Feb 22, 2017

The naiveté of youth is what gives young people a lot of their power, as the promise of the future ahead is just too bright for them even to think about the time when they’re not so young anymore, when age, heredity, and the environment catch up with their follies.
Model-turned-photographer Sara Black knows this sense of hubris well. A well-known name and face in a visual field where the beauty, health, and freshness of youth remain a strong currency, she admits to having had that certainty that she will always be fit and fabulous. “In my 20s, my lifestyle was appalling: junk food almost every day. My body could burn all the carbs in the world, I was lazy, I ate whatever nasty food was in front of me because I didn’t want to think for myself,” she recalls. “And heck, all those chemicals and flavoring tasted awesome. Never mind the migraine after. I didn’t care enough to exercise either; only when I remembered to, not regularly like what the body really needs.”

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Model-turned-photographer Sara Black shifted to a healthier lifestyle after discovering an unknown mass growing in her breast.

A strong nudge from life, though, made Black realize how shaky that belief is, how flimsy the illusion of being physically “invincible” is. Both sides of her family have a history of kidney problems, and her mother had to have a kidney transplant just a few years ago. “That helped generate more desire in me to be healthy,” Black says. It was just a preview, however, of a bigger health scare: a year after her mother’s operation, a general check-up revealed an unknown mass growing in Black’s breast. As her uncertainty about the nature of the tumor became too much to be prolonged, she took her doctor’s advice to have an excision biopsy. The mass turned out to be benign, but its presence was enough to start the wave of change that Black took to be more in touch with her health. “When you’re faced with the cancer question in your 30s, it’s difficult not to sit up and pay attention,” she reflects. “It’s always difficult to change your lifestyle, but the bottom line is you just have to suck it up and do it.”

And that is exactly what she did: getting to know her body, what makes it tick, what makes it feel good, and what makes her feel more centered in it. It’s been years since she made the decision to undergo a 180-degree lifestyle change, and though far from the proselytizing type, Black is now an advocate of a healthier way of living; her fresh visage and trim physique are obvious proofs of its physical benefits. More than maintaining a youthful appearance, though, is the deeper kind of growing up that such a commitment has instilled in her. “That is so empowering, to take charge of your state of wellness.”

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”I try to rotate my veggies, something different every day, so the body gets a different treat,” says Black. Her main sources of protein are organic eggs and chicken.

What kind of diet do you observe, and how strictly do you follow it?
I don’t adhere strictly to a particular “diet” but take bits and pieces of wisdom from a variety of schools of thought in terms of eating. Over a span of time, I’ve tried and tested what works for me or what feels the best for my body. I find there’s no one-size-fits-all way to eat, but we really need to listen very attentively to how our bodies feel after we’ve had a meal and use that as a basis to tell if we should be repeating that food or not. There is also always new data and new fads for eating healthy, so I try to stay abreast or keep my eyes open for new ideas then try them out for myself. It’s a continuous learning process.

For now, I loosely follow a diet that’s gluten-free and low in sodium. I did a food intolerance test two years ago at Life Science, which determined that I’m gluten intolerant, and the minute I cut that out from my diet, I lost 20 pounds of fat. I’m happy to report I’ve now gained 15 pounds of muscle and am at a much healthier weight. [As for the low sodium part] we have kidney disorders on both sides of the family so I try to limit my salt intake and religiously drink two to four liters of water a day. It’s super hassle because [then] I have to keep peeing. And I have to bring a glass pitcher with me to work—I don’t like drinking bottled water since the bottles may be contaminated with Bisphenol A (chemical present in plastic). I also try to stay away from processed carbs, so brown rice, sweet potatoes, and bananas are my go-to carbs.

“Let’s create the demand for healthy food so it can be profitable for businesses to invest! We will all benefit from that in the long run.”

I’m a blood type O, and I feel that I need to eat meat or protein. My main protein sources are organic eggs and chicken, sometimes organic free-range beef and lamb. I don’t eat much fish because of mercury poisoning, plus a lot of farmed fish have been treated with antibiotics or chemicals.

Almost every morning, I do a green juice—it’s not pretty. I’m not really particular about the taste; I just want to get a variety of veggies in there so that I am getting some of my RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) at a potent dose. This morning, I had broccoli, cilantro, romaine lettuce, lemon, ginger, and watermelon. It didn’t taste so bad, actually. I try to rotate my veggies, something different every day, so the body gets a different treat.

