This post marks the first in my new campaign, which I have called #healthyinhc which stands for “Healthy in Healthcare.” It’s about individuals who work in the healthcare industry who struggle with challenges at work and elsewhere, who spend the better part of their day trying to help other people, often left with poor health inside and out for themselves. I encourage you to share what’s on your mind, what you’re dealing with, and what you’re going to do about it, so we can all create a network to support one another.
Since I was a child, I have always been chubby. In my younger years, it was all just part of being another awkward kid. As the years went on and I became a teenager, I got a little taller and slimmed a bit. At the end of high school, I worked as camp counselor and weighed the lowest I have ever weighed as an adult, 170 pounds. I was running around with campers and playing sports out in the sun, and it was easy to stay healthy. Then I went to college.
College is where I learned to stress eat. It was my first time being away from home and living on my own. Like everyone else in my situation, I was making my own decisions – in my case, they were pretty unhealthy ones. As I worked toward my degree and on my path toward medical school, my stress level increased. I had always loved food, but college is when food became my nemesis. I had a meal card with a certain amount of money on it each semester, and I was able to spend it how I chose – I chose extremely poorly. A typical meal for me in college was a combination of a slice of pizza, pasta, garlic bread, a burger and fries, or some other fast food type meal. To add insult to injury, I pretty much ended every meal with dessert which may have been cake, brownies, or my favorite – chocolate chip cookies.
With no one around to remind me to take care of myself, and in the uncontrollable spiral of stress that premedical students and college students in general know, I gained a lot of weight. You’ve probably heard of the “freshman fifteen.” Well, I sadly put on forty pounds in four years. I rarely ate salads or fruits. I tried to exercise, but went about five times per month during a good month. As I got toward the end of college, I felt out of control. My family and friends noticed and tried to have their own versions of a “come to Jesus” talk with me. I vowed to do better.
The next chapter for me was medical school in Philadelphia. I loved living in the city. I had my own studio apartment for the first time. I had a part time job. I was paying my own bills between my job and my student loans. I was still making my own decisions for meals. Now, I was forced to learn how to cook and prepare meals, but I still relied heavily on buying fast food. My relationship with food in medical school only grew more strained. As I faced academic challenge after challenge, and grew anxious about what would happen in my future, I ate my way through it all. For a short period of time in medical school, I actually lost some weight and got down to the 190s. That was big progress for me at the time. Unfortunately it wasn’t sustainable.
As I got toward the later years of medical school, I regressed and found solace once again in food. I realized then that I ate emotionally, not for nutrition. This has been a huge hurdle for me since I started college. I vividly remember finishing boxes and boxes of cheese-its while studying for my USMLE exams. In the moment, I was more focused on getting through school, so I could match into a residency program, and ultimately provide for my family. My health again took a back burner.
Match day came and went. Graduation came and went. Then I moved to Baltimore to start residency. If college was hard, medical school seemed simply impossible. If medical school seemed impossible, residency has felt like the hardest thing I will ever have to do in my life. Without getting into the specifics, it’s been a tough 30 months.
I learned to cook better meals, but I simply still could not avoid stress eating. Furthermore, with the lack of time I have, I made lots of excuses and relied on free food inevitably available in our resident lounge and the many break rooms I have learned to seek shelter in over the years.
But now, I am drawing a line in the sand. Today I decided that I would forever make a commitment to change my relationship with food. Today I decided to make a decision to value my health. Today I decided that I know better, that my medical training gives me an even more unique upper hand toward a path to better health, and that I want to be an example for others to follow.
I went to my local gym, and re-activated the membership I had let lapse last year. I had my first workout in months. I ate healthy today. I ate for nutrition. It’s not easy to make these decisions, but I know what it means to set a goal and achieve it.
Fifteen years ago, I sat in my high school guidance counselors office, and voiced my desire to go to medical school. I wanted to help people toward better health, to use my love of science and combine it with my slowly growing love of people. I sit here now, in 2018, in the last 6 months of my residency training. I have my independent medical licenses pending. I have my sights on graduation. I will soon finally finish the journey toward becoming a doctor.
It’s time. It’s time for me to stand up for myself. It’s time for me to get well, inside and out. Right now, here, today, I put my reputation and struggles out there for you all to know, so I can hold myself accountable, and share my trials and tribulations.
The truth is that this July may mark the end of a chapter, but what comes next – that’s the meat and potatoes, as my best friend Bharat would say. Join me as I take on my biggest challenge in life…