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Saying Goodbye to 2020

posted by Pilar Gerasimo 12/11/2020 2 Comments

Here we are, headed into the holidays, and also cruising (limping?) into the final stretch of what turned out to be one very long, strange year. 

In “normal times,” this would be a month of celebration and coming together with family and friends. This year, a lot of what we’ve come to consider normal is not on the menu. And maybe that is okay.

2020 has forced a reckoning, for a lot of us, about how we’ve been living, about what we’ve been enduring, and about what we’ve taken for granted. 

The detours and disruptions foisted upon us by COVID (among other things) have given us reason to reconsider our automatic, default patterns, and to reevaluate what we can and cannot live without.

There might be some upsides to that. Particularly around the holidays.

The Way We’ve Always Done It

The holidays are ruled by tradition — for better and for worse — and adherence to tradition can easily override our real desires and capacities of the moment. 

When it comes to eating, drinking, shopping, and socializing, we tend to go along with the plans presented to us. In the process, we can easily climb aboard the bandwagons of excess, without so much as asking our bodies and minds if that is really where they really want to go. 

For health seekers, this can be a particularly tough time. Hearing “Oh, go ahead, it’s the HOLIDAYS!” from well-meaning friends and family can feel a lot like, “Oh come on, quit being difficult and just get with the program!” Even when that mass-culture program is precisely what you have been trying to break free from. 

This year’s disruptions of normalcy may grant us a reprieve from a lot of our unhealthy society’s normally-scheduled programs. 

This could mean that you get to design your own holiday traditions in ways that sync better with your current energy levels, appetites, and resources. So instead of feeling stressed out and obligated to do all the usual things, perhaps you can feel … creative, at ease, free to move at a pace that feels better.

In moments, of course, you may also feel bereft, lonely, or entirely at sea. All of which is okay, and at this point, also 100 percent normal.  You know: “new normal.” Gah. 

Feeling Through the Fog

Like it or not, this a liminal time — a foggy, flexy, in-transition time. A time not just between years, but between eras, between fading and emerging realities. 

So if you’re currently feeling uncertain about what to do, or even about what you want, I’d encourage you to listen carefully to your body-mind’s signals from moment to moment. 

Tune out the noise and nonsense. Tune into the quiet, wise voice that is saying: Here’s what I choose now. 

Years ago, when I was first learning how to tap into my own system’s signals, I wrote a little article called “Well, THAT’s Different,” about the value of noticing and daring to do exactly what your body-mind is asking for, even when it means other people find you a bit … odd.

There has never been a better time to master that art. We’re relearning how to live right now, by necessity. And that means we can learn healthier, better ways of living for the long haul. 

As we say goodbye (or perhaps its more like, BUH-bye! ) to 2020, I’m feeling a mixture of sorrow for all that has been lost, relief about what has been salvaged and resuscitated, and gratitude for the often surprising good that has come in the mix. 

Perhaps the best of that good is recognizing that we CAN do things differently if we choose — or if we find that we must. When pressed, we can iterate and innovate in so many ways that might not have otherwise occurred to us. 

Thanks for joining me on this journey to the end of a very long, strange, run-roughshod year — and into the beginning of a sparkling, hopeful, new one. 

Here’s to finding our own ways forward, one experimental step at a time. 


Want more life-shifting wisdom?

Check out my book, The Healthy Deviant: A Rule Breaker’s Guide to Being Healthy in an Unhealthy World. You can get a free preview and find purchase links here. Thank you for supporting my work!

Wrinkled, torn, and mended antique tablecloth with dried wheat stalk.

When It’s Thanksgiving and You’re Not Feeling It

posted by Pilar Gerasimo 11/26/2020 2 Comments

Happy Thanksgiving. And if, in the wake of this past year, you aren’t feeling abundantly happy and grateful today, I understand.

I am writing to honor that feeling, and also to bring some balm to it, if I can. I wrote this for everyone who is feeling a bit tired, bruised, or bereft today.

In thinking about how hard this past year has been on so many, I’ve been trying to put my finger on a particular type of gratitude that one feels when one has gotten through something really rough, and comes through — not exactly unscathed, but perhaps less scathed than one might have been.

That brought to mind an incident from my youth. An accident, actually.

I was about 10, riding my bicycle fast on a blacktop road near our house. Going into a curve, I wiped out on some sand, and went down hard. I got up with the wind a bit knocked out of me, some smarting pains, and that wincing feeling of “Oh, crap. I don’t want to look.”

I knew that what I was about to see might be ugly. But when I did look, I found I was basically intact.

I had some sand-encrusted road rash on one palm, a nasty cut on my ankle where the spikes of the bike pedal had swung around and gouged out some flesh, and couple of banged up spots. But no broken bones, no head wounds, and nothing that needed stitches.

This is not to say that I was 100 percent fine. In fact, my body-mind was never quite the same. That cut on my ankle left a scar that remains to this day. I’ve not really enjoyed bike riding since. And in general, I don’t like going fast in any situation where I could easily end up on the ground.

I still have a vivid memory of that wipeout, and an eerie, out-of-body perspective on it — both hallmarks of post-traumatic experience.

And that’s the way I feel about 2020. Some serious $#!@ went down. A lot of us are still in the process of getting up. We’ll retain some painful memories and images we might rather forget. But we’ve gotten through. At least, if you’re reading this, you have.

Of course, a lot of people didn’t make it through. We lost a quarter of a million humans to COVID-19, and many more to violence, poverty, chronic diseases, cancers, accidents, stress, suicides, and all the other things that kill with abandon.

Many people who lost loved ones (as well as jobs, homes, life savings, and semesters of school) are grieving their losses so heavily, it’s hard for them to feel anything at all.

If you are one of those people, I want to tell you it is okay to feel sad today. It is okay to not be overflowing with joy, mirth, and gratitude.

I just lost a cousin to cancer. She was my age, an inspired artist, energetic, and evidently healthy — until she wasn’t. I knew that she had been sick these past few months, but I didn’t know how sick. I heard last week that she’d put herself into hospice. I heard yesterday that she was gone.

I couldn’t help but think: That could have been me.

