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Feb/Mar 2012 Issue
The Oscar-nominated actress lives well, living without
Actress and author Mariel Hemingway is an avid health advocate who’s been on an odyssey of wellness for over 20 years. The granddaughter of Nobel Prize-winning novelist Ernest Hemingway, Hemingway says her decision to live a healthy life was prompted by a family history of heart disease, cancer and diabetes, as well as her grandfather’s epic struggles with depression and alcoholism. She was determined to overcome this legacy.
The 50-year-old mother of two grown daughters has written several books on health topics and is now the spokesperson for Wellness Week, a nationwide initiative devoted to helping people jumpstart healthier and happier lives. The Oscar-nominated actress talks with Living Without about living from the inside out.
Living Without Tell us about being the spokesperson for Wellness Week.
Mariel Hemingway I speak about wellness and how a healthy lifestyle is more than just one thing. It’s not just the food you eat. It’s not just exercise. It’s not about getting massages or spa treatments. It’s everything. It’s how you take care of yourself on the whole—from thoughts you think first thing in the morning to what you’re eating. It’s about having a different consciousness and having an awareness of your whole self and how that is expressed in the world.
Over the years, you’ve omitted certain foods from your diet—those that contain gluten and foods with added sugars, food dyes, preservatives. Was this due to self-instituted dietary changes or are you allergic or sensitive to these items?
I’m not allergic to gluten and I don’t have celiac disease but I'm definitely sensitive to gluten. I know I’m really sluggish when I eat gluten. So I stopped eating it about 15 years ago and feel so much better. Actually, I think gluten is bad for most people these days and it’s not because gluten per se is bad. There’s nothing wrong with wheat but there’s something wrong with how we process wheat in this country. There are hormones in the water, there are pesticides in the plants, so much of our food is genetically modified. For some reason, wheat has become so overly processed that it makes our bodies intolerant of it. So that’s why I got rid of gluten. I stopped eating sugar about 20 years ago because I know myself to be an addictive personality and I don’t want to chance it. I think gluten can become an addiction, too, for some people. I think if people cut gluten from their diet*, many would feel an immediate difference.
Fortunately, there are more flavorful gluten-free products available today than ever before.
Some gluten-free products are good—but you have to look at the ingredients. There are companies that make gluten-free cookies, crackers and things like that. It all sounds good until you look at the ingredients and there are low-nutrient starches and this and that. You begin to realize that the ingredients in gluten-free products aren’t always any better than their wheat-filled counterparts.
When I buy something, I don’t tend to buy gluten-free products per se. I have a company [Mariel’s Kitchen] that makes a cookie called Blisscuits that is gluten free and sugar free. It’s a functional food made with almond meal and coconut oil and sweetened with agave. It tastes good and is made with simple ingredients that you can understand and pronounce. I think that’s really super important.
What are some nutritional essentials in your kitchen?
You’ll always find green juice in the fridge—celery, parsley, spinach juice mixed with raw honey because that preserves it and keeps it fresh longer. You’ll find great water in a glass container. You’ll find seasonal fruit. We try to eat our fruit seasonally and not shipped over from Chile. I eat seasonally—my last cookbook [Mariel’s Kitchen, Simple Ingredients for a Delicious and Satisfying Life] was about eating with the seasons.
I read some of your tips on reducing what you refer to as “noisy foods.” Which foods are high on the volume scale?
Any kind of processed food—any food that has chemicals and preservatives in it. That’s a noisy food. Diet soda is a hugely noisy food. It creates noise in the brain so that you’re not able to clearly focus. When you don’t consistently eat properly—once in a while it’s okay—but when you consistently put toxic foods in your body, like diet sodas, chips, things with ingredients that you can’t pronounce, it creates >58 chemical noise. This stuff doesn’t nourish your body. It’s toxic.
If a person were to start a wellness makeover, what would you recommend they do first?
If you want to change your food, start by changing your breakfast. It’s the start of your day. It’s breaking a fast. So paying attention to what you eat at the beginning of every day is really important.
And your breakfast?
Usually I have green juice because it’s alkalizing and helps rid the body of toxins. You can add things to it like coconut oil, avocado, raw honey, raw dates, cinnamon or turmeric, which is great for inflammation.
So when I suggest to somebody—I don’t tell people what to do because it’s their life—to change their breakfast, that changes how they start their day. I also recommend that you lie in bed, rub your feet, close your eyes and have gratitude thoughts—that changes how you start your day.
What else would you suggest for starting a wellness makeover?
I would say drink very good water and drink it out of glass. And also, take time to be in silence every day, especially in the morning. Take time to be still and quiet, think good thoughts and put yourself out there in a different kind of way. These are small steps to balanced living.
How do you define balanced living?
Balanced living is really living with awareness. It’s making deliberate choices every single day that lead to other good choices.
A balanced life is really a life that you’re taking action to be present in most every moment. We’re not perfect and we can’t be present in every single moment but we can certainly be present in most if we just have consciousness and we start the day differently. Balanced living doesn’t just happen automatically. It’s always occurring. It’s an ongoing process—and it’s powerful.