My Body Is a Self-Cleaning Organism: Natural Body-Cleansing Tips E-mail
Tuesday, 01 April 2014 00:00  |  Written by Tonya Kay | Blog Entry

Armpit Smelling photo by Jekert GwapoDreadlocks taught me everything I need to know about natural hygiene. What started out as a hairstyle seven years ago, quickly turned into a lifestyle. My dreadlocks were a golden ticket into new communities—Mendicino hippies, East Village funkier-than-thous and South Caribbean Rastas all welcomed me with winks and open arms. Not because I looked so overwhelmingly cool, but because of the silent understanding that I had transcended social standards, questioned unspoken authority and stopped washing my hair.

To keep my white-girl, straight-hair naughty knotting, I don't wash or brush it. Heck, I rarely even get it wet.  When I reveal this secret to the hoards of admiring strangers that approach me everyday, their faces change from compliment to concern—as if I had gone Goddess to Gollum in one sentence. But I explain to them, like I will to you now: my body is a self-cleaning organism.

Natural Personal Hygiene
As long as I sweat via exercise every day, my scalp stays clean as can be. As long as I eat raw, animal-free foods, I experience little "build-up." As long as I do what is natural (exercise and eat living foods), I allow my body to do what is natural (keeping itself clean inside and out). Crows don't use shampoo. Snakes don't use toothpaste. What got us humans thinking we are so dirty anyway? And how does this obsession with sterility affect the way we clean our bodies in private?

The stateside obsession with sterility seems based in a fear of nature. Perhaps it began with Ireland's Great Famine of 1845, when potato disease (and other political/economic factors) caused starvation, illness and emigration so severe that 25% of the population was lost. Whatever it was that initiated our fear of nature, it is time to consider if today, in the United States, in our bathrooms this afternoon, there is any continued need for this fear. Perhaps it is time to let down our guard against nature and put it up against the toxins we are using to kill nature off.

If I address the root of dirt and disease, rather than its symptoms, I am on my way to a naturally hygienic, chemical-free life. If I don't drink coffee, maybe I don't need to bleach my teeth. If I get plenty of rest, maybe I don't need eye drops. If I exercise everyday, maybe I don't need deodorant. If I stay clean on the inside, maybe most of this obsession with sterility dissolves right away—and saves our thyroids toxic overload, our groundwater chemical run-off, our landfills empty plastic containers, and our pocketbooks money on useless, habitual, hazardous medicine-cabinet items.

Diet and exercise are first in progressing toward a naturally hygienic lifestyle, and trust in water is next. Water is the most powerful cleaning agent available on Earth—we dilute our insides with it, we run our cars through it, we submerge our clothing in it—anything we wish to see clean is subjected to water in one way or another. So now is the time to trust that our water is doing what it does naturally. Water cleans everything really well, almost immediately.

Healthy Hair Care
When I finally do wash my hair (about every eight weeks), I use water and massage my scalp for a good 10 minutes before pouring a cup of apple cider vinegar diluted in a quart of water onto my scalp to strip residual oils. I rinse, soak and massage under water for five minutes more before pouring a cup of sea salt dissolved in a quart of water on my hair to alkalize, sterilize and tighten my dreadlocks. I do not rinse the saltwater out. Washing my hair is really as simple as that.

If I wish for my hair to be shinier when it has dried, I comb through coconut oil for a gorgeous shine. Aloe vera is the model for all subsequent hair gels and I use it to keep flyaways down under studio lights. Sometimes, also on the film set (because why would I care if I weren't on camera), I use shea butter as a kind of putty to stick the ends of my bangs together. Occasionally, I use beeswax to hold my lock-ends together. I'm sure there are many more ways to clean and style one's hair without collections of chemical products accumulating on one’s shower shelf. And consider: if you end up not liking a whole-food product that you gave a shot, you can always eat it.

