Note to self.

I seem to recall using this title before.  Let’s face it, I’m either getting too old to remember everything or have too many things I need to remember and am running out of space.  Too bad I can’t just empty the trash and be rid of things I no longer need.

Anyway.

One of my professors just pointed out something I need to remember about health claims: the difference between “science-based” and “evidence-based”.  The former means something is plausible, a conclusion based on the possibility of efficacy based on in vitro studies, animal studies, or simply deduced from the pathophysiology.  We might consider this anecdotal.  But definitely not conclusive. The latter is based on repeated testing (preferably randomized, placebo-controlled trials) which has resulted in a consensus of the efficacy.  This is very important to consider when recommending anything for a client or patient, and the difference between simply Googling for answers and spending hours upon hours researching a product, treatment, or regimen.

Being in the fitness industry, I hear a lot of anecdotal recommendations.  I feel as though this industry is wrought with individuals who are always stepping beyond the threshold of what the scope of practice should be.  They mean well, but without proper research behind what they’re recommending, they could be doing more harm than good because health and wellness is not one size fits all.  One important concept I’ve learned, which even experts tend to rely, is to try and step away from a reductionist approach.  In other words, recognize that the human body is a complex interaction of systems which is affected by one’s environment, and therefore any recommendations should be taken on with a more holistic approach rather than a linear “cause and effect” that tends to coincide with reductionism.  Easier said than done when we always want answers.  After all, a single line is much easier to follow, even when meandering, than a giant web of possibilities.

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Endlessness.

Unbeknownst to me year ago when I was newbie to the MPH program, I opted for online classes to ease into grad school life.  I also did not know that there were no breaks between quarters.  When one ended, the next one would begin the following week.  This was even more of a challenge because I was still finishing prerequisites at the junior college, so I would not have had a spring break anyway.  In hindsight, I don’t know how I survived that craziness, though I credit blissful ignorance more than anything.  The 2015-2016 school year was indeed a blur.  I forgot many things which were unrelated to school.  I lost some friends.  And I just decided I needed to put on blinders, shake off the guilt, and keep going.

Fast forward a year and I’m a little wiser.  Research and writing don’t take me nearly as long and I somewhat know what professors expect.  I figured out my passion, though I also realized students in the Nutrition program are very different than students in the Public Health program.  The former makes me feel old and a little awkward, while the latter has an interesting mix of people from many different disciplines.

And despite the lack of a break a year ago, I find myself taking an online class once again, which overlaps the on campus classes, one which is about to end in a few days, and another which will start sometime mid-June.  I just need to get this stuff done so that my final year of grad school, with a research project/dissertation needed to complete my MS, and along with an internship needed to complete my MPH, isn’t a total bear.

I also realized, however, that most of the people pursuing both degrees work full time.  I do not, unfortunately, and my teaching schedule has whittled down to just 2 classes a week, 3 for the summer with the addition of a dance class on Sunday.  It’s given me more time to really focus on school, but I also find myself yearning for a hands-on challenge.  Hours sitting at the computer researching topic after topic has it’s ah-ha moments, of course.  But perhaps the art major in me needs to go out and create something, even if it’s extracting DNA from squished strawberries (Biochemistry, Spring Semester 2016).

So, on somewhat of a whim I decided to enroll in the culinary arts program at the junior college where I just recently completed my science prerequisites.  I figured, there is no set pace.  I can put it on hold if I foresee a session-from-hell.  I get to make stuff in a kitchen the proper way, and perhaps this will give me the necessary skills to teach others how to create healthy meals on a budget.  With a graduate degree in Nutrition, this ties in perfectly, for I’m not able to work as a registered dietitian unless I decide to go backwards to pursue that path (but would need to take Chemistry II and Organic Chemistry first… ugh… no).  Along with an MPH and my plans to become a Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES), I believe culinary skills will help with intervention designs, especially if my focus will be obesity prevention.

But as with everything I decide to jump into, we shall see.  This summer I’m taking two online classes:  Sanitation and Intro to Hospitality.  They’ll be a bit accelerated because a regular 16-week course is compressed into 8 weeks.  But I should be used to this by now since that is exactly what online graduate courses are like, which was another thing I figured out the hard way when I was a grad school newbie.

I think this will be a fun, no-pressure distraction during this final year of graduate studies.  I’m looking forward to distractions, in an academic sort of way anyway.

No easy solution.

36.5% and $147 billion.  That is the obesity rate in the United States and the financial burden in healthcare costs due to all the chronic conditions related to obesity (1).

Ironically, the diet food industry and health club industry make $20 billion and $26 billion a year in revenue, respectively (2,3). The dietary supplement industry is also quite lucrative, with $32 billion in annual revenue (4).

