Life

UPDATE: Larry King is hosting a show on Orthorexia and he has asked us to appear based on this article. Click here for the link.

You can read my daughter’s story here.

I’m going to say some things in the post that will not be popular among food and health bloggers. So I apologize in advance but simply hope to call more attention to the need for all journalists – whether you’re a blogger, magazine writer, broadcast personality, or anyone who provides (often subjective) information to the rest of us – to consider your audiences and ensure that your information is a reality, not a perception. You are influencers so it’s critical that you are all responsible in the information you present.

Let me explain: I have a 17-year-old daughter recently diagnosed with an eating disorder. This is a direct cause-effect relationship from her dive into the Paleo diet. Almost two years ago, together, we embarked on the Paleo diet to eliminate all processed foods in hopes of reducing her migraines. Her migraines were reduced significantly in those early stages. I didn’t strictly follow the Paleo diet, refusing to give up my love for real pasta, so I was roughly 80/20. My daughter, she was 100% ALL the time. She was exceptionally disciplined and I was proud of her. She devoured every piece of information she could find on healthy eating. Her interest in healthy turned to an obsession – GMOs, saturated fats, additives, sugar – became the focus of her life. She began refusing her favorite foods as she studied ingredient lists. She often relied on popular bloggers for her information, many who are extremists and alarmists when it comes to healthy eating. I applaud the bloggers who present proven and trusted resources and facts and let readers form their own opinions and make their own decisions. But too many bloggers, in an effort to stand out, proselytize about all the bad products without presenting authoritative or medically-backed information. And so, my daughter followed the alarmists. Soon, she began refusing to go out to dinner (one of our favorite things to do together), she would not let me prepare her meals, and she began limiting the food she would to eat to organic vegetables and organic chicken only. Nothing else. No oils, no fats, no grains, and no products that these health pundits had told her were bad. Within a few weeks, her weight plummeted, not to mention her energy level. Her appearance was shocking. I did some research and discovered a new condition – orthorexia – which is an over-obsession with healthy eating that leads to weight loss, nutritional deficiencies and a host of medical issues, not unlike anorexia.

The Blonde Vegan wrote about her experience with orthorexia on her blog and ultimately has changed her focus to The Balanced Blonde. My daughter is now in recovery, seeing a nutritionist and learning the real way to eat healthy based on medical science and not based on the advice of an uninformed blogger. In fact, part of her treatment is that she take a break from social media and blogs with their bombardment of health messages. Now for my caveat: there are many fabulous, well-informed, credentialed bloggers out there who present fact-based information and allow readers to make their own decisions. It’s important that all bloggers realize that people of different ages and different educational levels are reading your material. As with everything in life, balance is essential. Ok…getting down off my soapbox.

When I’m in a funk, I find that even the littlest things can perk me up and help me find happiness. When I worked in Washington, DC and was having a bad day, I would go to one of the upscale furriers and try on expensive fur coats (long before furs became so politically incorrect). These days, I’ll go to a restaurant alone for lunch and have a glass of wine or stop by the department store cosmetic counter for a free makeover – all in the name of happiness.

Pulling yourself out of a funk doesn’t have to be expensive. I mean, yeah, booking a last minute trip to the Caribbean (which is something I would do) is certainly one approach, but there are plenty of free things you can do to rid the mehs and experience happiness.

1 Visit your local Williams-Sonoma for one of their complimentary cooking classes. It’s a great way to learn a few techniques and sample some different tastes – and share a little happiness with your tummy too!

2. Get a free manicure or massage. Local beauty schools and massage programs often offer free, or very inexpensive, services as a way for their students to hone their skills on real people. Don’t be afraid – they’re usually well into their training before they get to this level. I’ve had facials at esthetician schools also that were pretty good because the student is definitely giving it 100%.

3. Buying new makeup always cheers me up. Stop into your local Sephora and get a free makeover. You’ll get to experiment with new colors and products, and get a free makeup lesson at the same time. Let your happiness show on the outside too!

4. Many yoga studios offer free community classes, often outside or in a local park. A relaxing yoga class (with a lengthy Savasana) coupled with getting some fresh outdoor air will perk up your mood. Join local yoga studios’ Facebook pages so you can stay up to date.

