Category Archives: Healthy Choices

On fitness and nutrition.

Eating Disorder Recovery: When “healthy” is a lie.

TW: If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, please care for yourself. None of this is meant to upset you, but if you’re sensitive to photos or talk of disordered behaviors, maybe skip this one. We’ll return to your irregularly scheduled sass soon enough.

There’s never a convenient time to talk about eating disorders. Trust me, I’ve been waiting on it for years. There’s always something: What will X new friend think? What will X future employer think? What if X potential suitor googles me (bigger threat: what if he DOESN’T? What kind of sociopath are we dealing with here?), freaks out and says gurl, bye?

Short answer: GURL, BYE. I need people in my life who can deal. Easy to understand, harder to implement.

The bigger issue is that nearly five years after entering treatment for (what started as) bulimia, I don’t consider myself recovered. Recovering, yes. I go days, weeks, even months feeling like I’m over it. Spoiler: I’m not. Recovery has been far from linear and is complicated by the fact that my ED followed a sizable weight loss. I have no normal to return to. Instead, I have these:

the overweight overeater

the frustrated yo-yo dieter

the out-of-control bulimic

the hyper-controlled health nut

the food-obsessed waif

the gluten-free vegan

the compulsive gym rat

the anxious, run-down shell who said, holy shit, this could go on forever.

And now I’m…what? Tired of thinking about it. Tired of hiding from it. And kind of wanting to talk about it, even if the words are as clumsy and circuitous as the journey has been.

Unless you’re being force-fed in a hospital — and often even if you are — recovery is rarely a simple prescription. I sought salvation from bulimia in “healthy living”: If what I ate was good for me, I could commit to keeping it down. I developed a love of wholesome cooking and got into running and weight training. My binges got fewer and further between. My weight stabilized and actually dropped. I figured out how to incorporate the odd baked good or rich meal, and got a real kick out of publicly Eating While Thin.

Double-fisting Shake Shack! …Followed by a slice of watermelon for dinner.

What I didn’t know is that I was way underfueling my body type and activity level. For YEARS. I wasn’t consciously restricting, but I look back and do a quick tally and guys. It was just not enough. I knew I sometimes went to bed hungry. I knew I kept a food journal and planned all my meals in advance. I knew spontaneous eating stressed me out and my rigidness interfered with my relationships. I knew I spent all day lusting over recipes and restaurants. I thought I was just, I dunno, really into food.

Dead eyes + bones = you’re doing it wrong.

I was fine until I wasn’t. I hit a wall a little over a year ago. I couldn’t understand why despite eating “healthy” (read: tiny portions of so-called clean food), I felt sick all the time. Exhausted, edgy, foggy, bloated, plagued by dry skin and acne I never got as a teen. I was a model of health…and I looked and felt like shit.

“So I says to the guy, ‘Sternum? I hardly know ’em!'”

I confused the bloating with weight gain — unacceptable, since my self-identity had come to revolve around Eating While Thin. God forbid anyone see me looking a little squishy. I cancelled plans and eventually stopped making them, convinced that what little social life I had left was pulling me away from my “healthy” routine. The good times could resume once I got things under control.

Me on a fat day. Def.

I saw a doctor, who basically told me it was all in my head. He said I should focus on reducing stress and give up gluten despite testing negative for Celiac. I realized I could control the bloating by basically never eating more than a few bites at a time. My energy temporarily spiked, which is a biological response to starvation (…so you can find food). Then it got 10x worse.

(Could it have been because I was barely clearing a thousand calories on top of a rigorous workout regimen, and my organ function and hormone production had slowed to a crawl?! Dammit, Emma, you with your spoilers.)

Much swoll. Very muscles. I could barely carry those eye bags.

I spent all my free time googling symptoms and digging through forums for answers. Then I did a few things at once. I quit caffeine, knowing it wound me up tight. I adopted a totally gluten-free, vegan diet — by that point, my digestion was so suppressed that I was convinced I had real intolerances — and I told myself I could eat as much as I wanted, whenever I wanted, as long as it was “healthy.” While plenty confining, it was a system I’d never trusted before. Whole avocados instead of anemic slivers. Almond butter feasts straight from the jar. Full-fat coconut milk with raw cacao and honey every night before bed.

And something wild happened. I gained weight. Not a ton — maybe ten or fifteen pounds — but it came on quickly and settled evenly. Wilder still, I didn’t become hideously unattractive. Quite the opposite. The bloat deflated, my skin calmed down, and my face and curves filled out. This was not the unflattering layer of water that had settled under my skin in response to a chronic deficit. This was straight-up fat – honest and womanly, firm to the touch, and just what my body needed.

