By Leah Wilson
Portrait By Laura Metzler
At the peak of her career, life was spiraling out of control for Laurie A. Watkins, the Florida policy director for former President Barack Obama. Barely keeping her head above water with 14-hour workdays punctuated with four hours of sleep—not to mention chain-smoking and a toxic diet—Watkins was destined for destruction. Then she decided to make a change.
In her debut book, Go From Stressed to Strong: Health and Fitness Advice From High Achievers (Skyhorse Publishing), Watkins chronicles the lifestyle improvements she made that turned her life around. Amid her self-help book’s tour, the 36-year-old Fort Lauderdale native shares her tribulations, triumphs and favorite recipes in an exclusive interview with Venice in hopes of inspiring others to break the cycle of an unhealthy lifestyle.
When did you know how unhealthy your lifestyle was?
I was driving across Alligator Alley to pick up Caroline Kennedy, and I felt a sharp pain in my stomach. I almost wrecked my car after I realized I hadn’t eaten anything all day; I was running on caffeine and fumes. I thought, “I can’t do this anymore. I’m going to hurt myself or somebody else.”
How do you identify with the struggle of today’s working professionals?
I’ve been that person who is all about her career. Personally, I put off a lot of things that I shouldn’t have, and it wasn’t sitting right with me. I got to a place where I wasn’t happy.
What was the inspiration behind your book?
I always want to help people. It started with me working for politicians on policy issues, legislation and trying to make a change overall. I was in pursuit of a happy and balanced life, so I created this program for busy people because I was one. It showed me that keeping commitments to myself regarding my time—and managing it properly so that it served me—was where I would gain balance.
Which of your book’s five pillars (sleep, time management, eating/food, stress management and exercise) was the most challenging for you to complete?
Food, but more specifically “food on the run.” We tend to eat with our eyes and stomach instead of our heart and our head. If you have a hectic schedule, add it to your schedule to eat. All it takes is listening to yourself and planning ahead.
Why do you refer to you and your readers as “strength-seekers”?
It took me a long time to get to this place, especially because growing up I was bullied for being “too thin” and was never referred to as “strong.” Every person on this planet is striving to become stronger in some way, whether it’s mentally, physically or emotionally—and we can!
Who are some of the other well-known professionals you interview in Stressed to Strong?
I include Bill Nye the Science Guy, chef José Andrés and Army veteran Dan Nevins. Their stories of redemption inspire me.
What song would be your anthem and why?
“Disparate Youth” by Santigold. The song says to me that even if the road ahead is filled with roadblocks, don’t ever feel like you have to go it alone.
What do you want readers to take away from your book?
That you can change your habits and routine by making time for them. Use any negativity and doubt from naysayers as motivation for success.
Originally appeared in the Summer 2017 Issue.