12 Tips for a Healthier, Happier Life

Many who have watched me on “MasterChef” or listened to me speak or follow me on social media often wonder what’s my secret to life. Unfortunately, like any other human being (except for maybe the Dalai Lama), I have no key to life. I don’t know what the hell is going on half the time, and the other half, I spend wondering how I’m going to make it through the hour, day, week, or year.

In spite of never having 100% control over my life (which, if you are reading this and have been affected by Neuromyelitis Optica/NMO in some way, chances are you know exactly what I mean), I’ve been doing my best to control what I can. That is, I’ve been on a steady (albeit slow) path towards healthier living for almost two years now, and here are twelve tips I’ve picked up along the way. I must insert a caveat first: I am not going to pretend I have it all together and follow all twelve rules 100% of the time. But I do try to follow them to the best of my ability given the particular circumstance at any given moment. I’m no sage when it comes to enlightenment—even though we know what we should do, we often don’t do it—but these are twelve things I’ve been giving more thought to ever since: (1) being healthy got trendy, (2) I realized I wasn’t getting any younger, and (3) I became more proactive at keeping my Neuromyelitis Optica/NMO in remission.

12 Tips for a Healthier, Happier Life

1. Drink more water. Cook at home. But enjoy the process of drinking and eating.

Water has no sugar and zero calories. It helps make you feel full just a tad bit more so you eat a tad bit less. It hydrates your skin, which is key to looking youthful.

Cooking your own meals allows you to be more aware of how the food got on your plate and what you’re putting in your body. Sure, sometimes the food you make doesn’t taste nearly as good as that ravioli in browned butter sage sauce from your favorite Italian eatery, but the reason why is because restaurant kitchens put a ton of butter and salt in their dishes. If you want more control over the stuff you put in your mouth, cook your own food. It also gives you a newfound, much needed appreciation for animal and plant life. No, that pork chop and green beans you’re eating didn’t come from a styrofoam tray and plastic bag.

My philosophy in life, however, is everything in moderation. This means you should totally enjoy that buttery chocolate-filled croissant with your morning latte—or a big ol’ bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch if that’s more your thing—and not feel guilty about it. If you want a meat lover’s pizza delivered to your house, do it. If you have a hankering for a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, get it. Everything in moderation, and don’t forget to do #8 while indulging yourself.

2. Get enough sleep.

Sleep is the time when our body replenishes itself. The brain purges daily stresses and the cells regenerate. We humans function best when we get seven to eight hours of sleep a night.

I used to pull all-nighters in college during final exams and, afterwards, in celebration of finishing the semester. But now I value sleep much more than deadlines and drinks. This is not to say I throw schedules to the wind—I’ve just learned to prioritize: checking off tasks and getting a good night’s sleep are more important than a Netflix binge (that’s what the flu and Rituxan are for).

3. Make time for friends.

In the year following MasterChef, because I was traveling a lot for publicity, writing my cookbook, and finishing my graduate degree, I rarely saw my friends. It took a toll on me emotionally and mentally, and I didn’t realize until the year passed that I was incredibly unhappy. Most of the world treated me a certain way based on what they’d seen on TV, and I missed those around me who knew me before my MasterChef fame and still treated me like the same ol’ Christine that I am.

Now I make it a priority to visit with friends over lunch, dinner, drinks, or just a date at the mall or park. The time you spend with your friends doesn’t even have to be all-consuming. I like to multi-task and have a friend take me to run errands, help me cook, or organize my desk; that way, I’m productive and still spending time with my friend. Being busy is no longer an excuse to let friendships fall by the wayside.

4. Stay physically active: get some form of exercise regularly.

I admit it: I don’t particularly enjoy working out. I hate running or pretty much anything that makes me sweat profusely and gasp for air. But I know keeping my body moving is good for me, so I forced myself to make exercise a habit. The first step is always the hardest, and once I made yoga and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) part of my routine, it became much easier.

It helps to find an exercise or sport you actually like and do it with a partner. The chances of you continuing with a regimen for the long term is directly correlated to your enjoyment of it. I know I don’t enjoy running, so I’m not going to set myself up for failure by telling myself I’m going to run twice a week. I’ve always liked yoga, so I budgeted for a membership to a nearby yoga studio.