My eyes brightened. My cheeks flushed. I had never been hit on more in my life. More importantly, I felt relaxed and silly and social and sensual — like myself for the first time in longer than I knew.

Selfie-improvement.

Unfortunately, I didn’t quite get it yet. I gave my narrow diet’s contents more credit than its flood of usable energy. Upon realizing I couldn’t do the gluten-free vegan thing forever, I fell back into restrictive patterns: small portions paired with a serious cardio habit. Pretty standard — maybe fine for someone without such fraught digestive and nervous systems — but not nearly enough for my barely-healing body. The weight fell off, and my symptoms returned with a vengeance. I couldn’t leave the house without throbbing headaches. I couldn’t run without swelling up with stress-induced water weight for days. Are these my choices? I wondered. Chronic inflammation or morbid obesity?

Well, as it turns out, no.

I’ve arrived at the final frontier: permission to eat, full stop, “healthy” or not. Recovery 2: 4 REALZ THIS TIME finds me trying to reset my metabolism and get to my body’s natural weight on what is, for me, an unprecedented amount of food. On top of my regular meals (which have doubled in size), I’m trying to eat when I’m hungry, even if I just had a full meal an hour ago. The more I resist, the longer it will take for my body to trust me and use that energy for good. There’s science to back it up, but it goes against every tenet of mainstream diet culture — a hard sell for someone not underweight by the scale.

It’s incredibly daunting to eat like a teenage boy after being so careful for so long. But once I stopped suppressing my hunger, I was shocked by how much of it I felt. Far more than I could physically fill with my old staples. I’ve had to embrace fats and simple carbs — which make me feel great — and avoid anything with too much fiber, which makes me want to explode. Instead of overthinking it, I’m taking my multivitamin and hoping my body is smarter than me. As first world problems go, there are worse things than eating a lot of cheese.

I’ve been doing it for about two months — no cardio, to boot — and it has not turned me into Jabba the Hutt. It’s that same fifteen pounds, and that same vitality I lacked as a paragon of “health.” Even without the pristine diet. I can and do eat everything, and my skin and mind are mostly clear. The weight is honest and womanly. I know that it is good.

Not every day is good, though. Water retention can be unpredictable and drastically change my appearance in a matter of hours. I’ll catch sight of an old photo or something that no longer fits and think, Maybe I was just doing it wrong. If I tweak my macros. Load up on fruits and veggies. The “Bad Blood” music video, while epic, was triggering as fuck. I went to bed hungry three nights in a row in pursuit of uber-svelte Swiftyness. Lo and behold: Headaches! Joint pain! A fresh crop of zits! My body simply will not do it anymore, and neither will I. Anyone who judges the weight gain does not have my best interests at heart. I am not letting myself go. I am letting go of a compulsion that kept me from living fully.

My body feels awkward right now, but I’m finding my peace with it. I also know I may need to gain more, and I have to accept that too — even if that weight comes from eating cake for breakfast, or having three snacks in the time I’d have formerly allowed myself one. The definition of “healthy” changes after an eating disorder. Finding that mental freedom — challenging my fears and my systems — is so much more important than a little bit of vanity weight. The best thing I can do is focus on developing value markers outside of my size and surrounding myself with people who couldn’t care less.

No witty bow to tie up this one, friends. Thank you for letting me share. I hope for your sake you can’t relate, but if you can, I hope this spurred you toward a positive change, or at least made you think. If you want to talk more, I’m only an email away.

Cha-cha now, y’all.

One of the first articles I ever published was a pseudo-inspirational rant called “Hello, My Name is Emma, and I’m a Quitter.” With all the confidence of 19 fairly knock-free years, I recall abandoning piano lessons for dance class (because “no preteen girl in her right mind would choose tea-length dresses over sequined hot pants”) and urge my peers to turn from their colorless lives and walk it out. I end with this clincher:

“I give you all permission to quit. Quit your job. Quit your major. Quit your relationship, if you have to. Do a little soul-searching and discover what it is that makes you happy. The only one you’ll have to answer to is yourself, and I’m sure you’re the harshest critic that you know. In the immortal words of Rihanna, just live your life. Ay, ay, ay.”

RIHANNA, Y’ALL.

I read this and feel like a shadow of my 19-year-old self. I still back this advice, but I’m really bad at acting on it. Where my soul is concerned, I’m all search and no rescue, letting pride and fear of discomfort cockblock action. Rude.

I just turned 26, and I’m trying to Benjamin Button my way back onto the dance floor. So in the spirit of embracing my inner quitter/cocky 19-year-old, I’m pleased to share that I’m valiantly failing my New Year’s resolutions and mostly pretty stoked about it. Sometimes taking two steps back means INVENTING THE CHA-CHA SLIDE. Hey, it beats piano.

