C.H.E.P.: A Story of Being Healthier

“You’re such a skinny-minnie!”
“Your waist is so small! “
“You eat like a bird.”
“Why don’t you eat?”

For all of my life, I have been a tiny girl. Not short-tiny, mind you. Skinny-tiny.
Being vertically-challenged doesn’t bother me. It’s the horizontal bit that draws my ire.

I’ve been underweight for as long as I can remember, and I got tired of it really fast. When you’re a skinny girl, you don’t get a lot of help or sympathy for your particular weight problem. In fact, most girls can’t understand why you see it as a problem to begin with. “Don’t you want to be skinny?” They ask.

No. No, I don’t.
I don’t want to be excessively skinny. Skinniness sucks.

When you’re not very underweight, then it’s not a problem. You can blame your skinniness on genetics, biological factors, or other uncontrollable elements of your life. You look in-shape without even trying, and you don’t have to hold back from eating what you want because you’re supposed to be gaining weight. Being a little underweight is like being a little overweight; it’s completely natural, and you can still look and feel great despite of it.

However, being very underweight is not nearly as desirable. It gets in the way of a lot of things you want to do in life. Why? Because it wasn’t natural, and so your health suffers from it. I should know; I suffered from it, too.

Around high school, I completely lost my appetite. I hardly ate anything at all and, if I did eat, it would be an extremely small meal. I didn’t have an eating disorder like the ones they teach you about in high school health classes; I didn’t want to be skinnier, and I didn’t starve myself or count calories or do anything else to reduce food intake for the sheer purpose of being skinny. I just didn’t get hungry. I had no appetite, and I couldn’t figure out how to deal with that.

Instead, I just didn’t eat. On my best days, my mother would cook me a good dinner at home (which I would have to eat just to escape parental wrath) and I’d eat a hamburger at school for lunch. On the worst days, I would skip both breakfast and dinner and for lunch I would have 4-5 fruit snack gummies. The rest of the bag I gave to my friends for them to eat.

My family, friends, and teachers couldn’t tell at first that my eating habits had deteriorated so rapidly. When I chose to eat and how I chose to throw my food away made it difficult for the people around to keep track of how much I was actually consuming. Only after my health started failing–when I couldn’t help but faint in class or at cross country practices, and I had to sleep for 18+ hours on weekends just to get through them–did people start to notice. Even then, though, I didn’t have the motivation or the knowledge to actually change my habits, and the people around me couldn’t understand why I couldn’t just fix the problem myself.

After all, being skinny isn’t a real problem, right?

Turns out it is. Aside from more well-known eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia, there are many other varieties that exist too. In addition, your lifestyle can affect what food you have access to and whether or not you can eat what you need. Finally, you could have a problem with your digestive system, pituitary glands, or other important internal systems that can impede your appetite. For me, my lack of appetite was a result of how my stomach processed food. Having not eaten much as a kid, my stomach developed in such a way that it doesn’t produce the digestive enzymes I need to break down foods quickly. As a result, I don’t feel hungry as often as I should and then I don’t eat. 

I didn’t learn that in the nurses’ office at my high school, nor in the emergency room after fainting in class. I learned that when I came to Cornell University and found the Cornell Healthy Eating Program (C.H.E.P.). There, I finally saw a doctor and a nutritionist who helped me narrow down what was wrong. Although we couldn’t figure why the process started, we figured out why my digestive system doesn’t work as well now that I’m an adult and we figured out what I could do to reverse it. With a few digestive enzyme pills, I’m already seeing tremendous change in my appetite and I’m finally gaining some weight. To keep the progress up, I can participate in the programs group help session or continue to see their nutriotinist at an affordable rate.throughout my time here at Cornell. I greatly appreciate the help I’m receiving through this program, because finally I feel as if I have the motivation and knowledge about my specific condition to actually make changes in my eating habits.

I also realized that I was always extremely bitter about being skinny. I carried that bitterness into college. I used to feel like I couldn’t help being underweight or never feeling really hungru, and I resented anyone who tried to tell me that I should “try harder” to eat better. Being underweight forced me to stop running in high school–a sport and activity I loved dearly–and I lost the opportunity to be active and exercise in the ways I would have liked. Every time I got a dizzy spell from standing up after a lecture, every time I fell short of breathe walking around campus, every time I came close to fainting during work–I hated being skinny. And later on, I started to dislike having people call me skinny or telling me that they wanted to be skinnier. It made me very unhappy in some ways.

I’m not completely over being skinny. I still think being especially underweight is a drag, but finally I found to combat my appetitie problems in a way that made me feel like I had control over my situation. For that reason, I’m more optimistic than ever that I won’t have to be this skinny for very long and that my health will finally get better.

