How To Be Revolutionary with Pilar Gerasimo
Jonathan: Hey everyone, Jonathan Bailor back with another bonus Smarter Science of Slim podcast. Today’s show actually is – I’m going to tell – I’m going to spoil the secret. It’s not even going to be just be one show. When I was reading about today’s guest, I was just like multiple shows, multiple shows, I couldn’t even contain myself. You are going to get part one of N parts, I don’t know. We will how it goes, it’s going to be epic because this woman has just been – I think somehow like we are related, we have some common ancestor because she is so passionate about just helping people to live better and to experience life more fully, in fact she founded a magazine called Experience Life that has reached millions of people, well over three million people and earned more than 100 editorial and designer awards over its 12-year history. Not only is it like bettering, but it’s beautiful.
She is also the force behind an epic website RevolutionaryAct.com, which we are going to learn all about as well as a corresponding mobile app which talks about us, how we are on the verge of a revolution regarding health. She has done a bunch of other stuff, she served as the executive editor for Healthy Living at The Huffington Post, she now blogs for The Huffington Post. She is on a freaking organic farm in Western Washington right now on top of all of that, Pilar Gerasimo, welcome to the show.
Pilar: Thanks so much Jonathan. The only correction I have is weirdly it’s a farm in Wisconsin, Washington would be even more dramatic, but it’s just the middle of the country.
Jonathan: That’s so funny, the W – I was like WO, Washington. That’s where I live, I am confused.
Pilar: That’s such a sweet introduction though, thank you so much.
Jonathan: My pleasure, my pleasure. Let’s just – let’s back up before we get into all of your work. I want to know the story behind the story because you are so passionate about this. There is got to be a compelling why that has driven you and a story behind that why, can you tell that to us?
Pilar: Yes, for me it’s interesting. The journey is being a healthy and happy person. I call it my rags to riches – riches to rags to riches story and the arc of it for me was basically grew up on this amazing organic farm that my mom started as a hippie commune back in the 1970s and I learned a whole way of life living on the farm that was we now know it contains most of ingredients for a healthy life, living in healthy community, we grew our own food, we were outdoors, we had no television, lots of activity and I was really a healthy kid. That said, when I got to be in my teens and adolescence, I realized “I don’t want to live on a funky hippie commune the rest of my life” and I went out into the real world. I went away to college, I tried to forget everything my mom had told me and I wanted to be normal.
I really wanted to live the way that I saw – did see people living on TV and I thought this is kind of freakish granola lifestyle is just for the birds. What happened to me is that the more I embraced to the norms of our society and the more I went along with the products and services and ideals that I was buying into and we call the dominant culture, the less healthy and happy I got and by the time I got out of school, I was overweight, I was a little depressed, and I was feeling really unhappy – really unhappy with my body, but more than that I was just like unhappy with myself and I think that I started realizing a lot of what I was reading in the media, a lot of what I was observing and advertising in television, magazines, was just really making it harder for me to get myself in order.
When I started pursuing health improvement program, I initially depended on conventional magazines for a lot of the advice that were the inspiration and the motivation and what I kept discovering is that they were not very helpful and in many cases they actually set me back either really messing with my body image or suggesting that I should be able to easily pursue these diets and exercise programs that for me it just – it did not produce good results and ultimately I think really kind of messed with my metabolism. That was for me the beginning of going there has to be a better way. I eventually abandoned that conventional strategy and like you, I think, went out and did a lot of research on my own and started figuring it out.
Lo and behold what I discovered was that a lot of what I had been doing as a kid, a lot of what my mom had told me, she was right, but I had to figure out a way of doing that in the real world, not on a hippie commune, while holding down a job, while living in a city and it was for me out of shear necessity, this quest to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Once I figured it out and I got healthy and I got happy, this isn’t actually that hard, it’s just – the messages that we were getting are so confusing, it’s making it hard. Why isn’t there a better health and fitness magazine than this?
