How Keeping A Food Diary Helps Me Manage Life With Lupus and Fibromyalgia

When you keep a food diary, you log everything—and I mean everything—down to the half-and-half in your coffee and the raisins in your oatmeal. It’s an effort.

Keeping a food diary is new to me. When I see my nutritionist next week, she’ll analyze it and tell me if I’m filling in the nutritional gaps in my diet. But I’m not keeping the diary to count calories, exactly—I’m doing it because this is what it takes to live with lupus and fibromyalgia. This is just the latest addition to my health management toolbox, which also includes supplements and exercise.

Systemic lupus erythematosus, usually just called lupus, is an autoimmune disease that affects the kidneys, blood cells, brain, heart, and lungs. Essentially, a healthy immune system creates special cells, called antibodies, that attack foreign objects like bacteria or viruses. With an autoimmune disease, the immune system creates antibodies to the body’s own healthy tissues. My body is at war with itself on a cellular level.

As if that weren’t enough, I also suffer from fibromyalgia, a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain on top of fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues.

Between the two diseases, I live with chronic pain, joint stiffness, fatigue, brain fog, rashes, and fevers. Sometimes, due to the lupus, the lining around my lungs becomes inflamed and it hurts to breathe deeply. It feels like having the flu, minus the sneezing and the understanding that it will be gone whenever the flare-up is over.

There is no cure for lupus or fibromyalgia. In fact, the FDA has approved only one lupus-specific treatment in the last 50 years, and it didn’t work for me.

Like most people with autoimmune diseases, I’ve had symptoms most of my life—things like strange infections that didn’t go away with treatment, unexplained inflammation, and even an allergy to sunlight. When I had digestive problems, I saw a gastroenterologist. When I had allergy problems, I saw an allergist. When I had gynecological problems, I saw a gynecologist. It wasn’t until 2011, when I was 41, that I received a diagnosis of lupus. By that point, I’d gotten so sick I couldn’t teach, drive, or—eventually—stand on my own.

Medication only goes so far in treating autoimmune diseases, even when you find the right one. It’s only one tool. Somewhere in my head lives an irrational girl who wishes for a magic pill to fix me. Rationally, I know it doesn’t exist. Instead, I have to manage the symptoms that stay with me if I want any quality of life.

That’s where my health management toolbox enters into the picture.

With lupus, my overactive immune system has made proper eating hard. My stomach doesn’t empty normally. My intestines don’t absorb nutrients or push food along well. Too much fiber or fat and my digestive system goes on strike, leaving me unable to eat. Food allergies only further complicate the issue.

For this reason, keeping a food diary is so key. My nutritionist deals with my specific situation; she is aware of my health history, symptoms, medications, risks, preferences, and goals. They help me add calories and nutrients to my diet, and I also take a multivitamin to fill in some of the gaps. And, like many people with lupus, I am vitamin D deficient, so I take a high weekly dose of vitamin D.

Like diet and supplementation, exercise and movement is also an important tool in my wellness box. Actually, it’s as much a part of my morning as opening my eyes.

Movement is the only way to break through the immobilizing morning pain and stiffness of both lupus and fibromyalgia. Many mornings, my first thought is, I can’t move. It feels like someone has tied knots around all my joints and then pulled the string until everything is locked in place.

Related: Despite My Fibromyalgia, I’m Focused On Staying Healthy

When I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, my doctor—through my tears—suggested that I try tai chi to help with pain management. In fact, the New England Journal of Medicine published an article about a study in which people with fibromyalgia experienced less pain if they did tai chi, a “low and slow” martial art.

So I tried the tai chi out of desperation. After a few days, my pain decreased a little. After a couple weeks, I could push through my morning pain and not wince with every step. When I didn’t do it, every move hurt. Things like getting downstairs to make my morning coffee once again became agony and the tai chi helped that pain recede.

On hard days, every little bit of effort counts as progress. I take a few bites of oatmeal and wash my morning medications down with water.

The burden of keeping a food diary and tracking my exercise and all the little things I do each day to keep functioning is infinitely lighter than the burden of watching my life slip by without fighting for it. Only a few years ago, just getting through the day was a chore. If I could shower and get dressed without having to immediately go back to bed, it was a victory.

To make the process better, I use a pretty planner and colored pens to track my wellness progression. It’s how I manage a disease that wants to manage me.

When I practice these acts of self-care—like when I eat well, take supplements, and move through my tai chi practice—my pain ebbs away. In fact, I’m not just losing pain: I’m finding myself.

Tai chi and yoga both demand attention to breath, a basic and necessary action for life. With each breath, I remember: I am more than pain. I imagine that I can feel my chi—my energy—pulsing through my body. With every food journal entry and everything I do to take care of myself, my thoughts become clearer, and I can truly focus on things that matter outside of myself.

6 Supplements I Take To Grease My Achy Joints

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

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

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

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

Featured Products

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

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

1. SAM-e

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

2. Cat’s Claw

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

3. Turmeric

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

4. Fish oil

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

5. Ginger

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

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

6. Boswellia Serrata

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

Bonus: Capsaicin

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

 

Peer Pressure Has Always Been My Best Fitness Motivator

“Peer pressure” has always had a negative connotation. It’s why kids are “up to no good,” right? For me, though, peer pressure was always a good thing. Instead of getting me into to trouble, peer pressure got me into running.

Peer pressure was the reason I joined the cross country team in high school and it remains the reason, to this day, I show up before dawn ready to run.

I’ve never been athletically inclined on my own, so the concept of running for fun was ridiculous to me for a long time. Growing up, I dreaded gym fitness tests knowing I’d have to run the mile. I played soccer and basketball briefly, but only because my friends were playing too. I wasn’t very good and rarely, if ever, got to play.

When I started high school, I entertained the thought of trying out for field hockey. I was moving from a private school to public school and I thought it might be a good way to make friends, but I ultimately decided that sports weren’t for me.

I got lucky in high school and was adopted by a group of friends that gave me a place to sit at lunch and a ride home after school. As we grew closer, I learned that many of my friends were on the cross country team. They actively chose to log miles every day, while I dreaded running a lap around the track in gym class. I couldn’t imagine doing it voluntarily.

Featured Products

As my first year of high school came to a close, a friend suggested I sign up for cross country when  the fall came around. I scoffed at the idea. “I’m not a runner,” I told her. She brushed that off.

“Just sign up,” she said. “If you change your mind, you can quit.”

So I signed up. But I had almost forgotten about it—up until a letter, along with a training plan—came in the mail.

I called my friend: “I don’t think I’m going to do this,” I said. “I’m not a runner.” Again, she told me to just show up and quit later if I didn’t like it.

Justly chastened, I acquiesced. I bought a pair of running shoes that were too big and completely wrong for my feet and showed up. The first run was six miles. I grumbled the entire way through, walking more than I ran.

But when I finished, I was met by a chorus of cheers. Great job, they all screamed—assuring me that it gets easier. The next day, they welcomed me back and cheered again. I suddenly had this incredible support system that was rooting for me and celebrated every time I crossed the finish line, even when I came in dead last.

The camaraderie I felt on that team kept me coming back. Even with injuries (likely from my lousy shoes), I signed up for more, electing to run both indoor and outdoor track. What’s more, my circle of friends grew as I got to know members of the boys’ team, too. They lifted me up and pushed me to work harder. My body got stronger and my pace got faster. Running became part of who I was and I was better for it.

Related: I Coped With My Dad’s Illness By Running

But then high school ended. Despite my love of running, I no longer had the support of my team. Suddenly, my motivation waned. I left the suburbs of Connecticut for the streets of New York as I entered college and just couldn’t get myself out there on a regular basis.

I’d run through the streets of Brooklyn and across bridges and back, but I’d push too hard, do too much too soon, and then injure myself. After college, I started working and I just didn’t have time for running—or at least that’s what I told myself.

When I met the man I would marry, I felt that old inkling of motivation (pre-wedding workout!) but once the wedding was over, the urge to stay fit faded again.

Then, after having kids, I felt overwhelmed and out of shape. My body hadn’t bounced back from pregnancy and my mental health was suffering. I needed something for me, so I turned to what I knew had worked. I bought a new pair of running shoes and started pounding the pavement again.

It helped! I felt physically and mentally better after a run, but the motivation still wasn’t there. There was always something else to do. I had work or take care of the kids. I was too exhausted to wake up early and too exhausted by the afternoon to go out late.

I wanted it, though. I really wanted it to work.

Browsing Facebook, I found area fitness groups. One in particular, Moms Run This Town,  was in my town and the runs were near my house. I could lace up my shoes and simply step outside!

“Anyone up for an early morning run?” posted one member. I wondered what she meant by “early.”

“Does 5:45am work?” another said. I gasped at the time. An hour before sunrise.

“Anyone else want to join? All paces welcome!”

Before I had a chance to second guess myself, I replied, “I’m in.”

I hemmed and hawed. I made up excuses for why it was a bad idea. But I said that I was going, so I needed to go. Once again, peer pressure took over and I dragged myself out of bed and pushed through a three-mile run.

Related: How To Become A Runner When You Think It’s Not Your Thing

The next time an early morning run came up, I said yes again. And again. Even as the weather turned colder, I kept saying yes. Saying yes made me accountable. Saying yes meant someone was counting on me. And that’s enough.

I’m training for my first half marathon now. I wish I could say the race alone motivates me to get out and run, but honestly, it’s the fact that a friend is running the race, too.

We all have to find something that works for us and motivates us. Having accountability through a team or running group, and having someone relying on me to show up, ready to run, is what keeps me motivated.

