The Urban Monk Podcast – Alex Jamieson: Honoring Our Bodies’ Needs
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Learning From Our Cravings
Most of us have a love/hate relationship with our cravings and desires.
With wisdom gained from tough personal experience, Alex Jamieson teaches us to honor our desires and cravings. She wants us to change our relationship with our food and our bodies.
Alex was the co-star of the award-winning documentary Supersize Me.
She grew up on a small organic farm just outside of Portland. There she learned to have a sensual and loving relationship with the food that was growing there. This sensual, intuitive relationship eventually changed.
As she grew older she became a vegan for health and body image reasons. Her time as a vegan (10 years) worked until it stopped working. She knew she had to do something different but her identity as a vegan had a strong hold on her. She conducted her own n=1 experiment that led to her giving up veganism.
Your desires and cravings are part of your intuition and your inner intelligence. They can serve as a roadmap to healthful eating and living.
We have learned to lock this intelligence away by people who tell us we don’t look good enough or that we should be eating a certain way. This is a particular problem for women who have been taught to follow other people’s rules.
Food: Friend or Enemy?
Food in the United States has become almost a religion instead of a source of connection. Dietary debates have created division and anxiety. It’s ironic that we spend so much of our day thinking about food and when it’s placed in front of us, we rush to consume it unaware of its effects. If we ate based on how the food made our body feel, we could ignore all the ridiculousness of calorie counting and fat diets.
Alex makes the suggestion that we should avoid what she calls the Toxic 6: sugar, caffeine, gluten, soy, dairy, and corn.
Reclaiming Feminine Wisdom
Play, getting out into nature, a supportive community, and toys are part of Alex’s prescription to return to a more natural intuitive state.
Toys can range from hula hoops to slacklines to vibrators. Using them opens up a path to creativity and spontaneity.
We learn best and make a stronger mind/body connection when we are at play. We need to make more opportunities for play both at home and at work. This will make us better family members and more productive entrepreneurs and employees.
We need to feel more authentic and to tap into our intuition before we are able to make the larger contribution that so many of us want to make.
Alex took a journey that forced her to confront her fear of freedom and fear of failure. She learned to be comfortable with her vulnerability. Our focus needs to be on our strengths and contributions rather than our lack and limits.
We need to prepare to go alone on this journey back to feminine wisdom – at least for a while. Too often, the people around us are uncomfortable when they see us change. It forces a painful reexamination of how they’re living their own lives.
Those closest to us may offer subtle and direct judgments when we make changes in our activities, interests, and way of eating. We can seek out like-minded people to be part of our community as we embark on this journey and hope that friends and family can eventually join us there.
When we stop hiding our desires and cravings, and decide to learn from them instead, we’ll make better choices about our food and our lives.
You can pick up her book, Women, Food, and Desire
Interview notes for the show:
Pedram: Hey and welcome back to the Urban Monk. Dr. Pedram Shojai here with my soul sister, Alex Jamieson. She is awesome. She was behind the movie Supersize Me and she’s having a real serious, seriously authentic conversation about food, desire, cravings and sex and just all kinds of juicy stuff. I think you’re going to really enjoy this interview. She’s just one of the chillest people I know and she’s moving and shaking out there because she’s preaching, she’s telling like it is and she’s speaking to people’s hearts. Enjoy Alex Jamieson.
Alex, it is so great to see you. I know how busy you’ve been running around doing your thing, trying to save the world. We met a while back now, huh?
Alex: Yeah, a few years ago.
Pedram: A few years ago. You’re like the genius behind the diet on Supersize Me and really helped that guy get it going and you never stopped. You’ve been out there trying to help people with food and diet for a long time and just I love … This is like a traditional health bridge type topic, but the reason we’re hanging out on the Urban Monk set and by the way she’s in a hotel room in Boston having just given a speech lecture to a bunch of people is that the whole concept of desires and cravings and what you’ve been talking about lately is such a refreshing conversation when it comes to food. I thought we should come over to this side of the fence, jump on this show and just get a little loose about it because it’s heavy stuff you’re talking about.
Alex: It is and it really plays into spirituality and who are we as people and what is it we really want in life and there’s this push-pull when it comes to food and pleasure that can get very complicated. Once it becomes easy it’s like one of the best things about being alive.
Alex Jamieson’s Background
Pedram: Totally. I had a show with Mark David talking about orthorexia and how it’s just such a pain in the ass eating anything nowadays. It’s just like, “Is that water or mineral water?” There’s nothing that you can’t stress about and so I love this conversation because it just comes in from a different angle. How did you even arrive here? What got you to start going in this direction?