Eco Bath and Body Works
I avoid soaps and cleansers on my skin by beginning every day with a skin brushing—the friction naturally removes dead skin cells and dirt. For skin health, sweating via exercise is vital. I think of it like rain on a city street; the first 15 minutes makes everything slippery and dirtier, but after that, it begins to wash away and leaves the streets cleaner than before. Sweat is the same way. Four times a year I scrub my entire body with equal parts salt and melted coconut oil before lathering it off. And about six times a year I use a bentonite clay mask to bring fresh blood flow to the surface and clean pours.

If we work in a shop or choose to wear cosmetics, just a little coconut oil will remove eye makeup, and for mechanic or gardener hands, mix that coconut oil with an abrasive-like fine salt, oat bran, barley meal and fresh lemon juice to replace that creepy, Fast Orange stuff. A gentle, moisturizing and exfoliating non-soap for the bath is a large cotton teabag filled with oats. Let it steep into your bath water and then scrub yourself with the bag before composting the contents.  I have a local, sustainably wild-crafted, four-ingredient vegetable bar soap (no plastic container) from Juniper Ridge if any oils are left to be removed.

Fresh Teeth and Breath
Ideally, I would be eating exclusively fruit and greens and my teeth would be self-cleaning as well—my diet is great, though not perfect! So I still use a brush. I have found that learning proper brushing and flossing technique is all that I personally need for tooth and gum care. I have tried abrasives like baking soda in the short term and Tom's of Maine natural toothpaste in the long term, but honestly, nothing removes the very little tartar I experience better than patient, proper brushing and strawberries. Yes, you can just eat strawberries. They clean tartar off your teeth. Well.

My breath doesn't smell, ever. I am sure if it did—and I had already quit drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes and eating animal products—I could whip up a clove, spearmint, frankincense essential-oil mouthwash that would feel good and keep things kissing fresh. Instead of chewing gum, chomp parsley after meals as a natural breath freshener. It is no coincidence that parsley comes on the side of many dining entrees.

Anti Antiperspirants
Finally, we all know antiperspirants and conventional deodorants contain ingredients detrimental to one's health. After all, natural hygiene would tell us that sweat is a natural cleansing process, so any product that keeps our body from cleansing itself through sweating is bound to generate health havoc. To avoid aluminum, talc, propylene glycol and other potential carcinogens being applied directly to some of the most integral glands in my body, I start by eating a raw vegan diet that does not create bad smells. Then I sweat via exercise daily to keep what smells I do have moving outward. And if I want extra protection, on my way out of the bath I rub a chunk of wetted Himalayan salt over my underarm skin. Then when that is dry, I smooth a light covering of coconut oil over, too.

To tell you the truth, I find a lot of information in smell. And if I smell the healthy, clean pheromones of a fellow human, I find it exciting. Sometimes I wink and welcome them over with open arms. Because I know of them, like the Rastas knew of me, that they have questioned authority, transcended social standards and redefined their perception of themselves from an unclean human with smells and colors and problems to suppress, into a human being. It’s great just being human—no artificial anything required.

Additional resources:
Natural Home Hygiene: Cleaning Your House Without Harming the Earth
Greening Your Bathroom for Your Health and the Earth’s
Eco Laundry: Low-Energy and Natural Washing, Drying, Dry Cleaning and Moth-Prevention Tips
Natural Garden Pest Control
Eco Pets: Ecologically Responsible ‘Fur-Child’ Ownership
Build a Solar Food Dehydrator—Easy, Detailed Plans
Clearing the Air: Best Plants for Improving Indoor Air Quality
Tea Tree Oil: A Natural Home Disinfectant

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Comments (32)add
Written by Luke , September 20, 2014
Wow, Impressive.the skin brush, I assume its just a regular brush. I wish more people new about your smarter ways to maintain hygiene.
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Written by Lauren Bond , July 09, 2014
Brilliant article covered most of the points.

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Written by Tonya Kay , October 05, 2012
Hi, Sarah! Thank you for taking care of your children through example. It's wonderful to hear you are doing that.

Regarding Blah, it was Blah's insult that got me, not the disagreement. I'm cool with opposing opinions and even being wrong. I'm not cool with opening a comment with a subjective statement intended to hurt. Saying I "obviously don't know anything about how the body works" is not a very welcoming way to start a genuine conversation. I expect that on other forums, but EcoHearth is about sharing information and being open minded. Disagreements are okay. Insults are not.