It turns out that peer pressure isn’t always a bad thing if you just find the right peers.

All The Ways I Use Tea Tree Oil In My Beauty Routine

One of the greatest things about the beauty world is the diversity of methods, products, and natural ingredients from all over the world—along with the amount of cultural exchange it can foster.

With my family being half Italian and half Romani (a diasporic ethnic group from India, more commonly known by the racial slur “Gypsy”), I was lucky to grow up with a lovely mish-mash of beauty rituals involving oils, flower essences, and sometimes elaborate practices.

In fact, my Romani mama is a former bikini model and aerobics instructor, so she was always looking to improve her beauty routine. In the ‘70s she discovered tea tree oil, and when I was in middle school she introduced me to it, telling me that tea tree oil was the key to clear and healthy skin, hair, nails, and even teeth. I don’t remember her having any blemishes to speak of, so I assumed it either worked well or she was a witch of some kind.

I, on the other hand, did have some blemishes to test on, and got right down to it. And it turns out that she was right! I saw noticeable improvements in my skin, and it has been a fixture in my beauty arsenal ever since.

My mother and I love it, but the science speaks for itself: Studies have found that tea tree oil has cleansing and purifying properties. In fact, people indigenous to Australia have recognized the stuff’s efficacy for a long time.

Here’s how I incorporate tea tree oil into my beauty routine. Tip: Just be sure to test it out on a small patch of skin before you use it!

1. As a cleanse

I tend to get acne if there’s even a trace of makeup left on my face at night. Since I model, I often have a full face of makeup on and get home late at night completely exhausted. I have to fight the urge to just crawl into bed, no matter how wonderful that would feel.

I find that I can get excited about my skincare routine if I’m excited about the products I’m using. This makes my beauty routine feel less like a chore and more like self-care. (FYI: An oil-based cleanser, like Shea Moisture Sensitive Skin Facial Cleansing Oil, does an excellent job of getting off tough to remove makeup.)

After I’ve removed my makeup, it’s time to cleanse with tea tree oil. I turn this into a little bit of a facial massage by rubbing together some warm water and a few drops of tea tree oil along my jawline, nose, and cheekbones. Then, I rinse.

Featured Products

2. As a mask

I use a tea tree oil-based clay face mask about once a week to draw out any impurities. My mother has been using Aztec Secret Bentonite Healing Indian Clay since the ’70s, and passed the secret on to me.

Like a lot of beauty gurus and bloggers do, I mix a tablespoon of the clay in a bowl with a tablespoon of Bragg Apple Cider Vinegar for clear skin (I love the fizzing sound it makes!), a dollop of royal jelly honey for moisture, and a drop or two of tea tree oil for its added benefits.

I apply the mixture to my face (it will probably tingle a little from the tea tree oil), leave it on for 10-20 minutes, and then remove with water to reveal a glow.

3. As a toner

Some toners can really dry out the skin, making oil production and acne even worse in the long run. Today, I use what my mother prefers: Thayer’s Witch Hazel Alcohol Free Toner. She taught me to swipe it—along with a drop of tea tree oil—over my face after cleansing to remove any remaining residue and to tighten my pores.

4. As a spritz

Spritzing facial mist throughout the day is one of my most beloved beauty discoveries. It keeps me looking fresh and awake. Here’s a spritz recipe I make on my own:

I combine it all in a spray bottle, shake, and spritz my face a couple of times a day when I need a pick-me-up.

Related: 5 DIY Skin Treatments Beauty Experts Swear By

5. As dental care

Tea tree oil can also help support dental health (and it’s got a great fresh scent). I like this Desert Essence Tea Tree Oil and Neem Toothpaste in Wintergreen and their Tea Tree Oil Floss. I follow it all up with a mouthwash like Desert Essence Tea Tree Oil Mouthwash Whitening Plus.

I also like to make my own mouthwash with naturally cleansing ingredients.

DIY Mouthwash

6. As hair care

In the winter, I tend to get a dry, flaky scalp and it drives me absolutely crazy. Over the years, I’ve come up with a few different ways to combat it, and tea tree oil’s cleansing properties make it a star ingredient. I simply mix a few drops of tea tree oil into my shampoo or condition and then smooth it through my hair as normal.

7. to support nail health

Due to tea tree oil’s cleansing properties, it can be great for nail health. When my nails are looking a bit yellow or brittle, I add a few drops of tea tree oil to my hand and foot cream and rub into my cuticles and nails.

8. to support beauty sleep 

Aromatherapy always makes me feel a little better. When I’m stressed out, I like to add three drops of lavender oil, two drops of tea tree oil, two drops of eucalyptus oil, and one drop of peppermint oil to my diffuser. I feel like it helps me breathe more deeply, reduce my congestion, and catch up on my beauty sleep.

Why I Broke Up With The Gym And Took To The Mountains

I’ve never been the sort of guy that likes the gym—in fact, I’ve always found the whole experience daunting. First off, I’m not a buff dude. I’m the not-conventionally-attractive guy sweating it out on the treadmill next to the super-fit 6’2″ bro with washboard abs. When I do actually muster up the courage to get to the gym, I find myself surrounded by a bunch of fancy equipment that I don’t really know how to use…that I simply end up forcing myself to stay on just to hit a number of reps.

In short, motivating myself to work out has been nothing short of challenging. After years of trying to force myself to get in a workout here and there, though, I found the illustrious secret to staying fit: the great outdoors.

Last summer, on a swelteringly hot day that no one should have willfully been outside, a friend of mine invited me to go rock scrambling, which is essentially the act of using your hands and legs to move up steep, mountainous terrain.

I’d hiked before, but never on high-incline rocks at a pretty fast clip. I remember thinking, This is essentially walkingright? I was wrong.

Related: How I Went From ‘Not Outdoorsy’ To Full-Fledged Biker

Rock scrambling was actually very tricky—nothing the average person can’t do with some trustworthy sneakers and some planning, but tricky nonetheless.

There were plenty of moments during that first experience where I had to tap into serious wells of strength—both physically and mentally—to assess and climb up those steep boulders. I’d had no experience doing any of it, but I had to make smart decisions and use muscles that, frankly, hadn’t seen the light of day.

I enjoyed scrambling up these rocks alongside a bunch of strangers also trying to make it to the top, and learned that I’m actually a fairly competitive person. The gym might not bring it out of me, but nature sure does.

There was one situation in which I’d climbed up a steep set of rocks and after getting stuck, needed to go back down and recalibrate my strategy. I ended up getting nervous because I didn’t have the strength to make the climb, so I slid down only to see my friend successfully complete what I’d tried to do. This only drove my spirit further, encouraging me to take a deep breath and give it another try. Unlike being at a fancy gym surrounded by four halogen-lit walls, I felt like I had achieved something real. I had pushed myself in a functional way that could serve me in my everyday life (and in future rock scrambles).

Featured Products

The gym no doubt has its many benefits, but when you’re in nature, you’re faced with two simple (but very different) options: take the easy route or go the hard way. There’s something really fulfilling about pushing yourself in a semi-treacherous environment. In nature, you need to use your intuition; there’s no clear “time out” or end-of-workout (except getting out of there before nightfall)—which is totally different from waiting to hit 10 reps on a machine before you can quit.

As I regularly hiked and scrambled, I was surprised at how quickly my stamina and endurance developed. Each time I got stronger, gaining quicker physical reflexes. It felt like an accidental workout, all while being surrounded by beautiful scenery. (I live in New York City, so being able to exercise outside, smelling the air and seeing greenery, was a huge plus.)

You won’t get rock hard abs by hiking once a week, but it will develop your strength and stamina and make you feel more functionally apt. It also helps keep off those extra pounds (I’ve been known to indulge in fast food…more often than I should admit). Hiking also developed my legs, arms, and back muscles.

Another benefit: the hiking community. While some people around you may scramble like pros, nature is the great equalizer—you’re all out there doing the same thing, trying, moving forward. Strategizing routes with friendly strangers, helping an older person up a rock face, or having a quick chat with someone while taking a water break is encouraging—it’s this camaraderie that keeps me coming back to the mountains.

The most worthy benefit, though, may come from nature’s generous mental health boost. If you live in a city, or have a sedentary 9-5 job, setting some time away to get into nature is a great way to feel better about life in general. It definitely helps me disconnect from the grind (I work as a real estate agent, so I’m surrounded by architecture and paperwork every day). After a few weeks without hiking, I start to crave nature and the feeling of accomplishment that follows a good scramble.

During any hike, I collect victories along the way: I can choose the harder path, or climb faster than I did last time. These small but meaningful achievements are quite profound—and, personally, way more fun than figuring out my one-rep max.

I Thought I Was Healthy—And Then I Did Whole30

As a self-proclaimed health nut and the resident super-healthy black sheep of my family and friends, I’ve been known to squeeze in workouts on vacations and pass on pizza for salad. I love high-intensity workouts like CrossFit and if I’m going to do yoga, it’s going to be hot. I’ve been reading nutrition labels since high school, and though I’ve had plenty of slack moments (like all of college…), I’ve found a healthy balance by living without strict rules and eating a variety of carbs, fats, and proteins to feel good.

That’s why, when I first heard that my parents (ironically) were following Whole30—a 30-day eating plan that forces you to get back to healthy basics by eliminating sugar, alcohol, dairy, grains, legumes, preservatives, and processed foods and snacks—I didn’t think it was for me. I didn’t need a hard reset or rules. My diet was already healthy!