I realize this isn’t the cheeriest Thanksgiving post, and if it feels like a lead-weighted downer amidst an effervescent burst of holiday cheer, I apologize. But the fact is, any of us might not have lived to see the end of 2020. Some of us still might not.

So, if you feel grateful about nothing else, I hope you are feeling glad to be alive, to be here and doing whatever is necessary for you to move forward and keep giving the best gifts you have to give in this lifetime.

Forward we go. Maybe with road rash. Maybe with a limp and some scars. But forward, with relief that our wounds haven’t been worse and that most of them can heal, or at least evolve over time.

Please know that I count you — my friends, readers, listeners, collaborators, co-conspirators, and fellow Healthy Deviants — among my greatest blessings. Because whether you know it or not, you give me good reasons to get up again and again, road rash and all.

Wishing you a real, beautiful Thanksgiving holiday.

Want more life-shifting wisdom?

Check out my book, The Healthy Deviant: A Rule Breaker’s Guide to Being Healthy in an Unhealthy World. You can get a free preview and find purchase links here. Thank you for supporting my work!

Three Easy Ways to Feel Better Fast

posted by Pilar Gerasimo 11/20/2020 0 comments

Been feeling a little frayed around the edges lately? Yah, me too.

We are living in physically, mentally, and emotionally dysregulating times. So if you want to feel better fast, re-regulation is the name of the game.

With that in mind, here are a few of my favorite ways to go from feeling frantic and discombobulated to centered, calm, and in full possession of myself — fast.

1) Try My Three-Minute “Morning Minutes” Practice

My three-Minute Morning Minutes practice is a total day changer. Try it!

You’ve probably heard that doing a morning meditation or having a morning ritual is a good idea. But if you’re like a lot of people, you might be struggling to make that happen.

Why? You might have made it more complicated than it needs to be. And thus, fitting it into your busy life is tough. You might also be in the habit of reaching for your phone first thing on waking. If so, I encourage you to challenge that habit, and I’ll give you a science-based reason for doing so.

When you first wake up, your brain is in a super-sensitive and receptive “theta” brainwave state. It is operating in a highly creative, impressionable mode between waking and sleeping, a mode in which your subconscious mind is accessible, and your emotional self is also rather vulnerable.

When you wake and go straight to your devices, you expose your still delicate self to an assault of world news, worries, to-do lists, manipulative ads, petty social media matters, and worse. You can easily throw your whole body into an inflammatory stress response before you’ve even gotten going.

So rather than letting the whole crazy, “out there” world come at you all at once, and letting it trigger you into reactive state before you are fully awake, I suggest you instead claim the first few minutes of your day for yourself.

Use these high-value (impressionable, creative, suggestible) moments to set your own goals and intentions, to establish a positive habits and mindsets, and to access your most creative, flexible patterns of thought and feeling.

I call this practice the Morning Minutes. It is one of three Renegade Rituals I swear by, and like the other two, it is delightfully simple.

How to Create Your Own Morning Minutes Practice

Right when you wake up, before you do anything else, simply give yourself the gift of coming into your waking state gradually — without any digital devices, electronics, or demands.

That’s it. Before looking at ANY screens, including news, social media, email or text messages, just use the first few minutes of your day to enjoy doing something (anything) that you find appealing. The more enticing something feels to you on that particular day, the better.

My agreement with myself is that I will do a minimum of three minutes in this mode, but you can extend it as long as you like. Keeping the base commitment short is the best way to avoid making it feel burdensome or like something you “don’t have time for” on a given day.

You DO have three minutes. And if you feel you can’t commit three minutes to your own mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing, it is worth challenging that belief or setting a new boundary so that you can.

What you do with your three minutes is entirely up to you. I usually light a beeswax candle and journal or play guitar or pet my dog while I sip a cup of really good coffee with heavy cream.

Sometimes I stay in bed for a little while, awake, just checking in with my own body and mind, stretching my limbs, and envisioning how I want the day to go.

On different days, I do different things: Sometimes I meditate, sometimes I do yoga, sometimes I step outside and look up at the sky. I never feel burdened or pressured to do or accomplish anything in particular — only what I feel like.

For me, noticing and honoring what I feel like doing is part of the practice.

Again, the key is this Morning Minutes ritual is doing it BEFORE you start looking at screens. That means before you start checking overnight alerts and notifications, before “just peeking” at the news or weather, before you start scrolling through social media feeds, email or text messages.

If you do any of that, you’ve let the “out there” world’s agenda for you into your sacred space, and you can pretty much kiss your theta state goodbye. Your brain will be in an executive-function beta state by then, and in that state, while Morning Minutes practice is still certainly worth doing, it won’t be the same.

Based on experience, I would also say your chances of successfully accomplishing your Morning Minutes practice diminish radically with each moment you spend plugged into mass media and mass society — or what I call the Unhealthy Default Reality.

You can get more guidance on my Morning Minutes practice in the “Morning” episode of The Living Experiment podcast I cohost with my friend Dallas Hartwig. Or you can watch this little video I made about it for my friends over at BOOM by Cindy Joseph. Or you can read about it in this excerpt of my book, as recently featured over at

In my book, The Healthy Deviant, I also supply some fun tools for establishing your Morning Minutes practice, and for tracking your success with it over time.

Whatever you do, DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF THIS PRACTICE. I know it sounds like a tiny thing, but I have heard from hundreds of people that this single, simple, three-minute ritual has changed their lives in wonderful, radical ways.

Try it and see for yourself. And, hey, don’t be surprised if NOT reaching for your phone first thing turns out to be a whole lot harder than you thought.

2) Establish a sensory haven.

a pitbull under a blanket on a couch relaxing
Calvin, my pit bull pal, is an ace at creating sensory havens for himself. This is his “I just need a little nap” look.

We all need a place where we can withdraw from the Unhealthy Default Reality, and recover from its overwhelming, undermining influences. We need a place where we can reset our brains, calm our nerves, and remind ourselves that things are, in fact, going to be okay.

I call that sort of place a sensory haven.

Even if your sensory haven sits within a single room (or under a blanket, or in a bathtub) and even if you can only avail yourself of it for a few minutes a day, make a point of consciously creating a sense-nourishing atmosphere that lets you relax into a sense of “aaaah.”

