When I thought long and hard about relaunching this site, one of the articles that absolutely had to come back was How She Does It. I want to celebrate us, ladies. I want to highlight the vast experience and diversity of thoughts, ideas, and successes we have. I want you to come to this site and take what serves you, leave what doesn’t. We deserve to live a life that is happy, joyous, and what WE want it to be. That means I get to tackle some of the things other people don’t want to talk about, like eating disorders.
This interview is with my friend and colleague, Alexis Wolfer. Alexis is a REAL human being: funny, warm, caring, and COMPLETELY forthright. She’s extremely accomplished: a Certified Holistic Health Coach, the founder of the lifestyle site The Beauty Bean, and is a pretty well-known beauty and lifestyle expert who’s appeared on the Today Show, E!, The Doctors, NBC, CBS, ABC and FOX. Oh, and she’s also the author of two books,
The Recipe for Radiance: Discover Nature’s Best-Kept Secrets in Your Kitchen, and Radiant Bride: The Beauty, Diet, Fitness, and Fashion Plan for Your Big Day (Running Press, 2014 and 2016, respectively.)
Be warned: this article contains some real talk: honest, forthright, and uncensored. But most importantly, this is a conversation SO MANY OF US need to be having. What I hope to do is start a much-needed conversation on how so many women (myself included) have fallen prey to unrealistic standards of beauty, body image, and food. Where this conversation starts, I hope many more will follow.
This is, in her own words, how Alexis does it:
On handing a not-so-regular schedule…
“I don’t really have a “normal” day. Some days include TV segments, others press events, some are lots of writing, and there a few are just loads and loads of emails. But, I always start the day with coffee, I aim to drink at least a gallon of water, and I make a point to break a sweat in some capacity!”
Despite busy days, I do have some non-negotiables…
“I start the day with the aforementioned coffee, and enjoy it with CNN on to catch up on the news. I always do something active! Sometimes that means spin or yoga, other times it means a long walk with my dog at the beach, but I firmly believe sunshine and sweat make for a great day, so I always try to get them both in. I also always read before bed, whether that’s The New York Times or a book (I’m ALWAYS reading a book). I also always make my bed, and really try to plan down time: anything from a midday walk to watching a TV show. I like to recharge!
On what it’s like to be a published author…
“I think publishing my first book was the first time my parents understood how the Hell I make a living, so that was nice! Since I come from short-format mediums like blogging and TV, doing something in long, start-to-finish form was really satisfying. Where blogging is sort of like a Choose Your Own Adventure for the viewer, a book is a complete work, and I really like that. Both book ideas came from my readers: the first (Recipe for Radiance) from the popularity of the DIY beauty recipes and beauty boosting recipes on The Beauty Bean; the second (Radiant Bride) from reader questions. For people wanting to write, I would say write what you know and love; it’s a beast of an undertaking. For me, the words just flew out of my brain and into my typing fingers. If it hadn’t felt like that, I think it would have been a miserable process!”
I don’t own a scale. This is why…
“I’m fortunate: I grew up in New Jersey where my parents always told me I was beautiful, that I was great, and that I was accomplishing things. But there was always this need for perfection that was never told to me, but that I absorbed. I get asked this question a lot, about my earliest memory of being aware of my body. I can’t pinpoint specifically how old I was, but I (remember being) probably somewhere between 5 and 7 in my room doing sit-ups. I took in all these subtle ideas that what I looked like mattered, like a lot, that this idea of what I was supposed to look like was this very specific image, a very specific idea of beauty. I’m really tall, I’m 5’10, and I believe I’ve been this height since about 7th grade. You know those fitness tests you have to do in school, where they weigh and measure you in front of the whole class? I remember not only being the tallest girl, but also weighing more than everybody else. I remember that really affecting me.
In college, I developed an eating disorder, partially because I was left to my own devices of not having all real food, partially because my father got really sick. You know, you read about how eating disorders create a sense of control in a life that’s out of control? I think that I played into that trope through no fault of my own.
As a result, I became really passionate about the idea of how our body image is so affected by the media. I wrote my masters thesis on the Corporate Social Responsibility of Women’s Media and its Impact on Body Image and Eating Disorders, which became the genesis of The Beauty Bean; covering all the same stuff women’s magazines cover but in a positive, empowering way. I don’t believe you need to make women feel badly about themselves in order to sell them things. I think a lot of magazines have failed to get that notice. They still tell women they need to do this in order to be attractive, or snag a man, or if you’re not running a marathon that you’re not fit. I just don’t believe that.
