Do you ever feel like a total black sheep when it comes to your health? Getting picked on and teased by family, friends or coworkers who don’t get your dietary or lifestyle choices is by no means fun and at time undermine your commitment to being healthy. It’s normal to want to feel normal and accepted except for one small, critical detail – being “normal” these days unfortunately means being sick (to some degree). Here at Gluten Free School, we believe that being healthy is the new black, so to speak!
I’m here to help inspire and empower you to making better choices that support your health goals and lifestyle because your health is so precious and it deserves your undivided loyalty. Today’s guest on the podcast is a true health revolutionary who is tirelessly working to reframe how we experience and work toward our own best health. I seriously loved this conversation and everyone who had the opportunity to preview it noted that it was one of the best chats out of all of the GFS podcast episodes. Enjoy!
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Healthy Is The New Black: How to Thrive in an Unhealthy World with Pilar Gerasimo
Jennifer: Hi everyone and welcome to the Gluten Free School Podcast. I’m your host, Jennifer Fugo. Today, let’s talk about how to get healthy and thrive.
There are so many factors in our world and in our lifestyles that undermine our ability to seek out and nail down a level of healthiness in our lives that many of us dream about. We have good intentions to get there, and yet so much of the world around us is incredibly unhealthy. Today I have a great guest!
Her name is Pilar Gerasimo. She’s the founding editor of Experience Life, an award winning magazine dedicated to helping its three million readers live their healthiest, happiest and most authentic lives. She also serves as Senior Vice President of Healthy Living for Lifetime Fitness and briefly served as the Huffington Post executive editor of Healthy Living.
Pilar’s passion is integrating and sharing the best tools and wisdom she has discovered over the course of her career as a journalist and advocate for healthy change. Her work has received kudos from respected experts like Dr. Mehmet Oz, Dr. Mark Hyman, Dr. Frank Lipman, Dr. Aviva Romm, Dr. Sara Gottfried and Queen Rania of Jordan. Pilar appears regularly on radio and TV, and enjoys teaching at retreat centers such as Omega Institute and Rancho La Puerta.
Her popular Revolutionary Acts column is regularly featured blog at Huffington Post. Her 101 Revolutionary Ways to be Healthy (now available as a free mobile app) has gotten more than half a million like and more than a hundred and eighty thousand downloads. A Fulbright Scholar, Pilar holds a BA with honors in Comparative Literature from Mills College. And she lives with her three legged pit-bull on an organic cooperative farm in Wisconsin.
Pilar, welcome to the podcast!
Pilar: Thank you so much Jennifer, I am really thrilled to be with you.
Jennifer: I am really excited to have you here.
Any time I see the word “revolution” or “revolutionary,” especially when it has something to do with your health, that is right up my alley. I think that’s what a lot of women are doing when they take the reins back. When you want to get back in control or be in the driver seat, that’s a revolutionary thing because it totally changes your life and your health.
I know you’re gluten free and you’ve been for quite a long time. How did you end up here, with where you took back control over your life and your health?
Pilar: My healthy living journey really began when I discovered that I had gluten intolerance. My father, who is now 85, is gluten intolerant and he could never eat bread, pasta, or pizza because it makes him sick. I thought, “Oh, poor dad. That’s too bad!” and I went through my life eating wheat and gluten with impunity until I went to France.
I went to France actually to do the Fulbright. I was living in the most bread heavy experience you can possibly have, eating a ton of bread. I was very stressed out. I think the combination triggered what turned out to be a latent single nucleotide polymorphism gene that is associated with Celiac. The gene is called DQ2, I believe. I got this from my father. And once that gene was switched on, I became extremely gluten intolerant.
I was initially diagnosed interestingly by a chiropractor who just recognized all of the symptoms that I was having and actually could feel the inflammation in my spinal cord and said, “You know, you might have a problem with this, you should go off of it and see how you do.” It was amazing. Within about five days of being gluten free, I felt and looked like a different person.
And from that time, that was about 25 years ago, I’ve observed a mostly gluten free diet and have been much happier for that.
I’ve recently –in 2013 –finally got my genetic stuff tested and it found out that I had this gene. But before that, it was purely my own experience and experimenting that confirmed it for me. But what was interesting is that when I started choosing gluten free things – and 25 years ago, there wasn’t lot out there. I realized that the pervasive offerings at almost every buffet and every work luncheon at every restaurant were packed with gluten, as well as a lot of other things that I was trying to avoid like processed flours, sugars and high fructose corn syrup and trans fats and artificial flavors and colors.
