10 Things I Wish I'd Known About Health When I Was A 20-Something Supermodel

Today my vice is optimum health. But that was not always the case. And more often than not, each and every attempt I made to “get” somewhere in terms of making my body look better ended up in failure and desperation. I may have found a way to temporarily fit into tiny sample sizes for my job, but I was perpetually exhausted, hungry, moody and frustrated. 

And after years of unhealthy methods for “controlling” my weight (read: getting my body to a size much smaller than my genetics had intended), the serious—nearly fatal—physical consequences were all too apparent. I had made up my own diets, borrowed exercise and eating regimens from other models, and decided that a growling stomach signified the potential for a perfect body.

I didn’t consult nutritionists, I didn’t know a thing about the mind-body connection, and I didn’t surround myself with mentors who made health a priority. I was damaging my metabolism, my organs and my overall wellbeing. I had no clue that all my radical attempts to look better were robbing me of the opportunity to experience both physical and spiritual health.

Let’s face it, when we're out of balance, we limit our ability to thrive. My system was out of whack on all levels, and it’s no wonder I felt terrible all the time. Now, I’m in a daily practice of honoring my physical and emotional needs, honoring my “No Umbrella.” My eyes are clear, my energy is consistent, my sleep is solid and ... guess what? I’m at home in my body and it’s a body I love.

I was stubborn. I learned the same lesson many times but continuously refused to change my behaviors. Slowly but surely, I learned to let go of quick-fixes. I began to put my health first. I took my time and made wellness the priority—recovering from drug addiction, engaging in talk therapy, overcoming an eating disorder, and committing to spiritual practice. I began to like myself, eventually love myself, and I found that I loved my physical self, too.

As a model, I sold an illusion. I projected an image of some kind of beauty ideal but I was torturing myself to look the way I did. And I never felt good about my outside, so I engaged in self-destructive behaviors to try and alter it.

If only I knew then what I know now, I would have saved myself from years of frustration and poor health!

1. I just couldn’t believe it then but its true: You are what you eat! Had I believed this way back when, I would have been mindful about food choices, knowing that what I ate had a direct impact on how I felt, as well as how I looked. Today I go for live and vibrant foods. I realize this may sound “woo-woo” but I believe foods have frequencies. I opt for fresh, organic food that is totally alive and full of enzymes, because I believe it nourishes me on a deep cellular level. I live on a farm where I’m able to grow and harvest the majority of my meals. We have our own chickens and get our milk from a local “cow share” and most everything else comes from our local community. Most people don’t have immediate access to fresh organic food, but we increasingly have access to information about where our food comes from.

2. Love your fats!

I used to think all fat was unhealthy. Now I understand that trans fat isn’t good for me, but many fats are. These healthy fats help me more and more as I age—my joints, skin, hair, even my hormones. I find that if I don’t get enough of these “good” fats in my day, I have more cravings for unhealthy foods. So bring on the avocados, olive oil, and almonds!

3. The more often I eat, the more I rev up my metabolism.

Ok, this is one I never believed. But I swear it works for me, not because it’s some crazy weight loss tool but because when I eat regularly I am so much more alert, satiated, stable in my moods and way less likely to overeat. I enjoy food every 3 or 4 hours. I view feeding myself regularly as a self-care behavior that I both prioritize and look forward to.

4. I don’t need to exercise obsessively to be in optimal shape! A little movement goes a long way. As my body gets older, I’m more interested in maintaining flexibility so my body is a comfy place to inhabit. And developing my core strength is particularly important as it helps me overcome limitations from a back injury. My workout choices today are about the overall health of my body and not about attaining some kind of elusive physical perfection. Feeling comfortable in my ultimate home—my body—is perfect enough for me!

5. Sleep is way underrated. I make a good night’s sleep a priority and if a short window of time opens up in my day, I welcome any and all rests or cat naps! I used to burn myself out on endless late nights and really thought it did not affect me. Today, I treasure my rest and see how it directly impacts my mood and energy levels. Staying on a fairly consistent sleep schedule is important not just for my young girls, but for me!

