Confession: I'm not what you would call a wellness evangelist. I only tried meditating once (and didn't love it), I don't follow a ketogenic diet (or Whole30), I don't have an acupuncturist, I only work out sporadically, and my chakras are most definitely not aligned.
So when I found myself, on a sunny January morning in Arizona, listening to a panel on the benefits of intermittent fasting, I was surprised to realize I was already unknowingly following the increasingly popular dieting trend. I never made the conscious choice to eat within an eight-hour window. I simply don't get hungry in the morning and rarely eat before 1 or 2 p.m. Maybe, unconsciously, I had healthier habits than I thought.
What led me to this experiment in intermittent fasting was a wellness retreat at the JW Marriott Camelback Inn Resort & Spa with their new wellness ambassador, Nora Tobin. Fresh into 2018, I thought getting away from the freezing grind of New York City for the crisp desert air of Scottsdale for a few days of ultimate wellness felt like the perfect way to hit the reset button. Before my arrival, Tobin took the pulse of my healthy habits through a thorough lifestyle assessment questionnaire: "How many meals do you cook versus eat out?" If I'm being honest, 5%.
"How often do you exercise?" Maybe once a month. "How do you manage stress?" Do I?
Over a four-day period, my life would become a blissful routine of sunrise yoga, turmeric shots, and ayurvedic massages. Better yet, healthy cocktails (non-sweet spicy margaritas) were not only permitted, they were encouraged. As the rising sun kissed my face in reverse warrior, the gentle desert breeze blew through the Arizona mountains, and I thought, This is what I should be doing with my mornings instead of stepping over giant rats in the streets of New York while speed-walking to work and getting yelled at by angry commuters.
The rat race, as it turned out, carried its name well.
On my second day in Arizona, I sat down with Tobin to discuss my wellness goals. She reassured me that while there was always room for improvement, I was faring better than I thought in the wellness department: I walk to work—that's 40 minutes a day in total; I take my vitamins daily; I fast intermittently; I generally make healthy choices in restaurants; I don't really eat sweets. She gave me a customized manageable wellness plan that built on the health habits I already had and incorporated a few of the habits learned on the retreat.
Four months in, here's my assessment of how my new wellness routine is going.
The basics: Bulletproof coffee, the mixture of coffee, butter, and oil, is a Palo Alto staple, and it's thought to increase energy and support weight loss by keeping drinkers satisfied for longer. Many credit Silicon Valley entrepreneur Dave Asprey for making this curious concoction mainstream. Our twist on the drink was black coffee with a dollop of coconut oil and a teaspoon of maca powder (served with a shot of turmeric and apple cider vinegar and a super smoothie). This replaced breakfast after our morning workouts and was designed to keep us sustained until we reached our eight-hour eating window.
How I felt: I was hellbent on the idea that I would hate Bulletproof coffee. As a devotee of the full-fat-milk iced latte, I couldn't imagine enjoying a black drip coffee that also felt greasy and had the consistency of vinaigrette. But to my surprise, I loved it—and on day two, I found myself craving it when I woke up. It felt healthier and kept me alert throughout the day. The turmeric and apple cider vinegar shot was another story. Though it didn't taste awful, the acidity on an empty stomach was too much to handle.
Is it worth it: While I've reverted back to my daily routine of morning iced lattes, I would totally consider switching to Bulletproof coffee as a healthy alternative. The taste was surprisingly good, and the drink made me feel alert without filling me up like a large iced drink with a lot of milk would.
The basics: Intermittent fasting is a form of diet that consists of eating 500 calories one to two days per week while opting to go without food for 12 to 18 hours per day in the interim. It's said to help protect memory and learning functions in the brain, improve disease biomarkers for conditions like diabetes, and, of course, contribute to weight loss. "During the 16-hour break, the body's metabolic rate increases, which leads to a higher calorie burn," explains Tobin.
How I felt: I truthfully didn't notice a difference from my regular routine, because (other than the 500-calorie rule one day a week), I was already unknowingly intermittently fasting. The important thing, Tobin says, is to ensure that your first meal consists of a healthy portion of greens and lean protein—like a Sweetgreen salad, for example.
