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5 healthy habits: Jess Van Garsse, Director

5 healthy habits: Jess Van Garsse, Director

Being healthy isn’t a quick or easy endeavor — we get it! We certainly don’t have an unlimited budget for $15 green juices or enough hours in the day to spend two of them at the gym. In our “5 healthy habits” series we get inspired by tips & tricks from real women (no celebrity yoga gurus allowed!) and share the healthful practices they’ve incorporated into their daily lives.

I’m a director. I travel the world making documentary films, television, and short videos for brands, media outlets, NGO’s, and everything in between. My work’s taken me everywhere from a terrorist cell in the Middle East, to death row at a supermax prison, to deep in the Amazon jungle, to the slums of India, to an underground missile silo, and the middle of the Alaskan wilderness. Sometimes I’m overseeing a crew of 30 people, other times it’s just me and one brave soul with a camera, but it’s always an adventure. The very things that make my job exciting and fulfilling also make having any sort of routine laughable, and staying healthy a challenge. But the physical and emotional demands of my work make it really important for me to find ways to take care of myself. Here are a few things I do, no matter where I am in the world:

1. I meditate, religiously — even if it means I have to get up 20 minutes earlier for an already absurd call time (I see a lot of sunrises in my line of work). These days, there seems to be a new study published every week about the myriad benefits of meditation, including how it is actually more restful than sleep, but science aside, I’ve gotten all the evidence I need to know that I have more energy and stamina, am more clear-headed, and a far more effective leader when I make this habit a non-negotiable. I’m also a lot happier and, really, what’s the point of it all if you’re not having fun? Before you think to yourself that you don’t have time to meditate in your already stacked day — you do. You can always be 10 minutes late to something. You’ve been far later than that, for far less important reasons.

2. I stash snacks… everywhere. Working in documentary film, you really never know where the day will take you, where your next meal is coming from, or when you might need a super-human boost of energy. I always have my team be sure they’ve stocked us up on healthy snacks, but I am also known for having an assortment of backup snacks in my bag. My crew is always happy, because no one wants to see their fearless leader hangry, and they themselves have been saved a time or two by a smushed granola bar or half-melted chocolate produced from my Mary-Poppins-esque bag.

3. I drink tons of water. Spending as much time as I do in airplanes, or on my feet in the hot sun for 10 hours at time, is incredibly dehydrating. I drink a ridiculous amount of water, and, never cold. Drinking hot water, even in 100 degree heat, is something I picked up after spending a lot of time working across Asia. At first, it was because I was in areas where boiling the water was a must, for safety reasons, but it’s also a tradition there, and has become a habit of mine by choice, no matter where I go. Hot water is thought to help digestion, flush out toxins, increase blood flow, and be a particularly effective way of keeping you hydrated and your electrolytes balanced. Like most things though, the reason I do it is simply because it makes me feel good.

4. I stopped taking vitamins. I know that sounds counterintuitive, but I was popping supplements like candy. For starters, who knows what’s in that stuff? They’re not regulated by the FDA, and there have been some scary findings when tests have been run on the ingredients (arsenic, anyone?). But, arguably more importantly, taking supplements made me feel less responsible to take care of myself. The best way to get vitamins is the old fashioned way — through your food and making good choices for yourself — and no pill can, or should, replace eating your vegetables or getting enough sleep.

5. I subscribe to the 80/20 principle. I don’t know a single person doing anything interesting or important, who is anywhere near inspiring to be around, who can be 100 percent healthy 100 percent of the time. And part of what I love about my work is getting to experience different cultures, and eating the local food is a huge part of that. I also spend a lot of time invited into people’s homes, where not eating the food they present is rude, and not the way to start when trying to get them to open up to you. All that is to say, it’s a balancing act, like so many other things in life. I make healthy choices 80 percent of the time, and 20 percent of the time I allow myself some flexibility. Because if you live to 101, but you missed out on life and drove yourself crazy along the way, then I would argue, what’s the point? We’ve got one life. Take care of this body so you can do all you’re meant to in it, but don’t forget to live along the way.

  • I also travel around a lot, and this is great advice. Jess is also living proof of this! 1, 2 and 5 I’m pretty good at practicing, 3 and 4 I need to get better at. I would add daily yoga practice, except that this tends to go by the board when I’m working. I always do my limited stretching regimen every morning regardless, before I sit down for morning meditation. I also need to carve out meditation time in the late afternoons instead of leaving it until late evening.

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