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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 1:

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

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

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

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

Days 2 & 3:

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

Days 4 & 5:

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

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

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

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

Days 6 & 7:

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

The Bottom Line

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

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

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

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

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

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

Should Your Kids Be Drinking Fruit Juice?

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

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

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

But not everyone agrees with the AAP’s recommendations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The bottom line

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

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

Here’s Why Everyone Swears By Oil Of Oregano

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

Oregano’s Origins

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

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

Its benefits are wide-reaching:

Immune System

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

Cholesterol

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

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

Gut Health

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

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

Skin & Gums

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

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

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

Related: Shop oregano products for healthy skin

Protection Against Insects

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My First Class

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

Me with Aqua Studio instructor Alexia.

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

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

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

The Next 17 Classes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Results

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related: Shop products directly related to your health goals

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

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

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

 

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

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

Related: 7 Beach Activities That Double As Great Workouts

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

 

 

 


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

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

 


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

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


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

 

 


 

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

 

 

 


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

 

 


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

 

 

 

 


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

 

 

 


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

Which Type Of Multi Is Right For You?

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

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

Related: Shop multivitamins for all your health needs.

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

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

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

Whole food vitamins

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

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

Related: Shop PLNT’ Whole Food Multis.

Targeted multivitamins

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

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

 Related: Should You Switch To A Whole Food Multivitamin?

Liquid And Powder Multivitamins

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

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

dosage

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

Related: Should You Be Taking A Multivitamin?

Gummy multivitamins 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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


SCOTT ROMANI
Store#167—Fresno, CA 

Scott Romani Blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


KAREN HILSENBECK
Store #714—Stony Brook, NY

Karen Hilsenbeck blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


OLIVIA BYRAM
Store #040—Levittown, NY

Olivia Byram blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


SAIF SALIM
Store #011—New York, NY

Saif Salim blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is Rosemary The Key To A Longer Life?

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

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

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

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

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

Coincidence? Maybe not.

The Many Benefits of Rosemary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adding Rosemary To Your Diet

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


CAL RAWLINGS
Store #287 South Burlington, VT

Cal Rawlings Blog

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

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

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

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

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


ASHLEY BRIJMOHAN
Store #575 East Rutherford, NJ


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

Erick Solis Blog

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

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

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

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

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



OLIVIA BYRAM
Store #040,  Levittown, NY


ALEXANDRA HOFFMAN
#531 Westminster, MD

Alexandra Hoffman Blog

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

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

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


STEPHANIE PEACOCK
Store #218 Hurst, TX

Stefanie Peacock blog.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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



MUSTAFA HASHIMI
#828 STATEN ISLAND, NY


SABRIE FLORES
#747: Colonial Heights, VA

sabrie flores blog.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sure enough, ASMR had me pegged.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s Time To Stop Being So Scared of Meditation

Between our personal lives, jobs, commuting nightmares, and [insert issue here], stress is bound to crop up here and there. You know the signs: irritability, sleeping problems, anxiety, appetite changes—and the list goes on.

To help manage these effects, some people turn to meditation. Science speaks to its profound benefits—like decreasing inflammation, boosting attention span, and growing your actual brain matter (yes, you heard that correctly). On the flip side, there are a lot of people who bug at the mere thought of sitting still (or not using their iPhone to tune out) for minutes on end. Meditation sounds nice in theory, impossible in execution.

To those people, we say: You can do it. Yes, YOU! The centuries-old practice isn’t just for the Zen.

Understanding Meditation’s Purpose

Meditation has been associated with yoga, tai chi, the use of mantras, and plenty of other mindfulness activities. However, the history of meditation dates back to ancient Indian Vedic texts, which state that the true purpose of meditation is to connect to your deep inner Self (people, according to these texts, are made up of three parts: the physical body, the inner faculty or working consciousness, and the deep inner Self, or pure consciousness).

Unifying the three is said to bring about deep emotional, physical, and mental peace and clarity. Sound heavy? Don’t worry about going too deep. Just think about how freeing it’ll feel to have a few minutes to yourself, totally dedicated the idea of relieving your stress. Plus, experts believe that having meditation in your arsenal can help you better handle stressful situations as they arise in the long-term.

Begin By Breathing

It doesn’t have to lead to some sort of epiphany or grand moment, just sitting and focusing on your breathing is a good way start. Totally doable.

According to Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Miracle of Mindfulness, you’ll want to sit up, with your back straight, in a relaxed posture. Breath naturally, giving all of your attention to the breath, from inhalation to exhalation. When you breathe in, follow the air into your lungs with your mind, and do the same when you breathe out.

According to Lodro Rinzler, Co-Founder and Chief Spiritual Officer of New York City-based MNDFL Meditation, you’ll want to pay close attention to this whole process: “Take a moment to feel the weight of your body on the earth. Gently lift upward through your spine. Connect to the natural cycle of your breath, feeling the rise and fall of your belly. When your mind wanders, come back to the physical sensation of the breath.”

If you prefer, you can also find a guided meditation on YouTube, or via an app (like Headspace or Calm).  

