Archive for the 'Health' Category

The Wall :: Part 2

Monday, August 27th, 2007

Ashley Taylor

The experience of running the Los Angeles Marathon has been one of the most defining experiences of my life.

I learned that independence is not conducive to success and that if I really wanted to finish, I was going to have to break down and allow my sorority sisters, the girls who mean the world to me, to share in my pain, struggles, victories and experience with me. Even more, I was overwhelmed by how God was with me holding my hand every step of the way.

The race itself was fun! I had a great cardio mix in my iPod and took a reasonable pace. Mile 15 was my first personal accomplishment because after that, every step I took was further than I had ever run before. I started hurting at mile 17, either my feet or knees went first, I don’t even remember. At mile 18 one of my friends was waiting with a huge blue and gold sign cheering me on, which was absolutely perfect timing.

I hit my wall at mile 24. My body HURT.

As I ran past a man with Isaiah 40 (something to the effect of “God will renew your strength”) on the back of his shirt, I tapped his shoulder and asked him to pray for me. He was enthusiastic to do so, but never did I EVER think I would ask a stranger to pray for me. I was reminded of all my sisters who I knew had my back and would be doing the same and smiled— and was encouraged to keep going.

When I finished and regained enough motor coordination to check my phone, eight out of the 10 messages waiting, were from my sisters, with many more calls from them to come later. As much as going into this run I didn’t realize what a team effort it would be, I could not have done it without them. They drove me around, listened to me process, checked up on my eating, served as emergency contacts, and rejoiced in my triumphs with me. It’s really just a snapshot of how integral my sorority sisters are to my life.

I’d been at my wall, hit my limit, cried countless tears (which is not my normal response to anything), and almost dropped out entirely. I carried on by God’s grace and because of His prompting. I don’t know why I would think that running a marathon would be a worthwhile investment of time, but God’s faithfulness through training and the race itself was tangible and indescribable. It was manifested in the people around me and the race itself, which was literally the application of the physical conditioning and mental training I had been through. It was acknowledging that I might not make it, but refusing to accept that and power through.

I was praying to God in the midst of my body, mind, and soul. And that experience made it worth everything. The first question I always get asked is what my time was, but instead of answering I smile and say that the goal was to finish without stopping or walking, which by God’s grace and my girlfriends’ support—I did. And despite becoming acutely aware of my insufficiency, persevering through to the finish line, fueled by adrenaline and hope, overwhelmed me with the reality of God, His faithfulness, and gave me more confidence in myself than anything else ever has.

Ashley is a senior biological anthropology major at UCLA. She is the wellness chair of Alpha Delta Chi and the safety officer on the Bruin Waterski Team. She loves running and wakeboarding, and is passionate about encouraging women in confronting and overcoming eating disorders.

The Wall :: Part 1

Thursday, May 10th, 2007

Ashley Taylor

I reviewed the payment, sighed, and clicked “submit”. Oh well, it’s not like I’m a broke college student or anything. This will be worth it, I told myself, I’m just not sure why.

Why did I just sign up for the Los Angeles Marathon? I believe that purposeless activity has no place in my life and I avoid it to every extent that I can. So it killed me to commit to running a marathon when at that moment I had no idea why I was doing it. When I had started casually training in April of 2006, I thought I wanted to do it to prove myself. As I spent my first two years of high school on crutches with nerve damage to my left ankle and my freshman year of college battling a relatively significant eating disorder a marathon seemed to be the ultimate victory over both of those situations.

But after almost a year of training with about six weeks to go I was beyond burnt out, questioning my motives, not sure that it was worth it. Training took a lot of time and energy, it was the latest justification for mediocre grades, and I just wasn’t excited about running anymore. I considered dropping out, but I continued training. A triathlete friend suggested that the most solid form of insurance against dropping out would be to pay the pricey entry fee. So I did.