Obviously, “just do it”, “drink this shake”, “pop this pill” are not working when more than 1/3 of the population continues to be obese. Instilling the mentality that an individual can achieve the goal of a healthy weight if he/she wants it badly enough places a great deal of responsibility on the individual to address a complex health issue that is made all the more difficult because of the stigma that follows it.

I sometimes question why I decided to take a more difficult path when the fitness industry I have been a part of for nearly a decade is already full of “experts” who have proven Googling skills rather than a research-based graduate degree. But I have to remember that this isn’t about working towards rock hard abs or a bikini-ready body by June, but rather finding real solutions to an epidemic that is the second leading cause of PREVENTABLE death in the U.S. after tobacco use (1).

We want a quick fix, and it isn’t a quick fix. Yet life demands so much from us each day and to be honest, it really is easier to just order a pizza.

References:

  1. Adult Obesity Facts. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Website https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html. Updated September 1, 2016. Accessed April 23, 2017.
  2. ABC News Staff. 100 Million Dieters: $20 Billion – The Weight Loss Industry By the Numbers. ABCNews. May 8, 2012. http://abcnews.go.com/Health/100-million-dieters-20-billion-weight-loss-industry/story?id=16297197. Accessed April 23, 2017.
  3. Health Club Industry Overview. International Health, Racquet, and Sportsclub Association Website. http://www.ihrsa.org/about-the-industry. Updated June 30, 2016. Accessed April 23, 2017.
  4. Lariviere J. Nutritional Supplements Flexing Muscle As Growth Industry. Forbes Magazine. https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidlariviere/2013/04/18/nutritional-supplements-flexing-their-muscles-as-growth-industry/#3bf5e7c08845. Accessed April 23, 2017.

The Queen of Procrastination.

My sister, who is an excellent therapist, shared some tips about procrastination.  Though they were meant for the Teenager, who is currently struggling with time management, I can certainly benefit from most of these tips myself.

This quarter my plan to take a grueling 16-credit load went from 12 credits to just 8.  This was likely divine intervention because I’m finding half way through the session that 2 courses have given me enough to juggle.  I’m not sure if I’m just burned out or if the courses themselves are challenging (Advanced Metabolism: Carbohydrates & Fats and Health Policy).  In my dual masters program I’ve completed 50% more classes on the MPH side than the MS in Nutrition/Wellness side, and for good reason.  The science end of it is kicking my butt.  Not that policy and law is any less tedious, but it’s a different kind of challenge that entails the regurgitation of knowledge and then some.  If that makes any sense.

Okay, so maybe it isn’t me.  This is just some really difficult shit.

I was actually very disappointed when I realized I may be taking much longer to finish grad school than I had initially planned.  I contemplated dropping the Nutrition component which would have allowed me to graduate this spring, with the MPH internship pending for the summer.  However, in my undying search for the “why” behind everything related to health and fitness, I decided to stick to the dual masters.  On top of that, my Nutrition advisor recommended that I take my time so that I don’t become too overwhelmed.

Blah.

But she was right.  The first year of grad school was a whirlwind.  I need to take this all in so that I know I’m ready when this milestone is behind me.  Right now many things are up in the air, simply because there are so many options.  And that is a great thing.  I never thought in a million years I’d be contemplating a doctorate but that may very well be the next step.

We’ll see.  For now, it’s time to bury myself in academia once again.

As the second year begins.

It’s hard to believe that a year has passed since I started grad school.  Granted, during half of this first year, my other foot was still at the junior college completing prerequisites necessary for the second component of my dual masters program. Life during this time was so hectic that I think I successfully blocked it out of my mind.

Once the fog started to lift, I realized I had forgotten important appointments.  It had been 2 years since my kids last visited the dentist; this March will mark 2 years since my last ob/gyn checkup.  I was supposed to get a mammogram sometime as well, but I’m not even sure when.  The icing on the cake occurred while sitting in my Bioethics class and I received a panicked text message from my daughter that she couldn’t try out for the basketball team because her sports physical had expired.

But wait, didn’t we just do that?  They must be wrong.  They must have misplaced the most recent copy.  Or maybe she forgot to turn it in.

Right.

The irony is that one of my degrees is going to be in public health.  I should be on top of preventative health measures for those who are near and dear to me.  Grad school has made me a hopeless flake.   Not to mention more sedentary, with stiff hip flexors from sitting too long along and an annoying shoulder impingement from poor posture while typing endless papers and discussion posts.

While most people see the new year as a new beginning, I tend to view “the year” based on the school term.  Indeed 2015-2016  was great because I started a new chapter in my academic journey, though I wasn’t sure what direction I was going and the sheer amount of thinking rather than merely regurgitating knowledge was an adjustment, though a refreshing one.