Alex: I was raised by hippies. I was raised on an old organic farm outside of Portland, Oregon. I saw what it took to grow food and that it was this constant season to season planning and exploration. Food had this really sensuous feel to it for me growing up because we were out in the garden growing and digging and weeding and harvesting. It was such a pleasure to go out and pick something that you had spent time growing and then make it and share it and I think we’ve lost so much of that pleasure with food, the long time that it takes food to really come into being. We rush. We rush through everything in life and food is just another thing to get through. Yet we spend so much time thinking about food but we don’t really experience food because we’re so stressed out about it like you said. Where like, “Uh, am I doing the right thing? Should I be paleo? Should I be vegan? I don’t know.” Really it can just be easy. It really can.
Pedram: What I love is just before we came online … Alex is my sister, I love this girl, I haven’t seen her in a while. Her first two questions to me are how are the babies, how’s the garden, right? I’m here making babies but that’s how valuable the garden is to one’s sanity and the thread of health that weaves through life. It takes one to know one, right? I’m not a gardening dude, I just became one and it’s like, “I love it. I’m in.” Right? But you grew up with that. It’s fun to acknowledge that in each other and it sparked me a little bit when you asked me how my garden was because I’m just like, “Oh yeah. I love that thing.”
Alex: Yeah. You put a lot of time and effort into it. I live in New York City, I’ve been there for sixteen years now. I love my apartment because I have the roof. We have about 30 pots growing up there, herbs and lettuces and edible flowers. It’s my sanity. I go up there several times a day. I’m already planning what I’m going to plant next spring. I search out varieties of things that can grow in containers because that’s what we can do. It connects me to birds and I get to watch the trees change and I wonder what the weather’s going to be like. Even that simple aspect of growing a few herbs in pots can connect you to this cyclical nature of what it means to be a human eater on this planet.
Desire Driven Eating
Pedram: That’s it. That’s it. So this concept of calories in, calories out and survival and all these things, it’s like, “Okay, well we got to eat.” I get that. But what’s all the deep stuff behind this whole desire driven eating? Is there some sort of foundational basis on where it comes from, root causes?
Alex: I was really tied up in knots about my body for a long time and tied up around food. I transitioned to a vegan diet in my mid 20s for health reasons mainly. It was the perfect choice for me at that time. I got so excited. I had never heard of veganism. This was 1999. I didn’t even know what that is but it sounds great. It reignited my passion for food that I had lost since childhood and then it became really not good for me anymore. After 10 years of being vegan, my body started craving meat. That was a symptom, that was a signal that something was wrong. My hormones were a mess and I wasn’t realizing it. My menstrual cycle was a disaster. I was so anemic, I mean so anemic. I couldn’t do anything within the vegan framework to fix that. Yet my body was still craving, hungering, I had this desire for animal protein which was exactly the food that I needed to heal those issues.
Because we have such a rigid system with food rules. I thought anything I craved because sugar is bad and meat is bad and anything I crave must be wrong and bad. I can’t trust what my body’s telling me. I struggled for over a year, almost two years and didn’t listen to my body. When I finally woke up and realized I’m teaching other people how to be healthy with food and honor their bodies and I’m not allowing myself to do the same because I think I have to adhere to some strict perfect guideline. Learning to listen to your body is really challenging. There’s a lot of judgment about that, that you’re weak or that you’re gluttonous or that you’re not a spiritual person if you’re following what I think is one of the things that makes us human. Desire, urges, craving, yearnings, these are things that propel procreation. If we didn’t eat and didn’t have babies, the human race would die out. It’s part of us. We have to honor it. But we’ve created a lot of really crazy human rules with our brains on top of that.
The Troubles That Come With Leaving Veganism
Pedram: Yeah. We certainly have. It sounds like … Your identity was very much latched to the veganism thing, right? I’ve been around it for a very long time, seen thousands of patients who’ve come in with an infertility and all this and you’re like, “Look, I hate to break it to you but you need some good fat and some protein and you’re not getting it.” It was like one of those lines that people did not want to cross. It was really, really a challenge and I remember when you finally went there, I was there when you finally broke ranks and was like, “That’s it. I’m going to eat meat and I’m going to follow these urges because I can’t not listen to my body anymore.” You had like angry fallout people were really angry at you. You broke ranks.
Alex: Yeah. I was a traitor. Worse than that I was a murderer. There’s a saying out there in the vegan community, “Never trust an ex-vegan.” That because I was now eating meat, even though it was for health reasons and many of them don’t believe that there were any good reasons for that, that I could have fixed it otherwise, that now I am an immoral person and I’m making bad choices.
Pedram: Did you try to fix it?
