Wellness & Beyond
Lili Kazemi Develops Fitness and Wellness Blueprint for Busy Legal Professionals
January 31, 2023
It’s early 2023, and that often means fad diets and New Year’s resolutions relating to wellness. Most of these intentions around diets and aggressive workout regimes eventually get abandoned because they tend to focus on rapid, dramatic change achieved by disrupting current behavior.
D.C. Bar member Lili Kazemi, a former tax attorney who currently works for a nationally recognized professional services firm and blogs at daofitlife.com, has faced many of the challenges that prevent her peers in business and law from achieving their fitness goals. This inspired Kazemi to develop a system that takes a different approach to wellness, one that seeks sustainable results through incremental adjustments and incorporates an appreciation of the critical role of mental and emotional health.
Here, Kazemi talks about her holistic approach to wellness and how professionals can build a more satisfying and sustainable personal fitness regimen, the subject of her upcoming book. Thoughts and opinions expressed here are her own.
Your blog and upcoming book focus on fitness for professionals. How did you become involved in the subject?
For as long as I can remember, the gym has been my outlet. [I know] it’s a place I [can] always go, and it will be there for me. In a gym you get to be both alone and together with people. You are a part of a community that is motivating you, but you also have a break from interaction.
As far back as law school I recall appreciating the break from outlining for classes and the hyper-competitive atmosphere. You have this space where you are in your own world, competing against yourself and separating from that day-to-day existence.
I have always had, as my north star, the notion that the better cultivated the body, the more focused the mind. Focus goes where the energy flows. The more I put my energy into fitness, the better return I saw in my performance at work — my focus, my energy, and my ability to overcome adversity and obstacles.
I also found that the more passionate I became about it, the more people expressed their interest in my approach. I found myself talking to people about wellness, going to workout classes together, and bonding over this common interest, and I made friends everywhere I went.
One major perk of being in the fitness world is the networking and how quickly you can relate to people you only just met by a common love of fitness. Often, people use the term “networking” to talk about their careers, but what it has done for me is open my eyes to all kinds of different perspectives. It has helped my career, as well, by giving me a platform to cross over fitness culture into the corporate world. And in conversations with colleagues, I would talk about the things that I learned about intermittent fasting, or cardio versus strength training, and people began to suggest that I start writing the information down. I think they related to hearing this information from the lens of someone in a similar career and facing similar challenges, i.e., frequent travel and time constraints.
Something clicked, and around 2019 I started writing a book on the topic, and then the pandemic happened. I continued writing, but I wanted to start engaging with an audience and see what kind of reaction I could get. I started a blog and a YouTube channel.
The process has been similar to the one I’ve followed on my career path — I followed my passion. In both areas there have been triumphs and failures, but one thing has remained consistent: I leap out of bed every morning excited to take on the day.
What special considerations relating to fitness do professionals face?
As professionals, we are in a hustle culture, one that requires 100 percent perfection at all times. That’s not a sustainable blueprint for life. It’s important for lawyers to recognize that their health and happiness should be a priority and not something that would be “nice to have.”
It can be easy to get trapped into an “all or nothing” way of thinking. For example, many professionals I have spoken to assume that if they don’t have at least an hour to spend working out, then it’s not worth it, which is far from the truth — micro workouts are all the rage! Even if you have the time for lots of workouts, that isn’t the entire picture when it comes to wellness. We need to look at this holistically. Let’s say that you spend 45 minutes on the treadmill and then spend the rest of the day sitting, or you aren’t eating healthy food. Maybe you justify it to yourself, saying that the big workout earned an unhealthy meal, but exercise alone isn’t that effective for weight loss. Data proves that nutrition is an important part of weight loss.
Fad diets don’t work in the long term. You want sustainable results, not just attainable results. I won’t knock any particular diet. I’m not a doctor. I’m not a medical professional and don’t hold myself out as such. But I do know that if you are on a path to fitness and are eliminating food groups with an absolutist approach, it will eventually backfire. Ironically, most people who struggle with weight are on some kind of diet — so by deduction, you can infer that something more is needed than an unrealistic diet.
