SELFIE WITH STACY LONDON, CENTRAL PARK, DEC. 31, 2013
On December 31st, the last and very chilly day of 2013, my friend Stacy London and I went for a power walk in New York City’s Central Park. I had asked her to join me for the inaugural installment of Style Of Sport’s “WOW” (Working Out With) series, a conversation in motion, with people you know, to talk about health, fitness, nutrition, wellness, and the body issues that challenge us all.
For those of you who don’t know Stacy London, she was the tough-love-with-a-smile style guru and co-host of TLC’s “What Not to Wear” for its 10 season run (the show’s last episode aired in October 2013). She helped transform fashion disasters into their most stylish selves, while doling out some bigger picture life advice along the way.
While Stacy is at ease motivating others, when it comes to her fitness regime she has faced some hurdles, due primarily to a number of physical issues. As she revealed in her book, The Truth About Style, Stacy suffered with severe psoriasis as a child. She has now developed Psoriatic Arthritis, a type of arthritic pain and inflammation that can occur in those with psoriasis. She only recently received this diagnosis, however, despite suffering from unexplained pain and chronic fatigue for the last couple of years. Interestingly, when I asked her if there any topics she wanted to discuss in particular, she said “the importance of moving… both literally and figuratively”.
So on the last day of January, the big month of fitness resolutions, I thought it would be fitting to share our conversation and provide some inspiration to achieve those goals in the year ahead.
CLAUDIA LEBENTHAL: I’m so glad we’re finally doing this! Everyone keeps talking about how cold it is, but the sun is shining and look how beautiful it is. We have the park to ourselves!
STACY LONDON: And on the last day of the year!
CL: You started telling me about your recent diagnosis of psoriatic arthritis. How has that been affecting you?
SL: Some people with psoriasis can develop psoriatic arthritis in their 30s and 40s. It’s not caused by wear and tear, but is an auto-immune disease, and can be brought on by stress, lack of sleep, a poor diet and things like that. The body’s immune system starts to attack the joints. I have it in my spine and hip, but the number one symptom of psoriatic arthritis is not the pain. It’s chronic fatigue. I was suffering for the last couple of years and had no idea what was the cause. I was so tired. I never wanted to do anything, never wanted to go anywhere. I went to three endocrinologists, two naturopaths and saw my GP every other month, just trying to figure out what was wrong. Nobody had an answer. Even my trainer said, I think this is in your head. I think this is depression. “I’m depressed”, I said, “but it’s because I’m in pain, not the other way around. I’ve seen those commercials… Depression hurts… but not in your hip!” I felt like they were treating me like I was hysterical.
CL: In my experience, when it’s not a traumatic injury, or something clear cut where it’s broken and they know how to fix it, it can be so frustrating. When it comes to injuries, I find traditional medicine often treats only the symptoms, whereas you want to find someone who can treat the cause. I had sacroiliac joint issues in my back for years, which resulted in hamstring, hip and groin pain. That’s what the doctors were treating, but it was the instable sacroiliac joint that was causing those problems and that’s what needed to be treated.
SL: It’s so interesting you said that. I have a great chiropractor/naturopath. I told him I have had a bunch of auto immune diseases and now have psoriatic arthritis. He asked me why. I said, “What do you mean, why? They’re auto immune and it’s genetic.” “No” he replied. “You develop a predisposition to these diseases, but if you are taking care of yourself, minimizing stress, eating and sleeping correctly, these symptoms might not occur, or at least they would be lessened.
When I grew up in fashion the mentality was never show how hard you have to work. You make everyone believe that everything is effortless. If you were skinny, it was because you were born that way, not because you ate right and worked out everyday.
CL: I think the key with these kind of things is finding the right doctor. You have to keep going to different doctors, alternative health practitioners, healers, or whoever, until you find someone who can help. So how did you finally figure out what was wrong?
SL: I had been asked to be the spokesperson for the AbbVie “Uncover Your Confidence Campaign”, a resource and support program for those living with psoriasis. They contacted me after I wrote my book, The Truth About Style, where I talked about having a skin disease as a kid and how it affected me. I happened to meet this dermatologist at the press day for the launch of the campaign and mentioned how tired I was all the time. She started asking me all these questions about my psoriasis and said to me “Stacy, you are in the 99th percentile to get Psoriatic Arthritis. Has anybody checked that?”
It was the most logical explanation, but nobody had ever even thought of that. Not one doctor. Not one naturopath. NOBODY! It was a dermatologist I just happened to meet. She told me I needed to go rheumatologist immediately. I didn’t even know what rheumatologist was! But I went and the doctor confirmed I had psoriatic arthritis.
CL: And despite the diagnosis, wasn’t it actually a relief to finally get the answer?
SL: Yes! The diagnosis was revelatory in Hey I’m not crazy! There really is something wrong. But it’s an unpredictable disease. One day you feel great and can go for a run, and the next day you can’t get out of bed. But I do actually feel better when I move and I think my arthritis is worse when I’m not active.
CL: Well I totally believe that. If you’re in pain and feeling bad rarely does sitting make you feel better. You gotta move and get the blood flowing.