Alex: Oh yeah. For over a year I tried to fix it. I tried all the super foods. I tried all the supplements. All the C vegetables and nothing was working.
Pedram: You were in. You were a vegan and you were committed to being a vegan and you were going to work it out as a vegan and you couldn’t get it to work.
Alex: I made the movie Supersize Me. I was the vegan chef. I wrote three vegan cookbooks. I was committed for over a decade. When I finally came out, people were very upset about that but that just points to the religiosity we have around food. It is how we identify ourselves, it’s how we define ourselves as humans and I think that’s … There’s good and bad with that, you have to find a balance, it’s how we connect with our family of origin, with our ethnic family of origin as well as through the foods that we use traditionally and that can be a really beautiful thing. It can be really dangerous when what you need to survive and thrive is different.
Pedram: Yeah. Kind of not fair to your body. What did you do? How did you start to unwind this and listen to yourself and honor and nourish yourself without the guilt, without all the just … The self-sabotage, all the psychological baggage that comes with having to unravel an identity that’s associated with it.
Alex: First you need community. You need people around you who are going to support you in a change like this. I was lucky in that I had friends and a partner who was … They’re like, “We love you no matter what you eat. It doesn’t matter to us.” Since coming out as no longer vegan, I’ve kind of become the vegan confessional booth and I have people write me all the time. They say, “I’m vegan too and my health is falling apart. My thyroid, my adrenals, my fertility. But I don’t have any friends who aren’t animal rights activists or all my friends are plant-based nutrition …” Or whatever. They don’t have anyone that they can go to for support. That’s really, really important. I’m a student of positive psychology and the three words that can describe this whole school of thought are other people matter. You are the five people you hang out with most. We have mirror neurons in our brain and again that connects us to our family and to our tribe but it can work against us when we need something different.
I finally started experimenting secretly. I was hiding it for a while. That doesn’t feel good. I was eating fish in my kitchen with the windows closed hoping nobody would see me. That caused a lot of mental shame and emotional issues but physically, I felt so much better. I had this back and forth for a while.
Pedram: I want to qualify something real quickly. It’s just I almost feel like … I don’t even know why I need to do this but we had so much of this with our last movie because we talked about clean meat and everyone thought I got a dog in the race. I’m not a rancher. Alex isn’t … We’re not in the meat business. This isn’t some sort of, “Oh my god, this is great. Let’s go back and be cruel to animals” play, this is a weird place that we live where we come from this biological upbringing that did this. Our ancestors ate animals and now we have these industries that are horrible to animals. What kind of animal protein you consume and what the life cycle of that animal was and how it was treated and all that is critically important in all of this.
This isn’t saying go to your nearest drive through and get the quarter pounder of whatever, but it’s saying what does this conversation need to evolve to if we’re not going to be campy and weird about it so that we can take care of ourselves and talk about things authentically.
Alex: What it really takes is such a level of awareness and transparency with yourself and with the people in your life. It’s really hard, especially for women. This is a uniquely female issue where we have a really hard time listening to what our bodies need. We’re very good at following other people’s rules because for our entire lives, we’ve been taught that our bodies are dangerous and scary and whatever you do, don’t get fat. Food and sex become very scary topics for us and so we distrust any sensation, any messages that our body might be telling us. We don’t trust it so we go to experts, disregarding anything, any information that we might be holding. One of my greatest works is just to help women especially learn to listen to and trust their bodies and follow that intuition.
Pedram: I love that. I love that. It’s like the Oracle of Delphi, right? You go this deep inner wisdom of goddess energy and that used to be the hallmark of wisdom for our culture and now all of a sudden it’s just like, “Shut up. You don’t know anything. Just stay in line body.” It seems like such an atrocity that we are helping co-create on our own bodies and our own psyches and it’s just … That’s horror.
Alex: It plays out on the grander human scale as well. I just spoke at a conference about female leadership and honoring the feminine in business, this huge marketing conference, like 14,000 people were there. Here I was, up on stage, telling people that we need to honor our feminine in our body and it rocked. I had people up, like moving their hips, trying to feel into their bellies and they loved it. I think that we’re on this edge where people are starting to realize I want to feel authentic. I want to be true to myself and I want to make an impact in the world in some small way but in order to do that we have to really feel into ourselves. Sometimes you have to go to a clean eating cleanse to strip away the effects of the standard American diet, the inflammation and the foggy brain and all that. You got to get clear first and then you can just start eating and see how different foods make you feel. That’s a totally different way of eating than … It’s intuitive, it’s soulful eating. It’s a totally different way than eat this many carbs and grams on this day at this time and then have this thing. It’s such a different way to nourish your life and your body.
