Fed & Fit

Ep. 115: Healthy Hedonism with Phoebe Lapine

On today's episode, I'm talking with Phoebe Lapine about her new book, The Wellness Project, and her take on healthy hedonism.

We're back with our 115th episode of the Fed+Fit Podcast! Remember to check back every Monday for a new episode and be sure to subscribe on iTunes!

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Episode 115 Transcription

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Cassy Joy: Welcome back to another episode of the Fed and Fit Project. I’m am your host, Cassy Joy Garcia, of Fed and Fit. And today I’m joined by a lovely guest. Her name is Phoebe Lapine. Phoebe is a food and health writer, gluten free chef, wellness personality, culinary instructor, and speaker born and raised in New York City, where she continues to live and eat. Great places to eat there. On her award-winning blog, Feed Me Phoebe, she shares recipes for healthy comfort food and insights about balanced healthy lifestyle choices, beyond what's on your plate. Her forthcoming memoir, The Wellness Project, chronicles her journey with Hashimoto's thyroiditis, and how she finally found the middle ground between health and hedonism by making one lifestyle change one month at a time.

Phoebe, I’m so excited to have you on the show. Thank you for coming on today!

Phoebe Lapine: Oh thank you for having me.

Cassy Joy: Absolutely. It’s a true pleasure. I’m excited to hear about your story. And I love this, one lifestyle change one month at a time. It’s something that I tackle in a portion of my business. And I think it’s very, very wise. But I told you before the show I was going to hand the baton off to you, because I would like for you to tell a little bit more about your story. Nobody knows you like you do. So if you don’t mind, I would love to hear a little bit about your health journey, a little bit about your book, your blog, and I guess some of your biggest takeaways.

Phoebe Lapine: Absolutely. So, my health journey and my food career journey actually started around the exact same time. But it took a few years for them to kind of intersect and combine into one. So I started blogging a year after graduating college, just kind of on a whim. At the time, my food outlook didn’t really have anything to do with the nourishment from each part of a meal, and more had to do with the comfort of cooking and the social nourishment it gave me.

But around the same time when I was leaving my corporate job to pursue cooking professionally and a whole variety of odd food jobs, I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Which is, as you know and maybe as some of your listeners know intimately, is an autoimmune disease that affects the thyroid gland. So at the time, when I was diagnosed by just my regular childhood doctor, I didn’t know what an autoimmune disease was. I didn’t even know what a thyroid was, or where it was on my body. The one solution that was presented to me was to go on a synthetic hormone, which she explained was completely normal. And it was typical to be diagnosed at this stage in my life. But I would have to be on the synthetic hormone for the rest of my years.

And I was raised by a mother who was kind of the early adaptors of the organic movement. And even though I was on birth control pills and took the occasional Z-pak, for whatever reason just the idea of being dependent on a synthetic drug for the rest of my life was just not something that I wanted to sign up for. So I did what any super mature 22-year-old would do, and I left the office, and pretended the conversation never happened and went on living my life.

And in the years that followed were kind of when I grabbed my career by the horns, and was taking on pretty much any odd food job that came my way. And in those years where when my symptoms really started to progress. And as I say, I kind of descended from health mountain. Eventually, I ended up in an office of a doctor with a more holistic perspective, who did some food allergy testing and put me on an elimination diet. And kind of with all results in hand, it was clear that gluten was a serious trigger for me. At the time, it wasn’t explained to me that this is something that’s very typical for Hashimoto’s and not something that was necessarily just specific to me. Although, of course, all of those individualized tests proved it as such. So that was kind of my first moment of really tackling any sort of lifestyle change. But at the same time, it was also when, even though it was just one, that was incredibly terrifying. And this was 6 years ago, before people really knew what gluten-free was or what gluten was. There was only one pasta, maybe at the health food store, or if it was at the main supermarket it was shoved to a dark corner with all of the other crunchy granola organic options.

And yeah. I felt like I was kind of in this place with my career where I was just trying to get every job possible. And as an aspiring food writer and chef, it was just so daunting to have any sort of dietary restriction. Never mind the fact that my first cookbook was actually coming out a week later, and I could no longer eat any of the recipes in it.

