I had the wonderful opportunity to interview Magen Banwart, founder of the Best Body REBOOT program, last week. A lifetime athlete, fitness fanatic and connoisseur of every diet from here to Katmandu, her wellness philosophy has been honed over the years by both extensive education and trial and error. Today she consults clients ranging from 16 to 65 on how to achieve holistic health in real life. I interviewed her last summer on her 40:20 life advice and thought her wellness philosophy had some great applications for the 20-something lifestage.
Magen’s wellness programs are based on the age-old wisdom of yoga and mediation combined with the practical know-how of what works and what doesn’t. What has she learned? Getting your best body is an outcome of getting to your best self…but to achieve this you don’t have to be perfect or live in an Ashram. It’s not the end of enjoying life as we know it…it’s about making a lifestyle choice. As one 20-something client related on her blog after going through one of Magen’s programs:
“The program involved not only a change of diet and exercise regimen but also a new way of thinking about how we choose to live in this world. First, I lost nearly ten pounds.
More importantly, however, is that I feel stronger, happier and have a lot more energy. I will cheat and I will eat cheese and ice cream every now and then, that’s just life, but I know that if I am good the other 80% of the time I’m still good! Practicing kindness and forgiveness toward yourself is the key to happiness and success.”
Many 40-something women understand the connection between mind and body that Magen espouses as a way of life. We know through experience that you can workout or diet like mad and get a great looking body…but that’s not going to make you happy…until you feel good about yourself. Others have learned that the body they have is more beautiful and strong than the body they thought they wanted or had in their 20s. As you gain self-esteem you become more confident in your body. You eat right and workout because it feels good, and that in turn makes you feel strong and beautiful in your 40-year-old body. Maybe we have to – we can’t afford to waste time feeling bad, especially if we have kids, and can’t recover the way we used to from a hangover at work!
Magen’s 5 Easy Tips for Starting A Healthy Lifestyle in Your 20s:
1. Drink a lot of water
2. Limit alcohol, sugar, caffeine and gluten
3. Sleep more
4. Sweat everyday
We’ll get more into each of these below. First lets talk about Magen’s wellness beliefs and what she has learned in the past 20 years.
40:20 Vision: Are 20-something today healthier than we were 20 years ago?
I think on some level women today are savvier. There’s more information accessible to them. But I don’t know if all of them get it. More young women are doing yoga or Pilates, but there are also more young women doing Botox, trying crazy diets or taking pills to try and get thin. The internal aspect of fitness – having a healthy mind and emotional state — is MIA when you are younger. I don’t know many younger women who truly have an appreciation for that. There is awareness of the need to look good but there’s less awareness of the mental, emotional and physical correlation between what you do and how you feel.
40:20 Vision: What does that mean for 20-somethings today? Can they get away with it in their 20s?
Some of them can. But just because you can recover from a night out or not gain weight doesn’t make you healthy. You are just preventing yourself from developing healthy habits and worse…could be ignoring some unhealthy habits. A lot of women in their 20s are suffering from low level depression, or at the very least a lack of energy, vitality and peace of mind. It’s the combination of processed food, alcohol, which is a depressant, and stress. They come to me not really being able to pinpoint a specific problem but knowing they don’t feel quite right.
It’s easy to get caught up in a cycle of eating poorly, drinking too much, sleeping poorly, feeling crummy, not going to the gym and then feeling bad about yourself, and eating more. It’s late nights and a social life that often involves drinking topped off with a journey to the pizza or burger joint at 4am and then rehashing the night over nachos with your friends the next day.
40:20 Vision: What are some of the barriers to 20-somethings living a healthy lifestyle?
You just don’t have as many resources. Often they can’t afford to hire a personal trainer, a nutritionist or to join an expensive gym. But mostly it’s their life-cycle. There’s a lot of social pressure to eat at restaurants that might not have the healthiest food options. You don’t get enough sleep – you go out late and stay out late. You are just starting out. When you’re 40 you have earned more control of your schedule at work. Younger women don’t know when they can leave the office and often when they do, they often want to go out with their friends. It’s easy to forego the gym or a walk or stopping to pick up healthy food to prepare for dinner.
40:20 Vision: What are the benefits of changing your lifestyle?
Energy. Emotional stability. You go from that negative cycle to a positive cycle. Eating well, sleeping well…and then next thing you know you have more energy. You work out more and you get confidence…and you don’t put up with BS anymore.
