Road Life, Fermented Foods, and a Fast Mile | Notes On Self 002 | 7.01.22
“Notes on Self” is a condensed version of what I have been up to and providing links and resources from the lessons I’ve learned to actually make them applicable to you, instead of just “consuming content” from me. I want you to act, learn, and challenge convention even if you don’t fully agree with me. In this edition we discuss what living out of a suitcase has taught me about wellness and how you can apply that to your own life. Also being inspired by dance, recession vs inflation, current nutrition trends, why I want to run a fast mile, current reading list, and more. If you missed 001 that can be found here.
If you feel this might be helpful, please feel free to forward to a friend :)
I was in Seattle a few weeks back for work. After a trip to Brazil and right before one to Los Angeles. I visited Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle, an immersive art park covered in, as the name suggest, sculptures. I took time to sit and think about a question I often get which is “how do I stay healthy when I travel?”
I definitely did not have it all figured out at the beginning. When I went to Paris for the first time in 2015 I lost about 8 lbs due to the food access, dealt with jet lag, and had general lethargy because I didn’t plan properly. I vowed to never let something like that happen again if I could control it.
The heart of the inquiry about staying well on the road actually isn’t really about traveling. It is about managing chaos. How do I make my wellness habits function when inflicted by randomness and assorted things outside of my control? In essence, how can I accept the imperfect reality of the headaches of adulthood and not let myself go to complete shit? This is the honest truth we all can relate to, even if we don’t have to get on a plane every week or so. Life has a way of throwing madness at us and when that happens, it is easy to fall out of whatever “health” routine you have or try to make one at all. You can blame your work, your kids, lack of “time” or whatever is a logical scapegoat. No one would blame you. Or you can try to take a bit of action in a realistic way that your circumstances allow. The latter is what I want to help with.
So I’ve taken a second to step back and lock in a few lessons from the past decade of traveling that anybody can use, apply, and have actual benefit.
You’ve Gotta Do Weird Shit That Works
“Weird” in this case just means “atypical”. They are actions you should be doing, and likely will help, it is just that most people do not do them so they will come off a bit odd. If you figure out what these catalysts are for your success, everything becomes easier. An example is whenever I travel at night, I wear shades or sunglasses. Full stop. I don’t care that I am “inside”. Airports are an abysmal scene when it comes to lighting and as I’ve discussed before bright light at night is awful for your health. Some academic bodies consider artificial light at night (ALAN) a culprit in causing cancer or at very least strongly correlated. Our body needs sleep to heal and anything, like bright light at night, that alters the chance for the best evening sleep I tend to avoid.
You can apply this lesson at home by reducing the brightness of your electronic devices, turning off the blue light, or if you need to do work at night utilizing lamps to shine directly on the work surface or use dimmers. We argue too much about if blue light blockers work instead of accepting that excess light at night is damaging. We must reduce our exposure to it if we can’t avoid it fully.
Additional “atypical” practices of mine below for your fodder to spur on beneficial change.
“Atypical” Practice: Finding a secluded spot in the airport to take a breather. Often these are chapels, yoga rooms, or prayer areas that no one is using and act as the perfect moment to center yourself.
Application at Home: Find zones, at home or the standard workplace, that allow you to have a second to yourself. Not everyone can do “yoga nidra” but many of us can take 5 minutes or so to make sure the stress of the day isn’t getting the best of us and recenter yourself. Box breathing is a simple technique but if you want to go more in depth I suggest picking up the book The Fine Arts of Concentration, Relaxation, and Meditation.
“Atypical” Practice: Fasting on long haul or overnight flights so I can realign my stomach to eat at the times in the new time zone.
Application at Home: It is important to regulate our circadian rhythms and that does not just include sleep times but also our feeding times. Our digestion can get a boost just by eating at consistent/similar times daily because the body expects that, very Pavlovian. So making sure to nourish ourselves but doing our best to keep it within a regimented window of time can provide beneficial results. This isn’t to say you have to intermittent fast, although I do think time restricted feeding according to your sleep wake cycle (this is slightly different than IF!) is beneficial. This means if you have lunch at 1 or 2, try to have that at the same time every day if you can. If you can’t don’t stress, life happens. There’s enough to worry about, but when your schedule is under your control give it a go.
