I’d love to say I was one of those who used the past year indoors to better themselves, working out every day, meditating every morning, and cooking up beautiful healthy meals in their kitchen on the regular. I was actually on the polar opposite of the spectrum. Living alone, unsupervised, and left to my own devices, I comforted myself with fast food, ordering from delivery apps almost daily (sometimes multiple times a day), and permanently positioning my body on my couch with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s on one arm, my non-judgmental pup Molly on the other, and my laptop nestled in my lap. While I could easily chalk up this behavior to a pandemic slump, working with a holistic nutritionist made me realize my unhealthy habits were a coping mechanism and a result of a long-term love-hate relationship with food.
Prior to the pandemic, I’d describe my health and wellness routine as a bit of a rollercoaster. Since my 20s, I’ve yo-yoed back and forth between obsessively working out and dieting (Keto, Whole30, Paleo, juice cleanses — I’ve done them all) to falling off the health wagon completely and struggling with food-related shame and self-loathing because I couldn’t control myself. The pandemic and all its unpredictable glory swung the pendulum to the far left for me, throwing me into an unhealthy pattern in which my eating was fueled by emotions and stress and the only real movement I got were the quick potty walks I took with Molly to the corner of my block and back. Like many, the WFH shift had caused me to disregard regular working hours altogether and I found myself glued to my laptop from sun up to sundown.
Every couple months or so I’d attempt to get into a regular work out routine again or kickstart a healthy eating plan. But all it took was one particularly stressful work day or emotional moment, and I’d take to my trusty couch and go-to McDonald’s order. I was miserable, not sleeping, and zapped of energy. It was towards the end of 2020 that I came across holistic nutritionist Alana Kessler in typical editor fashion: a PR email. I opened a message touting her expertise and unique approach to wellness and nutrition. Kessler’s method involves tackling food and unhealthy eating habits from the inside out, drawing from her experience and knowledge in Eastern and Western nutrition, functional medicine, Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, mindfulness, and life coaching modalities.
According to Kessler’s official site: “I believe good nutrition is when we understand and integrate how to eat, why we eat, and then take that information to inform and transform our relationship with food — and our environment — so that we can always find confidence and navigate life's transitions with grace and ease.” Something about this messaging set off several alarms in my head and I knew I had 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 call with Kessler, she walked me through the ins and outs of her program and specific approach, which is actually tailored to each client’s specific goals. I explained to her my spotty history with food and exercise and how it was playing out since the pandemic started. But, in addition to learning about my eating habits and fitness routine, Kessler surprised me in asking more pointed questions about myself and my life. “What do you enjoy doing? What are your hobbies? What do you like to do to relax? How often do you do these things?” I had no idea what any of these tidbits of information had to do with food, but answered them honestly anyway, filling her in on the hobbies that bring me joy (reading, baking, cooking, painting occasionally, running outside, watching bad reality TV).
Instead of putting me on an immediate eating and workout plan, Kessler’s first assignment for me was to actually carve out time each day to do one or two of the extracurricular activities I named. According to her, much of my days were spent in my “masculine,” aka a work and task-focused mindset. I was not engaging enough with my “feminine,” or the things that made me feel relaxed and at ease, and the imbalance needed to be addressed before anything else. She also challenged me to start each day with 10 minutes of meditation and start a food journal using the app Foodility. Within the app, I marked every single thing I ate on a given day, the state in which I ate that meal (rushed or at ease), and who I ate the meal with. I also logged any exercise I completed each day. This felt simple enough.
Over the next two months or so, I checked in with Kessler weekly, and she followed up every meeting with an email that included a recap of our discussion, insights, and next steps. Even within the first week, as I took intentional steps to carve out time to eat and make myself a meal, I felt a shift. I looked forward to lunch and dinner time, when I would spend some quiet time, slowing down to cook, sitting down at my table to eat my meal without a laptop open or phone attached to my palm.
I also made an effort to move more. I extended my walks with Molly from 10 minutes to 20 minutes, and allotted three afternoons a week to outdoor running sessions. Again, not a huge shift, but enough to feel some impact. When I slowed down and took time for myself, I was able to become more aware of what I was doing for my body and mind. Making meals used to be such daunting tasks that would suck my day of time and energy that could be directed to more “productive” things. In reality, throwing a salmon filet in the oven, sautéing some shrimp, or cooking up a bowl of brown rice takes all of 20 to 25 minutes. Over those initial weeks, these little breaks in my day became my self-care — I looked forward to them.
As my two-month coaching program progressed, my “homework” evolved as I realized the emotional connection to my eating habits and my hectic, anxious lifestyle. Kessler then began to tackle some of my food choices, and taught me tips for quick and healthy swaps that would help make my diet more nutrient dense. Instead of eating brown rice or pasta every day, I’d swap in cauliflower rice or veggie noodles here and there. I also started incorporating leafy greens and fiber-filled veggies into every meal, something I was notoriously known for avoiding. Kessler also addressed my lack of portion control, which often left me feeling sluggish and tired after meals. Instead of inhaling a cup and a half of rice or pasta, I cut these portions down to about 1/3-1/2 of a cup.
To be clear, my two-month journey with Kessler was not perfect. In the midst of my coaching, I hit a particularly busy work season as well as the death of my grandfather, with whom I was incredibly close. My anxiety and emotions took me on a rollercoaster ride, and I’d fall back into my bad eating habits as a coping mechanism for a few days. However, now that I was more aware of my behavior and the direct correlation of my emotions to my relationship with food, these regressions were short-lived. I also had Kessler for accountability, to snap me back to reality and help me examine why I was choosing the foods I was choosing and also encouraging me to avoid shaming myself for these choices.
By the end of my Be Well program, I wasn’t exactly a transformed human. But I was a much more self-aware one. I felt like I had been given the tools to properly take control of my health and wellness and was ready to put them into action on my own. I also understand that everything in life should be balanced. While I’ve made the decision to make healthier food choices and take time to move my body during the week, I also know the importance of indulging in a treat now and then and allowing myself time to relax and rest.
It’s been a couple months since I ended my two-month coaching program and, again, I still regress to my old habits here and there. However, I feel like I’ve recommitted myself to, well, myself. I discovered a newfound love for cycling and invested in a Peloton bike. I also subscribe to healthy meal delivery service Thistle, which delivers ready-to-cook nutrient-dense meals twice a week to my door. I still log my meals (I use the Noom app now) and my activity to keep myself accountable and track my progress. While I still struggle with getting enough sleep and keeping things consistent, I know this is part of the journey. I’ve learned to be more patient and kind to myself.
These small shifts have made an impact on my energy levels and overall mood. I feel a bit more alert and clear-headed and, now that Los Angeles has opened up again, I feel energized and ready to explore the city and socialize. It’s a new day.