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I Subscribe to Natural, Sustainable Living. Here's What That Means.

It’s all about longevity. That’s what living naturally and sustainably means to me.

I love the idea of making sustainable lifestyle choices—choices that improve your quality life that you can actually stick to, as opposed to lofty goals or challenges that we eventually abandon because they’re too hard to keep up daily … essentially, because they’re not sustainable for your lifestyle.

This philosophy applies to every aspect of life, right? From the way that we eat, to the way we exercise, to the way we treat the planet.

Unfortunately, it’s a lot easier to think in short-term, present-tense than it is to consider the long game. Taking on a 30-day eating challenge is a lot easier than committing to say, cut out an entire food group for your entire life, even if you know it’s good for you.

It’s hard to think about the future—how your metabolism will act in a month, how your knees will feel in five years, how much waste you create over 20 years if you use two paper towels a day—because humans are pretty myopic. How we feel and look right now seems much more important than how we’ll feel and look in five, ten, or fifteen years. That’s why crash diets and 30-day challenges work so well—we want to see the results of our hard work instantly.

Life doesn’t exactly work like that, though. And that’s a good thing! If that were the case, we’d wake up the morning after inhaling a bag of Cheetos a few pounds heavier … We’d toss a piece of plastic into the ocean and immediately a dozen fish would float, belly up, to the surface of the water. Maybe we’d learn more quickly if we immediately experienced the results of our actions.

Thankfully, we don’t. But the fact that we can’t always see the future positive outcome of the good that we’re doing today means it’s easier to give up those habits and kind of think, “So what?”  

That’s where natural, sustainable living comes in. You should create a lifestyle that works for you—that you can stick to—that longevity in every aspect of your life. Basically, choose to do the things that impart the greatest good. If you do, you’re more likely to keep it up. And over time, that’s better for your health, your happiness, and the planet.

The beautiful thing? That natural, sustainable lifestyle is totally customizable to what works for you.

Here are some examples of sustainable living in my life:

DIET// 

I grew up as a calorie-counting ballerina (yikes x 1 million), which was hard to shake as I entered adulthood. After going to nutrition school, things got a little more clear for me—but ascribing to any specific “regimen” tends to lead me down a not-so-healthy path. I guess it’s my nature … type-A obsession coupled with a hatred for arbitrary rules equals an unhappy (unhealthy) Michelle!  

Now, my diet is pretty fluid. As often as possible, I choose foods that are made ethically and locally. If that’s not an option, I’ll opt for the next-best choice: whole food ingredients without weird chemicals or preservatives. I eat when I’m hungry, I indulge my cravings when necessary, and I’ll try any whole food-based meal / ingredient at least once to see how it makes me feel.  Having a fluid diet makes it way easier for me to follow my own “rules”—I go with my gut, and make decisions based off of how I feel, as opposed to making decisions based on a list of foods that I’ve randomly decided are OK (or not) to eat.

EXERCISE//

I’ve always been a mover—either through dance or yoga or cardio or running—but there were certainly times in my life where I took exercise to the extreme, thanks to a stint as celeb trainer in NYC (another story on another day!). In my experience, there’s no perfect workout that works for every single body. Most of the time, we need a few different modalities going on in our lives to feel really good, whole, and balanced.

When you start thinking of exercise as a time for meditation / nourishment for your body instead of punishment (I need to workout because I: ate those tacos last night / feel fat today / have to lose weight / am weak and need to prove I’m strong / am hurt and need to feel nothing / want to feel pain), it makes sense that we should move our bodies in ways that promote longevity.

Basically, you’re exercising so you can age gracefully.

Anything that leaves you battered, bruised, inflamed, or angry probably isn’t doing much for you, right? It might momentarily give you a six-pack (that will disappear eventually if you don’t get your nutrition + inflammation on point), but in the long run it’s taking years off your life. Plus, is it sustainable to work out super hard every single day—I’m looking at you, HIIT lovers—for your entire life? Hell no.

At this point, the sustainable choice for me is a combo of running, yoga, and meditation. I’m a distance runner. It feels good to me—better than almost anything else I’ve ever done, dance included—and I can fit in a run almost any time I want to, wherever I am. Sustainable AF.  Every few days I’ll do a little strength training on my own, and I try to swing by yoga whenever I can. I also find that meditating daily is really important for my physical health; I sleep better, notice that I have less aggression and anxiety, and just feel better overall. I imagine myself doing all three of these things (yoga, running, meditation) until the day I die.

LIFESTYLE //

OK, here’s where the zero waste stuff comes in. Making choices that improve (or at least support) the environment are important to me, because damn, I like this planet a lot. Especially its wild, far-flung places.

For me, it’s totally sustainable to live almost totally zero waste. Admittedly, I just started this thing, and I’m in the process of slowly using up or giving away my excess packaged beauty products and pantry supplies. I also live by myself, don’t have kids, and live in eco-friendly Los Angeles—so yeah, abstaining from trash is pretty simple for me at this point in my life. It’s a sustainable lifestyle choice, meaning I can keep it up without adding too much stress or difficulty into my life.