Seeing a confirmation with my bib number actually did make a difference in renewing my drive for the race. It suddenly seemed real to me, not just an abstract idea unworthy of how hard I was daily beating my body into the ground. I accepted that there were reasons that I was running this that I wouldn’t actually know or understand until I had crossed the finish line, but for right now, the commitment to myself and God was enough.

In the last two weeks before the big race I experienced life from a perspective I had never seen it through before. Preparing for my goal of finishing a 26.2 mile run without stopping or walking at any point well acquainted me with my inadequacies. As I felt completely unprepared for my race I had to learn quickly to lean on my sisters, to not be afraid to ask for their help or cry on their shoulders. These two weeks alone would have made it worth the effort. Although I was nervous and had no idea what to expect come race day, I was amazed and encouraged by my sisters rallying around me and the peace that secured my desire to continue running.

The race conveniently enough fell after a week-long battle with a sore throat and stuffy nose, and on top of that it was the morning after our formal date party. Fortunately, my date was a complete gentleman bringing me home early and I actually wasn’t too worked up to sleep and fully recover from my cold. When I woke up I was somehow energized, excited, and for the first time, I felt ready. One of my ADChi sisters drove me to Universal Studios, the start location, and saw me off promising that she and her roommate would be back to pick me up in Downtown LA at my estimated finish time. I approached the starting line, cued up my iPod, and started a 26.2 mile long prayer.

Ashley is a senior biological anthropology major at UCLA. She is the wellness chair of Alpha Delta Chi and the safety coordinator on the Bruin Waterski Team. She loves running and wakeboarding, and is passionate about encouraging women in confronting and overcoming eating disorders.

Eat Your Heart Out :: Part 3

Tuesday, April 10th, 2007

Ashley Taylor

I believe that “eating disorder” is a misnomer. The actual disorder is in how a person views their self-worth in relationship to the influential factors in his or her life. Parents, schoolwork, environmental stresses like dorm life or a Greek house, dating, roommates and pledging, for example, are all where we, as college students, find our value, our place and home at our universities. When a person’s relationship with any of these or similar factors are unhealthy, this can easily be manifested in that person’s relationship with him or herself: body, mind and spirit. Once that relationship is off-balance, the risk of projecting the need for control on one’s own body is almost too great to suppress. A person’s relationship with the outside world so directly affect’s his or her relationship with his or her self, and has the capacity to shred his or her self-image.

I have already outlined general concepts on healthy eating and working out. This installment is supposed to tie those two together to promote a healthy self-image, without which food and exercise are valueless beyond their material qualities. What is the purpose of eating? What is the purpose of exercise? If these sound like silly questions, then I dare say that you’ve never been asked them before.

If the point of eating is to fuel the body to exercise, and working out is properly process the food, then it is a seamless cycle. And a bit futile. Both notions are essential not only to this physical health, but to mental, emotional, and spiritual health. Both are such convenient, available and seemingly controllable outlets. It is so easy to deal with stress by eating too much or not at all. The gym could be classified as therapy for getting out so many frustrations, or the opposite, completely unappealing to someone in a high-stress environment. But no big deal, right? Everybody is different, so everyone is going to deal with insecurities and life issues differently.

It is a big deal. You can’t get away from your body, and since it’s always with you it should be under your control. So you take out irritations, excitements and emotions on it, because when you can’t control the world around you, you have to be able to control yourself. The purpose of food ceases to be to nourish, it becomes to comfort or to reject. The purpose of working out becomes a self-maintained mandate. You catalogue every calorie, and set maximum allowed calories per day (ie 700) and minimum required workouts (ie 90 minutes cardio daily…the same girl). The human body was not made to be in bondage to such laws!

