As much as I don’t like to admit it, food is the weak link in my self-care practice. I don’t have a horrible diet, but having grown up with a mother who packed me cucumber and sprout sandwiches for lunch, I just have an “I eat healthy” point-of-view that isn’t exactly true. I haven’t fully connected what food does for my body, but I’m making my way there. I’m lucky enough to have met Heather Crosby, a creative entrepreneur who has embraced the responsibility of being accountable for her own health after years of being told she’d be on medication for the rest of her life.
One of my favorite aspects of Heather’s work and approach is her respect for bio-individuality and the fact she even addresses that on her website and in her books. It reminds me of the gentle notes in guided meditations where you acknowledge that it’s natural for your mind to wander, just come back to the breath when you realize you’re thinking about work. Following someone like Heather, who acknowledges that we all come to the table with different habits, beliefs, traditions, and dietary needs, makes me feel okay when I enjoy the comfort food my grandmother made. I know I can always come back to my kale salad without any guilt and with an overall commitment to a primarily plant-based diet. Today, Heather shares some of her story and self-care routines. –Caitlin
What was your career path like, and how did you find your way to being a champion for self-care and nutrition?
I decided that I wanted to go to “a city” when I received my degree in graphic design at a university in West Virginia. My senior year, I went to Chicago for a wedding, fell in love with it, and when I returned to school, got to work contacting the most respected design firms in Chicago. Eventually, I landed a 3-day-a-week contract gig for 3 months at a small boutique firm. I sold my truck, packed up my kitties, and used 80% of what was in my bank account to rent a small apartment in Chicago. From that point forward, momentum snowballed and over the course of 16 years, I was able to work for many of the firms I’d long admired.
One of those firms in particular was my ultimate, but infamous for culturally being “a sweatshop.” I spent years working until 11pm, sometimes 2am, under tremendous pressure on incredible projects. That schedule plus poor eating habits eventually caught up with me. Simply, I got sick.
It manifested into a diagnosis of “IBS,” then “Interstitial Cystitis.” Over the years I had countless testing performed and always left with no answers. No one could tell me why this was happening, and when I was told by the last doc, “you’ll have to be on meds for the rest of your life,” I found that unacceptable and decided to solve this problem myself. I walked right out of the office leaving his prescription on the table.
I started researching online and found one dusty, lonely forum that had a discussion between some women who claimed that changing some of the food they ate helped them feel better. Could it be that simple?! I was not someone who would have started the vegetable fan club at the time, but my dislike for veggies wasn’t stronger than my desire to feel better. I knew in my heart that I was somehow accountable for feeling well, and for me, medication would be the same as putting tape over the check engine light in my car and going on a road trip.
I started small, blending veggies into smoothies. Then I started to create healthy versions of my favorite comfort foods and wrote everything down. Eventually, I had a binder full of recipes that I thought I should share with others, so I started YumUniverse.com. Then I started sharing resources that could be downloaded by anyone, anywhere. I wrote a book, I’m finishing a second cookbook, YumUniverse: Pantry to Plate, and I’m launching my first 4-week gluten-free baking course in early 2017.
Through it all I’m working on my own wellness — making stress management and sleep a priority, tweaking what I eat, staying flexible when it comes to necessary change, making sure to move every day, and surrounding myself with inspiring people. Also being realistic and nice to myself if I slip up — I want to be this kind of person for myself and others.
Recipe development is just another creative outlet — my tools are ingredients and I’m inspired to showcase them in new, memorable ways that make people happier and healthier. The ride is different for everyone as we all come to the table with different illness, history, habits, traditions, and emotional attachments to food. I’m simply dedicated to providing tools that help people become accountable for their own health, no matter where they land on the diet spectrum.
Click through to read more about Heather’s clean diet and self-care tips!
We’re giving away two copies of Heather’s Yum Universe cookbook so if you’d like to move forward in your self care practice with a healthier eating focus, leave us a comment sharing your favorite veggie!
Portrait above: Pang Tubhirun
Why did you create YumUniverse?
I felt very alone way back when I started eating more clean, whole foods, but I knew there were others out there in the same boat. A journey is always better shared with friends, and I had a binder full of recipes, so starting YumUniverse was my way of connecting with like-minded people, creating more win-win situations, and doing something other than designing for clients. I needed to create something my way, without compromise, share it, and see where it would take me.
What is your favorite way to care for yourself?
On the daily: In the a.m., leave the computer and phone off and go outside for a walk or run before I do anything else. At the end of the day, I geek out on my “Sleep Ritual.” I turn off my computer and phone and leave them both downstairs so I’m not tempted to scroll through Instagram in bed. I have an electronic pillar candle that I turn on around 9–9:30pm and carry that baby to the bathroom where I have an epsom salt soak. Then I climb in bed and read by “candlelight” for 20–30 minutes, then I’m out. Honoring this time has changed everything for me. My sweetie jokes with me and calls it “Frontier Time,” but I wake up rested and energized, and my mind is ready to take on work with a clarity that motivates me to Sleep-Ritual for life!
