Physical health is just the tip of the iceberg

Physical health is just the tip of the iceberg
Photo by Alexander Hafemann / Unsplash

To my beloved readers: I'm sorry that you haven't heard from me in a while. The truth is, I've been going through something in my personal life and I wasn't in the right mental space to write. And that kind of leads to what I want to tell you about today. Usually I'm more structured with these posts, but I can already tell that this is one is going to be a stream of consciousness directly from my heart.

Part 1: Demands vs Resources

Stress is not always bad. On the contrary, we need some stress to fuel our growth. But, bad things happen when stressors in our lives exceed our capacity to cope with them. You can think of this as a scale, with the demands on us on one end and the resources we have to tackle them on the other:

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Demands can be external things, like getting tasks completed for your boss, cooking dinner for your family, or pushing through a tough workout. But they can also be internal things, like the expectations we set for ourselves and bad feelings like guilt and disappointment that can threaten our self-image. Likewise, resources can be external, such as the support of friends and family, physical safety, and financial security. They can also be internal characteristics, including your experience, your resilience, and your readiness to face challenges.

We spend our whole damn lives trying to balance this scale, and it's never really in perfect balance. When there are too many demands and too few resources, we're overwhelmed. When there are too few demands and too many resources, we're bored. And the thing is, we don't have control over many of the things that get added or taken away from either side of the equation.

So, to get to the point here, my life the last few months involved more demands than I expected and less resources than I expected.

The resources: I sacrificed quite a lot when I decided to leave my job in tech (though I still believe this was a good decision for me). Financially, I went from being a salaried employee to having to scrape by and live off my ever-declining savings account. My husband was then laid off, which added another layer of financial stress to the both of us.

More importantly, though, I lost a huge chunk of my social and emotional support system when I had to move away from New York City to a lower cost of living area. I've tried my best to make new friends, but it takes time to find people who you can build a sense of trust and understanding with.

The demands: Maybe it wasn't the best idea to train for my first marathon during my first semester of graduate school. But that didn't even turn out to be the main issue for me.

The main issue was that while I was training for a marathon, I found out that the graduate program for which I'd turned my life upside down to attend, was a sham. It literally failed to deliver on every requirement. The professional practice hours we needed to graduate were not arranged, even though it was the program's responsibility to do so. All the instructors were under-qualified to teach. The administration was disorganized and reckless.

Before this, I had spent 2 years of my life working part time, taking pre-requisite classes, and losing a lot of sleep, just for the privilege of applying to graduate school. In the end, it had cost my time and effort, a cross-country move, an additional $10,000 of my very limited savings, and all the hope I had built up for years only to twiddle my thumbs for a semester.

To make things worse, I felt very alone. When I spoke up about the issues we were experiencing, only one of my classmates backed me up. The lack of peer support made me question whether I was overreacting and wonder why I was the only one who was struggling. For the first time, I started having doubts about whether this career change was really worth it for me.

Photo by DuoNguyen / Unsplash

Part 2: The Iceberg

After I ran my marathon in November, I felt like I didn't have anything else to look forward to. The whole school situation and the loneliness started to get to me and I ended up putting on 6 lbs in a month. Despite my love for fitness, I got depressed and I couldn't motivate myself to do any type of exercise for a few weeks. Despite all my experience in the nutrition field, I snacked excessively to take my mind off things. As a health coach, I felt ashamed that I was slipping into what I knew were unhealthy coping mechanisms.

Something that has been on my mind a lot lately is how harshly we judge ourselves and others based on physical traits.

If you've ever gained or lost a significant amount of weight, you're probably familiar with the halo effect. In our society, thinness is often attributed with success, wealth, beauty, kindness, and other positive traits. In contrast, larger bodies are associated with laziness, meanness, and other undesirable traits.

None of those associations really hold water in reality. In my experience, when someone gains a lot of weight, it's usually a sign that they've encountered major stress or trauma. Clearly, there's a physical reason for weight gain (everything you've heard about eating too much and moving too little), but when we dig deeper, we find that the root cause is rarely physical.

People do not become overweight just because they are lazy. People may become overweight because they were bullied as teens or because they suffered abuse as adults. People may become overweight because of how the demands of them at work and home pile up, and because of how the pressure to care for others diminishes the time and energy they have to care for themselves. People may become overweight because of any of the myriad of ways that life can beat them down.

People do not need their healthcare providers to remind them every year to eat more vegetables. They need their healthcare providers to respect them, listen to them, and care about them as unique individuals. Physicians and dietitians and trainers alike are trained to treat the symptoms, but they're not trained to treat the person.

This may be a hard pill to swallow, but real transformation doesn't happen when you find the perfect macros or the perfect training plan for your body. Transformation happens when you take a deeper look, do some truly difficult internal work, and heal yourself from within.

Part 3: Healing your mind is healing your body

The man seals the wound with adhesive plaster. The medicine. Injury. Wound. Infection. First aid. Pain
Photo by Diana Polekhina / Unsplash

I always encourage people to show themselves grace in hard times, but I'm never going to recommend wallowing in self-pity and resentment. So now my own pity party must come to an end.

In this case, I have the privilege of removing myself from an environment that wasn't healthy for me (by transferring to a different school). I fully recognize that not everyone has that privilege. Sometimes you have to come up with creative ways to advocate for your needs within a toxic environment. Sometimes you have to distance yourself from it by setting boundaries. It's not easy.

When it comes to health, getting out of a negative cycle will look different for every person and for every situation. Even though I'm itching to lose the extra weight, because I am feeling uncomfortable, I know that jumping headfirst into a strict fat loss diet wouldn't be the best option for me personally at this time.

This time around, I'm starting by prioritizing the emotional and social aspects of my health, because I know that the physical aspect will fall into place afterward. My process involves meeting up with friends for drinks, going to holiday parties, and spending quality time with family. It involves preparing meals from scratch in my kitchen and sitting down at the table with my husband to enjoy them together. It involves easing myself back into the gym with lower intensity sessions that end with stretching and relaxation.

While this isn't necessarily the best or fastest way to snap back into shape, it's the best way for me to get my mind right, which is the best way to get and keep my body healthy longer term.

If you made it this far, thank you for reading this Sunday update, although it was a lot more personal than normal. To everyone who reads my content, it really means a lot to me. I fully intend to get back onto my regular Tuesday posting schedule in the new year, so please let me know which topics you'd like to hear about. I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season!