It’s why, for any student who may be struggling with a food issue, I greatly recommend checking out C.H.E.P.. Even if they can’t help you overcome your problem right away, simply the act of getting support and information for yourself can be very empowering. I’m glad that Cornell University chose to have this program available to students.

A Year in Writing

Near the end of 2012, a friend of mine who I met at Cornell gave a great present to me. It was journal which had a single page for every day of the year and five boxes on each page. The boxes were there so one could to write a short paragraph about what one did each  of the year each year for five consecutive years. It was a “One-Line-a-Day” journal, and I’ve been very happy to have it. It is one of the most thoughtful, physical gifts I have ever received.

Now it is 2014 and I have one box filled on each page for every day of the year 2013 in this journal. In this new year, I now have the joy of being able to not only record my thoughts on paper but to also see what I was thinking and doing exactly one year ago on any given day. It’s been a very interesting ability and it’s perfect for reflection. For example, it’s interesting to see how differently I enjoyed New Years’ Day this year and the first day of Spring Semester at Cornell University versus how I passed those days in 2013.

It’s hard to notice changes in your life when they happen so gradually. Most people only get the chance to look back on things once lots of time has passed, and by then things are so different and so far in the past that it’s hard to really absorb it the same way as I now can. It’s why I value this gift so much. 

Here is a piece of advice for all incoming students at Cornell University: invest in one of these journals. Freshman year is a great time to start, especially if you acquire a journal with enough pages for five years. Such a journal would allow you to compare your thoughts and actions as a Freshman and those as a young adult one year after graduation (and, of course, all the years in between). Wouldn’t you want to be able to do that?

…no?

Huh.

Maybe it’s just me then.

 

Regardless, I still recommend it.

4 Things for Spring 2014

Well, it’s back to the grind.

Welcome back to Cornell University, everyone. It’s the first week of the new semester–Spring of 2014, to be exact–and it’s time we got our priorities straight before we get bogged down with work or caught up with fun.

…okay, so I’m the one who needs to rethink things. Bear with me as I highlight the four things I really need to get down by the end of my Junior year:

  1. Improve my health. The last few years haven’t been the best years for me health-wise. Between all the lack of exercise, poor sleeping and eating habits, and overall stress I’ve gained, it’s no wonder I don’t feel as good going up stairs as I used to feel. I don’t want to graduate from college in worse health than I entered it. Any poor habits I pick up here will only carry over into my adult life and make it very difficult for me to adjust to whatever new lifestyle I might want to take on later in life. I don’t have to pull miracles; I just need to make small, consistent changes to make me healthier than I am now.
  2. Get a grip on some career path. I need to take some concrete steps towards securing a job after graduation. Now that I’m getting older and I’m starting to have an idea as to where and how I want to live, I need to spend just as much time thinking about what kind of job will get me there. Ideally I would have had a solid idea of what I want to do when I first entered college. I know now that you benefit most from Cornell’s career services when you know specifically what you want to get out of them and take advantage of their opportunities early on in your academic career. However, I can still benefit from their services if I start now. Maybe I can start with some work over the summer? Maybe that will help point me in the right direction.
  3. Capitalize on my hobbies. Last year, I put a lot of effort into dividing my team equally between work and my hobbies. As a Freshman, I didn’t have that balance. I spent all my time on my studies and gave up my hobbies, and I was very unhappy as a result. Sophomore year resulted in the reverse; I spent a lot of time on my hobbies and was very relaxed, but I didn’t get the grades I wanted from my classwork. Now I feel like I have a better grip on that balance, but I still want to get more tangible results out of my hobbies. It’s about time I looked into how I can combine my hobbies and work together so as to be more productive with my time in general.
  4. Get Out More. Period. I spent way too much time at home last semester. Whether it was to finish my classwork, to heal from various illnesses, or to just be lazy, I spent many days lounging around in bed with my laptop by my side and cellphone turned off. I’m not very picky; I can be in the same space peacefully for weeks without complaining. However, staying at home all the time doesn’t do me any favors. It’s a bad habit to pick up as a student. I don’t want to spend my time missing out on all the cool events and opportunities around campus, just to regret it later on in life.
So there you have it. Not the most interesting article I’ve written to date, is it? Ah well, it was necessary. A bit of reflection, a statement of a few resolutions…why not try it yourself? Before heading off for the new semester, come up with four broad goals you want to achieve by the end of the year. I’d love to hear them in the comments below. Who knows? You might inspire to take on a fifth goal myself.