I have one 20-something girl who I’ve been working with for awhile. She’s lost weight but more importantly she smiles more. She used to cry at the drop of a hat. Now she’s in a healthy weight range and she’s happy. She takes spin classes a couple times a week after work instead of meeting her girlfriends out a bars. She shops online for her groceries rather than picking something up from the deli and most importantly, she broke up with a bad boyfriend. She admits it’s a little harder to socialize but she’s working on the ability to say no to the nachos when out with the after work crew.
40:20 Vision: What are some myths about food and wellness that you learn aren’t true by the time you are 40?
– That gaining weight is just part of the process of getting older
– That you have to spend hours at the gym
– That you have to ban fat or certain things from your diet
I think the biggest one is that you automatically gain weight as you get older. That your metabolism changes dramatically and suddenly you pack on pounds. Your metabolism does start changing but it’s gradual and it starts in your 20s. At some point in your 20s or 30s you will reach a point where you realize you can’t eat the way you used to. More likely than not the weight gain is associated with a lifestyle change: you went to college and are fending for yourself in a world of fast food and dorm hall buffets; you’re working more and moving less; you have kids and little time for yourself. Sure things shift after you have children but there is no reason to be heavier than were in your 20s.
If you examine your lifestyle and make changes you can return to not having to think about what you eat again. It sounds counter intuitive, but it’s not. I gained a lot of weight in my early 20s when I switched to a vegetarian diet. For me that meant bread and cheese at the expense of the lean protein I ate as a high school athlete. I also started drinking beer. I just didn’t know. When I started eating well and exercising efficiently the weight came off almost effortlessly. I got back down to the size I was at 18.
That is the other thing. A lot of 20 year olds become obsessed with food in the wrong way. You don’t have to ban foods from your diet or count calories to the extreme. It’s not all or nothing. You think you can’t go out and have french fries and a grilled cheese. But that will only make you feel deprived and cause stress that will trigger you to eat more. To be healthy and happy should have those once in a while. Don’t beat yourself up about it.
40:20 Vision: Okay so let’s get into the details of how. What are your 5 Easy Tips for Starting A Healthy Lifestyle in your 20s?
1. DRINK MORE WATER.
Dehydration equals fatigue, irritability and digestive issues. If you are not going to bathroom every couple of hours, you are not drinking enough.
2. LIMIT SUGAR, CAFFEINE, DAIRY AND GLUTEN
These are the most common allergens or foods to which many Americans have an intolerance — which results in inflammation and other disturbances in the body. Inflammation can interfere with digestion, wreak havoc on skin and cause bloating among other things.
A lot of 20 year olds complain about feeling bloated. Simply drinking water and cutting out these inflammatories that interfere with digestion can eliminate that swelling. You’ll sleep better, recover from your workouts sooner and you will have more sustainable energy throughout the day and into the evening.
Many young women don’t understand the correlation between that 3pm crash and what they had for lunch. They think it’s just part of the deal. You don’t have to feel that way. Food is energy. And the quickest way to use that energy is to reduce foods that cause inflammation in the body. Bread, pasta, fried or other processed food can leave you feeling depleted whereas healthy, whole foods give you energy.
And sorry, but alcohol is included here too. It basically converts to sugar in the body…and sugar is a depressant. If you eat well but drink frequently and don’t feel well…you may not get that connection. You don’t understand the role of alcohol in your diet. You can cut back on who much you drink but if you know you are going to be having a drink or two in the evening, avoid bread and sugar completely during the day.
40:20 Vision: There has been a lot of media attention on gluten free diets lately. Some good and some saying it’s being over-hyped? What do you think of that?
There is a lot of research linking gluten to inflammation which we know is linked to disease. That’s why I recommend avoiding breads, pasta and other foods that have gluten. Gluten and sugar and late nights are a bad cocktail. The New England Journal of Medicine listed 55 “diseases”, ranging from fatigue and canker sores to psychiatric and neurological disorders that can be caused by eating gluten. And new studies are coming out all the time that demonstrate the dangers of gluten .In addition to the research, I have 18 years in the business and too many late nights and clients suffering from addiction and depression to not see the connection.
40:20 Vision: So what is left to eat?
Gluten free oatmeal and fruits that are high in antioxidants like raspberries and blueberries for breakfast. Apples or pears and almonds or walnuts for snacks. For lunch and dinner, lots of veggies, especially those that are dark green, and lean proteins like fish or turkey. Soups, salads, black beans or lentils and quinoa are great options.
I also highly recommend drinking green juices. It’s an easy way to get your veggies. There are juice places popping up in cities today…but they can be expensive. If you have a blender you can make your own juices it’s affordable and very easy. I have some easy recipes on my website you can check out. If you don’t have time to make juices, or can’t be bothered, use Green Vibrance. It’s a freeze-dried greens supplement you can just mix with water. Don’t go for the mass / pre-bottled juices you find in delis and grocery stores. Some of them have up to 26 grams of sugar!
