By Cassi Villanueva
5am. That’s when my day starts, Monday through Sunday, seven days a week. Sure I’ll sleep in occasionally, say if I’m sick or stupid enough to let myself drink too much the night before, but 99% of the time I’m up before the sun. I was raised by a mother who drilled the importance of productivity and routine so deep into my consciousness that when I tried the whole staying out all night and sleeping in gig in college, my body did not exactly cooperate. I’m sure my friends felt like they were witnessing some weird, Freudian neurosis going on. I was a mess. So with NPR blaring in the background, I hit the floor for my daily dose of 100 push-ups and crunches (yes, I still do those – old school, I know) and hit the pull-up bar on the way into the shower. Breakfast is a protein shake made via my breakfast companion, my Ninja, while perusing my calendar and social accounts, then it’s off to the corporate world for nine glorious hours of sales and trading with one of NYC’s most prestigious financial firms. Living the dream.
In all seriousness, I love what I do. I have a job that forces me to use my brain and be on top of things; plus, I have the added benefit of working with a team of awesome people. The morning usually slips by without a break long enough to even check the clock and before I know it, someone’s taking lunch orders. The stress of trying not to lose someone’s life savings quickly takes a back seat to the much more urgent matter of deciding what item on the menu sounds the best. Here’s where I let you in on a dirty, little secret. I love energy bars. I could seriously eat them for every meal. Cliff, Zone, you name it. No matter how “healthy” the manufacturers tout them to be, the truth is that these bars are processed and processed food is not ideal. My 2015 New Year’s resolution was to eat REAL food, at least 90% of the time. Sometimes it’s hard, but the great thing about NYC is that there’s no lack of places that make healthy eating easily obtainable. While I haven’t yet hopped on the Quinoa Milk bandwagon (my girlfriend swears it’s all the rage), I have successfully made fruit, veggies, whole grains and lean meats a part of my everyday diet. Thus when someone yells, “Taking orders for Zen Palate!”, I pull cash out of my wallet faster than a magician can conjure a rabbit from his hat. With a really diverse mixture of Eastern and Western ingredients, their vegetarian dishes are amazing. Everything is made fresh in-house, so you know you’re getting healthy, quality food. I typically order lunch two or three days a week and bring a packed lunch on the others. My go-to lunch from home is a big tupperware of salad with sliced, baked chicken. I can eat a ton and not feel full and gross afterwards. Definitely a plus when you work a fast-paced job like mine.
Since giving up coffee a few years ago, I’ve turned to juicing for energy. After work I usually make a quick stop at Juice Generation before hitting Central Park for a run or SoulCycle for a ride. A few of my friends are training for a triathlon this Fall and I’m toying with the idea. I haven’t jumped on board with the swim part yet, but running a 13 miler or biking 40-60 miles would be a cakewalk for me at this point. I love working out, not just for maintaining a good physique, but because it refreshes my mind and my soul. It’s like hitting a reset button after a long day at work. My mind is cleared from the humming and buzzing of the financial market and I’m able to detox from my earlier stressors. I once heard someone, quoting Buddha, say “To keep the body in good health is a duty … otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.” I truly believe that along with eating healthy and sticking to a good routine, exercise is imperative to maintaining a good body-mind connection.
Running is also a major part of my courtship, as my girlfriend and I meet one evening a week for a few laps around NYC’s gorgeous landmarks. It’s how I met her, after all. I met up with the Niketown Running Club one evening on a whim about a year ago and she was there. It was love at first run (for me at least), and other than her insisting to diffuse lavender nonstop when she’s over, we really seem to click. And yes, she’s the one that encouraged me to give up my Cliff bars – but hey, I’m glad I did!
Dinner is probably the biggest variable in my day-to-day routine. I try to cook at home most nights – usually chicken or fish with sauteed or steamed veggies, and because I have a sweet tooth, some kind of fruity dessert. I like potatoes too, maybe too much – but an athlete needs his carbs, right? On evenings after a particularly hard workout, I’ll grab take-out from Natureworks or Calista Superfood with some of my running and cycle buddies. They both offer healthy choices with lots of flavor and have become a pretty regular part of my routine.
I log out of my electronics by 9pm every evening. Part of the unwinding process for me is limiting screen time an hour before lights out. I’ll usually read, have good conversation with my girlfriend (a lost art these days!) or write a to-do list for the next day. Bedtime is 10pm sharp (unless it’s a Friday or Saturday night). The whole circadian rhythm thing, remember?
Weekends in NYC are the best. I hit the ground, literally running out of my apartment and through the streets of the city while it’s still sleeping. Sometimes I’ll buy a paper and stretch/cooldown in the park, but often I’m back at my place by 6am blending a smoothie and relaxing in front of the tube. Saturdays are usually spent hanging out with friends and running errands, but one Saturday a month a couple of guys and I make our way out to Breakneck Ridge for some awesomely breathtaking hiking. If you’ve got the itch to step out of the city and right smack-dab in the middle of nature, get out to the Hudson Valley. You will not be disappointed. Then, one of my favorite spots to go to on Saturday evenings is the Roof Garden at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. It’s a great way to catch up with friends and family while sipping martinis and enjoying a gorgeous view of the city.
Sundays are my rest/do whatever the hell I want days. While I’m not really a Church goer, once in a while I make my way to the Tibet center, as I find it’s nice to center myself and get back on track spiritually every so often. Sunday brunch is always, bar any illness, spent with my girlfriend at Olea. Brooklyn has a lot of amazing restaurants, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find anything as mouth watering as The Turkish Breakfast. Scrambled eggs, cilantro, tomato and red onion, falloush, eggplant salad, herbed yogurt and grilled pita bread. It is SO filling, but so worth it. It’s seriously my high point of each Sunday. After brunch we usually spend a couple of hours just walking around the city or sometimes over at Carl Schurz Park. The rest of the day is lazily spent either napping, catching up on our favorite shows, or reading.
“Take care of your body, it’s the only place you have to live in.” I saw that quote graffitied on the side of a bridge once. After snapping a picture and uploading it to Instagram, I quickly got over a hundred likes. I think people truly like the idea of being healthy, but sometimes they overthink it, scaring themselves into believing it’s too hard or just not possible for certain lifestyles. Personally, I believe that if ever there was a time in which it was easy to be healthy, it is now. Stop for a minute and take a look around. The city is full of life, beauty, the medicine of healthy food and even nature – it’s bursting at the seams with encouraging groups of athletes ready to welcome new members into their clubs and every kind of fitness studio you can imagine. It’s all right here, in the heart of NYC. All you have to do is get out there and embrace it.