Dear January, You’re Full of Shit and Here’s Why

No headphones on the train. This was a nice idea meant to help me connect with my surroundings and minimize time on autopilot. It’s still a nice idea – in fact, I’m writing this in a notebook on the train right now, which I probably wouldn’t be doing if I hadn’t accidentally left my headphones at the office. It’s just not a realistic everyday rule. Trashy EMP is the only way I can get it up some days, and I forgive myself for that.

What I HAVE done is adopt a ritual that makes my commute less of a slog. Instead of taking my caffeine to the face when I wake in the 5 o’ clock hour, I try to wait and either bring (LOL) or buy (yep) something to sip on my way into work. It’s extremely pleasant to hold a fancy beverage and plan my day or stare at babies or whatever — even if Krewella is still providing the soundtrack — and it helps me arrive in a state of peak phreshnezz (read: aggressive caffeination). It also means I drop some dimes at the Pine Tree Natural Organic Land bodega, but my buddy there gives me free bananas, so I’m pretty sure I’m breaking even come snacktime.

Up my manicure game. Okay, yes, but do you know how much I cook and how many dishes I wash/toss in the sink and think about washing?! Many many dishes, which means my manicures last maybe 24 hours and my hands look twice as old as my face. So I guess what I’m saying is that my new resolution is to buy rubber gloves.

Commit to life after bangs. WTF. Why. I look so good with bangs. I am not your sad friend who chopped off her hair to get over a breakup. I keep going back to them because they work. They soften my features and hide my weird hairline and signal that I don’t take my cheeseburger-print dress too seriously. Let’s stop pretending I want a grown-up haircut. You can’t fight destiny, because her child will avenge you and f*cking Beyonce plays for that team.

Run 13.1. I’m in pretty great shape, if I do say so myself. I have my soft spots, because I enjoy housing carbs and cooking while tipsy, but I sweat almost daily and the meatheads at my gym ask my advice on muscle splits. Here’s what doesn’t interest me: achieving ~peak fitness~, whatever that means. The second exercise stops feeling constructive or voluntary is the second I am OUT.

Whatever cocktail of mental and physical stressors aligned in my half marathon training was not doing this body good. I was undertraining and panicked about it, prone to insomnia that I dealt with by carbo-loading myself to not-sleep before runs I would skip because what I really wanted was a strength circuit or trendy cardio class, which I wouldn’t do because I needed to save myself for runs. Dumbest loop ever. It was a mess and I was a mess and furious that so many people could force themselves to do this and I COULD NOT, especially after announcing to literally thousands of people that I would.

In that sense, it was hard to quit. But once I did, I felt nothing but 100% relief. For me, exercise has always been about feeling happy and fit and the opposite of everything I felt while forcing myself to be a distance runner.

The awesome part was remembering how much I love staying active in other ways! I am pumping dat iron and lip-syncing my heart out on the elliptical! Casual runs on sunny Saturdays that involve cross-training on swing sets and refueling with doughnuts: I love you! Do not come near me with a training schedule and a race number for several years at least!

UGH CATHARSIS LIKE LEGIT I AM REBORN.

Eat sandwiches for lunch. This one is going really well!

Get outta town. Also fruitful! I did the L.A. thang in February and I’m off to Sonoma next week for work! Basically I flee to the West Coast every chance I get and it’s only a matter of time until I just don’t come back…!

Wear pants on the weekend. It’s been more of a sundress situation, but it’s progress!

Ulfilter myself. Well, I made it back here eventually WHADDAYAWANTFROMME.

Roll with the parsnips.

You may recall my sordid affair with a guy named Joe. At the height of my lust, I’d have walked 20 blocks out of my way just to see him for five minutes. Only now, nearly six months past our expiration date, can I see how strange and lopsided our relationship was.

I’d have been glad to get in and get out, but Joe wouldn’t let me off that easy. Every tryst was an ordeal that would monopolize my day. He’d force me to come at weird hours — early Saturday morning, say, or late Tuesday night. I showed up one Friday evening after work, and he made me wait outside. He was “at capacity.” Whatever that means.

I’d draw lines before I went in, but always found myself pushed over them. He’d murmur sweet nothings like “cookie butter” or “two-buck chuck” — and I’d obey, even though I was fairly sure I wasn’t that kind of girl. When I wanted to leave, there was always a fuss. I’d spend as long getting out the door as I did with Joe in the first place.

And you know what? His zucchini was not that impressive.