And that was the beginning of my realization that in order to love the way I want to live and have the health and vitality that I wanted to have, I had to go against all of the norm that I was being presented with and make really fairly inconvenient and unconventional choices in order to achieve my personal healthy living goals.
So that was sort of the beginning of my realization. I didn’t have the notion that being healthy was revolutionary at that time, but I think that’s when the idea started. And in some ways, when my idea for the magazine experience life got its start too.
Jennifer: Let’s talk about what that means to be revolutionary. In my own story, which sounds kind of similar to yours where you just don’t really feel well (and unfortunately, I don’t have any genetic testing yet to back up my own gluten sensitivity), but the one thing that I can say is that it caused me to reevaluate my relationship with myself and the level of respect that I had for my health and my body and my diet. And really, it’s so interesting how food completely changes everything.
When you have to as you said “make inconvenient choices” as you’re traveling here and there, especially living in France since it’s not convenient to be gluten free. It’s amazing when you’re willing to go that far, when you’re willing to do what’s best for you, how something inside of you changes and the choice becomes so much more than just, “Oh, I eat this particular way”.
Can you talk to us a little bit about what you’ve discovered as far as being revolutionary in regards to just the food? It all starts with food. I think Michael Pollan said that, it all starts with food and it really does.
Pilar: It absolutely does. And it’s interesting because socially, the revolutionary part is in some ways harder than technically getting at the food that you want. It’s being surrounded in many cases by your family and your friends and their social manners when you don’t want to be inconvenient to people and say, “Oh, I need to get this and not that.” There’s a whole meme now about gluten free people as a total pain in the butt, right?
Pilar: You’ve probably seen that viral video that’s going around.
Jennifer: I have.
Pilar: I think it’s kind of funny. I can laugh at that. But when I started having to make these choices, it was out of determination that I do not want to live my life as an ill person. I wanted to be healthy. I wanted to be living my life at my most energetic best. To me, it was a no brainer. I have a choice over what I want to put in my body and I am not going to suffer the miseries and indignities that I have to experience.
Just because it’s inconvenient for other people, I didn’t want to think I’m weird. And I think in some ways, deciding to put myself first was, for me, kind of a feminist act in some ways of realizing, “You don’t have a right to my health and my happiness and my personal freedom.” There’s no reason I shouldn’t be as empowered as I can be. I’m going to show up in my life with my best intelligence, with my best energy and make my best contributions to the world if I’m in good health.
I think that attitude gave me an incredible amount of personal power and willingness to confront the social manners and norms that were working against me.
I think for me too, it also took a little bit of getting mad. I mean, I was really frustrated at how the advice I was reading in conventional health and fitness magazines was so cookie cutter and never really wanted to talk about the ways that processed food were working against my health because all of the advertising in those magazines was supporting those product lines. It was fat-free crackers and sugar-free cookies, and things that would – inevitably, gluten free or not – make me incredibly sick over time.
I was like “Wait a minute! How is this working? These companies want my money. The magazines that are supposed to be serving my interest as a reader want the money from the advertisers. They’re all in cahoots to promote a way of life and a way of eating that is working against my best interest.” It’s like, “Hey! I’m fed up! I don’t want to take this anymore.” I really had to turn away from a lot of the media messages that were very influential at the time. Conventional women’s magazines were full of dietary advice that was terrible, not just for the gluten intolerant, but for any health seeker.
I think that is one of the interesting things about the awareness that people are getting now, how profoundly food intolerance (whether they’re gluten or dairy or anything) affects their health. It becomes a kind of rallying cry.
It’s not just about whether or not you have six pack abs or fit into your skinny jeans anymore. This is like your body and health at stake for the rest of your life. And if you want to stand up for something, I think that is a pretty worthwhile thing to stand up for.
And as far as the food goes, it’s interesting because food is so charged. Like I said, the social and cultural connections with food make it harder in some ways to make revolutionary choices around that than it does, say, about exercise. No one’s going to tell you you’re out of your mind if you decide you want to take a run around the block or you decide you want to take a Zumba class. But if you suddenly start making tweaks to your diet that works against the norms that societies has set up, boy, people really get involved and in your face about that.
And I think that there’s whole movement now, loosely called the skeptic or the “science-based movement” that has gone super aggressive and pro-gluten and is making it sound like anybody but a purely Celiac Disease suffering person who chooses gluten free lifestyle is crazy. They’re out of their minds. They have no science behind them.