But like I’ve said, I loosely follow these guidelines. When I dine out with friends, I can eat in most places; I just try to make the smartest choices, or dissect the food and not eat the bits I don’t approve of. If I misbehave, I just try to do better in the next meal. There will always be cheat days—thank God for that—and I just try to balance the next day with green juice to detox. Lucky for me, too, that there’s a Juju Eats a few doors down from my studio, so I can have a hearty, filling salad when I’m at work.

What about your fitness regimen?
I rotate between CrossFit (at CrossFit Fort Box) and running two to four times a week, so that takes care of my strength, stamina, and endurance. Then usually, on Sundays, I do yoga at Yoga Plus and Urban Ashram, both also at The Fort—that’s my meditation for the week. I find it a good way to release all the stress so I’d be fresh for Monday. I think it’s also important to have a more holistic approach to wellness, and I find that yoga has helped me develop more awareness between my body and spirit. I’m still learning, though!

I’m also very fortunate that I have an awesome view of the Makati Golf Club course from my window, so all I need to do is open my window when I want to meditate with the green as my view. It’s so relaxing.

How long have you been practicing this lifestyle?
I decided to make an abrupt change around September of 2013, but a couple of years leading up to this, I was already beginning to gain more awareness on health, thanks to my good friend, makeup artist Chechel Joson. She’s a beauty, fitness, and wellness guru, I swear! I have a lot to thank her for because she was really so patient—and still is so very patient—in sharing all that she knows and has tried for herself.

Especially when you were making lifestyle changes, whom or where did you look to for proper guidance and encouragement?
Aside from Chechel, most of my information is from research I’ve done online. You just have to be diligent with reading. I subscribe to this natural health newsletter from Mercola, so daily, I have a feed of interesting and current health articles without having to lift a finger. On other things I’m curious or need clarity about, there’s always Google. It is challenging to sift through all the information out there, but it needs to be done. I’m also a little wary of traditional Western medicine. It can help in certain situations, but a big portion of it is run by generating a profit—not necessarily what is good for the patient. So I do get different opinions from doctors, but I don’t treat what they say as gospel anymore.

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While research played an important part in Black’s lifestyle shift, she also listens to the rhythm of her body.

What was your game plan in making these changes not just one-off endeavors but rather a sustainable and lifetime practice?
I found that I just have to develop consistency. Even if I don’t feel like doing something, let’s say making my green juice in the morning or working out in the afternoon, I just do it, and commit to it on a daily basis. Develop character. All of that really comes from that epiphany I had that now is the time to have reverence for my body. My body is a gift, and the best way to show my gratitude for that gift is to nourish it and develop it into the best it can be.

Has Manila become better at helping people be more conscientious of their health and well-being?
There isn’t any go-to super store here yet, like Whole Foods where you can get all your loot, so to buy all the stuff I need, I source from the DGM Organic at Market! Market! for my organic veggies and eggs; the Echo Store for beauty products, household cleaning, and some groceries; Healthy Options for beauty products, supplements, and also grocery items; thehealthygrocery.com for supplements and superfoods; Nicolo Aberasturi’s Down to Earth for grass-fed meat, bacon, and butter; and Rustan’s for some organic produce and Pamora free-range chicken.

[Sourcing for good and healthy food] is kind of time-consuming but I’ve gotten used to it already. But I think it’s becoming easier and easier, with more and more people desiring it. Let’s create the demand for healthy food so it can be profitable for businesses to invest! We will all benefit from that in the long run.

“My body is a gift, and the best way to show my gratitude for that gift is to nourish it and develop it into the best it can be.”

What changes, from physical to mental and emotional, do you credit to your healthy lifestyle?
It’s been a great journey so far in the year and a half of changing my lifestyle, and it’s difficult to dissect which changes are caused solely by being more attuned to my health. It’s really been a collaboration of trying to grow my body in sync with my mind, emotions, and spirit. But generally, I would say I’m a happier, more centered human being. That is something that I need to work on or grow with for the rest of my life though, so in many ways, I am just getting started!

Have you been able to inspire friends and colleagues about the benefits of making that conscious effort?
I really try to inspire other people to have respect for their bodies, though more through example and not lecturing [laughs]! I have three chat groups with assorted friends and family where I share what my health or fitness activity is for that day. So for instance, this morning, I sent a photo of what veggies went in my juice. Sometimes, they probably get annoyed at my feed [laughs]! But other times, they tell me to keep going, to keep inspiring them. We share what our workouts have been for the day, what food we’ve cheated with, even music, poetry, and inspirational quotes that are uplifting. And that all feels lovely.

This story was originally published in Southern Living, February 2015.

TAGS: CrossFit diet exercise fitness health nolisoliph Sara Black yoga