There was certainly a lot of therapy involved; I won’t sugarcoat that. But I think there was this realization that you really are what you eat. I think I said this in my first book, but you are what you eat, and you don’t want to be sugar-free Jell-O. There were points in the throes of my eating disorder where my hair was falling out, my skin was terrible, I had no energy, and I wasn’t feeling particularly sharp. I realized I didn’t want that; the whole goal was to look better! I’ve found I need to eat whole, real foods to look and feel better.
It’s been a really long process, and it’s constant. I don’t want anyone to be under the impression that I’ve figured it out, that I’m sitting here on this throne telling you what to do. It’s something I work on all the time, and I keep myself in a position that sets me up for success. For me, that means not owning a scale. I haven’t owned a scale in probably ten years. Are there days when I wake up and my pants are a little tight and/or I don’t feel my best for whatever reason? Sure, but that’s never going to change. It’s okay for my weight to fluctuate, for me to be bloated one day, more fit at some times than others, and it’s okay for me to recognize that life is about more than those things. I went this past weekend to a pizza-making party, and my friend was afraid I wasn’t going to eat. Of COURSE I’m going to eat the pizza! It’s your birthday!
I also surround myself with positive people. I feel like you’re an average of the people you spend the most time with. I don’t spend time with people who make me feel badly about myself, or speak negatively about themselves or other people.”
Here’s why you might consider throwing away your scale AND all those diet books….
“Throughout my experiences, I’ve had a chance to speak with so many women, and I have yet to meet a woman who I would say has a normal, healthy relationship with her body, food, and exercise. That’s not to say that there aren’t a lot of women out there who haven’t gotten two out of three, but I’ve yet to meet someone who has all three. That’s so screwed up.
I get some pushback from people who say that if they threw away their scale they would just eat everything. Ok, if I tell you to screw all the diet rules, maybe for a few weeks you might gorge on cupcakes and brownies because you can. But, after you felt like crap for an extended period of time, you’re going to want some kale, maybe an apple. Once we focus on how our bodies respond to the food we eat, they do a phenomenal job of telling us what they need and want. We’ve spent our entire lives ignoring those messages and eating something else instead.
All disordered eating is essentially the same in my book: a means of getting to an ideal body type, and the pressure to obtain that ideal body by adherence to specific rules or overcorrection if you fall off the bandwagon. The fact is that food is supposed to be energy, it’s information, it’s pleasure – it’s a lot of things, but we need to stop giving it this overarching power over our lives and instead focus on how we feel. You really need to spend time getting down and dirty with what works for you, which takes a lot of introspection.
Not every manner of eating is for everybody. If there was one diet that worked for everyone, there would be one best-selling diet book, we’d all be fit, healthy, sharp, strong, and intellectually on point. Clearly, that’s not the case. That’s why there’s a Paleo trend existing next to a vegan trend next to a whole food trend.”
There is no one diet that works for everyone; you have to find what works for you.
“What’s more is you have to constantly re-evaluate it. Seasonally, your diet’s likely to change, and for women, cyclically your diet is likely to change. You have to honor that, and it takes time and practice. But if you can just tune into what your body is asking for, it’s life changing. You stop focusing on these ‘rules.’ You stop thinking, “Oh, I can’t eat that potato.” The potato is not the problem. Focus on what you need. Sometimes your body needs something warm and grounding. Maybe that’s potatoes, maybe it’s something from childhood that brings back good emotional memories. The only one who makes the rules is YOU.”
On when I feel my most beautiful…
“I always feel beautiful after a great workout, when my skin is just glowing. Fine, it might be sweat, but whatever!”
I’m grateful for so many things that bring me joy…
“I love my dog, Zoe. She’s such a light! Also, having a body that can move! I love ripped jeans and white burnout t-shirts. I’m incredibly grateful for my parents, who are the greatest. My friends. Travel. Free upgrades on said travel ;)”
If your looking to make your own mark on the world?
“My dad always said, ‘Find what you love to do, and you’ll find a way to make money doing it.’ While I completely agree with that, I would tweak it to say find what you love to do, and do that because the world needs more of that! We need more authentic passion! I’ve found that when you’re authentically passionate — or, as Paulo Coelho would say, following your “personal legend” — the universe conspires to help you create it. So, find what you love to do. And do that. And do it wholeheartedly and authentically. You’ll make a mark that way.”