How to Create Your Sensory Haven

Choose a space that you can generally control, and where you feel safe. Create some physical or psychic boundaries to define and protect it.

When you are using this special space in haven mode, silence the phone. Have no media playing in the background, except maybe some beautiful, calming, centering music of your choosing.

Surround yourself with good smells. Soft lighting. Cleared surfaces. Serene or vibrant colors. Comforting textures.

Sit in a comfy chair. Swaddle yourself in a quilt. Or just lie down, close your eyes, and breathe.

Yes, the world is straight-up wacky a lot of the time. Yes, there’s always going to be more to do. But remember: It is also your birthright to just be. To go slow. To pause. To enjoy. To process.

 Your body-mind needs that. It really needs that.

Think about it. Your eyes blink open AND closed. Your heart valves move blood in AND out. Every system in your body oscillates between active and restful, between effort and recovery, between full and empty.

Always on, always pushing ahead, always taking on more without fully processing — that just does not work. You are managing a lot right now. So create some time and space for recovery, too.

One of my favorite “sensory haven” tools is an album-length piece of music called Roots and Branches by artist and therapist David Lauterstein. It is an uninterrupted, hour-long track of gorgeous, resonant, super-serene acoustic guitar music. Just one instrument playing one gradually evolving melody at one consistent, heart-beat paced rhythm.

I never tire of this piece. Just hearing its opening notes makes me feel instantly better, more “rooted” and more human — even on my weirdest, most disrupted days.

If you listen to Roots and Branches and enjoy it, please support David Lauterstein’s work by ordering a copy of his CD from his website. As he explains there, all the copies available elsewhere online are pirated. (Even though he kindly makes the whole track available for free on YouTube. Seriously. Gah.)

3) Take yourself for a no-phone walk in the great outdoors.

Taking a no-phone walk gives you a chance to put your attention on real, simple, present-moment pleasures.

If I had to choose between the gym and a brisk walk, I’d choose the walk every time. Walks come with so many bonuses and benefits — particularly when you leave your electronics behind.

Bundle up if you need to, and then get OUT. Look OUT. Look UP. Breathe in. Breathe out. Revel in the fact that you are here and you are alive.

Carry only what you must. Leave biometric gadgets, and all your other noise-making, distracting electronic thingamabobs behind.

If you can only make 10 minutes, fine. If you can go for 20 minutes or a half hour or longer, even better.

If you feel you can’t safely go for even a short walk (even around the block) without your phone, first, notice that (the Unhealthy Default Reality at work!). Then put your phone in a zip-top bag inside another bag with a rubber band wrapped around it tight, so you are less tempted to reflexively (addictively) reach for your device or have your attention held hostage by it the entire time.

Be in your animal body. Sniff the air. Open your ears to the wind and the flutter of living things. Make eye contact with other animals (including humans), plants, clouds, puddles of water and sunshine.

Make heart contact with yourself. Smile at some folks. Let your random thoughts flop around in your too-full brain until they quiet themselves down and begin to re-order themselves.

Notice who you are when you are unplugged, unburdened, free to connect with yourself and the real, embodied world around you.

Give these three practices a try, solo or in combination, for a few days running and let me know how it goes. My hope is that they will leave you feeling less frazzled, less world weary, and more capable of handling whatever comes next.

Want more life-shifting wisdom?

Check out my book, The Healthy Deviant: A Rule Breaker’s Guide to Being Healthy in an Unhealthy World. You can get a free preview and find purchase links here. Thank you for supporting my work!

Listen to Episode

Ten Tips for Staying Healthy — No Matter What

posted by Pilar Gerasimo 02/19/2019 0 comments

Many years ago, I gave a lunchtime talk — “Staying Healthy Under Pressure” — for the ABC News team in New York City. As it happened, the day I presented was the same day the United States announced its restoration of full diplomatic ties with Cuba.

It was, in other words, a breaking-news day. I remember from my brief sojourn at the Huffington Post what those days are like: Totally nuts.

It’s a scenario to which virtually any hardworking person can relate. Unexpected things happen in the midst of already-stressful conditions, progressively nudging us toward our last frayed edge. And through all this, we’re expected to perform at our best.

Every day, we are all pushed and pulled in so many different directions. A lot of us seem to be living from one crisis to the next. And yet somehow, damn the torpedoes, we also gotta be thinking about our health.

Because let’s face it, once our health starts to go, we’ve got a whole new set of crises on our hands. Among other things, we’re likely to find ourselves wading through the difficult choices and alienating bureaucracies of our country’s broken healthcare system.

And all of those important things we have to do? Yeah, they suddenly get a whole lot harder.

How Can We Hope to Cope?

Welcome to one of the central conundrums of our time: How can we safeguard the vitality that is so critical to our effectiveness while living in a society that works against our health AND regularly stretches us well beyond our natural capacity?

This is the head-scratcher around which I wrote my 2020 book, The Healthy Deviant: A Rule Breaker’s Guide to Being Healthy in an Unhealthy World. But even back in 2014, I was talking about it with the folks at ABC .

Here are 10 survival tips I shared with them back then, and that I believe will work just as well for you now :

1. Take three minutes in the morning for you. I call this my Morning Minutes practice, and it’s one of three Renegade Rituals I see as the bedrock essentials of Healthy Deviance. Before you check your digital devices or turn on any other electronics or media (especially the news!), simply spend a few minutes doing something low key that you enjoy. Light a candle, step outside to look up at the sky, pet your dog, check in with your body-mind. Or just sit with a cup of coffee or tea and enjoy the feeling of your body-mind coming into waking gradually. Cultivating even a few moments of sanity and autonomy first thing in the morning can alter the way you relate to the rest of your day.

2. Make and eat a whole-foods breakfast. Try my “Quick-Trick Snack Stack” for a no-cook alternative, or fry up an egg and some greens. Either meal will fuel your body for hours and give you the nutrition your brain needs to operate well.

3. Take your vitamins. Your body goes through B-vitamins and many other nutrients at a much faster clip when you are stressed, and being short on essential nutrients can radically diminish your mental and physical capacity. So even if you’re eating a healthy diet, it’s wise to supplement with some basics. A multivitamin, multimineral, vitamin D, and essential-fatty-acid supplement proves a good basic combo for most — but of course, check with a qualified health professional to be sure.