Long story short, through a variety of weird circumstances, I had gone from college and to a bunch of other jobs and gotten into custom publishing and I ended up working on a magazine and figuring out like this isn’t very hard to do. I could make a magazine and that was sort of the beginning of the idea for Experience Life which ended up becoming a real life honest-to-God magazine that now you said it reaches – kind of boggles my mind that it reaches three million people at least estimated with each issue, but I think that the magazine for me really did come out of my own journey and just my frustration with how crappy and unreliable and unscientific and just kind of dehumanizing a lot of the conventional health and fitness media work.
Jonathan: Pilar, I am getting fired up just hearing the story because this idea of it’s really not that complicated, it’s really not that hard when you get down to it, but what’s hard and complicated is when you – when you have all of these conflicting and counterproductive information coming at you from all angles then it becomes confusing and weird and it’s almost unreasonable for us; people like you, people like me, the listeners to think that we can have the revolution necessary to have science and simplicity win, but you are doing that, you are driving that.
What are the keys to having this revolution where we make healthy, healthy again and we make that which is supposed to make us happy, actually make us happy instead of sad?
Pilar: I think that the first key is having a healthy mistrust for the information that we get through conventional channels whether it’s medical information, nutrition information, to some extent even fitness information, although a little bit less so has come through very much an industry-controlled media channel and I will give you a couple of examples of how this has worked and what I have learned as a journalist in the process of producing content. There are enormous pressures on the front end. We know the scientific studies often are driven by industry stakeholders. We know that how the results get reported are very influenced by industry stakeholders. We know that the media, whether you are magazine publisher or a TV network, dependent on advertisements, there are certain – there are certain scientific messages that could have gotten out 10 years earlier I am convinced, particularly around saturated fats and high fructose – not saturated – trans fats and high fructose corn syrup that were delayed by I would say a good decade simply because although the science was clear, media was so discouraged from getting the story out. It was going to alienate advertisers, those advertisers had enormous, enormous clout and pull and this is just a couple of examples, but the other side too, I think from a happiness – like for me as a woman, a body image standpoint, a lot of what conventional media is selling is a fantasy, it’s like I wrote an essay called Six Packs and Sex Lives when I was trying to express why I thought Experience Life was different and wanted to be a different magazine and a lot of it really had to do with this – if your wish-self wants a bikini body or six-pack abs or thin thighs in 30 days or whatever that you have been convinced by the media as desirable. Your wish-self will buy that over and over and over again on the cover of a magazine or on the promise of a workout video and it doesn’t, almost doesn’t matter to the people who are running those businesses whether the advice inside actually helps you to make progress in your personal healthy way of life goals or not.
They want you to buy the stuffs, the magazine, the pills, the powders, the potions whatever it is and I think all of that just impedes the quest for good information, for reliable data, and I call it I guess like a human-centric message something that really addresses us as a whole people rather than as superficial “I want to be like the girl on the cover of the magazine,” which thanks to Photoshop, most of us couldn’t be even we had the genetics. Nobody actually looks like this. I think that those are some of the really big barriers. I think the other thing is just sometimes, this is a little bit deeper, I feel like it’s easy to keep ourselves distracted by trying one program after another and the promise of the new diet or the new detox or this new regimen distracts us from the most intrinsic and lasting values of why we really want to be healthy and if the quick-fix is a way of getting ourselves into a kind of a programmatic distraction that keeps us away from the really important work, like what is it that’s keeping me from embracing a healthy way of like for the long-term and often times it’s all sorts of weird psychological stuffs – it’s fear of our own success, it’s an anxiety about being as big and bright and beautiful as we can be.
It’s an anxiety of actually getting to have the body and the body-mind that we want. We think we want because believe me when you get healthy, your life changes, it does. It’s not like you can just get a whole new body and the rest of your live changes – stays the same. It all is connected and that can be weirdly anxiety producing. That’s my long answer, but I could go on because the obstacles are endless and that’s why the resources, I think that you and I are so passionate about producing, are so important at this time.