Joe and I have parted ways. I don’t miss him. These days, I don’t buy much at any grocery store </metaphor!!!>. I’ve become the kind of yuppie who loyally sources her artisan foodstuffs and, on Saturdays, rises and shines for the Greenmarket — where you’ll find me squeezing tomatoes, stroking chard and rooting around for the eggs with the best color scheme. Because priorities.

Priorities.

Or I try, anyway. Because farmer’s marketing does not come naturally to me. I’m a meal planner, a recipe reader, a multi-tracked-grocery-list-maker. What’s more, I’m old-fashioned at heart. I feel guilty squeezing your tomatoes and taking someone else’s home. I grow anxious letting a handsome pile of produce beguile me into a plan — I’d sooner arrive with one in mind.

But I’d like to be the kind of person who shops at farmer’s markets. And slowly but surely, I’m learning to roll with the parsnips. Even the man-made impulse buys rarely fall short — I cave to wine-soaked cheese or duck prosciutto, and with minimal effort, I eat like a queen. The only loser is my ever-expanding list of Ambitious Kitchen Projects. But that’s a list that only I can see. And honestly, the market’s plan is usually better than mine.

Joe, you can go shave your back now.

My cooking habits have also evolved. I no longer live on quinoa and cake, though I still appreciate both. I’ve come to relish crafting and plating bona fide grown-up meals, as well as cooking “off the book” as it moves me. I still bookmark, but I mainly use recipes as a starting point. The more practice I get, the more “me” my cooking becomes, and the more I favor simple dishes that let fresh ingredients shine.

The downside is that unless I’m entertaining, I rarely get to share. It’s natural to pawn off a cookie; not so much a scoop of pumpkin chili or or honey balsamic pulled pork. I scale down or freeze things so I don’t have to eat on repeat, but sometimes the results are so good I just want to high five people. Or at least have a tester confirm that we do, in fact, have a hit.

Cast-iron masterpizza. High fives all around.

One day, we’ll all have a dinner party. Until then, let’s cook together from afar. Look out for the “Market Meals” tag in upcoming posts, which will feature creative, accessible takes on whatever’s made its way from the ground to me. I’m excited to share what’s on my plate, and maybe even a few long-distance high fives. Cookin’ (almost) freehand to the seasons: It’s what’s for dinner. Now explain why it took me so long to wise up on Joe.

Food brat.

Being a foodie is like being a Supreme Court justice: The precise credentials are ambiguous, but you should have some decent life experience to assume the title. Love of the edible notwithstanding, I would never appoint myself a “foodie.” Oh, you like food? Groundbreaking. Insert Miranda Priestly GIF and/or Condescending Wonka meme here.

Instead, I call myself a “food brat,” the foodie’s finicky younger sister. Every morsel that passes my lips must taste fantastic. Healthy food is not exempt from these standards; it’s the crux of the whole operation. Living well means seeking pleasure within the health food realm, not gazing longingly outside of it.

There are plenty of nutritious foods that, when thoughtfully prepared, don’t evoke feelings of death and sadness. Can’t get on board with raw kale? Roast veggies to coax out their caramelized depth of flavor. Grossed out by the texture of oatmeal? Bake it into bars, and smother them in almond butter and maple syrup. I love a warm chocolate-chip cookie, but I would happily choose a peak season apple over stale Chips Ahoy. Learn to separate what society fetishizes from what is objectively delicious. Not all junk food is.

In the same vein, don’t be afraid to rough up your food in the name of taste. Your waistline could care less about the yolks in your eggs or the sprinkle of full-fat cheese on your salad; not so for the late-night pizza that follows a sad pile of iceberg lettuce for dinner. Balanced meals are the key to satiety, and flavor is the key to satisfaction. Between the two, what more could anyone want? (For the love of God, please eat the yolk. It’s got half of the protein and all of the nutrients. If you want to cut calories, cut empty ones.)

So. Quinoa.

As a student and fledgling cook, I leaned heavily on what would most accurately be described as “bowls of healthful slop.” Not all of my creations were winners, but in time, I hit on a nearly foolproof template: a fruit, a veggie, a handful of nuts or seeds, a blanket of cheese and a dash of seasoning, all backed by grains and served over greens. If I was feeling frisky, I’d top the whole thing off with a runny egg. Whoa. Whoa. Calm down, everyone, calm down.

Now that I live in the ultimate foodie town, my tastes and options have broadened considerably, and making smart choices is harder than ever. When all I want is crusty bread spread thick with bone marrow and oxtail marmalade (hi, my dinner last night), I have to remind myself that there is so much healthy food that tastes good. Cumin-spiced sweet potato enchiladas brimming with slow-simmered black beans and garlicky chard. Roasted beets perched on a peppery fan of arugula, kissed by goat cheese for brightness and hazelnuts for crunch. Dijon-glazed brussels sprouts studded with tart cranberries and sharp gorgonzola. These are the things that make my taste buds swoon.