I know that’s not the case for everyone. The most sustainable eco-friendly lifestyle choice for you might be simply switching out your plastic water bottle for a stainless steel option. And guess what? That’s still fucking awesome. That’s the beauty of making sustainable lifestyle choices—you know what you can commit to, and you keep it up. Maybe eventually you’ll find that it’s more than sustainable, it’s flat-out easy. Perfect—up the ante and start to challenge yourself for a bit to see what works.

So that’s the deal with sustainable living. Yes, it’s about being eco-friendly, but it’s also about making conscious lifestyle choices every day.

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3 Steps to Going Zero Waste for Beginners

Ribcage-crushing anxiety weighed down my chest.

I was laying in my bed, computer on my lap (work-life balance, right guys?) phone next to my ear, interviewing the founder of a sustainable activewear fashion company for a story I was writing. “Every technical fabric used in activewear is basically made out of petroleum,” he explained. “Nylon, spandex, lycra, dryfit—it’s all plastic- and petroleum-based.”

My eyes darted over to my closet, where a pile of haphazardly folded workout pants (leggings are SO hard to organize neatly, don’t judge me.) spilled out onto the floor of my bedroom. “Fashion is second only to the oil industry when it comes to using fossil fuels,” he finished solemnly. I struggled to make sense of what I’d just heard. My shopping habit—and need for stretchy pants—was contributing to the decimation of planet earth as we know it? Stressful.

I sat with this idea for a while. As a sort of anxious, yet action-oriented person, I immediately began Googling what I needed to do to offset my 27 years of wearing clothes made of petroleum. Unfortunately, there’s no Internet calculator that spits out the number of trees you need to plant to stop feeling guilty about sucking the lifeforce out of the planet so your butt can look good in leggings. As I dove down the rabbit hole into sustainability, I did find the term “zero waste”.

Zero waste is basically defined as creating or using nothing that will directly end up in a landfill or incinerator. No trash. Nada.

Admittedly, this philosophy is very overwhelming at first. It seems:

  1. Crazy.

  2. Impossible.

Honestly, both of these points are true. The way our society lives doesn’t lend itself to “closing the circle,” or limiting waste. Think about it—much of our economy is built on single-use items like fast fashion, fast food, individually wrapped “convenient” items, which makes it nearly impossible to be completely zero waste. Also, who saves their trash? CRAZY PEOPLE, that’s who.

But here’s the thing—you can get pretty damn close to zero waste. And even if you aim to just decrease your trash output, you’re making a huge difference for the environment. The average human creates 4.5 lbs of trash every day … Imagine if we all cut that number in half? Suddenly, our landfill problem diminishes, our oceans get cleaner, and our soil gets healthier. Pretty amazing.

OK, so you’re into it, either because you also deal with soul-crushing environmental anxiety or because you’re a good person. Great! Here’s how to start.

3 Steps to Going Zero Waste for Beginners

1. Learn about trash

A lot of zero waste people say the first step is figuring out what how much trash you’re creating on a daily basis. This is a good point, but if you’re an environmental n00b like me, you might not even know what you can or can’t recycle.

First thing—reacquaint yourself with what can be recycled in your city. I had no idea that recycling rules varied from zipcode to zipcode. A quick Google search revealed that I could NOT recycle plastic straws at my apartment in Culver City, but I could if I was visiting my parents in Orange County. All you need to do is type in your city and “recycling.” So easy.

You know what else I didn’t know? Dirty recyclables fuck everything up. According to Waste Management’s website, “One dirty product, or one with food waste still in it, can contaminate an entire bale, containing thousands of pounds of collected plastics.

This can cause thousands of recyclable items to go to a landfill instead of being recycled.” So wash your plastics and aluminum before you toss it in the blue bin, OR ELSE! (just kidding, but really.)

2. Pay attention to what you’re tossing

This is an easy, one-day experiment that anyone can do. Grab a reusable totebag. Carry it around. Instead of throwing things in the trash, throw them in this bag. That includes: Coffee cups, receipts, straws, food waste (from cutting up fruits and veggies), leftover food, food wrappers, clothing tags or stickers, product packaging, paper napkins, and paper towels.

You’ll quickly realize where the majority of your trash comes from—which indicates where you need to start going zero waste in your life.

For me, I realized that I went through a lot of beverage containers (plastic bottles or coffee cups), food packaging, and food waste. By getting a reusable mug, a tiffin, and a composter, almost 90% of my trash disappeared.

3. Begin to replace trash with zero waste items

If you’re anything like me, you’re looking around your house having a minor panic attack because you realize that everything you own is essentially trash or plastic. Before your cortisol levels shoot through the roof, remember this: It’s OK.

