I’ve had a few friends ask me for health advice lately. Now, I am not a self-proclaimed health know-it-all, but I have accumulated a file cabinet’s worth of information in my brain about living healthfully in general. I’ve sampled many different lifestyle fads and detox trends. There was a period I was vegan that lasted nine months, prompting me to learn how to substitute dairy and eggs in my favorite recipes. I used to cleanse regularly. I am a self-educated student of Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine. I used to have really bad acne, which prompted me to learn how to incorporate more anti-inflammatory foods into my eating. There is always something I’m working on in my body at any given time, and I get very excited when I’ve found a new remedy or recommendation that works for me, feeling compelled to share it with anyone who might want to listen. So if this is you, perhaps mildly curious or desperately searching for some guidance and too overwhelmed to start looking, read on. I’ve summarized the top five books that have helped influenced what I put into my body.
DISCLAIMER: I’m a big believer that no one diet is completely right for you. I think that you know your body better than anyone–what feels good and clean, what feels sluggish and toxic, what you crave, what makes you feel sick, etc. However, I highly recommend these books as a guideline to help motivate you, inspire you, and educate you. Experiment, find what works for your body, and leave the rest.
I discovered this book while filming a movie in Ireland, where I gained 15 unhealthy pounds the very Irish way–cream in every meal and a pint of Guinness to top off every night. While the detox can seem rather extreme (it mainly revolves around a 3-week fast), I found it to be quite enlightening and beneficial even beyond the fast. The purpose of the fast itself is to bring down the acidity in your body’s pH while raising its alkaline levels. For most of us, these are grossly imbalanced. One should-be-obvious wake up call I got from this book was to view dessert as a rare indulgence, not a matter of course after every meal. Weaning oneself off of sugar is never fun, but if you feel lighter and cleaner even in the midst of the craving headaches, you know you’re doing something right! But what was most helpful to me in the entire book was the chapter where the author (boasting celebrity clients such as Gwyneth Paltrow) talks about the Ayurveda, an Indian approach to life and wellness. I’ve since learned a lot more about Ayurveda after being inspired by this book, and I can truly say that when I follow the diet, I feel and look much better! Ayurveda revolves around balancing the three doshas, or mind/body constitutions, that are in us all. Usually one dosha will be more prominent than the others, dictating your body type, and through your diet and exercises such as yoga, Ayurveda teaches you how to balance all three.
If you want to take an online quiz to find out what your most prominent dosha is now, and learn more about Ayurveda in general, I recommend the site below. And, obviously, read the book. :)
Consider this a simple introduction to Chinese medicine. (Qi means energy flow, by the way, and is pronounced “chee”.) I noticed its hot pink cover while waiting for a massage at a spa in New Zealand, and since I couldn’t finish the book there, I ordered it online immediately when I got back to my hotel. With serene pictures of a beautiful Chinese woman getting various body treatments, and easy to understand diagrams that graph out the Chinese seasons and elements, it is a surprisingly easy and fun read. What I learned most from this book that I try to remember when I am grocery shopping or ordering food in a restaurant, is this: eat with the seasons. As the book explains, nature provides what your body needs, when it needs it. For example, the richness of butternut squash soup is more beneficial to digest in autumn, when your body is preparing for colder months ahead. To consume it spring, when your body is trying to prepare for more astringent, cooling foods to balance summer’s heat, would be counterintuitive to what nature intended. This book also emphasizes the importance of massage and self-massage, something most of us need no explanation to know the benefits of! I was also inspired to take classes in tai chi, the art of manipulating one’s own energy into a focused, calm, Zen-like state that can cultivate to be so powerful, you could take down an enemy in one simple thrust of your arm. And have nary a wrinkle on your face while doing so.
I mentioned that I used to have really bad acne. Bad, not only on my face, but my entire back and chest as well. I’m not going to claim that this one book solved all my skin problems, but I definitely learned a lot from it. In short, this book along with others by the author revolves around an anti-inflammatory diet. Inflammation-causing foods such as refined carbs and sugar, in conjunction with not getting enough essential fatty acids and omega oils, leads to skin break outs, wrinkles, arthritis, fatigue, weight gain, muscle pain, general lackluster, and many other problems. After just three days on this diet, rosacea sufferers notice their skin is far less red, and this I can personally attest to. There is increasingly and alarmingly more evidence on just how bad sugar is for you, and it’s important to learn about its connection to inflammation and how its subsequent symptoms are something you can control. This book and others by Nicholas Perricone explain the biology of inflammation thoroughly. He has a focus on anti-aging and beauty in general, and the diet and lifestyle he advocates is no quick-fix. It’s not cheap, either, as salmon plays a very central part in his meal plans. This fish is an especially good source of essential fatty acids, selenium (great for hair, skin, and nails), and B vitamins, as well as being a lean source of protein. Great skin aside, there are a lot of other benefits worth knowing about from following an anti-inflammatory diet.
The guys I know who have read this book and followed this diet all have eight-packs, no joke. And no, they were not already lean to start with. My friend Mark Hapka, an actor on “Days of Our Lives”, can credit this book for his award-winning bod. (Yes, he’s really won awards for it, much to his embarrassment.)
When I was a vegan, my mom gave me this book along with others in the “Skinny Bitch” series. While some find the authors’ frequent use of slang and swear words offensive, I personally found it refreshing and funny. Veganism prior to reading these always seemed borderline holy, unattainable, but their candor took all the reverence out of it and made it seem much more fun and actually livable! For those of you who don’t really know what it means to be vegan, it’s a diet completely free of all animal products including meat, fish, eggs, dairy, even honey for some extremists. Personally, I do not recommend going vegan simply because I had such an awful experience. Even though I did it the “right” way with lots of protein sources and frequent, balanced meals, my weight dropped to 90 lb.–I’m 5’7”, so this was bad. I looked and felt like I was anorexic. I was always cold, shivering even in the heat, sallow, pale, weak and tired. Where the boundless energy my vegan friends had promised? Why did I not have their glow? Bottom line: going vegan is NOT for everyone. Yes, some people thrive, glow, attain enlightenment and all that when they stop consuming animal products, but others such as myself need meat. That’s all there is to it. Granted, the meat I buy is organic, grain-fed, and free-range. However, if you’d like to find out if a vegan diet is right for you, I recommend this book and others in the series to learn from. They’re fun and educational, with tasty recipes and cheeky humor.
There you go! The top five books that have influenced my life for the better, and the lives of those around me! As a bonus book, I recommend “Eat Right For Your Type” by Peter J. D’Adamo and Catherine Whitney.
It outlines four diets for the four different blood types, and literally everyone I know who has followed their blood type diet raves about how great they feel. Your body, if you’re very in tune with it, will usually tell you what it needs through its cravings and rejections. People who have read this book say that more often than not, their cravings coincide with what is already supposed to be right for them. I can’t include in this in my top five because I honestly haven’t read it yet, since I haven’t gone to the doctor to find out what my blood type is, as I’m scared of needles… But one of these days I’ll find the courage and see what all they hype is about!
Once again, I don’t believe any single one of these books by themselves will be the only right diet for you. You will get out them insights that I did not, and what benefitted me might not benefit you. I encourage you to do your own research, spend time in the health aisle at the bookstore, and peruse the internet for more information on eastern medicine and lifestyle changes such as going vegan. Educate yourself. Ignorance is bliss, but it’s also obesity, heart failure, acne, fatigue, and malaise. I hope you find my book recommendations helpful in your quest for well-being!