4. Keep protein-rich snacks or a protein drink mix with you at work. Protein staves of hunger, helps balance blood sugar, and safeguards your lean tissue. So favor proteins, veggies, and healthy fats (like avocados or nut butters) over chips, cereals, crackers, or granola bars. Blood-sugar crashes and carb cravings will become a thing of the past, and your brain will thank you for the extra amino acids.

5. Master a few body-weight exercises you can do anywhere and do mini-sets between meetings or as mid-project  breaks. I like planks, pushups, wall squats, and lunges. Good news: Recent research published in the December issue of the journal Nature suggests that even a few single-minute bouts of exercise can make a big difference to your overall mortality risk — and they’ll help you feel and function better right now, too.

6. Set a timer to trigger 15-to-20 minute breaks (what I call Ultradian Rhythm Breaks, or URBs) every two hours. This will help keep your body from building up inflammatory stress byproducts and improve your ability to bounce back from the day’s demands. URBs also prime your body and brain to operate at peak effectiveness throughout the day, improving mood and creativity, reducing errors and accidents, regulating blood sugar and hormones, and supporting healthy metabolism.

7. Take a weekly yoga, meditation, or relaxation class — even if it’s in place of a fitness class. You might also schedule some recurring bodywork sessions (massage, cranial sacral, etc.) if you can afford that. But if you can’t, don’t let that stop you from taking what I call “Just Lie Down” breaks. The more your stress-fueled sympathetic (fight-or-flight) nervous system is activated, the more you need to nudge your parasympathetic (rest-relax-digest-and-connect) nervous system to offset inflammation and angst.

8. Keep a water bottle with a squeeze of lemon, splash of juice, or slice of cucumber within reach at all times. Plain water is okay, but adding that little touch of flavor sets up a “return to substance” relationship between your brain and the water. As a result, you’ll sip more regularly throughout the day, stay better hydrated, and function better. You might also find this help ward off headaches (where dehydration is a well recognized trigger).

9. Use your commute to decompress versus multitask. Transition time is hugely valuable time. And the absolute best thing you can do with it might very well be nothing at all — thereby giving your brain and body a chance to unwind. Drive or ride in silence for a while, practice deep breathing, or listen to something calming rather than being in continuous contact with your handheld or shoveling more information into your already overloaded brain. Your body-mind is probably already overloaded, and it desperately needs quiet time to process and organize what’s in there!

10. See symptoms as signals for change. If you’re doing all of the above regularly and still suffering, trust that that’s your body’s way of letting you know its needs are not being met. You are suffering from what I call “Pissed-Off Body Syndrome” (use my Weird-Symptom Checklist to assess your current score). Make it your business to find out what shifts are necessary for you to bring your body back to its happy place. Then do those things.

I realize that last suggestion is a whole lot easier said than done. Frankly, none of us came into this world prepared to live the way we are living now. And since our world is changing so fast, learning the skills necessary to survive and thrive has become a lifetime endeavor.

The more stress you’re under, the more important those skills become. So there’s no better time than now to start raising your game.

For more on how to do just that, check out my book, The Healthy Deviant; my podcast, The Living Experiment, or join my 4-phase “Healthy Deviant U” program

Revolutionary Act 35: Move It Out

posted by Pilar Gerasimo 08/23/2017 0 comments

Let’s talk a bit about poo. Oh, you’d rather not? I understand. It’s not something most of us would choose to discuss in polite company.

But I really hope you’ll at least consider what I have to say on the topic, and here’s why: As it relates to your health, what exits your body is just as important as what goes in.

Your poo offers a view into your state of well-being. Basically, if the stuff coming out of you isn’t in optimal form, it suggests that some things inside of you aren’t going as well as they could, either.

The problem is, we rarely talk about our bowel movements (except in those families where they are discussed endlessly), so most people don’t have a lot of information to draw on regarding what is and is not considered good in the world of poo.

That’s actually quite a complex scientific subject, because at the biochemical level, there’s a lot going on in our waste that the naked eye can’t see.

Viewed under a powerful-enough microscope, a stool sample can reveal the health of the intestinal system, the quality of our digestion and nutrient assimilation, food sensitivities, our bodywide levels of inflammation, and the presence of certain pathogens, cancers, autoimmune disorders, and more.

Then there’s the study of the microbiome, that community of microorganisms that live in and on our bodies. Microbiome research — much of which relies on close examination of stool samples — is rapidly advancing, and it’s revealing that the balance of flora and fauna in our intestinal systems can have a huge impact not just on bowel health but on virtually every other part of physical and mental well-being.

So, poo matters way more than you might think. In fact, it is so powerful that many doctors now employ it as a medication, introducing healthy stool samples into beleaguered intestinal tracts (a procedure known as a fecal transplant) to help repopulate them with good bacteria.

This strategy is now being used to resolve a range of stubborn medical conditions (including, but not limited to, bowel disorders) that other medical interventions fail to treat.

Researchers are also exploring what they call the gut–brain axis, and finding that the balance of microorganisms in the gut can powerfully affect the brain, mood, and behavior, potentially playing a significant role in depression and anxiety.

There’s so much fascinating science to explore in this realm, but even without advanced lab testing, it’s possible to learn a lot about the state of your body by simply observing and evaluating your own poo situation on a daily basis.

Forgive me as I get a bit graphic here (and perhaps don’t read this while you are eating), but the specifics really matter.

Too often, when doctors ask their patients about their bowel movements, they get stock, flustered answers like, “Er, normal, I guess,” simply because most of us have never been educated about what “normal” means in this context.

It’s important to note that poo does vary from person to person, so generalizations can be dicey, but there are some guidelines that go for just about everybody. Three of the most easily discerned factors to consider are form, frequency, and comfort.


A healthy bowel movement is generally semisoft (vs. hard, pelletized, or liquid), and it comes out in a single continuous curve or coil that reflects the curving shape of your colon. (A disgusting but helpful reference point: A good poo comes out of your body kind of like firm, soft-serve ice cream comes out of a dispenser. Sorry, I know, so gross — but true.)