Is it worth it: Absolutely. If you aren't someone who needs to eat a big breakfast, I'd encourage you to try it. According to Tobin, some things can be consumed in the morning that don't kick-start the metabolism (like warm water with lemon, coffee with very little or no milk, and smoothies without proteins like dates and nuts. My favorite part: Intermittent fasting requires very little discipline and encourages you to make healthier choices without being overly restrictive in calorie consumption or otherwise.
The basics: More of a lifestyle choice tailored to my needs than a wellness trend, Tobin recommended a series of on-the-go workouts for my busy lifestyle. My biggest complaint (or excuse) for not working out more regularly, was the difficulty in finding the time to get to a fitness class: I'm not a morning person, and I have work events most nights. Going for a quick morning run in summer months is easy, but winter makes me revert back to my lazy self. Tobin's solution: three-minute morning yoga and a combination of short at-home HIIT and strength training exercises that require little to no equipment.
How I felt: Going from barely working out to doing two to three workouts a day during the retreat (a mix of yoga flow, HIIT training, and hiking) definitely left me sorer than I've probably ever felt. At one point, I understood the need for handlebars in handicapped bathrooms—my legs and glutes were so sore that I sat down and stood up at the speed of a slow-moving sloth. Despite that, I also felt healthy and full of energy. My life felt more balanced.
Is it worth it: For people who are very disciplined about their workout routines and/or travel often, these short exercises (a mix of leg bridges, floor crunches, planks, push-ups, and more) are a fantastic way to stay fit on a tight schedule. For me, someone who needs extra motivation and hand-holding, getting to a workout class once to twice a week (which I have been doing lately) helps me work out harder and more diligently. And now that it's warm out again, I've been going for morning runs on the East River more, isn't as blissful as a sunrise yoga session (but it's still pretty great).
Bindi Aryuvedic Herbal Treatment
The basics: While the Camelback Spa offered the typical range of massages and facials one would expect on a classic spa menu, the Bindi wrap immediately caught my eye: "Using an intoxicating blend of herbs and oils from India, this Ayurvedic treatment brings the body into balance by providing nourishment to the skin, relaxation, and peace to the mind and soul. The body is gently exfoliated and warm oil is applied. Together these techniques improve circulation, which releases energy blockages and transports you to a new level of relaxation," reads the description.
How I felt: This is like full-body bliss. First, the herb scrub smells incredible and makes your skin baby smooth. Then, you're oiled up and wrapped in what feels like a giant, heavy steaming hot burrito and left to relax for what feels like 30 minutes. The treatment also includes a facial and full-body massage, so it's basically like having three spa treatments in one. I left feeling very zen.
Is it worth it: Totally. If, like me, you're the type of person who can't decide between a body wrap, a massage, or a facial at the spa, this is a mix of all three. Just one thing: If saunas or generally being hot aren't your thing, you might not enjoy the wrap part—it gets really steamy. I would also say it might not be the best for people who get claustrophobic since the wrap is tight and heavy. But for everyone else, it's magical.
The basics: I've never been a proponent of journaling. In fact, it makes me feel a little silly. Besides—having to write every day for a living means that the last thing I want to do in the mornings or evenings is write more. But Tobin praises the benefits of journaling daily, arguing that it improves productivity, increases leadership abilities, and helps improve gratitude, empathy, and happiness. The questions that she recommends answering every day:
What are the top three intentions (personal or professional) for the day?
What are the three steps you can take today to accomplish these intentions?
How will accomplishing these intentions be transformative in your life?
How I felt: We did our first journaling exercise on the first day. I have to admit I was skeptical. But I'll try anything once, so after a peaceful sunset yoga session, I bundled up on my yoga mat with pillows and blankets, and started writing. As it would with most writers, the words flowed freely and naturally. When I reread my notes a few months later, I was worried I'd feel silly or embarrassed. But instead, I liked what I had written and, most important, I was relieved to see that I had followed through on my January goals (even the ones I had largely forgotten about).
Is it worth it: For people who want help with staying accountable, or want to feel happier and more grateful, journaling has many benefits—and it only takes three minutes out of your day. I can't say I've kept up the habit, but I believe in its positive abilities. If you can incorporate journaling with a Bulletproof coffee, and an on-the-go workout in your morning routine, you're on your way to a healthy, balanced life.
Be a Better You
Next up: 20 of the most wildly popular wellness trends of 2018.
Ed. note: This trip was paid for by JW Marriott Camelback Inn Resort & Spa. All opinions are the editor's own.