Jonathan: Pilar, I’m frantically jotting notes down here because just brilliant, brilliant words. A couple of things I want to draw listeners’ attention to – one is this, you started off by talking about having this healthy skepticism and listeners, I know you know this already, but just as a reminder this is not about like conspiracy theories and let’s be contrary just to be contrary sake, it’s very simple logic where if we do what we always have done, we are going to get what we’ve always gotten and if we do what everyone else is doing, we are going to get what everyone else has and what everyone else has look around, is not too good. It’s not as if like “Oh everyone else is being so successful.” No, normal isn’t working.
Incredibly powerful stuffs there Pilar and then also you mentioned this idea of six-pack abs and skinny jeans. One thing I want to dig into you because you are a great example of it is our goal certainly should not be these ridiculous media driven six-pack abs, skinny jeans type things. That said, you are a beautiful fit woman, but you didn’t arrive at that state through starvation and through deprivation, actually it was quite the opposite, right?
Pilar: Yes totally, in fact the most unhealthy I have even been and the least fit and the most heavy I have ever been was really as a result of getting into a strange dietary program that I learned from an anorexic who is a friend of my dad’s. I did not know she was an anorexic at that time. She was very thin and she taught me these so-called diet tricks that were largely about eating an incredibly low fat, really bad nutrition, but counting calories and then she would like walk the calories off. Every calorie she eats, she would somehow burn off. I don’t know, I was young, I was impressional, I was probably 13 years old at that time, and it just messed with my mind and it messed with my whole sense of myself, but that was the beginning for me of dieting and dieting was for me the beginning of a downfall. I messed up my metabolism, I started getting crazy cravings, all of the things that we both know do not work, I embraced and I suffered.
Jonathan: I guess may be the ray of hope to pull from the story is obviously very depressing. No one wants to starve and feel inadequate their entire lives, but the irony is that when you are able to extricate yourself from this noise and from this mythology and you are able to celebrate food and eat more, but smarter and to stress less and just let health ensue. Anyone who sees you – you look healthy and fit and beautiful. It’s not like we are saying “Oh you just going to abandon all hope of being happy with your appearance,” just the opposite is true, but when that ensues from health, you actually achieve it and you achieve it long term, am I on the right track?
Pilar: Absolutely and I don’t think that there is anything wrong with wanting to be the most beautiful version of yourself or the most fit version or the healthiest version. Look I am as vain as any other woman, believe me, in fact vanity has gotten me very motivated at various times in my life. That is not lasting motivation at least in my mind. What motivated me was really realizing that I wanted to live in integrity with my own values. I wanted not just the body of a person who ate well and exercised. I wanted to be a person who ate well and exercised and slept and managed stress because to me I realized that was the motivation – I wanted to feel like was telling the truth and living the truth of this and I knew it was possible, but until I sort of got my head on straight about that and started living the life of a healthy person rather than just trying to acquire the body of a healthy person, it didn’t work for me.
I would go a week and a half on a program and then I would just hate everything about it and myself and it was just all backslide and I would be back off worse than when I began and I think it’s really important to be like look, be healthy, be sexy. If you want six-pack abs, go after six-pack abs. If you are excited about being a figure competitor, look that’s your business. Whatever works for you, that’s great, but I still feel like learning the skills of a healthy person, learning how to shop and cook for good food, learning how to exercise and be active in a way that feels good to your body and that doesn’t get you injured and that you have fun doing it with and finding communities of people who want to live the same way. Those kinds of things are so much more rewarding and then the confidence and the self-esteem and the excitement and the momentum that come from doing those things even for a few days in a row, even a day.
On the days when I woke up and did the things that I knew I wanted to do for myself, not because I should, but because they were consistent with who I wanted to be and how I wanted to show up in the world, hours, a hour and an half into the day I could feel the difference. It was just a completely different mindset, but I think that the other thing is that you do need to invest the time and energy into learning from a scientific standpoint, from a clinical standpoint, and anecdotal standpoint for you what works and I am a big believer that there is no one program, there are definitely big patterns and I think you have really accurately nailed most of them and your nutritional philosophy; whole foods work. Eating a ton of vegetables whether a vegetarian or not lots of veggies really work, healthy fats really work. We can start going into all the nitty-gritty of other points, but if you do those things you will start to feel better regardless and as you get healthier, you will just naturally improve your metabolism, you are going to naturally improve your energy level and you are going to start a really exciting process by which you just keep feeling and getting and looking better every single day and that’s motivation in itself, that’s reward in itself.
