Life Extension Magazine®

Issue: Jun 2008

Mariel Hemingway: Healthy Living from the Inside Out

Battling a variety of issues since childhood, actress Mariel Hemingway looked thin for the cameras, but eventually developed serious health problems. In her new book, Mariel Hemingway describes how she rescued herself from a downward physical spiral while using a similar program to twice help save her husband from cancer.

Scientifically reviewed by: Dr. Gary Gonzalez, MD, on January 2021. Written By Kyle Roderick.

Mariel Hemingway Healthy Living from the Inside Out

Tall, svelte, and glowing, Mariel Hemingway moves in a dignified glide with the long strides of a heron. The Academy Award-nominated actress enters a sunny, Malibu, California café with a wide smile on her face. Hemingway is beaming with good reason: at 45, her health has never been better, as she’s conquered the mind and body problems that plagued her early years.

In her youth, Hemingway lived in fear of falling prey to what she calls “… the Hemingway legacy of mental illness, addiction, and eating and drinking to excess.” While Hemingway’s father was an alcoholic, her mother also had alcohol issues and battled cancer throughout Mariel’s youth.

Eating a no-fat, low-protein, and carbohydrate-rich diet that kept her looking thin for the cameras, Hemingway, by her own admission, also drank caffeine like a fiend and exercised obsessively. “I loved the energy I got from coffee and then I would jump rope for hours in my apartment after working out at the gym,” she recalls. “Because I didn’t drink alcohol or take drugs, I thought I was the healthiest, cleanest-living person in the world, until I got to the point where I had zero energy, my menstrual periods stopped, and tests revealed that in addition to low thyroid function, I was vitamin-deficient.” Hemingway had also developed recurrent sinus problems, severe eczema on her hands, and it seemed she was constantly fighting off yet another viral or bacterial infection.

The time was ripe for Hemingway to rediscover how it felt to be healthy and energetic.

The Road Back to Health

Hemingway found her way back to well-being with the help of holistic nutritionists, chiropractors, and other health care professionals. Along with changing her eating habits for the better and taking supplements, Hemingway also was guided in her journey by such books such as The Metabolic Typing Diet by William Wolcott, which helped her isolate her unique nutritional needs.

The Road Back to Health

“This protocol has been around since the 1950s and basically says that each body needs a different ratio of fats, proteins, and carbs for all its metabolic functions to work correctly,” Hemingway explains. “It puts the responsibility on the individual to determine how eating different proportions of these three food groups affects their physical, mental, and emotional functioning,” she explains. “I also learned valuable facts about the connection between insulin resistance, weight issues, and chronic illness by reading Ron Rosedale’s The Rosedale Diet,” she adds. “This book is a must for people who have weight problems or diabetes in their family history.”

While she was on the mend, Hemingway jotted down daily and seasonal notes of how she felt on the caffeine-free, nutrient-dense diet she was now consuming, complete with more fish, healthy fats, and nuts.

Hemingway’s menstrual periods returned, her mood swings disappeared and the quality of her sleep improved. “I noticed that my body felt tired and weak when I ate dairy products,” so I cut them out,” she recalls. “Yet when I ate lean red meat such as lamb in winter, it gave me the mental and physical energy boost that I needed to function optimally in colder weather.”

Mariel Hemingway’s Supplement Picks
Mariel Hemingway’s Supplement Picks

While she cooks organically and eats a diet high in flax seed, whey protein, almond meal, lean protein, and vegetables, Hemingway uses stevia as a sugar substitute and takes a variety of supplements on a daily basis.

For example, Hemingway takes a spectrum of digestive enzymes. “My husband and I take enzymes that have been found in certain studies to disarm harmful and abnormal immune complexes that precipitate autoimmune diseases,” she explains.

In addition to a full arsenal of antioxidant supplements and her beloved green tea, Hemingway is diligent about consuming multivitamins, multiminerals, and brain-specific nutrients such as ginkgo biloba and phosphatidylserine.

“I’m also big on anti-inflammatory supplements such as omega 3 fatty acids and a special mineral formula to maintain optimal bone density,” she says. “Bone health is very important to me now that I’m over 40.”

Although she’s careful to eat fruits, vegetables, and proteins that confer maximum immune benefits,” Hemingway says, “Regular doses of vitamins A, C, and E, cod liver oil, and shark liver oil help protect me from catching colds and viruses.”

Smart Supplementation

When it comes to nutritional supplements, Hemingway is a firm believer in trial and error. “Just as there is no magic diet for everyone, each individual has to experiment with the supplements that are right for them,” she says. “If an herb or vitamin formula works wonders for someone else, it may not be right for your body. As holistic health care professionals will tell you,” she continues, “Your supplement intake may vary according to the weather and the circumstances of your lifestyle. Your body requires different support when the seasons change or when you are under extra stress,” Hemingway adds, “Especially during winter-time.”