So had I had you as my coach at the time, I’m sure you would have helped me through and been like, ok one change at a time. But for this particular one, I got on board halfway with the gluten. But the rest of it. All of the other lifestyle recommendations that came with, for detoxing other parts of my life, went in one ear and out the other. Sorry, this is a very long answer. {laughs}

Cassy Joy: I love it! Keep going. I love it.

Phoebe Lapine: So it’s like my 7-year tale of how I got to the point of taking on this wacky wellness project. But eventually the pendulum started to swing in the other direction. I started subscribing to newsletters. And certainly the amount of information out there, not just about being gluten free or about Hashimoto’s. But just the wellness world in general just started to mushroom, and I started to get a little bogged down and overwhelmed by the whole thing. And kind of coming at it from this same central question, that was something I really grappled with that first change, going gluten free. But something that certainly would kind of come up every time I read a different list that had a piece of information that conflicted with another piece of inflammation or that required me to buy hundreds of dollars of equipment or supplements or what have you.

But the question that kept coming up to me was, as a young 20-something, how do I do right by my body without giving up my life? And that was eventually kind of the driving force that led me to kind of stop what I was doing and take a step back. And say, ok, I’m getting a little caught up in just the food side of things. I’m getting bogged down by all of this minutia. What are kind of the macro things that I need to do in order to wake up with energy every morning? So I created this curriculum for myself that was, again, one change, one month at a time.

And the idea was really not to just become my healthiest self. Although, of course I wanted to reverse a lot of the symptoms that were still progressing despite the few changes I already made. One of them being I had terrible skin. And {laughs} vanity was a very powerful motivator for me. As it can be for others, there’s nothing wrong with that.

So yeah. It was not just to become my healthiest self. But it was really to find some sort of sustainable middle ground going forward. And I did kind of suspect that it would require maybe going through some periods of extremity in order to find that road of moderation going forward to really see the contrast and what was worth the time and energy and what wasn’t, even despite some of the best scientific and spiritual intentions.

And that’s where I kind of landed on this philosophy of healthy hedonism. That became kind of my guiding light throughout the book, throughout the experiment. And it’s kind of my philosophy now.

Cassy Joy: Amazing. Wow. I really love it. So, something, I don’t know how familiar you are with my work, Phoebe. But we do something similar where we try to get folks, as a nutrition consultant. I was working with people one on one after my own health transformation. And it was one of those where you realize, similar, I feel like, to that kind of point where you got with yourself. You realize food was not the only answer. We get to this point where the answers just aren’t always going to be on a plate. And so the Fed and Fit Project works to address lifestyle markers over all.

And something that you said really eloquently that I really like are the periods of extremity needed before you get to that point where you don’t have to live quite as extreme in these different realms, to see what sticks and what works with you. What were some of your biggest takeaways in this journey? The changes that you made you felt had the biggest hit. And I would also love to know, were there any areas of extremity; maybe extreme with diet, or being really strict with yourself, that you found kind of weaning yourself into more of an everyday lifestyle. How did you kind of crack that code to make it, I guess, more sustainable in the long run. More playing towards this healthy hedonism, as you say.

Phoebe Lapine: Yes. Yes. Absolutely. So the most extreme I went was actually my first 30-day experiment. And it was for a variety of reasons. Kind of a recommendation through one of the practitioners. I was seeing that I really needed to focus on rebooting my liver. But I decided to take out sugar, alcohol, and caffeine, all in tandem. I called it my vice detox, {laughs} because those three things were certainly my biggest vices of all.

And you know, I think I had, obviously, taken out those things when I had done my original elimination diet. And a lot of people do so when they’re doing clean programs, or what have you. But I think, somehow, just focusing on those three instead of making all of these other dietary changes at the same time really allowed me to focus on kind of the emotional and physical side of the cravings. And people ask me, too about this one. “Why didn’t you just do one at a time? Why did you do all three together?”

And I actually really think those three feed each other. If you think about it, when you're not eating sugar, you don’t really have that crash after breakfast or lunch that would necessitate caffeine. When you're not staying up drinking {laughs} you don’t need it the next morning as much. And certainly when you're not drinking, you can make smarter food choices, no matter what time of day that is. And also, those three things kind of have these social elements baked in. Certainly more so the caffeine and alcohol.