Create A Ritual

Start small with your meditation practice (think three-five minutes per day), and work up from there. Some people prefer to meditate early in the morning, while others might do so before bed. The beauty of meditation is that it’s flexible, although getting into a ritual (like a specific time or after a specific trigger point each day) will help you develop your daily mindfulness practice. Think about when you need to clear your mind, and how your meditation might impact the rest of your day.

Related: 12 Natural Ways To Kick Your Stress To The Curb

Don’t have tons of time? The organization Greater Good In Action lists many ways to build meditation into our busy lives. For one, you can walk and mindfully meditate at the same time.

A walking meditation simply involves being deeply focused on your experience of walking—deliberately noticing each foot rising and hitting the ground, while breathing. You could begin each day by mindfully walking for a few moments each day, or you could mindfully walk during your lunch breaks at work. (Sound dangerous? Don’t worry. You keep your eyes open!)

Set A Daily Intention

Many people like to set an intention each day during their meditative practice. According to Rinzler, this can be done after or while focusing on your breath: “Contemplate, ‘What quality do I want to cultivate today?’ Let whatever answers come up wash over you like a wave and keep returning to the question as the object of meditation. Notice if one answer feels particularly relevant to you. As you emerge from meditation, commit to focusing on that quality for just this one day.”

Related: Shop yoga mats and get your meditation on.

Don’t Be Hard On Yourself

So you’re sitting there meditating, but you’re really thinking about dinner, or work, or that itch on your left foot. You’re definitely not alone. Meditation, as Rinzler says, is “very simple, but not always easy.”

If in your practice you find it hard to come back to your breath, remember that this is normal. According to Suze Yalof Schwartz, the CEO and founder of Unplug Meditation and app, and author of Unplug : A Simple Guide to Meditation for Busy Skeptics and Modern Soul Seekers, distracting thoughts and mind chatter during meditation is common, for people of every level. It’s about paying attention to the moments of silence in between letting those restless thoughts pass. And more so, it’s about coming back to the practice again and again. Don’t be discouraged by what is only natural.

So why should you try it? People come to meditation for different reasons, says Schwartz: “They want more focus, to be present, to find calm, or because they’re depressed. Others want to find purpose.”

Does meditation sound like something that could be helpful in your life? Test it out with this one-minute meditation (you can take it longer, if you’d like), offered up by Schwartz, straight from her book:

meditation

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

Sure, you eat your greens—but do you eat your supergreens? Supergreens are a type of green jam-packed with health-boosting benefits. You can toss some of them onto your plate (think dark and rich-flavored greens like kale or chard), but you can get others (specifically the algaes and grasses) in alternative forms, like powder.

So what sort of superpowers do supergreens come with? “Supergreens provide phytonutrients not typically found in the average diet, says Brian Tanzer, M.S., manager of scientific affairs for The Vitamin Shoppe. “Some of these phytochemicals provide powerful antioxidant benefits in addition to supporting overall health, energy, and vitality.”

Here, a guide to which supergreens are worth consuming—and why they’re so good for your health.

The Algaes

chlorella header

Chrlorella isn’t something you can just toss onto your plate, as it’s a single-cell green algae found in fresh water. That doesn’t sound particularly tasty, but we promise it’s chlorella_copy.jpgworth it. According to the journal Current Pharmaceutical, this diverse little algae contains plenty of micronutrients, proteins, omega-3 polyunsaturated acids, vitamins, minerals, and polysaccharides, helping to protect you against oxidative stress, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, and other health issues. Oh, and it has the highest level of chlorophyll (disease-fighting plant pigment) of any plant out there.

Want to get your chlorella on? Try this pineapple chlorella smoothie using Green Foods’ Organic Chlorella Powder. Or, you can also supplement with a chlorella tablet daily.

spirulina

Spirulina is another trendy algae known for its nutritional power and gorgeous blue-green color. And its popularity goes way back. According to the journal Clinical and Translational Investigation, spirulina has been consumed by man since ancient times in Mexico and central Africa because of its high protein content. Today, though, studies show that spirulina offers plenty of powerful health-promoting qualities (on top of being spirulina_720an excellent source of nutrition).

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

According to Achives of Toxicology, it may prevention inflammation, boost the immune system, and fight oxidation. In fact, clinical trials show that spirulina may help prevent skeletal muscle damage due to exercise-induced oxidative stress. No wonder people drink it at the gym bar! To enjoy, mix up a teaspoon of Spirulina Powder in a glass of water or in a delicious concoction, like this blueberry smoothie.

The Grasses

wheat grass

You’ve probably been offered a shot of wheat grass at your local juicery—and you’d be wise to take it. Wheatgrass is a young (and edible!) grass from the wheat plant, sold mostly in powder or tablets form.

wheat grass picIt’s chock full of vitamins C and E, antioxidants, phenolic acid, flavonoids, and chlorophyll, making it a powerful supergreen. According to Mini Reviews in Medicinal Chemistry, wheat grass’ devout followers are onto something: Studies have shown that it offers serious immune support and antioxidant properties. To reap its benefits, whip up a level scoop of Garden of Life’s Raw Organic Perfect Food 100% Wheat Grass into a glass of juice, a smoothie, or an eight-ounce cup of water.

barley.jpg

Looking for an excellent source of Capture.JPGdietary fiber? This is where barley comes into play. This potent grass has been shown to have positive effects on metabolism, bowel functions, and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, according to a study done by the journal Nutrition. Use two teaspoons of Barley Grass Juice Powder in your favorite juice or water, or you can whip up a delicious meal with this barley berry smoothie.