For example, “My husband [documentary film director and producer Stephen Crisman] takes different supplements from what I take because his body has different needs.” That’s an understatement. While Hemingway is too discreet to provide further details, Crisman triumphed over cancer not once but twice, enduring eight surgeries in the process.

Hemingway helped her husband heal by giving him immune-enhancing supplements such as vitamin C, shark liver oil, high-grade alpha-lipoic acid, milk thistle powder, multivitamin/multimineral formulas, as well as various enzymes.

“While there’s much persuasive evidence-based medical research on vitamin C and immune function,” Hemingway says, “I believe in the power of shark liver oil to positively affect immunity and blood cell counts. Besides containing alkylglycerols (AKGs), which stimulate immune function and protect against uncontrolled cell growth, there are also major antioxidants and antibacterial elements in shark liver oil.”

While Crisman ate a diet of organic foods that Hemingway cooked for him to help speed recovery, he also started meditating and practicing Mariel’s calming and rejuvenating breathing exercises (see sidebar).

“Most people who are into health take anti-oxidant supplements because they understand that pollution, stress, and aging create oxidative stress inside our bodies,” Hemingway says. “Simple breathing exercises can give our cells major benefits, while helping calm heart rate and blood pressure.” Even better, “Breathing exercises are totally free,” Hemingway says with a laugh.

The Importance of Connection

On a spiritual note, Hemingway observes that, “The greatest health supplement of all is love. Without it we are incomplete.” A committed family woman, Hemingway has two daughters with her husband of 23 years.

With the girls well on their way to adulthood, Hemingway’s take on marriage and family is endearingly devoted. “My husband is my greatest teacher, followed by my children,” she claims. “Being a wife to Stephen and mother to my daughters has brought me such a depth of love, vitality, and mystery. Living with them and our caring for each other has blessed my life beyond description.”

Mariel’s Book

Opening a copy of her newest book, Healthy Living From The Inside Out, Hemingway explains, “Part of the reason why I wrote this book was to share what I have learned about how to self-nurture and stay healthy while working, raising a family, and/or maintaining a network of friendships. Twenty-first century life is incredibly complicated,” she says. “My book helps people sort out their priorities and streamline their lifestyles so that they can feel better fast.”

Mariel’s Book

As it happens, the vibrantly illustrated guide is garnering great reviews and robust sales. After ordering a cup of organic green tea (her favorite hot beverage), she ventures a guess as to why Healthy Living is striking such responsive chords with the media and the public.

“Let’s face it,” Hemingway begins, “We all share similar health problems regardless of age, ethnic identity, or income level. While our issues come in different wrapping paper, we all yearn for everyday well-being, positive energy, and peace of mind.”

After all, she continues, “Every year, people in the US and industrialized nations spend hundreds of millions on supplements and out-of-pocket holistic treatments because they are determined to heal. At the same time, the bestseller lists often feature self-healing, diet, and mind/body books. People are increasingly proactive in seeking health information and solutions,” Hemingway maintains, “… Because they know there may be more effective and gentler remedies available to them than those provided by conventional medical care.”

Divided into sections titled “Food,” “Exercise,” “Silence,” and “Home,” Healthy Living From The Inside Out provides a user-friendly, individualized, and deeply detailed program for figuring out your nutritional, athletic, stress-management, and lifestyle needs. Refreshingly free of one-size-fits-all diets and intimidating workouts, this self-help classic cheerfully isolates the issues we all face and supports you in making the best decisions for your mind, body, and life.

Each of the four parts of the book is made up of four steps that simplify these complex subjects. As Hemingway explains, “Each area gives you the seeds of new practices: doable and maintainable actions that anyone can work into their day. You are going to learn how to eat, breathe, exercise, and relax in a whole new way,” she says, blue eyes sparkling, “And the choices you make in one area support the choices you make in another without your having to think about it.”

While the book contains a “30-Day Quick Start” program to help switch into a healthier gear, readers can still benefit from following just a few of Hemingway’s guidelines, such as her techniques for cultivating self-awareness, relaxation, and peace of mind outlined in the “Silence” section.

Breathing Into Balance

When you feel unsettled, stressed, or sick, Hemingway recommends doing the following two-minute breathing exercise, which involves the simple technique of alternate nostril breathing.

“This is a yogic breath that helps to balance the right and left hemispheres of the brain and is often done in preparation for deep relaxation or meditation,” she says. Here’s how to do it:

1. Raise your right hand to your face, and place your pinky and ring finger lightly on your left nostril. Hold your right nostril closed, and inhale slowly up your left nostril.

