Pilar Gerasimo, Experience Life Founding Editor

Revolutionary Acts

Experience Life founding Pilar Gerasimo shares her renegade perspectives for thriving in a mixed-up world.

Posts Tagged Pilar Gerasimo

Experience Life Magazine

Revolutionary Act 5: Question Authority

When it comes to health and fitness information, authoritative organizations may not be your best source of advice.

As a health journalist, I rely a great deal on expert opinions and authoritative resources. But I’ve also learned to get second and third opinions, to do my own research, to follow the money and to consult my own common sense and experience.

Basically, I’ve learned to question authority (which is No. 50 of the 101 Revolutionary Ways to Be Healthy). Because what I’ve discovered is that experts and authorities of all kinds are often mistaken — sometimes about important stuff. And in my experience, they are wrong more often than they will admit to being in doubt.

This is particularly true in the domain of health. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve gotten lousy health advice from “beyond-reproach” sources like the American Medical Association, American Dietetic Association, American Heart Association, United States Department of Agriculture, Food and Drug Administration (to say nothing of the media outlets and health experts that rely on them for information and insight), I’d be a wealthy woman indeed.

But all those dollars would not be worth it — not by far — because if I had followed their advice, I suspect I’d also be sick, overweight and unhappy. I’d be worried about all the wrong things (saturated fats, calories, dietary cholesterol), and I’d be fairly clueless about the things with the greatest chance of slowly killing me (refined flours, undiagnosed gluten and dairy intolerances, sugars, toxic industrial fats, chemical additives and prescription drugs).

I’d be vigilantly counting calories instead of thoughtfully evaluating the quality, character and origin of my food. So I’d be poorly nourished and hungry all the time. I’d be struggling to exercise — and doing it joylessly, mostly to burn calories, instead of challenging my body to build strength, energy, resilience and vitality. And I’d be frustrated that no matter how hard I tried to follow all that dreadful advice, my health and fitness would continue to worsen.

Nutritionally deficient, inflamed and imbalanced, I’d go to the doctor looking for relief. I’d probably be prescribed a slew of medications — for my cholesterol, my stomach acid, my blood pressure, my back pain and my depression — all of which would cost me a fortune and have side effects of their own.

Before long, I’d no longer be the rich woman I’d become by accepting all those dollar bills in exchange for my gullibility. Instead, I’d be a bankrupt, prematurely aged, chronically ill, foggy-brained woman trying to figure out what in the heck went wrong.

I realize this may all sound a little dramatic, but it is precisely what is happening to millions of Americans each and every day. Why? Because a lot of the advice we are getting from the voices of authority is bad, corrupted, half-baked, outdated — and a lot of what we most need to hear (about what really works) just isn’t getting through.

Check out the dietary and lifestyle recommendations at the American Heart Association’s website. Or the American Dietetic Association’s site, or in the literature of any one of a dozen other official-sounding organizations. You’ll see a big emphasis on counting and burning calories, avoiding saturated fats and dietary cholesterol, reducing salt, eating a lot of low-fat or fat-free dairy and eating more so-called whole grains (mostly in the guise of whole-wheat flour products, which are not whole at all).

You’ll see comparatively little emphasis, meanwhile, on reducing your intake of refined carbohydrates (like flours, starches and sugars), industrial vegetable oils and artificial ingredients — the primary ingredients in processed foods.

You’ll also see little on why eating phytonutrient-rich, fiber-rich and whole foods is so important to building vitality and reducing inflammation.

In other words, you’ll get totally backward advice. And when you do get decent advice (like “eat more vegetables”), you’ll get it wrapped in a fat-free, whole-wheat tortilla and served with three side dishes of low-fat dairy.

There are many reasons for this, and plenty of blame for the ag-food-pharma industry, policymakers and the media to share. But the most pernicious dynamic is this: The food industry heavily influences the ADA’s nutritional recommendations. (For more on this dynamic, read Justin Stoneman’s excellent rant). They contribute vast sums of money to the ADA. They sponsor a lot of research, and they determine how and if the results of that research get reported. Then they leverage their preferred study results (along with a whole lot of lobbying money and power) to convince experts and policymakers to support official positions and recommendations that just happen to be advantageous (or at least not damaging) to their most profitable product lines.

