Mariel Hemingway's Personal Best

After a lifetime of chasing health and happiness, Mariel Hemingway has
discovered the secret to well-being . . . but she’s not going to tell you what it is. In her
new book, the actress explains why creating your own path to good
health is the only way to go.

By Patrick Dougherty

July 2007

  A negative thought is attacking Mariel Hemingway. In a convincing pantomime, she grabs her own shoulders and thrashes about, wrestling with inner demons in an elegant Manhattan tea room. “We believe thoughts are doing this, that they’re grabbing on and controlling us,” Hemingway explains through the struggle. “The fact of the matter is, you can just go like this,” She pauses, deliberately removing her hands from her shoulders. “If you believe in a negative thought long enough, it can create disease and anxiety...but you can let go of negative beliefs if you have a lifestyle that supports you.”

In her new book, Mariel Hemingway’s Healthy Living from the Inside Out: Every Woman’s Guide to Real Beauty, Renewed Energy, and a Radiant Life (HarperCollins), Hemingway provides insight on how to create that supportive lifestyle through positive change across four synergistic sections: food, exercise, silence and home. Amidst her holistic program’s practical tips, nutritious recipes and personal anecdotes, Hemingway intersperses Zen-like philosophical musings that form an organic whole: Be kind to yourself. Use intuition to choose the right foods. Exercise with intention. Find your spiritual center. Throw out perfection. Practice mindfulness. Live in the present.

Though Hemingway may humbly demur at the suggestion that she is an authority, the
results of her thoughtfully crafted program are undeniable. Casually dressed in a crisp white
button-down shirt and blue jeans, she is a healthy portrait of youthful beauty and positive energy. Hemingway is warm, friendly and quick to laugh—especially at her own jokes. But Hemingway’s path to joy has been anything but smooth. She speaks openly of her work to release her own negative energies and transcend the self-destructive behaviors that many associate with her lineage. “As you develop in your spirituality and your awareness as a human being, certain things don’t serve you anymore,” she muses between sips of herbal tea. “Your spirit wants to get rid of them.” In food, exercise, silence and home, Hemingway has created a peaceful space to do just that.

Rather than just another instruction manual, Hemingway offers her book as a template, encouraging the reader to actively create her or his own individualized wellness program. On the surface, Hemingway’s approach is refreshing; at its core, her philosophy is revolutionary—steering the pursuit of holistic health into realms of self-exploration, intuitive wisdom and personal health responsibility on an integrated level. Energy Times sat down with the Academy Award-nominated actress—next to be seen in the historical Cape Cod romantic comedy Chatham—to discuss her book, her healthy lifestyle philosophy and the new Hemingway legacy.

Energy Times: Can you discuss the holistic approach of Mariel Hemingway’s Healthy Living from the Inside Out?

Mariel Hemingway: There are books about food, there are books about exercise, but there’s nothing that says to really change your life, you have to look at your life as a whole. We have to live in a home; we have to eat. We don’t necessarily have to exercise or find silence, but if you do all four things together it has the capacity to truly change you at a deep level, especially if you do small bits of it at a time. The whole point of the book is that this is about you and finding what works for you—not what works for me, ’cause what works for me is pretty peculiar. I know it works for me, but it doesn’t work for my husband. So it’s about finding that balance; how do I create a home that just makes me feel good, that brings me peace.

ET: Your book is uniquely interactive; you want the reader to create their own path to wellness, rather than just listen to you.

MH: Exactly. In fact, don’t listen to me—my ways probably won’t work for you. What makes the book interactive is that I ask a series of questions; have you done this, do you do that, how do you feel when you eat this, when you try a new food, what works for you, what doesn’t. You have to experiment. You’re the artist, you’re painting your own health picture, so you use different colors. If a color doesn’t work so well in your painting, you can always pull back on that color. The book is interactive in the sense that you become the instigator of your own choices. It’s about participating in your own healing.

ET: You emphasize eating healthy, organic, nutritious foods; at the same time, you advise being kind to yourself if you stray from that path.

MH: Our way of eating is so bloody important, but we just don’t eat real food—in this country especially. The book is about finding your true center; this applies to food as well. Where is your center of health, when do you feel the most energetic? I try to guide you towards getting rid of what I call the “noisy foods”; the caffeine, sugar, processed foods, diet sodas, chemical foods. Once those are gone, you kind of play with your diet by observing how you feel. Am I a person who needs a lot of protein? Or maybe I am more vegetar­ian? Maybe I need this, that or the other thing. Once you find your center, it’s OK if once a week you give yourself permission to have cake. It doesn’t mean “Oh, I had cake, I might as well eat the whole thing and then I’m off track. I’m a bad person. Screw it; I’ll start next month, next year, whatever, I hate myself anyway.” It’s about understanding that nothing you do is bad; the next choice you make is a better choice, a different choice. You’re always one meal away from making a better choice for your body, just like you’re always a couple minutes of silence away from getting grounded and centered.