And then, of course, the goal behind it just being this idea of detoxing the liver. Which doesn’t require you to buy any sort of expensive potions or do a juice cleanse. It’s really about just kind of getting out of your own way. And those three things are probably the most problematic, as a whole, for your liver. And certainly the things that are most problematic that you're consuming every single day, for some of us.

So, what I learned from the whole thing; many things. And I think probably my biggest learnings overall over the course of my project actually were really emotional in nature. Both in terms of those cravings, but also just kind of aspects of my social wellness. Which was certainly kind of part of the pro and con column that I wanted to evaluate, in terms of healthy hedonism. Because I think either something has to have a huge impact in the health that really makes it set off a light bulb in your mind. Or it has to be enjoyable to some extent, and not take away too much from your social wellness, your financial wellness, and just your ability to feel like you can have the freedom to live your life.

So, alcohol was the one I was most nervous of, of the trio. And I kind of realized which social situations that I had the most trouble with. It was usually with kind of an intimate group, at a dinner table, or ordering out at a restaurant and not wanting to call attention to myself, or be different, or not be able to share in an experience. But kind of one of the lessons that I learned, and learned again and again throughout my project, was about being the problem child. And I think that in many ways, and this goes for gluten as well and kind of my struggles with that previously. But I think I kind of had used not being the problem child as an excuse, or as a justification for my hedonism. Just; “This is me, I don’t want to be difficult. I just want to live my life.” And I kind of realized that that wasn’t worth it.

I use the example in the book, {laughs} and it’s actually resonated with a lot of people. I don’t know if you’ve read the book Gone Girl, or seen the movie.

Cassy Joy: Yeah.

Phoebe Lapine: So, do you know the concept of the cool girl?

Cassy Joy: Yes.

Phoebe Lapine: Yeah. So the concept of the cool girl, it’s rooted in a lot of cultural tropes that women are supposed to be easy going and down to hang, and drink cheap beer, and eat hot dogs, and what have you. And I kind of definitely homed in on parts of my personality that I think were a little bit too caught up in being the cool girl. And that was something that I had to let go of, certainly in that first 30-day period. And had to let go of again and again. Especially when it came to food.

So kind of the middle ground going forward for these three things. I brought them all pretty much back into my life. I drink a whole lot less coffee now. Like, hardly ever. Once a week, if that. Some green tea here and there. So that was one that was kind of easy for me on the healthy hedonism front. I didn’t miss it very much. So I just kind of have kept it out for the most part.

But alcohol is one that I have to set some more boundaries for myself. And part of it is, again, kind of reminding myself again and again that I don’t need it to have fun. Because we can always make excuses for ourselves in social situations. Or if we look at our calendar, and we’re like, “Oh, I have a wedding this weekend. I have someone’s birthday dinner. Night outs on the town; this is going to be a difficult week not to drink.” But I think that’s kind of silly. So just one week out of every month, I just have that be my reset. No matter what’s going on that particular week.

Sorry, I’m trying to think. Your question was a three-parter.

Cassy Joy: It was.

Phoebe Lapine: And I’m trying to remember what the third part was about. Kind of going from one extreme on the food front to a lesser extreme. So I guess the sugar part certainly affected my diet. And I’m far from sugar free now. But for me, it was really about eliminating the mindless sugar. And that kind of goes for some of the other things, too. The coffee had become kind of mindless for me at some point, and once I took it out, and felt all of the energy that comes with not being reliant on caffeine, I realized that it was silly to put it back in when I could replace the ritual with something else.

And then, sugar. There was just so much mindless sugar. And some of my “healthy” packaged foods that I was eating, that added so much to my quota every day when I could have just been eliminating that and having the special occasion treat every once in a while, so that it actually felt special. And not having to stress about that.

And in general with my diet. This was kind of an observation going into the project, which is maybe why I didn’t get crazy extreme on the diet front beyond just those little pockets, and focusing more on just anti-inflammatory eating for one month. Is that I just realized that the more I was stressing out about what I was eating, the less “well” I ended up feeling at the end of the day. And I’m a true believer, especially after this whole year-long odyssey, that stress is the most harmful toxin that we can ingest. More so than pesticides, more so than anything, really. And when you're stressing about what you're eating, it doesn’t really matter how many handfuls of kale or chia seeds you eat on top of it. I think it undoes a lot of the good.

