Greetings, all! Thanks for welcoming Marlena to the blog yesterday. I always find reading Green Recovery comments to be fascinating, and that conversation was no exception.
As I write this post, I’m on the way back from Blogher 12 in NYC, which is still in full swing, but I had to come back to stay on top of my physics coursework (the happy benefit being that I get to celebrate Anne’s wedding shower with her tomorrow!!). I’m sorry I wasn’t able to experience the whole conference, but totally glad that I did get to experience Health Minder Day, which I think was an absolute success! What a gift it is to be able to celebrate health, mindfulness, and self-care with a diverse, energetic, and strong group of fellow women bloggers.
The goal of Health Minder day was to explore the intersection of health, wellness, and technology. When Blogher emailed me asking to participate, I was immediately impressed by the smart and nuanced panel topics. They included “Good Coach, Bad Coach” (for wellness professionals), “The Empowered Patient (Beyond Googlenosing),” “Overcoming Burnout: Replenishing Your Reserves,” and my panel “Dedication vs. Obsession in Fitness and Nutrition.”
I am so delighted that I was asked to speak to this topic in particular, because it’s close to my life. I’ve experienced the both healthy dedication and unhealthy obsession, and I’ve experienced various shades of gray in between. I think it was also important for me to be on the panel because if there’s any lifestyle/diet that is associated in the popular imagination with obsessive eating, it’s raw veganism. Right? It seems that every time there’s an MTV special or cautionary tale about someone who became orthorexic or obsessive, it’s a raw foodist. I don’t object to the fact that these narratives are out there, because they do have a lesson to share: raw diets can either lead to obsessiveness, or be used as a mask for it. But I think this is true of most any way of eating, and I like to present an alternative narrative to the world: the story of someone who found freedom, joy, and bounty in her diet by choosing raw and vegan foods. Thanks to Green Recovery, I know I’m not the only one.
When I found out who my co-panelists were, I was so impressed. I was speaking with Stephanie Quilao, a spunky, bold, and candid blogger who you may know by her twitter handle, @skinnyjeans.
With Renee Ross, who blogs about her passion for running, her weight loss journey, her use of social media to spread awareness of and support for healthy living, and her life as a mother:
And with the Angelica Perez-Litwin, a clinical psychologist/PhD and the founder of the inspiring New Latina website. Also a mother of four!
Angelica, incidentally, is a fellow Columbia grad (go Lions!), and was pre-med as an undergrad, so you can bet we did some sisterly bonding. She’s just lovely.
What I loved most about my fellow panelists was not only that they were accomplished and talented, but also that we were a diverse group: diverse ages, diverse cultural backgrounds, and diverse blogs. In fact, diversity came up a lot as we were speaking. Numerous audience members asked how we reconcile healthy eating and fitness with our heritage: for example, Renee mentioned that many men in the black community express an attraction to “thick” women, which has sometimes stood in contrast to her weight loss story and athleticism; Angelica mentioned that curves are celebrated in Dominican culture, and thinness often put down; Stephanie, on the other hand, spoke about the fact that the norm in many Asian families is a host of sisters and cousins who are petite and “size zero,” and that she used to hear such comments as “if you lost weight, you’d find a husband.” Meanwhile, you guys know my story: I’m half Greek, and my choice to eat vegetarian, then vegan, was perceived as a rejection of sorts by my beloved Grandmother.
In the end, we all agreed that the trick to navigating the complex territory between honoring one’s culture and honoring one’s own health needs is twofold: first, compromise when you can (for example, learn to make healthy versions of traditional family dishes), and second, learn when you need to put your own health priorities first. For me, veganism was a philosophical and a health imperative; it would have been a true mistake for me to not go vegan because I feared hurting my grandmother’s feelings. If you’re in this boat, find ways to show love, cultural respect, and to honor tradition in ways that don’t relate directly to food. For me, this meant learning a few more Greek words, and attending Orthodox Easter services: it was a way of showing respect outside of the realm of dining.
Other topics covered in the talk: when is an ostensibly “healthy” choice no longer healthy? One audience member asked whether it’s sometimes more healthy to give herself a break on her daily, morning workouts when she’s had to stay up late. If you have to wake up at 5 am to work out, she asked, and you also had to go to bed at 1 or 2, is it maybe OK to be “compassionate to yourself?” and sleep instead of exercise?