ET: Can you explain “noisy foods” a little more?

MH: Junk foods are noisy by their very nature: they’re high in sugar, usually containing a lot of preservatives and chemicals; all of these ingredients create chemical noise in the brain. You can see this with caffeine; obviously we get jacked up. We love the feeling, but maybe it’s not the best for us. Diet drinks, processed foods, white flour, any food that’s denatured...when the nature is taken away from it, it causes chemical reactions in the brain that throw hormonal levels and brain chemistry off balance. When you’re off-balance like that, you can’t get to your true center. That’s noise and that’s what noisy food does. That’s why I encourage people...I don’t say cut your caffeine completely, but do cut back because you will notice that there will be a clarity to your thinking.

There’s a distraction that happens from the chemicals we take in and so the less noisy food, the less distracting food, the less chemically induced food that we have, the more clarity we’ll have—enabling us to make better choices.

ET: In your book, you advocate “slow food” as a healthy alternative to our fast food culture.

MH: Yes! We’re so led to believe that we have no time, we’re rushing, we’re doing. We’ve created that nonsense to believe because we’re eating crazy food that makes us feel rushed and stressed. We rush into the house after a long day at work and say, “What do I make for my family for dinner? I’ll go into the freezer, pull something out, throw it into the microwave, throw it at my kids. Then we’ll turn the television on and we’ll all just zone out while we eat.” Those calories mean nothing to your body; you’re not being nourished in any way—especially spiritually—as a family or as a person. So I make food. I don’t take a long time; I make a salad, I grill a piece of fish or a piece of chicken for my husband, I just take time to make something real. It does not have to be elaborate, but I do it. I always see the Buddhists’ plain and simple way of life, that doing the simple tasks with intention and from my point of view, with love, changes everything about the meal. It will have an effect on your family that is really wonderful. If you put intention into food, it becomes your medicine, it becomes your healing, it becomes your way to love yourself.

ET: In your holistic philosophy, food and home overlap.

MH: In my home I’m a good cook—not a fabulous cook. I cook very simply, but I lay a beautiful table. Not grand, but I take the time to find different colors, put flowers out, light a candle. I do this for my family and for myself because I like the ritual of it; I think it slows us down to have rituals. I never use a microwave anymore; I think it’s very unhealthy for food. I think it does something chemically, I actually think it changes the cellular structure of food, changes something that’s healthy into this nothingness that doesn’t do anything good or bad; it’s just kind of “blah.” If I need to heat something up, I turn my oven on and you know what? It takes ten more minutes, it really doesn’t take that much more time.

ET: Do you feel that this mindful intention slows down time or creates more time?

MH: Yes, I really do. Here’s the deal: if you slow down, if you’re actually present and you’re doing what you’re doing when you’re doing it...you drink that water and you’re actually drinking that water, you listen to me and I listen to you and we’re having this exchange...time doesn’t matter. It just becomes what we’re doing now. Being present gives you time. Being in silence gives you time because it slows down the organs, it calms the brain; the neurons kind of settle, everything just gets a little bit more soft. And in softening our energy, we suddenly have more ability to focus on the things we’re doing—so we feel as though we have more time. Maybe we’re not scientifically getting more time, but we’ve given our bodies and our minds the illusion of more space because we become calmer.

ET: How do you approach exercise?

MH: I do yoga and with exercise, I take a yogic attitude—it’s about doing exercise with intention. If I’m going to exercise I’m going to do it without the “stuff”; MP3 players, cell phones, television monitors. It doesn’t mean you never go into the gym and listen to some music and zone out, but the truth is you’ll get far more benefit from your movement and exercise if you do it with intention and total focus—because you can do it in half the time. If you set out and you say, “Today, I’m going to breathe deeper and my intention is to really oxygenate my blood,” or “I’m going to feel more connected”...if you exercise with that intention, your body changes.

ET: As part of your personal silence program, you sometimes meditate for eight straight hours. What is that like?

MH: You go through every emotion, you resist it. That’s why I talk about resistance. Can I let go of my resistance to being in silence, can I let go of my resistance to eating “good for me” food, can I let go of my resistance to being healthy in anything? At first you start out and say “OK, I’m going to do this,” and then it’s all about trying to control it. Two hours in you start to feel pain—physical pain—and then you try to get rid of that. You’re trying, trying, trying. It usually takes about four hours to quit trying. You think nothing’s working and then you kind of settle in and you realize it’s about not trying; it’s about giving up control, it’s about being honest with yourself and being totally present. It’s very hard. It takes many years for you to get to a place where you realize this is about being present and allowing thoughts, allowing pain and other energies to come and then simply observe them: “Oh, look at that.” They only come because your ego wants to attach itself to something and mess you up. I’m convinced your mind just wants to see if you can handle those negative thoughts, so I embrace them. First you must embrace all of the negative in order to let the more positive stuff come through; more positive energy, more connection to spirit, to presence, whatever you believe in, it’s a positive.

