Fernanda Niven on Sunscreen, Wellness, and So Much Tea

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Photo: Hannah M Thomson

Next up in our Wellness series is Fernanda Niven, creative director of Parasol, a sun-protective resortwear brand. Niven was a lead investor and business strategist for Organic Avenue, an experience that she's said changed her outlook on food. She is a contributing editor to Town & Country and Manhattan magazines, and she sits on the board of Edible Schoolyard NYC. Niven spoke to the Cut about meditating, sun protection, and never skipping birthday cake.

How I start my mornings: I wake up and I do TM [transcendental meditation]. I meditate sort of the minute I open my eyes. I got really into it as of January. I made it my New Year’s resolution to incorporate it in my life and I have to say it’s really changed things, it’s good, it’s really good.

My breakfast of choice: I have a protein shake every morning from Dr. Morrison’s. He has a health-and-wellness center that I go to. It’s my favorite thing: It’s basically protein powder and I put strawberries and blueberries in it and some almond milk. And I drink a lot of tea during the day so I start with the tea at that point. It’s a lot, it’s up there. I drink a lot of ginger tea in the winter, and I drink cranberry tea because I think it tastes good, and I drink a calming tea. It’s not just green tea all day because I think I would be completely wired. I like the green tea because it tastes good, and I know it’s good for you, and it has antioxidants and other things that I like to incorporate in my diet.

On eating and "diets": Over the years, there’s all these different diets that I’ve tried, different approaches that I’ve tried, and really what I think I’ve done is boiled it all down into something that works for me. And what works for me is keeping sugar low, eating real food — and that means no processed food, I try to eat as much organic food as I can — and trying not to eat too much of it. But it’s mostly greens and vegetables with some lean protein. I definitely have a square or two of dark chocolate every day. That seems to be what works best for me and makes me feel good. But do I skip birthday cake? No. Every once in a while I have these things, and I think that’s the other part of it, it’s just not depriving myself of anything. And trying different foods and seeing what I like and what I don’t like and paying attention to how it makes me feel.

I have Lyme disease, and with Lyme you kind of have to adjust your diet, and that’s the other aspect of all of this. You eat certain things and you don’t feel well. You start getting good at reading your body signs and what makes you feel sick and what actually makes you feel good.

On sun protection: I have always been somebody who’s been out of the sun. When all my friends would lay out, I never thought that was fun or good. I just knew it was not something I should be doing for my skin. My mom was the person who led me in that direction. I was always somebody who had a hat and an umbrella and sunblock, and I would wear clothes on the beach, and that kind of thing.

I got really into paddleboarding one summer, and my two business partners had started Parasol and they’d given me a [UPF 50] shirt to try out. I thought it was the most brilliant thing ever. It just made everything so easy. I could swim, I could stay in the water longer. It changed my whole summer. It led me to believe that they were on to something and I wanted to be a part of it.

How I like to sweat: I’ve tried almost everything and I think the best sweat I’ve ever broken was doing AKT, which I loved. It’s cardio dance and it’s so much fun. At AKT they take care of you in a way that I think a lot of other people don’t. They really care about you and your body and how it’s working, and what works for you and what doesn’t. I’m a huge walker, and in the summertime I like being outside, so biking, swimming, paddleboarding, tennis, walks on the beach. Things that really involve nature.

To me, wellness is: Something to take care of. When I was younger I didn’t really understand how to do that. It’s something that’s been a part of my life that gives me joy. I think taking care of myself and getting sleep, and exercising, and doing the things that I love, and eating well — I love food and I love trying different foods — so that’s a part of the whole thing. In terms of my health, it’s something that I actively take care of and I feel good doing so.

How wellness has changed for me: I went to boarding school, and I remember getting on the train back to the city to see my parents, and I went to the food court and I got a sleeve of powdered doughnuts and a Coke and that was my breakfast. I think back to those days — and that’s fine every once in a while, I’m not saying people shouldn’t do that — but I would never do that now. Understanding how to take care of myself has been part of the journey.

My biggest wellness struggle is: I’m probably a little bit of a lazy bone in the exercise department. I’m active, but I think there are a lot of people who get after it in that way that I maybe don’t. I think it’s about striving for balance and having it all be a part of life rather than this constant struggle. Happiness and wellness all go into it. I think exercise is meant to be fun and life is meant to be fun, too. It’s not all supposed to be so regimented and strict.

This interview has been condensed and edited.