#Blogher12: Health Minder Day

by Gena on August 3, 2012

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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.

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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:

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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:

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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!!
xo

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Averie @ Averie Cooks August 3, 2012 at 10:18 pm

Congrats for speaking and for going and taking part – I wish I could have heard you! One of these years, I’m going to go to a BlogHer event. I need to check one out.

The raw heirloom tomato and avocado tartar look amazing!

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Miachel August 3, 2012 at 10:33 pm

Wow, what a great recap.

I really resonate with changing your diet despite cultural differences. My family is very traditionally Southern (beef, BBQ, and fried chicken) — but you hit it on the nose. There are others ways besides food to value and appreciate tradition. :)

Glad your talk was a success!

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Laura @ Sprint 2 the Table August 3, 2012 at 10:53 pm

Wow – it all sounds incredible! How cool that President Obama did broadcast too!!!

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Lisa @ The Raw Serenity August 4, 2012 at 1:49 am

You described this beautifully!
I wish I could have been there.

Cultures and what they classify as ” beautiful” amazes me.

Because of my history with an ED I have asked my friends and family not to about their weight and they completely understood and they also said it helped them realise how much they put them selves down.

Congrats on the opportunity to speak x

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Veggie Sara August 4, 2012 at 3:47 am

Sounds like a really interesting panel! Thank you for doing a recap on your blog, i think you gave some great advice. It is not easy to react when someone you love is feeling bad about eating or saying they’re fat (while they’re not).

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Nadia August 4, 2012 at 4:39 am

Thank you so much for your suggestions about coping with other’s ‘guilty talk’! It suddenly really made me more aware of how difficult it can be to hear (something I’ve been struggling with without realizing quite what was happening) and ways to deal with it. You always bring up such vaild points which I don’t always recognise as such, or in a way try to deny their existence, and it is such a blessing not to feel so alone. Thank you! x

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Abby August 4, 2012 at 6:54 am

I’ve been waiting for your recap and am pleased to read that you’ll be doing a more personal “obsession vs. dedication” post in the future. Although I live it every day and it’s a bit like beating a dead horse (good lord, I hate that phrase,) it’s always comforting and a good kick in the (flat) ass to hear someone else address the topic and remind me that the way things are aren’t the way they have to be.

It looks like an inspiring panel, and the whole “dealing with others food shaming” crap is also a big trigger for me. I couldn’t care less what other people eat or do, but I hate how it automatically makes me question my own decisions and doubt that I am on the right path by eating more and moving less–completely opposite to conventional wisdom.

But I ramble. Great recap. I’m going to have to check out Candle when I’m in NYC in a couple of weeks :)

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Melanie St. Ours August 4, 2012 at 9:14 am

So glad that you had a good time! I think the cultural question is really on my mind right now. I’m part of an organization called Alternate ROOTS. In our mission statement we state that we seek to uproot oppression in ALL ITS FORMS. (Caps/bold is used in the actual mission statement. The emphasis is theirs—and mine.) We’re based in the South, and we’ve focused particularly on racism, but have also done work around heterosexism, disability, etc. While we have many vegan members, nobody has made the connection that animal exploitation is certainly a form of oppression.

I’m on my way to our annual meeting next week. Last night I had a dream about sitting around a table in the hall with my ROOTS friends, trying to find a way to say that until we make the connection and include animal rights, we’re not living up to our mission. I’ve got a lot of fear about trying to do this, partly because I’m afraid of being seen as culturally insensitive to my ROOTS family members for whom eating animals is part of their cultural identity.

Yet, I feel that staying silent would be to betray myself and the animals. I’m just going to keep my ears open for an opportunity and work to be as compassionate with the humans that I’m speaking with as I want to be toward the animals.

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Gena August 4, 2012 at 10:06 am

Melanie,

I hear you. Being a champion of animal rights is often perceived as an affront to human rights, as if being concerned about the one means we have no effort left for the other. I can’t tell you how many times I’m told “what about human beings? Don’t you care about human beings?”, as if my compassion is finite. It’s not. In fact, it works the opposite way: the more I learn to care about animals, the more sensitive I am to oppression of all forms. And vice versa: the fact that I’ve been a champion of racial equality and a feminist for as long as I can remember makes me receptive to the vegan message. Compassion is constantly renewable, and we needn’t worry about “spreading it thin.”

I think it’s also worth pointing out that veganism stands to benefit not only the animals we want to spare, but human beings as well. Animal agriculture is an outrageous allocation of global food resources, and the waste it creates is destructive to local ecosystems, sometimes harmful to local economies, and on top of all that, the land and energy it consumes is enormous in comparison to its output of food. Furthermore, as you have pointed out, many of the workers employed in factory farms suffer trauma from the experience. I realize it’s naive to say that the elimination of factory farms wouldn’t result in jobs lost, but the psychological cost of such employment (often at minimum wage and in wretched circumstances) is well documented and grave.

