Get Your Glow On

Dr. Stacie J. Stephenson shares tips with Purist founder Cristina Cuomo on how hydration, nutrition, exercise and breath work let your light shine bright.


A diet rich in immunity-supporting greens is key to a healthy glow. Photo: Nadine Primeau

CRISTINA CUOMO: We’ve talked about the power of green spaces, of ecotherapy, of being outside and what that means for health. But it’s equally important to focus on the glow that you can generate from within. You talk about this in your powerful book, Vibrant: A Groundbreaking Program to Get Energized, Own Your Own Health, and Glow.

STACIE J. STEPHENSON: Glow, from my perspective, is about cellular energy. Exercise, essential oils and hydration contribute to a higher and more efficient production of the energetic molecules of your body, which are produced by tiny cells called mitochondria. Muscle tissue houses a wealth of mitochondria within each cell of the muscle. You only make so much per day, but you can upregulate—in other words, increase your body’s “money” by feeding yourself appropriately and exercising. As you add more volume of muscle tissue with exercise, you’re going to naturally add more cellular energy. You gain currency in your body’s energy bank account with fitness and nutrition. It costs almost nothing but time, presence and intention. Energy is vibrancy. You have to move.

CC: The more you exercise, the better off you are. People often say you are what you eat, so talk a little bit about that, and how nutrition really determines how we feel.

SJS: Yes, it absolutely will. If we have enough power to move along our day with excitement, joy and gratitude, we’re going to have that glow-y, wonderful sense of ourselves and it’s going to show. I’m always fascinated, too, when someone goes through very intense circumstances and you think they would look terrible. But because sometimes they’re able to move through an experience with gratitude and intention and maybe it’s a very negative experience, they can end up looking very alive, alert and engaged. You are not going to have a wonderful glow if you are eating a lot of sugar and poor fats, if you’re forgetting about your greens.

CC: Can you talk a bit about herbs and spices, what they’re good for and why we should incorporate them into our foods?

SJS: Spices also have traditionally been used to preserve and protect food. I can’t say enough about turmeric, a potent anti-inflammatory that has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries, and its cousin, curcumin, the active anti-inflammatory worker part of turmeric. Turmeric tastes wonderful. You can add it to shakes. Let’s say you’re treating exercise recovery and you’re really training and you’ve got a sore back or ankles. Turmeric, that is to say, curcumin, is one way you could support your exercise recovery. You can also take it as a supplement. Most of us are battling a little something, whether it’s autoimmunity, allergy, seasonal, sinus; whether you’re in some level of recovery from any form of illness, turmeric is an incredible go-to.

CC: It’s amazing that they’re still discovering these benefits. So, what are carotenoids?

SJS: Carotenoids, the active ingredient in carrots, produce the orange color you also see in yams, and are utilized as vitamin A.

CC: Do pigments from carrots and yams protect you from the sun? Do they add color to your skin?

SJS: They can add color, and offer a good level of skin protection, but I don’t want to say that if you ingest vitamin A and carotenoids, ergo, you just created sunscreen. I don’t want to go there.

CC: Does the powder form of turmeric have the same beneficial properties?

SJS: If it’s a concentrated powder. If you want it as a powerhouse part of your shake, take a lot of curcumin, like 100 milligrams or so a day. We don’t think of it right away as anti-bacterial, but there’s some evidence that curcumin has a touch of that. I think it would calm the pores, and cleanse the skin.

CC: Collagen is an important element to create firmer skin. It supports joint health. It is the ingredient that we deplete over time. I remember when I started going to dermatologists in my 30s, collagen was like the holy grail, the fountain of youth.

SJS: Collagen is made by cells in your skin called fibroblasts. Any dermatologist will tell you they’re looking for ways to make your own collagen, because we don’t have clear evidence that you do anything when you ingest collagen except break it down. Collagen production begins to decrease a little with aging, but the truth that we’re learning is not so much that fibroblasts can’t make the collagen with aging—we’re finding that we’re not feeding the fibroblasts as well as we should because we’re not feeding the rest of the body. I don’t know how we can expect to not hydrate, to not eat well, to not support detoxification systems, to not manage hormone systems, to not manage stress, and then go to a dermatologist and say “Make me perfect.” It’s not going to happen. You really can’t drink too much water. You know the shorthand for hydration—drink half your body weight [in ounces] in water per day.

CC: Does drinking tea count?

SJS: Herbals I now count as water. The truth is, it’s really just plants and water in the tea. Add the flavor. I get bored with water. Add some fruit juice.

CC: Does flavored carbonated water satisfy the hydration?

SJS: I don’t love for people to rely on bubbles and carbonation as their hydration source. If that is your hydration selection, I say you need to work harder.

CC: How do you get the bloating down after drinking so much water? People who drink massive amounts of water at once will feel the weight of it in their bellies.

SJS: If you’re feeling that way, my suspicion is your gut is not moving, and that you really need to work on the microbiome and motility of the gut. You’re eating excess carbohydrates in some form. If water makes you feel weighted, expansive in some way, something else is going on. Something is retaining it, because water gets absorbed very quickly, moves into the bloodstream and through the kidneys. No, something else is going on, probably with the food that you’re consuming. Possibly inflammation.

CC: What is beauty breathing, and how does it help your glow?

SJS: It’s yoga breathing. You want to do a four, five and eight count: four in, then a hold of five and an exhale of eight. It’s a meditation. You can do it for five minutes. When you make that extra-concerted effort to do breath work, your brain really benefits, because we tend to breathe too high up in the chest. We tend to not get into the diaphragm. We tend to inhale at weird times and exhale at weird times. Remember that beauty breathing takes presence. It’s something that you could add to your meditation in the morning, to your yoga practice or just do anytime. When you have five minutes to yourself, do your breathing and it will change your outlook.

CC: Tell us about the triple oil treatment.

SJS: It’s just my fun way to remember how to get in essential oils. No. 1: You’ve got to eat EPA-DHA, the oil in cold-water fish. It’s the only essential oil that we cannot manufacture in our bodies from other healthful sources. EPA-DHA makes your skin look gorgeous. It’s highly anti-inflammatory, and wonderful for all the mucous membranes. You have to ingest it in its own whole form, which can be a pill, a liquid, it can be in food; I do all of the above. I don’t ever absolutely rely on food. You really want the insurance, you need to supplement your EPA-DHA. Think about fatty fish—salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines and anchovies. Extra-virgin olive oil, avocado oil and grape-seed oil are fabulous just to consume. Avocado oil is my favorite. Coconut oil is anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, antimicrobial, easy to use, great for skin care. Do your hydration, your coconut oil, take your EPA-DHA, your avocado oil. You’re going to get strong nails, wonderful hair and gorgeous skin.

CC: We can’t forget about the importance of positive relationships in our lives, and how they affect how we feel and how we look.

SJS: It’s indispensable. We’re social beings. I believe we can practically live on love. It makes us look better, and feel better. Giving is even better than receiving. I don’t think we can ever talk about a vibrant life without talking about relationships, love, connection and community.