At WellBe, we like to say that the 100 choices you make every day are your healthcare. And every day, I make choices in the hopes that they’ll make me, personally, healthier. Some of those choices work out, some of them don’t. So at the close of every year, I like to take some time to reflect back on the changes I made, and to pinpoint which ones made a real, lasting difference in terms of my health.
So, without further ado, here are the 10 most impactful health changes I made in 2019:
1. Taking nuts with me everywhere
I noticed toward the end of 2018 that when I made poor food choices, it was always on the run or when I didn’t prepare or think ahead and was stranded in an airport with no healthy options at all. So I started doing a big nut and seed shop every few months (buying organic walnuts, Brazil nuts, cashews, almonds, pecans, and pumpkin and sunflower seeds). I’d just throw them all in a pan and roast them at 200 degrees for 20 minutes to kill off any mold since nuts are known to be moldy and fungal. Walnuts are known to be the most fungal but they are also proven to lower your depression risk!
I have a small container of nuts in my bag wherever I go, and in my desk at the office. I have found over the past few months that when I’m in a situation where there seems to be no choice but to eat inflammatory foods, I go to my nuts and seeds. This holds me over until I get somewhere where I can make a better decision. It’s one thing to want to eat something inflammatory once in a while, it’s another to be hungry and stuck. I can happily say my on-the-go nuts and seeds habit has helped me avoid that scenario.
2. Taking a meditation course
I have tried over the past several years to establish a meditation practice using a few different apps and my own determination. It turns out, our habits are STRONGLY resistant to change. I would have a good run for a few weeks and then fall off from making meditation a consistent part of my morning routine.
Finally, I decided I needed more of a commitment and some accountability. For a lot of us, including me, that means spending money. In early August, signed up for a meditation course I’d been recommended, which was two hours, two days in a row, in-person with a teacher named Ben Turshen.
I found the instruction and practice very unique. He instructed us to practice his style of meditation for 27 minutes twice a day for 60 days. Going from nothing to nearly an hour a day seemed like a huge investment of my time, but I had spent the money and 4+ hours of my life on this, so I committed to following his instructions.
After 62 days, I had missed 7, so an 89% success rate, a high B+! The best part of this experience has been that my relationship to meditation has changed. Four months later, it no longer seems like a drag to me — I actually look forward to it. Do I do it twice a day? Hardly ever. But most days I get in at least 15 or 27 minutes and I can feel my whole body change just a minute or two after I start. Our breath truly is the most powerful tool we have to change how we feel, think, and behave.
3. Going to therapy again
I hadn’t gone to professional therapy since the summer of 2011, six months after my mom passed away and shortly before I moved to Chicago. This past year was a challenging one for me mentally, and I realized that I didn’t have anybody to speak to on a regular basis except family members (who were often a little close to the things I was dealing with) and good friends when I occasionally shared that I was working through a few difficult things.
I finally decided a few months ago that you don’t have to have just had a parent die or get divorced or survive a mass shooting to go to therapy. You can just not be feeling your best, or dealing with a few challenging things, and need someone to be there to talk through things with you. Since it has only been about four months, I can’t say definitively what it has done, but I know that I am feeling more capable of dealing with challenges and sticking with my mental health improvement tools — like exercise, meditation, and a diet rich in healthy fats and supplements — than I was before I started therapy. If you’re considering seeing a therapist but don’t know what kind to see, check out our guide to mental health professionals.
4. Making a blood test chart + seeing a new naturopath
I had seen the same wonderful holistic nutritionist and herbalist for 14 years since she first helped me reverse my amenorrhea in 2006. This year, as I learned more about my thyroid, I became determined to reverse my mild Hashimoto’s and kick my thyroid antibodies to the curb. I know a lot of people say this is tough to do, but that doesn’t mean I want it any less. I decided a new perspective might be helpful.
So I went to see a naturopath and made a blood test chart from the stacks of paper blood tests I had sitting in my file cabinet. The oldest one was from 2008 and the most recent from September 2019. Yes it took me a few hours, but I was then able to see such an interesting story of how my health had changed over the past 11 years. I was then able to print that out and take it with me to a new doctor to show her the things I had struggled with over the last decade. This helped her to see not only trends of things that were consistently a problem, but also those things that had been up and down, and therefore weren’t quite as big a deal as one single blood test looked at in isolation might indicate. I decided to create a version you can use with your own blood tests, so grab it below!
