The internet is not wanting for health and wellness blogs -- but what about health sites with zucchini pasta recipes that include quotes from Showgirls and a beauty section edited by a makeup artist billed as serving "top-tier fish realness?" Enter Ciao Downtown, the brainchild of fashion designer Feng-Feng Yeh, who wanted to create a health and wellness site with a sense of humor aimed at busy, social New Yorkers like her and her friends. Yeh, who used to co-host the popular mid-aughts party "Six Six Sick" at Happy Endings, saw a place for health advice aimed more at twenty and thirty-somethings who are starting to leave their debauched dancefloor days behind. "After being an NYC party girl for so long, I realized the boundaries of the human body," Yeh writes on the site. "Being good to yourself and treating your body with respect is the first step in feeling your best." The site, which launched this summer and kicked off with a booth at Ladyfag's massive annual nightlife bazaar Pop Souk, features cooking tips, beauty and DIY home décor projects. "We don't give a lot of 'you should do this' advice," says Yeh. "It's really more about how to eat well and how to make healthy living a fun thing." Below, in honor of Health and Wellness month here on Papermag.com, we chat with Yeh about the site and what else is on the horizon for Ciao Downtown.
What made you want to start Ciao Downtown?
I was having health problems. I had had really bad periods for a long time and was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome, which is basically a hormonal imbalance. I had to have surgery, and they told me afterward that I'd have to take birth control pills to control my hormones going forward, which I wasn't crazy about. I was thinking there must be a way that you can treat this holistically. I did some research and changed my diet -- I stopped eating sugar and dairy and cut out alcohol -- and I took supplements. I started to recover and have normal periods again. My life totally changed.
When I was researching about how to treat my illness without birth control, I found that 70% of most chronic illnesses can be treated by changing diet. I wanted to be able to share that with people. I could use this as a platform for educating my friends and the public and to make healthy eating and healthy living not so hippy and elite. I wanted to make something that didn't feel like GOOP.
You're in fashion -- what health trends have you been noticing in the industry?
The fashion world is so focused on [health] with juicing and all of that shit. But I didn't want this to be like "I work in fashion and therefore am really focused on dieting!" I wanted this to be a site that was more reflective of being a New York chick. There are so many amazing women in New York and they're really busy and I wanted it to be a place where they could go, and it would be funny and full of simple recipes and easy advice for people who are busy.
You also have a background in nightlife. Do you think it's possible to be really into nightlife and still live healthfully?
I've done nightlife, and, yeah, I've been very unhealthy. But you can choose what you want to do. You can go out and and still be healthy. As far as going out in New York as you get older (I'm turning 35 soon), you sort of have to pick what you're going to focus on. I think it's more about just scaling down and picking one night a week or one night every two weeks to really go for it. Or one night a month. And then you don't feel like you're an old person! I don't drink as much as I did when I was younger, and I think that's a really big part of staying healthy. And I never did drugs.
Do you think that cutting out booze is the secret to feeling good?
Not necessarily, but I do think alcohol is terrible for your system. And yeah, when you transition from your twenties into your thirties, you sort of have to re-asses. Most people can't treat their bodies in the same ways that they could when they were younger.
Do you think that New York facilitates drinking or living unhealthfully? You mentioned New York women earlier -- I think people's jobs here can be so demanding that drinking a few glasses of wine after work can feel like the best way to unwind sometimes.
It's really hard to cut out booze and to change how you're eating. We're just coming back from the holidays, which is tough for people. At my work, there was a cake or a baked good sitting out practically every day. I think that if people really do cut out sugar or are more health-conscious about cutting out sugar and breads and grains it can boost your mood and make you feel much more energetic and less stressed. And when you're feeling less stressed, maybe you'll have one glass of wine instead of three. But I think when you set that focus more on making food a healing process for your body, you'll be more energized and happier. Easier to say, harder to do.
What's this "Hot Girl Snack Line" video on Ciao Downtown? Is that a real number?
No, I wish! Maybe down the line it will be a real hotline you can call. I was just doing a throwback to the sex line commercials from the '80s and '90s. People late at night get hungry and lonely -- it could be like Seamless and Tinder in one. [Laughs.] I actually linked the site on my Tinder bio, but so far it's just been men emailing me who I didn't match with saying they want to take me out for enchiladas.
The recipes on Ciao Downtown are very funny. Your "Versaucey Medusa Zucchini Pasta" recipe opens with the line "a tasty dish is worth cutting a bitch."
I looked at a lot of healthy blogs when I was thinking about starting Ciao. They're beautiful sites, but they're so boring and serious.
Who else contributes to Ciao?
There's a beauty section done by my friend Rolly Robinson, who's this incredible makeup artist. He does these amazing YouTube videos and Instagram posts. He is the fiercest queen you will ever meet. And then I have Christina and Reza, who are sisters who have a jewelry line called Arms and Armory, who do DIY crafts and cool little projects for making for your house cute and your life better.
What's coming up on Ciao Downtown?
More video content and funny stuff. I also want to do a love and sex section -- that's coming soon. And if anyone wants to participate to the sex and love section, they can! It will be through anonymous postings and dating and relationships. And I also want to add some fermenting recipes. Gut health is the most important thing -- your gut is your second brain and controls all of your moods. And fermented foods are the best for your brain.