Jonathan: Pilar, you just did such a great service for us because I feel that you made concrete this ephemeral lifestyle change we hear about. Everyone is like “Oh it’s lifestyle change, you need to make a lifestyle change,” that’s kind of like going into a business meeting and saying “synergy.” No one really knows what is that, they are like “what?” The distinction you’ve made which I love is like if you are saying I am going to do this program and that is your mindset, correct me if I’m wrong, but that’s going to fail because life isn’t like a five-week program. Life is forever. When we say lifestyle changes, it’s learning the habits of a healthy person. It’s living like a healthy person, it’s not trying to hack some secret work around and trick your body and that’s not a lifestyle change and that will never ever work long-term.
Pilar: I agree, I think the one value that comes out of those programs in my mind sometimes is – if you approach them as experiments, if you approach them as learning experiences, for example – you can do like an elimination diet or a detox program and from an experimental point of view what happens to my body when I do X and then you decide, like is it worth it for you to continue to do X. I gave up gluten 25 years ago when I had kind of an acute attack that eventually got tied to gluten, now I have been tested, I know I have a celiac gene that’s responsible for me not doing well on gluten.
At that time, going on a gluten-free diet was purely an experiment for me and if it had not made a difference, I wouldn’t have bothered, but it did make a difference. I could feel the difference in three days and as a result, it was like that’s not a program for me – that’s an element of that program I chose to continue to include. Same thing is with the exercise program. People might go on a fitness retreat or try out a CrossFit class for example. The program is less important than seeing how does that feel to you, how do you feel showing up in that environment? Does it feel welcoming and exciting or does it feel alienating and miserable? Same thing goes with yoga, same thing goes with running – you name it, I don’t care what healthy lifestyle element you are talking about, if it is a program, go – go as a tourist, try it out, see what you think, you will find something you like or you don’t like and then you begin to learn more about that.
I had to go through a half a dozen different types of exercise before I started finding the ones that I was like “yeah I would get up and do this on a regular basis, I would go do this, I like this.” That’s the value of the program, but as a result most actual really formulated diets I think are just kind of losing – unless you learn how to cook something that you like later. A lot of people I think went on Atkins Diet or they went on some Zone Diet or they went on South Beach Diet and they might have found two or three things that they really like to eat or cook or have in the house that they might not have otherwise and I think you sort of assemble the life that works for you, but like you I am not a big believer in programs.
Jonathan: Again, such valuable distinctions Pilar because it’s not about saying like “never try anything anyone else ever says and we can’t learn anything from anyone else” and it’s not like “all programs are poisonous,” but it’s go in, like you said is brilliant, as a tourist. Don’t see this person as the guru with all the answers, see this as a data point and then take it and evaluate it against your life and see what aspects of it you can enjoy forever and then you will end up with your healthy lifestyle, what do you think about that?
Pilar: I think that that’s exactly right. I think that’s like everything else in life, right? We learn from relationships. What kind of people we like to be around. We learn from being in jobs. What kind of work we do or don’t like to do. Same thing with this – you got to try it on, you got to see how it feels. You take away the learnings and you get better and better and better and it just keeps getting easier, that’s the thing I think that’s the best kept secret about healthy living. It’s that it gets better and it gets easier as you go. It’s not ever going to be as hard as right when you start, that’s my feeling, that’s my theory.
Jonathan: Tell me what you think about this distinction here Pilar. I think the actual act of eating and exercise, once you get down to the science and once you get down to the high quality eating, lots of food, high quality exercise, you don’t need to be spending 20 hours a week in the gym, the actual execution of this is easier, but the thing that is more challenging is the mental engagement because you have to be at the center of this, you have to be the health CEO. Let me tell you why I get so passionate about this Pilar – people ask me everyday like, is X good or bad? Are sweet potatoes good or bad, as if I can tell them definitively whether or not this food, which is it’s a food, like it’s not poison, we all get that, like whether or not it’s good or bad – try it. If it helps you reach your goals, it’s good. If it hurts you, it’s bad. It doesn’t matter what I think.
