Honoring Health Vow #7

I Will Honor My Body by Eating Healthy, Prioritizing Sleep, and Being Active

It’s interesting how things you know to be true and important as an adolescent start to somehow take the back seat as time goes by. I rarely remember leaving our home to attend high school without eating breakfast. And if I happened to be running late that morning, then my sisters and I would be sure to swing by the cafeteria to grab breakfast before first period. In the 70’s, 80’s, and early 90’s schools had breakfast and lunch programs with homemade meals that were actually savory.

As an active teenage athlete, who participated in every activity possible, I learned early on that without eating breakfast, I could not focus. Instead of paying attention in class, I’d be thinking about when and where I could catch my next meal. We were obviously on to something, as increasing the number of healthful breakfast and lunch programs in schools is an initiative of Healthy People 2020 with the goal to promote ideal body weight and prevent obesity and chronic disease.

This early-learned behavior in my middle and late adolescence proved to be invaluable.   But sometimes we forget. As time passed I still prioritized the first meal of the day. In college, I realized if I didn’t fuel up during the early am hours, my energy level would encourage me to take an afternoon siesta instead of attending class.

As life happens, we get busy…and pulled in different directions.   Quickly, other tasks become central to our morning routines as we progress in our studies, take on demanding roles and careers, and fill our schedules from moment to moment.

I recall when I stopped putting myself first; I was in Medical School. Getting to class on time could be a challenge after late night study sessions or maybe even just a night out dancing in Chicago’s scene to keep life all in balance. Eating on the go, grabbing a meal in inexpensive restaurants with questionable food quality and during random hours started to take a toll on my body. I started developing unexplained stomach pain and was soon diagnosed with chronic inflammation after presenting to several doctors trying to convince them something was wrong even though I appeared healthy. With the inflammation came loss of bowel function, weight loss, fatigue, stress and worry. It was a wake up call to remember what I’d always known to be important; to always put my health and body first.

By the time I started residency I hadn’t quite learned my lesson until midway through intern year.   I had just ended a six-week rotation on labor and delivery that involved nightly 15-hour shifts.   I remember choosing sleep over eating. As an avid runner, even exercise became sporadic for a time depending on my schedule.

Then the lesson to be learned revealed itself. My body had had enough. My wake up call came charging me to remember that young woman who knew self-care is first priority. I got so ill; I was forced to take a week off.

There is always a lesson underlying any challenge we are having in our bodies. And that one lesson, that one hospitalization was enough for me.

I made sure to start off each day with a healthy, hearty breakfast. I prioritized eating lunch, no matter how busy I perceived things to be. I learned to ignore my guilty feelings of taking time to sit down and honor a meal during a busy shift or in between operating room procedures. I forced myself not to focus on what other colleagues might be thinking if they saw me eating lunch when they hadn’t found the time for themselves. Not only was I physically rewarded; I felt more present, more pleasant, and more energetic. I was able to offer my patients the better version of their doctor and truly optimize my focus.  Most important, I’ve avoided illness over the past 14 plus years. Lesson learned.

Our bodies are our temples. They speak to us and through us. Our bodies house our spirits, our mind, our intentions, and help us to communicate with and experience everything life has to offer. It is impossible to function a your highest point of your creative peak and at the height of your productivity if you are depriving your body of the healthy nutrients it needs.  It all starts with You.