You haven't tried to insult me and I'm down to continue our conversation! That being said, I agree with you (and Blah) about 80% on the sweat thing. One does indeed sweat out electrolytes and minerals, among a hoard of other things that one's body is cleansing. Next to respiration, sweat is the body's main mode of detoxification. Everything floating around in the lymph, blood, fluids - it's all diluted and brought to the surface for removal through sweat. Things you breathe and eat come out in sweat. Garlic makes that readily obvious.

I'm not sure how many decades you have been raw vegan or how many hours you sweat heavily/day, but this is where I do actually have a lot of experience. Using the garlic example, even a non-exercising Standard American Dieter will notice that garlic is present in one's sweat for about two days or so after the laden meal. Sweat, respirating and excreting does it's job in a few days and processes and removes the garlic (I'm oversimplifying by using garlic as an example because most people have probably smelled garlic in their sweat and can relate - it's not subtle!). Now that garlic can take generally two days to be removed, but if you metabolism is faster or it might be one. When you speed up your metabolism as well as your detox process through exercise, it is quite literal that you could sweat that garlic out in a much shorter time. If the work out is very intense and sweat-inducing (and you are in a high state of internal cleanliness to begin with) you can indeed sweat your meal out in one 1 1/2 hot yoga class.

I'm not saying that you don't sweat out minerals, salts, vitamins, environmental toxins and other foods when you sweat. I am however saying that when one keeps their diet exceptionally clean (for decades), and one sweats for over an hour and a half/day consistently for years (I sweat 5 pounds off per class), that the process of detox, which respiration and sweat facilitates, is sped up such that the minerals, salts, garlics - whatever - are sweat out literally in the first 1/2 hour and after that, the body reaches deeper in for fluids in which these toxins are either so greatly diluted or already gone that yes, when I lick my leg after an hour, there is no more salty taste and no more smell, either.

Is it "pure water"? Of course not. But I'm an artist and that's a linguistic flourish. Is it thick with salt, smell and junk anymore? Nope. Clean. I sweat myself clean (linguistic flourish).

Now I'm not talking about taking-a-walk type sweat here. Sure, that speeds things up, too. But not on the level that I'm speaking from. And that's all I am doing is speaking from my experiences.

And I agree with you entirely about the "obsession with sterility" examples you posted in your comments. Yes, no animal uses additional cleansers, chemicals or bleaches besides humans. Like you wrote, they all use their body's natural detoxification processes (spit, sweat, respiration, raw diet) to stay clean inside and out and never a concern to sterility have they. Clean vs. sterile. That's an interesting POV.

Thanks for conversing, Sarah.
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Written by Sarah , October 05, 2012
Wow you were really defensive with Blah. Blah makes a valid point and he wasn't insulting, you chose to take it that way, I assume, because he contradicted you.

There are two types of sweat glands neither of which excrete pure water. Google sweat gland or sudoriferous gland and you can find out what sweat is and does. Granted, sweat on your lip or brow is not going to stink like pit or pubic sweat. This is because of the location and type of sweat. Next time you sweat "pure water" taste it. That being said, I think it's great that you want to live your life as naturally as possible.

To address our "obsession with sterility." Birds preen (brush their feathers), snakes don't use their teeth to chew (break down food), most hairy critters "wash" themselves in some way, whether with water or saliva or brushing against trees/bushes. We all have this innate desire to be clean and tidy because it is a sign of good health and well being. Seriously sick animals can't/don't groom themselves. Being unclean is a sign of imminent death. Death stinks, I should know, I smelled it on my kitten on Sunday and so did my older cat who hissed at him every time he walked past. He was dead the next day. The reason most people don't like smelly things is because it's nature's way of telling us to stay away. Bacteria causes most bad breath - again a sign of poor health. Bacteria causes bodily crevices to smell "ripe." Some bacteria causes sickness, therefore we must rid ourselves of all bacteria. It's a defense mechanism nothing more.

