Hey hey! It’s almost 2019! Truth be told I actually had an entire probably-too-lengthy post reflecting on 2018 and what I’ve learned and what I’m thankful for and what I hope to accomplish in 2019, etc etc. But as I sit here waiting for my MacBook pro appointment at the Mayfair genius bar, publishing it didn’t feel right. I may still publish it later, but I felt inspired after my physical therapy appointment to write about something else, especially amidst all the diet/fitness goal posts I’ve seen on social media lately.
So today, I’m going to share some important realizations I’ve had lately about health. I hope these inspire you to see health as something more than ‘eating clean’ and/or ‘keeping it tight.’ If you need more inspo, check out my post from last year, 11 Food and Health-Related New Year’s Resolutions That Are Way Better Than Losing Weight.
So here are 5 things I’ve sort of been reflecting on in regards to what ‘health’ means lately; I hope they serve you well into the new year. Thanks as always, for your support, and for sticking by me! Love you the most!
1. A little stress can be good. A lot can wreck havoc.
The past semester was by far the most stressful academic semester of my life. School work was insane, I had several demanding jobs, had immediate family members who are ill, and was financially strained in a way I had never previously experienced. I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining, but rather share what this did to my physical and mental health.
I didn’t have the time or money to prioritize my health and it caused me to do things like cry in public and become irritable and shorter with people than I usually would be. Health-wise, I was having a harder time getting enough sleep, and my menstrual cycle was getting wacky (this happens when my cortisol is too high). When I realized I was acting in a way that didn’t reflect the best version of myself, and that my physical and mental wellbeing were compromised, I knew I had reached an unhealthy level of stress.
The goal from now on is to be more realistic in what I take on. I’m no longer interested in setting myself up for disaster, and am going to strive to take on a manageable load, rather than an overwhelming one, from hereon out. I’ve learned it’s better to be able to perform my best at what I’m committed to, than stretch myself so thin I’m operating at a sub-optimal level.
At the very least, I no longer want to make myself so busy and stressed I don’t have the energy or time to socialize, get my booty to PT, and/or do things that keep me mentally well, like barre and CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy…not CBT oil…felt the need to clarify that because #2018).
2. Eating Too ‘Healthy’ and Working Out Too Much May Actually Not Be That Healthy
This was a realization that slowly dawned on me over the past few years, but finally felt cemented into my being the past year: being extremely healthy all the time may not actually be that healthy.
I see a lot of extreme diets and health trends on the internet. I hear a lot of diet-talk amongst my friends and sometimes family. I see tons of ads about getting in shape and read posts from social media influencers about how I need to eat clean and never miss a workout, etc.
You want to know the truth, the tea? I used to be quite a bit more rigid about what I ate and how much I exercised and if I was getting enough protein and nutrient X, Y, and Z every day, and it did me no good. Don’t get me wrong, I still think it’s important to eat a healthful, robust nutritionally balanced diet and to get regular exercise, but I now acknowledge there is much more to health than making sure I eat vegetables, protein and a ‘healthy’ starch at every meal.
I still know so many people who are very rigid about their diet and fitness regimes, and stick to their raw juice diets, never eat a meal they didn’t measure and prepare, and stick to a 6 workouts-per-week schedule, and if that serves them well, than I’m happy for them.
But personally, I found being hyper-vigilant about a dietary or fitness program is quite frankly exhausting and I’m happy I no longer let that stuff get in the way of some of the joyous parts of life. If your dietary or workout pattern is starting to cause stress or anxiety, that is going to raise cortisol in your body, which isn’t physically or mentally optimal for your wellbeing. I’ve found personally, that I’m way better off all around if I’m okay with eating a mediocre-in-taste-and-nutritional-content meal from time to time out of circumstance and moving on with life.
Now I’m more cognizant of the importance of having a healthy diet, but also a healthy, flexible relationship with food, and balancing the diet/fitness components of health with other important components of health…(see #3).
3. There Is More To Health Than Food, Fitness, and ‘Self-care.’
Sort of piggy-backing off the above point, I have got to say that over the past couple of years, I’ve really gathered a much more holistic view of what it means to be healthy outside of the often focused-upon diet/fitness/self-care routine.
My recent scoliosis diagnosis has especially put this into perspective for me. I’ve had escalating pain the past several years, and after almost crying during my molecular epic final because holding a pen hurt so much, I finally got myself into treatment and am so thankful I did. This experience has opened my eyes to what it means to be holistically healthy. I need to start taking care of myself and my body!
Currently, I’m on a super intense PT regime and have traded things I enjoy (like barre, etc) for PT strength/stretching exercises and am motivated to get to a point where I can get back to what I do love. I’ve only got one to work with; it’s time to start being more vigilant about treating it right outside of what I put in my mouth!