The Newest Hot Supergreen

moringa

moringa picMoringa is quickly becoming everyone’s favorite new supergreen, and that’s because the moringa tree’s leaves contain protein, copperiron, phenolics, potassium, vitamins A and CB vitaminscalcium, and folic acid. Its health-promoting qualities are no joke, with studies pointing to its cholesterol-lowering, antioxidant-rich, cardiac and circulatory system-supporting benefits, among others, according to the journal Phytotherapy Research. Want to start adding moringa to the mix? It’s available in powdercapsule, or as a juice.

Related: Why Moringa Is About To Be Your New Favorite Supergreen

I Took A DNA Test To Get My Health & Fitness Profile

When I decided to take an ancestry test to help me build out my family tree, I learned about 23 & Me’s (one of the leading DNA services) Wellness Report, which offers up genetic health risks, wellness information, and carrier statuses for certain diseases.

I’ll be totally honest: The thought of uncovering my potential health risks absolutely drove me to despair. If you could have a crystal ball with which to see the future—only the future was possibly filled with disease, pain, and possible early death would you look? I figured, with most people in my family dying from cancer or heart disease, the outlook couldn’t be good. But then again, maybe they could have prevented or better fought against certain health issues with the knowledge afforded to me now.

I vacillated around the idea of finding out what sort of abnormalities were hiding in my DNA. I went to order the test. I clicked out. I went back in a few days later. And I clicked out yet again right before pulling out my credit card. I just couldn’t reconcile wielding that sort of power over my existence; I wanted to just live my life and do what I could to stay fit, healthy, and happy. And ignorant.

The thought of uncovering my potential health risks absolutely drove me to despair.

So, instead of buying the Wellness Report, I went ahead and got my ancestry done. Innocently enough, I found out I had more Neanderthal DNA than 98 percent of 23 & Me users. (Yes, I absolutely googled, “What does it mean to have more Neanderthal DNA?” Answer: Found in Europe and Asia, they had bigger brains and muscles. Score). I also learned that my family heritage was much more global than I thought; in fact, I was able to build out my maternal line back to the 1600s with this information.

Related: How Much Do Genetics Factor Into Getting Ripped Abs?

One day, though, a friend asked me if I’d uploaded my DNA results’ raw data (which is the un-interpreted data and which is also downloadable, for free, whenever you get an ancestry test with some of the brand-name services) to something called Promethease.

Promethease. “Sounds daunting,” I said. “What is it?”

“It offers you a DNA-based report on your health,” my friend said. “I used it because my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer at 50, and I wanted to know if it’s a high risk for me.”

I was taken aback by her attitude; was she not scared of knowing her own fate? Or, was she taking advantage of something that people, for thousands of years, couldn’t have even dreamed up?

How Do DNA Health Tests Work?

Ready for a science lesson? (You won’t be tested on this later, promise).

Promethease is basically a huge database that builds a personalized DNA report based on your DNA genotypes (part of your DNA that determines characteristics). The information based on those genotypes is linked to scientific findings at SNPedia, another database of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs).

According to 23 & Me, “SNPs can generate biological variation between people by causing differences in the recipes for proteins that are written in genes. Those differences can in turn influence a variety of traits such as appearance, disease susceptibility or response to drugs.”

So, where do SNPs come from?

23 & Me explains: “Cells sometimes make mistakes during the copying process, kind of like typos. These typos lead to variations in the DNA sequence at particular locations.” And those locations are called SNPs (or “snips”).

Whether you use Promethease or another DNA wellness service, these SNPs are the driving force.

Getting My Report

After my Neanderthal percentage novelty disappeared, I thought about getting the health test. I rationalized it like this: I could be afraid of the unknown or I could seize what little control I have over it and use it to my benefit. It seems, if we have knowledge, we should apply it, right?

I decided to take the plunge so that I could tell my doctor about anything I saw that screamed, “Death imminent!”

My report from Promethease cost $5, which, if you think about it, is a small price to pay to have some power over the mystery of the human body.

I could be afraid of the unknown or I could seize what little control I have over it and use it to my benefit.

The great thing about companies like Promethease (others include DNAFit, Genomic Express, LiveWello among others) is that they allow people to take health into their own hands. And besides masochists like myself, biomedical researchers and healthcare practitioners also use Promethease, which means that uploading your data adds to important research efforts.

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

I was thrown by the results of my report.