I finally found my focus and this is what’s going to carry me through to the end of this leg of the journey.  Hopefully this newfound focus will trickle into the other aspects of my life which seem to run on autopilot, thankfully.

Although this short break between sessions has given me time to evaluate and improve, I have to remember:  No one was sick, injured, or felt deprived, as far I could tell.

We survived, and we’ll just keep going.

Half way to something

A few days ago I celebrated another birthday.  Every year it becomes a time of new commitments, almost like making New Year’s resolutions.  I always keep this simple by telling myself I’d drink more water, get more sleep, start doing yoga again, etc.  It’s usually so simple that by the time a year passes I usually can’t remember what I committed to, which is probably for my own good because I tend to overcommit to larger, more complicated tasks on a regular basis.

This past year I underestimated the effort needed to balance everything and learned the importance of not only prioritizing, but doing it with such fierceness that I made a few enemies along the way.

Why?

1. Because not everyone has children.  Or I should say, not everyone has adolescent children.  Life is completely different from the time when my children were portable and agreeable. Hormones have transformed these sweet angels into pissed off little turds who question the need to do things adults tell them to do like folding their laundry or making their beds so that they don’t become nesting grounds for dust bunnies and spiders.  Now they want independence, but at the same time need rides to band rehearsals, basketball practice, friends’ houses, in addition to the funding necessary to do all of these things that have taken over the family calendar.

It’s a natural part of growing up, of course, so I’m happy to do all of these things for them, amid the pouting and protest when there is a scheduling conflict or a conflict of interest.  But when I have deadlines or have to be on campus for class, it’s tough to break away from the mommy guilt.  Sadly, I can’t be in more than one place at one time, so my children have grown accustomed to my absence.  When I really think about it, they have never complained about that, partly because my husband has done a pretty good job of taking over.  And maybe they just totally get it, which totally deserves a trip to Disneyland when I finally graduate.

2. Because not everyone thinks this grad school gig is worthwhile.  I will go so far as to say that my butt cheeks have made a permanent indenture on this chair that I currently sit in.  I am here for hours upon hours each day when the session is in full swing.

Sometimes I surprise myself and turn everything in early, which leaves me paranoid that I must have forgotten something because twiddling my thumbs doesn’t happen all that often.  Many times I’m feverishly racing ahead of a deadline, especially when I’m having difficulty wrapping my head around whatever it is I have to research and analyze so that I have enough to write a concise 5-page paper.

Needless to say, I’m a hermit.  When I am extremely overwhelmed I would much rather escape and do something other than focusing on what I really need to do, which is why I often deactivate my Facebook account and place my iPhone and iMessenger on “Do Not Disturb”.

My family already knows that a closed bedroom door means that I’m in deadline panic mode, and until I emerge I cannot process any extraneous information.  They have attempted communication during such times of duress, but they have also learned that I don’t remember any of it.

I’d like to think my friends and extended family understand this also, but I also learned this past year that not everyone really gives a shit about what I’m doing.  They don’t realize that I spent more than 15 years out of the work force so that I could raise my children. A divorce during that time left us in financial ruins and we have been living off of the same amount of child support since 2010 because their biological father has successfully avoided mediation since then.

Even if I wanted to return to work as my original calling in graphic design, I’d need extensive schooling to catch up with the times, for technology has changed just a little bit over the years.  They also don’t realize that in my attempt to avoid school loans while completing my pre-requisites, I paid for everything out of pocket which was a huge financial strain.

I’m a sociable person and would gladly hang out at the local bar or night spot with a drink in hand catching up with friends, but even that was only feasible if I had the extra time between semesters and a little bit of wiggle room on my credit card.

The burning question is:  Why do I have to explain this to anybody?  I don’t, which is why I have burned some bridges this past year.  This was drama, like the sort of stuff I had to deal with in high school, but only amplified with the extra dynamic of social media.  Needless to say, there is also a Block function that comes with many forms of modern day gadgetry which I have used extensively in order to stay focused on what is really important.  I can only do so much; therefore, my time is spent on only those who realize it and appreciate it.

3. Because not everyone realizes how much work is involved with my job.  I still don’t even consider “group fitness instructor” to be a real job even though my years of experience have earned me a substantial rate for every class I teach.  Don’t get me wrong, it is a real job that requires a lot of work that I don’t get paid to do, most of which involves countless hours of learning music and choreography so that I can teach an effective class.  The satisfaction comes from the delivery, and I can see this on the participants’ faces who come back week after week after week.  Showing up and teaching is actually the fun part, almost like a break from the outside world in which I can just do something else for an hour or two.