Because that’s what being a food brat is all about: Finding the foods that make you swoon. Not all will be healthy, but many probably are. So choose those. Not forever, but today. Choose them more often than not. Start with this salad. You may love the way a cookie melts in your mouth, but how can you hate on the way a pomegranate aril bursts on your tongue?

Red and Green-oa

redandgreenoa

Sweet and salty, fresh and flavorful—this festive salad has got it going on. Add it to your holiday table, or leave a bowl by the fireside for Santa. It can’t be easy flying all night on just cookies. I’d list a source, but this one’s all me.

1 cup uncooked quinoa
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
4 Persian cucumbers, diced (or one large seedless cucumber)
2 tbsp fresh mint, minced
1 tbsp fresh parsley, minced
1 lemon
4 oz. feta cheese (if you use the fat-free kind, don’t tell me about it. You might as well use packing peanuts)
Salt and pepper, to taste

1. Bring quinoa and about 1 1/2 cups of water to boil over medium-high heat. Cover, reduce to simmer and cook for about 15 minutes, or until no liquid remains. Fluff with a fork and let cool.

2. Meanwhile, do your mincing and dicing. Efficiency: We’re all about it. Wrap some presents. Eat some cookies. Time is of the essence.

3. Once quinoa is cool, toss with salt and pepper (start with 1/2 teaspoon of each) and a squeeze of lemon juice. Add herbs. Toss. Add cucumber and pomegranate seeds. Toss. Crumble cheese over top. Toss. Taste. Tweak. Tuck in, y’all. Serves 4.

This one doesn’t even need the runny egg. And that’s some high praise from this food brat.

What are your favorite healthy foods? Are you cooking anything special for the holidays?

Born-again runner.

There are born runners – those of long stride and low bone density, gliding easily along for miles like smug hovercrafts – and there are born-again runners. Those who, against all biological odds, have convinced themselves that ritualistically hauling their body weight over unnatural distances at elevated speeds is a desirable way of keeping fit. Crazy people.

In my defense, this was more of a frolic than a run.

Growing up, I hated physical fitness testing like…a fat kid hates physical fitness testing. No event was more ominous than the dreaded One Mile Run. I think I clocked in at 13:41 one year, which can’t have demanded more than a brisk walk of even of my stubby little legs. The promised return of my Baby-Sitters Club book was the only thing that got me to the finish.

Even when exercise became less of an affront, running remained a last-ditch option. Since I’d never made it a cardio mainstay, I lacked the endurance to get what I deemed a sufficient workout, and my disordered mind balked at the idea of sacrificing temporary calorie burn to train for longer distances. Why suffer the indignity of a 15-minute run when I could pedal away at an elliptical machine for 45? Surely the latter was the better option.

Then I got caught the bug.

If running is not and will never be your thing, by all means, opt out. There are a million ways to be active, many of which don’t also carry risks of charley horse and perpetual starvation. Save yourself! But if you want to be one of those crazy people who loves running, maybe you’ve just been doing it wrong. A change in approach helped me put a lifelong aversion – and about 15 miles a week – behind me. No Baby-Sitters Club book necessary.

The Born-Again Runner’s Gospel
Or, how to work out without hating your life.

Enlist technology. Traditionalists love to talk shit about the “dreadmill.” I find indoor runs to be far more enjoyable than their open-air counterparts, mainly because they incite me to push myself. From a mental perspective, it’s easier to do a challenging workout than a lame one.

You can find any number of treadmill workouts online, but here’s my basic formula: Set an easy warm-up pace (I like 6mph), and run at that speed for the duration of one song. At each subsequent verse/chorus transition, increase your speed by .5mph until you feel like you might die (for me, this kicks in around 9.5mph). Revert to half-speed (in this case, 7.5mph, which is now going to feel so easy) and “reset” for the length of one song. Repeat until desired mileage is reached. If you get bored, mess with the incline.

Running this way keeps my mind and muscles engaged in a way that bopping along down a riverside trail does not. I find that the miles fly by, and I enjoy feeling like a beastly sprinting badass at the end of every cycle. I’m also a huge baby who hates being at the mercy of the elements. Raw lungs? Stinging eyes? The unpleasant, paradoxical sensation of sweating under four layers of fleece? Why? Eliminate unnecessary discomforts, and you’ll find that you relish unavoidable aches and pains as a sign that you’re working hard.