5. Indulge in some retail therapy. Head to the nearest upscale department store or boutique and let a personal shopper dress you from head to toe. This is a post about free activities so hopefully you can restrain yourself from the purchases. Until tomorrow.

6. Recreate your bed as if you’re in a luxury hotel. Don’t you find that you sleep so much better in a hotel and that the beds are much more comfy than yours at home? There is an actually an art to creating a hotel bed but it’s sure to lift your mood.

7. Turn your bathroom into a spa and enjoy an indulgent spa bath right at home. Rose petals (or something from the garden)? Check. Homemade sugar scrub for extra smooth skin? Check. Add some candles, spa music and a glass of wine. Don’t you feel better already? The EveryGirl recently shared 7 Easy Ways to Create a Spa-Like Experience At Home.

8. Sometimes just having a little project can lift your mood. Grab your camera (or smart phone) and head outdoors to take some shots of things that make you happy. Find a project on Pinterest or Etsy and immerse yourself in it.

9. Go tour a luxury model home. Trust me, this doesn’t have to be a depressing wish-I-could-afford-this trip. Picking up some new decorating tips and ideas will give you something to focus on other than that meh mood.

I’ll never forget arriving at a luxury hotel in Napa to celebrate our 20th anniversary only to find that half the hotel was under construction and that the gym and spa were undergoing renovations. It was a hotel booking nightmare. I’m pretty thorough when researching hotels, especially in unfamiliar destinations. Fortunately, there was copious amounts of wine which filled time I would have spent working out or indulging in spa treatments.

On another family vacation in Greece, we had selected a resort property close to the beach. It was perfect. The first night. When we returned to our room the next night after dinner, we were surprised to find dozens of college kids sitting in the hallway. It turns out it was a celebratory week in Greece (like Spring Break) and the hotel was filled with boisterous, all-night partyers. Years later, I’m still catching up on my sleep.

I’ve learned from these, and other, booking mistakes. Here are my best tips for ensuring you don’t find yourself having a sleep-depriving hotel nightmare.

1. Read reviews. It goes without saying, but read the hotel reviews. Most important, sort so that you read the current reviews first. You’ll find out if the hotel is under new management, under construction, or has other issues that could impact your stay. Rely on the advice of other travelers. Look at their photos. Do a Google search of the property name as people may have written about the property outside of the review websites.

2. Search reviews. Don’t just read reviews. Search them. Make a list of top things that are important to you when staying in a hotel. Are you looking for onsite dining? A quiet neighborhood? An indoor pool?  A spotless room? Then, do a search for those keywords within the reviews. For me, I always search words like “construction”, “noise”, and “dirty” to see if other reviewers complain about those topics. If you’re looking for amenities, search words like “pool”, “gym” and “dining”. 

3. Check your dates. Always scroll down and read reviews from the same season/month you’ll be traveling in to understand local events, weather, potential group travel, annual festivals and other variables. We would have selected a different hotel in a different part of Athens on our trip to Greece if we’d known that our trip fell during an annual party week.

4. Map the hotel using the street view feature. This will allow you to see what the streetscape in front of the hotel looks like. Is it on a busy street? Is the entrance neat and manicured? Are there busy business or late night venues nearby that could prove to be noisy? I go so far as to see if there’s a convenience or grocery store nearby for essentials like water. (and wine.)

5. Be aware of hidden fees. Scroll through the hotel details on different sites, as not all are transparent about additional costs. Look for additional fees or restrictions on parking, pets, wifi, and meals. I was shocked to arrive at a property in Miami only to learn that there was a $20 resort fee (and it wasn’t a resort but this is a trend in the industry) and $54 for nightly parking. Those fees add up!

This is what I want to tell my daughter. Why? Because I am what I wanted to be. I am proof that you can be anything you want to be.

I’ve crafted out the lifestyle I want to live, to love. Not one dictated by others, by a 9-5 office, or by mundane, uninteresting work. I wake up everyday and do what I want. How? Because I made it happen. I am what I want to be.

My daughter is struggling with today’s typical college student dilemma – what do I want to be?  She wants to do what I do – build a career around her passion. For her, that means a life that centers around making and photographing great, pretty, vegan food and inspiring others with her passion for healthy living. And yes, like me, exploring the world has to fit in there somewhere. Unfortunately, there’s no college major for this.   