Cassy Joy: I totally agree with you. I think that mindset is that unspoken context that we operate in, and it has such a huge impact on our overall health. And folks who can learn kind of how to work around that are better off. It’s interesting. That makes me think, between the wedding analogy and just talking about stress in general, I think of some clients that I’ve worked with over the years. And I’ve mentioned this before on the podcast, but I think it bears repeating. If they’re working in a period of nutritional extremity, right? And they’re trying to really whittle down, see how they can feel their best so they can work from there to build, I call it the perfect you plan, whatever that looks like. Including that north star of healthy hedonism. I remember folks saying, “Well, I’m working in this period right now in this,” I call it the feel-good reset part of the Project. “But, my best friend’s daughter is getting married this weekend. And I’m totally worried about the cake, and the champagne. I don’t know what to do!” And my response is always, “Eat the cake!”

Phoebe Lapine: {laughs}

Cassy Joy: {laughs} Eat the cake. Don’t worry about it! Go and enjoy your life. And the important thing is not to stress about what is or is not in scope. But more so looking back on it, it’s how do you interpret it. Because stress is such a difficult blob to articulate, right? It’s such a difficult thing to really, you can’t really find the four corners of it. It’s hard to iron out and figure out how to tuck it away neatly.

Phoebe Lapine: Totally.

Cassy Joy: It’s just there. And so, what can we do in an actionable sense is try to not feed the blob, right? And if we cut off its life source, maybe it will whittle away a little bit. But stressing about our stress levels isn’t a good thing either. So how do we cut off the life source a little bit is not worrying about if we’re making the right or wrong decisions. We just look at them instead and say, “What can I learn from this?” It wasn’t good. It wasn’t bad. It was what it was. What can I learn from this moving forward? There are no should’s or shouldn’t haves.

So anyways, I love that part of it, and I’m glad that you called that out. We definitely have a lot of perspectives in common. And I’m kind of curious in the book; and I’d like to get a little bit back to your story after this quick question. But, I haven’t flipped through your book yet. I’m really excited to grab it. Do you have a template for folks to follow in the book? You kind of outlined what you’ve done month by month? Or is it more just follow along on your journey and pull away and take away for yourself whatever resonates with you?

Phoebe Lapine: Yeah. So it’s mainly rooted in memoir. And I did that on purpose, just because as a consumer of all the information that was out there, it was what I really felt like was missing, and a companion that I really craved at the beginning. Or, you know, I guess the middle of my journey when I actually started to take my health seriously. And then at the end of each chapter, I kind of have these healthy hedonist tips, which are really just kind of the distilled information and ways you can kind of pick and choose your own adventure. If you want to take on your own project.

But I actually do have an eBook supplement for those who have bought the book on how to create your own four weeks to wellness kind of microproject. Since I don’t know that everyone wants to take on a whole year-long project, but you can easily kind of experiment with some of these things by just blocking off one-months’ time and either choose four small baby steps towards one goal, or maybe four small things that you’ve been wanting to try. And just doing so with awareness.

If you do pick up the book, I can share the link with you for your show notes to download that supplement. Then there are some tips at the end of the book, in the appendix, for kind of how to go about designing your wellness project.

But kind of back to really paying attention. You can do that; I would recommend via journaling, because it’s so much easier to kind of keep track as you go and just carve out time to check in with yourself. But I love you talking about the wedding cake with clients. What’s interesting is I would also say, “Why are you stressed out about the champagne and the cake?” If it’s because of what other people think, there’s more work to be done there, perhaps. I don’t know if that’s a good enough reason. I say if you just want the cake and the champagne, totally have it. {laughs} But yeah. I know for me, I had to get over those elements of what other people are going to think in order to truly kind of commit to some of these other practices.

Cassy Joy: Yeah! And that’s very profound. I mean, the idea of wanting to make sure you're still the cool girl. Or perceived as such. I think that; you know, I’m in my early 30s now. And I definitely went through that phase, through college. I was totally the “cool girl”, right?

Phoebe Lapine: {laughs} Yeah.