I wish there was an easy solution to anorexia, bulimia, binge eating and every other unhealthy manifestation pertaining to self-image. I wish that the logic of the necessity of food, and the freedom that comes from not binding oneself to arbitrary self-governed rules about necessary life functions, was powerful enough to break those bonds. I wish that teaching the merits, facts and figures of a healthy and practical lifestyle would be enough to undo years of cultural lies about what constitutes an attractive human form. And as frustrating as it is that there is no pat-answer, which does not mean by any degree that they are insurmountable.

The well-being of the mind and body are directly related. The human mind needs the human body for its nourishment and sustenance, but the body needs the mind to know what is reality in terms of physical needs. A mind that is chained to an unhealthy self-image will never have the clarity to run the body appropriately. A healthy mind that balances environment against self and does not allow outside circumstances to control it will allow the body to work in a manner in which it will flourish, and this will cyclically continue to encourage healthy thinking in the mind.

Ashley is a senior biological anthropology major at UCLA. She is the health and fitness chair of Alpha Delta Chi and the safety officer on the Bruin Water Ski Team. She loves running and wakeboarding, and is passionate about encouraging women in confronting and overcoming eating disorders.

Eat Your Heart Out :: Part 2

Friday, February 9th, 2007

Ashley Taylor

“Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands.”
Elle Woods, Legally Blonde

The relationship between food and exercise hangs in a fragile balance that can be easily manipulated to deteriorate into unhealthy proportions. So after examining healthy eating habits in the last article and exercise in this one, look forward to my next article in which I’ll tie the two together to discuss the significance of healthy mental thought processes and how that relates to food and physical activity. But first, what is exercise and why does it matter?

Physical exercise is built on three separate yet equally significant pillars: cardio (aerobic), associated with weight management and heart health; weights (anaerobic), associated with muscle mass and strength; and flexibility exercise, associated with injury prevention and stress management. These three categories are not mutually exclusive but are an overlapping framework upon which physical activity is built. Food is the input to your body. The way in which food is broken down depends significantly, though not exclusively, on the physical activity you engage in.

Working out is how we are empowered to shape and fine tune our bodies. It is essential for general health, but also to focus your body towards a purpose. Exercise is not a fruitless activity; athletes condition specific muscle groups, and even the apostle Paul talks about disciplining his body (1 Corinthians 9:24-27) for a specific purpose. The decision to be or not to be, physically active will determine how the food you eat is broken down and will make a world of difference in your overall wellness.

Consistency is of exceptional importance, whether it is on a weekly or daily basis. For my first anthropological field survey (in 2004), I went into the Wooden Center at UCLA and haphazardly selected a few members to ask about their workouts. One of the questions we asked was inquiring to what was the hardest aspect oft their exercise program was. Nearly every participant said that the hardest part was actually just getting to the gym. These people also indicated that the more consistent they were, the less of a mental battle it was for them.

That said, work yourself up slowly. Use your head when challenging yourself. If you force yourself to lift more weight than you can actually handle, then you’re just asking to get hurt. Pushing yourself is good both physically and mentally. Remember though that pain (different from post-workout soreness) is your body’s way of saying “Stop! You’re doing damage!” Always stretch to warm up and cool down. Every gym is staffed with people who know how to use the machines properly and most have personal trainers. Take advantage of this! When I was learning to scuba dive, my slightly overprotective father “suggested” that in addition to the weekly training UCLA required, that I meet with a personal trainer at Wooden so that I “didn’t find myself having a problem 50 feet deep and not physically strong enough to do anything about it.” I was skeptical, but I’ve learned that I have to pick my battles, so I agreed.

I think I only met with my personal trainer twice to learn proper form on the weight machines and for floor exercises, as well as stretches, with the purpose of being a stronger swimmer and diver. He helped me form different workouts and routines as well as an exercise schedule so that I could focus my body toward this goal. While it made me a more effective diver (sure enough, I once had to do a cold water beach dive on a broken foot to get my research certification in time – and survived), it also increased my confidence in the gym, now that I know I’m not going to hurt myself because of a technique error. Good call, Dad.

