What does Health Look Like?

Here are two memories I have:

The first is when I was 14. I came down with a the most severe case of food poisoning I’ve ever had. It felt like I was dying. The only things I could get down my throat for two weeks were small sips of water and grapefruit (very weird I know). My mom and I both thought maybe I had E. Coli, but the various parasites/bacteria/ the like I got tested for all came back negative, so to this day I do not know what the cause was. I was treated with antibiotics and slowly started feeling better.

I remember feeling so happy to be returning to school after two weeks of being home and watching very poor-quality things on TV like Maury or Jerry Springer. On my first day back, during my last period history class, one of the “popular” girls came up to me and said “Oh my God, Cate! You look so good! You look so thin!” In that moment, I remember exactly what I was wearing: my white running shorts and my blue Hollister long-sleeve-tee (thanks Hollister, for making me a generic teenager).

I remember this moment vividly because her words made me feel good. I felt good that I had gotten sick and that I looked thinner. I felt good that I had probably lost about 10 lbs in 2 weeks. I felt proud.

The second is when I was 22. It took me 5 years to graduate college. The #1 reason was because my Mom worked at the university I attended, meaning my tuition was free, so I ended up taking a lot of classes out of pure interest that did not count towards my degree. (If you are ever so lucky to have the opportunity to do this DO IT! I would have never gotten interested in food security/food justice had this not been the case). I also jumped back and forth between majors because I wasn’t sure if I wanted to become a dietitian or a farmer (that is another post for another time). The second reason was because I have a learning disability and I was always struggling and had to re-take a lot of classes. I didn’t find out I had a learning disability until my 4th year (but that is also another post for another time.)

My 5th year of college, I lived at home with my parents. I had a full course load and two part-time jobs, and my parents were always on my back about improving my grades. I was in constant fear that I wouldn’t graduate that spring due to my grades (and I came really close). I was probably getting an average of 5 hours of sleep a night, and it was during this time that I had one of the only two panic attacks I have ever had in my life (the second was during the swimming portion of my first triathlon. I am not a good swimmer.) I was also taking medication for my learning disability which made me have virtually no appetite, so I was eating whatever I could scrap together whenever I remembered to (which was probably a grand total of two times a day) and I was dealing with all this stress by running 5-6x/week. It was probably one of the most unhappy and unhealthy times in my life.

During this time, I also got into rock climbing. It was a good way to relieve my stress. I remember one night I was climbing with my friend when a girl from my major at school that I had known for years came up to me and commented on my weight, saying how good I looked. “Wow, are you running a lot or something?”, she said. “You look really thin.” I told her that yes, I had been running a lot, and again, I remember a looming feeling of proudness about my thinness.

At some of the sickest, and most unwell times in my life, I have had people go out of their way to come up to me and tell me how good and healthy I looked, as compared to the times when I was actually really very well.

And this really gets me wondering: what do we think health looks like in this country? Do we think that sickly people look healthy? Do we think that only skinny people look healthy? Do we think that someone looks healthy when they lose weight quickly, when they get a hollow face and protruding collarbones? I am not trying to say that skinny people can’t healthy, not at all, but I am questioning the fact that the thinner you are the “better” you look.  Because guess what? Being skinny has absolutely NOTHING to do with health. You cannot tell how healthy someone is by how skinny they are. In fact, I see patients in the hospital every day who have cancer, or GI issues, or major depressive disorder who are losing weight very rapidly, and let me tell you, this is NOT HEALTHY. So why do we praise people for losing weight, regardless of the cause?

I want to re-direct where this blog is going and incorporate more thought-provoking pieces about these types of issues. There will still be recipes on here, but if I didn’t talk about all the issues at hand, I would disservice to the nutrition community, and public health in general.

I entered into the field of nutrition initially because I thought eating things like kale would save the world, but along the way I found there were bigger fights to fight. What I’ve found is that  we put weight on such a pedestal that we sacrifice our health at the expense of losing weight. And that, my friends, is backwards.

There is SO.MUCH.WORK.TO.DO. Let’s get to it.

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