But when I visited home for the holidays, my attitude shifted. Having just completed their 30 days, my parents buzzed with enthusiasm and filled our meals with ‘compliant’ (a ubiquitous term for things you actually can eat on Whole30) foods. I was intrigued—and after my own 10-day stretch of indulging on holiday treats, I felt compelled to give it a shot.

Along with a small crew of friends and co-workers, I decided to go for it—and to say the next 30 days surprised me would be an understatement. Here are the five lessons I learned:

1. I hadn’t been eating as many whole foods as I thought I was…

As a self-proclaimed kale enthusiast (seriously, my boyfriend sometimes calls me ‘KALEsy’), I thought my vegetable and fruit consumption was in pretty good shape. When I started Whole30, though, I realized that I often sacrificed roughage in favor of protein. And I’m not just talking about swapping out greens for lean meat, but for a sugary protein bar or shake.

✌🏻❤️🌿

A post shared by Kelsey Cannon (@sheseesfit) on

Before Whole30, I’d typically start the day with a bowl of oatmeal with protein powder stirred in, eat last night’s dinner leftovers for lunch, snack on a protein bar, yogurt, or protein shake, and then have a serving of meat with a grain and a veggie for dinner. All-in-all not unhealthy, but without grains, dairy, and packaged protein products, I had a lot of gaps to fill once I started Whole30.

Throughout those 30 days, I’d have eggs scrambled with kale, peppers, and onions for breakfast, a large salad with a serving of meat for lunch, nuts, fruit, or a ‘compliant’ bar (like an RXBAR or an Epic Bar) for snacks, and a serving of meat with a double helping of veggies for dinner.

With fruits and veggies now front and center, I was forced to try a wider variety of produce and different ways of making them, just to keep things interesting. I found a lot of new go-to’s, including a sweet potato soup (I used butternut squash instead) from The Whole30 Cookbook, which has become one of my all-time favorite sides. It added a nice sweet element to my mostly-savory meals and kept well in the fridge, so I could spoon it out all week long.

2. Sugar is in EVERYTHING.

This is another lesson that falls into the ‘what I thought I knew’ category. I knew sugar was hidden in most foods—I’d even written articles about it myself! But Whole30 taught me that knowing added sugar exists and living added sugar-free are two totally different monsters.

Once I started really combing through the nutrition labels on everything I bought at the grocery store, I realized just how sneaky added sugar could be. After all, it goes by more than 50 names other than just ‘sugar’! At first, determining whether a food contained sugar and finding Whole30-compliant alternatives took a long time—but it fortunately grew much easier with practice. Thirty days later, I’m basically a sugar-molecule sharp shooter.

Related: 10 Foods That Pack More Added Sugar Than You Should Have All Day

Eliminating these secretly-sugary foods was a lot of work. At first I found myself reaching for RXBARs or Lara Bars to satisfy my sugar cravings, but the point of Whole30 is to break the habit itself, so I dug my heels in and tried to avoid using these ‘compliant’ foods as a crutch. Cutting out sugar was by far the hardest part of Whole30, but the farther in I got, the more I noticed and appreciated the natural sugars in fruits and vegetables. I couldn’t believe how sweet a cherry tomato tasted by the end of it!

Featured Products

3. My social life revolves around food.

It’s reality: A lot of socializing happens over food and drink. But on Whole30, birthday parties, date night dinners, and even happy hours became impossible trap-filled nightmares. And while some people are able to make it work—passing up on cake and cocktails, ordering very, very carefully at restaurants, and bringing their own food to get-togethers—I found it much easier to just avoid going out.

#bulletproof and muscle books… #happytuesday

A post shared by Kelsey Cannon (@sheseesfit) on

If that sounds lame, well, that’s because it was! To avoid completely dropping off the face of the earth, I scheduled workout classes or coffee dates with friends who weren’t on the Whole30 train. But after spending a lot of time (and money) traveling to see friends and family in the months before my Whole30, I was more than happy to take a few weekends off and just rest.

4. It takes a village to be healthy.

It may have been for lack of better things to talk about (see above about my rather nonexistent social life), but I talked about Whole30 to anyone who would listen. I even dreamed about it sometimes.

My boyfriend and I got truly excited to plan which cool new recipe to make over the weekend, and our indulgence became finding more elaborate dishes, like Chicken Cacciatore or that homemade butternut squash soup I mentioned earlier.

My coworkers and I traded tips for fighting cravings, and I chatted with friends about new compliant packaged foods we found (I totally blew my boss’ mind when I told her about RXBARs). Our lives were consumed by making Whole30 work, and since we were all in it together, it was easier to face the occasional office birthday party. I even hosted a few ‘compliant’ get-togethers at home!

Looking back, I don’t know if I would have survived alone. Being able to talk to fellow Whole30-ers really helped me stay on track, and it was nice to share my success with others who know how hard I’d worked once I was done.

5. There’s ALWAYS room to grow.

Even though it took a lot of planning, work, and will power, I really felt the benefits of Whole30, and they kept me motivated whenever I started to wane. Around the end of week two, my clothes felt a little looser, I slept better, and I had more energy throughout the day. The strange thing: I didn’t even realize that I could feel better. Since I already ate healthy, drank lots of water, exercised, and got eight hours of sleep a night before Whole30, I didn’t expect that there would be room to improve until it happened.

Despite how difficult Whole30 was, I totally recommend it—even if you’re already a self-proclaimed health and fitness fanatic. The experience helped me redefine ‘healthy food’ (read: low- to no-sugar) and pull myself out of a major boredom rut with my meals. Not to mention, it taught me a lot about my own eating habits—especially my reliance on protein bars. Now if I itch for a protein-heavy snack, I’ll pick up an Epic Bar, which tastes more like food and less like candy.

I’m not going to continue eating in a totally-compliant manner all the time (even the founders recommend you only do it for 30 days), but everything I learned—especially about avoiding sneaky sugar and preservatives—definitely stuck.

I Thought I Was Too Young To Get Shingles

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

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

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

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

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

Featured Products

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The rash, by day 2.

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s what I did:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Put On 12 Pounds Just So I Could Try Keto

I was raised on low-fat diets, Weight Watchers, and the idea that eating fat makes you fat. Despite the decades of experience I have as a weight loss professional, some of these ideas from my own weight loss journey (I lost 65 pounds before making health and fitness my career) have been hard to kick.

So you can imagine my surprise (and slight anxiety) to see how popular the high-fat ketogenic diet has become throughout the past few years. Super low in carbs (we’re talking like 25 net grams a day), this trendy diet requires eating between 65 and 85 percent of your daily calories from fat in order to shift your body from burning glucose from carbs to producing and burning ketones from fats (a state called ‘ketosis’). That means saying goodbye to carbs like grains, starchy veggies, and most fruit—and loading up on fats like nuts, avocados, olive oil, and butter. The exact opposite of what the mainstream diet world has been telling us for the past three decades!

But with so many people boasting the energy and weight-loss benefits of the keto diet, I had to say: I was intrigued. I wanted to try it!

So, I did what any curious health and fitness expert would do: put my fears aside, purposely gained 12 pounds (yes, really!), and gave keto a shot.

Getting Started

I pored through the internet (relying heavily on Mark’s Daily Apple, Dr. Axe, and even keto Reddit boards) to gather information and plan out some easy meals for my first week.

My everyday diet embraced healthy carbs like yogurt, fruit, and potatoes, but shied away from too many fats, so I knew I’d have to do some meal prepping to make this massive change stick. I decided to make egg cups (eggs, cheese, bacon, and spinach baked in a muffin tin) for easy grab-and-go breakfasts, spinach salads topped with avocado, bacon bits, cheese, and ranch dressing for lunches, and cheese- and bacon-wrapped chicken for dinners. Lots. Of. Cheese. I snacked on macadamia nuts, enjoyed small pieces of dark chocolate, and even made ‘fat bombs’ (frozen balls of coconut oil, nut butter, and cocoa mixed together) to keep me satisfied and ward off cravings.

I loved the food (I mean, who doesn’t like smothering things in ranch and butter?), but I still worried I would gain a lot of weight.

To my surprise, though, my weight dropped those first few days. I learned that these quickly-lost pounds came from water (which is stored alongside carbs in our bodies), not body fat, but I wasn’t complaining. Plus, all the newfound fat in my diet was so satiating that I simply stopped feeling hungry. Within three days, my cravings disappeared and I felt balanced and energized.

Attack Of The Keto Flu

And then, around the end of week one…the ‘Keto Flu’ hit! A common experience for new keto eaters, the keto flu occurs your magnesium, sodium, and potassium stores become depleted as your body shifts from using carbs to fat as its main source of energy. (These vital electrolytes regulate your heart beat, balance fluid levels in your body, and perform many other important functions—and losing too much of them can be dangerous.) I couldn’t believe how quickly it came on. I felt extremely lethargic and thirsty, needed naps in the middle of the day, and couldn’t even get through a workout.

Related: 5 Mistakes People Make When They Go Keto

Following the guidance of my online gurus, I picked up a magnesium and potassium supplement (like Country Life’s Magnesium Potassium Aspartate), and started drinking chicken Boullion cubes (which contain more than a gram of sodium a pop) to replenish my electrolytes.

The struggle lasted on and off for about two weeks—and it seriously knocked me out.

Smooth Sailing

Once my body got used to being in ketosis and I nailed my electrolyte intake, the ‘keto flu’ passed and all of the perks I’d read about finally started raining down. I had incredible amounts of energy, zero cravings, and slept beautifully. My workouts got back to normal, too.