SL: Right now I have a torn hamstring from a fluke accident at the gym so I can’t run and can’t bike, but I can walk. I am supposed to do 45 minutes of cardio 4 times per week, which to me feels impossible. I know will make me feel better, but I don’t do it. I realize I am holding myself back from doing something that is good for me. I will opt to sit on the couch and watch movies, rather than get up and go exercise. But I spend way too much time sitting and that creates anxiety. The more anxious you are, the more that energy needs to come out. The more you keep it inside, the more it implodes.
CL: That’s why running and spinning have been such a lifesaver for me launching Style of Sport. It’s that dose of happy adrenaline in the morning and the time to get your ya-yas out!
SL: It’s so important to get your ya-yas out but I seem to have this mental block when its comes to exercise that a lot of people share. I did a television show for 10 years. I was a fashion editor for 14 years. I’ve written two books. I do live television all the time, and I still can’t get myself to believe I can do this. The funny thing is, I am so good at motivating other people to shift their focus and to see things differently.
CL: It is funny what we can and can’t do, what comes easy, and what is hard. I think that shift of focus is what’s key. I find there are times when I eat something fattening and it’s no big deal, and then there times when I instantly feel fat. So much of it is all in your head. I grew up much heavier with weird food issues from constant dieting. Interestingly in training for my first marathon, the best thing thing to come out of that was changing my relationship with food, changing my mindset. After years of diet, pig out, diet, pig out — all that chatter, all that shame — food became my friend.
SL: I think its important you recognize your strengths, but that doesn’t mean you have to be ashamed of your weaknesses. You learn as much from your weaknesses as you do from your strengths. But that is something I sometimes struggle with. I see my inability to stay active as being some sort of weakness, and now I’m feeling the ramifications of being lazy, whereas before I felt Oh… I’m just a little self indulgent.
CL: I think there has been this fashion thing where it’s cool to smoke and not workout, and you’re in that world. I was the odd woman out, working in fashion and running marathons. I felt like training for a marathon while working in fashion gave me this edge. I remember going into work, and someone being a douche and thinking, I ran 13 miles this morning. You got nothing on me.
SL: When I grew up in fashion the mentality was never show anybody how hard you have to work. You make everyone believe that everything is effortless. If you were skinny, it was because you were born that way, not because you ate right and worked out everyday. Nobody wanted to admit to the work. I’m not sure where that attitude came from but now people are proud of the work. Discipline is admired. I think transparency has a lot to do with it. We don’t want to be lied to.
I love the physical manifestation of when the instructor says “Plant your feet on the ground and be like a tree.” You lift one leg and reach your upper body to the sky, but you have to keep your feet planted. I think to myself try to reach for everything you want in life, but stay grounded.
CL: Right! People want to know what works. People want the information and advice from those who are living well, who are healthy and fit.
SL: It’s like, What’s your secret? Share it!
CL: I think it’s hard though to work out just for the sake of working out. It’s important to have a goal. If you can find something to train for so there is a purpose and motivation beyond the exercise, that’s really helpful.
SL: When you first started that sentence I was thinking, Oh no! Everyone always says “Don’t train thinking there is a goal. Don’t work out thinking its to lose weight.” But that’s not what you’re saying.
CL: No… set a physical goal.
SL: A goal you can reach…
CL: But one you have to work towards. So maybe for you it’s running a 5k… or whatever it is.
SL: There is a tremendous value to saying I’m going to walk this loop and doing it. I walked the perimeter of Prospect Park a few days ago and I was so proud. There is something so motivating about it being this tangible goal.
CL: Well absolutely! There are a lot of things we can’t control or make happen, but I can say “I am going to run the big 6 mile loop of the park” and do it! The satisfaction from that is very empowering. Forget burning calories for a moment, but just take the psychological component and know how good you are going to feel because you accomplished what you set out to do. It gives you so much confidence that you carry through the rest of the day.
SL: That’s right. It’s not an abstract.
CL: I think if you to were set some achievable goals for yourself that would get you on the right track, like if you said “I’m going to walk three times this week and going to do this amount.” Set a goal that’s realistic – not like 10 miles, which is not going to happen – but commit to walk say 2 miles 3 times a week. I think if you were to do that you’d feel really good about your accomplishments and you would want to keep the streak going.
I am doing that right now with yoga. I really don’t like it but I know I have do something stretchy. Yoga for me is like exercise for you. I have to find a way to make myself do it. I have paid for 6 classes a month and that seems doable. Plus for me the thought of paying for something and not getting it is unfathomable. It’s reason I have never missed a SoulCycle class. I’m not to lose $34… no way! I’d much rather go than lose that $34.
SL: I actually love yoga, but it has nothing to do with the fact that it’s exercise. It’s not to me. It’s moving meditation and connects what you are doing with your body to what is going on in your mind. I love the physical manifestation of when the instructor says “Plant your feet on the ground and be like a tree.” You lift one leg and reach your upper body to the sky, but you have to keep your feet planted. I think to myself try to reach for everything you want in life, but stay grounded.
CL: You get a whole lot more out of it than I do!
As we approach the 102nd street, I ask Stacy if she wants to walk to big Harlem Hill. Excitedly she says yes.
CL: You’re so game! I love it.
SL: I am so much better working out with someone. Coming to meet you today has been great. I feel like I’m not exercising, but we’ve just been hanging out and talking.
CL: We have been walking pretty fast too. People don’t realize this is what happens when they exercise with a friend. When I go for a run with someone they always tell me to slow down. I didn’t even realize I sped up, but just got amped by whatever we were talking about. This has been a great chat too!