If it is a mixture of solid and liquid, that comes out in clumps, or that alternates between very hard and very soft, that suggests something in your system is wonky.

Similarly, if you see undigested food particles, or a floating haze of what looks like oil or mucus, that could be a sign you’re not breaking down and absorbing nutrients as well as you could be.

The form, texture, and color of your poo is often a direct reflection of what you have been recently eating and drinking. So, occasional poo weirdness may just be an indication your body isn’t wild about its recent care and feeding.

But ongoing, observable poo problems can be a reflection of more serious and chronic health issues, including food sensitivities, infections, microbiome imbalances, compromised bowel mechanics, and more.

The presence of blood in your stool (which may show up as red or black) can indicate problems at various stages of your digestive tract, and is best evaluated by a health professional.

If you tend to flush without looking, you may not recognize any of these signals. So basically, when you go, you gotta look.


While a daily poo is the standard for most people, a lot of progressive health professionals consider that a bare minimum.

Aiming for the smooth and steady transport of your food through the digestive system, they would prefer to see you go two or even three times a day, or as often as you eat a meal.

Logically, it makes sense that your body might be happiest eliminating batches of solids in more or less the same rhythm as it consumes them. But feeling an urgent need to go more frequently than that (or at alarming and unanticipated intervals) may be a sign that your digestion is off, that you ate something that disagrees with you, that you are overstressed, or that your bowel is irritated and inflamed.

Having less than one good bowel movement a day may suggest a holdup in the digestive system, which could be due to a variety of dietary and lifestyle factors, such as inadequate hydration, nutrients, or fiber; excess stress; or unidentified food intolerances (gluten and dairy being prime culprits for many).

Both overactive and sluggish bowel activity can produce all kinds of trouble over time, from skin issues to bodywide inflammation to chronic disease, so if you aren’t currently in a happy cadence with your bowel movements, it’s worth investigating and resolving the source of that trouble.


How you feel before, during, and after your bowel movements (as well as how you feel about them) may actually be the ultimate consideration.

Bowel movements are meant to be easy, quick, painless, and anxiety-free endeavors. If they’re not, don’t panic. There are lots of things you can do to resolve your issues.

The first thing to know: What-ever you find worrisome about your poo — whether that’s not being able to go, or being stressed by gassiness, bloating, or unexpected-poo surprises — it’s not something you have to tolerate.

On the contrary, it’s something to acknowledge as a stress signal from your body and explore further, perhaps with a qualified integrative physician or other digestive-health professional.

Seek out a partner who will help you address the root cause of your problem, not just the symptoms, because whatever is messing with your poo is probably also messing with a lot of your bodily functions.

The sooner you get the health of your digestive system handled, the sooner you’ll start to feel healthy, strong, energetic, and clear. You still might not want to talk a lot about poo, but you’ll have a lot more respect for the essential role it plays in your life.

Revolutionary Act 36: Read Labels

posted by Pilar Gerasimo 08/18/2017 0 comments

Revolutionary Act 34: Go for Quality, Not Quantity

posted by Pilar Gerasimo 07/12/2017 0 comments

You know one phrase that has always bothered me? “Portion control.” Blech. There’s just something so judgmental and white-knuckled about it.

To me, it speaks of food meted out with equal parts precision and disapproval. It smacks of appetites denied, hands reaching for seconds and being slapped away. It sounds “hangry.”

Still, for as much as the phrase portion control might rub me the wrong way, I find the prospect of totally out-of-control portions to be similarly disconcerting.

Here in the United States, the latter problem seems to be the more pressing public-health threat. But, in fact, I think they are inherently intertwined.

A 2015 study reported in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that 92 percent of restaurant meals served in this country significantly “exceeded typical energy requirements for a single eating occasion.” Look, I know it’s probably no newsflash that a lot of the restaurant meals eaten in this country are calorically overdense. But 92 percent? That’s a lot.

And that eating overload isn’t just happening at restaurants. It’s occurring in many homes, where prepared, packaged, and takeout foods now dominate kitchen tables — if anybody even eats at tables anymore.

It also holds sway in many workplaces, where all-day grazing, snacking, and sweet-beverage-guzzling are now the norm. Of course, it’s encouraged just about everywhere in between: Starbucks recently introduced a new, 31-ounce Trenta serving option; and cookies the size of your face are routinely offered for “grab-and-g0” at checkout counters.

As a fleet of respected researchers and authors, including Michael Moss, Michael Pollan, Gary Taubes, and Brian Wansink, have suggested, these over-eating trends have been designed into our food culture by industrial interests that have a lot to gain by getting us to eat — and buy — ever more.

They’ve done that by exploiting our natural eating preferences and manipulating them toward increasingly salty, sweet, and engineered-to-be-irresistible flavors and textures.

They’ve done it by providing us with huge serving sizes at seemingly bargain-basement prices (thanks mostly to industrial-agricultural subsidies financed by taxpayers).

And they’ve done it by lobbying intensively to make sure their business models (which include aggressive marketing to children and teens) aren’t effectively challenged.

Both the reengineering of our palates and the expansion of standard portions have grown more extreme over the past few decades, indelibly altering what several generations have come to think of as “normal” food products, serving sizes, and eating patterns.

The result, not surprisingly, is that we are now eating an astonishing quantity of food. Well, some food.

Just as the rampant overeating of heavily processed foods poses a serious threat to our health, it seems likely that the rampant undereating of whole foods (like the brightly colored vegetables that have been all but crowded out of our daily diets) may soon be understood as an equally grave threat.

Why? Because a lot of those healthy foods quell inflammation, issue healing instructions, and keep our genes functioning properly. Without them, even though our plates may be piled high, our bodies remain undernourished. Even as a great many of us surpass our daily calorie quotas, a bunch of our cellular functions, genetic circuitry, and metabolic pathways are scrounging for raw materials.

Data from the Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee suggests that a significant percentage of U.S. adults aren’t getting the National Academy of Medicine’s (NAM) estimated average requirements of vitamins A, D, E, and C, as well as folate, calcium, magnesium, and fiber.