Curate your plate. When it comes to food, many people use running as a get-out-of-jail-free card. Unless you’re clocking crazy mileage that requires you to gorge like an Olympic athlete, this usually doesn’t work out. Even if you manage to outrun your appetite, the pattern can breed an unhealthy “crime and punishment” mentality in which food must be justified by exercise (actually, food is necessary for human life, which is why people in comas require feeding tubes. But you knew that, right?).

I love jambalaya fritters and lamb burgers with duck bacon and toasted marshmallow milkshakes (sorry, it’s been great food week), and it’s true that running keeps my metabolism going at a rate that allows me to indulge and still put on my pants. But you know what I don’t love? Running with heartburn. Or, more abstractly, feeling like I must run to atone for the fact that I am a human being who sometimes wants things that aren’t salads. Running provides a concrete demonstration of how healthy food works as an energy source rather than a weight control method. Eat well, move easier. It makes me want to take care of myself, not get away with as much as I can.

You’re gonna get really hungry, though. Which is why you need to…

Fuel yo’self. I talk about my “move more, eat more” philosophy in my exercise history. Running is one of the most demanding forms of physical activity, so you can totally add an extra snack or be more lax about your portions. Just add good stuff that will help you rather than hold you back.

What and when you eat before a run is especially crucial. The only thing worse than running while bloated is running while starving. I cannot get a good run on an empty stomach, and honestly, a piece of fruit is usually not enough.

I like to think in terms of pre-run fuel and post-run repair. Since I don’t run long distances, I don’t need to be taking in tons of extra food, but I do compose my meals around my workouts—carbs before and protein after, with a bit of healthy fat on both sides. I currently have the luxury of exercising between breakfast and lunch, but when I was working standard hours, I was a big fan of the double breakfast (peanut butter toast or two of my favorite anytime cookies before; fruit with Greek yogurt or hard-boiled eggs after) or, if I was gym-bound after work, a hefty snack at my desk around 4pm.

This may seem excessive, but remember, it’s not entirely literal. You mind needs to believe that you have the energy to complete your workout just as much as your body needs those calories to function. Once you get used to eating around your activity, you won’t have to think so much. You’ll realize that you’re creating an ongoing flow of energy intake and expenditure, and that no one meal or workout can make or break you. Rather than crime and punishment, the result is a zenlike give and take (a “lifestyle,” I believe they call it).

Run with a purpose. This one comes from my lil’ sis, a varsity athlete and prospective Ivy League lacrosse recruit (NBD). She’s exactly like me except cooler, faster and funnier. Thank goodness I was born first, because I’d never have developed a healthy self-esteem with her around.

For those seeking a reason to get off the couch, Maddie suggests lacing up with a destination in mind. “Run to drop something at the post office. Run to grab something at CVS. Meet a friend for coffee. It’s a workout, but it’s also a way to get from place to place. Later, when you’re not feeling motivated, you’ve already developed the habit, and your body is used to doing the work.”

Isn’t she wise? She is so wise. Sister, you are so wise. Now get out of here so I can get back to being the smart one. Anyway, this isn’t entirely compatible with my sick treadmill fetish, but I think it’s a solid way to build up endurance and get your body used to high-impact movement. A+.

Eschew popular wisdom. Switch up your music! Invest in nice workout clothes! Get it over with first thing in the morning! I’ll admit that I cringe at the thought of running without a freshly loaded iPod – okay, and Lululemon Wunder Unders – but WTF to that morning crap. I’m a morning person, and I still prefer to get my sweat on after I’ve had a few hours to eat and caffeinate. Maddie’s with me on this one: “Don’t be confined to stereotypes. If you typically have more energy in the afternoon, do it then. Night owl, work out late. Watch the sunrise when you can sit and enjoy the freaking sunrise.” Sing it, girl. Run when you have the most to put into your workout, and you’ll get the most out of it.

As for the other stuff, it’s helpful, but it’s not enough. You can listen to music at home and wear yoga pants to the grocery store, so your motivation has to come from somewhere else. Same goes for the buddy system. Personally, I abhor group fitness – I like to get in the zone and pretend no one else exists – but I think even more social gym-goers can benefit from doing solo runs. It goes back to the challenge aspect of my first point—you’re more likely to crave a run when you can see the gains you’re making, and you’re more likely to make gains when you can focus on working hard. If you choose to be an active participant instead of running out the clock, your workout will become more interesting.

Take all of this with a bead of sweat. I’m no fitness expert – just your average active Jane – but I’m also not a born runner or even a lifelong exerciser, so I feel confident that just about anyone can get to where I am. In the three years since my 75-pound shed, I’ve found no better way of maintaining my size while keeping my mind calm and my belly fed. These days, I crave a hard run more than any other workout. Just don’t ask me to climb that stupid rope.