“Atypical” Practice: Stretching in the waiting area or doing calf pumps on the plane every hour.
Application at Home: Take stretch breaks or just pump your calves when you are sitting for an extended period of time as they are part of the “second heart” of the body. This can help improve our circulatory health and make sure blood is not pooling in our body. If you need inspo for seated movements you can do to help break up the work day, you can find that here.
“Atypical” Practice: Traveling with tea or tisane (herbal tea) bags.
Application at Home: I travel with teas for digestion, sleep, and energy. What we drink can not only hydrate us but have beneficial effects on our well-being. Tea hasn’t had its pinnacle moment in America yet, as we are a coffee country, but I do think it is underrated. My go-to for digestion is ginger. For sleep I like the pukka organic night time blend, and for energy I like a Jasmine green tea. If you are trying to stay away from caffeine but still want energy, I suggest a ginseng or peppermint tea. So if you find yourself needing to drink more water, but don’t like the taste of plain water, making your own tea can be a solid choice with added benefits.
Of note, I am not a big snacker. But you can use this same philosophy of packing a snack bag instead of tea if you know you get the munchies.
Triage vs Improvement
This is important. During times of high stress your health is not going to get better. That is not the point. The key is to not get worse. When you’re focused on a goal–closing the deal for work, knocking out meetings, networking etc or just having fun– your wellness practices will clearly take up less time. They should be allotted less time. That is fine and this is where the concept of “triage” vs “improvement” comes into play.
When traveling or exceedingly busy, do the least that is necessary. You “triage” the late nights, eating out, too much alcohol or nicotine with too little sleep. You “stop the bleeding” or help mitigate the damage by small actions. This is where Exercise Snacks help, being active as you can instead of formalized workouts, hydrating with water instead of coffee or sugary drinks, focusing more on quality of sleep instead of quantity of sleep, and making sure just one meal a day is nutrient dense if you can’t control the rest. You make sure your baseline of health doesn’t drop or depreciate too much as you weather the storm.
Individuals often get discouraged because when traveling they can’t be as intense on their wellness regimens as when at home, so they stop all together. This is illogical. When you are home, or less busy, this is when you dedicate the time to “improve” and focus on doing what is necessary to raise your baseline of health. Perhaps the workouts are longer or more difficult, your mindfulness practices or therapy sessions are dialed in, your diet is on point. The intensity won’t be ramped up forever but if you do lock in when the time allows you don’t have to worry about a huge fall off when traveling or busy as the body is resilient.
Schedule, Schedule, Schedule
I believe discipline is learned. Both playing sports and school taught me that really, the only way anything gets done, is if you schedule it. Within that scheduled time you have to learn about the best strategies that work for you (everybody doesn’t learn the same or respond to the same coaching techniques) but the consistent through-line of sticking to a plan or having any success is setting aside time to do the damn thing.
Many of our decisions aren’t actually under our control, especially during the day, but instead work or some other authority. This is why we often fret away our time at night, engaging in the phenomenon called revenge time procrastination. Since we seem to be lacking influence on what we are doing during the day, we attempt to salvage the evening by delaying not just our bedtime but engaging in activities such as “doom scrolling” that aren’t good for our health. I’ve been there, both home and on the road, scrolling endlessly on my phone or staying up later than necessary after a long day of work because I need “time to myself”. This cuts into sleep and then creates a cascade of negative effects.
Understanding the phenomena above, and that we are more likely to improve our health when we set our own goals instead of an external authority, just schedule what you can during the time that is under your control. It sounds tedious but when you are tired, the last thing you want to do is rely on willpower. Stick to a script that you know works. You can also schedule in fun. Please do this actually. It is a gamechanger.
Scheduling for me, that is typically mornings and evenings. I schedule in the workouts or the meals or the breathers etc. It is like having a meeting with yourself–you rarely cancel meetings with your co-workers just because you “don’t feel like it” — so why do that for the most important person, which is you?