Pedram: It’s unfortunate because almost every registered dietitian in this country just goes calories in, calories out. We have science there, right? But no one wants to do that stuff because it sucks and it’s boring and it’s just too analytical. There’s all sorts of weird wild, wild west health advice out there, right? It’s like if you just had quail eggs every day, you’d look like a supermodel. I’m sure there’s a quail egg diet out there.
Alex: If there’s not, I’m making one right now. Quaileggdiet.com.
How To Find Success As A Woman In Business
Pedram: Totally. It’s my next book. It’s going to be so great. I want to talk about this in terms of community real quick because you did something. You got 14,000 women who are trying to get into Women’s Business Conference and bring themselves into this … Without a better way of saying this, like a man’s world. This world is male-dominated, it’s very corporate, it’s very rigid, it’s very structured. These women come in at the risk of being too masculine and compromising their femininity which is this beautiful power. How do you get a woman to wake up to this individually and then bring this into a community so that this can grow?
Alex: That’s a great question. It starts with on the individual level. Starting to really listen to and get clear about your cravings and desires. That could be cravings for food, it can be desires for how you want to spend your time, what you want to be doing with your life. A lot of us are just on this freeway and we’re just going and doing. We don’t stop. We need to take the off ramp and take a little rest area break and be like, “How do I feel right now?” That’s a great way to approach your next meal. Really taking time to go and sit and eat. How do I feel right now and how did my emotional state influence what I chose to eat? How quickly am I eating? Really just taking stock, being willing to sit in your emotions and get clear about what they are. That’s not something that we’re taught how to do.
That really translates to work as well. It’s so interesting to be talking to female leaders and men leaders as well that they want to have an authentic, open workspace, a working life that feels good. Traditionally, emotion has not been allowed. Emotion and the feminine hasn’t been honored at all in the workplace, as you were saying, it was very rigid, very masculine. But that is starting to change. The more women that come into positions of power, CEOs, into government, into the Senate, they are bringing in the feminine values of cooperation, of authenticity, of being able to see everything that’s going on on win-win-win situations so that it’s not just risk taking and buccaneering. We can use the masculine strengths to uphold the more feminine virtues.
I think that does translate back and forth from the actions that you take every day to feeling your emotions and your body as you’re making decisions for what you’re going to eat and how that’s going to help you show up in your life to creating a working environment where people’s emotional states and humanity is also honored in a place in service of some bigger goal.
Pedram: Yeah. You’d mentioned something that I think is pretty profound. It’s one thing to talk about it, it’s another thing to feel it. The example that comes to mind is like if you don’t take out the trash in your kitchen, the kitchen stinks. At a certain point, you can’t figure out what you like and what you dislike. You got to take out the trash so that then you could cook in that kitchen and feel good about it and all that. I think most people get into diets and you alluded to this earlier, just jump into these diets and never really understand what it feels like to be clean so that they understand what a given food does to them. Once they’ve erased that, like say the dry erase board, then you see the marks on the thing when they show up. I’d love for you to speak to that a little bit more because we see this in elimination diets, we see it in medicine all the time, but I think a lot of fad diets miss this so people don’t have a moniker to know how good they can feel.
The Toxic 6 Foods
Alex: Right. I help people using functional nutrition and it’s basically taking out what I call the toxic 6 foods, the most common foods that cause all of the underlying problems, the gut issues, the hormone issues, the brain fog. If we can just take those out for a couple of weeks, then your body comes back to this place of calm. I call it like we’re in the static. We’re just constantly like, “Shh” in this staticy place where we feel anxious and we feel depressed and sometimes manic and we’re using sugar and caffeine and carbs as Valium and all these things. If we can calm that down for just a little bit, that allows you to actually see and feel and hear how your body responds to everything, whether it’s food, whether it’s people. If you’re not using food to mask things, you’re going to see how your emotional eating habits have been showing up in your life. If you’re not using the “mocha frappa-latta-ccino”at 3 o’clock every single day to help you get through because your adrenals are totally screwed and you have insomnia and you have all these other issues to figure out. Just taking out these foods.
I’m happy to tell you what they are. It’s no secret. It’s gluten, soy, corn, dairy, sugar and caffeine. Sugar includes alcohol. Just taking those foods out for a couple of weeks, it’s life-changing for so many people. They’re like, “I didn’t realize that I was always bloated. I was always a little bit depressed.” Or, “I had headaches every single day and now I don’t.” It’s like … I didn’t know what good felt like. That’s pretty awesome.
