Soledad O’Brien on Wellness and Early Mornings

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Photo: Desiree Navarro/Getty Images

Soledad O'Brien is an award-winning journalist who has won several Peabody Awards for her work as an anchor on CNN. She is also the executive producer and moderator of the National Geographic Bee and the CEO of Starfish Media Group. O'Brien is the producer and host of CoverGirl's new video series for the company's #GirlsCan program, which profiles women who are changing the world. She talked to the Cut about hummus, how she discovered she had thyroid disease, and why success is tied to taking care of your body.

How I start my morning: Since I left morning TV, my mornings are awesome. In the summer, I get up every morning around 5:30 or 6 a.m. and I go for a run or a walk for about four miles. Then I go horseback riding for about an hour, and drive into the city and start my day. To me, 5:30 is sleeping in! Two a.m. is what it’s like when you're on morning TV. It was really hard to get up then. I usually went to bed very late and at 2:30 a.m. would take a shower. I was in the office by three and would have two shots of espresso and a king-size Snickers bar.

How I sweat: I find running or walking, depending on how my knees are feeling, is great for clearing my head. I run with a BlackBerry so I can take notes. I was actually bragging to my boss, Dick Parsons, who used to run Time Warner, that I finally mastered being able to run with a BlackBerry. He’s like, That’s horrible! And I know it is, but I like to take notes. I like to think, make lists, and get my day going and organized.

I just started horseback riding. The only way to do it is to do it. You have to carve out time, so I started going every morning. But when I was on morning TV, I never was able to work out and do a morning TV gig. I just couldn’t do it. I was just tired all the time.

How my wellness journey has changed: I developed a thyroid disease. I used to put my head on the glass anchor desk because it was nice and cool. I would say, “I am so exhausted” and people would say, “Well, of course you are, you get up at two in the morning, you go to bed at ten at night.” Sometimes at home I'd take a nap and sleep for nine hours, and still be exhausted. That’s when my husband was like, "You need to go to the doctor."

I went to the doctor in 2012. At NYU Medical, they do a test for your thyroid, which tests an enzyme. The high number is 50, and mine was at 2,530. They immediately put me on medication. But it was actually great because I thought I was losing my mind. I was having a very hard time remembering things. I’d be talking to somebody and be like, "You know that fruit? The yellow one?" They would look at me like I was crazy and say, “You mean a banana?”

It’s a very simple treatment, you just have to take thyroid medicine. But you have to take care of yourself.  You can’t be successful and run your body into the ground. You cannot be reaching your goals and really abusing your body — and not necessarily through illicit drugs or something like that, but just through not taking care of yourself.

How I eat: In the morning, I usually have a Gala apple, which is my favorite kind. I just started eating a lot of almond butter, which is amazing, because if you’re going to go horseback riding you can’t eat too much. I have some kind of soup for lunch, like Amy’s Organics lentil-pea soup, tomato soup, something kind of heavy. I have a lot of hummus during the day. I love to have some kind of eggs or avocado toast.

For dinner, I like to do something very light because I don’t want to eat and roll into bed. I make really thoughtful choices all during the day. Sometimes, you snarf down ice cream or something, but I try not to make that a regular thing. I try to eat real food, not out of a bag, and eat healthy.

What wellness means to me: It’s about having it pulled together. It's about making it all work and not being overly crazy about what I’m eating or overly ambitious about how much I’m working out. It’s about feeling good about what I’m getting done and how I made it through the day. I feel the same way about beauty. I want to look like I’m pulled together and feel good about myself. It wasn’t a ton of work, but it wasn’t no work, and we made it happen.

My wellness advice: Whether you’re an anchor on a morning show or working a nine-to-five job, you have to get off the treadmill. Not eating well spirals into drinking five cups of coffee, overeating at lunch, knocking back a glass of wine when you get home, and skipping the gym. It starts with stress, cortisol, and being tired all the time.

I started to get a lot of sleep, and picking wellness up again. When you eat well, you’re much more likely to go to the gym. When you have gotten some sleep, you actually can get up and get some exercise. Maybe you won’t get an hour in like you said you would, but you might get 20 minutes. When you start making smart choices, it makes it easier to make other smart choices.

My wellness shortcut is: Getting off your own back. If you’re going to snarf down something because you’re starving, let it be a ton of hummus and finish the entire giant tub. At least it’s not the giant bag of brownies. Basically, you have to say, “The next day, we start again.” It’s the same advice I give my kids. I don’t want to be neurotic about it. It’s your life, it’s supposed to be mostly enjoyable.

This interview has been condensed and edited.