DON’T GO ON A PLASTIC CLEANSE. Although you might be tempted, don’t throw out all your plastic shampoo bottles and ziploc baggies and single-serve plastic forks and paper towels. They’re already going to go to the landfill (probably) anyway—you might as well use them so they aren’t a complete waste of resources.  (If you can’t stand the thought of having these types of items in your home, consider donating them. Homeless shelters are always grateful for toiletry items. Schools love getting plastic cutlery and paper towels for teachers’ classrooms.)

And when you finally get to the bottom of that shampoo bottle, replace it with a zero waste solution. Recycle the packaging if you can, and use a glass container to buy shampoo in bulk at your local co-op or make your own DIY shampoo.

Slowly replacing the items in your home with zero-waste options makes it way easier to get adjusted to this lifestyle—which means you’re more likely to be successful and make zero waste a sustainable choice for your life.

Got questions? Let me know in the comments below!

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Going Zero Waste: Y THO?

This is really embarrassing, but I've never been big on recycling or the environment or global warming or saving the whales. 

Truthfully, I didn't think it really affected me ... so I didn't really care. Yes, it was a pretty myopic viewpoint, and one I'm certainly not proud of now,  but you need to know that I haven't always been the kind of person who asks the bartender not to add a straw to her drink because "they go straight to the landfill." 

Let's go back. I suppose you could trace this ever-growing fascination and gratitude for nature back to when I first started seeing Joey. He introduced me to the Great Outdoors—and he's a camping in the dirt, zero running water, eating-with-your-hands kind of outdoorsman. After living in New York City for eight years, I thought anything green that wasn't planted by a gardener in a public park seemed like an anomaly. But I pretty quickly fell head over heels for how living for a few days in nature made me feel—after just a few days sleeping under the stars, I felt more grounded, thoughtful, relaxed, and energized. We'd get back to LA and my nature-induced bliss would last for a few days ("You guys, I'm zen AF. I'm outdoorsy now!"), only to be replaced by crippling anxiety and doubt as soon as regular life set in.

I realized pretty quickly that (a) my boyfriend just might kill me if I didn't chill the fuck out, and (b) I felt the most like myself when I could spend time outdoors, even if it was just for a walk or a quick run. 

Over the next two years, as we got better at the whole camping thing and explored more places, we talked a lot about Leave No Trace. LNT is a policy that most serious campers consider as the Golden Rule—should someone stumble upon your campsite, they shouldn't be able to tell that you'd even been there. If anything, some people believe that you should leave your site in better condition than you found it. 

 I always found it at odds with our beliefs that we'd use things like paper towels, or saran wrap, or tin foil to prepare and cook our food. And then I noticed that most campers used prepackaged, single-use food packets for their meals, which they ate while wrapped up in weather-proof jackets made of synthetic materials. The thing that really got me was the amount of trash we'd have to carry out of our site after just one weekend—between the two of us, we'd sometimes produce an entire garbage bag of trash. Yuck. For people that love the planet and want to leave it better than we found it, we sure created a lot of waste. 

And then I learned about the impact of the clothing industry on the environment. I'll never forget sitting on my bed, talking to a source about how much oil is used to support the textile industry every year, and looking into my open closet with horror.

The apparel industry accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions and remains the second largest industrial polluter, second only to oil. 

 I thought of my drawers full of moisture-wicking, four-way-stretch athletic gear. MADE OUT OF OIL. KILLING THE PLANET. WITH EVERY FREAKING SPORTS BRA! Basically, I suddenly became massively aware of my carbon footprint. 

After that, I felt like I had to offset the damage I'd done to the environment somehow. I researched like mad, but the universe kept sending my little signs that I should check out the zero waste movement. 

Eventually, I stumbled onto Lauren Singer's website (QUEEN!), which led to a lot more research ... which finally led me to decide, on January 5, 2017, to go #zerowaste. It's been over 30 days, and the changes have been huge. Not only have I started composting, recycling more (we'll get to why recycling isn't the best option in the world later), and buying in bulk, but somehow this challenge encouraged me to eat a cleaner diet, use better skincare products, declutter my closet and apartment, and even save a ton of $$$$.

On top of all that, I feel like I've made a difference. The average person creates 4.3 pounds of trash a day; after 30 days of living zero waste, I created 4 oz of trash.   And you can bet that most of that ends up in a landfill, where it never breaks down. Just by changing a few habits, you can dramatically reduce that number—it's not even necessary to go zero waste to make a difference. 

I documented my process on Instagram, and I've never had more people ask me about anything IN MY LIFE! So I figured I'd share what I learned here, and keep it going because I still have a lot of changes to make, too! As an athlete, I'm committed to finding ways to make zero waste part of my sport; we've never tried zero waste camping; and what does it look like to be zero waste if you move apartments or have a wedding or pop out a kid? I'll explore all of this stuff (hopefully not the kid thing for a while!) here and on my Instagram.

In the meantime, leave me your questions below! 

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