it’s “The Devil Wears Prada meets Eat, Pray, Love….” And, I would add, “with some humor from The Office thrown in on the side.”

All kidding aside, the book is about finding what you want to do in life, as told through my transition from working in financial services to teaching yoga, and all of the super-crazy “characters” in both worlds. It also addresses how women can be so mean to other women both in the workplace AND in the yoga world (and let me tell you—the yoga mean girls really caught me off guard!).

Overall, I wanted readers to know that they’re not alone, that this is their one glorious life and they deserve to pursue what would make them extraordinarily happy. And, that if I can make a shift, anyone can.

Tell us about your work as a brand ambassador for Athleta.

✨I'm taking over @athleta's National Instagram Stories today! 🙌🏼✨ And to celebrate I'm also launching a Power of She Absolute SelfCare Challenge! Swipe left 👈🏼 ✨ For 10 days I'll be sharing my top wellness tips, tricks, hacks, and recipes to enhance your Absolute SelfCare starting with food today (scroll left for recipes and details)✨ To Enter: 1: Follow me (obv) 2: Comment below with questions or what you're excited to try (or even just a ☺️ to let me know you're here) 3: Follow along Daily for my tips (and to see new prizes added). Winner will be picked on Day 10! #powerofshe #absoluteselfcare . . . . . . . . #athleta #athletaambassador #athletanewbury #sponsored #athletaxsorel #YogaJourney #YogaJunkie #YogaLifestyle #YogaGram #YogaLife #YogaGirl #Author #AuthorLife #AuthorsOfInstagram #Wellness #Health #MindBodySpirit #HealthyLiving #Bewell #Inspiration #Empowerment #HealthAndWellness #HiVibeTribe #GoodVibesOnly #GirlBoss

A post shared by Writer • Speaker •Yoga Teacher (@saradivello) on

I was incredibly honored when Athleta chose me as one of seven U.S. yoga ambassadors when they launched their ambassador program in 2015. I continue in this role today. As an ambassador, I provide free health and wellness events to the Boston community, which is super-important to me. I fully believe in Athleta’s mission to support and empower ALL women—of all ages, sizes, abilities, and backgrounds. Athleta also provides educational opportunities to the women who manufacture and sew their clothes, and that is equally important to me.

You recently spoke at the WELL Summit, an event series aimed toward self-improvement. As a keynote speaker, what did that mean to you—and what did your speech revolve around?

Even though I do it all the time, I’m actually a very nervous public speaker, so to get up in front of 500 people and share an intimate story is vulnerable and scary for me, but it’s also deeply meaningful. I passionately believe in the power of storytelling—in each person’s ability to positively impact someone else’s life. It’s the same foundational belief I have about writing a book—if you have a story and are called to share it, you probably should. Because if you can open someone else’s eyes, heart, and mind, you can change their life–and that is one of the best and most powerful things we can do in our lifetime.

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My speech was about creating and embracing your best life. I focused on how my mother’s terminal breast cancer diagnosis made me committed to living each day fully, to dreaming big dreams and pursuing them with unyielding focus and unrelenting dedication, because to do so is to honor the gift that we have each been given and that is the gift of another day. That commitment is part of what motivated me to leave my “safe” career in financial services and risk going after my dream to be an author.

You do a lot of free events and workshops. Can you tell us about why you offer communities services like these?

I grew up poor and consequently didn’t have access to a lot of opportunities that I would’ve wished for. I was the first in my family to go to college and I worked my way through. I’m so grateful to have had that opportunity and for all the opportunities that came about as a result of it. So now I’m committed to doing what I can to give back.

Yoga, health, and wellness can get pretty pricey, which can squeeze out a lot of people. So as an Athleta ambassador (and in other volunteer/donation capacities), I provide complimentary yoga, meditation, mindful eating, and other health and wellness events and classes to the community, in an effort to make these accessible to ALL.

I’m really excited because I just completed my fourth year of teaching Yoga on the Charles for the Esplanade Association, a non-profit organization dedicated to maintaining green spaces in Boston, where they then host free health and fitness classes for the community.