By the time those official recommendations and guidelines come out, they often make no sense at all. Still, they get reported en mass by conventional media outlets — many of which have those same industry research-funders and lobbying interests as major advertisers. All this undermined, incomplete advice gets rolled out to the newsstand and airwaves, to public-health resources and to doctors’ offices. And suddenly, that’s “the truth” that everybody knows is true and right. Even if it’s not.

We recently did a piece in Experience Life magazine called “Digesting the New USDA Dietary Guidelines” (September 2011) that offers a nice overview of just how confused and undermined official recommendations like these often are.

We’ve done many other pieces over the years– on saturated fats (“A Big Fat Mistake“); on low-fat dairy (“Skimming the Truth“); on cholesterol (“Cholesterol Myths“); on artificial sweeteners (“Poor Substitutes“); on pharmaceuticals (“The Other Drug Problem“); and on weight loss (“Weight Loss Rules to Rethink“) — that illustrate why failing to question authoritative truths can be so dangerous to your health.

Whenever we are doing the background research for articles like these, I’m amazed at how much decent information is actually out there, but just not breaking through to major media outlets.

Why on earth, I wonder? And then I remember: Follow the money.

A couple of weeks ago I had a really great heart-to-heart conversation with a fellow journalist, an editor at a major lifestyle publication. Over drinks, this editor told me in hushed tones that their editorial staff couldn’t even use the phrase “processed food” in their copy. Their advertisers (processed-food companies) would go nuts. It makes you wonder what else our “authoritative” major media outlets can’t comfortably write or talk about.

So my advice is this: Don’t assume that the “authoritative” sources are necessarily the best sources — particularly when it comes to healthy lifestyle advice. Look for second and third opinions. And be willing to thumb your nose at authority now and then, particularly when your health is at stake. Which it is.
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For an ad-free, convention-busting collection of revolutionary healthy-living resources, including “A Manifesto for Thriving in a Mixed-Up World,” and the “101 Revolutionary Ways to Be Healthy,” visit www.RevolutionaryAct.com.

Experience Life Magazine

Fitness-Buddy Transformations

MyPicture-1.jpgFor the past couple of years, I’ve been doing the fitness-buddy thing with my niece, Xanthi, now 19. It started with me giving her some basic pointers on heart-rate training and running form, but it rapidly evolved into a full-fledged mutual support system — and then into something of a transformation story.

Over the course of the past two years, Xanthi has lost a ton of weight. But more important, she also became an all-around fitness fiend, AND turned into a serious athlete (recently, she was named the University of Wisconsin-Stout Women’s Rugby Team’s Rookie of the Year, and this summer, she made the Wisconsin Women’s All-Star team).

I interviewed Xanthi last week about her experience (you can listen to the podcast here), and during the course of that conversation I realized something: Having a partner in crime — whether a buddy, a mentor, a trainer or a coach — may be the single most powerful advantage both in getting satisfying results from the start, and in maintaining a training program over time.

The accountability factor is huge, of course (most of us are far less likely to skip a workout if we know someone is waiting for us), but I think there’s also something to be said for having a constant companion and witness for the process, and for the transformations that inevitably take place.

Some of those transformations are physical (see the videos and pictures, below). Others are more subtle, and in some ways more profound.

Xanthi, fall 2008, prior to our fitness-buddy pact


Video: Our first fitness-buddy training session, December 2008

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Xanthi and me after our first 5K, spring 2008 — Xanthi had already lost about 25 pounds.

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Xanthi (and rugby teammate), summer 2010 – now super-fit and 65 pounds lighter than when we began.

For example, one of the things Xanthi shared with me during her reflections on our experience together was how dramatically her sense of identity shifted as she grew stronger, more confident and more in touch with her athletic side.

What I got out of this experience was pretty transformative, too. For one thing, at some point I realized that Xanthi had come to see me as something of a fitness mentor — something I would never have predicted was possible.

I’ve always considered myself a bookish, not terribly athletic person. And from my point of view, all I did was show Xanthi how to strap on a heart-rate monitor and point her in the right direction.

