wellness theories

Kate McLeod Knows That Two Minutes With Your Body Can Change Your Day

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photo: Courtesy of Kate McLeod

Kate McLeod has lived the kind of life that you could picture on the big screen. And in fact, one part of her life has already been adapted for television. “When Cupid Is a Prying Journalist,” a 2015 New York Times“Modern Love” column, details McLeod’s love story with her husband, Justin McLeod, the founder and CEO of Hinge, and went on to become the second episode of the first season of Amazon’s adaption of the column. Although the episode is a “highly adaptive” retelling of their story, McLeod says, it conveys one of her core beliefs: “Love begets love.” Hinge, after all, was the result of her husband seeking to heal his heartbreak after he and Kate went through a breakup.

Her relationship was also the catalyst for her eponymous skin-care company, which makes solid moisturizers to encourage self-care (and baby-soft skin). “The sense of touch and just holding ourselves is empowering,” says McLeod. “Tapping into your strength is different for every person, but this is what works for me.” Below, McLeod talked to the Cut about how she connects to her body, how COVID-19 changed her idea of wellness, and the key to strong relationships.

On her definition of wellness: If you had asked me five or ten years ago, I would have responded with “I sweat every day. I am on my yoga mat multiple times a week. I’m meditating, and I’m drinking juices,” and that can definitely be a part of it, but that’s not how I define it anymore. To me, wellness is when I’m aware and when I’m present. I can be doing an endless routine, and I can still be in my own personal torture. If I’m not present then I’m probably not connecting with people around me — I’ve noticed that when that happens, my relationships get a little rocky.

This sounds so silly, but a couple of years ago I was working with this incredible energy healer, and he asked me to look at my thumb. When I get nervous, I pick at my fingers and my cuticles, and my thumb that day was particularly destroyed. So he told me to look at it, and he asked me, ‘Do you realize that the thumb is you? That’s your body. Do you feel that?’ I looked at the damage I had done, from my nerves to my cuticles, and it looked pretty rough. So I’ve become convinced that even if we’re not opening our mouths, we’re still saying something. We have an internal broadcast. Then there’s this external broadcast that never stops, and it’s literally everything from how we speak to how we live, and it’s teaching the world how to treat us. When you’re aware of your nervousness, and you can feel it, then you can process it — that’s wellness.

How COVID-19 reshaped her idea of wellness: I was around six months postpartum when the pandemic hit. I was having a really hard time pre-COVID because I was trying to balance even a small commute in New York City. I was working, away from my newborn, coming home, and I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off. Then we came up to the Hudson Valley, and my family was in one home. I remember the first week we all sat down at the dinner table together, and that had never happened. It was so grounding and calming, and we just chatted and laughed.
Stepping away from the city gave me a chance to create my own routine. I’m coming from a very particular point of view here, but as a mom to a very young child, working from home is incredible because I can pop in and out throughout the day and see him. We actually developed traditions as a family, like eating together, and the thing coming out of COVID that my husband and I have spoken a lot about is that we want to continue to incorporate that. When we go back to the city, we want to make sure that we have dinner together at the same table at least a couple of times a week.

On her mornings: I’m spoiled because my 2-year-old loves to sleep, and he doesn’t wake up until 8:30 a.m. When I hear him, he gets a warm chocolate-milk bottle, which he looks forward to, and I go into his room and he’s so excited. We curl up in my bed, and he drinks his bottle. I really protect my mornings because they’re for me and my son to bond. Until 10 a.m., where I just quickly change clothes and brush my teeth before I sit in front of the computer, we play and we make breakfast together — I’ve got a waffle press that’s gotten lots of use through COVID.

I don’t do caffeine — it makes me really jittery. Right now, I’m really into Ashwagandha turmeric tea, but before I was into this, I would make some homemade hot chocolate and add in Ashwagandha and a bunch of adaptogens to a Vitamix. Then I would add a handful of raw cashews and hot water and blitz it. That was my morning drink.

On the key to good relationships: I met my husband when I was 18, and it was definitely not love at first sight. [Laughs] When I first met him, it was my second day of college. I had just come out of an all-girls school environment. I had just gotten my first kiss, and I had never tasted alcohol. I was checking out the dorm, and I was walking up this staircase, and I saw this person passed out, and he terrified me. I was like, “Oh my god. Is this person dead?” It was my husband.

When we started dating before the end of the school year, we were inseparable. Then we broke up — a lot. I was dealing with my own stuff — I’ve had a long battle with eating disorders, so I have my own form of addiction going on. My husband, you can probably tell from how I met him, definitely had his own battle — when he graduated college, he started his sobriety.

Years later, when I was living in Zurich, he emailed that he was in town and asked if I wanted to meet up for a cup of coffee. I still thought of him, and I was about to get married, and I had never done anything like this, but I said, “I’ll talk to you on the phone on Friday morning,” and that Friday morning, I woke up, and he was like, “I bought a plane ticket. You were going to change your mind, and you weren’t going to hop on the phone.” I cut off my engagement, and I moved back to New York, and we had an amazing honeymoon period. Then I was a hot mess.

