REGENERATION – Dreamscapes

Cassandra Bodzak on Holidays With Intention

By Julie Holop

Healthy living guru Cassandra Bodzak helps her clients overcome negative self-talk and disordered eating so that they can learn to appreciate and trust their own bodies. Bodzak is the author of “Eat With Intention: Recipes and Meditations for a Life That Lights You Up” (Race Point Publishing, 2016) and creator of the mind-body-soul support community Aprecity. As a contestant on ABC’s “The Taste,” she impressed the judges with her often vegan, always healthy, creations.

Bodzak, who Anthony Bourdain called his “favorite vegan,” sat down with us to talk about her personal health journey and to share her tips for managing holiday expectations and excess, complete with two seasonally themed meditations. After chatting with Bodzak, we feel ready to employ mindfulness to ensure merriness, and we hope you will, too.

Battling her body

Bodzak spent more than two decades fighting her natural physique. She remembers being devastated when a kindergarten weight check revealed that she was 5 pounds heavier than her best friend. By high school, she was overexercising, fad dieting and taking harmful diet pills. She believed that her happiness and self-worth were contingent on being thin. If she just lost another 5 pounds or went down a dress size, she told herself, everything else in her life would fall into place. “I felt like my body was an opponent that I was constantly fighting against,” she says.

By college, it felt like she was losing the battle, but somehow her body wasn’t winning either. She was experiencing extreme abdominal pain that often left her bedbound. When an endless array of medical tests revealed no red flags, Bodzak took a nurse’s suggestion and began reading up on food allergens. She started an elimination diet and quickly noticed a change. Within a week, the pain was gone.

This was the beginning of a major shift. Bodzak and her body became buddies. She began experimenting with vegan cooking and started a blog to share her mindful eating journey with family and friends. While she says that “to be human is to have a complicated relationship with your body,” she also believes that reconciliation between body and mind is essential to trusting your intuition and living a purposeful life.

Finding her purpose

When Bodzak’s brother was diagnosed with a terminal autoimmune disease, her blog became her lifeline. Writing gave her meaning and joy during a dark time. Her brother’s illness also forced her to reassess her personal goals. Instead of pursuing acting, as she had intended, she applied to nutrition school, where she furthered her knowledge of diet and health.

When Bodzak found meditation, eating with intention evolved into a broader goal of living with intention. She credits meditation with not only helping her process her emotions regarding her brother’s disease but also giving her the confidence to pursue a career as a healthy living coach. “It gave me the courage to do the thing that lit me up, even if it felt crazy,” she says. And doing that thing still lights her up. She says her “heart explodes” each time a client, after a lifetime of self-contempt, makes peace with their body and grows their self-worth.

Always have a game plan

Bodzak believes that planning is a key component to healthy living. During the holiday season, when emotions and stress run high and time and willpower run low, preparation is especially important. Unfortunately, most people do the opposite; they drop their self-care routines and tell themselves they’ll pick back up in the new year. “You need it now!” Bodzak urges.

Bodzak says to meditate, visit the gym, meal-plan and really lean into your self-care routine over the holiday season so that you’re entering potentially high-stress situations as the best version of yourself. The healthy habits you’ve been working on the rest of the year should serve as an anchor, keeping you calm and present, even when your ship encounters a hypercritical mother-in-law or dangerously low bank account.

We asked Bodzak for specific tips to manage high-anxiety holiday moments related to travel, meals, gift giving and family. Here’s her feedback, followed by two holiday-themed meditations that’ll help you stay calm through the chaos.

Travel

When stressed, rushed and ravenous,” Bodzak says, “you’re setting yourself up to make bad decisions.” Since healthy picks are hard to make in airports or on highways, make the choices beforehand by packing a ton of high-protein, low-sugar snacks. If you think newsstand candy bars will tempt you, she says to bring a bar that’s healthier than a Milky Way but still feels like a treat (e.g., Kind salted caramel and dark chocolate nut).

Gift Giving

“What happens with gift giving,” Bodzak says, “is that we try to overcompensate.” You overspend to make up for the calls you didn’t make and parties you didn’t attend. The momentary satisfaction, for both you and the recipient, isn’t worth the financial hole you’ve dug yourself into. Bodzak suggests making a list of recipients and picking an overall budget several weeks in advance. Remind yourself regularly that gift giving is about consideration, not pretention.

Meals

Since you probably know what dishes will land on the holiday table, Bodzak says to list them out beforehand. Then select a few items to splurge on. If you’re looking forward to your aunt’s pecan pie, go for it! But then maybe skip your mom’s Yule log. Act like you’re drafting your holiday food dream team.

Family

Relatives trigger a lot of reactive emotions. To avoid both internal upheaval and all-out arguments, Bodzak says to set an intention for the visit. Do you want to connect more deeply? Would you like to just have fun? Whatever you pick, Bodzak says you can use it to shift focus when needed. Instead of disengaging with Great-Uncle Hank when he calls millennials “soft” (again), you can ask him to tell you a funny story about your mom. “An intention puts you in the driver’s seat,” she explains, “because instead of being reactive, you’re the one steering the ship.”

Start the season off right and maintain your mindfulness throughout with Bodzak’s Holiday Zen Meditation. And if you slip up on the food front, regain your dignity with her Guided Meditation for Loving and Accepting Your Body.   

Video credit: Anatolii Mazhora, Getty Images
Photo credit: Cassandra Bodzak; ronstik, Getty Images; Cassandra Bodzak; Anthony McGovern, Getty Images; FG Trade, Getty Images; NordWood Themes, Unsplash; PeopleImages, Getty Images

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Author

Julie Fishman

Julie Fishman is the co-host of First Timers, a podcast about blowouts, belly laughs and all the other "firsts" in parenthood, and co-author of “The Little Black Book of Big Red Flags” (2011). Her writing has been featured at Popsugar.com, Complex.com, Mom.me, Mandatory.com, MSN.com and in the book, “Gradspot: A Guide to Life After College” (2008). She’s a mom to two girls, one dog and a bevy of Barbies that her fournado has demanded she also parent.

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