Do you like to run? Any tips to make it more enjoyable?

Empire State of Self.

Being happy in New York City is the best thing ever. The old cliché about stepping out into infinite possibility is true. You wake up on a Tuesday and put on, oh, I don’t know, a hot pink cropped blouse with four tiers of neck ruffles that makes you look like Flamenco Barbie. You contemplate fixing your usual coffee and oats, then decide to throw caution and financial solvency to the wind and head to your favorite espresso bar instead.

When you arrive, you see a new offering on the menu: iced blueberry lemon loaf. It looks mouthwatering. You see someone eating it, so you ask if it’s worth choosing over the famous olive oil cake. Before you know it, you’re clinking espressos and splitting olive oil cake and blueberry lemon loaf with a fellow patron, debating the relative merits of each.

You become so enthralled by good food and the kindness of strangers that you have to sprint to catch the bus, leading its goateed driver to ask if he saw you in the Olympics. “Actually, yes. I’m cross-training right now,” you reply. You beam at your fellow commuters, leading them to instinctively smile back in surprise and mild alarm. Hot damn, everyone loves me, you think to yourself. I am so good at New York!  You gaze out at the hulking skyline that has inspired so many movie montages, Jay-Z’s skittish chuckle echoing in your ears. As you hop off the bus, ruffles flapping in your wake, the driver yells, “Keep running, girl!” This is all before you start your workday at 9am.

Being depressed in New York City is the worst thing ever. If you’re sad or self-conscious or otherwise down on your luck, this city is a great place to circle the drain. You wake up on a Tuesday and find that nothing fits because you fell asleep eating your feelings again, so you put on a forgiving sundress that does little to hide your swollen eyes or greasy hair. You feel unattractive. Insufficient. Stuck. You hate everything, but you hate your wimpy attitude most of all. You decide that you’ll take a step back from the world to right yourself, just until you can be the person you want to be again—the person who deserves to live in New York City. Maybe you spend a month burying yourself in work or workouts or the covers of your queen-sized bed.

The first half of this summer was tough for me. I alluded a few times to the fact that I was struggling, but I largely tried to keep my emotions under wraps. I didn’t think I could write with enough distance to produce something that was more than just whiney, and furthermore, I didn’t really understand what was going on. On a surface level, nothing was wrong. I had a job, an apartment, friends and family who were as baffled and frustrated by my unhappiness as I was. It wasn’t that I had unrealistic expectations of what living in New York would look like—I’ve long made peace with my logistical constraints. But even within those, I felt like I was failing at being young and broke. I wasn’t having enough fun to justify the fact that I was barely scraping by.

In retrospect, I can see that my big mistake was trying to build an exact replica of my Chicago life in NYC. Since I graduated nine months late, most of my friends were in different places during my final year – geographically, metaphorically, or both – so I had social opportunity but little social obligation. I knew exactly which temptations were and weren’t “worth it,” and my heavy courseload was more than enough to occupy any remaining mental space. I graduated with a reasonable but rigid balance in effect.

When everything from the structure of my day to the nature of my friendships changed, the same habits that had kept me afloat in college began to drag me down. I felt like I was constantly falling short of my own high expectations, and I found myself resenting the experiences and relationships that stood in my way. I struggled to maintain balance in the only way I knew how: by devoting a questionable amount of mental energy to “health.”

New York City, with its raging nightlife and general domestic apathy, was an easy scapegoat. Most people here spend the occasional night in, and some even know how to cook, but neither activity is particularly New York. If you want to be a homebody, you can do it far more comfortably elsewhere—so where did that leave me? Suddenly, even the frenetic speed upon which the city’s reputation is built – the blind ambition, the conspicuous consumption, the tendency toward stimulation over self-reflection – seemed at odds with a post-recovery me. I understood my needs and my triggers well enough to know that my systems were non-negotiable, and changing myself for a city seemed as irrational as changing myself for a man. Maybe we need to spend some time apart, I thought. I love New York, but I think I hate living there.

It was a freeing revelation, but a frightening one. Losing New York felt like losing part of my central identity. Having planned for aspirations in theatre and journalism, it had literally never occurred to me that I could live anywhere else. I became briefly enamored with the idea of nannying abroad, then announced that I was moving to Portland—a city, but a smaller one, with a gentler pace and a more health-conscious culture. Having never so much as set foot in the state of Oregon, I became convinced that the West Coast held the answers, scouting Craigslist for apartments and plotting the purchases I would make with my new, roomier budget. I was so busy fantasizing about my nonexistent life in Portland that I neglected the more important issue: fixing my real life in NYC.