ET: You said that we all have the same problems in different wrapping paper, we’re all plagued by universal concern. Is that a symptom of a larger societal issue?

MH: Well I think we’re symptomatic of the chaos. We’ve created the chaos because we believe in the chaos; I think our inherent human nature is that we’re genetically trained to believe we don’t deserve to be loved, that we don’t deserve happiness. So we’re always seeking it out. But if we really got it, we probably would mess it up because we don’t really believe we deserve it. There is something, some voice, somewhere that’s saying “no,” and that’s what drives Americans to strive for more, get more and more things to anesthetize the pain. When they get more things and it doesn’t quite do it, they want to get even more things. We are a “do more” society; that’s why I try to help guide people to do less multi-tasking, do one thing and do it well because that’s what being present is. I’m not trying to promote any kind of spiritual belief system, but to be present...that’s when you start to feel joy. There are no problems in the present, only solutions and actions.

ET: Intuition is a key part of your program. Why do you think people have become so detached from intuition they have to be reminded, even retrained to listen to that power?

MH: I think first of all, we’re not trained to believe in it. We’re not conditioned—especially in this kind of society—to trust ourselves. That’s what is empowering about the book. I’m saying, you know exactly what’s right for you, you just don’t know that you know. I’m saying I know exactly what’s right for me, I know what healthful things I need to do. I figured out that I do know. But it took me going to every doctor and healer, trying everything. I gave my energy to a lot of people in order to tell me what to do because I didn’t want to take responsibility for it for myself. And when it wouldn’t work I’d find a new thing, a new place to go, a new doctor, a new something because I think we’re predisposed to not believe in ourselves, to really think that we don’t know what’s right for us—but we do know. It’s about uncovering. Sitting in silence can help. If you’re present, you will make good choices; if you’re not present you’re going to make choices that people hand to you.

ET: You have a history of promoting this personal health responsibility, especially in your work to uphold Americans’ free access to vitamins and supplements.

MH: There is a tremendous power in self-healing through our ability to make choices in vitamins and supplements. Yet there’s a whole load of pharmaceutical garbage out there, too. The fact of the matter is, we’re Americans and we need to be able to make those choices on our own because they’re still selling us big ads, you know. Merck wants us to buy this anti-inflammatory something and stuff for our heart and cholesterol junk medicine. I love all those side effect warnings: “May cause symptoms of insanity” but other than that it’s all good. So if we’re being pushed to do those things, then we have the right to make healthful choices. Why should that be taken away? The FDA is so influenced by drug companies; it’s big business. Big business is not going to go away. But don’t take my other health food choices away.

ET: Can you talk about how you established yourself as “Mariel” as opposed to just a member of a family legacy?

MH: Well, I’ve never been anybody else but Mariel Hemingway so it’s not such a big surprise, it’s not like “Whoa, I’m Mariel Hemingway, a part of this legacy!” Yet, for much of my life it lived, especially before writing my first book. Then I realized that it’s less about finding Mariel through my silence; it’s more about finding how interconnected I am with you and with him and with everybody in the world. It doesn’t mean that I’m not me, but it makes me more of everybody—I’m regular. Sitting in silence just reminds me of the problems that we all have; the same problems in different wrapping paper.

ET: You talk about the Hemingway Legacy at a couple of points in the book in terms of overindulgence, but it seems as if you’re reversing that. What is the new Hemingway legacy?

MH: I’m glad that you think that’s the case, because it was a motivation for me. I was scared to death that I was going to pass obsessive-compulsive behavior, overindulgence, alcoholism, suicide and the list goes on...on to my kids. Some of those things I believed were part of me, but I would say that finally, in my life, I don’t believe they’re a part of me. You know, people used to say to me “the Hemingway curse” and in the back of my mind, I was scared to death that it was true. The fact of the matter is that through lifestyle, through silence, through all these different changes I’ve made, my life experience has made me realize that that was just a thought. The Legacy was something that I said “Oh, I don’t need that,” and I don’t. I can honestly say I don’t believe that it exists for me anymore and I can honestly say that I don’t think that I’ve passed it on. You know, my kids have their own problems, but I haven’t given them a big load of crap that wasn’t theirs to take on into the world. I had to free myself from it. I think there’s always one or two people in the family that has to pry away and get rid of those old belief systems. If you could be that person it’s great. There’s a liberation in that, there’s a freedom in realizing it’s only belief that keeps you doing things that don’t serve you. It’s only belief.

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