Pedram: Yeah, you know, this really brings me back to monastery and Vipassana meditation in a lot of ways where it’s really a function of awareness and lack of awareness, like bringing consciousness to the party. If you’re not self aware, you have no idea why that whole pumpkin pie just went into your mouth and it was because you got into a fight with your boyfriend or whatever it is and you just emotionally binged or whatever. That step of self-awareness, it almost feels like from what I’m hearing, you can’t even go there until you press that reset, get all the junk foods out for a couple weeks so that you can feel what Alex feels like normally, so that when some fluctuation happens, you could go, “Oh yeah, I don’t like that,” versus, “It all sucks, it’s all static. I’m in trouble.”
Alex: Yeah. It’s true. You can’t ignore the mind-body connection that our thoughts play such a huge part in how and what we eat. I always have lots of mindset tools. The reason why I got into positive psychology was to help people have a way to change their thinking habits or think about their strengths. Rely on what’s going well rather than constantly focusing on lack, deprivation, what’s wrong with me. You can’t beat the crap out of yourself into a happy place with your body. We need to have more loving, pleasurable ways to well-being because that’s what we want. We just want to feel good in and about our bodies.
Pedram: God, that just … It’s such a sticky subject because now we’re talking about feeling good and then repressing desires. It’s like you’re so on it with the sex thing too. These are all verboten. It’s like how are you even allowed to be that full expression of yourself in a culture that judges that and how do you unravel that?
Alex: It’s especially challenging again for women because at such a young age, we are taught that sex is very dangerous for us. If you lose your virginity, you’re going to lose your virginity, like, “Where’d I put it?” You’ve lost this one unique thing about you that can never be reclaimed and you’re now soiled and dirty. You’re just never going to quite measure up. What if you do it wrong? What if you choose the wrong person? Sex becomes very, very frightening for us because we’re going to lose something inherently valuable about us that is based on our bodies. We have these natural desires at such a young age to explore our sexuality because the human body, especially the female body, was built for pleasure. I don’t know who invented the clitoris but it’s an amazing thing. To tell us that it’s not okay to explore that or enjoy our bodies, while telling us that sex is dangerous, don’t do it wrong, by the way, don’t get fat. Whatever you do, don’t get fat. You could lose your body as well. When you have kids and you get older, if you … The sin of getting older as a woman. All of these things together, it’s traumatic. We can’t win. We feel like our bodies are never truly ours, we’re never good enough and it makes food and sex again, so uncomfortable and they really should be great.
Finding Value In Playing
Pedram: They are great, minus the judgment and all of the weight that we put on them, right? How do we unwind? How do we get out of this negative thought cycle and really start to navigate back to those calmer waters?
Alex: You have a little one running around the house.
Pedram: I do.
Alex: I’m a big fan of play. Human beings learn best while playing. That means it’s a combination of physicality and using your brain to figure something out and working with other people and leaning. Play for young people and for young animals … It’s this incredible way that we learn how to read other people when you’re wrestling with someone or playing or running or whatever with them. You learn social cues from someone about boundaries, about what’s appropriate, what’s not. Oh, I’ve gone too far. What’s fun for someone else? Getting into a state of play in any way helps to … It takes you out of judgment about yourself automatically. I like to encourage adults to have as many toys as possible, really. That shows up in different ways for different people. In our home, we have hula hoop, we have a slackline up on the roof, we’ve got a hammock, I’ve got hot pink roller skates personally. We have all these ways that we can have fun together that are using our bodies. I use them during the day all the time. We got the standing desk and the wobble board and just how can we enjoy being in this physical body and for a lot of people it’s just nature walk, riding a bike.
I can’t tell you how many older women I’ve worked with who are like, “If I could just get on a bike again, if I could feel confident riding a bike again, that would be so fun or stand-up paddleboarding. Something that’s really an easy sport to get into and doesn’t take a lot of physical strength and you could really get into it pretty easily. What helps you forget yourself but move in your body in a way that you enjoy it? Then of course there’s the most adult toys of all, which I think everybody should explore. Get yourself to a clean, well-lit place for sex toys. Go to babeland.com or something and get some adult toys that you want to experiment enjoying the pleasures of your own body, either on your own or with your partner. We’re so in our heads, we forget that most of our … We worry so much about our bodies but we’re not actually experiencing our bodies.
Pedram: Yeah. Being disembodied in that way then allows us to unconsciously dump foods in and not think about how we’re nourishing our bodies. That’s the disconnect. I want to add one quick thing there because I’ve seen this happen a few times where we make all these recommendations and then cold climate people are like, “Screw you and your paddle boards.” It’s just like, “Cross country ski.” There’s lots of things. I don’t care where you live. You could find fun. I know a lot of cold climate people that feel sorry for themselves and it’s just like, “You know what? Cross country skiing is awesome. You can still do archery. There’s a million things you could do if you get creative with your body anywhere.”