Once I connected my 23 & Me data to the Promethease site, it took about 10 minutes to receive my report. And sure enough, it appeared accurate. I could see some of the health issues I’ve been diagnosed with, like Ankylosing Spondylitis, on the report, and I could also see some of the stuff I hadn’t known about.

as

I have to admit that it took a few minutes for my heart to stop beating; it’s like opening Pandora’s Box for the first time. I came away with information around which cancers and diseases I’m at risk for, which drugs I can’t metabolize, and—very helpfully—how I might best lose weight. A lot of it synced up to what I’d seen family members be diagnosed with.

My report also made fitness suggestions: It said that I’m part of a population of people who can only lose weight through vigorous workout regimes (not necessarily through diet only). I’m predisposed to obesity, it said (true) and low-fat diets work best in my favor (thanks for that; no wonder cutting carbs hasn’t worked).

Related: Shop products to support your health goals.

Wild card: My DNA suggested that I have a ‘lack of empathy.” At first, I thought, how could this be? Isn’t empathy learned? However, its explanation is pretty scientific: “You have a SNP in the oxytocin receptor which may make you less empathetic than most people. When under stress you may have more difficulty recognizing the emotional state of others which impacts loneliness, parenting, and socializing skills.” I found that level of information absolutely fascinating (if not a bit scary to admit publicly).

It took a few minutes for my heart to stop beating; it’s like opening Pandora’s Box for the first time.

Because the report was able to pinpoint my exact autoimmune disorder, hair color (dark), ethnicity (Eurasian), and skin color (light), it seemed that at least some of the information was worth considering and talking to my doctor about.

However, it should be noted that not everything will be accurate, and that misinterpretation of the data can (and does) happen. The information is complex, so you should always talk to a doctor as well.

In the end, I’m armed with a lot of knowledge: I know which drugs I may react badly to, I can better tailor my diet to my fitness goals, and I know that I need to keep an eye on certain health risks.

And while I feel empowered, I also feel scared of what may come. For this reason, I don’t explicitly suggest or suggest against anyone downloading or buying a report; it’s a personal thing and the decision isn’t one you should take lightly.

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

I’ve gotten pretty lucky with my skin. I haven’t had much acne in my life, and at 31, I’ve got no signs of wrinkles. But my skin is remarkably dull, like that of a tired ghost. It’s ruddy, uneven, and it tends to look dry, even when it’s moisturized.

Thanks to an unhealthy addiction to Sephora and a ridiculously Olympic skin regimen, I’m able to work with the flaws I’ve got, but I’m always on the hunt for that “glow” you read about on magazine covers. Oral collagen supplementation has been shown to prove efficacious in improving the hallmark signs of skin aging, according to a study by the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, so I was more than willing to take it for a test drive.

When I got my hands on Reserveage’s Collagen Replenish Powder, I was immediately in love with the packaging. The pretty coral color, the leafy design, and the “Hyaluronic Acid & Vitamin C” boost sold me. What can I say? I’m a sucker for smart packaging.

The powder includes something Reserveage calls Deluxe Peptide Plus, which provides nutrients for the skin. And it boasts a 20 percent reduction in eye wrinkles within eight weeks. I’ll take that, any day.

Related: 6 Healthy Habits I Wish I’d Learned When I Was Younger

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Let’s get something out of the way, though, shall we? This stuff certainly doesn’t pretend to smell good. The jar itself says “odorless” (which is not entirely true; it’s got a faint scent of dried milk). So you’re not going to be drinking in the flavor or scent of flowers or anything. But we can get past this!

I mixed the powder into drinks for a morning beverage, which instantly solved the issue. No, not my precious coffee; I’d whip it into protein shakes or fruit smoothies, and you’d never know it was there.

I admit that I saw no change in the first few weeks. After week one I started checking my skin in the mirror. Plumper? No. Firmer? Nope. What was this collagen even doing, I wondered? Same for week two.

But by week three I did notice a significant shift. The skin under my eyes got considerably brighter and my cheeks seemed softer, smoother. Where my skin tends to “sag,” at all, is near my jowl. I noticed that it became a little less noticeable (cue my mother’s voice: “You DO NOT have jowls! I have jowls!”). Still, it really looked better.

Before

All in all, I felt like the product did its job well. It’s quick and easy to mix up into a beverage, and its inexpensive (less than $20) price point makes it alluring, considering so many collagen products on the market are quite pricey.

And, you’re skipping out on all the other sometimes wacky ingredients that come in a jar of skin lotion. My skin definitely has a bit of a glow to it now, and having to drink collagen every day gave me an excuse to make a healthy smoothie each morning. Final verdict: I’m staying on the collagen train.

Related: Shop collagen to promote healthier-looking skin. 

6 Healthy Habits I Wish I’d Learned When I Was Younger

When my alarm goes off each morning, an elaborate ritual begins. If you were to watch my routine, you’d think I was incredibly detail-oriented, and then you’d think it is taking way too long for me to get out the door.

First, it’s the face wash (which I’ve finally figured out isn’t just, you know, hand soap). That’s followed by a serum, a moisturizer, and an SPF (50, thanks —I’m translucent; my Mediterranean genes betrayed me). Next comes the stretching (and cracking), the apple cider vinegar concoction (yes, it does work), the handful of vits I remember to take, and the occasional YouTube kickboxing workout. All said and done, I behave like a pretty legitimate grown-up. Thing is, this whole song and dance only recently started.