It’s one of my favorite things to do. We gather between 300 to 600 people each week, and it’s so wonderful to be outside, breathe fresh air, and do yoga together as the sun sets over the Charles River. The sunsets are spectacular and the classes, while always wonderful, are also always unique. One time the mounted police rode two horses past the class and we all kind of paused to laugh (and take photos)!

But whether I get 600 people, or 16 at a more-intimate event, what really matters to me is seeing that spark of awareness click on. That “Ohhhh…Yes! This feels good! I can do this!”

Speaking of horses, you recently talked to Elite Daily about a new trend called HORSE YOGA (we didn’t know that was a thing). We actually published an article on eight adventurous yoga styles, but this is a new one. You must give us the scoop.

That was so fun. I love Elite Daily and the writer who interviewed me is hilarious. But when it comes to horse yoga, my take is this: I love horses and I love yoga. I also love spaghetti and ice cream, but I do not love these things smooshed together.

I’m a yoga traditionalist. My focus is on getting people out of pain and in that state of profound stillness, where they can connect to the deepest parts of themselves. In that stillness and connection, they can calm, ground, restore their energy, and rejuvenate.

Again, I don’t teach, preach, or practice any of the “cool stuff” you may see on Instagram, like horse yoga or balancing on one pinky over a ravine. I don’t need it. I’m here to relax, rest, and recharge (and to share those tools with others).

What are your top three tips for living a well-balanced life, especially for the busy folks out there?

1.    Don’t try to do it all as defined by anyone else. Do what feels good for you.

2.   Take time for the deep breaths every day.

3.   Get enough sleep and eat well. I know I’m a wreck without sleep and I need to eat every few hours—sort of like a two-year-old (but taller). If you’re well-rested and well-fed, everything else is possible. But you’ve GOT to have that strong foundation.

Do you have any go-to vits, supps, or smoothie recipes that keep you feeling high-energy?

Yes! I take a women’s multivitamin every day, as well as fish oil, and vitamin D supplements (again—I live in Boston. It gets dark a 4:30 p.m. during the winter! I need extra vitamin D!). And I start every day with a cup of green tea and honey, followed by a protein-packed, fiber-filled smoothie.

What can we expect to see from you as the year goes on?  

I’ve got a ton of awesome events coming up. From the Nantucket Yoga Festival July 9-10, to Yoga on the Charles in Boston every Wednesday July through September (free!), Day of WELLness in Boston in April, WELL Summit 2018 in NYC, and many more events up and down the east coast and around the country. Come hang with me on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or my website where you can sign up for my mailing list and be the first to learn about what I’ve got cooking (not to mention—you can get my friends and family discounts!).

When I’m home, I’m working on my next book—it’s actually a true crime murder mystery, so stay tuned! All this and more is on my social media and newsletter so follow me if you like healthy recipes, yoga you can do at your desk, restful sleep hacks, and other tips, tricks, and tools you can weave into your day to help live your best life. I also do a lot of giveaways.

Lastly, I truly LOVE what I do so if you’ve got questions, send me a message! As you may have noticed, I like to chat.

Millions Of Americans Have Autoimmune Diseases—Could You?

You probably hear people talking about autoimmune diseases a lot these days—and that’s because there’s much more awareness around the millions of Americans who live with them. In fact, they’re a leading cause of death in young and middle-aged women, according to research published in the The American Journal of Public Health.

Understanding autoimmune diseases isn’t easy, though—especially since they’re not all common (and there are over 100 of them!), many aren’t well-researched, and some of the diseases (such as rheumatoid arthritis or ankylosing spondylitis) don’t look anything like others (such as psoriasis, lupus, or type 1 diabetes).

At the core of every autoimmune disease is inflammation—which is why the terminology “autoimmune diseases” is sometimes used interchangeably with “autoinflammatory diseases.” There is a slight difference between the two, however, which is identified by the underlying cause of the disease. In short, autoinflammatory diseases are thought to stem from a malfunction in the innate immune system (which attacks antigens immediately and without a specific course of attack), whereas autoimmune diseases are thought to stem from a malfunction in the adaptive immune system (which reacts to specific antigens with specific courses of attack).