Relative to our heavy intake of omega-6 fatty acids (prevalent in most commercial vegetable oils, processed foods, fast foods, and meats), our ratio of omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish, grassfed meats, nuts, seeds, and avocados) is, according to guidance from the NAM, woefully low.

In the realm of nutrition — as in all realms — both “not enough” and “too much” of anything can spell trouble. Unfortunately, we live in a food world that can make it hard to find the middle ground between these extremes.

So how do we make sense of our own appetites? How do we make peace with what often feels like an  uncontrollable desire to eat more than our bodies know how to handle? And at the same time, how do we get more in touch with our bodies’ healthy cravings — the ones telling us we actually need more of some things, not less?

I think it comes down to a reprioritizing of quality over quantity, and a refining of the ability to differentiate between the two.

That, in turn, calls for both exposure and experimentation. So here are a few great places to start:

1. If you’re ready to go all in, try a Whole30. Basically, this involves 30 days of eating high-quality whole foods while simultaneously eliminating grains, dairy, added sugars, caffeine, alcohol, soy, and corn (more at Too intense? Consider embarking on a more inclusive whole-food eating strategy (like Harvard nutritionist David Ludwig’s Always Hungry? program) that encourages you to eat a plethora of nutrition-dense foods while also helping you master some essential healthy-eating skills in the process.

2. Add before you remove. If you’re not interested in a full-scale eating intervention, try a more nuanced approach. Rather than restricting the foods you are currently eating, try adding moderate to generous helpings of healthy whole foods (especially nonstarchy vegetables and healthy fats) to the mix. Add a big green salad or an extra serving of colorful veggies with olive oil and lemon to as many meals as you can. Have an avocado or a can of sardines for a snack. As your nutrition and fiber intake increase, your body will naturally recalibrate, steadying your energy and appetite, reducing your cravings, and making it easier to manage subsequent nutritional adjustments.

3. Reverse ratios. Often, when we are presented with problematically big portions, the substrate is a cheap, grain-based filler — pasta, rice, bread, pastry, cereal, or pizza crust. More nutritious and flavorful ingredients (like fresh produce) are presented as toppings, flavorings, or mere condiments. Try reversing these proportions, and notice how it influences your eating experiences. If you have a robust serving of vegetables with meat or plant-sourced protein as a base, could you enjoy a smaller serving of pasta on the side? For breakfast, could you dig into a generous bowl of berries, nuts, and seeds with just a handful of cereal sprinkled over the top? With enough yummy fillings, could you have your sandwich open-faced, or tucked into a big romaine leaf rather than a grain-based wrap? Try a few swaps and see what happens.

4. Get comfortable with the cost-benefit tradeoffs. High-quality whole foods often, but not always, cost more than cheap commodity ingredients. But by helping you stay healthier and more satisfied, they deliver a better value over time. (For more on that, check out my last column, “Revolutionary Act No. 33: Care Where Food Comes From.”) Be willing to invest in healthy foods that taste great, even if it means enjoying them in smaller quantities.

Finally, if you do nothing else, just start noticing. Notice the nature of the foods in front of you. Notice how you feel when you eat them. And notice how, as you embrace foods that nourish your senses and your health, concerns with portion control begin to fall away, revealing new adventures in eating enjoyment.

Revolutionary Act 33: Care Where Food Comes From

posted by Pilar Gerasimo 06/29/2017 0 comments

Once upon a time, we humans knew where every single bite of our food came from. For about 2.5 million years, we knew either because we hunted or foraged for it ourselves, or because somebody we knew intimately hunted or foraged for it on our behalf.

Then came the Agricultural Revolution: About 10,000 years ago, for the first time, we started growing and storing grains in significant quantities, domesticating animals for food and milk, and amassing surpluses for storage and trade.

Our diets shifted dramatically as a result. But for a long while afterward, we still had a good sense of where our food came from. Because whatever we weren’t hunting and foraging, we were probably growing and raising for ourselves. Or we were getting it from someone who lived nearby — likely somebody with whom we had some sort of direct relationship.

Over the course of the past thousand years — particularly in the past hundred and most radically in the past 60 — all of that has changed. Very suddenly, in evolutionary terms, after millions of years of humans having a close, direct relationship with their food, that sort of relation-ship became exceedingly rare.

How did this happen? First, a great many of us moved from the wilderness and small villages into bigger cities, places distant from where most foods were found, raised, and grown.

Next, as trade advanced, we were no longer as dependent on local sources. As industrialization and mechanization advanced, we found more efficient ways of mass producing and processing raw ingredients into a wide array of food products with less resemblance to their original form.

It’s only in the past few generations that we’ve become accustomed to eating food grown, raised, or produced by total strangers so far away, and by methods so mechanized and industrialized that we often can’t even tell precisely (or even generally) what our food contains.

In the process, we lost track of where our food comes from — not just geographically but elementally. We lost our consciousness of the nature of food, of the places where our meats and plant foods originate, of how they are raised, and of the eco-systems on which they depend.

Where does meat come from? From the store. On a Styrofoam tray wrapped in plastic. Or from a freezer box, in microwavable nuggets. Where do vegetables come from? From a shelf, can, bag, or box — perhaps prechopped or precooked. And then there’s all those other things we eat: boxed, bagged, shrink-wrapped, factory-produced concoctions of various kinds.

Most of us no longer know how a lot of our foods look on the hoof or on the vine. As chef Jamie Oliver -famously illustrated, many of our school-age children can’t tell a tomato from a potato (much less identify which grows above ground and which grows below).

We don’t know much of anything about our foods’ life cycles, or the conditions of their development. We don’t know what inputs of human and mechanical energy were required to plant, raise, or harvest them.

And unless we are buying them directly from a farmer or some other source we know and trust, we probably have little idea what drugs, pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals might have been involved in our foods’ production.

There are a great many downsides to this — horrific animal cruelty, human-rights abuses, environmental damage, nutritional degradation, food waste, loss of eating pleasure.

Arguably, though, there’s one powerful upside: Our food is cheap. Very cheap, historically speaking.

We may complain bitterly about “whole paycheck” prices, but Ameri-cans today spend only a fraction of what they spent 50 years ago on food as a percentage of their total income.