Just knock off the cheese and bread.
Are you really going to tell a 20-something not to eat pizza?
Well. Yes. If you want to feel better. Not everyone is going to be as susceptible to dairy and gluten intolerance, but everyone will feel a weight lifted off of them by taking it out of their diet. Amy’s Organics makes a yummy, gluten free dairy free veggie pizza. Keep a few of the personal sized ones in your freezer for those late nights when you come home with the munchies!
3. GET MORE SLEEP
Stay in a few nights a week or do something healthy with a friend. Have your friends come-over for a healthy meal or to go on a walk in the park then go for tea. There are alternative, healthier ways to be social. Or try going out earlier and coming home earlier. Grab an early bite with a friend and be done by 9 and in bed by 10. I know you go out late when you are young but try to mix it up a bit. Save the late nights for one or two nights a week when you don’t have to get up. And there still is a fun window between 5 and 9 when people go out after work.
You should sweat everyday. Cardio. Even the more moderate of health gurus, Andrew Weil, recommends doing something like a good walk everyday. There is no need to go to the gym for an hour each day. Take a spin class or do 30 minutes of walk/jog intervals in the park Really anything that gets you moving and gets your heart rate up is good. The more you move the better your digestion, the better your skin, the better your energy. You feel better. You look better. That’s one way to earn self-confidence. I’ve seen it.
If you don’t want to spend a lot on a gym or classes…or you’d rather spend your money on shoes than spin classes, I recommend the Urban Rebounder. It’s small enough for any apartment, it folds up and you can order it on Amazon for $89. Best part, you can jog on it and watch Gossip Girl at the same time. I do it for up to an hour everyday while I’m returning calls. But if you are working late or going out just get on it for 20 minutes. You can work your heart, seat, legs and core muscles without the impact to your joints that running has, so it’s really the most efficient workout I know. Or you can get a DVD of your favorite class and just do half of it at home if you don’t have time or money to go to a class.
40:20 Vision: I remember in my twenties thinking that I had to do an hour on the step trainer or it wasn’t worth working out at all. But now I figure even it it’s 15 minutes it’s something. It gets my blood flowing and I feel better. Am I being overly optimistic?
Not at all. It’s not all or nothing. The most important thing is that you keep your exercise intensity high. If you are on the bike, speed up your revolutions and work at 80 to 90 percent of your maximum capacity for 2-3 minutes then go back to 60-70% for one minute to recover. If you workout like this, rather than at a moderate intensity the entire time, you can spend 30 minutes instead of 60 and get more out of it.
If you can’t do anything else…breathe.
Practice breathing more deeply. Anxiety and stress is exacerbated by not breathing right. Deep breathing doesn’t require any tools, classes or money. It can be done anywhere and it ‘s proven to calm the nervous system. Just breathe in for 6 counts and out for 6 counts. Do this as long as you can. Twenty minutes is optimal. You can also log on to http://www.coherance.com to download a breathing exercise called Two Bells. Stick it on your MP3 player and just inhale on the high bell and exhale on the low bell. Very easy and totally calming. I promise, it’s better than Xanax.
Any final thoughts?
By just making more good choices and having a little more discipline you can enjoy life more. Do more. The sooner you get to know yourself and the stronger you feel, the more confidence you get. The more confident you are, the better able you are to weather life’s ups and downs without spiraling into a negative cycle. When you have survived a few down cycles you learn that nothing is permanent. In your twenties, you don’t understand that because you haven’t lived long enough to go through that many cycles. Everything is a first.
And what you also don’t know is that creating healthy habits can sustain you through these down cycles and get you back to happy all that much sooner. By 40 we realize that while a great seat and strong thighs are important, what we most want is to be happy. And the best part is that we realize we are fully responsible for our own happiness. It’s you — not that job, not your husband, not your children and not food — that can do that for you. We have to make ourselves feel good. We can’t afford not to. So when those down cycles happen… the goal is to make the highs higher, the lows higher and the frequency fewer and further between. It doesn’t mean you can’t have wild nights. It means that you can avoid spiraling into negative cycles when life throws you challenges. Difficult breakups or long days at the office don’t have to mean food and drinking binges. Have the macaroni and cheese at brunch but get back in gear on Monday rather than spending a week eating junk. If you live well most of the time your ability to bounce back is better.
Thanks you Magen! For more how to’s on getting to your best body and best self, Magen’s website has a wealth of information about everything she talked about today and more.
Check in later this week for Magen”s tips for getting back on track when you do have a big night out.