Alex: It can be so simple. It can be whittling, tying flies for fly-fishing, knitting, crossword puzzles, really, anything that is playful, that expands your mind a little bit. Getting into the state of flow is a really underrated human experience and that’s something you’re really engaged in, you really enjoy, and it’s pushing your physical boundaries just a little bit. How can you do that? For me it’s usually getting into nature in some way.
Pedram: Sure. You live in New York City.
Alex: I do.
Pedram: You’re in the belly of the beast and there’s plenty … That’s my favorite thing about New York, every time I go there, it’s just like I’ll meet some friends in Central Park and you get and you drive 10 miles up north and all of a sudden you’re in forests. Even in Manhattan, there’s plenty of access to nature. All you got to do is willfully want it.
Alex: Right. There’s kayaking on the East River. You do have to search it out and again, that’s where the idea that other people matter comes into play. Do you have old ideas about, “People like me don’t do that. People in my family have never gone kayaking before. How do I approach something like that?” You kind of have to expand your circle a bit. When you want to break out of old habits, you’ve got to see who in your life does cool, weird things that maybe you could tag along and do it with them.
Pedram: Yeah. There’s plenty of resources. Meetup and all sorts of different groups that you could find online of people that are doing it and then once you go check that out, it’s like you’re pleasantly surprised that there’s just a bunch of other normal people there and a lot of newbies. It’s like, “Oh my god. I’m not like the lonely fat person in this rock climbing circle.” There’s a bunch of people that are just trying to check this out. Great.
Alex: I think we have to address the fear of failure with all of this, whether it’s changing how you eat or trying a new activity. Gardening for the first time. The fear of failure is very real. I’m a huge fan of Brene Brown and she talks a lot about vulnerability and bravery and trying to discover what it is that really feeds your soul is going to require you to fail a little bit. If you push the boundaries of your life, if you’re trying to create something new, you’re going to screw up. It’s going to not work sometimes.
Pedram: That’s interesting. But then who’s watching and who’s judging and what’s keeping you from doing it?
Pedram: Daddy was tough.
Alex: Usually just some story in your own head but there might be … You talked about sabotage earlier. Often we sabotage ourselves. If we find ourselves losing too much weight and then what’s that going to mean about my life? It’s safer to put it back on. What about somebody in our life who makes little jokes like, “Oh, are you going to not want me anymore if you lose the weight?” Or are there people in your life that make little digs, they make fun of you. That’s really a common way that families relate to each other. They make fun of each other, they tease in just a nasty enough way that it keeps you from wanting to really try anything new or express yourself differently. That can be a really hard thing to overcome in changing how you treat yourself, exercise, physically, food wise, activity wise. That can be tough.
Pedram: Yeah, it’s like this emotional leverage that we hold on each other just to keep each other down. You’re right, in the family it’s … Happens in the workplace, happens in the family, but we’re really good at boxing each other’s ears so that we don’t have fun. Now what about fun as a culture? I like to have fun, I like to play hard and work hard. I found that that binary system still isn’t enough for my brain to relax into my day. I’m goofy all day, and I know that you, you got your hot pink roller skates and you’re kicking ass, you’re doing stuff all over the world. How does that integrate in the way you run your life so that you’re not either on recess or sitting at your uncomfortable desk.
Alex: I am a big fan of the Pomodoro. I work in bursts and then I take breaks. Because my …
Pedram: It’s an app by the way. It’s a great productivity app for those of you who don’t know what …
Alex: Oh. Is it? I have an actual timer. I have an actual kitchen timer at my desk.
Pedram: Oh interesting. I have it on my phone. Yeah. If you haven’t checked it out, Pomodoro, find it in the Apple store or the Android store but it’s great. Sorry, I just wanted to … Because a lot of people are like, “I don’t know what you guys are talking about.”
Alex: “What is that?”
Helping Your Brain By Taking Breaks
Alex: There’s very good science to back this up. Working in short bursts and then taking a break physically is incredibly good for your brain. You have something called BDNF in your brain, brain derived neurotrophic factor, which is like Miracle-Gro for the brain. If you sit too long, working on your computer, your brain runs out. When you get up and do something physical, especially fun, so I actually have a little trampoline outside my bedroom door and I’ll leave the office, go out the bedroom door and trampoline for a couple minutes. Have some water and go back in and work for another twenty minutes, twenty-five minutes. I’m constantly just taking breaks because I’ve seen that …
Believe me, I have done it both ways. I have done the work yourself until you die way, which did nothing good for my adrenals, I can tell you and now I’m doing the more, “You know, I’m going to work less but better. I’m going to work a lot less. I’m going to have more fun breaks in between,” and it really helps me focus. My writing is better, everything I do, I can make decisions better. I don’t have to ruminate and think about making choices that add so much time to any productivity issue. We think that we have to just nose to the grindstone. Personally, I’m finding that life is a lot easier and my work’s a lot better if I’m taking a lot of breaks and having a better time.
