Food Flexibility

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Today, I shot the cover of a magazine. It went great. Big smiles, lots of energy, tons of fun, and to top it off a team of people I’ve worked with a lot over the years.  On set we had lots of treats, this client particularly loves trying random local treats while we work.  Last time we all had cupcakes and today it was something called “cake pops.”  I wasn’t raised to be a picky eater, but in the years I’ve been out on my own, some might say that I’ve become one. To me, it’s just an awareness of how food fuels my active lifestyle. As mindful as I am of what I eat, I’ve also been working on my food flexibility, so to speak, bending my habits just like I’ve been stretching my hip flexors over the years in yoga class.  It’s tough to be on shoots with random catering but I’ve found little ways of working with what’s there. When I go to a shoot, I let myself have lots of snacks. When I can, I show up with a liter-sized green tea, dried seaweed, kale chips, sushi, and tons of fruit, just in case good food isn’t provided.  Since I ran 3 miles before my call time this morning, I knew I could enjoy a couple treats.  

The other day, I grabbed a little fruit cup off the breakfast table when I arrived at a shoot. A makeup artist sarcastically remarked that, of course the model would only being eating a bit of fruit. I was a little offended. That morning, I had woken up extra early with my boyfriend so that he could cook me a big breakfast. It was unfair for her to single me out, but people judge food stuff too often to stay upset by it for long.  Even outside the industry people make passive-aggressive comments about what I am or am not eating. Because there are so many stereotypes about models’ diets, people feel like that can say tasteless things.  But now it’s just a matter of letting these things roll off my back. At least I know what I eat and why, so much so that many of the people in my workplace look to me for insight and advice.  

Which isn’t to say that people in the fashion industry don’t sometimes doubt me. At a recent shoot, a woman on the crew was eager to tell everyone about her new crash diet. She had decided to cleanse her system by cutting out some major food groups. I feel as though the word “cleanse” is abused when it comes to gimmicky diets. It often disguises how extreme and counterproductive they are. If I’m going to change the way that I eat, I change my whole life around to accommodate it. Before I even start, I do hours and hours of research and talk to my doctor about how to do it right.  The dieter didn’t appreciate my words of caution about what she was eliminating. That’s fine. Our opinions about food may differ. We all have different bodies that react in different ways. But she decided to spend the rest of the day educating me. I was polite and decided not to get into a debate on set, but I’ve made up my mind about what that kind of advice is worth. Eat as much and whatever you want or experiment with your diet however you choose, but don’t preach to me about the benefits of what you do unless you’ve taken a moment to reflect seriously about whether you’re doing it right and whether it’s done you any good. Don’t tell me what you read on the internet. Don’t tell me what your friends have said. Tell me what you’ve learned for yourself. Better yet, show me. I’m observant. If someone is miserable and looks unwell, I’m not likely to subscribe to their ideas about food.

People in the yoga community are as likely as anyone to preach about fasts and strict dietary restrictions. Many confuse vanity for humility as they adopt a trendy miracle weight loss regimen into their yogic rituals, holding it out as somehow sacred because they’re sacrificing something. My sense is that, when you really dig into the tradition, extremes of any kind are frowned upon. The mythical yogic masters didn’t deny themselves food; they didn’t need it. Different yogic traditions subscribe to different dietary beliefs.  Contrary to the teachings of the 14th Dalai Lama, some purists in the Tibetan Buddhist tantric yoga traditions insist on eating meat. That’s fine, but I don’t need it for myself. A lot of yoga schools treat veganism as the only way to transcendence and practically enough for enlightenment. I, on the other hand, would never force someone else into it. The most I can do is be an example of someone who enjoys what they eat, but eats only what she needs. There are two big challenges in that: the wisdom to find the pleasure in it and the knowledge of what my body has to have.

I was reminded of that learning process at a runway show I did to kick off New York’s fashion week this season. I rarely walk the runway, but when I arrived on site, I realized that I was surrounded by familiar faces. Among the models, stylists, and makeup artists were people I had once lived and worked with, but whom I hadn’t seen in years. It was a chance to reflect on how much these people influenced me. Seeing them all at once on such a happy occasion was an incredible gift.  

One of the makeup artists I’m referring to used to be booked for the same client with me 4 years ago. It’s rare to work with someone often enough to develop a real personal bond. She was one of the few people to know me well at that time.  Back then, she’d give me advice and listened to all my stories about my first relationship in NYC. She also watched me experiment with different theories about food. I remember feeling safe around her. She’d told me personal stories about herself and what she’d learned. When I tried something silly, I knew she never judged me.  I was proud when I saw her at the fashion show, myself a completely new person, healthy and full of life. More than my appearance had changed since the last time I sat in her makeup chair; I had such a different outlook and so much to share with her. She was still just as joyous, loving and nurturing.  

When I was changing around my diet, bouncing between extreme restrictions, I was naive and gullible to believe that the effects would be any more permanent than what I was doing. After experiencing it all first hand, it’s apparent that a stable pattern of behavior is the key to reliable results. A more holistic and detached attitude towards food is even a way of practicing my yoga. If there’s a plate of warm freshly baked cookies at a shoot, or cake pops, and I’m working my butt off, I’m gonna eat one! (or two…)  It’s not black and white. It’s not what I eat, but rather how I eat and why. I eat with moderation and gratitude. I account for the treats I share with friends and colleagues by being active, often also with friends and colleagues. It’s part of how I live my life and how I share it with the people around me, and that way it’s been easier to make the right choices for myself.  (Photo by Todd Cooper Barnes)

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