Finally, if you’ve never done yoga or pilates, I seriously encourage you to give it a try. Disciplines of this nature combine all three exercise principles into one workout routine. You’ll feel more relaxed and accomplished than you’ve ever simultaneously felt before, and according to fitness gurus Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin, “all kidding aside, if everyone did yoga, we would have world peace.”

Ashley is a senior biological anthropology major at UCLA. She is the health and fitness chair of Alpha Delta Chi and the safety officer on the Bruin Waterski Team. She loves running and wakeboarding, and is passionate about encouraging women in confronting and overcoming eating disorders.

Eat Your Heart Out :: Part 1

Wednesday, January 10th, 2007

Ashley Taylor

Is it even possible for a college student to eat healthily?

According to Wikipedia (the college student’s ultimate authority on everything), an “eating disorder is a complex compulsion to eat in a way which disturbs physical, mental, and psychological health.” Understanding what it means to eat in a way that is disturbing to one’s health begs an explanation of healthy eating, which is not an easy undertaking. We’ve all seen the little flyers in the dining halls telling us to get enough vegetables and magazines swearing that any given trend food will guarantee clear skin and immortality. Your track coach tells you to eat pasta the night before the big meet, but Atkins teaches you to fear carbohydrates.

Fresh foods are expensive, time consuming, and really, how many college students get this whole “cooking” bit? In an American culture obsessed with convenience, where fast food is a multi-billion dollar industry and someone in the USDA has just turned the food pyramid sideways (www.mypyramid.gov), nutrition confusing!

“It’s basically all about balance,” an anonymous nutritionist was quoted in The Princeton Review. It is incredibly important to balance a diet itself, but just as significant is the mind and body balance and engaging in a healthy relationship with food. It is a phrase that makes every woman cringe and every man scratch his head. To clear things up for the gentlemen who may be confused by the concept of a relationship with food, it has been said that women think about food as much as men think about sex.

So what does healthy eating tangibly consist of? “A healthy diet contains a balance of food groups and all the nutrients necessary to promote good health. Human nutrition is enormously complex and a healthy diet may vary widely according to an individual’s genetic makeup, environment, and health. (Wikipedia)” The USDA outlines a healthy dies as (1) emphasizing fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and non/low-fat milk products, (2) includes lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts, and (3) is low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt, and added sugars. Awesome! That’s about as helpful as telling me to study for my psych final by asking my roommate to tell me about her mother.

Nutrition tips from UCLA Greeks who balance healthy eating with their lives:

-Drink 64floz of water every day! Buy a Nalgene and bring it to class.
-Get creative at your dining hall salad bar. Try to get all the food groups in one salad. Start with rice, add lettuce and fresh veggies of choice, a little cheese, some deli turkey or tuna fish, and top with sunflower seeds and raisins.
-In the dining halls, only take one plate at a time. Finish one plate and wait a few minutes before deciding whether or not to get seconds.
-Work out regularly. This will help train your appetite.
-Don’t keep junk food on hand. So often, we eat it just because it’s there, not because we actually want to. Not having it there eliminates that temptation.
-Choose your poison wisely. Go for a special occasion treat like a homemade brownie from your roommate’s mom instead of some dime a dozen candy bar.
-Trader Joe’s sells decently sized bags of whole wheat pasta for $0.99. If you make the whole pack at once, whatever you don’t eat will keep in the fridge for a little while.
-Eat fresh veggies whenever possible (higher nutrient content), but remember that cooking frozen veggies is better than not eating them at all.
-Ask your doctor what kind of foods you should focus on or avoid based on your particular body.
-Take supplements! A one-a-day generally provides a good baseline of vitamins that you may not otherwise get enough of. Also, it is very rare that any given girl won’t benefit from iron supplements.
-Recruit your roommates to make your kitchen a healthier place and uphold nutrition as a team. If you live in dorms, talk to the people you eat with most regularly to hold each other accountable to healthy standards.