Working out with a partner or team boosts motivation. I don’t especially love HIIT, but I find myself working out harder and hating it less when I exercise with John. I’m competitive (in case you didn’t know), and working out with someone else makes me strive harder instead of lamenting about how miserable I am. Misery really does love company.

5. Do something to make yourself look good on the outside—it will make you feel good on the inside.

It could be a new haircut, learning a new makeup technique, buying a new dress that flatters your figure, whitening your teeth, getting a spray tan, painting your nails, grooming your eyebrows, donning a pair of killer heels. It doesn’t have to be eating right and working out, but those definitely help. The change could be either big or small, so long as you like it and it makes you feel good. Looking good boosts your confidence, and confidence goes a long way. Confidence is sexy. Confidence leads to believing in yourself, which influences other people’s perceptions of you and increases your chances of success. Trust me. Haven’t you seen my apple pie moment?

6. Be in the moment.

In other words, be mindful. Yes, it’s been sort of a cliché as of late–everyone’s telling us to be mindful, be aware, meditate–but there’s no denying all the research extolling these acts, so here me out.

I just finished reading Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds as part of the preparation for my upcoming TEDx talk, and in it is a reference to the Zen belief that we shouldn’t dwell in the past nor worry about the future because neither exists–only the present exists. While it’s still next to impossible for me to carve out time for the sort of daily meditation that would have me close my eyes, think about waterfalls, focus on my breathing, and being aware of how my muscles and hairs feel, I am now of the mindset that meditation can happen all the time. It’s in the yoga I do when I make a conscious effort to breathe deeply. It’s in the silence as I take my first few bites of an extraordinary omakase. It’s in the repetitive motion of my hands when I slice onion. It’s in the relaxation I feel in a massage or shower.

Whether you’re exercising, talking to your family, reading a book, driving, skydiving, or tasting a new food for the first time, be in the moment. Start by simply being mindful of exactly where you are, what you’re doing, how you feel at that precise moment in time.

And please, by all means, if you are having a conversation with someone, do NOT check your phone every time it chimes with a text message or Facebook notification. That’s the first step to being in the moment.

7. Declutter.

Purge, purge, purge! My mom used to say to me, “A cluttered desk or room is a cluttered mind.” While John argues against a tidy desk, I’m happier and more energized when my environment is clean and neat.

I’m in the process of spring cleaning now, and because it can be a daunting chore, I’ve decided to break it down into smaller, much more manageable tasks. Two weeks ago, I cleaned out my wall of shoes, packing away pairs I haven’t worn in years into boxes destined for donation. This past weekend, I did the same with my clothes. This morning, I decluttered a single corner of our bedroom.

At this rate, spring cleaning 2015 may turn into spring cleaning 2016, but in small doses, it’s less intimidating. Decluttering and being organized are especially important if you’re visually impaired. A blind person’s worst nightmare is a desk with a gazillion papers strewn about or a kitchen counter with knives and spices everywhere.

A good rule of thumb when trying to decide if you should keep something or not is to ask yourself, does this item give me pleasure? Be ruthless with your purging. Sentimental things aside, if you haven’t touched or used or worn something in two years, most likely, you won’t miss it.

8. Express gratitude freely and frequently.

I’m grateful that the expression of gratitude has always come easily for me. (See what I did there?) When I was laid up in the hospital from my worst NMO attack ever, when I was paralyzed from the neck down, I wasn’t angry. Instead, I was so thankful for the nurses that changed my sheets, cleaned my bedpan, bathed me, and combed my hair. Even when I was in pain, as soon as the nurse pushed morphine into my vein, the first thing I said when the warm blanket washed over me was, “Thank you for helping me feel better.” Well, maybe not as coherent as that, but it was definitely some form of verbal gratitude. I think I might’ve told the nurse she was the most wonderful person in the world.

Life is not about entitlement. Yes, working hard may reap rewards, but it’s not a guarantee. Bad things still happen to good people. I’ve suffered through some serious stuff like death of a parent at a young age, diagnosis of a chronic disease, and vision loss, but instead of becoming enraged or bitter, all of it has made me more grateful for the little things and for the people in my life.