Pilar: I think that’s really true. Yes, I do exactly. It depends on you, your energy needs, what your goals are, all that stuff. What else you happen to have eaten that day or that week, and how you are feeling at the moment. There are so many things like I am a big believer in moderation and I took this from Dr. Mark Hyman, but I think – we argue a little bit about whether it should be 85 or 90 percent, but most of the stuffs that we noted to be true about healthy eating and we would probably agree on, if you do that 85 to 90 percent of the time, you can get away with eating things a lot worse than the odd sweet potato.
It’s just an indulgence and it’s fun and it’s food for entertainment or food for social pleasure and I don’t think it kills you. I think our bodies are pretty resilient once they are healthy, but the desire to demonize specific foods or food types, the desire to argue about what kind of exercise is best, people are just – it’s like again, I think it’s a distraction. You can get yourself completely invested in the dogma and not do anything and that’s not good at all.
Jonathan: It’s not good and it also represents I think this key distinction that you are working for and I am working for, which is the whole concept that this thing is good or bad, like good or bad relative to what, like what is your goal, what are even talking about? That’s like saying “Is this outfit good or bad?” Well, I don’t know, like are you going to a formal dance, are you going to dinner, are you going to the swimming pool because based on the context, but we want to argue and make global universal claims when in reality this seems to be the most intimate and personal thing available.
Pilar: Yes, I think for people who are starting out on this journey or who are making an attempt to dramatically improve their health and fitness, it’s particularly important to quiet the voices that are all yelling at each other and like go into your body and like – what really is the human body and mind and spirit hungry for? Get out of the insane little detailed stuff and get down to the fundamentals. One of the reasons that I think the magazine Experience Life has been successful, is that we have really focused on helping people build over time skill sets that help them move from wherever they are to a better place and whether you are just beginning and moving a little bit forward or you are already really healthy and fit and you want to take your health and fitness to a different level. There is something in there for you in that journey and the same thing happened with the 101 Revolutionary Ways to Be Healthy, the app that you mentioned that we developed, it was largely about like let’s meet people where they are and give them on any given day something that they can do, something that they can learn that will move them forward.
I think if you begin with the knowledge that it’s a journey and it’s going to take some time and it’s going to be a fun process and you are going to learn every single day, it’s so much more fun than setting; this is my goal and it’s got to be done by this day and I am going to by hell or high water make it happen and I am going to argue and argue and argue about, right? That to me is just not interesting, I find it de-energizing. For some people, it’s probably pretty fun, but it’s kind of like talk radio or cable TV. If you are turned on by people yelling at each other a lot, then probably the stuff that I do isn’t really going to be for you.
Jonathan: It is an awesome distinction between that which we do to make us feel healthy and vibrant should actually make us feel healthy and vibrant and if we took a step back and for many of us, may be not people listening to this podcast, but may be for people that they know. If they actually look at the things they are doing as you experienced and as I know I experienced that which is supposedly going to make you healthy and that which is supposedly going to make you happy is actually making you sick and unhappy. Again taken that step – I mean it seems kind of obvious we are talking about here Pilar which is just like focus on the results that gives you as an individual, take a step back from the noise – that’s simple, but it’s not easy in our culture.
Pilar: I am passionate about this whole notion that being healthy has now become a revolutionary act in the society that we live in. It is so much easier to just go along with the program and then by virtue of that program become incredibly sick and incredibly overweight and really depressed. You follow the norms of society, like you said, that’s where you are going to go. You do what everybody else is doing, you are going to end up where right now more than 50 percent of our population is, which is chronically ill and dependent on prescription drugs. For me, I think embracing the revolutionary mindset of I chose different, I want to be something other than the norm and I recognize it’s going to take unconventional choices and unconventional habits and I am going to be hanging around with some unconventional people and we are going to have more fun than I think the conventional side is going to have.