As I get older, I am also starting to realize more and more the importance of sleep and stress management (okay, I still suck at this, but I’m working on it). I also now know taking care of myself is making sure I stop making excuses about being busy and make the time to get to physical therapy and cognitive therapy so I can be a truly healthy, whole person, and the best version of myself.
I also find that I’m at my best, healthiest self when I have an appropriate balance of socialization and me-time. I’m a person that probably needs more me-time than the average. I used to feel weird/FOMO-ish saying no to plans when I wasn’t doing anything besides chill in my sitting’ pants with my dog, as if I had no excuse. I’ve now embraced that sometimes, if I’m feeling super over-tired or socially anxious or straight-up don’t want to go, that it’s better if I just stay home.
On the flip side, when I don’t make time to the friends and family I value the most, it wares on me. I also start to feel resentful if I only do school and work-related things, and miss out on things I want to do (hence why I went to Cherry Bombe University, pictured above, in the middle of midterms). I sometimes benefit from interacting with normal humans who get me out of my head and make me happy.
So now, I strive for a balance of sittin’ pants time and time spent with people I value. To me, this is self-care. I don’t do bath bombs and spa nights, but being intentional with how I balance my social vs. me time, making sure I get enough sleep and am not stretched too thin, getting good nutrition while enjoying celebrations with food, and am getting necessary medical care is my own little version of taking care of myself. #health
4. The Dose Makes the Poison
I spent a lot of time studying nutrition in my previous master’s program. And now I spend a lot of time studying toxicology and environmental exposures in my current program. I am hyper-aware about all the things harming me within a given day. I used to see rice, now I see arsenic. I used to see a new matters, now I see a crap load of flame retardants. Now every time I enjoy Cheerios I just think about the lovely glyphosate I’m ingesting. Etc etc. I could go on forever. And quite frankly, I could easily drive myself insane.
A lot of people will ask me “How bad is XYZ, for me really?” or be shocked when I suggest that maybe slamming 2 pounds of celery juice and a frick load of vitamins every day could potentially do a lot more harm than good.
Being hyper-aware of the nutrient make-up of everything I eat, and hyper-aware of a lot of the environmental exposures I face on the daily, I always think back to the wise words of Paracelsus: “the dose makes the poison.”
That means that drinking a diet Coke once in a while probably isn’t going to give you cancer (side note: all those artificial sweetener = cancer studies I have read have been done in rodents (many of them single-gender-rodent studies) and the rodents consumed extremely high doses that a human would not consume, and they ate them in pellets whereas most people drink artificial sweeteners which may impact how they are metabolized… also mice can’t taste artificial sweeteners….but that’s all another story for another time and this is a long tangent and it’s getting awkward…long story short don’t immediately believe every news headline you see..), and that occasionally eating or drinking things that aren’t ‘healthy’ isn’t going to ruin your life or destroy your health (I’m looking’ at you…Whole30 diet that bans things that make no sense to me from a nutritional or sanity perspective…).
It also means that too high a dose of many things that are often good for you at certain amounts (like vitamins, protein, celery juice, etc) may end up being harmful if you have too much.
My advice? Be wise, and use your judgement. Know it’s okay to have a little bit of harmful stuff here and there (like added sugar, etc), try not to overdo it on anything (like slamming supplements and protein powders, etc) and when you can, protect yourself from known risks (i.e., wash your frickin’ produce).
We live in a toxic world. All we can do is acknowledge and manage our risks as best we can without going insane! At least that’s what I’ve learned over the years.
5. Health Is Precious, and Gratitude is Important
Not to sound like I feel like I’m gettin’ old, but I truly do feel like I’m getting’ old. And the older I get, and the more health issues I face and see my family members face, the more I no longer take my health for granted.
I am so lucky to live in a place with running water and sanitation services, adequate nutritious food, and access to health care. I’m also thankful for the ability to walk and think and do (most of) the things I want to do without my health getting in the way.
I’m also so frickin’ thankful for having the financial means to take care of myself. This past semester was a struggle. I was actually referred to PT months ago, but since my paychecks got delayed till mid-December, I couldn’t justify my co-pays. Now, I recognize the privilege of being able to go to PT and being able to pay for it, as is the ability to buy healthful groceries and go to the dentist. They say money can’t buy happiness, but I learned firsthand last semester that the lack of it can be detrimental to your physical and mental health.
Long story short, I’ve seen a lot of friends and family members have their health dramatically stolen from them, either gradually or quite quickly, and it’s always tragic to watch. It seems like we always take our public health programs and personal health for granted until something goes wrong. But I’m trying more and more to appreciate every day that I can walk, and every time I eat romaine without getting E. Coli thanks to our food safety regulations. This such a blessing, and as I roll into 2019, I hope to continue to feel #blessed for each and every working organ I got in me.
Welp, this post, like oh so many of mine, is too long and you’re probably not even reading anymore. Regardless, have a warm welcome to the New Year! Millie and I send hugs!