I too dry brush, which is a fantastic remedy to remove dead skin cells. I make my own sugar scrubs and oil blends for health. I eat like crap but that is more of a "I have three kids age 5 and under thing." I drink water like it's cool and have my kids do the same. I am looking for alternative ways to clean everything in our home. I haven't bought a all-purpose cleanser in years and use baking soda, alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, vinegar, essential oils and water to do most of my cleaning. We all do what we can how we can if we care. It would be nice if we would stop letting big business tell us what we need and just look to the past sometimes instead of the future, next big, or more convenient thing.
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Written by Tonya Kay , October 01, 2012
Hey, Rosa! Coconut oil is the lavender oil of the raw plant world! Not only is it the ONLY oil that does not change it's fatty acid structure in heat (ie: turn into a carcinogen with cooking), but it also makes a supremely symbiotic skin moisturizer, one drop removes eye make up beautifully, I upkeep my car's door seals with it to keep them from cracking in summer/winter and I hear it makes an all natural lubrication if spit doesn't do you right:-) I've been known to use it on my face, but I change my face moisturizers up and rotate between pomegranate oil, sea buckthorn, rose hip and combinations of all. As for waxing for hair removal, I've actually never done it! I'm pretty sure they are using petro wax and not bees wax, though. And I figure putting hot petroleum byproducts on the most sensitive membranes of your body can't really be helpful to the healthy system. If you consider the environmental aspects of the manufacture and disposal of petroleum based products, then there's a whole other can of worms. I think plucking and shaving waste less and may have less impact on personal health, too. Good old human powered hygiene.
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Written by Rosa Carvalho , October 01, 2012
Hi Tonya, I didn't know you/heard of you (sorry :) now I have a better idea of who you are, I've googled you). I just identified myself immediately with the beginning of this article of yours:«Dreadlocks taught me everything I need to know about natural hygiene. What started out as a hairstyle seven years ago, quickly turned into a lifestyle» 'WORD!' I'm 31 years old, just did my new dreads for the 2nd time in my life ('bout 5 days ago, I've used my 1st ones for 'bout 5 years, still have some single braids, doing them in time :)) & I already feel more free and happy :) Also, I felt a natural urge for going more natural with my body you see (I already workout daily & try to eat my best but I'm still very far away from your best on eating :)) So I'm searching for more info and excited. I have 2 questions: do you use any body lotions ('cause I'm quitting). And what are your impressions on waxing/hair removal? Thanks and keep it up eco ;)
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Written by Tonya Kay , October 01, 2012
Hi - what was it? Blah? Did you write that your name is Blah? Oh! You're one of those people who like to start out their comments in a community with an insult. And insulting the author of the piece at that. Very classy. As you can see, we don't get many negative readers in here, but it's a pleasure to meet you. I won't waste much energy on your anonymous insults, Blah, but still wanted to respond that I partially agree; you are about 80% correct scientifically. Unfortunately, you are 100% incorrect artistically and so far off the mark socially, that I have a feeling many of your conversations online may be far more negative than this and that's not how I roll. I hope you enjoy some of the other amazing authors on EcoHearth. There is so much talent and diversity in the magazine - best wishes finding an author whom speaks to you.
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Written by Blah , September 30, 2012
This one line in the comments section tells me you don't know anything about how the body works "I sweat long enough just pure water is coming out!" That is impossible the body uses electrolytes mainly salt to add in the sweating process, without these the sweat ducts will not produce sweat at all.

Sweat will not clean off sweat. It will just add to it along with the body odor smell, the smell exists because of bacterial growth which feed on the elements in sweat, and no the salt content of ones sweat does not kill these.
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Written by Steve the Kaleidoscope Guy , May 01, 2012
“Better keep yourself clean and bright. You are the window through which you must see the world.”

