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18 Jun 2019 4:48
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  •   Home > News > International

    'What would Jane do?' Why Bryan turned to Austen for health and fitness inspiration

    Two years ago, when Bryan hit a "mid-life slump", he started eating and exercising like a Jane Austen character. He's never looked back.

    When writer Bryan Kozlowski turned 30 he hit a "mid-life slump" and began searching for inspiration to get fit and healthy.

    He turned to wellness blogs and celebrity personal trainers — but it was the words of renowned English author Jane Austen that resonated most.

    He was re-reading his Austen collection at the time, and — quite fortuitously — she became Kozlowski's unlikely health guru.

    For the next two years, before he made any exercise or diet decisions, Kozlowski asked himself: "What would Jane do?"

    "Before beginning this project I, like most, never realised how interested Jane actually was in health," Kozlowski told RN's Life Matters.

    "There were really remarkable similarities between the latest discoveries from modern health research and what Austen promoted in her novels over 200 years ago.

    "Whether that was through eating or exercising or her insights or just taking care of your mind."

    Kozlowski, a Florida-based graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, believes Austen's subtle tips on health and wellbeing were deliberate.

    "They do really do nothing to move the romance along but Austen obviously wanted them in," he says.

    Austen's exercise regime

    Kozlowski says Austen observed the lifestyles of the rising English gentry moving to that of "the lazy, the luxurious, and the inactive", thanks to better roads, comfier carriages and more servants.

    "People who were used to incorporating exercise effortlessly into their lifestyle were then having to fit it in around more sedentary lifestyle habits," he says.

    According to Kozlowski, Austen wanted to "remind readers how effortless and organic [exercise] really should be and how enjoyable it is".

    "That's why she's so careful to pepper her novels with only pleasurable words when she described exercise," he says.

    "Understanding Austen's philosophy towards exercise really requires doing a complete paradigm shift really from how we view exercise today."

    Austen's characters often spent hours walking — for example, Kozlowski says, just look at Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice.

    "Elizabeth sees nothing really strenuous about going for a three-mile walk to another field to visit her sister," he says.

    And Kozlowski started following suit.

    "Austen ... taught me how to lighten up, quite literally, to drop those weights and relearn what movements feel best for my own body," he says.

    "In my case, lots of walks, swimming, and gentle strength training using my own body weight — things that bring me 'life and vigour,' as Jane would say, not leave me breathless with agony on a gym floor."

    Kozlowski claims his Austen-inspired exercise regime "worked almost instantaneously".

    He says Austen also appreciated that bodies come in "every possible variation of form", as Elinor explains in Sense and Sensibility.

    She championed having a "healthy appetite", being of a "size of rational happiness" and having features "softened by plumpness and colour".

    Austen's take on healthy eating

    Kozlowski says the most iconic aspect to the diet of an Austen heroine was their "mental detachment to food".

    "Their relationship with food is so enviable and so balanced it's almost nirvana," he says.

    According to Kozlowski, this is yet another example of Austen being decades ahead of the science.

    "Science is really only starting to learn how our thoughts and and our stomachs are so so intimately connected," he says.

    "She recommends emotional detachment and nobody gets too touchy feely with food, only comical characters do that."

    In Austen's novels, Kozlowski says, carbohydrates and starch were eaten in small amounts, mainly as they were associated with the lower classes.

    "You didn't want to do anything to become, as Emma would say, a 'vulgar farmer'," he says.

    Meat, on the other hand, "took centre stage on rich tables — it meant you had money to buy it or enough land to hunt it".

    "Meat has always been historically considered and to this day is the most nutritionally complete food we have," says Kozlowski, who has written about the experience in The Jane Austen Diet.

    "It delivers all the amino acids, minerals and vitamins our body needs."

    And while Kozlowski says Austen was "by no means on a high-protein diet", he believes she did prioritise meat.

    "And that's ... a more sane approach to protein — prioritising protein in your life," he says.

    Kozlowski is still committed to the Austen diet, and says he constantly finds himself asking that key question — "What would Jane do?"

    "Two years now into trying to live by her unique health code, it's something I continue to ask myself quite a lot, whether that's before a meal, before a workout, while looking in the mirror, or even while watching television," he says.

    "And it's amazing how Austen's historic wisdom can still be woven into 21st century life like that, absolutely no footmen required!"

    © 2019 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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