Fortunately, more and more research is being done around inflammation’s massive effects on our health.

The Deal With Inflammation

Quick science lesson: We all have immune systems—they keep us healthy by shielding our bodies from diseases and infections. When your body comes into contact with harm, your immune system sends out its troops (a.k.a. our white blood cells), which rush to surround the effected area. This is called acute inflammation.

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So, does that mean inflammation is a good thing? Yes and no. Although acute inflammation is necessary for our health, its bad rap isn’t entirely undeserved. In the case of people with autoimmune diseases, the issue is chronic inflammation.

“Autoimmune diseases arise when the immune system is triggered to produce antibodies [inflammation], which, rather than defending the body, instead begin attacking the body’s tissues,” says Hospital for Special Surgery rheumatologist Medha Barbhaiya, MD. It’s sort of akin to going into battle when there is no enemy. Those inflammatory responses create diseases that affect many parts of our bodies (everything from our eyes to our joints to our kidneys and hearts).

The diseases are all different and require varying modes of treatment, depending on the disease itself, the person, and the symptoms.

Why do people have autoimmune diseases?

Unfortunately, there’s no hard and fast answer. “Extensive research efforts are currently being dedicated to identifying potential underlying mechanisms that trigger such an abnormal response of the immune system,” says Dr. Barbhaiya.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), 23 million Americans suffer from an autoimmune disease. However, statistics from the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association put that number at around 50 million. What gives? “While we do not know why the prevalence is so high, both hereditary and environment-lifestyle factors may play an important role in determining who develops an autoimmune disease,” says Dr. Barbhaiya. “In fact, the current disease paradigm being investigated is one of a ‘two-hit’ hypothesis, suggesting that an environmental and lifestyle exposure may trigger disease in those with an underlying genetic predisposition.”

Related: What It’s Like To Have Arthritis In Your 20s

According to Dr. Kimberly Sanders, a licensed Naturopathic Physician at Arthrowell, some of those lifestyle and environmental triggers may include ”poor digestion, digestive tract infections, blood infections, toxins, hormone imbalances, stress, and more.” Sanders says that the accumulation of all of these triggers is enough to set a person’s disease-carrying genes off—leading to symptoms.

Could you have an autoimmune disease?

The short answer: It’s hard to know. If you think understanding the reason why people get autoimmune disease is complicated, you should know that getting a proper diagnosis isn’t always easy either.

According to an article published by the University of Virginia, many people—including some doctors—downplay autoimmune disease pain or symptoms. In fact, plenty of people with autoimmune disease convince themselves that what they’re experiencing is “all in their heads”. On top of that, it’s common to have a few autoimmune disease at the same time. And some people’s autoimmune diseases masquerade as other illnesses and are misdiagnosed.

According to the NIH, the classic physical sign is inflammation, which can present as pain, swelling joint pain, digestive issues, fatigue, or recurring fever. The problem? This might seem like the flu, or general muscle aches, or simply feeling run down. People with autoimmune diseases may also experience unpredictable flare-up periods and total remission periods.

To further complicate things, most autoimmune disease don’t have reliable screening tests, Dr. Barbhaiya explains. This means that by the time the sickness disrupts your lifestyle, you wouldn’t even know it was there. “What complicates things further is that there is a subset of the population who may test positive for certain disease-specific antibodies, but never actually go on to develop any clinical manifestations,” Dr. Barbhaiya says.

Related: Shop our whole range of immune support products.

If you do have a family history of autoimmune disease or suspect that something isn’t right—like you’ve had joint pain and fatigue for months—see your primary care physician first, and ask for a referral to a rheumatologist.

Dr. Sanders also suggests you find a “naturopathic autoimmune expert to run blood tests and catch the early expression of autoimmune diseases.” While many doctors treat the symptoms, it’s important to seek the cause or root of the issue—and see a doctor who practices functional medicine, which addresses the underlying causes.

Is there a cure?