2. Pause and while your lungs are full of air, press the left nostril closed while lightening the pressure on the right one. Exhale slowly out your right nostril, then inhale up your right nostril, pause, and while your lungs are full of air, switch your fingers so that your right nostril is closed again. Exhale. Do ten cycles of this breathing exercise at first, increasing length as you get comfortable. Try this in the early morning before meditating, during your lunch hour to regroup your energies, in the bath tub, or before bed to wind down a busy mind.

Cultivating Inner Peace

Hemingway is too modest to mention that her book also provides a crash course in self-nurturing meditation. “Building a balanced, better lifestyle rests on mind/body self-awareness and proactive self-care,” she says. Demystifying meditation in down-to-earth terms, Hemingway explains how to meditate for maximum health benefits.

“Meditation consists of compassionate self-inquiry and nothing else,” she says. “It involves listening to yourself and cultivating calm and emotional resilience regardless of life’s turbulence. I find meditation humbling, inspiring, and energizing.” If people could learn just one thing from her book, Hemingway says, “I would like them to experience how good it feels to breathe deeply, because this form of meditation will help them listen more closely to their bodies and minds.”

Cultivating Inner Peace

According to Hemingway, “listening to yourself” and “cultivating calm” entail paying attention to seemingly little thoughts from moment to moment and constantly making inquiries, followed by self-nurturing action. For example, “Why do I feel like I’m getting a cold again? Now is the time to take some immune-enhancing supplements and go to bed.” Or, “Why do I feel so sluggish today? I am going to get some exercise and get my energy flowing.”

An accomplished hatha yoga practitioner and kriya yoga meditation student, Hemingway previously owned a yoga studio in her hometown of Ketchum, Idaho. She even wrote a memoir, Finding My Balance, which interweaves personal history with philosophical musings on how yoga supports one through life’s inevitable ups, downs, and losses. In Healthy Living’s instructional full-color photographs and text, we see how yoga infuses Hemingway with radiant energy, strength, and flexibility. Yet further reading also details how her childhood and adolescence were darkened by dysfunction and disease.

Early Challenges Fuel Future Growth

Growing up as the youngest child in an alcoholic, food-obsessed household haunted by the legendary genius and self-destruction of her grandfather, Nobel Prize-winning novelist Ernest Hemingway, Mariel turned to food for emotional comfort. Both Ernest and his father committed suicide after battling depression. Mariel’s sister, the supermodel and actress Margaux, struggled with alcohol, drug abuse, and epilepsy. She died of a drug overdose in 1996. Another older sister, Joan, aka “Muffet,” was diagnosed with mental illness as a young adult.

While Margaux, tall, high-cheekboned, and beautiful, became the first supermodel to sign a one-million dollar modeling contract, Mariel made her film debut with her sister in Lipstick when she was just thirteen. Shortly afterward, her mother developed cancer; while her outdoorsman father responded to the situation by taking extended fishing trips, young Mariel became her mother’s caregiver, sleeping in the same room and nursing her through painful treatments.

As Hemingway writes, “My mother, on her good days, would carefully craft thick loaves of ten-grain bread from my grandmother’s recipe, as they were irresistible to me. Straight out of the oven, they seemed to practically glow with warmth, safety, and love… I would eat until much of the loaf was gone. I literally couldn’t stop until I felt sick… food was my source of love and consequently, when I abused it like this, the source of more shame.”

Looking back, Hemingway says, “Like so many millions of other people, I was addicted to the crash-and-crave cycle that eating large amounts of grains can cause. When you over-eat complex starchy carbohydrates,” she continues, “The calming neurotransmitter serotonin is released, which is a key chemical in creating a feeling of well-being in the brain. No wonder I gorged on carbs: I was simply self-medicating.”

Throughout her twenties and thirties, Hemingway says, “I was so frightened of being addicted to eating like other members of my family had been that I cut out all grains and all sugars entirely. Naturally I feel a great kinship with the millions of people struggling with eating disorders.” Today, Hemingway adds, “I don’t eat sugar, because I’m an addictive person. I can’t drink coffee because I don’t know how to have just a little bit.”

Nurturing Mind and Body

Like many Americans, Hemingway has evolved out of negative habits and discovered that healthy living from the inside out starts with sustained mind/body awareness as well as timely action. Emotional honesty and self-nurturing are two other essential elements to living your best life.

Stressing the importance of taking personal responsibility for one’s health, Hemingway asserts, “You can’t necessarily count on your family or doctors to serve your optimal health. The good news is that it feels incredibly empowering to be a friend to yourself, and you can be your own healer, if you listen to your heart, mind, and body.”