A more balanced approach is more effective. I advocate an 80/20 system where you eat whole foods 80 percent of the time and allow yourself more indulgent fare 20 percent of the time. This way, you aren’t relying on just willpower, self-denial, and self-punishment. Instead, you can make positive, incremental change in both diet and activity. And this approach has the flexibility for when we travel, go on vacation, or go to client dinners.
Our jobs, by their very nature, go against the grain of wellness. Toxic hustle, lack of work–life balance, constant sitting, calls, stress, long work hours, not enough time, attachment to devices, and putting out fires work against good health, positive attitude, and fulfillment. I developed the DAO because busy professionals want to be fit but don’t have the time to figure it out.
Can you explain what you mean by DAO?
After five years practicing as an attorney and a decade at a Big Four professional services firm, I have insight into how we professionals analyze the world, and everything starts with an acronym. Lawyers love a blueprint, a framework, a methodology, a strategy, and a process. So, I developed DAO — Decision, Action, Outlook — as a framework to consider the things that I think are most important and effective for someone pursuing fitness goals. The main audience for DAO is professionals who want to be fit but [lack time].
First, you need to determine what you want to change and consider why. Once you set a goal, you need a strategy. That is where the action comes in. Action doesn’t have to be big. Professionals, especially, are regularly under pressure in their day-to day existence to go from 0 to 100. With fitness, it is about the marathon, not the sprint. Action is about making small, everyday changes and committing to them.
Finally, outlook is what ties everything together. Outlook is about “spiritual” fitness. You can never be right in the body if you are not first right in the mind. Your faith that you can try new things can be cultivated and can help facilitate your wellness journey. By stepping out of your comfort zone in fitness, you can apply that “reach” to those critical parts in your career path where you build the airplane while still flying it.
How can professionals use this framework to meet their fitness goals?
My website and upcoming book are full of small tweaks we can make to our everyday lives that will improve wellness. What do you do when you wake up? Do you hit the snooze button? Do you grab your phone and start scrolling through emails? What if, instead, you listened to a meditation and didn’t take in any hard news for an hour?
What if you had a large bottle of water next to you when you woke up instead of going straight for the coffee? During the day, what if you walked out to grab lunch instead of ordering delivery, or got a standing desk so that you aren’t sitting all day?
My approach involves making small changes, which can be helpful for busy professionals. It doesn’t involve taking on a lot of new things.
For example, when I’m on a call and I’m not an active participant, I put on my headphones and walk outside. The short walk provides exercise, vitamin D, and sunlight, which are important for health. There’s no extra time in the day needed for that, just a pair of sneakers nearby. The small changes are cumulative, and they add up like microtransactions.
Decision fatigue, i.e., the constant internal deliberating, can drive us to easy but unhealthy choices. So, my content includes information to help navigate some of the issues we face when trying to stay fit. I cover finding a healthy meal in an airport or how to stay fit while traveling, the situations in which uncertainty can lead us off the path to wellness we have set out for ourselves.
The best strategy is to plan ahead and prepare. Lay out your workout clothes and shoes fireman-style by the bed. Travel in workout clothes so you can go to the hotel gym right away. I also have a post on how to work out in your hotel room. Walk up and down the airport while your flight is delayed instead of sitting at the gate. Take healthy snacks so you don’t have to be stuck with whatever’s around. The more you practice these habits, the more routine they will become.
Involve your family, friends, even coworkers. You would be surprised how many people I have taken to barre classes [or] gone on runs or spinning with all over the world. Once you find that bond over fitness and working out together, it breaks down so many other barriers. And that’s what this is all about — the joy in life is connecting with people and feeling positive about yourself and the people you surround yourself with.
Try new things, but also do what gives you your most joyful movement. People only have so much time, so we need to use it to do what we love. So, if you hate running and love yoga, do what you love and don’t worry about what anyone else is doing. This is your path, and you are the CEO of your own body.