Ah, Health. What a loaded word. As someone who is studying to become a Registered Dietitian, this word (and concept) is thrown around like a frisbee at a barbecue. For most of my childhood and adolescent years, I never even thought about what it meant to be healthy. It has only been for the past 3-4 years that I have made it a priority of mine to seek health, and I’m still learning about what it really means to be healthy every day.
When most people think of the word health, they equate it with someone who is physically fit and conforms to societal beauty norms. As someone who spent nearly his entire childhood overweight, this was never me. It was commonplace in my house to drink one or more sodas per day and incessant snacking was a way of life. I was regularly singled out as a child because of my size, and had believed that I would spend the rest of my life overweight. At a routine physical examination in June of 2012, my doctor had officially declared me obese. As a 19 year old who weighed 280 lbs, this was, to say the least, a wake up call. I have always dreaded the idea of getting medical diagnoses from physicians and at that moment I knew something had to be done.
(Me, 2011 at about 270 lbs)
After that fateful day, I started walking for exercise. Once I got a hold of walking, I began to run. I ran nearly every day for two years and consistently turned down offers for sodas, ice cream, chips, and the like. Knowing nothing about nutrition, I watched the documentary Forks Over Knives and it immediately encouraged me to take the plunge into a hardcore plant-based diet. Inspired by the concept of being cancer free and living to 114, I would eat nothing but salads and almonds, and would rarely let myself indulge on even vegan desserts or what I deemed ‘junk’ food. Going from 280 lbs to 184 lbs made me feel on top of the world!
(Me, 2015 at 184-ish lbs.)
I followed this diet for roughly a year and a half until one fateful day at a new year’s eve party. My friend and coworker Sam was hosting a party at her house for (obviously) new year’s eve. As most parties do, she decided to order pizza. As a vegetarian herself, she understood about my dietary restrictions and obliged my request to order a small veggie pizza with no cheese. 30 or so minutes later, the pizza arrived. It had a thick, bubbly layer of mozzarella cheese on top. What I haven’t mention was that up until this point, I had despised people who indulged and believed that they were all on a path to obesity, trying to drag me down with them into the land of cardiovascular disease and pulmonary embolisms. Looking back, this mentality was but merely a self-projection of my own desires for wanting to eat indulgent food and taking out my frustration on others. I had told myself often times absolutes such as “I’m never going to eat dairy ever again” or “I’m never going to be above 200 lbs ever again”. These absolutes were not only incorrect, but harmful. Not only because weight a constantly changing entity, but also your values and diet will change throughout your life and that is perfectly fine and normal.
Anyways, back to the pizza. It was staring at me, and I, back at it. You cut the tension with a pizza cutter. It didn’t have a high potassium content, and it certainly wasn’t filled with iodine or antioxidants. All of the echo-chamber nutrition resources that I followed demonized any food whose sole purpose was pleasure, and here I was, staring down the barrel of the proverbial gun. In one swift movement, I decided to go for a slice of pizza and eat it. It tasted like nothing I had eaten for the past year and a half, as it was full of fat and flavor and it wasn’t pretending to be a healthy food. I ate the whole pizza. In that moment, I learned for the first time in my life that its okay to indulge sometimes, that life shouldn’t be all work or all play, and by extension, that I should not to be too hard on myself.
Since that fateful day, I decided to adopt lacto-ovo vegetarianism, which is much less stress inducing and easier for myself and others to accommodate. I may have thought I was in the clear having lost all of that weight, but my mindset about health and and mental health was far from beneficial. Growing up as a heavy kid, I learned to self-deprecate as a survival mechanism due to the onslaught of name-calling and harassment. As someone who has largely avoided confrontation in his life, I internalized a lot most of those words, and negativity for that matter. Hell, I believed them.
When I was going three weeks eating nothing but salad and peanuts, I thought back to being harassed as a child and used that as motivation to keep going. I wanted the world to see me for me, and not just me for a heavy person (That’s a completely different issue with society, and I won’t go on that tangent since you’ve read to this point already). Even though sometimes I would be staring ice cream sandwiches in the face, I would choose to abstain, thinking ‘I only want this because its here’. Fruit and nuts became my choice of food to fill up on to remove my desire to eat ‘junk’ food. Now you’re probably sitting there thinking ‘fruit and nuts are good for you Greg, that was a good choice’, but you’re only half correct. This was my routine about 99% of the time. It was all-or-none for me. If I wanted to eat that ice cream sandwich, I’d have to run that much harder the next day, and I believed that obesity would surely be knocking at my door. I had become so obsessed with the thought of health that it became unhealthy. (See Orthorexia)
It has only been recently that I’ve become aware that mental health is important and part of overall health. This past year has been a trying time for both me (personally and academically) and for my family as well. I have learned a lot about myself during this past year. I had never known what depression felt like until this past winter. During that time, the happiest thought I had was that of going to sleep, because during your sleep you aren’t forced to deal with your own morose consciousness and you can get some relief. I was told by a couple of different people that I should seek out medication, and despite some initial pushback, I decided to seek help. The concept of seeking help was quite alien to me, as growing up as someone who is constantly harassed, you view the world as ‘everyone vs you’, and you fail to realize that there are good people in the world who are there to help you. Having been prescribed Zoloft (a literal life saver for millions of people), I realized that accepting help is vital in life, and sometimes help comes in ways in which you wouldn’t have imagined.
Medication isn’t a be-all and end-all, and something that I have overlooked for nearly the entire duration of my life is the power of positive thinking. Of those who closely know me, they will admit that I love to self-deprecate myself and have used humor as a guise to mask that self-deprecation. It is only until recently that I have come to terms that thinking positive and constructive thoughts is as vital to health, if not more vital than eating your fruits and vegetables. I, for the longest time, internalized the concept that I wasn’t really worth anything (which is another post in itself), and because of that, chose to be willing to sacrifice my happiness for the happiness of others. Recently, I decided to grab life by the horns and make some good decisions using these three guiding principles.
- Don’t self deprecate, regardless of the circumstances
- Stay positive even if it feels weird, disingenuous or you encounter a bump in the road
- Prioritize yourself and your happiness
These three principles inspired me to stop wasting my energy on self-deprecation and to put myself out there and start doing constructive things (including creating this blog).
Let me conclude by giving some final thoughts:
You are important.
Your Happiness Matters.
Self-deprecation should not be your norm.
Health is not a static word and does not have a single definition, it will mean something else to everyone.
At the end of the day, you should do only what is in your own self-interest.
Make time to prioritize yourself and your own needs every day.
You can only help those around you when you first help yourself.
Indulgence is a vital part of health.
Don’t be too hard on yourself, especially if you treat others better than yourself.
Positivity is key to survival and happiness
Those are my thoughts. What are yours?