At 18, I was more concerned with how dark I could tan (peer pressure from the local tanning salon, circa 2005), or how much I could party before going to class the next day. I 100 percent never wore SPF or moisturizer, and any workout I did was definitely negated by an I-deserve-it carb explosion. The worst thing I did? Ordered a Venti latte (made from—this is not a lie—half and half) at least once a week. Half. And. Half.

I just wasn’t concerned with basic self-care techniques. I’d stay up all night during college and it followed me to when I started working in the “real world.” Who cares, I thought? I’d lived on four hours of sleep since I was 15; why not keep it going?

Related: I Quit Drinking Alcohol For A Month—Here’s How It Went

Turns out there were plenty of reasons not to, actually.

I didn’t realize how these behaviors would affect me now, at age 30. I’d run full steam ahead on bad eating habits, way too much wine (“at least it’s not tequila…”), and I had a distaste for working out. If I was stressed, I ate. If I was tired, I ate. If I was busy, I’d snack on empty calories. And when I woke up for work, I’d brush my teeth and run out the door.

Then I’d wonder why I felt sluggish all the time. My skin was always broken out. I was constantly dealing with shoulder cramps. And I was gaining weight. I made no time for me—no time to just be alive, to take care of myself, to listen to my body.

Just saying the words “listen to my body” makes me cringe (I’m not one for self-care-isms), but the reality is that I didn’t listen to my body. I actively turned away from care habits because I was “busy” or “I didn’t need them.”

But when I was 25 I was diagnosed with arthritis and I realized I needed to wake up. My actual body was falling apart, and the extra weight on my joints was a problem. I needed to start stretching, to start working out, to start eating well. I needed to quit the amount of sugary alcohol I was drinking and I needed to start taking care of my skin. I needed energy. I was tired-looking and worn out. I became a zombie with a robust social calendar and a refrigerator full of garbage.

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

I fought this reality with a stubbornness that ought to be applauded (really, I win at being stubborn), but I eventually succumbed to the necessity of self-care and now I’m better for it.

So what did I do?

I started eating better.

This was the hardest change. I became more cognizant of calories and portions, which is tough when what you want to do is eat all the cheese and all the bread. I began making salads and cooking veggie dishes and turning to whole foods. I stopped eating chocolate cereal and bagels at midnight (I live in NYC—I can order anything I want at any hour), and I started checking the side of the box for nutrition facts. It’s incredibly easy to eat double your daily caloric need every day, I realized. I mean, it’s simple. If I was more aware earlier, I could have avoided the weight gain, the stomach issues, and the bad habits I fight to kick these days.

I started being kind to my skin.

This may seem trivial and vain, but it’s not. We have to live in our bodies all of our lives, so why not nurture them? I’m not the hugest fan of dry, cracked skin—and I certainly don’t want to age prematurely, so why shouldn’t I do what it takes to care for myself? I try to use products that come from mostly natural sources, and I make sure I cover my face and skin in SPF when I’m in the sun. Cancer is the pits, and I’m not going to risk it because I’m lazy.

Related: Keep your skin in tip-top shape with these bath & beauty products

I learned to love water.

I used to think lots of coffee and milk was the key to hydration. Somehow, I was wrong; I constantly felt terrible. Water is so epically underrated that it’s no surprise people have to remind others to drink it. First, with a meal it helps to keep you full (so you don’t go back for several servings you don’t need). And then it helps hydrate your skin, and it flushes toxins from your system. A huge glass of water first thing in the morning has changed my life for the better. Pro-tip: Set a reminder to take your vitamins with your first glass of water. Turns out, vitamins actually work. (I was apparently the last person to figure this out.)

I started going to bed before midnight.

I love staying up late and am most productive during the witching hours. But once I decided to stop fighting sleep, I felt like a human being—radiant, energetic, happy, engaged, responsible. What is lost from those magical evening hours is gained ten-fold the next day. Had I done this earlier on, I don’t think I would have had so many rough days and so little energy.

Related: Shop weight-management products to help you reach your goals.

I took time to hang out alone.

I used to cram my schedule with engagements: work, post-work work, post-work networking, weekend work, late-night social events, parties, meet-ups. It was like I was always on, always scheduled. Sitting on the couch in silence became a foreign thing to me; I was lost, and I didn’t even know it. Once I began understanding the difference between productivity and success (success doesn’t simply come from work; it comes from balance), I felt so much more alive. I could see more clearly, and I could see what I’d been missing all along: my self.

I stopped caring about the rules.

Everyone always says that they have all the answers. And sometimes I say I have all the answers. But I’ve learned that self-care and personal happiness are unique for everyone. Do what works best for you (but I really am telling you that water, working out, and vegetables are good for you). I wish I had known this earlier; I would have spared myself a lot of cranky, tired, overstimulated years.

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

When people mention arthritis, the natural response is, “I hope I don’t get that when I’m older!” Well, I hope you don’t either. Because it’s terrible. I should know; I’ve had it since I was 25.