I’m lucky. I’ve managed to create my own job – one that gives me a little income to fuel my passion for travel, coupled with the flexibility to spend time with family, while keeping a little bit of intellectual skin in the game. It didn’t come easily. I’ve been very strategic in doing what I love. It’s been full of ups and downs, tears and frustration, feast and famine.

But, dear daughter, you CAN be what you WANT to be.

I’ve paired my marketable skill, PR, with my passion for food and travel. One pays, the other doesn’t. It’s a 50-50 balance of work and fun. But it’s all very strategic as a means to an end. Here’s how I made, and make, it work.

Quick background: It started in 1996 when my son was born. I was in a demanding corporate job and knew I wanted to be home with my kids and have some flexibility but I also knew I needed a little income to support my (ahem) wanderlust lifestyle. Just a quick shoutout to my husband who has always been very supportive of my freestyle “career”, both financially and emotionally. I quit my corporate job and, using my background in PR, began networking with every contact I had to stir up enough freelance work to bring in some income. And through the next two decades, I’ve always managed to keep freelance work on the side to help pay those travel bills. Taking it one step further, I knew I wanted to work with PR clients in the fields I love – food, wine, travel, lifestyle – so I have actually sought out brands in these categories and boldly put myself in front to them with cold calls/emails and by asking contacts for introductions. I’m shameless, yet professional, in my networking skills. I meet someone at a party who might be a connection for me? I follow up. Read about someone in a magazine I want to work with? I email them. Find a possible local connection? I send an email and invite them to coffee. I ask friends to introduce me to someone I want to meet for professional reasons. If I see a brand I want to work with, I’ll boldly reach out and make a connection. Sometimes, rarely, it pays off. But given the choice of doing publicity for a winery or a hospital, I’m going to have much more fun working with wine so that’s what I go after.

The second part of my self-fulfilling “career” is experiencing the things I love – food, wine and travel. My ultimate retirement goal is to travel the world and enjoy these passions with my husband. Without the need for a steady income. So I’m working towards that goal now. I’ve managed to brand myself (somewhat) as a food, wine and travel writer which gives me opportunities and experiences at low or no cost – the caveat being, I have to publish articles when I’m hosted. I’ve taken some fantastic trips, dined with some great chefs and enjoyed fabulous wines that I never would have been able to conceive of or afford on my own. Next week, I’ll spend three days touring California wineries/resorts at their invitation (they graciously invited my husband too). I’ll soon head to Atlanta to cover the opening of a new luxury hotel on behalf of a magazine and interview a James Beard award-winning chef. My pay is in the experiences themselves. And hopefully I’m building on that brand reputation that will carry me on those retirement dreams.

And that balance I mentioned? I might have to write a press release on a new surgical procedure on the airplane but that’s the “paying the bills” part of my life.

I’m not going to lie and say this is grueling. Getting to this point was grueling. Again, it didn’t just happen. I had to MAKE it happen. I joined writers groups and networked my heart out. I stayed up countless nights and invested significant dollars to create my brand. I volunteer my writing/PR skills for opportunities that may pay off down the road. I’ve experienced rejection that’s scarred me to this day. But I keep going. THIS is what gets me to my ultimate goal.

So I would tell my daughter, be what you want to be. Your dream life isn’t going to come to you. Not even with a college degree. You have to go find it. Tenacity is key. As is confidence and boldness…and charisma certainly helps. You want to be a food blogger? Do it. Connect with every other contact, food blogger, and brand out there and introduce yourself. Offer to do things for free – baking, photography, writing. Write to brands and introduce yourself. Offer to bake cupcakes for that friend’s wedding. And shamelessly promote yourself. Take advantage of opportunities, and yes, occasionally connections. Ask for that introduction to that vegan chef. Ask to shadow him/her. Give free cooking lessons in exchange for recommendations. Offer to write an article for that health magazine. Ask that hotel if you can stay for a night and interview their chef for your blog. Read. Read everything you can get your hands on. I constantly have a food or travel magazine with me with the pages crimped with story ideas, people to introduce myself to, and brands to pursue. Be confident in your passions – if you love something, you will be good at it and neither a textbook nor a professor can teach you that.

You can be anything you want to be.