As the weeks passed, I experimented more and more with my meals. Eggs continued to be my go-to breakfast, but I tried out all sorts of recipes for lunches and dinners, including ‘meattza’ (pizza using a layer of ground beef as the crust) and Hasselback chicken (chicken breasts stuffed with ricotta cheese and spinach). I enjoyed my broccoli with melted cheddar cheese on top, ate a lot of cauliflower (it’s relatively low in carbs), and loaded up on spinach (which provided much-needed potassium).

It's like Where's Waldo… can you find Gertie in the photo? 🐶🐾

A post shared by Liz Josefsberg (@lizjosefsberg) on

I lost weight steadily throughout those two months. By the end, I’d lost 15 pounds total, and my body fat percentage had dropped from 36 percent to 29 percent, meaning I shed fat but kept my precious muscle. (The only other time I’d seen such a significant body fat drop was during my high-protein bodybuilding days!) My results confirmed everything I’d read online: Once your body adapts to burning fat, it will turn to your fat stores for energy.

As impressed as I was with how keto changed my body, though, I don’t think it’s something I could maintain long-term. Since the diet is so restrictive and takes such an immense amount of work and attention to follow, I found it difficult to fully live life while on it. Knowing just one misstep could throw me out of ketosis and back into burning sugar, I stressed about social situations and eating out. Plus, I really missed fruit and wine.

I’m glad I did it, though! Keto taught me that fats are awesome—and I’m truly sorry I avoided them for so many years. Since my experiment, I’ve continued to eat a lot of healthy fats—and even though I’m not all-out keto anymore, my meals are more satisfying and my weight has been easier to maintain. It’s amazing how far a little whole milk goes in a cup of coffee!

 

Liz Josefsberg is a weight loss and wellness expert with over 15 years in the industry. A mom, author, fitness enthusiast, and weight loss success story herself (65 pounds lost!), Liz consults all over the world. She loves testing every diet, exercise regimen, device, and piece of gear she can get her hands on. 

How I Went From ‘Not Outdoorsy’ To Full-Fledged Biker

At the start of April 2016, I could count on one hand how many times I’d ridden a bike since I was a kid. But by the end of that summer I rode round-trip on my mountain bike from Brooklyn, NY to Croton-on-Hudson, NY—about 50 miles each way.

So how did I transform from a self-proclaimed “not outdoorsy” person into somebody with a mean biking habit? It all started at a flea market.

For those familiar with anxiety disorders, it’s no surprise how it can shrink your world. For me, that meant I was living in a carefully constructed comfort zone, one that did not include physical activity. Exercise was something other people did. “Getting fit” meant sweating a lot and operating machinery I wasn’t sure how to use. Whether the machine was some sort of gym equipment or a bicycle made no difference, because just being in public and moving my body meant feeling uncomfortably exposed.

I’d only ever really power-walked as exercise. For a while, it was my main form of exercise because it didn’t feel out of place with all the other fast-walkers in New York City. Plus, I didn’t have to go out of my way to do it.

So one day, at that flea market in Brooklyn, I found myself forking over 120 bucks for a slightly rusty, but serviceable, used bike. (The only thing I find more anxiety-inducing than feeling vulnerable in public is wasting money, so I bought that bike to trick myself into riding it—and it worked).

With a hunk of metal staring me down (and taking up a LOT of space in my tiny apartment), I had a reasonably motivating incentive. My next step was to preemptively address every barrier that could keep me from riding (I’m tired, it’s scary, etc.). I can always come up with a reason to avoid doing difficult (or just annoying) things, so I identified three ways to support my new would-be riding habit.

I studied up.

If I feel under-equipped with something, I almost never follow through. I knew I had to demystify cycling in order to stick with it. Bike culture (a community of tight-knit people who seem to know a lot about biking) can be pretty insular, but there are tons of amazing organizations (like 718 Cyclery, Sun and Air, and WEbike) who emphasize that cycling is for everyone. After all, it’s a cheap, accessible form of transportation, a great alternative to cars or the subway, and it’s relatively easy exercise.

I started with 718 Cyclery’s Bike Maintenance classes, which are free and designed for beginners. There are women-identifying and non-binary classes, too, which I found less intimidating. YouTube was also a great resource for asking those questions I was too embarrassed to ask because they felt so obvious (how does the chain work?). Hint: Obvious questions are only obvious once you know the answer, y’all.

Featured Products

I built routes and routines.

I’m a routine kind of person. I need structure. A lot of my nervousness around cycling came from unanswered questions: Where am I going? Am I wearing the right thing? Will I have to ride in traffic? What if I get a flat? These are totally valid questions. So much so that there are cycling classes that address them in detail!

Because of my lone-wolf nature—in addition to my social anxiety and general stubbornness—my strategy was to set aside low-pressure time to address each question, within my comfort zone. That meant roping in my friends who were comfortable with cycling for weekend rides.

I also mapped out every route that could be part of my schedule and made friends ride with me during the weekend, when traffic was lighter and I was on no sort of schedule. We rode from my apartment to work (and back), to the cafes I frequent, the grocery store, and my boyfriend’s house. We also found all the bike lanes along the way.

I used my navigation app to pinpoint every bike shop on those routes, too, so I was never far from a quick maintenance stop in the case of emergencies.

I took a “How to Change a Flat 101” class (in which no dudes were allowed!) just in case. I got extra crappy leggings and tee shirts to ride in, stocked up on wet wipes (for “showers” at the office), learned how to braid my hair to prevent helmet hair, and starting leaving clean clothes at my desk. It was a lot of prep, but I felt so much more comfortable and capable knowing everything was accounted for.

Related: How I Went From Gym Class Dropout To Half-Marathon Runner

I found my people.

My boyfriend is an avid cyclist, which was a huge help in the beginning, but I’m also an #independentwoman so I branched out significantly on this front.

Women-only cycling groups were a lifesaver; I was able to plug in with some feminist groups that created inclusive spaces for women or non-binary identifying people to ask questions, learn together, and have positive cycling experiences outside of the pressure and mansplaining that often comes in more traditional cycling atmospheres.

I also realized there are a ton of people just like me who ride casually or commute by bike but are by no means ride-or-die biker types. I started casually bringing it up in conversation and discovered friends I had no idea rode bikes and could offer tips. Bonus: Biking is a great way to spend time with people doing an activity that requires minimal talking!

In the end

Ultimately, finding my people, building routines around cycling, and demystifying all the scary parts of biking led to empowering myself. I liked the challenge. That’s how, a mere two months after I picked up my “baby antelope” (that’s what the bike shop guys call my tiny white trek antelope bikie), I was riding 100 miles round-trip from Brooklyn to Croton-on-Hudson.

I wouldn’t suggest picking up a bike and doing this the next day, of course. Having built up some strength from bike commuting for a while, along with having a support network of more experienced cyclists, I felt equipped to take it on—and I did!

Moral of the story: Go a little bit at a time, find your pain-points, ask questions, and push yourself a little further than you thought you could. Riding my bike has empowered me to take on other adventures I felt too nervous or incapable of attempting, has given me a new form of transportation, and makes me feel strong.

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

I take my skin-care routine seriously—I moisturize often, wear SPF daily, drink lots of water, and try to get in at least eight hours of sleep each night. It works!

Stress, diet, and life in general can take a toll on our physical appearance, and because I want to feel good and look well-rested as often as possible (don’t we all?), I’m always open to trying new skin-care trends. That’s why, when I heard that vitamin C—known mainly for providing immune support—has become a staple of beauty bloggers the Internet over, I had to try it for myself.

According to the journal Nutrients, vitamin C is a major antioxidant, which can support the skin’s tightness, suppleness, and clarity. To get the benefits, though, you don’t need to down gallons of freshly-squeezed orange juice. Serums—like Derma E’s Vitamin C Concentrated Serum, which I started using two weeks ago—do the trick.

The product works to decrease the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles while boosting collagen production. It also contains aloe and vitamin E, to support skin hydration.

Featured Products

In the past two weeks of use, I’ve applied the serum at night (because having a successful skin-care routine means being consistent, and in the mornings, I like to keep things simple because it’s hard for me to stick to a multi-step routine). Before bed, I put on some relaxing music or a fun podcast and light a couple of candles while I begin my skin-care ritual: I wash my face with a gentle cleanser, apply eye cream, and then add any serums. Sometimes I also use a face mask, like this skin-loving, DIY maple syrup-based one. (If I want to apply multiple products, I apply one, wait a minute or two for it to settle in, and then I move onto the next one.)

The Vitamin C Concentrated Serum itself is a tad oily, but it’s very smooth and it dries in mere moments. It’s also rather gentle, though I did experience a mild tingling sensation in the beginning (I didn’t mind the feeling and it went away after less than a minute).

THE RESULTS

Vitamin C: It’s totally legit. Here’s my glowing skin:

After putting on the Vitamin C Concentrated Serum every night for two weeks, I saw some obvious and clear results. Aside from two rogue zits (thanks, PMS!) during the 14 days, my skin became clearer and smoother.

I also noticed that my skin tone began to even out a little more with consistent use. And, in addition to clear skin, my complexion seemed less dull. Bonus: The good results are becoming more obvious as I continue to use the serum on the daily.

I’m going to keep this tool in my skin-care arsenal—and I really look forward to seeing more results as time goes on.