Considering my premature gray (I discovered my first silver strand at 14), my dependency on prune juice, and my predilection for vintage cinema, it’s not surprising I was hit with arthritis. But all jokes aside, arthritis can affect anyone. According to Arthritis.org, a whopping two-thirds of people with arthritis are under 65, and that includes children. Who knew, right?

My arthritis awareness didn’t start with achy wrists or knees, though. Far from it. Five years ago, my left eye became inflamed, blood red, painfully photo-phobic (allergic to light) and blurry. I was at a loss for an explanation, and I naively blamed it on contact burn, but the issue continued long after I’d removed my contacts. After seeing specialists at my doctor’s office, my ophthalmologist’s office, and then later at a major eye hospital, I found out I was suffering from Uveitis, an inflammation of the middle layer of the eye (uvea).

A whopping two-thirds of people with arthritis are under 65, and that includes children.

By this point, I looked like I was auditioning for a horror film. My one eye was red and bulging and half-closed. But after I left the hospital, I was given a pirate patch to wear, which, if you haven’t worn one, is an absolute pleasure to don in public (yes, I can still see you staring with my good eye).

Related: I Quit Drinking Alcohol For A Month—Here’s How It Went

According to the Brazilian Journal of Rheumatology, my eye condition was linked to an auto-immune disorder called Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS). Which, after X-ray and MRI  testing, I found out was exactly what I had. Turns out, it’s hereditary and my father has it. Thanks, Dad!

Struggle aside, it felt so good to have a name for my condition. A reason. A culprit. I’d spent the better part of a year playing a guessing game with my body, wondering if my eye problems were due to the stresses of grad school (which I’d go to with sunglasses on, because I was, at this point, a bona fide vampire), dirty fingers, or something else altogether. And let’s be honest: I’m a hypochondriac with Internet access. You work it out.

For such a difficult-to-pronounce name, AS is pretty easy to explain: It’s a type of arthritis that primarily affects the spine. According to this report from the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases (a journal with a particularly creepy name), “Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a complex, potentially debilitating disease that is insidious in onset, progressing to radiological sacroiliitis over several years.” It can affect the other joints in the body (my knees and wrists can attest). And AS is a chronic, lifelong disease, according to the Spondylitis Association of America.

Struggle aside, it felt so good to have a name for my condition. A reason. A culprit.

It may cause an overgrowth of bones in the neck, hips, or back, and it can cause vertebrae to fuse together, resulting in a rigid spine. People have ended up totally pitched forward, with a hump back.

When I think about my future, I do not see myself slumped over, debilitated, and in extreme pain. But I also know that because this is lifelong, I can’t predict what might happen. This scares me more than I like to admit to myself.

Thankfully, my symptoms are fairly mild compared to what they could be, and I’m grateful for that. I can walk and move freely. I haven’t known a day without discomfort or pain, though, and if I don’t work out or if I sit in one position for a while (planes are not my friend), the pain can be overwhelming. On top of that, AS can cause intestinal issues, depression, and fatigue. I’ve experienced those other issues, too, especially the intestinal problems.

Having an auto-immune disorder is no walk in the park. For one, it’s mostly invisible (which means the complainer tends to looks histrionic and whiny), and secondly, our society isn’t really equipped to deal with issues like these. If you have a job, you’ll probably find it difficult to make it through the day without feeling awful or needing a break. If you go to the doctor, you’ll need to find someone you can trust to really get down to the bottom of your issues, someone who can see the systemic big picture. You have to fight for a well-rounded approach, since having an auto-immune disorder affects lots of moving parts which aren’t always obviously connected.

Related: No, You’re Not Too Young To Have A Heart Attack

But mostly, it’s a challenge to be young and different from your peers. How do you explain that, actually, you’d prefer to take a nap? How do you decline a rock-climbing invite because your body just won’t behave? How do you explain to your employer that you feel like you’re on fire even though “you look healthy”? Answer: It’s tough.

Because this is lifelong, I can’t predict what might happen. This scares me more than I like to admit to myself.

Since being diagnosed, I try to eat well, as getting an adequate amount of Omega-3s (like EPA and DHA from cold-water fish) is a particularly important part of my diet. I stretch constantly and make a point to walk instead of taking the elevator or the short way from point A to point B.

But the number one thing I’ve found to be helpful is information and community: Joining forums, finding people who are also achy and grumpy, getting involved in support groups on Facebook, and asking for the best doctors (as opposed to just any doctor).

But I mostly have learned not to take myself too seriously. Because if you’re an old, arthritic lady at heart, you can watch all the episodes of Golden Girls any time you want, without judgement.

I Quit Drinking Alcohol For A Month—Here’s How It Went

As a person with Mediterranean roots, wine is an old, trusted friend to me. Long, late-night chats over a bottle of Tempranillo or Montepulciano? Yes, please! But let’s be real: The cons usually outweigh the pros. Especially after you hit 30.