My kids recently lost a good friend who was tragically killed in a car accident. I did not know her well but as I read what her friends were writing about her on social media, it was clear that she had such an impact in her short 20 years of life. She was known for always being upbeat and happy. And making others laugh. Several of her friends started a Facebook group called LiveLikeLaura to celebrate her exuberance for life and it really gave me pause about creating your legacy. I asked my own kids (and myself), “What would your legacy be? What would people say about you?” Are you worthy of a “LiveLike” moniker?

My kids, sadly, have lost a few friends in their 20 years on this earth. Car accidents, gun violence, and tragically, suicide. And after every horrific incident, their friends take to social media to share stories and offer condolences and mourn the loss. It gives us a real glimpse into their lives, their relationships and what others will miss most about them.

But do you suppose these kids who’ve left us know the impact they had on others? I wondered what friends would write on my kids’ Facebook pages if (God forbid) something happened to them. So we talked about it. I suggested trying to do something every day that leaves a lasting impact, whether it’s sharing a passion for food or a passion for seeing the world – these are my kids’ real passions.

I’ve encouraged my kids, and I try myself, to do something every single day that contributes to our legacies. It really comes down to living life with passion – whether it’s making people laugh or simply sharing a passion with others. My son is so filled with wanderlust. I listen to the comments others make who admire his free spirit. I hope he’s inspired others to LiveLikeCarson. My daughter has this unyielding passion for health. She shares information and encourages others to live more healthy lives. She’s a teacher of health so LiveLikeLyndsey also qualifies.

I know it’s hard to think (and write) about, but if you boldly share your passion and you’re vocal about it and you wear it on your sleeve, you’ll leave your mark. Honestly, a day doesn’t go by that I don’t think to myself “LiveLike” and wonder if I’m living up to my moniker. I just hate that these young people have to leave us before they get their moniker. I think we should each have our own moniker, like a social security number, that’s unique to us but something we have to live up to each day.

LiveLike.

I just moved my daughter into our new townhouse where she’ll be living. Alone. At 19.

It’s a beautiful home but I’m afraid I’ve transformed it into a scene from “A Beautiful Mind”. There are sticky notes everywhere. 21 to be exact. They’re on kitchen counters, bathroom mirrors, the front door, the garage door. Reminding her to turn off the coffee pot each morning. Reminding her to clean out the lint screen on the dryer. A checklist hangs on her bathroom mirror with her nighttime tasks – lock the doors, make sure the oven is turned off.

I never lived alone. I had a roommate after college, moved back in with the parents (ahem) and then got married. So I never had to take on adult responsibilities when I was in my early 20s, unless you count finding my way home from the bars at 4am after a night out in Georgetown and then getting myself up for work at 7am.

So how do kids today learn to live independently without trial and error? Only with my daughter, the stakes are too high. She’s in a relatively new, costly, beautifully designed home. And it’s connected to four other homes so leaving that coffee pot on all day could have tragic consequences.

Yes, I was a whirly-bird, helicoptering Mom. I still am. I guess all along I was hoping she was observing all of those things I was doing – like cleaning out the lint screen after she did her laundry, blowing out the candles left burning in her room, turning on the garbage disposal as she filled the sink with vegetable peels. But now it’s fight or flight and I’m not sure she was paying close enough attention.

There is a “living alone in our house” contract that states if she clogs the disposal or stops up the toilet or doesn’t clean up after the dog, she pays the consequences. Literally pays. That could mean one less trip to Urban Outfitters. There’s a note on the front door telling her it doesn’t shut on its own so it has to be pulled shut. There are instructions for how to walk her new rescue dog – she takes her time and has to be walked a distance to complete her business. My husband instructed her on the temperatures for the thermostat so she conserves electricity. I even had to show her how to close and open the vertical blinds because they tend to get twisted.

I’m 3000 miles away so I’m awaiting that first call of “Mom, guess what happened”, but there aren’t enough sticky notes in the world to cover everything. So I can just hope. Hope that some switch in her brain that says “You’re an adult now” clicks on and all these responsibilities and reminders fall into place.

My next big task will be teaching my son to adult. He’s in a college dorm but will soon be living on his own. I’ve always thought he was more street smart so adulting would come easier for him. But now I’m not so sure. Just last week he said, “Will you teach me how to use the coffee maker?” And a few weeks ago, he asked me how credit cards work. I’m hoping my helicopter doesn’t crash on this one!