I Tried A Charcoal Peel-Off Mask—Here’s What My Skin Had To Say

From pimple-popping to drag queen transformations, there’s something inexplicably satisfying about watching the Internet’s unusual assortment of viral beauty videos. But none ignites my fascination—and horror—more than a charcoal peel-off face mask trial. (If you haven’t witnessed YouTuber Tiffany’s disastrous peel-off experience, stop reading this and go watch it now.)

Painful mishaps aside, these black goo-like masks promise to reveal smoother, blackhead-free skin. The charcoal found in peel-off masks is activated charcoal, which has been heated to a very high temperature to make it more porous. The idea is that the pores produced during the process help the activated charcoal absorb extra bacteria and other molecules from your skin. “In a peel-off mask, charcoal can draw out bacteria and dirt from the skin to the surface, so it can then be washed off,” explains Gary Goldenberg, M.D., of Goldenberg Dermatology.

Related: 5 Health And Beauty Uses For Activated Charcoal

I’ve been genetically gifted (*sarcasm*) with an acne- and oil-ridden complexion—and though my acne was much worse during my teen years, I continue to deal with lingering purple-y blue scars, bulging cystic time-of-the-month pimples, and random whiteheads that pop up for no reason at all. And though my current skin-care routine includes a cocktail of creams, toners, and moisturizers, I don’t really do much to remove impurities—I just try to cover and moisturize them. So the notion of quite literally ripping them from my face certainly appealed. Curious (and slightly afraid), I decided to try the trend out for myself and see if it benefited my complexion.

Application #1: My Mask Doesn’t Look (Or Feel) Right

On morning one, I stood at my bathroom mirror before work with a bottle of BioMiracle’s Detoxifying Charcoal Peel-Off Mask in hand, ready to make the pore-purification magic happen. The bottle promised ‘a visibly clearer, smoother, more clarified complexion.’ Yes, please.

I’m a total baby when it comes to pain, so as excited as I was to detox my face, I couldn’t help but think back to the cringe-worthy YouTube videos of painful peel-offs I’d seen. As I started to spread the mask across my freshly-washed face, my heart rate kicked up a bit. With the piercing screams of beauty vloggers ringing in my ears, I continued to cover my face with the thinnest possible layer of the mask.

The directions on the bottle said to apply an ‘even and thin, but opaque’ layer of mask, and as the mask dried I learned that ‘opaque’ was the key word there. Because I applied such a thin layer, the mask just crumbled off in pieces and had no discernible effect on my skin, other than leaving behind a few black specks that I had to rinse off. Fail.

Application #2: This is Surprisingly…Cathartic?

As instructed by the bottle’s directions, I waited a few days to use the mask again—even though I was pretty sure my first attempt didn’t count as an actual application. This time, I made a point to smear myself a nice opaque layer of mask despite my lingering nerves.

As the mask dried, I could tell it was appropriately thick this time; it felt tighter and tighter over my skin—especially when I tried to move my mouth or crinkle my forehead. After 30 minutes (during which I guzzled wine), my phone alarm alerted me it was time to remove the mask. I trudged to the bathroom, took a deep, deep breath, said a prayer, and began to peel away at the edges. This time it came off in (mostly) a single sheet.

The removal process was surprisingly cathartic—somewhere between the sensation of peeling off dried glue (you did that in school, too, right?) and ripping off a Band-Aid. I did experience some minor pain at first—something I attributed to extra hair around the outside of my face—but I could practically feel the mask stripping my pores of blackheads and oil, and it was so, so satisfying.

I analyzed my freshly-peeled complexion in the mirror, noticing a newfound smoothness as I ran my fingers across my oil-free face. Ahhhh. The little redness I noticed faded quickly, but my blackheads still persisted. (The mask also ripped off a whitehead I had, which was bleeding a little bit, so I made note to avoid putting the goop over any sensitive-looking pimples the next time around.)

The Next Few Applications: Instantly Gratifying Complexion Fixes

By the time I reached my third, fourth and fifth applications—about five, nine, and 14 days into my trial—I had perfected proper mask application and consistency. With each application, my confidence grew, and I applied an increasingly thick layer. The thicker the layer, the more painful the peel-off—but I found myself almost enjoying the pain.

Featured Products

The results continued in a fairly predictable pattern: I’d remove the mask to find a smooth and grease-free complexion. Any redness would subside in the next hour or so.

The Final Verdict

Like most of the buzzy beauty products I’ve tried out, the charcoal peel-off mask seemed to be more of a short-term magician than a long-term miracle-worker. That being said, though, I will absolutely use this mask again—probably the night (or a few hours) before an event, so my skin will be fresh and shine-free when it counts.

Want to test a charcoal peel-off mask for yourself? Try BioMiracle’s Detoxifying Charcoal Peel-Off Mask.

From 5Ks to 50-Milers: How I Became An Ultramarathon Runner In Two Years

In the summer of 2008 I had just finished law school, but I hadn’t started working yet. I was running a bit for exercise, because I had the time, but once my first son was born, running just didn’t stick.

Seven years later, knee deep in parenthood and my career, I weighed around 210 pounds—and wasn’t doing a single thing about it. So I made a few New Year’s resolutions: lose weight, get healthier, and start building better habits. I had to face that I wasn’t 20 years old anymore.

I started and stopped working on my resolutions many times (just like everyone else in the world). I was trying a lot of different things to keep up momentum—my wife and I even bought a water rower, but that got boring fast—and when I started running a couple of miles a few times a week, I learned that there was a 5K race in town. It was sponsored by a local pub, which didn’t hurt, so I signed up (even though I found myself questioning why, considering I still wasn’t very good at running).

I practiced for a few months and by the time the 5K rolled around, I didn’t exactly kill it (I came in around 28:25), but I did enjoy it, especially hanging out with fellow runners afterward.

Featured Products

As I kept up the running after the race, I noticed I was losing significant weight—about 45 pounds! And by the middle of summer 2016, it stopped being about losing weight. I was really just loving the running. So I began focusing on races and getting fit for different events.

It wasn’t always easy—in fact, it was a real challenge. When I ran my first actual marathon in 2016 in Brooklyn (a nostalgic moment for me because I had lived there from 2009-2015), I completely crashed after the first 16 miles. I sat down, then laid down. The longest I had ever run before was 16 miles, so I was pretty unprepared, and I thought about quitting. What kept me going was that I had told everyone that I was doing the marathon, and I just couldn’t live with quitting. That’s when I got a second wind.

From there, I was totally hooked.

Runner’s High

There’s so much to love about running. You’re alongside elite athletes, you can experience gorgeous scenery, and you get to inspire your kids. My youngest son, Nate, who is five, has done two 5Ks with me and I didn’t even have to carry him! During the first, he was hurting at mile two and a half, but he didn’t want to stop. When he saw the finish line, he bolted!

The social aspect of running kept me coming back for more, too. At the end of 2016, I looked for a running buddies club so I could meet other runners. I found one called Fueled by Doughnuts (our group was just featured in Runner’s World, in a piece called “One Pretty Sweet Club”) so I attended one of their group runs one December night.

The group is founded by the owner of a local doughnut shop who provides doughnuts and coffee after every run. The founder also hosts two insanely popular races in Montclair, NJ—a 5K in December and a half marathon in March. Running with Fueled by Doughnuts is how I met all of my running buddies, some of whom have turned into very good friends.

Full Steam Ahead

In early 2017 I decided that it would be fun to do something a little more adventurous than a road race. I found a cool 50-mile ultramarathon (an ultramarathon is any race longer than 26.2 miles, which is a standard marathon) near Ithaca, New York, called Cayuga Trails 50. The ultramarathon, which took place in June 2017, was a 50-mile trail run with more than 9,000 feet of elevation gain. The scenery was beautiful but the course was tough.

Carlos, on one of his runs.

I made it about 42 miles in 14 hours, but I was so mentally defeated by mile 42 that I just gave up and asked my wife to pick me up where the trail was intersected by a road. That night I ate three dinners and then fell asleep.

As soon as I woke up, I felt regret for not pushing myself to finish those last eight miles. I had been on my feet for 14 hours—what were a few more? Physically I know I could have done it, but it was a failure of mental toughness.

This year, I’m going to run an easier 50-miler called The Dirty German in Philadelphia. Then I’ll try Cayuga Trails 50 again down the road. (I’ve also been toying with the idea of trying a 100-miler instead!)

To amp myself up for these runs, there’s a lot of Lupe Fiasco on my Amazon Prime playlist; his music is upbeat, introspective, and addresses different issues. I listen to him if I’m doing a treadmill run or a hard run outside when I’m not with friends. For easier runs, I like to just catch up with friends and need to make sure I can talk.

But all of that doesn’t make running easy all the time. When I’m lacking motivation, my friends get me out of the house. I’d say about 90 percent of my running habits today are because I’m going to hang out with friends. I actually haven’t had this many friends since high school!

My advice to people who want to start running or working out:

  • Create a habit of laying your clothes out ahead of time, especially early in the morning. After a while you won’t have to think about it, you just do it. Getting your stuff ready for beforehand reduces the need to make that early morning decision: Do I get up and run? The easiest way to build a habit is to make it happen on autopilot, and by knowing you’re all set and ready to go, there’s no more mental struggle about whether or not to hit the snooze button.
  • Give yourself something to look forward to after your workout, like coffee.
  • Consider it a mental workout, too. Your body is capable of a lot more than you think it is. When you’re fatigued and want to slow down, it’s not really a physical limit—it’s an emotion. Your brain makes you feel it, but you can push past it. Once you understand that, it’s motivating.

Share your own victories, both big and small, on Instagram using #VictoryIsMine and tagging @vitaminshoppe. We might feature you on our page!