Cassy Joy: I mean, I was down for pizza and cheap beer whenever. Like, yeah. That sounds great. I’m down for that. And I can definitely identify with that sentiment of that being a mindset hurdle to overcome. I do think, though, that a lot of my clients. Some of them are in their 20s and 30s, and a lot of them are in their 40s and 50s and they don’t so much care about what people think as much as they just want to do the right thing. You know what I mean? And it becomes a totally; it’s interesting. It’s interesting how that bar, that mindset bar that was have to hurdle, kind of moves. Just nutritionally how that bar moves as we age. We need different things as we age. I think we also have to pay attention to our drivers on the inside, and what motivates us. And what might keep us from making decisions that propels us towards true wellness. So I think it’s really interesting.

I’m curious, now. So in this healthy hedonism, are there any hard lines that you still don’t cross? Or practices that you still do your best to achieve today? I know that hydration, for example, is something that you touch on in the book. I know that rest is something that you touch on. Are there any things that you really make a priority, even though you're trying to not live an extreme sort of format or project right now?

Phoebe Lapine: Absolutely, and I love that actually said, “hard lines.” Because that’s exactly how I tell people to go about it. Kind of my whole year in a nutshell, I think, was about figuring out where the hard lines were and where there could be more wiggle room. And so I think probably my real non-negotiable is only gluten. Not having gluten; now that I understand from an organ perspective what it’s doing to my body, and it’s not just a matter of me having a stomachache after I eat it. But truly understanding that because my body lives in some sort of autoimmune cloud of inflammation, where my body mistakes the gluten protein for the thyroid protein, because they look very similar, that it’s a chicken or an egg thing in terms of keeping my antibodies down and maintaining good thyroid health.

Now, it’s become actually more of a non-negotiable than it was before. And some of the other things; other things in my diet, certainly, I know aren’t wonderful for me. Don’t make me feel wonderful. But there’s a little bit more wiggle room there. And certainly, I think, setting myself up for success at home, where I do spend most of my time. Especially being free-lance and self-employed, like yourself. Setting myself up for success at home is so important so that I can find more of that wiggle room out in the world.

But in terms of the other elements, I think I really do find more wiggle room across the spectrum. And what allows me to do that, I think, is just knowing that I have this diverse toolset of self-care at my fingertips. So life throws you different curveballs from day to day. And different sets of circumstances and constraints. So I kind of just dip into my toolkit every day for some sort of solution on the self-care front. Be it food, water, sleep. I definitely do try and drink half my body weight in ounces of water a day. Because that was actually something that was really easy for me to do. It was one of those kind of 30-day wellness sprints that just stuck with me without having to think about it. It’s really just a matter of taking a water bottle with me. When I’m traveling, that’s when I struggle the most. And having that bottle on my desk in front of me so that I’m staring at it, and know to refill throughout the day.

And then in terms of the rest, and the sleep. For me, it was a lot of battling insomnia. Which had been something that I’ve struggled with since childhood, even long before there was kind of a hormonal root cause. Or could have had a hormonal root cause. But I’ve kind of noticed that being autoimmune, being a highly sensitive person, it’s less about; of course it’s about number of hours of sleep. But it’s also about not overextending myself with my schedule. So my one other kind of non-negotiable hard line is I do try and have at least two nights of downtime a week. And this past month has been a crazy one for me, because my book came out, and I have been doing much more traveling. I definitely didn’t take any of my own advice in the scheduling {laughs} of events and festivities around the launch. But it was actually good, because I really came to understand what a non-negotiable; just blocking off the calendar for two nights is. I really struggled without it. And wished that I had been more in tune with my own learnings and advice from the book that I was promoting when going about the scheduling of this tour.

But I think what’s miraculous on top of that was, even though I knew that I hadn’t necessarily stuck with that non-negotiable. Set myself up for success in that way. There were so many other ways that I could make sure to fuel myself, to nourish myself throughout the day. And also making sure that I went to bed on time, and what have you. That prevented me from completely burning out.

Cassy Joy: Awesome. I love that. You know, I always say that there are times and seasons to really focus on different areas of wellness. And for example, there are a lot of parents who listen to this show. And they’ve got young kids. And there is absolutely no way; babies! They’re going to be able to get as much sleep as they know their body necessarily needs.

Phoebe Lapine: Right.

Cassy Joy: At certain points in time. And there are things that we can do, if we look at the total load of what we’re carrying. And I can’t help it. I’m such a visual person. Every time I say total load, I imagine a camel and straw.

