INTERVIEW: SOPHIA GUSHÉE
LIFESTYLE DETOX EXPERT
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Sophia Gushée has always billed herself as “health-conscious”. A certified yoga instructor also armed with an MBA from Columbia Business School, she knew the essentials of clean eating and so-called healthy living. But pregnancy and motherhood taught her what has proven to be her biggest lesson in healthy living: the extent of toxic exposures and the real damage such exposure is doing to the health of countless individuals.
According to Sophia, toxic exposure is an often overlooked influence on health. The artificially created toxic chemicals and naturally occurring toxins that now exist at unusually and unnaturally high levels in our environment has led her to years of research. The result is an easy-to-read, carefully laid out book that will appeal to anyone, at any junction of their detox journey. Charlotte’s Book integrative health expert Dr. Frank Lipman, MD of the famed Eleven Eleven Wellness Center, calls Sophia’s book “a helpful, easy-to-read manual for any head of household concerned with reducing toxins in everyday life.”
ON DAILY DETOX RITUALS:
It’s impossible to be fully detoxed. However, it’s easy to reduce many toxic exposures, which alleviates our bodies of unnecessary burdens. This then liberates our bodies’ resources to detox, heal, and restore.
My rituals include eating a plant-based, mindful diet as much as I can (however, I also honor my body’s cravings, which doesn’t normally crave junk food, but meat and fish at times), drinking lots of water, exercise/yoga when I can, opening windows when the outdoor air quality is better, vacuuming often, requesting that shoes be removed before entering our home, and washing hands before meals. An important ritual that has a lot of room for improvement is sleep. I need to sleep more, which is essential for good health.
While I enjoy being as healthy as possible, I also think it’s important to let go sometimes and enjoy celebratory moments. For my family, when we know there’s a party that we’ll be hosting or attending, we try to eat really healthy before (fill up the kids’ bellies with nourishing foods), and then enjoy whatever is offered at the parties.
ON PREGNANCY BEING THE CATALYST FOR HER DETOX JOURNEY:
My first pregnancy essentially launched my detox journey. As I read about my daughter’s development each week, I couldn’t help but think more about the environment inside my body, such as how what I eat influences the quality of my blood to her and, later, the nourishment of my breast milk. Reading about her biological development throughout my pregnancy and her infancy got me thinking more about how food can support her biological needs, like immunity and brain development. At the same time, as I learned more about contaminants in food, air, and water, I realized how much I can protect her development by being mindful of what I keep out of my body too.
It wasn’t until I was pregnant with my second child, however, that I realized I wanted to organize my research into a book—both to share information with those who help me care for my family and for other people who’d be interested in this topic. I thought it would take me a year to complete it. I had no idea that my research and writing would take another five years! The presence of toxic, or potentially toxic, exposures in our lives is so pervasive that my research kept uncovering new areas to investigate.
ON HER FAVORITE DETOX-APPROVED BEAUTY:
My philosophy is to invest in a clean, nourishing diet and clean healthy products. Hot vinyasa yoga also does wonders for my skin. Actually, any exercise that involves prolonged cardio and sweating is great for my skin.
I love Coconut oil: cold-pressed and organic. I use it for cooking and baking, but also to moisturize our skin (my children and I) and remove makeup. My husband started using it as a replacement for hair gel. My skin is extremely dry; I have been thrilled to discover organic shea butter. I’m not sure that there’s anything more effective for my dry skin.
Organic castile soap has become a staple in my home for not just washing bodies and hair (when I’m super protective during pregnancy and nursing, and when the children were very young), but also to clean around the home.
ON MAINTAINING A HEALTHY DIET WHILE ON THE GO:
I also listen to what our bodies might need and sprinkle our diets with diversity. Since I’m really busy, an easy meal/snack are avocado slices sprinkled with salt, turmeric, and curry; sometimes I put them over a sprouted english muffin that has Veganaise, if I need something more filling. Healthy soups—with veggies and beans—are convenient too.
Sakara Life is an occasional indulgence, when my husband and I are in a very busy stage. Its convenience gives me energy and time to provide my kids with healthier meals.
ON HOW TO SEPARATE THE LITTLE THINGS FROM THE BIG THINGS:
My children inspired the details in the book: my purchasing activity ramped up significantly as a mother, and my curiosity about the ingredients and materials in everything I buy grew as I learned that many of these ingredients end up in our bodies and threaten our health. Plus, healthier options can be more expensive so I wanted to understand what I was really getting for my money. For example, mattresses and carpets can be expensive. New (or imminent) parents often make these purchases for a new child. With many options that span a wide range of prices, I wanted to understand the benefits and “risks” at each price point that I could afford. I knew that I would eventually learn about risks in my household products (whether I wanted to or not) and I wanted to try to make purchases that I wouldn’t regret later.
I found myself overwhelmed by the investigations of my consumer options. I became determined to create a strategy that would focus on high impact ideas because I can’t do everything perfectly. So, the details in my book are a result of me trying to figure out a high impact strategy to prioritize my efforts and budget.
In practice, it’s really hard to take an extreme stance on particular items. Instead, I think it’s important for people to be aware of risks and then do what is reasonable and practical for them. There are some convenient traits and practical considerations that make risks worthwhile. For example, I am stricter about items in bedrooms since we sleep many hours there, and sleep is an ideal time to unburden the body as much as possible. However, when choosing items for high traffic areas, I value practical traits more. For example, carpets in my children’s bedrooms are more pure than carpets in our family room, which experiences traffic from many young children and pets who have frequent accidents!
I’m also vigilant about food and beverage containers that I buy since they can provide chronic exposure of chemicals from their materials. However, that doesn’t mean we avoid drinking from plastic water bottles completely: we drink from plastic water bottles when that’s the only option and we need water. We just do what we reasonably can to avoid needing to drink from plastic water bottles.
Also, I was more extremely pure when I was pregnant, nursing, and when my children were under a year old. However, it was natural for me to be more vigorous because my protective instincts were heightened so I was responding to an innate energy to be more protective.
ON NOT SWEATING THE SMALL STUFF, BUT TRYING YOUR BEST:
I would say that it’s worthwhile to start becoming aware of your toxic, or potentially toxic, exposures. However, it’s very important to avoid striving for perfection. Don’t overwhelm yourself.
Instead, pick one healthy change that is achievable for you. Start small. Feel good each time you make a healthier choice. When you feel ready for another change, pick another achievable change to incorporate. Commit to the marathon. Don’t make yourself miserable for a sprint. That’s just not sustainable for meaningful change.
ON AIMING FOR WEEKLY SUCCESS, NOT DAILY:
For me, and I am sure many mothers, finding balance is a constant challenge. While I ensure quality time with my husband and children each day (even if it’s not a lot of time), I try to achieve balance over the course of a week rather than within each day. Over the course of the week, I make sure to carve out time with friends and extended family, advance the completion of my book, take care of other responsibilities, and squeeze in some exercise.
With kids, achieving balance ends up being a relationship between thoughtful structure on how I spend my time, and then letting go of control when the kids need me for unexpected reasons. Making the most of the present moment really helps make balance more of a natural realization. Humor and good company help too.
– As told to Dawn Kissi for Charlotte’s Book. Read more #CharlotteTalksTo interviews.
Sophia Gushée photographed by Roderick Angle at her New York City home on September 22, 2015. Roderick is a fashion, portrait and lifestyle photographer and videographer. You can follow Roderick’s Instagram feed, About Themselves, where he profiles interesting and creative individuals.