 

I Tried Boxing For 2 Weeks—And It Was No Joke

I’m 20 minutes into boxing class and I’ve already done a ridiculous amount of burpees, pushups, and squats. My face is beet red and my shirt is soaked through with sweat—and I’ve still got another 30 minutes left to go.

I’m pushing my body to its limits—and I love it. I think?

For most of my life I’ve been your average, garden variety gym-goer, never veering too far from holistic mind-body-soul workouts used to straighten out my mental state and give me a good stretch. I tried out boxing on a self-dare. (I’ve got this masochistic voice in the back of my mind that loves a new challenge—even if it’s out of my wheelhouse.) I wasn’t planning on jumping into the ring or transforming my body; I just wanted to try something different.

I’d always had a naturally strong upper body (my muscles don’t flinch when I’m carrying super heavy grocery bags and I’m never concerned about trekking an oversized duffle of dirty clothes to the laundromat), but was never able to properly control that strength and often ended up with pulled muscles. I hoped that boxing would help prevent injury, and also limit the pain I often experience from my Plantar fasciitis (when inflamed tissue spans the bottom of your foot).

Still, I was incredibly intimidated by boxing. I’d seen those people running around the perimeter of city blocks sporting boxing gloves and doing burpees—and it never seemed very inclusive or accommodating to different fitness levels. I knew I’d be a fish out of water.

Related: 6 Really Good Reasons To Add Boxing To Your Workout Routine

I walked into the throes of Church Street Boxing in Lower Manhattan to find myself amongst an array of unique and sweaty humans. Every punch was choreographed as instructors walked around their respective groups to make sure shoulders, forearms, wrists, and torsos were all positioned correctly with each individual swing. I grabbed a matching set of gloves from a side bin and waited for the rest of my class to arrive while I continued to gawk at the action around me.

We began with calisthenics: bear crawls, jumping jacks, pushups, mountain climbers, and a run around the block—which could have easily sufficed as its own workout but was very much not even remotely the end.

Back at the gym, I arrived panting. We talked about the proper way to use your strength without throwing your whole arm out, and then we started jabbing, in a circle, with our instructor. With each combination (a.k.a. different kinds of punches) we did a series of burpees until the entire group had finished multiple rounds of this. Then another run around the block, and running up and down the stairs of the multi-level building. Finally, we finished off with various other combos.

My sweat-drenched body was eager to meet the cold air outside as I limped to the train. I knew I should have spoken up about my foot and its history, but felt embarrassed by being new and needing adjustment during my first class. I found myself at home with a bag of ice on my foot wishing I would have swallowed my pride and simply asked to not run. The next morning I had to wrap my foot just keep it compressed enough to walk.

The next few days were rough. My arms were impossibly difficult to lift above my waist and my foot was still throbbing; I had to roll it out on a tennis ball at work when I wasn’t up walking around.

Featured Products

The next class I attended had a different instructor and a brand new set of faces, but the same vibe: so much sweat and strength swirling around the room as trainees punched bags and did situps to a loud and guided count. I made it through a similar round of workouts and immediately cornered my instructor after he announced a run around the block. “I have a major foot injury that doesn’t allow for me to put pounding pressure on my foot…May I have a modification?” He allowed it, and prompted to me to do lunges across the length of the gym floor. “Perfect! Yes! I can do that!” I said. The workout was still incredibly hard, but I didn’t end up having to ice my foot for the next week just to recover.

I continued to go to different classes, trying out new clubs and boutique boxing studios, and I did find things I really loved about boxing, like having to be agile while springing my arm forward…all the while protecting my face. And having to use my center of gravity to keep my body grounded on impact.

Boxing also reiterated this: My body responds and reacts differently to each workout, so I have to be mindful of what I need to do in order to keep moving forward in my fitness life. Boxing might not ultimately be my thing, but it sure taught me to acknowledge my injuries and speak up for my body.

 

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

As someone who suffers from generalized anxiety disorder, and for whom panic attacks never get any easier (do they for anyone?), I have long considered giving meditation a try.

Meditation dates back thousands of years, offering benefits like improved concentration, stress reduction, and inner peace. Mayo Clinic even points to research suggesting the practice can help manage symptoms related to pain and digestion. With such a rich history, why had I been procrastinating?

For one, there was the time factor. With a hectic schedule, there are days when I feel too busy to eat—so how could I pull off taking 10 minutes to sit and, essentially, do nothing? I squirm at the salon while waiting for my hair color to process, thinking of the many other things I could be doing. I was doubtful I could sit cross-legged (what I presumed you absolutely must do while meditating) while clearing my mind of all thoughts. Meditating felt like a luxury my to-do list couldn’t afford.

Then, I worried about being able to relax. My concerns over having a panic attack while trying to stay quiet and focused on a meditation class completely freaked me out. What if I have to leave the room and disturb my classmates? I pictured a mugshot of sorts hanging in the local meditation studio classifying me as someone who disturbs the peace (literally). Have I mentioned I have a flair for the dramatic?

I had so many reasons to keep on keepin’ on with my daily grind, without making a single attempt to try something new. Something that, if even slightly successful, could be a gamechanger for me. But then, somehow, I pushed through my fears and committed to trying it for at least one weekI still had that irrational fear of being fidgety in a class, so I reached for my phone and downloaded the Calm app.

Day 1

That first day I began with a simple five-minute Deep Sleep body scan at night. I was suspicious that something so brief could calm my mind, but by the end of it, I found myself wishing I had started with the 10-minute version because it was so relaxing. The voice guiding me through the meditation was soothing and I found myself falling asleep more quickly than usual.

Day 2

The second day of my weeklong experiment was pretty chaotic, and the irony was not lost on me that I needed to stop everything I was doing to practice Calm’s Daily Calm, a 10-minute meditation that changes each day. I squeezed it in midday, and while I can’t say I completely turned off the outside world, I noticed I was a bit more mindful for the rest of the afternoon and evening.

Day 3

I decided to take the plunge and sign up for Lunchtime Detox, a 30-minute session at The Den, a neighborhood meditation studio in Los Angeles.

Featured Products

The classroom was dimly lit by candles and offered a number of different props—from traditional meditation pillows to upright floor chairs to blankets—to make students feel comfortable. Our teacher briefly asked what we hoped to gain from class and asked us to be completely still in three-minute intervals. Most importantly, he asked us to not be critical of ourselves in terms of questioning whether we were meditating “correctly.” There was something really lovely about being reminded that it’s okay to just…be.

I walked out of that class feeling great, jonesing for more.

Day 4

Day 3’s meditation led me back to The Den for Focus, a 45-minute session dedicated to “training the restless mind.” If I’m being totally honest, I don’t remember the specifics of that class because I was so blissed out that I think I dozed off for a period of time.

At that point, I felt hooked.

Day 5

Of course, not every day allows for larger blocks of time to meditate, unfortunately, and on Day 5 I found myself scrambling to squeeze it in with the Calm app. It was 11 p.m. and I realized the entire day had passed without taking even five minutes to chill. I played the 10-minute Deep Sleep meditation but couldn’t get into the right frame of mind for the experience.

Note to self: Don’t force meditation if the result means you’re agitated with yourself for forgetting to do so in the first place.

Day 6

I blocked out 10 minutes for Daily Calm around lunchtime, attempting to combine the experiences I had at The Den with the convenience of listening to a guided meditation on the app in my own home. It served a as a nice little break—as well as a reminder that, yes, I do have 10 minutes in a day to help myself.

Day 7

For my last consecutive day of meditation I headed back to The Den for Reiki, a form of healing and something I had never experienced before. Our teacher asked each person to share what they were trying to heal in very simple terms, like anxiety, grief, stress, or physical pain. While I typically clam up at the thought of having to speak in a roomful of strangers, it was a really unifying experience and, in the end, made the meditation feel more relaxed.

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

Post-Experiment

Since I wrapped up my meditative week I’m happy to report I’ve used Calm a few more times, working in some peaceful moments here and there throughout the day. My goal is to get back to The Den, because I think there’s so much to learn about the practice. I really enjoy being in a space designed to maximize the experience of meditating, too.

But more importantly, I’ve learned that there’s always time for me, and I need to stop trying to rationalize reasons to believe otherwise. Whether it’s five minutes or 45, taking that time to just breathe is more impactful than I could have previously imagined. Self-care isn’t selfish, it’s necessary.

What Happened When I Drank Apple Cider Vinegar Every Morning For 2 Weeks

I consider myself a fit, healthy, wannabe wellness goddess. I do CrossFit® five times a week, attend yoga class regularly, frequent local health food joints, and fire up a meditation app during my morning subway commute.

My morning ritual, though, is as far from @yoga_girl’s or Gabby Bernstein’s as it can be. It usually starts with me hitting ‘snooze’ five times followed by 10 minutes spent mindlessly scrolling through Instagram before I finally trudge over to the fridge and pour myself a mason jar-full of cold brew coffee.

Then I crawl right back into bed with my laptop to start some work before finally getting up, washing my face, making some breakfast, and heading to yoga.

Sure, it’s not like I’m eating a box of munchkins every morning, but in the era of A.M. meditation, gratitude journaling, turmeric lattes, and collagen smoothies, I often wonder if my morning ritual could be doing a little more for me. Enter apple cider vinegar (ACV), stage left.