Phoebe Lapine: {laughs}

Cassy Joy: {laughs} On the camel’s back. You know, we’re meant to carry a burden. And on us as intelligent folks, and we’re concerned for health and wellness, we’re trying to constantly remove some of that burden, so it’s a little bit lighter of a load and we’re not breaking our back, essentially, in this metaphor.

And I think that there are times when we can take certain things off our load, whether it comes to eating really well, taking those two nights off a week. And there’s other times where it’s just not a reality. So to your point, what we do is we add in other practices. When I was on my book tour, for example, I did the same thing. I traveled with my friend, Diane. And we were just very, very intentional about the food we ate. We didn’t eat sweet treats. Even though we’re going to all these really amazing cities with gluten-free bakeries that we would love to go to. But we allowed ourselves. We were out for three weeks. We allowed ourselves one a week. It didn’t feel like a restriction, it felt like an indulgence when we did have it. But it was because we were so concerned with our health, because we were traveling on an airplane almost every single day. I took colloidal silver as a preventative. We always tried to make sure we were getting our sleep.

And Diane and I, when we both got home, we still talk about it. It’s been; I think we’re coming up on our year anniversary later this summer. But we were talking about it recently how great our skin looked after that book tour {laughs}.

Phoebe Lapine: Aww! That’s amazing.

Cassy Joy: And it’s because we were so, so much more intentional with the things that we could control, right?

Phoebe Lapine: I was the same way.

Cassy Joy: Yeah. The stress of travel. So I think that’s great. You have got such a balanced perspective. I mean, everything that you're saying. I’m sure there are a lot of listeners that are nodding their head. You're preaching to a lot of the choir, and I’m so thrilled that you took the time to come on today’s show. It’s absolutely in line with that we talk about here.

Are there any last big pointers you would like to chat about before we close the show, and tell folks where to find you?

Phoebe Lapine: Yeah. I guess just two things. Going off what you said with your camel analogy, which I love. But another thing that I kind of think is so important, is again, kind of in the same vein as the mindless sugar, mindless caffeine. I think there are some ways to kind of reduce our toxic burden on a daily basis. Be it changing some of our personal care products to naturals. Changing our cleaning products to naturals. Putting a water filter on my tap was a big one for me, and my showerhead. But those were things that kind of required some upfront investment. There also the things that you don’t necessarily feel this tangible, visceral difference right away.

But again, and this is maybe more pertinent for the autoimmune who are so sensitive to various chemical exposures. But just getting those things off the table, I think have really helped me in the long-term. Especially on those days where I’m not perfect on my other practices. At least my starting line is in such a better place than it was beforehand. And again, it’s a very hands-off way to have that.

And the second is, and I love that you have a lot of new parents in your practice. But I would also say that your body changes over time. Nothing is a life sentence. But also your hedonism, your idea of hedonism, changes over time. And for me, it’s not just the sweet treats or the glass of wine. It’s really, hedonism to me means anything that lifts your spirit or brings pleasure. And that could be; sometimes that includes healthy things, like just a 10-minute walk outside, soaking up some sun. And yeah, certainly as I’ve gotten older, and relinquished the cool girl and just settled into my early 30s, it has not been that difficult to block off a few nights of me time and Netflix and chill time. So it’s just something to consider. Maybe being flexible on both ends. Both on not being too stringent about the health rules. But then also, you know, just being open to the fact that your idea of fun can change over time, as well.

Cassy Joy: Absolutely. I’m sure that people are nodding their heads along with you when you said that. That’s wonderful. I really love it. I appreciate everything you said, Phoebe. Thank you for coming on. If you wouldn’t mind telling folks really quickly where they can find you, and where they can find your book.

Phoebe Lapine: Sure thing. So, you can find me at my name, www.PhoebeLapine.com. Or, my blog, which has tons of gluten free recipes and other resources, which is www.FeedMePhoebe.com. And if you backslash book, you can find out everything about The Wellness Project, where to buy it. Also the link to that free eBook supplement.

Cassy Joy: Wonderful. And we will get all of that linked up in the show notes for today, so you guys will have handy links there ready to click on. Thanks so much again, Phoebe, for coming on. And thanks everybody for listening. As always, if you enjoy this show, I would really appreciate it if you head over to iTunes. Pull up Fed and Fit podcast over there. Leave us a review. It really helps to get the show into the hands of other folks. Thanks so much for listening. We’ll be back again next week.

   

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