Academics and other professionals in the workforce work long hours, take few vacations, and if we’re just talking U.S. stats here, take the least amount of time off of most global cultures. Something usually ‘gives’ as a result of this lifestyle and it is our health. I am no stranger to this plight in life and recently had my annual physical (covered by insurance, thank you) and got some good news.
It’s no secret that grad school is an emotionally draining, exhausting, low self-effiicacy time in ones life. If you’re in grad school, have completed or not, you know what I’m talking about. If you’re thinking about grad school and reading this, please think long and hard about the decision you might be making. Grad school is no picnic, at least no picnic I would want to be invited too for any longer than I stayed in grad school. So, the long and the short of my life prior to this date: STRESSFUL. I had and have many things to be thankful for, but I found myself struggling. During my divorce, I would like to categorize myself in the “Hot Mess” category and that’s when my blood pressure went through the roof. It was all stress, I was walking stress. My primary care doctor put me on a low dose of blood pressure meds to help me out. We both knew it was due in large part to the divorce and all of the unpleasantness around it. Post divorce, I started to eat. A LOT. I replaced my life and loss with food. I can admit this whole heartedly because it’s true. I gained weight. I gained lots of weight. My doctor was concerned, I was concerned, but still I ate.
I came to grad school. I dropped some weight. I began to feel better. I exercised regularly. I fought the battle with carbs. They still won from time to time. I stayed on BP meds b/c my new doctor still wanted me too. But then….I began to sit. All day. Every day. For 8-12 hours. And then I gained weight back. CRAP. The clothes in the ‘regular’ stores started to not fit. HOLY S&%T. Houston, we’ve got a problem.
I finished writing my dissertation. I joined weight watchers. I returned to having some time to worry about my health and well being. I started watching what I was shoving in my face instead of mindlessly eating while reading articles, writing, being sad/anxious/depressed, and being mindful of portions again. Do I still lose it to the carb monster? YUP. Am I still heavy? YUP. But, I’m 20 lbs. less heavy than I was just a year ago. Not bad. Is my modeling contract coming through? HELL NO. But the clothes in the stores fit again, old clothes fit again. I am no longer a slave to stretchy pants unless I choose to be. I stopped paying for weight watchers and joined an online program to track my calories and exercise. I gained four pounds back. I’ve lost one or two. I’m teetering but thankfully haven’t gained it all back for a reason. Discipline. Mindful eating. Purpose.
Back to my annual physical. As I sat there getting my annual evaluation, I was happy. My BP: NORMAL, textbook. My weight loss: so far, so good. Never perfect–but what is? My scale-put away. I was obsessing so I quit obsessing over .5 lb. on a Tuesday and put the damn thing in the closet. My doctor was so nice and commented that things looked good and that I must have finished grad school b/c I looked happy. No more BP meds. Just a Flintstone’s chewable and dairy products/calcium so I don’t shrivel up like a prune w/ osteoporosis.
Why did I spend a whole post talking about my weight? Because as academics, it’s important. We have to take care of our bodies so our brains (our moneymakers if you will–hahaha) can do the work. Will I become a vegan–another HELL NO–I love meat and dairy and eggs and all things mostly. But, it’s important in academia and in between the classes, student meetings, and edits to articles to take care of yourself. Don’t end up like me. It really wasn’t any fun. I still lack discipline with food. It’s my crutch, my addiction, but I am learning to come to terms with what I want to eat and what my body NEEDS for nutrition. I don’t ever aim to be a size 4 or 6, but I do aim to keep my blood pressure in check, my clothes fitting (getting big would also be great), and being around to annoy the people I love for a good long time.
Summer is a good time to start new habits. A new habit can take up to three months to adopt as a regular lifestyle so start small today. Take a walk. Take a friend for a walk. Eat that piece of cake. Don’t eat six pieces of cake. Figure out the areas where you can achieve success so you don’t set yourself up to automatically fail. These are not things we think of as over-educated professionals. But starting small will keep our bodies happy, our brains producing, and our loved ones feeling loved.
What’s the take home message here? Don’t be like me. Learn how to cope, learn how to manage the ‘food beast’ as I’ve coined it in my head. There is no simple solution, there is no easy fix, and while we may have advanced educational opportunities, we can still easily succumb to bad habits.
As a faculty member, how do you carve out time for yourself? If you can’t answer that question immediately, it’s time. Join me and the millions of others who are working for the Health of it.