While studies suggest that it is mostly unknown whether hangover symptoms and severity change with age, I can personally attest to the fact that my ability to drink without experiencing a hangover has lessened over time. It’s taken a decade, but my Pavlovian learned response (drinking = not so fun next day) has finally kicked in. Which is why the idea of nixing booze for a month was appealing to me.

It all started in January. A few of my friends were doing a dry month, partly because they were exploring not-drinking as a new year’s resolution and partly as a reaction to their holiday hedonism the month before. We were all at a friend’s birthday party, where I sat with a glass of wine while my sober friends – get this – still had fun. I initially snickered, thinking, “Oh the horror!” But I was intrigued – and considered it a personal challenge.

I started my dry month the very next day.

Week 1: Can You Still “Get Drinks” Without Drinking?

Mere days into my sober stint, I noticed just how deftly alcohol works its way into your everyday life. While you’d normally think nothing of an after-work martini with friends, you’re not quite sure how to respond to that 5:30 p.m. “wanna get drinks?” group text when you’re dry. Spoiler alert: I said yes.

I showed up, ordered a virgin Bloody Mary (which is basically spicy vegetable juice and a piece of celery)…and had an a-ok time! The truth is I did crave a martini, but I didn’t need one.

I was invited out for post-work drinks a few times that first week, and each time it got easier to either say no, or show up with no interest in drowning the day’s stress away with booze. Frankly, going out with people who are drinking is totally fine during their first or second drink, but having crystal-clear clarity while your friends are getting more and more tipsy (and, let’s admit it, usually louder and less coherent) isn’t the best time ever. Honestly, it’s not even that I was envious of their drunk disposition – I just didn’t need to watch people get drunk.

Related: 10 Ways You’re Drying Out Your Skin Without Even Realizing It

Weeks 2 & 3: Saving Calories & Money

As someone who’d have post-work wine a few times per week or weekend dinner-with-drinks, I noticed a few very valuable things while off the sauce. For one, I was saving money. Living in NYC, it’s not uncommon to drop $10 on a glass of fairly decent wine, so that was an extra $20 (or $30, shh) bucks in my pocket. Not to mention, I’d save on the cost of taking a cab home because I was tipsy.

Aside from money, I wasn’t ordering late-night food because of drunk-munchies. Nor was I pre-carb-ing to handle a night out. I could eat a delicious salad and not worry about how those dirty martinis might hit me. I lost a pound or so (the average glass of wine contains about 125 calories) by not adding an additional 250-350 beverage calories to my meal. My skin looked clearer, since I was less dehydrated, and I got more sleep – amounting to more energy when working.

The superficial benefits were excessively clear. Despite loving those results, that’s not actually why I ended up sticking with it.

Related: How I Went From Eating 5,000 Calories A Day To Putting Health And Fitness First

Week 4: Personal Transformation

So many people learn early on – say, during their college or formative years – that drinking is the magic key to fun and socialization, and those ideas are internalized and relied upon during our adult years. So, whether or not we’re downing shots versus having a glass of Pinot doesn’t matter. We’re still taught to think we’ve got to booze up in order to enjoy ourselves. After all, it takes the edge off and releases our social inhibitions. And, people have loved and lived and died by the effects of alcohol since, well, the beginning of time (ahem, Greek mead).

The most impacting change, for me, was two-fold. One, I unlearned the idea that the ritual of drinking is necessary, and two, I realized tangibly that my body is better to me when I am better to it.

By not drinking just one glass of wine after work or having weekend drinks, I was able to wake earlier, work harder, focus on my hobbies, and not feel sluggish. Although I was never drinking to excess, it was a symbolic change. It  goes to show that we can achieve great things with will power and introspection. This can be a useful lesson when life throws curveballs at you that you don’t willingly choose as a self-dare.

My ancestors would roll over in their graves if I gave up Montepulciano, so I won’t do that anytime soon – but I will continue to consider the tangible and intangible effects of what I’m putting into my body.

10 Ways You’re Drying Out Your Skin Without Even Realizing It

You’re not the only one going through moisturizer by the gallon throughout the winter months. And while you have no control over dry air or the drop in temps, little things you do (or don’t do) every day could actually be drying out your skin even more.

Look out for these 10 skin-sabotaging habits, and consider making a few tiny changes to relieve your itchy outer layer.

  1. Your Showers Are Hot, Hot, Hot

A steamy shower after a long day can help you relax—it’s just not so great for your skin. “We may like how long, hot showers feel, but they wreak havoc on our skin,” says Joshua Zeichner, M.D., Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital. “Hot water can strip oil from the skin’s surface and disrupt the skin barrier. This is made even worse when you have a long exposure.

Your shower temp should be warm but comfortable, says Zeichner. You should be able to walk right into the shower without having to react or adjust to the water temperature.

Woman drinking a glass of water.
photo credit: iStock
  1. You Don’t Drink Enough H2O

Inadequate agua equals sad skin. “Not drinking enough water or fluids can lead to crepey-looking skin,” says Michelle Dudash, R.D.N., dietitian and author of Clean Eating for Busy Families. Your skin cells, like all cells, are made up largely of water, and need that water to function properly, according to the University of Wisconsin.