Map it Out
For all the chagrin we give the increasing amount of technology in our lives, there are benefits. Before I travel I use Google maps to literally map out the area where I am staying and find the local places that I know will help me keep on track. This may be a cheap little spa, restaurants that won’t be too expensive but healthy, and local libraries or parks where I can go to have quiet time. You’re not going to live there for long but this will be my neighborhood for a bit. I’m in Paris, Los Angeles, London, whatever I know my spots and where I am going. The more I am familiar with a location, and understand what it has to offer, the less negative stress and scramble that will result. You can use this same philosophy at home, especially if you live in a city.
A bonus, since you are transient, many local gyms might have perks for first time customers and you might be able to get a free pass or a reduced cost. Game the system. Don’t be ashamed of this. If there is anything you can do that can lower the cost of the activities necessary to look after yourself, fully do it.
Build Your Environment
The hotel room should be your oasis. While this might be changing, most hotels are relatively trash and don’t have anything in there for your well-being. They just have an overly priced mini-bar they want you to indulge in that land with a stomach-ache and a headache from a bill charge.
So I keep in mind how I can make my hotel room closer to a home. I try to get a hotel room that has a fridge–a small one, most come with this now– or remove the drinks from the mini bar and replace it with food and drink from a grocery store run I do when I touch down (map it out!). If you do replace the drinks, and the mini bar is one of those with touch sensor technology, be sure to let the front desk know so you aren’t charged.
Does the hotel have an extra foam roller you can bring to your room? Perhaps a yoga mat? Is there a small travel pack of workout equipment you can bring in your carry on that makes your life easier and will ensure you stay active? Building your environment begins before you actually touch down so if you have “kits” that you pack that help keep up your wellness practices, bring it. I personally have a small workout kit (lacrosse ball, bands, and a Hypervolt Go 2), a supplement kit, and a nighttime/recovery kit (tea, massage balm) that have been a godsend.
If you have yet to get the tools in your own home that will make sticking to your wellness routines easier, get that done ASAP.
Hold yourself accountable but don’t beat yourself up. The constraints of traveling are difficult, as are moments during life. So, let it go. Stop feeling guilty that you miss a workout, or you’re a few pounds under/overweight, or you had a cookie. Whatever. Let it go and just start the next moment you can to engage in positive behavior. That truly is the secret, just start.
On Jet Lag
A quick note on jet lag, as that one can happen even if you just cross a few time zones. The main drivers for overcoming this are light exposure, melatonin usage (this is really the only time melatonin should be used IMO as safety of long term use is not studied), and changing your sleep times 2–3 days before you leave if possible. Three resources below that are helpful– one is an academic paper, another an article from TIME, and a third is an app that can serve as a resource + tool
Recently ran the Midnight Half, an unsanctioned race where you quite literally run a midnight half marathon through the streets of New York. So sick. One of the best parts is there is no official course, just checkpoints, so you can map it out however you think will give you an advantage. The perk is dealer’s choice, choose your own adventure. The drawback is if you mess up you might end up running a couple extra miles. One year I ran 3 extra miles. Pure Pain.
Think the next vision for me is to try and run a fast mile. I want to run a 4:30 or faster mile. I’ve done 4+ marathons at this point and speed fades faster than endurance. It is also, to me at least, just more appealing. A test of skill instead of just a test of will. I would rather push the limits of how fast I can go as I age since I know I lose my speed faster than my endurance that. But two of three goals are out of the way as I have been measured to have a 40 inch vertical and have run under 3 hours in the marathon. Time to keep chipping away.
In terms of formal workouts, I’m taking a second to have fun. It is summer in New York so I like to hit the parks and play basketball, get some track workouts in, and do some basic strength training outside at home. I’m finding joy in movement again so just want to lock that in before I REALLY lock in.
I’ve been a little slow with the new workouts but after the July 4th holiday we gonna pick it back up. I upload new ones on my Youtube Channel + Exercise Snacks. I will also be sharing more running workouts as well as prehab routines.
On a random tip, I recently went to Alvin Ailey Dance Theater show over Juneteenth. Pure magic. I’ve always been inspired by the athleticism of dancers and it reminded me of the New York City Ballet workout video from maybe the early 2000s. The VHS is lowkey heat and is on YouTube. The ab routine is a killer + it just provides variety which I enjoy. I tend to find inspiration in random places so the video is valuable fodder. Check it and try it out if you feel inclined.
