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Wellness Lessons: For Nadine Tengco, Eating Well is a Form of Self-Respect and Changing Your Life is Rooted in Trust

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“How my body feels affects how I feel about my life.”

Like many people, there is a big difference in what I did before the global pandemic, and 

what I do now in the advent of this COVID-19 crisis. 

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For many years, I was best known in the industry as the “diet guru to the stars.” I created magical solutions that helped our top celebrities get red carpet ready or look their absolute best in time for photoshoots and events. 

I created “got-to-look-great-fast fixes,” which were healthier alternatives to starvation diets that people often resort to when faced with “emergencies.” I innovated a combination of food and detox therapies to achieve dramatic results in just a few days without making them look tired or haggard. 

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Photo by Floyd Jhocson

I made sure that the most photographed men and women in the country lose several pounds and inches while achieving a head to toe sun-kissed glow. As a chef and lifestyle coach, I worked with corporations and brands in promoting their healthy lifestyle programs. I created affordable and easy-to-prepare healthy recipes for their consumers.

The COVID-19 situation changed our lives as we knew it. Collective fear, grief, anger, and sadness became as “contagious” as the virus itself. I think this COVID-19 crisis gave rise to another kind of pandemic…the “Stress Pandemic.” 

I noticed an epic rise in stress-related physical and mental conditions, which in so many people, also led to fat and weight gain! I had to make major changes in my programs by adding more value, at the same time reducing cost. 

Serving people’s needs

Unfortunately, wellness is still viewed by many as a luxury commodity. It is still seen as something only accessible to the wealthy. The challenge had always been in finding ways for wellness practices to reach lower-income communities and the masses.

As people incorporate wellness values into their lifestyle, they are becoming more integrative and holistic. Holistic wellness practices can better address chronic health issues and fill in the gaps left by conventional medicine and traditional healthcare. 

However, holistic therapies are not like synthetic drugs. It’s impossible to apply existing scientific methodologies to wellness interventions. The proof of their efficiency lies in an individual’s own experience, and commitment. Holistic therapies are gauged through observation in the progress of healing over time. In this regard, proving legitimacy could also be a challenge.

The biggest struggle right now is in how this pandemic affected the way businesses connect with their customers—gyms and other fitness centers, beauty and personal care clinics, and spa and massage establishments are either not allowed to open or are restricted by the limited number of clients they can serve due to new health regulations. 

The entire industry is retooling to stay afloat. The situation is still unfolding, but many establishments have already closed shop because of financial losses. The challenge is to find innovative yet profitable ways of serving the needs of our customers in “The New Normal.”

Best of myself

At this point in my life, I am my inspiration. I don’t think there is anything outside myself that inspires me to do my best. I have gone through so much in five decades and because I am still standing and thriving, I am still looking forward to the next greater version of the highest vision I have for myself. Nothing inspires me more than experiencing the best of myself.

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Photo by Floyd Jhocson

Eating well, for me, is a form of self-respect. Respecting myself means I don’t eat food that looks sad, tastes bad, smells horrible, and is toxic to my body. 

Instead of a “don’t eat this, don’t eat that” obsession to avoid food that is bad for me, I cultivate an “eat more of this, eat more of that” habit for including food that is beneficial for me. 

I make it a mission to know the kinds of food that can give me my “best-feeling body” because I always want to feel my best—strong, vibrant, energetic, beautiful, and sexy. There might be nothing in life that I find more important than a body that feels good. 

My relationships, career, creative expressions, explorations, and adventures—every single moment of my experience of life are filtered through my body. I love, laugh, and cry, through my body. How my body feels affects how I feel about my life. I have a healthy relationship with food because I have a healthy relationship with my body.

Transformative power

When it comes to people changing their lifestyles, I ask them to inspire themselves by shaping a vision of their best selves based on their standards, and not society’s. I then ask them to define their Whys. 

Life coach Tony Robbins said, “Change is not a matter of ability, but a matter of psychology.” This is true for me as well as my clients. Often, success or failure is largely determined by their whys. I encourage people to find their own emotionally compelling reasons for transformation. 

In my experience, the threat of future disease is not powerful enough to drive people to change the way they eat, exercise, or manage stress. Foreseeable pain is not an emotional reality, even if it is a logical certainty. 

People will only do something to avoid the pain they already experienced or are currently experiencing. This is why people who are sick act on lifestyle changes. But people who are not yet ill even if they are on a reckless path of unhealthy living will require a lot of forceful will to make even the smallest of changes. 

While some people demonize vanity as a primary reason for making lifestyle changes, I tend to agree with Winston Churchill when he called vanity “that vice that promotes so many virtues.” It is not always about conceit or an unhealthy obsession with physical beauty. 

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Photo by Floyd Jhocson

Vanity is a powerful motivator because it can also be about the joy of looking good. Looking good leads to feeling good. Feeling good leads to self-care. A lifestyle change motivated by vanity, if accomplished through healthy rituals, will also deliver health.

People need to know and believe that change is not just for others. Many of them don’t even try because they have been conditioned by past failures. It’s not that they don’t want to change. 

Often, they are stuck in a rut and they don’t know how to crawl out of their familiar hell. They live with pain, discomfort, and a fraction of the people they can be because they don’t believe in themselves enough. 

When this is the case, I find it easier to make people believe first in me than in themselves. At this point in my career, I am fortunate enough for people to believe that I am in charge. I tell them, “I’ve got your back.” 

Starting with trust

Trust is very important. People must feel that I will work with them until we both find the light at the end of the tunnel. Many of my clients found success because they believed in me first. After their initial success, they start feeling good about themselves and are finally primed to believe in themselves. Truth be told, it’s 80 percent mind and only 20 percent mechanics.

It’s also important that I show them how a major overhaul in their lifestyle can still look so “cool.” While it’s not easy, they should not treat it as a religion. I even tell them not to act like zealots because it’s just so “uncool!” 

I want them to be flexible and not rigid. Mindfulness is key. I give tips to navigate menus while eating out, so they know how to make better choices when they are away from home.

Now in my 50s, I am experiencing a new level of wholeness, coherence, and wisdom that I never had before. 

I’m not certain where this new sense of self will take me, but one thing is certain, all this “self-absorption” actually makes me more connected to others. 

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Photo by Floyd Jhocson

Cultivating self love and self- kindness, makes me more compassionate and willing to see others with less judgment and instead, more understanding and kindness.

Nadine Tengco’s complete thoughts on wellness is in the November 2020 issue of Lifestyle Asia.

As told to SARA SIGUION REYNA

Banner Photo by FLOYD JHOCSON

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