Fortunately, a combination of old and new faces helped jog me out of my mind vice. People will save us, man. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s this. I realized that even if I did eventually decide to relocate, I had to figure out how to exist in the interim, and I had to accept that what I was doing simply was not working. It was time to let some of my trusty systems go. Balance could still be a priority – it would have to be – but it would have to look different, and I would base this new version on what made me feel good rather than what I believed to be “right.” In short, I had to find my Empire State of Self.

And I have. Well, I am. I’m inching ever closer. I consider myself to be happy, but even on days when I can’t quite get there, I can almost always bring myself to be grateful. I have a job and a lease and a life here. I have a strong, active body and a mind that’s the quietest it’s been in quite some time. Now is not the time for heady self-reflection—not this week, anyway. Now is the time for dicking around and seeing what sticks. For me, maybe “health” means more drinks and less sleep; more leaning and less planning. Moderation is a broad spectrum, after all, and the stakes of exploring it are fairly low. Existing in the gray area is harder, but more rewarding than either black or white.

Today is September 11, 2012, and I am a proud resident of New York City—eleven years out of a tragedy and just shy of six months into my latest chapter. Portland isn’t off the table, but neither is New York. Let’s face it: I was never going to go anywhere else until I came here. And for worse or for better, I’m lucky to have had the chance.

Would you change yourself for a city?

Mo’ joe.

You know those pesky days when your body unceremoniously disintegrates?

Yeah, neither did I…until around 4pm yesterday, when a total system failure occurred. Headache, muscle cramps, nausea, the works. Four hours of agony. I was prepared to chalk it up to a delayed-onset food hangover (go to Parm for the limited edition s’mores ice cream cake, but not for the oily sides or merely passable namesake sandwich. End amateur review), but as I lay there moaning and resisting the urge to Internet-diagnose myself with a brain tumor, it occurred to me that there were two more likely explanations:

a) I had unwittingly been made into Voldemort’s eighth Horcrux, or

b) I was experiencing caffeine withdrawal.

I made a cup of tea to test my theory.

My symptoms cleared up within fifteen minutes.

Even the modern writer starts each day with a blank page.

For the past two years, I’ve greeted every day with French press coffee, steeped with cinnamon and tempered with a splash of almond milk. I treasure the ritual as much as the taste as much as the reliable jumpstart that it provides, and I’m willing to wake up at an ungodly 5:45am to ensure at least an hour of slow sipping before the grind begins (pun intended). On days when I’m feeling extra fancy (read: skip the gym), I can even squeeze in a luxurious post-coffee, pre-work nap.

Don’t tell me I could just sleep later. What would be the fun in that?

Every third week brings some new study on coffee’s health benefits and/or destructive forces, but unless it emerges that the stuff is basically arsenic, I have no desire to give it up. As with any other “vice,” I think context and enjoyment justify its moderate usage. That being said, I do side-eye the idea of pounding it all day to stay functional. My skepticism has less to do with the coffee itself than with its substitution for less ambiguous sources of energy. Coffee as pleasure trip? All about it. Coffee as crutch? Not so jazzed.

I could afford to be holier-than-thou in college, when my time was my own. I cut myself off after one morning mug and relied on a potent brew of power naps and dance parties to get me through the day. Needless to say, this system has short-circuited in the face of full-time employment, and these days, I find myself plowing through a lot mo’ joe. A cup when I arrive at work. A cup when I return from lunch. Only tea* after 3pm, because my bedtime looks like your grandma’s. Even still, three cups a day isn’t exactly what I’d call moderate usage.

I was fine with drinking my words until yesterday, when one caffeine-free morning saw me sprawled prostrate across the couch like a junkie. Sure, coffee is legal and natural, but the idea of physical illness in the absence of any substance freaks me out. It’s been an iffy month for me and healthy living, but even when I was a lean, mean, salad-worshipping machine, I hit that same late morning/early-afternoon wall. I’m stumped on how else to navigate around it. Staring at a screen all day is not natural (and should not be legal). I’m going to see if I can take my consumption down from three cups to two, but I’d love to know how you handle the caffeine conundrum.

*I went on a tea-buying spree at World Market last year and have enough to last several decades at least (hazelnut chai? Whiskey green? Red velvet? Got you covered), especially since I’m one of those stingy nutjobs who reuses each teabag twice. Sorry I’m not sorry I’m not sorry. Anyway, I drink a lot of tea, but it doesn’t serve the same function for me. Tea is for taste, not energy.

Are you a coffee drinker? How much coffee is too much coffee? Desk jobs, what are those all about?