And while we spend a lot more on processed products, prepared foods, and restaurant meals, Americans spend less per capita on home-cooked food than the citizens of virtually any country in the world.

Why? We simply don’t buy many whole foods, we hardly ever cook at home, and most of the foods we do buy come from the massive, -automated, efficiency-focused machine known as industrial agriculture.

The net result: Most of us have little idea what we are actually eating.

We’re not terribly invested in the quality, safety, fairness, or sustainability of the systems that produce our food. We are unaware of the true costs and externalities of the cheaply priced food products we see piled to the ceilings in big-box grocery stores. And that makes us — and our food systems — vulnerable indeed.

So, how can you build more care into your relationship with food in general? My top five suggestions:

1. Act in your own self-interest. Responsibly raised food is safer, more nutritious, and better tasting by far. It’s also way better for the air, water, and soil; for the pollinators and microbiota that support your food supply; and for countless other factors that determine not just your health but your quality of life and the stability of your economy, your community, and more. When you invest in sustainable, ethical food systems, you invest in your own vitality and in vitality on a grand scale.

2. Be willing to pay a bit more. Conventionally produced food is artificially cheap because the true costs are pawned off on the environment, taxpayers, underpaid workers, and more. You pay those costs and are exposed to those negative effects in a dozen different ways. So you’re much better off paying a bit more on the front end and enjoying the myriad benefits of higher-quality, responsibly raised food.

3. Be willing to pay a bit less. Most heavily processed products (like breakfast cereals, lunch meats, fast food, and soft drinks) are ridiculously overpriced relative to their nutritional value. Transfer some of your processed-food budget toward better-quality whole foods, and value-wise, you’ll be way ahead of the game. Procure local, seasonal, organic, and transitional foods from farmers’ markets, CSAs, and buying clubs, and you’ll enjoy even more exceptional food bargains.

 4. Make a personal connection. Knowing even a single real-life farmer, or visiting the source of even one of your favorite animal or vegetable foods, can radically alter the way you think about the nature and value of food in general. Grow even a single tomato for yourself, and you’ll experience an incomparable thrill. By contrast, visiting, say, an industrial turkey-processing plant (or even driving by an animal-containment lot with your car windows open) can put you off -factory-farmed, commodity meats forever.

 5. Accept the tension inherent in eating. Given how ugly our current conventional food system is, it’s understandable that a lot of people have been opting out of an increasing array of foods they see as unethical, unhealthy, or just plain unappealing. But that’s also given rise to a puritanical eating approach in which virtually nothing is deemed edible, and ortho-rexic self-starvation seems like the only alternative. Clearly, this is not the answer.

The truth is, there is no diet that is 100 percent “pure” or ethically perfect. Plants and animals die every day so that all of us — even hardcore vegans — can eat. (For more on that, see Lierre Keith’s The Vegetarian Myth.) And when we die, we become food for other creatures. You can find that horrible, or beautiful, or both. But you can’t avoid it.

Caring where your food comes from won’t fix everything. It can, however, make the whole process of eating more meaningful, more just, and more nourishing for all involved.

The (Slow) Way of The Healthy Deviant

posted by Pilar Gerasimo 05/30/2017 0 comments

Man, this book I am writing (The Healthy Deviant: A Rule-Breaker’s Guide to Being Weirdly Radiant, Resilient, and Good in Your Own Skin) is kicking my butt.

It feels like it’s taking for-freaking-ever, in part because I’m a slow, “perfect preparer” type, and in part because when I started, I committed to doing this thing while continuing to walk my healthy talk.

From commiserating with fellow book authors, I know that many don’t manage that.

Instead, while furiously writing and rewriting, they often stop moving, stop sleeping, stop eating, stop reading their mail, stop relating to the other humans in their life.

Some also acquire auto-immune disorders, migraines, insomnia, and anxiety problems. Or they start losing their eyelashes, like I once did.

I was determined not to let my own writing experience go that way. It’s just another example of “normal” that I’m not signing up for, thank you very much.

And yet: Every night, as I drift off, I find myself rearranging chapters. Every morning, I wake with the realization that I must rephrase some sentence or re-draft some illustration.

Some days, I put in so much butt time that I feel my butt is going to sleep.

Other days, I struggle with my perfectionism so mightily (we just released an episode of The Living Experiment on that!) that I can’t seem to let a single paragraph go. Sigh.

And then, every once in a while, when I’m not writing, I’m struck by an idea of such urgency and clarity that I feel I have to race to my keyboard to capture the thought while it’s still cogent. (If you’ve seen Elizabeth Gilbert’s great TED Talk where she describes poet Ruth Stone’s “running like hell” to capture a creative idea before it disappears, you know what I’m talking about.)

The good news is: I am making progress! I’ve got the Core Competencies and Backbone Practices of Healthy Deviance nailed, and now (for relief) I’m working on a light-hearted “Are You a Healthy Deviant?” quiz.

I’m posing some questions like these:

  • Do you take a lot of proactive steps to safeguard your health, including some steps not promoted by large, authoritative organizations?
  • Do you actively challenge or reject the health-sapping norms, social expectations, and values of our unhealthy culture?
  • Do you sometimes encounter resistance, judgment, derision, or feel stigmatized as the result of your socially-odd but healthy choices?
  • When you meet with resistance, do you just keep on doing your own healthy thing anyway?

Yes to any of those? Congrats, you’re probably some sort of Healthy Deviant (I’m characterizing a few different types).

For those of you who’ve been asking for a sneak preview of more of book-related content, I shall direct you, for now, to these resources:

Finally, for those of you who’ve asked about Healthy Deviant t-shirts, yes, I’ve got those, too!

THD TshirtsI’m giving ’em away free to the first 10 people who self-identify as Healthy Deviants, and at cost after that (open to suggestions on colors — I’ve got blue and black right now, in women’s and men’s styles, sizes small through extra large).

Thanks for hanging in there with me these past couple years (oy!), and for all your support and encouragement. I’ll have more news and more Healthy Deviant content to share soon.

Please follow my Healthy Deviant Facebook page to stay up to date on all that goodness. And subscribe to The Living Experiment podcast, where I talk about this stuff (with my super co-host Dallas Hartwig) every week.