George Bernard Shaw
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Written by Tonya Kay , October 11, 2010
Hahaha! I wash my body whenever it's dirty! I use a three-ingredient, wild harvested soap from Juniper Hills, I believe the company is called. Much integrity and simplicity. But sometimes - again, if I sweat long enough just pure water is coming out! - sometimes I don't need the soap. Seriously. Exercise and clean diet are key. And then a genuine connection and lack of judgement with one's body. Which is deepened through exercise and clean diet. Nice full circle.

Some other items I use in the bath are Dead Sea Soaps (again, simple, three-ingredient soap), sea salt, oatmeal bag, essential oils ... what turns me on and what is needed when I listen. But yes, I do skin brush every morning, eat a high raw vegan diet, drink oodles of water all day and exercise at least 5 times/week. I hope that helps.
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Written by Roslyn , October 10, 2010
How often to you wash your body, or do you just use the brush and get wet when you wash your hair? I'm trying to go natural.
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Written by Tonya Kay , September 22, 2010
No, dread locks are a hair style/lifestyle choice. If you have combed hair, then you can still use natural hygiene principals to clean your hair and body. Saying you don't understand dreads is like saying you don't understand curly hair or pony tails - you don't have to understand them, but millions of people choose them as a hair style. And regarding the "collection of pollution" in my dread locks - nope. No pollution. Only dreams, ideas and soul locked in. On a personal level, I wonder how obsessive hair washers feel without their dreams, ideas and soul in their hair - to me, I "don't understand" how it would feel to have empty hair :-)
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Written by Elizabeth , September 22, 2010
I believe about all of the body being self cleaning etc. but does that really justify not combing the hair? Seriously, does one have to have dreadlocks in order to be natural and self cleaning? besides, dont dreadlocks create a catacomb effect that allows skin cells and pollution to collect inside it? All this talk of being uber natural clean and I really just dont understand the dreads.
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Written by jenniferonice , January 31, 2010
Brilliant! Your house and body cleanliness tips rock!
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Written by Tonya Kay , January 05, 2010
Not sure what kind of hair you are removing, but manual removal works well for me - razors and tweezers are no problem. Of course, replacing just the blade part of a razor (instead of the entire handle as in the "disposable" kind) is far less waste than throwing the entire thing out. And I have many sexy friends who choose to not remove body hair at all - that's not me, in the entertainment industry though. I can't really say how I'd go about it if I worked a non-visual art job, though?
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Written by mooorag , January 04, 2010
hayy terrific tonya!! :)
thanks again for a mega inspiring article....i'm definetely going to try out a few of the things you've suggested. and, maybe one day I will finally pluck up the courage to go shampoo free, it's just that i've heard your hair goes through a kind of detox (looking awful in the process) while getting rid of the years od shampooing..
anyways, just a little query from a fellow girly... Do you have any suggestions for environmental forms of hair removal? :)
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Written by Tonya Kay , November 10, 2009
That's inspiring, Stacy! Way to go - and me, too: sometimes I don't feel like sharing my "amazing locks" secret and subsequently explaining why we don't need to wash our hair as often as people think. Sometimes I just feel like saying "thank you", too.
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Written by Stacy , November 10, 2009
Thank you for this post!!! I just quit washing my hair on a regular basis about 6 months ago... I have naturally curly hair that I've always hated for being too this or that... now I love how my hair looks (don't mean to be vain, here) and people are always complimenting me on it... after telling a chosen few that my secret was that I quit washing it and seeing their horrified faces, I've learned to just smile and say "thanks". =) I'm back to raw foods after a time away from it... I'm sure I'll get to go longer and longer without washing...

Thanks again for the great post!

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Written by Tonya Kay , October 22, 2009
I just remember what my actual target for cleaning is: the area just below the gum line. And I remember that that area is SUPER sensitive (it's almost an internal organ, you know?). Once you get the feel for it, though, it really feels good and is nothing like scrubbing across the top of your teeth, though a gentle circular on the chewing surfaces is good too. Don't forget to eat your strawberries!
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Written by Michal Kreslík , October 22, 2009
You´re so kind Tonya! This is SO helpful for me! I´m a (pretty simple) raw foodist, so that kind of sugars hopefully is not an issue, but many tips you´ve just shared about techniques are awesome, as usual! :) Thank you for sharing, I go to make some experiments based on your suggestions...