There is no official cure for autoimmune diseases and each disease must be treated differently, but doctors may prescribe medications like corticosteroids, NSAIDS, biologics, immunosuppressants, and chemotherapy. In some cases, as with lupus, kidney transplants have been necessary.

Additionally, supplements, diets, exercise, stress-reduction techniques, and physical therapy can help people manage their symptoms. There is evidence, for example, that some diets are beneficial to people with certain autoimmune diseases, according to an article published in Current Allergy and Asthma Reports. Other autoimmune diseases may benefit from certain types of exercise.

“There is much work to be done to better understand the underlying biology and risk factors for autoimmune diseases in order to improve prevention strategies and ultimately help find a cure,” says Dr. Barbhaiya.

 

Who’s Good: Q&A With MNDFL Meditation

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 spoke with Lodro Rinzler, chief spiritual officer at MNDFL Meditation. The meditation studio has three locations in New York City and also runs a separate non-profit, MNDFL Ed, dedicated to making meditation accessible and meaningful, especially for youth.

Thanks for joining us, Lodro! Let’s start with some basics: What is meditation, and why would someone want to do it?

Meditation is, quite simply, substituting your discursive mind for an object—like the breath, a mantra, or a contemplation. Science is now proving what some spiritual traditions have been saying for thousands of years. It’s no longer a monk in robes on the other side of the world telling you that mindfulness and meditation are good for you. Instead, it’s The New York Times, academic papers, your doctor, boss, neighbors, or friends!

A little bit of mindfulness meditation every day over the period of two months leads to increased gray matter in the hippocampus and more activity in the anterior cingulate cortex [which controls high-level thinking, like ethics, morality, and decision-making]—meaning drastically reduced stress levels, better sleep, a boosted immune system, and increased productivity overall. For me, showing up for something as simple as the breath allows me to show up more fully and authentically for the rest of my life.

How can the average person begin getting into meditation? 

While there’s a lot of great resources online, I often recommend working with someone who is a certified meditation teacher and really knows their stuff. It’s important to study with someone who can hold your hand a bit as you get going and answer questions that you have along the way. If you’re not near a meditation center you can go online and check out MNDFL Video, which also has access to those really special teachers.

(Note: Everyone’s first class at MNDFL is $10—and they have 35 expert teachers on-hand.)

How does MNDFL work? We love the idea of a community of meditators. What are some of the values and missions you have?

M N D F L exists to enable humans to feel good. We are New York City’s premier meditation studio, and recently expanded to three locations (Greenwich Village, Upper East Side, and Williamsburg). Each week we have over 150 30- and 45-minute classes featuring expert teachers from a variety of traditions, offering simple techniques in an accessible manner. When classes are not in session, the space is open for self-guided practice. The mission is to make meditation accessible to all.

How can meditation be helpful in an age of high stress, social change, and political turmoil?

Since November 2016, we have seen a spike in attendance for our MNDFL Emotions classes. People are definitely grappling with some strong emotions since the transition in presidency. Meditation allows us to feel how we feel, to express our own innate peace and humanity, and form more authentic (and often offline) connections with others.

What are some of qualities you look for in an instructor?

Great question. I look for a mix of someone who is very well-trained in their lineage, who will offer time-tested techniques (as all too often people call themselves meditation teachers and offer stuff they made up last week, which is pretty harmful).

In addition to excellent training and certification as a teacher, the other thing I look for in a meditation instructor is kindness—someone who has an open heart and genuinely cares about other people.

What does the average person get wrong about meditation? How do we bust those “I can’t do it” myths?

My teacher always says that any meditation is good meditation; there’s no getting it wrong so long as we attempt to do it. I would say that most people think they should sit once and feel instant peace. That’s a bit like expecting meditation to be a massage instead of a training. For example, you wouldn’t expect to be able to pick up a guitar and immediately play Free Bird. We need to train in meditation in the same way, doing a little of it regularly and—over time—we get better at it and see the benefits first-hand. So, the number one thing I advise is to get consistent with your practice over a few weeks and be patient with yourself along the way.

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

A post shared by Irene Pappas (@fitqueenirene) on

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.