Gratitude leads to a happier, longer life, so find at least one thing you can be grateful for every day. Gratitude is contagious, and our world could use a little more happiness nowadays, wouldn’t you say?

9. Travel more.

The biggest regret I have about college is not studying abroad. One of the first trips I took without my family was spring break of my junior year. Four friends and I went to New York City, and that was when I was bitten by the travel bug.

America is an awesome country. We have virtually every cuisine from around the world available within our nation. There are lots of things to see and do. San Francisco is different from New York is different from Denver. This is precisely why so many Americans choose not to travel outside the U.S.–Even some their own state–but it’s important to experience a culture other than our own. Traveling to another country pulls you out of your comfort zone, requires you to think differently, which consequently boosts your creativity–read this piece in The Atlantic.

I personally love traveling abroad because it’s a constant reminder that I’m just one little speck in this greater cosmos. It keeps me from being ethnocentric and egocentric. It teaches me compassion and the universality of humankind. It helps me see from others’ perspectives and forces me to understand, accept, and respect cultural differences.

But, like I said, the first step is always the hardest, so it’s okay to start small. Drive a couple of hours to a neighboring town. Take a longer road trip with a friend (remember #3?) down Route 66. Go up to Canada where they still speak English. Then maybe try Mexico or South America. My hope is that you, too, will get bitten by the travel bug and find yourself loving Tokyo, Turkey, or Tuscany.

One thing remains constant though: wherever you go, do as the locals do. Observe, ask (in their language as best as you can), and eat what they eat.

10. Stay mentally active. Keep learning. Try new things.

This kind of piggybacks on #9. It means you should still get out of your comfort zone and push yourself to try new things. As a writer, I’m all about experience. How else am I going to gather material for my next greatest American novel? In fact, one of the main reasons I tried out for MasterChef in the first place was not because I thought I would win or really wanted the title—it was because I figured I’d come back with some good experiences to write about. I figured I’d learn a thing or two about cooking. (Oh boy, did I learn so much more than that.)

Keep your mind fresh and active with puzzles, rowing, flower arranging, beekeeping, gardening, woodworking, speaking Mandarin, Krav Maga, cooking classes, etc. You’ll stay sharp and grow immensely. Learning is fulfilling.

Four years ago, I learned Braille. Two years ago, I earned a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing. Last year, I learned rock climbing. And constantly, I’m learning new ingredients, cooking techniques, and recipes.

I never want to stop learning. In the words of the late, great Steve Jobs, “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”

11. Say no, and don’t apologize.

I’d written an entry before about how it’s okay to say no sometimes. It’s still a learning process, but I get better at it over time. As a natural introvert, I need my own time to decompress. I need time to myself. This is how I recharge and remain happy and energized. This is how I best perform.

Even if you’re an extrovert, you shouldn’t feel obligated to say yes to everything. Something I now ask myself to gauge whether or not I should take on a project is, Will I be happy doing this?

It sounds oversimplified, but most of the time, it really does help me decide yes or no. The last thing I want to do is sabotage a project or a relationship by saying yes when I really meant no, and then being miserable from start to finish. Everyone tells me it’s so easy to tell what I’m feeling by the expression on my face, so I know I can’t hide my negative emotions. Better to be genuine and honest by saying no than saying yes and infecting everyone with my negativity.

12. Don’t beat yourself up if you break a rule or two…or all twelve.

And last but not least, if you can’t heed a single tip, don’t beat yourself up about it. I am a perfectionist, and so when things don’t go as planned, it’s hard for me not to obsess or feel guilty about it. It’s become a running joke with a few of my friends now: whenever I’m disappointed as a result of some decision I’d made, we shake our fists, look up to the sky, and shout with hyperbolic angst, “I live in regret!”

It’s still something I’m working on, but I’ve made progress over the years. Now I lament for a shorter amount of time. I still grieve my purportedly poor decisions, but soon thereafter, I say to myself, “What’s done is done” or “It is what it is,” meaning I can’t change the past so no use worrying about it.

So there they are,: twelve tips that have improved my life to some degree. Pick some out and try to incorporate them into your life. Or just try one. Or none at all if you’re not ready for it. I’m a firm believer that when it comes to positive change, you’ll be ready when you’re ready.

