not your typical wellness blog

From Paleo to Pilates, a new fitness fad pops up every year, and I have probably tried them all—for a day or two. (I even attempted the miso soup diet once. I think I’m good on sodium for the rest of my life.) The problem with most fitness fads is that they are not built to last.

For a trend to become a habit and for a habit to become a lifestyle, it must be sustainable, flexible, and most of all, enjoyable. It’s easy to give something up (like meat, carbs, or sugar) for short periods of time, but almost impossible to keep it up without sleepwalking into the baked goods aisle and making up for lost time. Moderation is far more sustainable–and maybe even more challenging–than toggling back and forth between abstinence and indulgence. Plus, science shows that flexitarian diets, muscle confusion exercise (workouts that constantly change), and a highly social lifestyle all lead to longer, healthier, and happier lives. So, when it comes to choosing a health and fitness program, I avoid the Kool-Aid served by more totalitarian health regimes. Instead, I prefer to cherry-pick the best ideas from the wellness programs that work best for my fast-paced, travel-oriented lifestyle. Here are a few of the practices and perspectives that have helped me create better balance at home and on the road:

1. Read The Blue Zones Solution.

In this book, author and National Geographic Fellow Dan Buettner outlines the health habits of the “Blue Zones,” a term he uses to describe areas around the globe with the longest-lived inhabitants: Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; Loma Linda, California; Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica; and Icaria, Greece. None of these zones claim to be hotspots of health-consciousness; they are simply regions where plant-based diets flourish, where family comes first, and where moderate physical activity is constant. After reading this book, I committed to a pescatarian and plant-based diet, saving beef and pork for very special occasions. For protein, I focus on hearty salads with quinoa, legumes like chickpeas and lentils, and wild-caught salmon. While this book will make you think twice about sugar, flour, and dairy, it actually encourages moderate consumption of coffee and red wine, which I consider a worthy trade.

2. Wake up before the sun.

The perfect day always begins before dawn. When I am at my best, I am up before the alarm and on my way to the gym before most people have had their coffee. Cardio has a unique way of helping me let off steam and center my thoughts. In the early morning, while everyone else is sleeping, I lace up my running shoes and hit Austin’s Town Lake Trail, or, when I’m in NYC, the Central Park Loop. No matter where I wake up, I build an early-morning workout into my schedule as often as possible. If I can rise before the sun and finish my jog, swim, or bike ride before most people are awake, I know I can accomplish anything the day throws my way.

3. Show up for your commitments.

When you are busy growing a business and raising children, your own health often gets relegated to the back-burner. Making it to the gym or maintaining a diet you’re proud of can seem impossible unless you build it into your schedule and make it a habit. Instead of simply setting a goal, make a map that gets you there: set that alarm clock, prepare those healthy meals, and show up for your family and friends. In these small, daily decisions, you design your life.

4. Stay present.

Okay, so meditation is not my strong suit. I don’t claim to be a zen master, or even to be able to sit still for a half hour at a time. But, for the past year or so, I have learned more about presence than I ever thought a high-octane New Yorker could. Since my divorce, I see my kids every other week, which means every second I get with them is precious. So when I’m with my kids, I’m with them 100%: the cell phone is pocketed, work is on pause, and they have my full attention. As a result, the quality of my relationship with them is better than ever—so good that I now aspire to the same level of focus in every relationship, whether personal or professional. Like meditation, presence is still a challenge for me, but I believe it is the single most significant element of a truly balanced life.

5. Eat with friends and family.

In his book “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto,” Michael Pollan takes on the industrial food complex, arguing that anything with a health claim written on the package is a part of the problem. Rather than shopping for processed “diet” foods that conform to the latest “diet” fads, he simply advises eating “real food, mostly plants, not too much.” That’s it. No complex algorithms for determining the ratio of saturated and unsaturated fats, no neurotic tallying of calories. He simply classifies “real food” as anything your great-grandparents would have recognized as food (which means it doesn’t come in a box). I also love how much emphasis he puts on the communal aspect of eating. Like eating in the Blue Zones, Pollan’s version of a healthy diet includes food as the centerpiece for family and community. I am a big believer in celebrating food with friends, and this book reminds me that wellness is not an uphill battle, but the celebration of a life well-lived and shared with those who matter most.