Pilar Gerasimo, Experience Life Founding Editor

Revolutionary Acts

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

Posts Tagged Pilar Gerasimo

Experience Life Magazine

1. Defy Convention

Disruptive innovation is all the rage in business circles these days, but until recently, it wasn’t so popular in the health and fitness world.

That’s changing now, and thank goodness for that.

For far too long, we’ve been fed a steady stream of not-so-great advice. (“Eat low-fat and low-calorie! More grains and dairy! More cardio sessions! More willpower!”)

We’ve been offered a lot of not-so-great medical counsel. (“Er, we don’t actually know what’s causing that chronic problem, so here, just take this prescription.”)

We’ve sensed that these approaches weren’t working for us, and yet we’ve been a little afraid to strike out on our own. We weren’t sure where to go, or how.

The Renegade Path

For me, defying convention has never been about wanting to be different. It has been about wanting to have a snowball’s chance in hell of staying healthy in a world that has often seemed intent on making me sick, fat, and depressed.

That’s why we created Experience Life back in 2001. It’s why I later penned my little 10-point chapbook, Being Healthy Is a Revolutionary Act: A Manifesto for Thriving in a Mixed-Up World, and came up with the 101 Revolutionary Ways to Be Healthy. (Now an interactive Web feature, a poster, and a mobile app, all available at RevolutionaryAct.com.)

We launched RevolutionaryAct.com and the 101 Ways because we realized that a whole lot of us needed more meaningful inspiration and support than we’ve been getting.

We need help with daily choices and perspectives, and in seeing what we’re up against. But we also need support in feeling less like weird, isolated outliers and more like part of a healthy movement that’s gaining steam. Which, I am happy to say, ours is.

Thanks in part to the rise of Web-based and social media, the call for a healthy revolution has spread quickly over the past decade — into forward-thinking food and fitness communities around the globe; into progressive healthcare circles; and, slowly but surely, even into the mainstream media.

But we’ve still got a lot of work to do. Because right now, the best, most helpful information still isn’t getting out to a broad enough audience (for a sense of why, see “Decoding Health Media”. ) And the results aren’t pretty:

  • Today, two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight or obese (and our kids are catching up fast).
  • More than 50 percent of U.S. adults are chronically ill; one in three of us has metabolic syndrome (prediabetes), and 90 percent don’t know it.
  • About 70 percent of us regularly take at least one prescription drug. More than 50 percent take at least two.
  • The top-selling prescription drugs are meds for blood pressure, cholesterol, depression, and heartburn — all lifestyle-related conditions that can be greatly improved or healed through lifestyle changes.
  • Seventy-five percent of the money we currently spend on healthcare is used to treat (ineffectively) chronic lifestyle-related diseases.

It’s not just our bodies that are suffering. It’s our minds and spirits. Depression, anxiety, ADD/ADHD, and eating disorders are rampant.

Epidemiological data suggest that fewer than 20 percent of us are mentally and emotionally thriving. The remaining 80 percent, according to psychology researcher Barbara Fredrickson, PhD, are languishing or “living lives of quiet despair.”

The Need for a New Normal

OK, so let’s just stop and mull over those facts for a moment:

  • The majority of the U.S. population is sick, overweight, mentally or emotionally disrupted, or all of the above.
  • Only a relatively tiny minority is healthy, happy, and thriving.

What does it mean that our society reliably produces more unhealthy, unhappy, vulnerable people than healthy, happy, resilient ones?

It means, quite plainly, that our society is sick.

That sickness shows up everywhere. In our bodies, yes, but also in our families and communities, our healthcare system, our food supply, our government, our schools, our religious institutions, our economy, our ecological systems, and especially in our relationships to ourselves and each other.

Fortunately, this is something we can change.

How? By rejecting the unhealthy conventions that are producing all this misery and embracing more promising strategies with fresh hope and enthusiasm. By diligently mastering the renegade healthy choices and healthy skills that matter — and ceasing to waste our time, energy, and resources on things than don’t. By seeing that choosing to be healthy in an unhealthy world isn’t some odious, obligatory chore or a hopeless battle. It’s a transformative hero’s journey. It’s a revolutionary act. It’s a sacred art. And it can be done.

That, in essence, is what this new column of mine is going to be about. In each issue, I’ll explore one of the 101 Ways. And the renegade fun starts right here, with the mother of all Revolutionary Acts: Defy Convention.

So how do you do that? Start by simply noticing how many unhealthy things have become the convenient, default choices in our culture, including giant-size portions, checkout-aisle junk-food displays, and elevators made easier to find than the stairs.

Notice what’s presented (and pushed) as “normal” — in the media, at restaurants, at work, at the doctor’s office, everywhere you go. Realize a lot of it is crazy-making and sickness-producing, and very much in need of some disruptive innovation.

Next, start disrupting and innovating. Push back where you can. Take pride and satisfaction in the ways you are rejecting our society’s mixed-up version of normal in order to reclaim your well-being and your own healthier, happier version of reality.

When that makes you seem weird or different, pat yourself on the back and just keep going. Remember, given where the conventional majority is headed, different is a preferable destination.

That’s where we’re starting, anyway. I hope you’ll dig into the rest of the 101 Revolutionary Ways, both here and online, to see where our convention-defying journey goes next.

Revolutionary Reading

Grab links to this month’s recommended articles (and opt to have future “Revolutionary Acts” columns delivered to your inbox) at ExperienceLife.com/revolutionary-acts

Being Healthy Is a Revolutionary Act: Renegade Perspectives for Thriving in a Mixed-Up World” — You want to be healthy? Well, hey, that’s wonderful. This article is designed to help you succeed.

A Manifesto for Thriving in a Mixed-Up World Pilar Gerasimo’s 10-point handbook for the healthy revolution.

Fitness Redefined” — Baby boomers, a generation of convention busters, are reshaping expectations when it comes to their personal health and fitness, too.

The Way of the Healthy Person” — If there is any clear path toward the promised land of healthy living, it begins on the fertile ground of our own assumptions, beliefs, and daily choices.

Pilar Gerasimo is a nationally recognized healthy-living expert, author of A Manifesto for Thriving in a Mixed-Up World, and the creative force behind the 101 Revolutionary Ways to Be Healthy. She is currently working on a book about the art of being healthy in an unhealthy world. Learn more about Pilar’s work and connect with her via social media at PilarGerasimo.com.

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.