Make sure you’re well-hydrated throughout the day by taking a good look at the color of your pee. “A pale lemonade color is the goal, says Dudash. “Dark yellow means you’re dehydrated.” If you feel thirsty at any point, that’s a sign that you’re already mildly dehydrated and need to drink up.

If you’re not a fan of plain ol’ water, try tea or high-water content foods like watermelon, cucumbers, grapes, or oranges. (Soup counts, too!)

Related: What The Color Of Your Pee Says About Your Health

  1. You Skimp On Lotion

Some of us slather on lotion every single day without fail, while others just can’t commit. The surprising truth is that not everyone truly needs moisturizer, says Zeichner. “If your skin is visibly dry, peeling, or itchy, though, your skin may need extra attention,” he says.

Zeichner recommends looking for one or more of the following buzz-worthy ingredients the next time you’re hunting for a new bottle of lotion:  petroleum jelly (which creates a seal over the skin to prevent water loss, called an ‘occlusive’), humectants like hyaluronic acid (which help draw water to the skin surface from its deeper layers), and emollients like oils (which smooth the cracks between cells on the skin surface). Ceramides (a type of ingredient which help to repair the skin barrier) are also becoming increasingly popular in moisturizer formulas.

Related: Shop a wide variety of skin-care products, from face wash to moisturizer.

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photo credit: iStock
  1. You Use Body Lotion On Your Face—Or Vice Versa

We get it, desperate times call for desperate measures. But the words ‘face lotion’ or ‘body lotion’ are on that bottle for a reason: because products for the face and body are typically formulated differently. “Facial products tend to have a lighter consistency and may be specially designed as not to break you out in pimples,” Zeichner explains. Sure, you could slather your face cream all over your body, but since facial products are designed to target specific facial concerns—and are more expensive—your wallet won’t thank you. Meanwhile, body lotions are more easily spread over large areas without losing effectiveness.

To get the most bang for your buck, follow those labels and use the right products on the right parts.

Related: Douse yourself in one of these body lotions.

  1. Your Diet Is Lame

Not getting enough vitamin C or omega-3 fatty acids may leave you with drier skin. “Omega-3 fatty acids support the health of cell membranes, which provides moisture to and protects the skin cells,” explains Dudash. Meanwhile, vitamin C plays a role in the production of collagen, a protein involved in skin cell structure, which is also important for maintaining moisture, Dudash says.

Omega-3-rich foods include salmon, cod, walnuts, flaxseed, and chia seeds. For vitamin C, turn to fruits and vegetables like grapefruit, kiwi, and bell pepper—a serving of each packs a full daily dose of the must-have antioxidant, says Dudash.

Dead skin removal
photo credit: iStock
  1. Your Soap Is Too Harsh

That old school bar soap isn’t doing your skin any favors. Traditional soaps often contain harsh ingredients known as alkaline surfactants, says Zeichner. “These substances can disrupt the pH of the skin and affect its moisture barrier,” he adds.

Look for bar soaps and body washes with moisturizing formulas that don’t contain any harsh ingredients, such as sodium laurel sulfate (SLS), suggests Zeichner. To avoid scanning the ingredient list for complicated chemical names, go for products labeled “gentle skin cleanser,” “hydrating skin cleanser” or “soap free.”

  1. You Go Too Heavy On The Booze

Who knew that throwing back a drink or two could take a toll on your skin? “Alcohol is a diuretic, causing you to lose more water,” Dudash says. As you now know, dehydration is no bueno for your skin.

Consider your complexion yet another reason to alternate drinks with water when you’re out on the town.

Related: Your All-Natural Guide To Surviving A Hangover With A Smile

feet warming and tea time
photo credit: iStock
  1. You Crank Up The Heat At Home

Don’t worry, we’re not suggesting you sit around shivering during the nightly news. Take note, though, that the dry air from your heater can put additional stress on your skin barrier and even further the loss of hydration and dryness, says Zeichner.

The fix here is simple: Power up your humidifier and put it in your bedroom to pump some moisture back into the air.

  1. You Don’t Get Enough Shuteye

Night cream or not, sleep is an important part of maintaining healthy skin. “Don’t underestimate the power of sleep,” Dudash says. “It’s your body’s time to repair and rejuvenate, which can directly affect your skin.”

We know it’s easier said than done, but shoot for seven to nine hours of shut-eye a night.

Woman cleaning her face with scrub in bathroom.
photo credit: iStock
  1. You Exfoliate Too Often

When you notice peeling or flaking, it’s natural to want to reach for a scrub. But hold up. “Instead of exfoliating, first try to recognize that your skin is lacking hydration,” says Zeichner. Exfoliating may actually further irritation and dryness. “Rather than exfoliating, which can dry out your skin layer and lead to small cracks and further loss of hydration, apply extra moisturizer to address the dryness,” he says. More often than not, that peeling or flakiness will improve and you won’t even need to exfoliate.

To avoid unnecessary irritation, limit exfoliation to no more than twice a week.

Related: For your two weekly exfoliations, try one of these scrubs.