Apr 2015
POSTED BY Christine

Can patients living with an illness find love?

It’s Valentine’s Day this week, that overly commercialized “holiday” where we acknowledge our loved one with chocolate, gifts and heart felt (usually by someone else) cards. Love it or hate it, one might find the day difficult to ignore.

On occasion I scan the posts on the support sites and Facebook groups and every once in awhile I’ll see the gut-wrenching, heart-sinking comment from someone young who wonders if they’ll ever find love despite Neuromyelitis Optica (NMO).

I’m here to say YES! YES YOU CAN!!

I’m blessed, in fact all of us on this blog are, to have someone to share our lives with. That’s the good, the bad and yes, the ugly NMO.

Look, Valentine’s Day can make even the most beautiful, healthy, young man or woman feel self-conscious when they face the day alone and single – so don’t sweat it. The tough reality about NMO is that everything is, well, in fact tougher.
Be it cooking, walking, sleeping and even love and romance, we face hardships most will never understand. In truth, there isn’t really a good moment to tell someone you’re dating about the realities of an auto-immune disease. It’s not exactly first date conversation material…or second date…or third…The good news? Dating is tough for everyone and each person brings what some might refer to as “baggage”. I like to refer to it as being human, vulnerable and real. I like that no one is perfect.

I always wonder what it is about disease that makes people feel lesser than others. Are NMO patients of a lesser value human being than anyone else? We certainly contribute the same (and often more!) to society through our work, families and empathy to others.

So go ahead and put yourself out there. And if you choose not to do so because you’re happier alone and not because NMO stopped you.

(In full disclaimer I personally have come to adore Valentine’s Day because of discount chocolates the day after and my hopeless idealistic view of the world.)

Working out with NMO

Since March I have been working out with a personal trainer three times a week while I was doing the diet program with Elizabeth Yarnell. Lindsay is a personal trainer at my gym we would do 1 -2 days upstairs in the gym area then the rest of the days in the pool. When I first started working out with Lindsay I told her about NMO and what my restrictions were. I decided to record my workouts for two reasons, One was showing people what I did during a workout routine and the other reason was to inspire other people they can do this as well. Each workout session is an hour long with Lindsay right there telling me what to do and push harder. When I am at the gym I alternate between legs, arms and core each day. While swimming works out really the whole body and is low impact, I would swim 42-52 laps during a session. I broke up the videos into two parts the first video is pictures of me at my heaviest and me working out at the gym and the last video is my swimming routine and the pictures of me with losing over 66 pounds. I hope you all enjoy and it will inspire you to workout as well!






The Not-To-Do List

In my last entry, I discussed how it’s okay to say no sometimes to things because, let’s face it, there’s only one of you and oftentimes a dozen people asking for a hundred things from you. I shared how this has especially been a personal struggle for me for the past couple of years. Sometimes, not often, but sometimes, I will have a breakdown where I feel overwhelmed and disappointed with myself for not accomplishing everything on my to-do list or for saying no to a favor and thereby disappointing a friend, a colleague, even a stranger.

My husband, John, hates seeing me upset. He’s constantly sending me articles or podcasts about efficiency, priorities, and time management (which I subsequently add to my to-listen/read list). I think I’m detail-oriented and meticulous. He thinks I’m anal. I think he’s careless and lazy. He thinks he’s efficient. I guess we complement each other.

John recently sent me this short podcast by Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek. I’m notorious for making elaborate to-do lists. One time, a friend teased me because she saw I had “watch the Oscars” on my calendar.

“Your TV has to make an appointment with you?” she laughed.

“Yes,” I said. “Get in line. Your making fun of me is not on the agenda.”

I know I can go overboard with the to-do list. And there are so many times when I look at my list and want to crawl into my closet and hide. But this podcast from Ferriss entitled, ”The 9 Habits to Stop Now: The Not-To-Do List,” is helpful. Even better, it’s short, so I could quickly get back to my to-do—er, not-to-do—list. I listened to it over my lunch break. Now I might have to read the book.

Have you read The 4-Hour Workweek? What are your thoughts? Have you applied any of Ferriss’ advice to your own life? Has it been helpful?