5. Kicking gluten for real + improving my thyroid numbers
Speaking of my thyroid, part of my determination to kick my thyroid antibodies to the curb was a whole lot of research into the root causes of thyroid dysfunction. It turns out, there are a lot of different root causes, which makes it very hard to troubleshoot. However, after listening to Kelly Brogan’s recovery story, having the opportunity to interview Dr. Aviva Romm (coming out in 2020!), and talking to Phoebe Lapine about what has improved her Hashimoto’s, it became clear to me that gluten was a major trigger for thyroid dysfunction.
Until May 2019, I had been a no-gluten-at-home person, but indulged in bread at restaurants or pasta or cookies when I really wanted it at other people’s homes. Then in May, I decided to become much more strict. This meant asking in every restaurant if any dish I was thinking of ordering contained gluten and refraining from bites of gluten-filled dishes.
It hasn’t been the easiest, but it is also not nearly as hard as I imagined it would be. Also, I’m proud of my commitment. I don’t debate whether I’ll have a bite of something or have a cheat night, it’s a no-discussion sort of thing (except in Europe — I’m not sure when I’m going next, but this is my one exception!).
I was a big reader growing up.My favorite genre is historical fiction or nonfiction on topics like anthropology and the human condition, because I find human behavior and why we do what we do so interesting.
Reading in bed at night not only gets me off my phone before bed, which research has shown negatively impacts sleep quality, but it also helps me to think outside of myself and the boundaries of my own life and work. I believe it has allowed me to cultivate more compassion and empathy for others and myself.
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck
8. Journaling and expressing gratitude
Another before-bed activity I started doing more religiously in 2019 is journaling. I don’t always journal about the same thing, and I find the idea of journaling a stream of consciousness to be intimidating. I usually decide to journal either a few things I’m grateful for or choose an exercise, like writing a letter to myself from my 90-year-old self or telling the greatest story of my life. These kinds of exercises help me get out of the here and now (to-do lists, errands, worries about something happening next week) and step back to envision the greater picture.
Plus, there are some real, science-backed benefits of gratitude. It’s strongly and consistently associated with more happiness, can improve relationships, and can even help prevent and heal chronic health issues.
9. Organic cashew milk (not oat anymore!), homemade or bought
I remember being so excited when I first tasted oat milk in 2018. I was even more excited when my husband tasted it and loved it, since using it in his coffee got him off a morning dose of cow dairy, which can be inflammatory for many people. Unfortunately, in my interview with Ken Cook, founder of the Environmental Working Group, I learned about the process of conventionally grown oats being sprayed with Roundup (glyphosate). So I had apparently traded inflammatory dairy for a dangerous pesticide each morning. I tried buying only organic oat milk, but to be honest, the one I tried was just not as creamy and delicious.
In early 2019, I visited one of my oldest friends in California and watched her make her own organic cashew milk. It was fast and easy and tasted delicious. I decided to start making my own (it’s so easy: soak 1 cup of organic cashews in filtered water for 20 minutes to soften, then blend the cashews plus 3 cups of filtered water, a bit of vanilla extract, 1 Medjool date chopped up, and some organic cinnamon in a blender under smooth). These days I bring my thermos of cashew milk to the coffee shop. They looked at me strangely the first few times but now are used to it. I also routinely switch to an organic (store bought) pistacio milk since diversity in my diet is also super important! And yes, I still indulge in an oat milk latte when I really want it. It’s about what I’m doing most of the time that matters.
10. Fixing my heater and my sleep!
This last one was a great exercise in a) Fixing the simple and easy things in your home before they contribute to chronic disease over time; b) Taking action and not putting things off forever because they take a little effort, and c) Not making assumptions without double-checking.
Once it started getting colder a month ago in New York, the two heaters in our rental apartment that have bugged us for years began hissing as they do every winter. We cannot control how much heat comes out of them, so we figured there was nothing to be done. Well, one morning after a particularly terrible night’s sleep where I woke up because I was so hot and because of the noise of the heater, I asked my superintendent to come up. He turned off the heater in our bedroom and replaced the air valve in our living room heater.
Yes, it’s a touch colder in our bedroom, but it is much better than the alternative. Plus, the hissing stopped, and I haven’t woken up from being too hot since. These hissing, overactive heaters impacted my sleep for years, and I figured there was nothing I could really do about it. I was dead wrong. A simple text message and a twenty-minute visit from my super was all it took to improve the single greatest way that my body can repair itself daily. Fix the things that impact your health at home on a daily basis. They are easy and worth it.