Pretty much the OG of at-home-remedies, ACV is a favorite among health gurus, beauty fanatics, and wellness junkies, with many people swearing by a shot (or a few tablespoons) of the stuff first thing in the morning. That’s because of its purported ability to boost digestion, support a healthy weight, and amplify your glow from the inside out. Understandably so, considering ACV packs antioxidants, B vitaminscalcium, and potassium, and supports healthy gut bacteria. Research shows that it can boost heart and immune health, and even support healthy blood sugar.

Our Go-To ACV's

Was this just the pungent punch-up my morning routine needed? I was about to find out. I bought myself a big ‘ole bottle of Bragg apple cider vinegar, imagining that with every sip of the pungent stuff I’d feel more invigorated, digest like the wind, and move one step closer to ‘Gabby Bernstein’ status.

I vowed to start each day for two weeks straight with ACV to decide if it was for me—and the results were a bit surprising.

I Confirmed That I’m Bad At Taking Shots

I played rugby in college, so I spent most of my time doing sprints, not shots. I never really liked the taste of alcohol, anyway, and as I became even more dedicated to fitness after graduation, I didn’t want drinking get in the way of my gains.

That said, as much I’d like to say that I waltzed into my kitchen on morning number-one and flawlessly threw back a shot of ACV, that’s not quite how it went. I poured a few teaspoons of ACV into a glass, but before I could even attempt to drink it the aggressive odor of vinegar practically punched me in the face. So, I totally chickened out, pinched my nose with my free hand, and spent the next five minutes taking baby sips of the stuff.

Once I finally got it all down, though, something magical happened: I felt instantly awake. (And, to get the eye-watering taste out of my mouth, I brushed my teeth before my morning cup of coffee for the first time ever.)

Since the whole shot thing clearly wasn’t going to work for me, I decided to dilute my ACV in water. (Lots of non-shot-takers mix their vinegar into water, tea, or seltzer—sometimes adding a little honey and fresh lemon to help the stuff go down easier.) For the remaining 13 days, I either poured two teaspoons of ACV into my water bottle and downed it bit by bit throughout the morning, or splurged on a Bragg’s ginger apple cider vinegar drink, which dilutes the ACV and balances it out with ginger spice and a bit of stevia. Toning down the kick of the vinegar made my new morning routine much more tolerable.

I Felt Healthy As A Horse

If I do say so myself, I have a quality immune system. I haven’t gotten sick—like ‘can’t get out of bed’ sick—in years. But I’d like to think that my morning ACV, which I started sipping during the height of cold and flu season, helped keep my system strong and my body able to work out twice a day without feeling rundown.

Things Got A Little Stinky

By ‘things,’ I mean my bodily fluids. Within five hours of my first shot, I noticed my urine smelled a bit like asparagus. And when I hit the gym or got sweaty in yoga class, the smell that oozed from my armpits—and everywhere else that sweats—was equally off. The acidic stench (a potent combination of vinegar and feet) burned my nose. I barely let myself breathe while doing downward-facing dog and child’s pose. By day three, I learned to be extra generous with my deodorant before doing anything remotely active.

And look, I know a vagina isn’t supposed to smell like a field of daisies and that it’s normal to smell a little different depending on where you’re at in your cycle, what you ate, or how much you’re sweating—but when I started drinking ACV, boy did I notice a change. A little concerned, I called my gyno to fill her in on the situation. She said that introducing such an acidic food into my pretty consistent diet may have thrown off my pH, and that my vagina was likely adjusting to the change. Interestingly though, she also mentioned that since ACV is so acidic, it can help mitigate some bacteria overgrowth—a major vagina win. At the end of the two weeks, though, I was still a bit smelly, waiting for my body to adjust.

My Digestion Felt The Difference

My digestive system typically moves pretty quickly—or quickly enough that I poop three or four times a day. I’m a creature of habit and nosh on pretty much the same healthy eats every day: oatmeal for breakfast, salad with chicken for lunch, ground turkey with kale for dinner, an absurd amount of peanut butter for dessert, and two apples and a protein shake whenever I need a snack. I also faithfully take a probiotic every night before bed—so my system knows what’s up. But when I first added ACV to the equation, something weird happened: I couldn’t go. I spent the first two days sitting on the toilet willing my body to do its thing—but nothing.

Dr. Google told me that drinking an extra cup or two of water might help get things moving, so on day three I vowed to drink tons of water in hopes of easing what was now straight-up discomfort. Much to my relief, I went to the bathroom after yoga, then again after lunch, and then a third time right before CrossFit.

In the name of regularity, I continued drinking as much water as possible throughout my experiment—and it kept me going two or three times a day. Some research suggests that the acids in ACV slow the activity of certain digestive enzymes, which can delay stomach emptying, explaining why my usually-hyper-speedy digestive system acted a little differently.

The ACV Checked My Appetite

Every morning after downing my morning vinegar, I felt really full (and bloated) for a couple of hours. I’m an avid kombucha drinker, so I was no stranger to this full sensation, though. Suddenly I understood the research around how drinking ACV can cause people to eat fewer calories.

Eventually I forced myself to eat some breakfast—I had to fuel my afternoon workout, after all—but I didn’t actually feel hungry until around lunchtime!

My post-ACV full-and-bloated sensation stuck around for the full two weeks. Moving forward, if I’m going to inflate for a few hours, I think I’d rather it be from a deliciously fizzy bottle of kombucha instead of ACV, though.

My Skin Looked The Same

Throughout my ACV experiment, I regularly rocked mud masks and chugged extra water (partially just to wash the vinegary burn out of my mouth)—so if my face looked extra glow-y, I can’t say it was thanks to the ACV. I’m sure the extra antioxidants the ACV offered didn’t do my complexion any harm, though!

So, Will I Continue?

My experiment definitely brought ACV’s very-real effects to life. Who can say ‘no’ to the vitamins, minerals, and gut-boosting compounds in this stuff? Though I won’t continue to swig down ACV in the A.M., I want to put the rest of my bottle to good use. I called my go-to nutritionist Keri Gans, M.S., R.D.N., who recommended using ACV in salad dressings—which is how I’ll be reaping the benefits of this golden liquid from now on.

Related: 14 Practical (And Unexpected!) Uses For Apple Cider Vinegar

I Tried Coconut Oil Dental Care For A Week—Here’s What Happened

I don’t have the most comprehensive oral care routine. I brush twice a day with Sensodyne Pronamel Gentle Whitening Toothpaste, usually for about two minutes. Once a week, I floss and watch with dismay as blood fills up my mouth, sort of like I’m a satiated vampire.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen a dentist (my husband says it’s been over two years, though I think it’s only been one) so when I was given the opportunity to try some new and natural oral healthcare products from Desert Essence, I figured there would be no harm in it. 

I was sent a package of three products: Desert Essence Coconut Oil Toothpaste, Desert Essence Coconut Oil Mouthwash, and Desert Essence Coconut Oil Pulling Rinse (luckily I like the taste of coconut) and was instructed to use the products together for one week. According to the labels, the products provide “complete care for teeth and gums” and help your mouth to feel “clean and fresh.” Sounded good to me! 

The first night, I started with the Coconut Oil Toothpaste, then followed up with the Coconut Oil Mouthwash, which reminded me of a tropical adult beverage. What a shame to have to spit it out! These definitely didn’t taste like your average toothpaste and mouthwash—while there’s a tinge of mint flavor, it is subtle and mild. 

The final product I use was entirely new to me: the Coconut Oil Pulling Rinse. I was vaguely familiar with the concept of oil pulling, an ancient Ayurvedic tradition that involves swishing with oil for long periods of time, but had never actually considered trying it. A New-Age-y friend had recently started swearing by its oral-cleansing powers; however, I am not very New-Age-y, so I’d scoffed a bit at her zeal.

Related: I Tried Oil-Pulling for 2 Weeks—Here’s What Happened

 The instructions on the bottle said to work up to 20 minutes of swishing.

 “Are you kidding me?” I asked the bottle. I am not a patient person. I look for quick fixes. 

Well, I thought, I can do one of two things: I can either double-task and do something concurrent with swishing or I can try and be mindful and slow things down. So I lit a candle, sat on the bath-mat, and slowly swirled. For 20 minutes.

The oil rinse tasted mildly of coconut and had a pleasant consistency. When I was done, my mouth felt awesome—smooth, clean, and soft. And when woke up the next day, my mouth still felt great.

I liked the idea of incorporating oil pulling into my nighttime routine. As a person who suffers from insomnia, I have a lot of nighttime rituals. Most nights, I wash my face with ice-cold water and apply a variety of oils and creams. I drink a glass of water and take various vitamins. Then I crawl into bed, listen to a podcast, put on the sound of rain hitting the ground at medium speed, and occasionally pop an Ambien. It made sense to add a mindfulness exercise that also benefited my health.

The next night, I took a swig of the oil and started washing my face. Then I went through my other rituals. Ten minutes later, I was ready to crawl into bed, so I spat out the oil and called it a night. I still woke up with a mouth that felt fresh and teeth that felt oddly—but pleasantly—smooth. Not bad for 10 minutes!

I continued to brush and rinse with the Coconut Oil Toothpaste and Mouthwash, and they did their job well, but it was the oil pulling rinse that really surprised me. At the end of my week-long experiment with the products, I even decided to continue on with the oil pulling rinse as a part of my nightly routine. (I would be lying if I said I was going to use it every night for 10-20 minutes, but I will probably use it a few times a week for five minutes.) My mouth and teeth felt cleaner and healthier after having used it, and my breath even stunk less in the morning. Double-win!

