Greatest challenge: Dealing with the inner critic
Q. Many people are inspired by your activism. What is the biggest challenge you face?
A. At first thought, my mind is flooded with so many challenges—most of which are external. Yet I know that the biggest challenge I face is not external at all, but internal. I am my own biggest challenge. I am the one who most often limits or gets in the way of my own potential and possibility.
Q. How does this challenge affect your daily life?
A. I am faced with my fears, judgments, criticisms, anxieties, anger, and pain on a daily basis. So often we are conditioned to run from the uncomfortable and the difficult or numb ourselves from them or fight them. None of these are life-affirming places in which to stand. What is more powerful is to look at these as opportunities rather than challenges—each an opportunity for growth, clarity, and power.
Q. How do you turn a challenge into an opportunity?
A. One way is clarifying my purpose. I spend time reflecting on and getting really clear on who I want to be in my life, not just what I want to do with my life.
Second, living as a "joyful vegan" honors my sacred interconnection with all life, including animals; lessens my footprint on the earth; conserves water and energy; and keeps me incredibly healthy. A healthy mind, connected to a healthy heart, guided by a healthy spirit, which is housed in a healthy body, is one of the greatest gifts I can offer to myself, my work, and my world. Finally, practicing active gratitude is so incredibly powerful. Self-pity cannot exist in the same space as gratitude. Gratitude not only feels great, it also is a powerful call to action.
Q. Have you overcome the internal voices that may judge you and raise your fears?
A. As long as I am alive, I will be working and playing with this human challenge. But instead of feeling overwhelmed by this, I find myself grateful for the opportunity to learn, grow, heal, and serve. In the midst of all that is being destroyed in our world, in the midst of all the deep pain and suffering, in the midst of the tears that often stream down my face, I choose joy.
Greatest challenge: Living a balanced life
Q. You used whole foods to help heal yourself of leukemia at age 26; obviously you have nutritional know-how to spare. What remains the biggest challenge for you?
A. Without question, balance. Balancing work with proper rest. There are times when I'm standing in front of people telling them how to live right and be balanced, and for the past week, I've been living on steamed broccoli and chocolate chips because I'm working too much. I have the constant ongoing battle of wondering where to draw the line.
Q. How does this struggle manifest itself in your daily life?
A. It impacts my health. Since I was sick [with leukemia], one thing I still struggle with is anemia.
Q. When the scale starts to tip, what strategies do you use to rebalance?
A. I used to wait until I got sick. Here's what happened: In 1998, I had a brain aneurysm. I thought, This is the safe being dropped on my head again! My body was saying, "Listen, hypocrite, you're working 20 hours a day and won't stop, so we'll just make your head explode." Since then, my struggle to achieve balance has been better; I see it coming. When I start to feel like I'm going to cry, I know it's time for a break. It's a constant struggle because I love my work. And when I start to feel well, I think that I'm invincible again.
Q. How do you make peace with this ongoing struggle?
A. I make my peace with it on a bunch of different levels. I've learned to say no. It took me a long time to get past the feeling that if I said no to people, they'd hate me. I thought that if cooking class ended and I said, "Thank you very much. Class is over," and didn't talk to students after class, they wouldn't come back. I found out that they do. I was expecting them to know when I was tired. That's not fair to put on them. Now I set limits, and everyone feels good, and I'm actually fed by the experience.
Q. You also take ten minutes to meditate every morning. Why?
A. I give myself a reality check on who I am. I am a cooking teacher deep down inside. Yes, I get to reach a lot of people through my television show, but it's only broccoli, so get over it. I tell myself that my job is simply to give information, and what people do with it, they do. That's all I have to do during the meditation, and then everything's in perspective.
Q. What do you think you've learned by facing this challenge?
A. Ultimately, at the end of the day, we're all going to be compost, and the most important thing we can ever do on this planet is be kind to each other. If everybody did that for even ten seconds a day, the world would be a different place. Having faced death twice and having encountered so many sick people, I know that's all that really matters.
Greatest challenge: Warding off stress
Q. You are a pioneer in natural medicine. What is the biggest personal challenge you face in doing your work?
A. Stress. Obviously, the work that I've done trying to change health care has been hard. Lots and lots of obstacles. Just like everyone else, I react to stress in less-than-healthy ways.
Q. How does stress manifest in your daily life?
A. Day to day I don't get enough rest. In the research I've done, I've found that one of the biggest contributors to chronic ill health is people not getting enough rest. In my book Total Wellness (Prima Lifestyles, 1996), I looked at what happens to animals when they don't get enough sleep. Brain degeneration and diseases go up dramatically.
Q. How much sleep are you getting these days?
A. I average six and a half hours a night.
Q. What's optimal?
A. For me, it's probably more like eight hours, which is true for most people. Our grandparents got close to nine hours a night. My hypothesis is that one of the reasons we're seeing more Alzheimer's disease is that people aren't sleeping as much. When people sleep, enzymes in the brain are most active for ridding the body of toxins that build up during the day. So if you don't sleep enough, you don't get the detoxification, [which could lead to] brain damage.
Q. How else does stress impact your life?
A. It's a challenge for me to maintain a normal weight, because when I'm under stress, I always feel hungry. Although I'm maintaining a reasonable weight for my age, I have to work at it a lot more than I did when I was younger. Of course, that also happens to people as they get older and get less physically active. But I'm very physically active. I play basketball four times a week.
Q. What other strategies do you use to address stress?
A. I don't think I've developed a totally successful strategy. I'm going back to the basics. Our bodies really like rhythms, so the more you establish patterns, the better. I try to get to bed at the same time every night, between 10 and 10:30. I've been working on avoiding stimulants like caffeine during the day. I don't drink coffee, but I do like chocolate, which has caffeine in it. But chocolate isn't all bad. Dark chocolate is very high in antioxidants.
I also have tried melatonin [to help sleep], which is effective for many people but wakes me up in the middle of the night. Instead, I've been taking kava and more magnesium, which do seem to help me sleep at night.
Q. Because you haven't yet found a totally successful strategy to ward off stress, how do you make peace with the situation?
A. I keep working on it. I haven't made peace with it at all.
Q. What have you learned from the experience?
A. The importance of continuing to learn. We are all utterly unique in our body chemistry, and so in many ways it's a journey throughout life to figure out what works best for us. Even as knowledgeable as I am in this field, I still study and learn about my body and what works for me and what doesn't. And step-by-step, I learn things that make me healthier.
Pamela Emanoil is the managing editor of Delicious Living.