I’m sure you’ll find a compassionate and powerful way to convey these ideas. Also, I really recommend you explore http://www.ourhenhouse.org. Jasmin and Mariann are activists in every sense: they fight for animal rights, but they also address racism, sexism, homophobia, and numerous other modes of oppression. They envision our duty as people who are concerned with social justice as multi-faceted, and often talk about how animal rights is connected to other systems of oppression.

xo

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GetSkinnyGoVegan August 5, 2012 at 10:49 am

I have certainly met uber nutty raw foodists, that seem a little OCD to me. At the same time, many I have met seem like they would be OCD about something in their lives. If it were not food, it could be running, or cleaning, or art. Or drugs. Just like OCD peeps either can thrive, if given an outlet, or fail-if they don’t have balance-if it’s “in check”, then maybe they aren’t worse off than anyone else. Of course, if this manifests in a negative image of themselves, that’s no good. I also notice there are a lot of new “raw” peeps that are not vegan first-they tend to go from eating meat & cheese & crap to raw vegan. So if raw vegan doesn’t work, then they go for some other diet, not based on ethics. But just based on wanting to direct their energy, or solve all their problems by diet. Food should be fun and raw food is really fun-it’s new, it’s fresh, it’s not “dangerous”. But sometimes when I see people being a little zany about it, I figure they could be hooked on heroin, or maybe they even were-so if they are transitioning their additions to something that at least is NOT something like meth or heroin, then that’s “normal” and a step in the right direction. Eating disorders don’t really seem to be about food-they are just another way to control something. Looking at so many very successful artists & athletes, they aren’t “normal” about much. Usually deep down there is a drive or something that makes them different-often it either is or borders what many would call a mental illness. But then you look at the so many “normal” people, and they are on prozac or suffering from depression. I don’t now what “normal” is anymore. But I sure don’t know many people who don’t abuse/use something in their lives to “lift them up”. Whether it is exercise, music, art, running, cycling, eating “weird”, writing-it’s something…….Maybe they clean like mad and freak out if people come when there are dishes on the table. Food is just another thing that can be (of course, shouldn’t be) used like that. But part of it is just “being human”. I think “most” Americans actually abuse food and “use” it for comfort. “Most” Americans are overweight. So in my view, I think eating unprocessed plant foods is an incredibly liberating way to just stop the madness of trying to control everything. If you eat clean, healthy foods that support your mind and body, you really shouldn’t have to be counting everything. You can “let go” of all of that. I feel like most girls I know do think about calories, about food, about what they have to do on the treadmill for that cookie. And I feel like a plant based, raw or cooked, unprocessed plant foods (for the most part) is a way to liberate oneself from a lot of health challenges, a lot of weight, a lot of packaging, a lot of environmental destruction, and a lot of karmic baggage. It’s almost ironic, but it seems like about 70% of peeps abuse food by overeating or eating the wrong foods, and then a certain percent are undereating or overexercising-so it seems like “most” Americans have some messed up relationship with food. The food companies have actually studied ingredients to “make” them addictive-So it’s ironic that any raw vegan would be considered “radical” when the majority of people would let their kids eat foods with sugars, dyes, artificial flavors, & BPA’s. To eat unprocessed foods is considered “extreme” in today’s world, but eating “Fruit Loops” is not. And food companies that have people in labs trying to make products addictive, “are not”?? I say liberate yourself from all of it-if you eat those types of foods you will be more likely to have/develop/worsen disordered eating………That a good start to at least trying to be healthy/liberated from counting calories-is just to eat real food, no fake anything!

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Raw Chef Dosa August 5, 2012 at 6:51 pm

I just got back from the Blogher12 Conference myself, and am would have loved to meet you. Perhaps next year in Chicago? Great recap of the event. It sure was a blast!

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Mark August 6, 2012 at 8:26 am

Gena,

Ironically, the people that own Cesca were the owners of the restaurant that was formally where the new Candle Cafe West is.

Also Emily and I love to hit up Cesca for a cocktail. Beautiful bar, nice bartenders, and tasty libations. Plus they have some vegan options if we ever crave a nosh.

Nice to see you the other night.

Mark

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Gena August 6, 2012 at 8:59 pm

Wow. That’s ironic indeed. I’m glad you and Emily like the bar as much as I do. I should also add that, in the days before Candle Cafe West was open, Cesca once made me a 100% vegan Thanksgiving dinner. For real.

Thanks, as always, for the great food and great atmosphere.

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Amanda @ Click. The Good News August 6, 2012 at 11:20 am

I really enjoyed the panel- you ladies did a fabulous job! The photo of you all together is adorable. Healthminder day was my favorite part of Blogher- so glad we got to talk heath/fitness/exercise/wellness all day!

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Elisa Camahort Page August 6, 2012 at 8:33 pm

Thanks for your kind words. I’m so glad it worked out for you to come to the conference. And that the diversity we work so hard for was visible to you :)

Next time we’ll have to connect in person :)

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Gena August 6, 2012 at 8:55 pm

I’m so glad, too. Thank you again for having me, and for making the Blogher community so inspiring, rich, and unique.

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