Okay, and now: Back to writing.

Revolutionary Act 32: Savor What You Eat

posted by Pilar Gerasimo 05/25/2017 0 comments

For all our obsessing about what we eat, we pay comparatively little attention to how we eat. And that’s too bad, because our unconscious, stressed, rushed, lonely, and compulsive approach to eating is probably doing more damage to our collective health than our Cinnabon, Krispy Kreme, and Cronut obsessions combined.

First, some science: Just as the nutrients you put into your body create a certain biochemical reality, so do the mindset, attitude, and physical posture you hold while eating.

This is a physiological fact — if you eat while you are hurried, hunched, anxious, and not breathing deeply, your body is going to respond by releasing a cascade of chemicals characteristic of the stress response.

Research shows that stress is inherently antithetical to good digestion and nutrient assimilation. It disrupts metabolism and promotes inflammatory responses throughout the body.

Plus, if you rush, worry, multitask, or zone out while you’re eating, you’re going to be much less likely to fully see, taste, smell, chew, and enjoy your food. That can have a big impact on not just on how well you assimilate your nutrients but whether or not your brain registers your eating experience as a nourishing and satisfying one.

Setting the sheer pleasure of eating aside for moment (don’t worry, we’ll come back to it), let’s focus on the importance of the see-smell-chew-taste process in how your body regulates food intake.

Digestion begins in the mouth, where the brain engages a complex sensory system to assess the biochemical makeup of the food passing under your nose, across your tongue, and past your esophagus.

Your body then releases digestive enzymes, adjusts metabolic gears, and begins sending signals of satiety (fullness or satisfaction) based on what it registers coming across that transom.

But when you gobble your food, or swallow it without having put much conscious attention on it, that complex and sensitive system doesn’t have a chance to fully engage.

As a result, your body is less capable of accurately tracking and optimally processing both the energetic value (i.e., calories) and the nutritional content of the food you are eating.

This means you’re going to have a tendency to eat more. It also means your body is going to be less capable of extracting the full nutritive value of whatever you ingest.

In keeping with the dictates of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, your body will respond very differently — digestively, hormonally, and metabolically — to food eaten in a panicked fight-or-flight mode than it will to food eaten in a mellow, rest-and-digest mode.

Thanks in part to the actions of hormones like cortisol, adrenaline, insulin, and ghrelin, food eaten in a rushed or stressed state is far more likely to a) cause indigestion, b) be stored as fat, and c) leave you feeling hungry again much sooner. If you want to understand the many reasons why, see “Revolutionary Resources,” below.

Meanwhile, if you need still more reason to take your food-savoring more seriously, consider this: When meals are taken as relaxing, socially satisfying breaks from hyperintense, task-driven parts of our day, they serve as “ultradian-rhythm breaks.” (For more on how these fascinating, oscillating energy patterns work, listen to the “Pause” episode of The Living Experiment podcast, available on iTunes.)

But when we eat at our desks, on the go, or while distracted by other efforts and concerns, our sympathetic nervous systems never get a break. This always-on state contributes to elevated levels of stress hormones, negatively affecting our blood sugar and insulin levels.

That means that as the day wears on, you’re going to be increasingly inclined to eat more of the things that stressed bodies crave, like refined carbohydrates and sweets.

Alternatively, if you are one of those people who respond to stress by losing their appetite or forgetting to eat, you’re that much more likely to wind up in a low-blood-sugar situation where, by the time you do eat, you’re famished or desperate enough that you hardly care what you put in your mouth.

Given all of this, it’s odd that we don’t more highly value conscious eating as an essential healthy-living skill. And it’s dismaying how little energy and attention our culture puts on creating sane, well-paced, and pleasurable eating.

Goodness knows, most of the food-consuming experiences our children are having are not preparing them for a future of conscious eating. And as adults, most of us aren’t winning any awards for modeling ideal eating behaviors, either.

So, what can you do to improve your own approach to eating, and perhaps encourage others to join you? Here are my top suggestions:

1. Focus.

Eliminate all screens from your eating environment. That means no TV, no computer, no smartphone, no iPad. I’d skip books, magazines, and newspapers, too. Forget multitasking entirely. Research suggests that you’ll be more productive if you take mealtime breaks than if you work through them. And you’ll eat and digest better, too.

2. Slow down.

If you’re like most people, in the moments leading up to your meal, you’ve probably been moving at lightning speed, so slowing your pace might take conscious effort at first. That’s OK. Chill. Relax. Tell yourself you are not in a hurry. Put your fork down between bites.

 3. Sit tall and still.

The physical posture you take sends your nervous system (and thus your digestive system) powerful messages. So avoid eating in “Go!” position (upper body hunched forward, head low over your food, the plate just inches from your mouth). Instead, strive to eat in a semiregal yet relaxed “still” position: Butt fully on the chair; both feet flat on the floor; body erect; the back of your tongue and the center of your throat lined up directly above your shoulders. Notice how this creates a nice gravity-driven path for your swallowed food to follow, and how it introduces a sense of calm.

 4. Breathe.

Many people unconsciously hold their breath while eating, and this fuels the body’s stress response. Instead, take some deep breaths before you begin your meal, then continue to breathe deeply through your nose while you chew. Focus on taking three or more slow, deep breaths (in and out) per bite.

 5. Take small bites.

Aim for bites no bigger than the top segment of your thumb. Taking too-huge bites inhibits your chewing and inclines you to swallow larger quantities of food without fully tasting them.

6. Chew.

Chew more than you think you need to. Then keep on chewing until your food is in a smooth, liquid state. You might be amazed how much this improves your digestion and decreases your tendency to overeat.

 7. Enjoy.

Savor the experience of the aroma, appearance, flavor, and texture of your food. Rather than just letting each bite race past your senses in a big blur, reach for subtle flavors. Above all, eat with love and appreciation — for your food, yourself, and your dining companions.

If it helps, keep this list with you, or make a list of your own to review before mealtimes. If you integrate even one of these practices at each meal, you’ll soon notice you’re not only tasting more, and eating more wisely, but you’re experiencing the how of eating in a whole new way.