Authors and artists have a long history of abusing their bodies. Virginia Woolf would essentially collapse after finishing a novel. Voltaire serial drank coffee. Ernest Hemingway and absinthe? ‘Nuf said.
For me, when I’m deep into writing or revising a book, the last thing I think about is my health. This is stupid. I always go through the same cycle—WAY too much coffee in the morning. I’m a running addict, so when the writer’s block hits, I go for a long run. Although I wake up on a writing morning telling myself I need to drink enough water before my run, not drink too much caffeine, and eat sensible meals at normal hours, I’ll admit that there have been some mornings when I’ve gone running after drinking nothing except three or four cups of coffee. Then I come back, and without drinking any more water, I dive right back into my book before my ideas evaporate. Then I tell myself to eat fresh carrots and almond butter, but my stressed self has a mind of its own. Inevitably, I find myself in the pantry, reaching for the corn chips, salsa, and Diet Coke.
“She gave herself very good advice, (though she very seldom followed it.)"
--Alice in Wonderland
I don’t just let my physical health go. Every writer knows it’s a struggle to “turn off” the creative switch. In the thick of a book, my mind keeps going when I’m cooking dinner, when I’m playing UNO with my kids, when I’m trying to relax outside with a glass of wine in the evening. I have to fight for the mental discipline to “put it aside” even after I hit “send” to my agent or editor. I still feel like I’m going round and round even though the carousel has long stopped.
Once I’m finished with a book, I think I’ll “get back on track.” I cut back on coffee. I return to my yoga class. I drink more water, eat less carbs. Unfortunately, in my thirties, it’s getting harder to “bounce back,” and I’m finding that the toll on my mental and physical health doesn’t go away as quickly as it used to. I fight headaches, digestive issues, and general anxiety. I feel like it takes me weeks, or even months, to get my system back.
I’m tired of this cycle. I’m working on doing things throughout the writing process to keep my body and mind sane. For my mind, I’ve been practicing mindfulness. Even if it’s just 15-20 minutes per day, I’ve found that it helps keep me “centered” so I can focus on my work. Also, when I’m doing it regularly, I have more mental discipline to stay focused on my WIP and not get distracted by social media. I also make sure to keep up with yoga. Even if my writer’s brain tells me I don’t have time for it and I can just do ten vinyasas in my den, I’ve found that by going to a class, where I’m watched by an instructor, that I’m more conscientious about my poses, and I challenge myself more. I still run 9-15 miles per week. It helps with anxiety. But I’m trying to drink more water before and after I run. Author, Gwen Hayes tries to schedule “time off” by not checking her computer after dinner and by doing things like taking weekends off.
For my physical health, I’ve been trying to drink more water. Recently, I also tried a “grainless month” which made me more mindful of how much processed food I was eating. It forced me to eat the carrots and almond butter instead of the corn chips. I’ve been making the occasional smoothie, full of spinach, bananas, coconut milk, and I add in acidophilus powder for digestive health. The smoothie keeps me hydrated and adds essential vitamins. I also drink bone broth and kombucha tea regularly because both are restorative. I know several authors who try hitting the “reset” button on their diet. There’s not a one-size-fits-all reset so you have to decide what’s best for you. For me it was giving up grains for a while. Sometimes I give up dairy. (My name is Amy and I'm a cheese-aholic.) I know several authors have tried the Whole Thirty. Hayes recommends it for kicking the sugar dragon.
Dr. Suess Veggie Smoothie
I’d like to add for a final note, that although I’m trying harder, I’m by no means perfect. I have some days when I’m better and more disciplined than others. (And I do still love the occasional Diet Coke.) Also, I’ve learned that health means balance. For me that’s 80% healthy. I have to eat 100% gluten free. Otherwise, I keep a mostly dairy free, low grain, low sugar diet because I feel so much better. But I still eat dark chocolate and enjoy dark red wine or bourbon in moderation. They’re therapeutic and I’ve found that if I allow a few “treats” in my diet, it’s easier for me to stick to the 80% healthy.
Some of my favorite health blogs include:
Mark's Daily Apple--(includes some awesome paleo recipes)
Woo-Woo Mommy--(great health info and low carb, kid-friendly recipes)