Exclusive Interview With Phoebe Lapine, Author of "The Wellness Project"

We sat down with Phoebe Lapine, the boss lady behind the award-winning blog, Feed Me Phoebe, to talk about all things health & wellness. From the latest food trends to meditation and more. On her blog, Phoebe she shares mouth-wateringly delicious recipes and chronicles her journey with Hashimotos Thyroiditis. Her memoir, The Wellness Project, which is officially for sale today, explores how she finally found the middle ground between health and hedonism by making one lifestyle change, one month at a time. Added Bonus? It’s packed with twenty incredible recipes that will have you running to the kitchen.

Let’s talk about healthy hedonism. Right now, it seems like everyone is pushing the “80/20 rule” and preaching balance, treat yourself, etc. How do you describe your approach to health and how do you practice balance?

I define my philosophy of healthy hedonism as the art of balancing the things that nourish your body with the things that feed your spirit. Restrictive dieting may pull off the pounds and bring us closer to looking like a Greek goddess. It may even make us healthier on paper. But it can often get in the way of living. When I talk about hedonism, it’s not just wine and French fries (although for some people, it might include wine and French fries!). It’s not even just about food. It stands for everything that brings us pleasure—quality time with friends, our ability to look and feel our best, the freedom to play.

More so than any sort of 80/20 rule, I think the key is to figure out where your hard lines are and where there can be some wiggle room. 80/20 sounds nice and all, but you’ll end up doing a lot of mental math around that equation, and for me mental math around my health definitely detracts from my hedonism!

The best way to figure out your limits – what works for your body, mind and spirit, and what despite the best scientific and spiritual intentions, may not – is to self-experiment.

What I did with my wellness project was make lifestyle changes slowly, steadily, and with the first intention being to pay attention. And I did them in isolation so I could really tease out the impact on both my health and my hedonism. Only then can you decide whether or not a health practice is worth the time money and energy we spend on it.

How has living with an autoimmune disease changed your perspective on health and wellness? What does “being healthy” mean to you, and what does that look like in your life?

The biggest perspective change was coming to terms with the fact that I am a highly sensitive person. Every toxin, every ounce of stress—it all adds up. When I was first diagnosed, and started falling down the rabbit hole of healthy living, I let that overwhelm me. But now I see it from the other side. My health is a patchwork quilt of choices. While all the small things do add up, I have to tell myself that no one small choice is going to derail me in the long term. I can pick and choose my own toxic adventure, and the practices that counteract it.

One of the reasons we loved your book so much is because you emphasize the fact that it’s possible to be healthy without giving up your social life. Can you give us your go-to tips for how to keep calm and let loose in social situations without feeling like crap the next day?

A big learning from my wellness project was that it’s important to set yourself up for success at home so you can find more flexibility out in the world. I did this over the course of my year – putting water filters on my kitchen tap and shower head, detoxing my pantry, switching my personal care products to naturals. I know that I’ve really chipped away at my “toxic burden” by doing all of these things. And per my last answer, I know that drinking some tap water out on the town, isn’t the end of the world.

Because the second big learning is that seeking perfection often causes more stress than the end result is worth. And as someone who’s autoimmune, I really believe that stress is a much more toxic ingredient than a little chlorine in my glass.

I’m a chef and food writer, so I prepare the majority of my meals and love hosting friends at my house. When I eat out, I’ve learned to be adamant about my hard lines - for me, gluten – without worrying about being the problem child at the table.

And in terms of the alcohol, I let myself have a glass of wine if I want one. But I’ve weeded out a lot of mindless unnecessary alcohol. In New York City sometimes a drink at dinner can feel mandatory, even on a Monday night with a couple girlfriends. I try to make sure I’m only drinking when it’s something that feeds my hedonism on all cylinders. No $5 buck chuck for me anymore!

Meditation. There is so much buzz around this buzz-word right now - there are countless apps, and even meditation studios popping up everywhere. You touched on this in your book, but what is your biggest advice for people looking to begin a meditation practice for the first time?

Keep your expectations reasonable. Try to sit for a short period of time every day. Make it realistic at first and build from there. Even if your mind is fluttering around, the stillness is still a gift for your body. You may not recognize the physical or mental benefits right away, but trust that simply sitting and breathing for 5 minutes has a physiological advantage.

If you’re interested in going all in for the long haul, I do recommend a formal training. It was one of the most expensive things I invested in during my year of health, but I think of it as a lifelong gym membership for my mind. Being forced to go to a 4-day training really helped me understand the foundation of the practice, and doing so with 12 other people helped me feel less like a failure. We all experienced similar struggles and pit falls, and it was great to talk them out and troubleshoot as a group.

Since we have already touched on so many trends, let’s talk about the unicorn food trend. As a food stylist and blogger, how do you view this colorful food trend and what Instagram has done for “food porn.” On one hand, it has helped healthy food become “sexy” and more appealing, but do you think we’ve gone too far with overloaded smoothie bowls, and rainbow-colored beverages?

You’ve read my mind! Yes, being healthy is not a competitive sport. And change happens at a much deeper level than a like on Instagram. Food has become a sort of show pony in our culture. It’s great that healthy food trends are becoming as enviable as the bacon-wrapped cheeseburgers of Epic Meal Time. But in general, I think that Instagram and food competition shows distract from the core of what cooking should be: self-care.

I started my first blog because I felt like my peers (early twenty-somethings right out of college), weren’t cooking. They were ferociously tracking the trends and hunting down the cronuts. Food was clearly important. But when they’d actually decide to make something for themselves, they’d try to recreate an elaborate restaurant dish or something they’d seen on Top Chef. They’d end up overspending or failing all together, and feeling discouraged from ever entering the kitchen again.

I’m a big believer that home cooked food, even if it’s the most egregious Paula Dean recipe, is better for your body, heart and mind than anything that comes out of a package or restaurant kitchen. And while I love people getting excited about the creative side of making something, and wanting to share that with the world, I worry that the average person will think that they’re missing the mark if their smoothie bowl doesn’t have an intricate lattice of bee pollen and five types of super seeds. Or worse—they’ll think that healthy eating is overly expensive and inaccessible when they try to recreate those things themselves.

Reconnecting with cooking as self-care, or even as just a sustainable habit, means embracing a lot of really simple homey dishes. No micro green necessary.

Last but not least (because we have to ask), what is your all-time favorite recipe that you’ve come up with? 

Oh man—my babies! I can’t choose a favorite. Ok, from my book, it’s the turmeric braised chicken with leeks and golden beets. The recipe is so simple: you just throw everything in a baking dish, give it a hosing of white wine and lemon juice, and let it hang out in the oven. It’s the type of recipe that’s easy enough for the weekend and interesting enough to serve to company—basically, my requirements for any recipe! It has a very good ratio of vegetables to protein, and uses the beets nose-to- tail (i.e. greens and all). And with the turmeric, it has lots of stealth anti-inflammatory power.

I also created a plant-based version using just spring vegetables for my site here. Like all the recipes in the book, I’ve included “market swap” instructions for how to make it completely plant-based.