How MY Feminism Intersects Body Consciousness With Health Benefits

Freshman 15?

The first time I heard of this it hit me hard. I was complaining that my eating habits changed drastically since I stated college and I put on some weight. My caring friend said, “Yeah, that’s freshman 15.”

I said, “What does that mean?”

She said, “It’s when you put on 15 pounds in your freshman year. It happens to everyone!”

So does this really happen to everyone? I know how to eat healthy. I’ve been a steady weight all my life, how could college do this to me? I found myself craving more carbs and more food in general. Even now, if I don’t pack a lunch from home, I am always tempted by the cheesy pizza, the beautiful burritos, the salty lo-mien, the long and wide packed sandwiches, and as many sugary treats anyone could asked for, all on display in our wonderful Commons. The days when I don’t pack a lunch, I have to literally put blinders on and make a b-line for the salad area. It takes so much discipline for me not to get that pizza, my favorite food!

I guess I wasn’t ready for this smorgasbord of delicious, unhealthy (in large doses) food appealing to all my senses when most vulnerable to the pains of hunger.  It’s generally up to us to choose what goes into our bodies even when put to the test.  I remember my reaction when I went to an appointment at a local hospital and discovered a McDonald’s inside the building, serving both patients and staff alike. I was amazed. At this point, after the viral documentary, Supersize Me, it seems like at the very least a McDonald’s probably isn’t suited for a hospital.

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It seems like I’m in a constant battle between corporate messages infiltrating my higher consciousness. I’m saturated with tons of health facts while bombarded with fast food restaurants & commercials everywhere I look. To top it all off there is no end to the highly idealized image of the perfect body, the perfect woman. All this is happening simultaneously. So, what am I supposed to do with all this information that is making me doubt everything about myself and my intuition?

Recently I found studies showing that a healthy brain needs a healthy body to operate. Significant studies have found that the failing health of the body correlates to the decline in cognitive ability in older adults. With poor lifestyle choices in diet and emotional management, one is more likely to develop hypertension and/or Cardio Vascular Disease (CVD) which is the #1 killer in the US. Along with this burden, come impaired cognitive abilities, most noted in executive functioning and memory.  Research has also indicated a relationship between obesity and dementia; however this link is diminished when exercise is incorporated.

After I took a long, hard look at the lifestyles, eating habits, and emotional regulation habits, of this great country, I came to some concerns about the overall state of health in the U.S. While I noticed that we are blessed with an abundance of resources, especially food, I noticed myself and many of my friends were stressed out and stretched too thin, in order to compete in this very competitive environment. I definitely need those calories, and fast! Not only do I need the energy, but I also feel a sense of relaxation when it comes to eating. Eating certainly feels good! But I know that if this is my only coping mechanism in this topsy turvy world, then I might find myself in a catch 22. I’ve realized that it is incredibly important to find other, healthy coping mechanisms to maintain a balanced emotional state.

I speak to this in the name of my lived feminism. While the messages of yearly mammograms have paved the way for breast health, so it is also important to be concerned with our cholesterol/triglyceride levels, heart rate and blood pressure for the maintenance of our vascular systems and our hearts. Our bodies are our strongest assets to move through this world! I take it very seriously to treat my body with respect and dignity. For example, I feel every ache and tension and listen to what they have to say. I make sure not to overwork my body and get plenty of sleep at night.  I fuel my body with wholesome and nutritious foods which I know will support my lifestyle. I want to live long with a strong body so I can continue my passion for equality and social justice. I want to watch my kids grow up and visualize a bright future.  I am a feminist who is in tune with my body and wish to share my perspective on why and how. As a woman, I know how much space ‘body image’ takes up in the brain. However, after analyzing this much closer, the image I really want for my body is to be healthy, strong, and reliable.

Maybe scientists need to find a way to genetically modify dark leafy greens to taste like ice cream. Or maybe it just needs to be totally cool to eat veggies and whole grains and totally uncool to eat pizza and fried foods. Perhaps the social stigma of eating unhealthy is the greatest motivator, e.g. what has become of smoking cigarettes. Though I highly doubt this will ever happen.

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Emotional coping mechanisms are plentiful but they do take time out of the day. For example, at the Women’s Center, the Peace@UMBC group meets every Friday from 1-2pm. This is a great skill to carry through life. Meditation is capable of training the monkey mind to work at its optimal level. The potential of the human brain is beyond comprehension and is always yours to discover.

The Women’s Center also facilitates numerous social affinity groups that provide support for the variety of UMBC community members. We also have a convenient library which has an extensive section on health and eating. Additionally, the RAC offers a plethora of yoga, Zumba, and daily workout programs.

With the ideal blend of a healthy diet & emotional regulation including stress management and self-care, would it be possible to live well into the hundreds? Science seems to always be searching for ways to encourage well-being. Of course, some genetic variability will dictate our personal processes and tragedy is bound to touch our lives; it’s how we cope which dictates our personalities. And the elastic quality of our brains allows us to be whatever and whoever we wish to be, e.g. freshman 15… or not.

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