I would like to say that I was one of those people who used the last year indoors to improve, exercise every day, meditate every morning and regularly cook nice healthy meals in their kitchen. I was actually exactly the opposite of the spectrum. Alone, unsupervised and on my own, I consoled myself with fast food, ordered from delivery apps almost every day (sometimes several times a day) and positioned my body permanently on my couch with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s on one arm, my unprejudiced puppy Molly on the other and my laptop on my lap. While I could easily attribute this behavior to a pandemic slump, working with a holistic nutritionist made me realize that my unhealthy habits were a coping mechanism and the result of a long-term love-hate relationship with food.
Before the pandemic, I would describe my health and wellness routine as a little roller coaster ride. Since my 20s, I’ve been commuting between obsessive training and dieting (keto, Whole30, Paleo, juice diets – I’ve done them all) until I completely fall out of the health van and struggle with food shame and self-loathing because I can’t control myself could. The pandemic and all of its unpredictable glories have swung the pendulum all the way to the left for me, throwing me into an unhealthy pattern where my eating was fueled by emotion and stress and the only real movement I got was the quick potty walks that me with Molly did the corner of my block and back. Like many others, the WFH shift meant that I completely ignored regular working hours and saw myself tied to my laptop from sun to sunset.
Every few months or so I would try to get back into a regular exercise routine or start a healthy eating plan. But all it took was a particularly stressful work day or an emotional moment, and I got down on my familiar couch and went to McDonald’s. I was unhappy, didn’t sleep, and was energized. At the end of 2020, I came across the holistic nutritionist Alana Kessler in typical editorial fashion: a PR email. I opened a message promoting her expertise and unique approach to wellness and nutrition. Kessler’s method is to approach foods and unhealthy eating habits from within, drawing on her experience and knowledge in Eastern and Western nutrition, functional medicine, Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, mindfulness and life coaching modalities.
Kessler’s official website states: “I believe good nutrition is when we understand and integrate how we eat, why we eat, and then use that information to inform and inform about our relationship with food – and our environment to change so that we can always find trust and navigate the transitions of life with grace and ease. ”Something about this message set off several alarms in my head and I knew I needed to know more. I immediately arranged a meeting with Kessler to see if I would be a worthy candidate for her Be Well by Alana Kessler program.
In my first consultation with Kessler, she guided me through the specifics of her program and her specific approach, which is actually tailored to each client’s specific goals. I explained my patchy history of eating and exercise and how it has evolved since the pandemic began. But in addition to learning my eating habits and my fitness routine, Kessler surprised me by asking more specific questions about myself and my life. “What do you like to do? What are your hobbies? What do you like to do to relax? How often do you do these things?” I had no idea what this little piece of information had to do with food, but still answered her honestly and told her about the hobbies I enjoy (reading, baking, cooking, occasionally painting, running outside, watching poor reality TV) .
Rather than immediately putting myself on a diet and exercise plan, Kessler’s first job for me was to make time for one or two of the extracurricular activities I mentioned each day. In your opinion, I spent a large part of my days in my “male”, alias a work and task-oriented way of thinking. I wasn’t preoccupied enough with my “feminine” or the things that made me feel relaxed and comfortable, and the imbalance needed to be addressed before anything else. She also asked me to start with 10 minutes of meditation each day and keep a food diary using the Foodility app. In the app, I marked every single thing I ate on a certain day, the state in which I ate this meal (in a hurry or relaxed) and with whom I ate the meal. I also kept a log of every exercise I did every day. This felt simple enough.
For the next two months or so, I checked into Kessler on a weekly basis and she would send an email after each meeting summarizing our discussion, insights, and next steps. Already in the first week, when I took deliberate steps to take time to eat and prepare a meal for myself, I felt a change. I looked forward to lunch and dinner when I got some rest, cooked more slowly, sat at my table to eat my meal without a laptop open or a phone in the palm of my hand.
I also tried to move more. I’ve extended my walks with Molly from 10 minutes to 20 minutes and set aside three afternoons a week for outdoor running sessions. Not much of a change here either, but enough to feel some effect. As I slowed down and took time for myself, I could become more aware of what I was doing for my body and mind. Preparing meals used to be such a daunting task that it would rob my day of time and energy to focus on more “productive” things. In reality, it takes 20-25 minutes to toss a salmon fillet in the oven, fry a few prawns, or make a bowl of brown rice. In those first few weeks, those little breaks in my day became my self-care – I was looking forward to it.
Over the course of my two month coaching program, my “homework” evolved as I realized the emotional connection to my eating habits and my hectic, anxious lifestyle. Kessler then began tackling some of my food choices, teaching me tips for quick and healthy swaps that would help add more nutrient to my diet. Instead of eating brown rice or noodles every day, I swapped cauliflower rice or vegetable noodles here and there. I also started incorporating leafy greens and high fiber vegetables into every meal, something I have been known to avoid. Kessler also addressed my lack of portion control, which often made me sluggish and tired after meals. Instead of inhaling a cup and a half of rice or pasta, I cut these servings down to about 1 / 3-1 / 2 of a cup.
To be clear, my two month trip with Kessler wasn’t perfect. In the middle of my coaching I met a particularly busy season and the death of my grandfather, to whom I was incredibly close. My fear and emotions took me on a roller coaster ride, and for a few days I fell into bad eating habits as a coping mechanism. But now that I was more aware of my behavior and the direct correlation of my emotions with my relationship with food, these regressions were short-lived. I also had Kessler’s responsibility to bring myself back to reality and help me investigate why I chose the foods I chose and also encouraged myself not to be ashamed of those choices.
By the end of my Be Well program, I wasn’t exactly a transformed person. But I was a lot more confident. I felt that I had been given the tools to properly manage my health and wellbeing and I was ready to put them into practice myself. I also understand that everything in life should be balanced. Although I’ve made a choice to choose healthier foods and take time to exercise my body during the week, I also know the importance of having a treat every now and then and giving myself time to relax and rest.
It’s been a few months since I finished my two-month coaching program and I revert to my old habits here and there. However, I feel like I am back, well, committed to myself. I discovered a new love for cycling and invested in a peloton bike. I also subscribe to Thistle’s healthy meal delivery service, which delivers ready-to-cook, nutritious meals to my door twice a week. I am still logging my meals (I now use the Noom app) and activities to hold myself accountable and track my progress. Although I still struggle to get enough sleep and keep things constant, I know this is part of the journey. I’ve learned to be more patient and kind to myself.
These small changes affected my energy levels and my general mood. I feel a little more alert and clear and now that Los Angeles has reopened, I feel full of energy and ready to explore the city and socialize. It’s a new day
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