We are such spiritual growth partners, meaning that we really trigger a lot of things in one another in a lot of ways. We were playing out those wounds from childhood. Like, when we’re in a negative spiral, we can go downhill really quickly, but when we work out of it, we start building it all into a positive spiral.

All of this is to say that one of the things that the relationship taught me was that the importance of self-love, that I need to actually show up for myself, that I need to love myself to then build this amazing relationship, which enables us to do much more than we could solo. We’re coming up on seven years that we’ve been back together, and it has been a journey with so many highs and lows, but we’re in a really good, solid place. Having that growth partner, who holds me accountable, and I hold him accountable, that’s such a part of my wellness journey. Sometimes we need a mirror, that trigger point to challenge us to go higher and higher or to help us grow.

On her approach to food: I have such a complicated relationship with food. It’s where I’m still growing and learning how to love myself because I’m still learning how to feed myself. I grew up during the ’90s, and there was really a diet culture going on.

Towards the end of high school, that’s when I started restricting, and frankly, I had a huge problem with bulimia. Food just became my way both to feel and to numb feeling. I don’t know what else to say, but a bulimic purge was this intense sensation and feeling, and I look back on it now and I think all the sadness and all the emotion that I didn’t know how to process and that I needed to feel, it was almost like that’s what was coming up.

In 2007, I found a culinary program in Florence, Italy. I was there for nine months, and I fell in love with food. I had always loved cooking and making things, but I grew up in a small town, food blogs were not a thing like they are today, and I didn’t know how to do things from scratch. And what was really cool is that when I moved over there, the two roommates that I had during the program, one was a professional baker and one was a professional chef, and we cooked everything at home. Honestly, I ate my way through Italy. It was amazing. I was having an Eat, Pray, Love moment. I definitely went out and bought bigger jeans multiple times.

Then I came home, and I landed at Goldman Sachs, and the financial crisis went on, and I was like, “I don’t really think this is for me.” I had fallen in love with working with my hands. I loved how food brought people together. I didn’t grow up in a big family — I’m an only child — and what I discovered in Italy was that food has the power to create a gathering, and it had the power to create connection. So when I was unhappy during my day job, I would come home, and I would cook and bake. So food developed something really new for me later in life, and it started to take on this different meaning, something I could do and I was so proud of but also a method to create community and connection.

In more recent years, I’ve toyed with veganism, but it’s not for me. If you’ve ever heard of a blood-type diet, I’m an O. They say the O is a caveman, and I really do crave meat. My body feels really good when I eat it. I’m very careful about sourcing and where my food comes from, but it tastes good to me, and I think what I’m stumbling upon now is that I just listen to my body. I eat everything.

On connecting with her body: I am actually in awe of my body because I know what I’ve done to it. I have not had a bad stint with bulimia now for six years, but there was a whole 15-year battle. When I landed in New York City in 2015, I was so, so lonely. I just felt so small.

My sister-in-law was one of the first people who probably ever saw me. She once saw me putting on body lotion and ripped it out of my hand. She said, “I think that you really need to spend some time with your body” and handed me a block of cocoa butter.

I tried to work the raw cocoa butter into my skin, and it took forever. It doesn’t melt on easily, but I put it on, and I was like, “Wow, my body feels great.” Then I brought the cocoa butter into the kitchen, and I melted it down. I had also found base oils from my yoga practice at the time — I had taken a course in Ayurveda — and I started mixing, and what I found, and this still holds true for me today, is that when I would use it, I could have a very different day.

Back then, I could have two very different mornings. Occasionally, I would have a binge and then I would punish myself throughout the entire day. I would go to a workout class, and then the whole day would evaporate, and it would get worse and worse. But then sometimes just through luck, I’d wake up, I’d shower, and I would take out this cocoa butter mixture that I had made and work into my skin, and I realized something. I’ll never forget this one day because it was really a lightbulb moment for me: I walked outside, and I was in such a good mood. We lived in this tiny studio in the West Village, and I was walking around smiling at everyone, and I started asking, “What’s different?”

It was these two minutes that I had spent with my cocoa butter mixture. At the time, I was taking a wooden spoon and a round clump of the mixture, and it was in my hand. Fast forward a few years later when I started to think of selling this, people were like, “Put it in a deodorant stick.” I was like, “No, no, no. It’s a tactile experience.” Holding it and actually putting it on your body, rubbing it in, it becomes just you and your hands and your skin. For 30 seconds as you’re doing this, try and treat it almost as meditation and bring a little love to your physical body. All of those negative stories in your head — and I still hear them, but they’re not as loud — write new stories with this practice. Thinking positively about your body through this practice literally saved me.

Two Minutes Can Change Kate McLeod’s Whole Day