I’ve been cheffing it up. If you missed it, I provided a couple recipes over to Sakara Life including a chickpea bibimbap bowl which is a favorite. I also made this veggie curry the other night which was a hit. The key to cooking I’ve found really is not just a variety of the base ingredients but the spices utilized too. I am attempting to learn more about that.
When it comes to specific foods, I’ve been leaning into the fermented foods. A couple months ago I came across this article which talked about the benefits of the fermented foods on the microbiome, which I knew about but didn’t realize the frequency needed. It seems in the short term that fermented foods can speed up beneficial microbiome changes quicker than fiber. Fiber seems to be a staple needed for long term change and benefit though so still include it.
Small sample size and needs to be replicated but the theme is always the same–stop eating like shit and include nutrient dense food that might have medicinal properties.
To make it all make sense, I’ve been over the past month just having 2–3 servings of kimchi a day. I’ve also combined that with 2 glasses of kombucha a day. Anecdotally, I can say I have been feeling better but I have nothing to quantify this like a gut test via medical testing. Next step for me is to learn how to make my own kimchi, apparently it is very simple. This is the recipe I’m going to try out.
Been tapping into the talk scene recently. Always love getting booked for talks, forces me to condense thoughts into a way that is consumable for real people and can hopefully inspire action. Headed to New Orleans for EssenceFest for a July 3rd chat, if you’re around pull-up.
Some other thoughts:
- Been trying to understand the difference between a recession and inflation, because the terms have been thrown around interchangeably in the United States but they are actually quite different. This might be the first time the “creator/influencer” economy is going through a true recession if it hits hard, so there is added interest due to that. What does that mean for not just Gen Z but also an aging millennial population who have been outside the standard workforce for quite some time? Not sure but history says not everyone survives.
- Building on above, invest in a skillset that can actually be applied to other areas in your industry and not just creating “content”. I personally found a bit of success early on because I did not approach my work through the lens of solely fitness but instead through the global mindset of the “health and wellness” industry. I studied not just where the industry currently was but where it was going and the value I could add to businesses in my field through personal acumen. Fitness is only a small part of the overall industry and it also allows me to weather the economic storms and cycles if one area of the industry deflates. If you’re a freelancer, creative, or looking for just a different opportunity it might be helpful to take an industry approach instead of just a “job” approach. This builds on the “intrapreneur vs entrepreneur” dichotomy which I will expand on in coming weeks.
- Remember to take breaks. Wired ran this article the other day on benefits of active rest and how productivity/creativity coupled with “slacking off” in a constructive way might be helpful.
Synopsis: Combining cutting-edge neuroscience with compelling personal stories from top athletes, leading scientists, military veterans, and gifted artists, he shows how proximity to water can improve performance, increase calm, diminish anxiety, and increase professional success.
Favorite Part So Far: I’m about half-way through. Will openly admit the book starts slow but my favorite part so far was actually how the author breaks down the differences of happiness between eudaemonia (subjective well-being) and hedonic based happiness (current and perhaps temporary pleasure). Hedonism is important, current state pleasure is important, but we also must work towards eudaemonia by dealing with difficult situations to make us better. However, the difficult situations, much like pleasure, don’t have to last forever to provide benefits.
Synopsis: From Pulitzer prize winning author Ernest Becker, looks into how humans essentially end up creating evil in the world. He leans into the concept that it actually isn’t our animal based tendencies but more of out our desire for control over our surroundings and to be remembered forever.
Favorite Part So Far: He compares “primal man’s” desire to exhibit control over the world through religion and rituals and how that connects to modern man’s reliance on technology to do the same. Drawing the connection between the considered infallibility between those two things is intriguing to me.
Adding to the rotation: Undisputed Truth
Synopsis: Mike Tyson’s autobiography and Lord knows he has a crazy story. Looking forward to digging into this one.
With everything going on right now in the US political system, it feels a bit off to even be writing or talking about “wellness”. Does it actually become more important though to take care of yourself when everything around you seems to be crumbling? I argue yes, only way “good” wins is if we build the stamina to put up the necessary fight. Key is to just not let your wellness practices start and end with you.
If you made it this far, thanks for reading and chat soon.