Pedram: Totally. It’s going back to that flow state that you alluded to earlier. I remember when we were filming Origins, my last movie, we’d be watching these impala out there in the African Bush for hours. Jesus, for me it was kind of getting boring because it’s just like, “All right, he’s eating.” But most of the day, these animals are just chilling out and hanging out and every once in a while, the shit hits the fan and you run for your life. We flip that script. We’re stressed all the time and then we think watching Family Guy is like our unravel for 30 minutes while we’re eating dinner at the sofa. That I think is … It’s such a compelling argument to just hack your environment. I’m a big fan of standing desk, we got like kettlebells and all sorts of shit around here. It’s like you do whatever you need to do, don’t stagnate.
The play, it’s almost like verboten still. You can get up and exercise because that’s corporate wellness. But don’t let me catch you goofing off because God forbid, we don’t do that around here. There’s that English, Anglo-Germanic cultural thing that’s also riding us in our culture which doesn’t allow us to release. You look at some of these really great companies like Google … The ones that are really innovating and they got ping pong tables, they got nap rooms. They’re just like, “Do whatever, dude.”
Alex: Right. Yeah. Absolutely. And when you give people more autonomy over how they work, they feel more able. They feel more capable. They’re more invested, they’re more connected to what they’re doing. They actually do produce much better work if you take the restrictions off. I think things are really starting to change and the bigger, older companies are saying, “We can’t do it this way anymore because the young people we’re trying to recruit don’t want to work like this. They want meaning and they want wellness so we have to change how we create the corporate structures in order to entice good talent.”
Pedram: Look at the millennial generation and beyond and it’s like, “You’re telling me you want me to do this thing that you did but you’re miserable, all you do is come home exhausted. You have diabetes and you divorced Mom and your life fell apart and thanks very much, I’ll follow your footsteps.” They’re over it, and “Thanks for melting the icecaps, Dad.”
Alex: It’s really interesting. The two women that I hear from most who have been reading my book are older women who are close to retirement and they’re looking back and saying, “Oh no. Where did my life go? What do I want now?” Young women who are just starting out and they’re like, “I want to do it in a way that feels good to me.” Two totally different ends of the same spectrum. It’s awesome. It’s so much harder to reach your late fifties and early sixties and realize, “I don’t know what I want and I’ve been working so hard that my body’s breaking down and it’s taking me months and months and months for me to change my health state and I’m going to believe you, Alex, that play and fun and pleasure are going to help me feel better,” but they’re so used to working really hard and doing it all themselves. Trying to lighten that up, it’s way easier to do it when you’re 25. That’s for sure.
More Information About Women, Food, and Desire
Pedram: Totally. They also come from a generation that needs some sort of permission. Here you are giving them permission to play and somehow, psychologically then it’s okay. It’s prescribed. I want to jump in and talk about your book. I know it’s coming out in paperback now. I love it. I love the work that you’re doing, I’m a big fan. Anything that can innovate in this conversation about diet and how we relate to food, more on a psychospiritual level for me is juicy and I think you really struck a nerve with this. Give me the gestalt. What are you talking about in this book?
Alex: It’s called Women, Food, and Desire and it documents my transition from vegan and listening to my body and diving into cravings and what do they mean. What’s possible when we really start to listen to our bodies and honor our cravings because we think cravings are bad, we just do. Anything you crave, “Ooh, it’s got a nasty, naughty connotation to it.” There is real valuable information. It’s really your soul speaking to you for some kind of balance. It could be nutritional or bacterial. It could be a health issue that you need to balance that you’re not fully engaged with. Or it could be something emotional or physical in your life. How are you treating yourself? How much fun and play and pleasure are you having? I think Women, Food and Desire is that big permission slip for women to really go have fun in your body. I talk about masturbation and the benefits to our hormones in it and how it can actually be a great thing for couples as well.
We don’t have to talk about calories anymore. We can just put that aside and just give you permission for you as an individual to find out what works for your unique body. Again, that’s scary to go off on your own, so I’m really trying to create a community of women who are doing this together for themselves.