Special self-care: massage, time with friends, preparing meals for those I adore, road trips, tea time, and travel.
How do food choices affect the mind and the body?
For me and many others, the effects of sugar and inflammatory, processed foods stay with me for days: irritability, bloating, and less than sound sleep. When I’m putting clean, whole foods in my body, I feel calm and clear, I’m craving movement, I’m able to problem solve like a champ, and my memory is better (which has always been a challenge).
Cliché or not, we are what we eat, so when we’re thoughtful and provide clean, health-boosting fuel for our “homes,” the rewards are many, and varied. It’s powerful how many of us are used to a level of un-wellness and discomfort like foggy brain, joint pain, insomnia, poor digestion, and chronic colds (this was me for decades). Most humans are very disconnected from what our natural state of being is: happy and healthy. When you actually experience what it’s possible to feel like, those rewards can motivate more than the nightly tub of ice cream and TV-watching. The space between those two points is where almost everyone gets stuck. You have to want the results more than what you want in the moment, and there’s no doubt about it, that’s a challenge.
Energy is often a topic around food. Can you eat for “calm?”
Absolutely. Especially when using witchy good stuff like herbs/roots (dandelion, rosemary) and mushrooms (Lion’s Mane), but for everyday eats, the more greens and less anti-inflammatory foods the better the mood. For me personally, when I kicked gluten- and wheat-products I noticed a tremendous difference in my mood as well — almost no irritability, more positivity, and less mood swings. Foods high in magnesium like seaweeds, dark greens, legumes, and nuts can be calming and reduce anxiety.
Roasted chicory root tea is a calming beverage I like to drink throughout the week. It’s great iced and made into a latte. It’s coffee-like in flavor, but has a calming, detoxifying effect on the body.
What’s your favorite recipe from your book?
Hands-down, the most popular recipe from YumUniverse is the Creamy Millet & Kale Salad, which is in the first book made with Quinoa. It’s creamy, cheese-y but dairy-free comfort food that everyone from die-hard vegans to BBQ-loving uncles and kiddos love. It proves that dairy-free can be delicious, and it gets folks to eat a whole head of kale in one sitting. It’s good warm or cold, and I change it up all the time by adding mushrooms, fresh herbs, chickpeas, smoked paprika, and/or chipotle powder — it’s versatile because it’s all about the sauce.
What are your favorite self-care rituals?
Listening to podcasts! During my morning walks and runs I love to listen to podcasts for myriad reasons, but simply, they make me feel good. I’m a big feeler, so some even make me weepy (sorry drivers-by, I’m actually doing great). Some are like free therapy and/or a motivation boost — providing that “you can do it” we all need sometimes. I love to learn, connect with others, and be introduced to new things, and whether it’s gritty tales from business women and men, dinner-with-the-gals type conversations between cookbook authors, or science-y awesomeness about how trees communicate to each other underground, podcasts feel like self-care to me — learning and growing is care.
I’m pretty on-again-off-again, but I’m also getting back into meditation and yoga these days, and in addition to my daily routines, I feel really good about making myself a priority.
How do you de-stress?
I’m so much better about not taking on too much, but peeps that know me well may laugh because they think I still do — I’ve come a long way, though. During stressful times, I get my butt in bed at a decent hour, and I drink CALM magnesium water on the regular.
Nature is also my quick fix. Even if the you-better-sit-here-and-keep-working voice is in my ear and on a megaphone, if I feel stress, I go outside for a walk along the river near my house. Within minutes, I feel better and can return to what I was doing with clarity and energy.
Another favorite trick is to just stop everything and savasana. Even after a simple 5 minutes, everything is different after you just stop and lay out on the floor relaxed for a few minutes. In the kitchen, in the yard, wherever.
What life skills have been most helpful in pursuing a career as a creative entrepreneur and an advocate for clean food?
I’m lucky to have the design experience, as it has saved me thousands of dollars in materials for YumUniverse, but it can also be a bad thing in that I should be delegating, and that is something I need to work on. Here’s a new lens I’m trying on these days: Just because I can do it, doesn’t mean I should. In order to grow my business, I need to let go of the reins a bit and hire talented help so I can focus on building and implementing what I want to. I need to trust in others more, and this is a tough one I’m sure many can relate to. I’ll get there.
I’ve also always had a robust questioning of authority. I’d rather follow curiosity to experience and learn for myself instead of relying on what someone else says. It always pays off.