6. There’s always a little time for exercise. As an insecure model, I engaged in compulsive exercise and when I wasn’t working, it took over my days. Now, I’m a happily retired gym-rat. I squeeze in healthy movement when I can, and I’m stronger than ever. As mom, wife and business woman, "me time" is limited. Sometimes I can make it to a yoga or pilates class. But most often I get exercise by allowing myself to multitask a bit. My business calls are usually conducted while I hike or jog.

Some of my colleagues know that if we schedule a call in the mornings, they’re likely to hear some huffing and puffing, since I often share my thoughts on our agenda items while scaling a hillside or running down a trail. I make healthy outdoor time, even if only for 20 minutes—sunshine, nature, fresh air—a daily priority. It’s just something that makes me feel better and feeling better, not looking better, is much more my focus.

7. Sitting down to eat is crucial.

I never thought sitting down for a meal made much sense. Dashing off to a job, to the gym, or to a party was more important to me than taking time to eat. But now with two young daughters, I’m reminded on a daily basis about the value of slowing down for meal time. I find it calming and rejuvenating to be present with what we consume. Taking the time to enjoy and connect AND digest! This gives my children tools for self-care and sets an important pace for their day. Providing this time for them has given me a newfound appreciation for honoring food, honoring family time, and honoring my body.

8. Mindfulness leads to healthier food practice.

My daily spiritual practice (mediation, deep breathing, even just five minutes of a morning gratitude prayer) not only provides me with a sense of mental and emotional balance—quieting what can often be a pretty loud mind— but it goes a long way in terms of my making healthy life, relationship and yes, even food choices as well. It sets up a good premise for the day: I care about myself. I care about others. I care about life. We are all connected. From this mindset, I tend to be more aware of physical (versus emotional) hungers and I tend to reach more for the nourishing foods rather than the energy depleting ones.

9. Food isn't a friend, an enemy, or even a “frenemy.” It can be nourishment, provide sensual pleasure, and be part of a sacred communion with friends and family. Now, instead of partying with my friends, we’re sipping delicious tea, making home-cooked meals, and having long conversations that nourish our spirits as well as our bodies. Instead of sharing diet tips with friends, I’m sharing recipes. How much more filling and fulfilling!

There was so much I used to avoid. I had a list in my head of “bad” foods and I’d avoid them at all costs. If I did rebel against my own restrictive rules, I’d beat myself up and engage in unhealthy compensatory behaviors. Now I’m all about moderation. And I model that for my children. When my girls ask for ice cream, I remind them that when they eat a lot of sugar, they end up crashing big-time. Ice cream isn’t forbidden and it’s not an automatic go-to either, because it doesn’t ultimately make them feel that great. But if we find ourselves craving some ice cream, and we’re willing to deal with the inevitable energy crash, we go to the local shops, the ones with natural ingredients we can all pronounce, and we happily enjoy a nice scoop. We take our time, we sit on the bench by the water, and enjoy the entire experience.

10. The way I talk to myself impacts the way that I eat. I ask myself the same questions I ask my girls: “Are you hungry? What are you hungry for? What does your body need?” This inner dialogue helps me to check in. Sometimes when things are just simply feeling off, I’ll go through a wellness checklist.

  • Do I need water? 
  • Food? 
  • What kind of food? 
  • Do I need a nap? 
  • Do I need some sunshine? 

I’m teaching my daughters to use the same method of self-care.

There will always be adjustments, learning curves, and challenges. It’s taken me many years to find out what works for me. Sometimes I still have to remind myself that I don’t need to reinvent the wheel. I have good information now. I sometimes tell myself, when tempted to learn about the next new health craze: Don’t fuck with the formula! It can take a lifetime to know what works. (I say this silently, of course.)

Thankfully, this precious life of mine isn’t over yet. And my formula, today, is a good one.

Ready to learn more about how to unlock the power of food to heal your body, prevent disease & achieve optimal health? Register now for our FREE Functional Nutrition Webinar with Kelly LeVeque.

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