I think it’s really helpful now that there is some science coming out. It doesn’t feel as quite as crazy revolutionary to be able to defend these choices.
There was a new study that was published in the journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology that was really about how even little amounts of gluten in non-Celiac, gluten sensitive person caused real problems. And this was a randomized, double blind, placebo controlled trial. But prior to these studies coming out, I was living this way for almost 20 years and people would just look at me like I had two heads when I said I had a gluten problem for the first ten of those years.
And you know what, at some point I just got very comfortable with it in my own skin. And I’m like, “Yup! This is what works for me. This is something that apparently runs in my family. But even if it didn’t, I know how I feel, I know my own body.” I never had to feel super defensive about it. It was just something I knew to be true of me. I trusted my body more than I trusted the social norms of the time.
Jennifer: And I will add to that I come from a family wherein my father’s a physician. I used to travel with him to medical trade shows plastered left and right with drug companies. The whole thing is funded by drug companies. So are all of the journals and, like you said, even with women’s fitness and men’s health magazines! They are funded by all these food companies. Well, medical journals are funded by drug companies and surgical device companies. They’re not funded by food.
Pilar: It’s interesting, Jennifer. It’s funny that you should say that because actually a lot of health magazines are also funded by pharmaceutical companies. We don’t take any pharmaceutical ads in Experience Life magazine. We don’t take ads for pharmaceutical drugs or interventions, but most of our competitors, all of the other conventional health and fitness magazine that you see in the newsstand… well, it’s hard to go ten pages without running across a pharmaceutical ad and they’re usually four pages long because they have all those side effects to list, right?
Guess what, four national page ads in a big national magazine cost a fortune! And there aren’t that many companies that can afford to put that much money into advertising within this many titles. But pharmaceutical companies do and can and it often really pollutes the message of what otherwise would be focused on healthy living messages. It gets taken up by these other messages.
And I think we become very afraid to suggest that you should avoid as many of these pharmaceutical drugs as you can reasonably understanding that some of them are very necessary for some people. It just creates a whole mindset that I call the “fix me” mindset. Whatever is wrong with you, your gut is aching, your skin is rashing and bumping out, you’ve got brain fog, there’s a drug for that. Why feel that you have to change your diet when you could take these three pills on a daily basis?
We say being healthy is a revolutionary act, again, not just because it requires these practical revolutionary choices, but because it requires a somewhat cynical mindset, an empowered mindset and a determined mindset that is inherently very revolutionary.
Jennifer: I’m at peace with being gluten free. In fact, I love being gluten free. Everything cooked in my home is gluten free. I have guests over who are not gluten free and no one ever says a bad word. They ask for every recipe and they want to know how I made this and how can they get the recipe and what-not.
To me, it’s a shame that we’re looking for ways to skirt around the issue that we don’t want to be proud of this lifestyle and diet.
I want you to talk a little bit about this idea “delighting in being a deviant” because I think the thought is part of this. It’s like, “It’s okay to be who we are.”
Pilar: Yeah. Well, you know, it’s so interesting because I love the idea of deviancy. It has always sort of appealed to me. My father was an anthropologist, sociologist and often talked about that deviance is really in the eye of the beholder. Society creates a norm and you decide if you’re going to go with the norm or not.
Right now in our society, more than 50 percent of people are chronically ill. More than 50 percent of US adults are suffering from some chronic illness or multiple chronic illnesses. More than two-thirds of us are overweight or obese, and more than 70 percent of us, last time I’ve counted, take at least one pharmaceutical drug a day. So 70 percent of us are reliant on pharmaceutical drugs. That is the norm.
Taking pills is the norm, being sick is the norm, being overweight is the norm. So if you choose to go down a different road, you are effectively choosing to become a social deviant.
I think that for people who can get their heads around the simple choice of whatever the norm is, “If I chase after that norm, I am not chasing after a super great model.” Do we really want to be depressed, sick, reliant on pharmaceutical drugs and see my health going downward with each passing year and decade versus spiraling up and feeling better with each passing year and decade? I think that path less traveled looks a whole lot more appealing.
And I also think that it’s important to keep in mind that as pharmaceutical companies keep coming up with this “solutions” to lifestyle driven medical problems, they come with problems of their own including some pretty nasty side effects.