My answer was a resounding “yes.” Here in the healthy living world, we tend to forget that health is not only a matter of how nutritious our food is and how active we are. Health also depends (rather heavily) on our stress levels, how much we sleep, how often we take time to laugh and interact socially, our hormones, and numerous other factors. Pushing yourself to work out on days when you’re tired, underslept, or overly stressed may not be the healthy choice at all; and likewise, choosing to indulge in a rich but satisfying meal or dessert for the sake of pleasure and social enjoyment may also be the healthy choice, even if you’re fearful that it’s not the “healthiest” food. This blog is dedicated to food, and so food is my focus, but I think it’s important for us all to broaden our understanding of what healthy choices are, and realize that they’re multi-dimensional.
A final, interesting question that I wanted to focus on. One audience member asked “What do you do when people around you–family members for example–are always expressing guilt or self-loathing around food?” (Examples include “ugh, I can’t believe I ate that cookie, I’ll need to run it off” or “I’m so fat.”) I was glad someone brought this up: as a person with an ED history, I actually find “guilty talk” to be very triggering, and hate being exposed to it. Fortunately, few people in my life are likely to express such sentiments, but when I do hear them, it saddens me and evokes regret for the many times I used to make comments like that.
We all said pretty much the same thing in response: find ways to tune it out. If you need to leave the room for a second, do it. If you need to find a mental place to escape to, find one. It’s really hard to change this sort of ingrained behavior, so you may not be able to control it, but you can certainly control how much you allow yourself to hear it. Additionally, Renee and Angelica–both mothers–mentioned that they personally combat this kind of dialog by never, ever speaking that way in their own homes. I think this is wonderful, and hope that mothers of my generation will be far less prone to airing weight woes, body talk, and diet talk in front of their children than mothers of my mother’s generation were.
The panel flew by! Afterwards, I was happy to get a picture of me with my fabulous co-panelists:
I also had a chance to speak with Renee. I love her humor and attitude!
Before I knew it, it was time for us all to hurry up to the main ballroom to hear a special address. The day before Health Minder Day, we got notice that President Obama would be broadcasting to us via satellite. And broadcast he did!
I was so happy to hear him celebrate the thousands of diverse women bloggers in the room. Part of why I’m so happy to work with Blogher is that it was founded by three women who were all blogging about politics and were frequently asked “where are all the women bloggers?” The question irked them, because they knew that there were a ton of women blogging, and so they set out to foster and support womens’ voices in the blogging realm.
This story was relayed to us in person by co-founders Elisa Camahort-Page and Lisa Stone. I’ve had some opportunity to interact with Elisa in person, and I absolutely adore her. She’s a strong, intelligent, and compassionate entrepreneur, and a wonderful role model. I was so proud to see what she and her co-founders had manifested in the celebratory 8th conference!
Before I left, I took a quick spin around the exhibitor hallway. I also found Jasmin waiting in line to register. Hugs and excitement followed. I let her go to her speakers’ meeting, and I headed uptown to have dinner with my Mom at our favorite vegan spot: Candle Cafe West!
I always feel at home here: the Candle family has embraced me over the years with such love and support, and I in turn couldn’t possibly admire their mission–to bring organic, farm-to-table, compassionate food to New Yorkers and Americans everywhere–more. My Mom is doesn’t love a lot of vegan restaurant food, but she loves just about everything at Candle Cafe, and she’s always thrilled to join me there. What a treat for us both!
A collage of the shared goodness:
Special highlights included the new (raw) heirloom tomato and avocado tartare, and introducing my Mom to coconut milk ice cream. She was amazed, as I knew she would be!
After that, I met Jasmin for a quick drink and a little catch up before heading home. It was great to see her, and also good to know that Cesca, on the UWS, makes a great orange/peach/fizz mocktail.
I feel really grateful to have been a part of Blogher 12. The health topics covered were so on-point and important; I was also delighted at the diversity in the room! Blog conferences can sometimes seem distressingly homogeneous in terms of socioeconomics, age, and race; the biggest demographic at this conference was women of color, and there were many different age groups and backgrounds present. I loved it, and hope I’ll attend next year.
Next week, I want to take the “obsession vs. dedication” theme and address it in a more intimate, personal way. So stay tuned for that, and for weekend updates along the way!!