Pedram: Knowing you, you already have created a community of women. I know a lot of people that look to you for that permission and it’s so cute because you’re just like this sweet thing that’s just out there, telling the truth and once they’re allowed to give themselves permission, it’s like they could get out there and do it but they come to you for this. I know a lot of young girls in our community that just love you up because of it. I think it’s because you’re just bold. You’re out there speaking it and you got vulnerable and you showed this thing that happened to you which was shameful and embarrassing and traumatic at the time but so what? Now look at you. You’re free and you’re rollerskating and trampolining. You know what I mean? And speaking in front of 18,000 badass women. You’re in a hotel room in Boston right now, you just spoke to a bunch of serious people because you stepped into your power and you stopped playing small ball. I think there’s a lot in that.
Alex: I know. It was pretty amazing to say to this huge room of people, “I want you to all stand up and we’re all going to do superhero poses. Because I want you to feel the difference in how you can feel more confident in your body,” and how they get it automatically. There were men and women in this room, standing up and they’re like, “Oh yeah. My body does impact my ability to think and have confidence and put myself out there,” and in just a few short minutes, man, I had them. They were into it. I had them doing hip swivels. We had CMOs and CFOs in there doing this dance to loosen up their belly and feel into their body and they loved it. People are ready for this. They’re ready to loosen up and feel good in their bodies and not beat the crap out of themselves to do it.
Pedram: Yeah. It was this weird era. I’ve been tripping on this a lot is we had this thing after World War II where the Soviets had this evil empire and we had to match it in kind, come up with some sort of ethos or philosophy. “This is what we’re about.” It became about work productivity and Leave It To Beaver and all sorts of weird stuff that we’re still shaking out of and going, “What the hell was that?” That didn’t have to be the way we lived but we just assumed that was reality and so now that we’re in this shake out phase, it’s like, “You get to be who you want to be. You get to enjoy your life. You could start some online business and become a millionaire. You don’t need to have an asshole boss.” There’s no rules. You can be all of that and love your body up and I think that that’s refreshing.
Alex: It is refreshing and it’s a little scary for people because that means they have to get very vulnerable and very honest with themselves about what they do want. It might be completely different from what their family of origin wanted. A lot of my friends, their ideal is to retire or have this huge house and like, I want a tiny house. I want to have a little tiny house on 10 acres of land. That’s my ideal retirement plan right there. I’m okay with that, even though people think I’m weird. I’m okay with that. But not everybody feels comfortable being the outlier.
How To Get A Copy Of Women, Food, and Desire
Pedram: “A huge house is going to make me feel important and it’s going to make everyone believe that I did well for myself so they’ll be so proud of me,” right? Huge houses are built for huge families. There’s a lot of that. The risk of going down that hole. I just want to say that this conversation is just delightful. I love where you’re at and I think that you’re really a thought leader in this space and I commend you on it. How can people get your book? Is it in bookstores? Tell us how we can get this in everyone’s hands.
Alex: Women, Food, and Desire, there it is. It’s on Amazon, it’s in bookstores. They can go to womenfoodanddesire.com and get it right there and get a whole bunch of juicy bonuses, all that fun stuff online. Great interviews and recipes that can help you implement all these different ways of eating and learn to listen to your body. It’s gotten such great reviews. I love hearing from people once they read it and it’s just like, “I’m not dieting anymore and I look good doing it.” That is beautiful, to free up the mental space from what used to be worried about dieting and body all the time. If we could just harness that, like all the women in America, all the women in the world not worried about their bodies anymore, imagine what we could do with all that extra energy. That’s my hope.
Pedram: It’s delightful. Look, if you’re listening to this and you’ve gone from fad diet to fad diet and you’ve done that whole thing, if it hasn’t worked, then the next fad diet probably isn’t either. This isn’t a fad diet. This is a conversation about what’s real and it really changes the way we think about food and to me, that’s where the conversation needs to go. Alex, you’re awesome. I miss you.
Alex: You’re awesome. I love you.
Pedram: Love you, love you, love you.
Alex: It’s great to see you.
Pedram: Yeah it is great to see you as always. I’ll see you in New York next time I’m there. In the interim, just keep rocking it and I want to thank you for being here. I think you’ve really lit up the show with your presence. You’re delightful.
Alex: Thank you Pedram.
Pedram: Cool. Hope you enjoyed it. Alex is delightful. As promised, I invite you to check out her book. You will not be disappointed. I love the fact that she’s changing this conversation about diets and this yo-yo diet crap and really bringing something real and authentic to the people. I hope you enjoyed the episode. Please love me up on iTunes or YouTube, wherever you are, subscribe, leave some comments. Like I said, I’m just getting this show started. I’m really enjoying it and I’m going to be bringing all kinds of really cool guests to share with you. Help me understand where we’re at in terms of the vibe and the flow and all that. The comments do matter, I do read them and I appreciate you being here. I’ll see you in the next one.