Much love and all the best your way
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Written by Tonya Kay , October 21, 2009
Ah, MIchael, thanks for letting me know how you like to follow these EcoHearth articles! And I just did a search for the WONDERFUL book I read so many years ago about natural dental care and I can not remember what that title was! But let me brake it down real simple like: first of all, eat clean foods, rinse with water. Then, floss carefully between the gums and the teeth with small back and forth motions - I mean, small - and do it every day. Brushing is kind of thinking about it: it's not difficult to get the bacteria (which live abundantly in one's mouth) off the teeth, but when they get into that inbetween space just under the gum's surface, and you have sugars stuck in there feeding them, that creates a problem. So proper brushing is basically targeting the millimeters of space just below the gum line. First off, you know how sensitive gums are? Literally hold your EXTRA SOFT tooth brush with two fingers. It shold wobble between your fingers. Then place the tooth brush at a 45 degree angle at the gum line. Sit in that space on that tooth for for a count of 5, moving the tooth brush back and forth only minutely (no scrubbing or circles or big motions - the gums and what's underneath really do only need microscopic movements). Do this for every tooth and ever angle of the tooth. It will take longer than scrubbing and spitting, but honestly, after about 5 minutes of brushing, there is no tartar or plaque anymore. You can feel it. No abrasives needed. Also brush your tongue, where many bacteria hang out, too.

Now, if you wish to create a mouth rinse (which I don't), you can use clean water with a drop of close, tea tree, spearmint and your favorite essential oils.

The key is not eating sugars that stick or stay very long in one's mouth, power swishing water after every meal, flossing daily, conscious proper brushing technique with an EXTRA SOFT brush, and tongue brushing. There, I saved you a book in a few paragraphs. Ha.
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Written by Michal Kreslik , October 20, 2009
Hi Tonya, when I see you on Twitter posting link to EcoHearth, it´s always a bliss full of positive expectation :) This post is awesome as usual...

I have question about brushing teeth. Do you have any source of information or your own advice what the "proper" way is? :)

All the best and MUCH love,
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Written by Sheeple Benson , October 20, 2009
Thanks for hearing me. I'm sorry for calling you stinky.
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Written by Tonya Kay , October 19, 2009
Thanks. I hear you on consumerism. It's too bad that some have to wait for the packaging to tell them if it's assisting their body and their lives. But then again, if that's what it takes, thank goodness for the labels. I hear you.
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Written by Sheeple Benson , October 19, 2009
"things detrimental to your health" in moderation- yes, your right. I like that, it just seems as if anything and everything one does these days is now labeled polluted, and "organic" and "go green" is being used as a marketing scheme, for profit, to sell things. But, all my bitterness aside, I thoroughly admire your discipline.
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Written by Tonya Kay , October 18, 2009
I prefer to think of it as smelly. I don't stink. But I smell - So many wonderful scents all around me! Hehehe. Thanks for all your comments, really. It feels like a conversation.

On the topic of moderation, though ... I was talking with friends a year or so back and I heard us get to the consideration that "everything" in moderation isn't all that accurate. The things that encourage your happiness and health, you can do all you want. Maybe the saying should say, "things detrimental to your health" in moderation. Just a consideration!
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Written by Sheeple Benson , October 18, 2009
Everything in moderation, stinky.
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Written by Kate Mura , October 16, 2009
I'm feeling the need to get in a good sweat!
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Written by Tonya Kay , October 15, 2009
Now that's fun.
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Written by Zoe , October 14, 2009
I love it, you always have so many great tips! It's an absolute wealth of information, and you're making me really regret my laziness earlier today when I didn't get my cardio in. I'll do a little shimmying before bedtime to make up for it ;)
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Written by ts , October 14, 2009
so much great advice. thank you!
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Written by Jessica Dallas , October 14, 2009
Rock on, mama. Love it. Oftentimes, I find myself at my most delicious after a 2 week stint in the Boundary Waters-- no soap, no toothpaste --- else the bears devour you :)
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