Living As a person with Neuromyelitis Optica/NMO, my health and staving off attacks should be first priorities. That means I need to prioritize lower stress levels, which means decreasing any feelings of overwhelm, which means making a not-to-do list. It’s definitely going to be a challenge for me, but hey, I’ve conquered crazier things.

Elizabeth Yarnell

Here is my video about my diet and experience with Elizabeth Yarnell. I hope you all will enjoy and you can find a link to her website below. The video is broken into two different clips since its 20 mins long. Living with NMO and changing my diet with the help from Elizabeth has really changed my world for the better!


May 2014


Hi everyone.

I was featured in a blog post for Canadian entrepreneurs who are also moms, affectionately called Mompreneurs. I think it’s a funny term ’cause I don’t think as either being a job, let alone a blended job. I’m passionate about both my family and my company. Nonetheless, folks out there think it’s kinda cool how I balance my life so they did a write up here:


Sidenote: I trade professionally under my maiden name still so don’t get confused. And of course, I had to do a shout out to the world and drop neuromyelitis optica ’cause every chance we get to educate more about the disease the better for us all.

Taking Charge of My Health


When I remember how I felt this time last year I can say that I have come a long way. I have gotten off a lot of medication, which has helped me lose over 45 pounds. Last October I came to the hard realization I was over medicating myself and on the wrong medication. After consulting with my doctors we decided to take me off Lyrica and try Gabapentin instead. A month later I lost 20 lbs! This motivated me to lose   more weight so I evaluated my diet and acknowledged that I wasn’t getting enough exercise.


Over the last 2 years at the Guthy-Jackson Patient Day for neuromyelitis optica I listened to Elizabeth Yarnell’s talk on nutrition and if certain foods were contributing to our poor health. I finally decided to call her and see what she had to offer since losing weight was important for me and for my family. The first step was a parasite cleanse that lasted 20 days. It was very simple and easy to do. Next, Elizabeth had me draw blood to determine what foods made me more inflamed. Then we tested my urine for 24 hours to see how I digested food. After a week waiting for the results Elizabeth called me for a 2 hour phone conversation explaining my results and a plan.

I couldn’t believe what I learned! I was eating so many wrong foods that were making me more inflamed. For 2 weeks I was on a strict diet and could hardly eat anything. That was tough. But after that we started introducing certain foods again. I’m 4 months into the program and I’ve lost another 25 lbs. Elizabeth has totally opened my eyes about what I should be eating. All of my family and friends keep telling me that they can’t believe how healthy I look. They say I am glowing, they can’t believe how much weight I have lost and that I don’t have that bloated look anymore.


I am also working a personal trainer at the gym 2-3 times a week and I do Pilates twice a week. I am 23 lbs away from my goal weight, which was where I was before I was pregnant with Allen. My goal is to lose the last 23 pounds by June 25. My ultimate goal is get back down to my college weight in the next year or so. Between Elizabeth and my personal trainer I think I can do this.


Meltdowns are necessary

I love my friends dearly. In a lot of ways they are my family that I get to choose in this lifetime. The friends I’m closest with don’t judge me, they are my cheerleaders and are always there to listen to me. My friends are also very respectful that I’m busy so they’re constantly apologizing when they need to rely on me. That disappoints me because I always hope my relationships to be a two-way street.
Friends are there to help each other through meltdowns. I’m talking about those meltdowns where a good friend asks you how things are going and you start to tell them what’s been going on in your life and suddenly you’re rambling and the stuff that’s just been in your head comes tumbling out and next thing you know you’re in tears and feeling like a complete disaster. Phew! Yes, those kind of meltdowns.
To answer your question, no, I did not have a major meltdown recently but in a way my body was telling me that I was close to a crisis point. I started suffering from vertigo and it didn’t go away for several days. When I finally went for medical help it was determined that it wasn’t a NMO related symptom but rather a sign of serious dehydration and exhaustion. (I’m still suffering from the vertigo but it’s slowly improving.)
Although I don’t enjoy seeing my friends go through difficult times, truthfully it does make me feel less alone knowing that others have meltdowns, exhaustion and stressed out lives. A few excerpts of the lives of my friends:
· One friend is at a crisis point because she’s unhappy with her job and constantly feels discouraged that she’s not landing roles that she’s clearly overqualified for
· Another friend has been taking care of her ailing and elderly father, putting strain on her marriage and her now non-existent career
· Yet another is madly in love with what I think is her soul mate (if such a thing exists) but he lives in another town and neither wants to relocate to be together
· And a good friend is struggling with the decision to grow her family (she’s always wanted to raise a big family) but her compromising health makes this difficult

