Thursday, October 3, 2013

Guest Post: Work Hard, Play Hard, Get Sicker? - A Reclamation of Health

Considering the general content on blogs geared towards individuals that want to lose weight and discover new ways to improve their health, you might be surprised by this post.  Maybe you are expecting a story about an obese, sedentary medical student who finally ran that 10K.  Or maybe you anticipated a story about my arduous triumph over a long-time sugar addiction from unhealthy eating habits developed during long nights of studying.  I'm sorry to inform you that this isn't one of those stories.  Well, not exactly, anyway.  

As I write this, it's 2:37 am on a Tuesday.  I fell asleep around 11:30 pm last night and slept for approximately three hours before I woke up fifteen minutes ago.  No alarm.  No urge to go to the bathroom.  No need to grab a glass of water.  My body simply decided that three hours of sleep would suffice for the time being, and I've been wide awake ever since.  I wish I could say that this scenario was unusual, but, unfortunately, it has become the norm for me lately.

So who am I, and why am I telling you all of this?  Prior to medical school, I had a brief career in finance but decided to go back to school because I have a fervent desire to change the way people think about their health.  I have always been one of those annoying people who gets way too excited about nutrition and fitness,  yammering on and on to those willing to listen about how illness can be prevented or even reversed through proper nutrition and exercise.  But with this passion for fitness and nutrition came the gradual cultivation of someone who became a little too anal about her health.  You probably know someone like me.  Eats lean meats, usually with a sweet potato or a green vegetable of some variety.  Drinks water or tea exclusively, probably from a reusable water bottle, because, you know, caring about the environment is what healthy people do.  Never misses a workout.  Wouldn't be caught dead with a soda or a sugary treat. 

From the outside, these people (yes, myself included) seem to have it all together, but the secret is that people like this often struggle with unforeseen health problems and chronic fatigue.  So here I am, almost  halfway through my medical education, and I'm writing about reclaiming my health.  You're probably still confused, thinking, "What is this post doing on the Sweat and Butter Journal?"  Allow me to paint a picture of my life from an outsider's perspective:  

28-year-old female, 2nd year medical student at a U.S. allopathic medical school.  Crossfit 4-6 days per week.  Eats a strict Paleo diet 85% of the time. Clothing size: anywhere from a zero to a size two.  Studies hard and fairly efficiently during the school week to allow herself the freedom of taking at least 1 day off per weekend.  Making above average grades in school.  

Life appears to be in order for the most part, right?  Now for the insider's perspective: 

28-year-old female, 2nd year medical student at a U.S. allopathic medical school.  Crossfit 4-6 days per week but often goes into workouts feeling exhausted and hungry.  Eats a strict Paleo diet 85% of the time but struggles with feelings of fear and guilt around eating.  Preoccupation with which foods will contribute to weight gain and which foods "should" or "shouldn't" be consumed.  Clothing size: zero to two but definitely on the smaller side since starting 2nd year of medical school.  Studies hard and efficiently, but largely because she takes prescribed Dexmethylphenidate (an ADHD stimulant similar to Adderall) as a study aid.  Not physically dependent on the stimulant but has definitely developed a psychological dependence.  During the week, sleeps ~6 hours per night at best, and most of the time those hours are not consecutive.  Usually needs to take Melatonin before bed in order to fall asleep.  Has noticed an increase in skin breakouts.  Irregular menstrual periods for almost one year.  Low energy.  Mood fluctuations. 

I could go on, but hopefully I have made my point.  To put it simply, my hormones are completely out of whack.  Despite physical fitness and a clean diet, I feel like I am slipping further and further from true health.  Many of us operate under this illusion of what is healthy.  We are some combination of over-stimulated, over-worked, under-rested, and malnourished.  Our bodies, in careful hormonal and chemical balance when working their best, are becoming fatigued and out of sync as a result.

I recently made the decision to wean myself off of my stimulant medications, and it has been one of the hardest things I have had to do in a long time.  While my hormones gradually readjust, I'm struggling to stay focused and study without a crutch.  Most importantly (pay attention here), I'm having to relearn that I am enough and that my body can only do so much. I’ll repeat that so that you can apply it to yourself: YOU ARE ENOUGH, AND YOUR BODY CAN ONLY DO SO MUCH.  Please, read that statement a few times, and let it really sink in.  Print t-shirts with that slogan on the front if it helps.

My point in telling you my story is this: much of our lives are dictated by excess.  Doing more.  Having more.  Wanting more.  Purchasing.  Consuming.  Achieving.  Endless social media accounts to portray a variety of images to the world.  We’re a culture that values being busy and productive.  Our worth is measured by how we look, the clothes we wear, the number of friends/followers on social media websites, our productivity level, how much we can lift in the gym, our class ranking, our alma mater, etc, but the awesomely liberating thing is that none of that really matters.

I left my prior career to pursue medicine, because I have a deep desire to really affect change in people’s lives through proper health management, and, without realizing it, I slowly became a hypocrite of the gospel I was preaching.  More isn't always better.  I am beyond excited that I’m slowly reclaiming my health while staying true to my values.  Will my productivity suffer?  Maybe.  Will I be a healthier person and a better role model to my patients, friends and family because I’ve decided to take my health back?  I'd like to think so.

So please, from one imperfect human being to another: Slow down. Love yourself. Love others. And always remind yourself that you are enough.

Whether you're a medical student, physician, nutritionist, Crossfit gym owner, parent, nurse, dietitician, wizard...remember that you are a role model of health to somebody somewhere. Please periodically re-evaluate why you worked so hard to get wherever you are in life and why you continue to work so hard now that you’re there.  Would you consider yourself to be a good role model of health?   Life is hard, and nobody is perfect, but it is up to each one of us to challenge our own excuses and take an honest look at how our actions positively or negatively contribute to the current state of our health.  

Also, go to bed.  There's always tomorrow...  

Ashley Thomas is a 2nd year medical student with a passion for people, preventative medicine, mental wellness, and living life outside the box. She is always looking to meet new people and learn from their personal struggles and triumphs with regards to health and wellness. Please do not hesitate to contact her at

Sweat and Butter Newsletter

For Email Marketing you can trust

No comments :

Post a Comment

Follow me on Twitter @BeyondtheMD