A lot of people, for example, have chronic skin problems as a result of gluten intolerance. Exposure to gluten, which triggers inflammation throughout their body shows up in a lot places, but including their skin. They go to a doctor with something that looks like psoriasis – okay, let’s call that psoriasis – and they and say, “Oh, this is an autoimmune disorder. You’ll have this the rest of your life. You need to take these immune suppressants.” The immune suppressants will have all kinds of negative impacts on you as you will now not have a fully operational immune system.
“When you get miserable enough, and these drugs aren’t working better, you can come back and we’ll give you a more powerful immune suppressant that could very well result in death among other side effects. And so, we’ll wait until you’re really, really desperate. But in the meantime, you can take all of these other drugs.”
And so, it becomes this slippery slope where we’re suppressing the symptoms or we’re tricking the body into not responding with an immune response or an inflammatory response. But ultimately, we’re tricking it at the cost of the proper function of our body.
Jennifer: People don’t realize this. Your sickness is allowing a drug company to make so much money.
Pilar: Yes. Actually, one of the points that I make in my – I wrote a manifesto for Thriving In A Mixed Up World that is available at RevolutionaryAct.com and it’s the basis for the 101 Revolutionary Ways to be Healthy that you mentioned earlier. It makes this point that the way we’re living is effectively crazy. I mean, that is the first point in the manifesto, that it’s nuts the way we’re living.
And this is part of the craziness. We are giving up our first human freedom, which is our health. What can you do once your health goes? You lose almost all of your freedom. You can lose mobility, your power to make clear decisions, the vitality that you need to pursue your goals in life. Your economic power goes straight into the dump not just because how expensive the drugs and surgeries are, but because your earning power is dramatically reduced when you don’t have the health and vitality, and productivity to pursue your career goals and make advances.
So it becomes a kind of oppressive force, ill-health, that takes people down and takes whole communities down.
Jennifer: Let’s talk a little bit about – we started with this person who feels totally out of sync. They wanted to be normal, but normal is sick. It’s this level of sickness that is just being managed, “Let’s just manage you until you get so sick your body can’t just chug along anymore.” What does it mean to redefine that image in your mind, so that you can start actually identifying and living a healthy lifestyle? And maybe first, I should ask you to define what healthy means.
Pilar: I always include health and happiness in the same sentence. I really think of it as healthy/happy because it’s really difficult to be fully healthy if you’re not happy and that’s it real hard to be happy if you’re not healthy. You can do it, but it’s challenging.
And so I think of health as being the feeling of expansion and potential and being energized and full of life. And to me, the expansion part of it is, “My life is really good right now and it’s just getting better. I have a whole pen of vision for things that I am excited to pursue. I have the enthusiasm and the energy to pursue them. I wake up every morning feeling like ‘Yay! I get to hop out of bed and go do some fun stuff that I want to do,’ or ‘I’m excited about achieving a goal.’”
If you aren’t experiencing that and what you’re experiencing is that low gear, low energy oppressed/depressed feeling or you’re experiencing chronic pain or chronic itching or annoyance or something in your body not working the way you want or your bowel is all messed up and that’s causing you embarrassment and frustration, that is a feeling of contraction. Your life is getting smaller, your choices are getting smaller, your enthusiasm for life is being constrained, your choices are being constrained.
That dynamic of expansion versus contraction is where I check in. I test my own level of health and vitality like, “Wow! Is my life getting better and I’m feeling ready for anything or is my life getting smaller because I’m feeling held back by my body and mind’s limitations?”
I think that is a really good place to start. And then I think that’s part of what launches you in to a more revolutionary mindset. If you are on a downward spiral and your life is getting smaller and your energy is getting smaller and your vitality is getting reduced, that tends to be a self-perpetuating situation until you deal with the serious intervention either by a crisis like having a major health blow out or a really horrible lab experience where your doctor says, “You’re going to die or have a heart attack if you don’t change something.”
The other option is the inspirational catalyst where you just decide, “I like my life and myself enough that I want things to change,” or “I saw somebody near me, a friend or a family member make a transformation that gives me the hope that this can be done.”
Jennifer: This is my final question because you are everything we’ve talked about today, you’re my total health hero…
Pilar: Thank you.
Jennifer: You talked a lot – you’re very welcome. I mean, I love what you’re doing.
One of the things that you’ve mentioned over and over again was this disability to really experience life and that happens to be the name of the magazine that you founded. Can you tell everyone a little bit about what Experience Life magazine is about because you do have other competitors out there, but I think what you guys strive for in a team is such a different message than what people will see in other magazines.