But working out with Xanthi over the course of a couple of years, encouraging her, helping her take stock of her amazing progress, sharing with her the bits and pieces of fitness and nutrition wisdom I’d picked up during my years editing Experience Life and that I felt might be helpful to her — all of that shifted my own sense of identity, too.

For one thing, it really drove home for me that the simple act of maintaining a relatively regular exercise schedule, of eating well and taking care of myself over the course of the past decade had made me — at least in Xanthi’s eyes — someone to look up to, a role model of sorts.

And that made me see myself in a new light. It made me want to stay my course, to stay true to my own health-and-fitness commitments, and maybe even ratchet them up a notch.

It also made me keenly aware, in a way I hadn’t really taken stock of before, that the commitment I’ve made to being healthy has been transformative not just to me and Xanthi, but ultimately to everyone around me.

It’s helped me be present, energetic and level-headed at work. It’s helped me show up for the people I love. It’s given me the strength and focus and optimism to keep driving toward the bigger goals that matter so much to me.

And that, of course, is the whole idea behind the magazine’s new tagline: Being Healthy Is a Revolutionary Act. (I’ll write at greater length about that soon, but you can read the basics in my Thoughts From the Editor column, if you like.)

Anyway, I have loved every minute of my fitness-buddy experience with Xanthi — well, except for a few of those final kettlebell reps and a couple of killer sprints. And I look forward to many more years of being goaded by this beastly child into working far harder than I otherwise would. (When she’s outrunning me, I take comfort in reminding myself that she IS more than 20 years my junior.)

So what about you? Do you have a fitness buddy? Do you wish you had one? If so, what’s keeping you from buddying up? I think there’s an article in this, so send on your stories and thoughts, please!

P.S. For those of you who go way back and may remember my writing about my earlier fitness-buddy experiences with my dad, now 80, you’ll be happy to know he’s still working out — three to four times a week with two different trainers for strength and balance — and he’s in terrific shape. He’s made an excellent recovery since his accident, and although he now has to cope with a slight limp, we still take walks together on a regular basis.

Experience Life Magazine

Time to Shine: Win 2 Tickets to Illumination 2010!

I’m a big believer in the idea that we owe it to ourselves and everyone around us to enjoy life at our healthiest, happiest, shiniest best. That’s why I’ll be joining inspired women from all over the Minneapolis-St. Paul area on Saturday, March 27, for a day of self-discovery and expansion.

It’s called Illumination 2010, and it’s an amazing event dedicated to bringing the best and brightest in each of us.

Wanna come? I have a pair of tickets to give away! If you’re interested, save the date (it’s an all-day extravaganza), and then read on for how to get tickets! Hop on it, though: you have less than 48 hours to enter!

As part of the event, I’ll be leading an interactive workshop called “Grow Your Goals: An Organic Process for Positive Life Change.”

VisionLandscape.jpgIt’s an introduction to a fun, creative approach I developed for helping people clarify their personal vision and goals, developing solid action plans — and then making them happen.

With that in mind, I’d like to know:

How do you envision your ideal future? 
What positive changes are you looking to make next?

Simply leave your response as a comment on this blog entry by midnight Friday, March 12, and you’ll automatically be entered to win two tickets (valued at over $225). The winner will be selected based on the thoughtfulness and authenticity of his or her comment, as well as the spirit and clarity of the vision and/or goals identified.

The winner — selected by the Illumination planning committee and yours truly — will be announced on Monday, March 15, here at my blog. If you’re the winner, I’ll also personally contact you via email. And I’ll seek you out to say “hi!” at the conference, too!

You can learn more about Illumination 2010, its amazing cast of presenters (Joan Steffend, Liv Lane, Maryanne O’Brien and more) and how to purchase tickets at www.illuminationevent.com.

But if you want a shot at winning two FREE tickets, remember to leave your entry/comment below now.

Hope to see you (and a few of your friends) there!

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NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. The “Experience Life Illumination: Time to Shine Giveaway” is subject in all respects to the complete Official Rules, which are available upon request. Giveaway is only open to entrants who, as of the entry date, are legal U.S. residents and are at least 18 years old. Giveaway is void where prohibited or restricted by law. Entries must be posted by midnight CST on 3/12/10. Sponsor: Experience Life, 2145 Ford Parkway, Suite 105, St. Paul, MN 55116.