It was so much more empowering for me than trying to go along with the norms and feeling like there was something wrong with me that it wasn’t working. It’s funny, just a dumb aside, I was reading – I can’t remember what magazine the other day, I pulled this ad out for – I am all for brand names – it was like a new Triscuit and here is a major food company producing a major product and there it said, it’s like this “Oh my God” headline and it’s this woman who is just so extraordinarily excited to be eating this new version of a Triscuit and they have completely changed what they are doing and it’s so much excitement and they say “In addition to whole grain, wheat and brown rice, we are now including real food ingredients,” like brown rice and sweet potato or something or red rice and sweet potato, I don’t know and it was like the whole idea that these were real food ingredients and that was a departure from the normal ingredients that you might find in an average cracker here in the United States.
I think when we said everything, we have gotten so far away of what really would be working and what should be in a more widely available for the bulk of our population that it’s extraordinary and exceptional to include real food ingredients, these little dustings of sweet potato or whatever it is that they were claiming was going to be the healthy part of that cracker, but if you go into the grocery store that’s what you are going to find on the shelves and that’s what you are going to find probably in the health food aisle, which is really scary to me. A week ago, we could do a whole show about the conventional versus non-conventional paths and I would love to hear more about your story too because I think almost everyone I talked to who has found a sustainable healthy way of life has gone so far outside the norms and had to do so much of their own investigative work. I want to salute you for doing the work and also making it available to other people because I think that is the sacred work of our time right now.
Jonathan: Pilar, I so appreciate that and I’m so excited for our followup show because we’ve just scratched the surface of what my favorite part of your work and that’s this idea of taking on that revolutionary mindset and digging into your Manifesto for Thriving in a Mixed-Up World is just brilliant. Listeners we are going to leave you dangling here a little bit at the end. You are going to have to get a preview – actually not a preview, get the whole thing, but you wouldn’t get to hear us talk about it very well, but you can check out what we will be talking about next at RevolutionaryAct.com as well as checking out Pilar’s wonderful manifesto which is Manifesto for Thriving in a Mixed-Up World and we will of course dig more into that on the next show. Pilar, this has been absolutely brilliant. What’s next for you?
Pilar: This is the most interesting time of my life at least in the past 25 years; this is the first time I have taken a break. I stepped down from the editor-in-chief role at Experience Life magazine and into a chair as the chairperson for their Board of Directors. I am really doing higher level strategy and vision work now and still working with that team, but in a really different role. That’s giving me time to write a book on the art of being healthy in an unhealthy world and dabbling in television for the first time. We’ve made a pilot program for Experience Life TV that were now looking to evolving in sort of a new type of show that I think will be really helpful for folks that like the kind of stuffs we are talking about today.
Those were my big things and then we are going to continue to update the app, the 101 Revolutionary Ways to Be Healthy app that people can find at the iTunes store now, but it’s just going to get cooler and better and we are hoping to build some community around that as well because I think that’s really where the best support comes from is people in your world. I’m just having a great time, but it’s going to be a busy couple of years I think ahead of me.
Jonathan: You are certainly redefining normal and making healthy, healthy again is no small task, so thank you so much for all the effort and time you are dedicating to that revolutionary cause.
Pilar: Thank you so much for having me Jonathan.
Jonathan: Listeners again, our guest today is the delightful Pilar Gerasimo and you can learn more about her all over the place. First, go to RevolutionaryAct.com, check out her wonderful Manifesto for Thriving in a Mixed-Up World, which we will talk about in detail in a future podcast as well as check out the corresponding mobile app 101 Revolutionary Ways to Be Healthy. You can also check out the magazine that she helped found, which is ExperienceLife.com and of course if you want to connect with her personally, check her out on Twitter @pgerasimo. There is no dotcom. I inflicted that made it seem like there was something else. Let’s try that again, on Twitter @pgerasimo. There you go, that’s how you say Twitter handles and I will spell that out for you that’s P-g-e-r-a-s-i-m-o and while you are doing that, remember, this week and every week after; eat smarter, exercise smarter, and live better. Chat with you soon.