Pilar: Thank you. Thank you for noticing that and for saying that. I am really proud of the magazine. I founded it in partnership with Lifetime Fitness, which is a Healthy Way of Life company based in the Twin Cities (although they’re national, in fact international Healthy Way of Life company now and they’re also on Canada) and we founded the magazine on the principle of whole person, whole life, health and fitness. It was really intentional that it was not going to be about nutrition and exercise, or even nutrition, exercise and stress and sleep. It was going to be about the whole experience of life in a human body in a context of a culture.
We dedicate our content to three different verticals. We call them different subject areas (although they overlap). One is nutrition and general health and well-being, one is athletics and activity and moving under your own steam and having an active life, and the third category we call the ‘quality of life’. It includes things like stress and relationships and money, happiness, but it also includes awareness of what’s going on in the larger culture and how things like media or environment, both physical environment like built environments and cities, but also the natural environment and the ecosystem and our exposure to toxins and things can affect our wellbeing.
And so, in a typical magazine, there are eighty some pages of content. Well, I should say there’s a few pages of advertising there too. But we really control that space and remain incredibly dedicated in serving a health motivated reader.
Our readers are men and women they range in age from 12 to 90, but the majority of them are probably in their 30s, 40s, and 50s and they really appreciate the difference. What we don’t do is peddle six pack abs and bikini bodies in just 30 days. We don’t fat-shame people. I’m not really interested in telling people in how their bodies “should look,” or even telling anybody what they “should do.” We pretty much banish that word from our vocabulary.
I’m much more interested in giving people interesting research, inspiration, ideas and practical solutions for how they can navigate the challenges that they face on a daily basis – going to work, going to school, raising families, having lives that include other goals besides than just being fit and healthy. These are people who really see their health as a means to a larger end, which is experiencing the life that they want to live.
We really like to support people in pursuing whatever their goals are from a very non-judgmental standpoint and inspiring them to make these kinds of revolutionary choices. The slogan, the tagline for the magazine is “being healthy is a revolutionary act,” and we think that the most important thing that we can do is support people in living healthier, happier lives that bring out the best in them and let them give their best gifts back to their communities and families and whatever is important to them.
Jennifer: Awesome, I love it. It is a really great magazine and I want to direct everybody to check it out. I’ve seen it on different magazine stands.
Pilar: But if people don’t see us on the newsstand, they can always ask. And we are also available digitally, as well as in print, and we have some really great weekly and monthly newsletters that are available for free at our website ExperienceLife.com. People can sign up for those too.
And also, I will say, in addition to our digital edition mobile app 101 Revolutionary Ways to be Healthy gives you a revolutionary act of the day, lets you link in to a whole new beautiful archive of articles from Experience Life. So that’s another way to get at the same content.
Jennifer: Pilar, thank you so much for joining us! This has been a phenomenal chat.
Pilar: Thank you, Jennifer! It’s been so fun to talk to you. And I’m so glad that you’re out there doing what you’re doing. It’s really powerful, revolutionary stuff. We see you as a fellow revolutionary and I’m really glad to be fighting the good fight with you.
Jennifer: I’m glad to be on the same side. It’s so good for all of us to join together because that is how change happens- when everyone comes together who has that same mindset. We can then work toward a common goal to making this whole world a healthier and happier place to live.
Pilar: You got it!
Jennifer: Please go and connect with Pilar. She’s all over social media. I’ll put her links below. She’s got really great platform. Experience Life magazine is a great spot. I mean, the magazine itself is amazing, but even just the website is an amazing resource as well. You can also check her out at RevolutionaryAct.com.
Now remember, if you love this podcast please go subscribe, rate and review. And I’m going to ask you to do one more thing, please share the GFS Podcast with your community, friends and families and encourage them to come and listen because without your support, I wouldn’t be here. We are 67 episodes into The Gluten Free School Podcast and it’s here because of you. I want to thank you for that so deeply. I’m glad that we are a part of the same tribe, on the same side, fighting the good fight and living good healthy lives the best we can in every moment of the day.
So thank you so much, leave any questions or comments over on the blog. I look forward to connecting with you in the next podcast. Have a wonderful day!
Pilar’s website – http://pilargerasimo.com/
Experience Life Magazine – http://www.ExperienceLife.com
Revolutionary Acts – http://www.RevolutionaryAct.com
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/PilarGerasimo
Twitter – https://twitter.com/pgerasimo
Pinterest – https://www.pinterest.com/explifemag/
Instagram – https://instagram.com/pgerasimo