How To Human In Public: Health and Hydration

The most common issue I face with actors in early stages of training is inability to stay in the room. It surprises me every time, because it seems like of all the crazy things they're asked to do, staying in the room is the simplest. Well. Not really. The symptoms usually present as nausea, fatigue, dehydrated, dizziness, but what I'm actually dealing with is human instruments unprepared to undergo rigorous mind-body adjustment. Even deep breathing causes imbalances.

I'm discussing actors because that's my primary work, but really this is about people in new situationsand the toil our increasingly terrible intake habits take once we get down to the business of implementing new systems. Think about it: how does your body respond in new places/spaces/relationships? I bounce all over the place, usually circling around what do they think of me and oh shit I forgot to eat towards wait what is everyone doing and am I doing it right. When I was younger it was definitely worse, but even now I can get pretty busy worrying about how it's going and forget to, you know, breathe.

Here is the lecture (sermon) I present early in the first semester of studio training, based on my work with hundreds of bodies plus several decades of trying to find balance and stamina for myself. This is where I believe cell-level, long-lasting change begins:

Hydration is tricky, and there are many theories. A good place to begin? Try to consume half your body weight in ounces of water. So if you weigh 150lb, try to drink 75oz. You can’t drink it all at once; the body will reject it. Try 16oz very first thing in the morning. This kicks off digestion and metabolism. Aim to drink about 8oz each time you get out of class or a meeting or rehearsal. It adds up. Try not to drink more than 8oz per hour during the day; the body prefers a small amount at a time. Also aim to drink at least half of your daily intake by the end of lunchtime.

Drinking at mealtimes requires a bit of strategy. Consuming about 8oz a half hour before eating is great – it keeps your appetite in check, and signals to digestive operations to gear up and get ready. Drinking a lot during or after the meal is NOT great – excess liquid dilutes your stomach acid, and makes digestion harder on the body. When the body has to work harder at any task, brain fog and/or fatigue usually result.

Many apps will help you track water intake – Fitbit, Apple Health, etc. “I can’t remember” is not an excuse. Your body needs an appropriate amount to complete its many functions. Struggling with running to the restroom? Consume smaller amounts in the hour before an event (class, rehearsal, etc.) or bedtime. Your body will eventually get accustomed to the higher intake, as long as you approach it strategically.

It’s a great idea to cut out soda and artificial juice entirely (green juices are fine, but check the sugar and chemicals). Both dry out your throat, and both have chemicals and sugar that our bodies do not need. Seltzer water is fine, but not a substitute for water.

Tea and coffee are both beneficial and complicated. Coffee is wonderful medicine, when used appropriately. More than one cup is not needed, and is likely to incite additional anxiety and tension; when we’re over caffeinated, our bodies have to work very hard to stabilize. Coffee is also drying, and not to be taken before class or rehearsal. Tea is more appropriate than coffee, and can provide much needed medicine to the body, particularly when taken appropriately (example: lavender tea when stressed for it’s calming effects, chamomile to slow down in the evening, matcha tea to energize in the morning without the buzz of coffee). Tea is also dehydrating to the vocal system, and should be kept to a minimum before large amounts of sounding or speaking. Throat Coat tea is a wonderful when applied after rehearsals, but not to be taken before or during, as it will incite an unrealistic sense of ability.

You are literally what you eat. The fuel you put into your body is medicine. Our bodies give us very clear signs of wear and tear, if we know what to listen for. Feeling foggy, tired, dull after eating? Your body is working too hard to process the food. Feel foggy and sluggish in the mornings? Look at what you ate the night before. Fighting constant mucus and allergies? You’re likely allergic to something you are eating.

This is lifelong work, but there are resources available. Unfortunately many of them are not mainstream – we’ve been raised in a culture that wants us to eat at McDonalds, and consume white bread, and make quick meals from a box. These products make people money, and we’ve been programmed as long as we’ve been alive. Your body wants organic, unprocessed, fresh foods, cooked as soon as possible and served warm. If it’s been in a package, or a freezer, or a microwave, it has lost valuable nutrients that you need on a cellular level. Think of how our ancestors ate – hunting, gathering, growing, foraging – our society changed with the conveniences of the modern world, but the needs of our body have not changed. They are exactly the same. As a society we have been eating for convenience according to what advertising tells us we need (want), so as a society we are overweight, unhealthy, sick, and tired. We don’t have to be. We would be wasting our lives to think and act as if this is normal. It’s not.

If running a cleaner system interests you, take a dive into one of the clean eating lifestyles. There are many! My favorites are Paleo, Whole 30, and Ayurveda. I’m particularly fond of Ayurveda – I think it is relatively simple without being restrictive, and effective right away. Plus, it’s ancient. You might also google ancestral foods, and see what comes up. Your body will crave and need certain things according to many factors – age, dosha, temperament, ancestry, activity level – you have to start learning that about yourself now.

Here’s an example from my life. I know that if I eat anything with white flour, I will appear six months pregnant. I will get inflammation in my intestines and cells, and hold water weight for days. I will also the most tired I’ve ever been and immediately need a nap. I’m also fairly allergic to dairy, and get congestion, swelling, and fatigue while my body tries to process it. I didn’t know this growing up. Unfortunately, my favorite foods were pizza and fettuccini alfredo. So – I pretty much felt tired for twenty years. Yikes. No one ever told me ramen noodles and boxed mac and cheese would make me feel terrible, and milk would make me sick, but if I ate rice and beans and greens most meals, I would leave the table more energized than when I sat down. No one told me it’s not normal to be tired in the mornings and wide awake in the evenings, that our clocks should be the opposite.

So. I’m telling you. Get to know yourself on this scale. You can change everything.

Track what you eat and how you feel. Start to get cozy with a food plan and clean eating recipe book. There are SO MANY designed for busy people/broke people/singles/couples/you name it you got it. This is your one life in your one body. Don’t settle. 

What's speaking to you? What is standing in the way of clean, easy body processing?

Kendra Holton