This past year I have had to step away from the lure of teaching multiple classes and multiple formats at multiple gyms.  Not only was this exhausting, it was eating into time I could have been spending with my kids, and I was constantly confused about where I had to be.

I also learned the value of working for people who appreciate what I do.  As ridiculous as that may sound, I realized for some managers it’s all about simply filling the instructor spot with any breathing body just so the class can happen, regardless of experience, commitment to the facility and its members, or the potential for injury.  I have always been told to treat that time slot that I’ve been hired to teach like gold, which I have always done even when I’m just there to sub.  However, I expect this to be reciprocated from the management, especially when I work my butt off to pack their classes.  Sadly, that doesn’t always happen.  Normally I would simply step away and move on, for in this instance I did need to make my life less busy because grad school had started.  But I refused to let this manager think that was the only reason why.  Hopefully the parting letter to him and his superiors explained this clearly.

4. Because I fill every amount of free space with something.  Several years ago, I moved back to the Chicago area to be near family.  I assumed that because we were related, they would take an interest in me and my children and we would have that social support that I had been craving since my divorce.

I realized after ending a long relationship with a sociopath (“What’s His Face”) that this was not the case, and I would assume that having fun with him was probably more appealing than hanging out with me at home because I no longer had the time or the financial means to party hard alongside them.

I get it.  It’s not cool.  It isn’t the type of stuff that makes for successful selfies on social media.  Naturally, being the sociopath that he is, this guy took advantage of this, which I’m sure softened the blow of being dumped by me.  He made sure he was in every single photo with my cousins and it was always posted online somewhere, like the sick fuck that he is.

Sure this hurt, but not as much as the backlash I received when I voiced my concern to these people who I thought would understand.  You know, because they were family. I am convinced now that some higher being intentionally made this traumatizing for me so that I would walk away from them and the lifestyle they lead forever.  This wasn’t the type of thing that would make me a productive human being in society.

Needless to say, I then had endless opportunities to meet new people and create life changing relationships because I finally had the time to do it.  After a 2-year hiatus, I started teaching group fitness classes again, something which I gave up when I left North Carolina because at the time it was instilled in me by What’s His Face that it wasn’t a real job and it didn’t matter.  I cannot even begin to say how wrong he was.  I have met hundreds of people over the past 4 years because I was no longer limiting myself to this small circle of so-called family, and many of these people have become close friends, one of whom I ended up marrying.  I don’t even think they realize the impression they made on me as I was attempting to pave a new path for myself, but here I am, with every crevice of free time filled because of school, teaching, marathon training, all the while trying to establish some sort of normalcy at home.

I think the most important lesson I learned this past year is that this process doesn’t have to be perfect. At the same time I need to respect myself and hold true these boundaries I’ve started to build in order to keep my priorities straight.  Quiet the negativity, whether it’s those who don’t believe in me or the voices in my head that tell me I’m not worthy.  Those who matter the most will continue to offer guidance, support, and understanding.  For at this point I’m half way through my 40’s already. Or, one could even say I’m half way through my lifespan if I make it to 90.  Rather than get caught up with What’s a girl my age doing all of the things she’s doing??, I need to just seize the day.  For tomorrow… who knows.

A teeny tiny break.

I was looking forward to a 6-week break in between sessions.  It would have given me time to just sit and BE, which usually entails learning new choreography for my classes and binge watching something on Netflix.  After all, the kids are starting school in a few days, the hubby will be at work, leaving my most productive hours in the day completely free.

But 6 weeks is long.  Way too long.  I was fortunate in that the two classes I took over the summer ended early thanks to enduring much pain and suffering in the final weeks, some of which involved working on some massive projects while my husband drove us through the Mohave desert twice while on “vacation”.  My poor mother sat in the back seat in complete silence for fear of causing distractions, unbeknownst to her that when I’m under stress there is very little that can distract me.  Needless to say, 16 hours of drive time from Vegas to Northern California and back were extremely productive.  I earned my pool time and the seemingly bottomless mojitos.

In pursuing a double graduate degree, my total credit requirements went from 64 to 96.  After 3 sessions, I’ve completed 28, which is not quite one-third.  It would have made the most sense to start in the Fall, since that seems to be when people start new things, academically anyway.  However, in keeping with my heightened productivity while under stress, I decided ASAP was a better option, prompting me to begin grad school immediately after acceptance into one of the two programs.  Why not?  Perhaps I’ve actually fallen in love with the rigors of academia because if given the choice between binge watching Game of Thrones and cranking out papers for public health ethics, both of which would require some serious commitment, I would honestly choose the latter.