In my mind I’d deal with each of these situations differently because it’s easier to have an opinion from the outside but that’s not what my friends are asking for. As I’m sure they would deal with my life problems differently too what we’re asking of each other is a shoulder to cry on, someone to listen and just support. I always think to those dark first days of NMO when I was scared, unable to walk and completely confused in a hospital bed – how so many of my friends were just there over the phone, in person pushing my wheelchair and still slinging mud at me like before. Without my friends, without our meltdowns, this would be such a lonely world. So the next time you feel you’re over reacting or things just start spilling out, just embrace it and know your friends love you as much as you do.

I Quit My Job

I quit my job. It feels great to say those words so I’m going to give you a moment to marinate on that.

When I first got sick with Neuromyelitis Optica (NMO) I spent 6 months recovering from a Transverse Myelitis attack and in the process was let go from my job. It was absolutely devastating to be in recovery and then lose one’s identity. Now that is has been several years later (with my career back on track, a marriage, a new house, and a baby) I can look back and be thankful that my path has led me to the words, “I quit my job”.

Although I can’t speak quite yet about what I’ll be doing next, I can say that it is of no surprise to anyone who knows me well that I have a few tricks up my sleeve. Before NMO I felt invincible – I was young, ambitious and fearless. NMO took me down a couple pegs but it hasn’t defeated me.

As I see it I’m more prepared now for a challenge then I was before. I’m a Mama Bear now so I truly understand what it means to fight for my cub. And I have the amazing support of my husband – he’s my coach in my corner telling me when to throw my left hook. And like NMO, which is a relentless disease, I’ll fight with a vengeance over and over again. NMO has made me a more real person.

I know I’m one of the lucky ones. Every morning I throw my feet over the bed and hold my breath until I’m sure I can feel them touch the ground. So, in a big picture kind of way, it wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t fight the good fight for each and every one of you in my NMO family.

“Out there in some garage is an entrepreneur who’s forging a bullet with your company’s name on it.” -Gary Hamel

Patient Day 2012

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Patient day 2012

Patient day this year was very interesting first having Allen making his appearance this year since I was pregnant with him last patient day. It was also exciting for patients and caregivers getting to meet him since I blogged about my pregnancy the entire time. Everyone felt like they already knew him which was very exciting for Eric and I. I was just so flattered and speech less from people telling him how handsome Allen is and he is such a good baby. Allen defiantly started a fan club in LA.

Two very exciting things happen this year at patient day the first was Victoria Jackson and Ali Guthy released their book “Saving each other.”
The second was the release of the patient resource guide “What you need to know.” I have only flipped through a few pages on both books and it is hard to decide which one to stick to and finish the book. I have handed out several copies of the resource guide to my family members so they are more educated on NMO and what I go through. I am sure all of us get sick of hearing “ You don’t look sick.” Well I am read the book and understand how well I mask what I am going through.

I really did not get to stay and listen to all the Q and A panels since Allen wanted to go move around. I did get to go to some of the breakout sessions. The one I really enjoyed was on diet and nutrition with Elizabeth Yarnell since she is diagnosed with MS she understands what is the most healthy diet for us NMO patients. The other neat breakout session was the Patient Advocacy with Dan Behne and Derek Blackway it was really great to hear what other NMO patients are doing to help spread the word about NMO.

At the end of patient day it was just amazing looking all around the ballroom seeing so many NMO patients there with their caregivers. Every year patient day keeps growing with newly diagnosed patients that need help finding out more about NMO and then there are the patients that have been coming for years and just want to talk to our NMO family face to face. This year was my third time coming to this wonderful event. I loved I got to meet so many new patients this year in person since I have talked to them in the support group but now I have got to meet them in person.

Thanks again to Victoria, Bill, and Ali for all the wonderful things they have done for NMO. Let us all keep spreading awareness about NMO!

Nov 2012