What Attending A Wellness Retreat Did For My Body Confidence

Being invited to a wellness yoga retreat at a gorgeous ranch and beach club in Malibu, California, sounds like the stuff of fantasies. But when I first agreed to attend YogaOutlet’s first-ever two-day retreat, featuring classes with world-renowned instructors (I’m talking people who’ve graced the cover of Yoga Journal or have their very own workout DVDs), I wasn’t thinking much about relaxing.

Outside of taking restful, restorative yoga once or twice a week, my regular practice was fairly limited. The thought of taking Vinyasa classes that get your heart rate up by doing intense flows—along with advanced moves like shoulder stands—alongside people who do it for a living was a fairly intimidating thought. But this wasn’t a retreat for pros only. It was going to be a mix of press and pros—and being that I was game to expand my skill set as a student, I thought to myself, Hey, I’ve got this. Then I sent the “Count me in!” email.  

YogaOutlet.com/Karma Captures

Fast-forward to the first day of the retreat: I realized that not only were lithe, internationally famous yoga pros in attendance, but the classes were also peppered with the kinds of Instagram-famous couples who casually do acroyoga (think yoga meets Cirque du Soleil). Oof, there was no way I’d be able to keep up with them, I thought. They better keep that retreat photographer far away from me.

There’s no way even my mountain pose (which is just standing still basically) was going to look correct next to these yoga rock stars. And there was no way I wanted to be in the background of those shots, let alone take YogaOutlet’s team up on their offer to go do some sun salutations on the grounds of the ranch for an Instagram-worthy photo shoot.

Once an overweight adolescent, and now an adult whose hormonal imbalances and stress levels will forever influence her size, this was most definitely a moment which brought out insecurities around my body and fitness. Even gym classes in high school were pure torture. Though I’ve come a long way since then, I’m not beyond experiencing occasional PTSD from the days when I was a chubby 12-year-old in a stoplight-red regulation gym uniform, timidly flailing away from a dodge ball—or a volleyball or a basketball or a football. You get the picture. 

Featured Products

But obviously, yoga is 180 degrees from dodgeball, right? In fact, it’s supposed to be one of the most mindful, body-accepting workouts out there. And yet, get me sweating around a bunch of people who seem to know what they’re doing better than I do, and there’s a chance I could have let my insecurities turn me into the unhappiest camper to ever attend a posh retreat on the Malibu coastline. Luckily, it didn’t play out that way.

During the retreat, I listened to experts in the yoga and wellness fields lead vibrant conversations on everything from Ayurvedic medicine to building a supportive social circle in an era of self-isolating digital communication. I stopped and sipped water when holding a certain pose began to feel just plain wrong on my back or shoulders. I made small talk about organic food and the beauty of Miami Beach with one of the acroyoga couples. And eventually, my guard came down.

Sure, in some circles, people who practice yoga or have an intense interest in the fitness community are more about image than wellness. They’re capturing their workouts for social media to appear a certain way—not to share their knowledge. They’re competitive, and maybe even lacking a practice, which is what yoga and fitness is supposed to be about! Practicing—and therefore, always being a work in progress.

But during the informational, sometimes emotional conversations that the retreat fostered through classes and workshops, and even in the most physically intense moments of our yoga classes, I soon realized that there is a community of people who really do get it: Fellow students who aren’t going to give you side-eye if you have to stop halfway through an intense yoga flow in a heated room. Advanced instructors who will praise you for listening to your body and knowing your limits and connecting with the class in a mindful (opposed to aggressively physical) way.

Though every instructor had a unique way of coaching and connecting with the class, the powerful message that I heard over and over again was that you bring your body but also your head and heart to the mat. And it’s that ability to connect them that matters more than any long-held shoulder stand or inversion. 

Related: Does Yoga Count As A Workout?

As a kid, my fears around fitness were exacerbated by the pressure of competition. But somewhere between dripping sweat in downward dog and learning about my Ayurvedic boy type (pitta-kapha, obviously) and aromatherapy, I realized that the only person I needed to compare myself to at that retreat was myself.

YogaOutlet.com/Karma Captures

Because they truly do practice what they preach, some of the most advanced yoga pros in the world ended up doing the opposite of intimidate me. They inspired me to accept myself more—exactly as I am, with all of my current strengths and weaknesses.

I learned that wellness isn’t about how hot you look on Instagram in a Lycra yoga jumper while doing some bendy move. It’s about committing to, listening to, and taking care of your heart, mind, and body—at a retreat, or wherever you can quiet that overworked mind. Hey, you’ve got this. 

How My Dogs Help Me Cope With Anxiety

My two dogs would never cut it as certified therapy animals. They sneakily gobble petrified bacon off the concrete. They bark at other dogs. They chase kids on skateboards. They are too big for the subway and one of them—Violet—vomits anytime she’s in a car.

I love my dogs, but sometimes it seems they are just as dysfunctional as I am.

Despite their quirks, I find that my dogs—with their snuggles, heavy sighs, and slow and steady breathing—have helped me manage my raging anxiety disorder.

I was first diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder when I landed in a psychiatric hospital. I was exhausted, incoherent, and incapable of making choices. In the hospital, I was so paralyzed I needed to be ferried around and told what to do. I was also, for the first time, given a cocktail of drugs. Finally, I was handed over to the care of an outpatient therapist and psychiatrist, and started doing the hard work of healing and learning resiliency.

While I was building up my new support system, my partner and I decided to adopt a dog. We did some research, and a few months later we arranged to meet Parker at a PetCo in New Jersey. He was part of a group of dogs recently rescued from an over-crowded shelter in North Carolina. I immediately knew he was my dog.

Related: 5 Easy Ways To Add Meditation To Your Day

My partner wasn’t as taken with the twitchy, little black pit bull who refused to make eye contact. Parker’s foster mom, Lynn, told us he was a shy, weird pup with some anxiety but that he was incredibly lovable and sweet.

“An anxious dog,” I smiled as I sat on the floor. Parker shimmied up into my lap like it was safe land in the midst of a churning sea. We were a perfect fit.

When we took Parker home the following week, it became evident right away that he’d been through some sort of trauma. Regular walks were scary for him; he would pancake and refuse to move. Sometimes he’d run and hide under parked cars. Often, he wouldn’t leave the safety of a doorway or stoop. He was hyper-vigilant, always scanning, always alert. Loud noises made him jump and flatten.

I was despondent. How did I think I could take care of a living thing when it was hard enough to take care of myself?”

We hired a trainer who showed us how using food, rewards, and positive reinforcement helped reassure an anxious dog. After working on basic commands over a few weeks, Parker seemed less terrified of our daily walks and began to enjoy them more.

I felt empowered that I was able to help Parker, even in small ways. He rewarded me by trotting around the apartment with a stuffed porcupine and throwing it up in the air, by snuggling in my dirty clothes, and by wedging his way in-between my partner and me in bed.

After a year, my partner and I decided to adopt a second dog. Violet had been abandoned soon after giving birth and was still lactating when we picked her up. Though she had a sassy and assertive personality (unlike Parker), she also showed signs of trauma. It took a while for her to warm up to us, but once she did, her sweetness and a penchant for snuggling emerged.

Featured Products

At this point in my own therapy, I was working on mindfulness techniques like breathing and centering my body. If I’m honest, I was failing miserably. Mindfulness unleashed all the obsessive thoughts in my brain, and they floated freely and torturously. Sitting still and focusing on my breath seemed like a Herculean task, and I began to hate meditating.

But holding Violet and focusing on her breath? I didn’t hate that.

Mornings are often difficult. I don’t typically wake peacefully. The minute I open my eyes, I am activated. My heart pounds even though there is no threat. So I often roll over and hug Violet, whose greatest skill is breathing heavily and evenly. We lie chest to chest—sometimes she’ll swat me in the face if she’s not interested—and eventually I regulate my breathing by syncing up with hers. This helps calms me and prepares me to face the challenges of the day.

On top of the breath work, taking the dogs for long walks also clears my mind. Playing with them encourages me to see joy in dark times. And when I can’t get out of bed, they happily stay in it with me.

Animals are healing creatures, and any animal can be therapeutic. I once knew a woman who got great comfort from her python. I have friends with hedgehogs, cats, rats, rabbits, and horses. My friends don’t all struggle with psychological issues, but they all report the psychological benefits of sharing their lives with animals.

According to a recent study written about in NPR, participants explained how “pets provided more than just emotional support and companionship…The animals also could distract them from their illness, even from severe psychosis.”

I love being around dogs so much that I eventually started volunteering at an animal shelter. Helping dogs with all sorts of special needs, quirks, and life experiences is challenging but rewarding, and I’ve learned that dogs are incredibly resilient and resourceful. They inspire me. Giving back to them when they have given me so much hope and comfort feels good and right.

My dogs are an important part of my life; not only are they my best friends, but they also play a significant role in helping me manage my anxiety. They help me feel capable. Dogs don’t judge; they don’t care if you struggle with mental illness—they only want to be involved in your life, even when you’re at your worst. And understanding that is incredibly healing.

What It’s Like Staying Fit With An Autoimmune Disorder

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

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

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

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

1. Understand what an autoimmune disease does to you.

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

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

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

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

Which leads me to number two…

2. Listen to your body.

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

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

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

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

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

Featured Products

3. Small victories matter.

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

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

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

4. Use fitness as mental therapy.

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

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

Related: How Fitness Became My Drug Of Choice

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

5. Make fitness part of your wellness routine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related: Shop probiotics to keep your gut healthy. 

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

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

7. Supplement for you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Featured Products

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2.   Take time for the deep breaths every day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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