Food and health writer, chef, and nutrition blogger Phoebe Lapine has just rounded the Big 3-0 for her birthday, which all of us who are decades older may remember wasn’t such a big deal after all (in fact it ushered in an era of sanity and self-awareness after the madly insecure 20s). She spent the last year of her 20s scrambling to defeat a significant health problem.
A few years prior, Ms. Lapine was handed a diagnosis of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, and while this sounds like something Robin Cook might have made up in one of his scary books about mad doctors, it’s one of the many autoimmune diseases with which modern medicine is learning to contend. A thyroid going haywire is nobody’s idea of fun, but the presenting symptom that bothered the attractive young woman the most was “a pink pixelated rash around my nose and mouth that refused to go away.”
This perioral dermatitis had been hounding her since college, and she’d found relief at her doctor’s office with steroid injections and medicated cream. If those failed, a course of antibiotics was prescribed. When this three-pronged approach ceased to work, Ms. Lapine sought further medical advice. She found out that Hashimoto’s, a condition that causes the immune system to attack the thyroid, throws the entire body out of whack. The diagnosing doctor told her the condition was common in women her age; about 14 million walk around with it. She would probably carry it for the rest of her life, so she’d need to go on a medication called Synthroid, also for the duration.
“This last piece of news did not sit well with me,” she said.
Lapine grew up under the influence of a holistically inclined mother, and this gave her the impetus to seek natural supports for her body’s various failures: stomach cramps, a “wonky” digestion, hot and cold flashes, muscle pain, crushing fatigue, and, amid all this, freelance writing, cooking jobs, and teaching 9-year-olds how to make granola bars. After pounding the computer and scrabbling through an avalanche of new health books, she realized she desperately needed an ongoing strategy for balance.
“I started designing a set of short-term challenges to help me tackle each of my problem areas, one by one,” she said. She dedicated a year to overhauling her wellness, dedicating her own body as a sort of guinea pig in a new laboratory trial each month. The result was “The Wellness Project: How I Learned to Do Right by My Body, Without Giving Up My Life” (published by an imprint of Penguin Random House). Chapter one takes on — are you sitting down? — alcohol, caffeine, and sugar.
We all know a life without at least one of those goodies is a life hardly worth living, but Lapine gives us lots of good advice in her sparkling style of writing, and in the meantime, because she’s also a researcher extraordinaire, we’re educated in a fun way, as when reading a sophisticated food and health magazine.
What ensues is a hilarious, harrowing, and enlightening year of “just say no” to the above-mentioned trio of treasures, a disastrous set of supplements given her by a Brooklyn lady she calls Gloria the Healer — Lapine is too kind to call her Gloria the (Almost) Killer — green leafy veggies in a blender, a makeup hiatus on Mondays, a full investigation of intestinal flora — the good, the bad, and the ugly — nourishing meals made from scratch at home, sufficient for the coming week, the real deal with water, sitting as the new no-no, and much more.
In the midst of this very busy babe’s health search and unbelievably demanding professional life, a handsome and kind and, thank goodness, forbearing young man named Charlie enters the scene. The last thing you need when you’re keeping a dedicated diary of the output of your colon is to meet your true soulmate. Their unfolding love is put to the test when Lapine takes a magnifying glass, metaphorically, to her various allergies, and decrees that Charlie’s beagle, Baron, to whom he’s been joyfully bound at the hip for 10 years, is not welcome in the small loft bedroom of her cramped Manhattan apartment. (No worries, dog lovers, this gets sorted in the right direction later on in the saga. Yes, I know; the chest doesn’t unsqueeze until our heroine takes Baron to her bed).
Thanks to the writer’s finely honed style, every bit of this book will be a trip to read, even if a given chapter relates not in the least to your own personal issues — the New Natural in contraception? MEGA (heart-pumping) Pilates? Insomnia treatment without prescription meds?
Phoebe Lapine’s book is already on sale at Bunch of Grapes. The author, who spends a lot of summer time here with her parents, will be available for signings and readings yet to be announced. “The Wellness Project” is certain to spark new good habits and to present a practical, individualized approach to fixing this body of ours that’s so sensitive, unpredictable, and worth loving.