Students search for balance in mental and physical health

By Cassie Lowery, ’13 and Elizabeth Tzagournis, ’13

In America, over a quarter of the nation’s population qualifies as obese, and less than ten percent of Americans are happy with their weight according to Gallup polls. There are TV shows, newspaper articles, magazine covers and government programs all devoted to the idea of slimming down America. The push to lose weight to gain health surrounds students, but this is not the only message being sent out. The call for self-acceptance and positive body image has also started to gain national media attention with many large companies taking a stance on the issue. Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty is fighting to change the results from their study that showed less than five percent of women consider themselves to be beautiful. This lack of positive self-image can turn into something even more destructive—eating disorders.

These two messages can get distorted, leaving some students struggling to find both happiness and healthiness.

Sports Pressure

One place UA students have found a balanced approach to wellness is through sports. The ultracompetitive environment and the need to succeed allows students to work towards their physical peak, according to junior wrestler John Gardikes.

“Sports play a big role [in getting healthy] because obviously you’re going to want to be the best, you’re going to want to be the strongest, the fastest. So that means you have to be the healthiest,” he said. “You have to work the hardest if you’re going to do that.”

Yet sometimes these measures can lead athletes to try drastic diets. A 2008 report by the Journal of Athlete Training showed these extreme diets negatively affect the health of up to 62 percent of female athletes and 33 percent of male athletes. Wrestling in particular has frequently experienced trouble with eating disorders, as athletes are required to stay within a certain weight category using methods such as weight-cutting to rapidly lose body fat, according to a bulimia in-depth report by The New York Times. Gardikes agrees that wrestlers have to face additional challenges that include staying within their weight class through dieting methods.

“With wrestling, you sometimes have to lose weight,” Gardikes said. “You have to stay strict to the diet and it’s kind of tough… I was pretty hungry but it’s just something you have to mentally overcome, you have to be disciplined.”

Although this discipline can achieve positive results when combined with a drive to ensure proper nutrition, there is a point where discipline can turn dangerous.

“There are some guys that don’t eat at all, they’ll have a couple celery sticks a day and that’s not good,” Gardikes said. “You want to still maintain a healthy diet you just don’t want to eat a lot of it or overeat.”

Media Pressures

Sports are not the only place students are compelled to meet a certain weight standard. The influx of airbrushed figures and photoshopped faces provided by the media can make the message of self-acceptance difficult to hear. Senior Nina Wehner says she struggles with ignoring the beauty standard the media has set, making self-acceptance a difficult task.

“To some extent, I try and ignore [the pressure to be thin,” Wehner said. “You have to be able to appreciate someone, but remember they’re completely separate from yourself, and you need to appreciate yourself too.”

Junior and girls varsity soccer player Anna Eversole also believes the media has had a significant effect on how young people perceive healthiness. Although girls may attempt to lose weight in hopes of trying to attain the media version of beauty, this may not be the healthiest of options when taken to the extreme.

“[The media is] focused on being really thin. Anytime you’re shopping online all the models are stick thin,” she said. “It’s just as unhealthy to be sickly thin as fat. I think working out all the time and not eating at all [is bad].

Balance is one of the most important aspects of overall fitness, according to school nurse Laurie Long. She believes this balance can come from several facets of one’s life, including their physical and mental health.

“As a nurse I feel that it is important to look at all aspects of your life and achieve a balance of exercise, activity, food, work and emotional health,” she said.

Eversole tries to maintain a balance within her own life of exercise and positive dietary choices and believes this principle holds the most promise for anyone wanting to get healthy.

“It’s a balance… working out the right amount, eating the right amount,” Eversole said.

Yet this balance can be difficult to achieve and may not always yield the results expectant dieters may have hoped.

Benefits of Healthy Living

The importance of a balanced and nutritious diet combined with exercise is stressed by not only health professionals but fellow UAHS students. Eversole believes leading a healthy life now will mean reaping benefits as one grows older.

“It’s important to have a healthy lifestyle because you just feel better about yourself,” Eversole said. “And it’s going to set a better [life] for the future. I think it’s important when you’re young because you’re making good habits now for when you’re older and you can’t work out as much.”

Gardikes agreed that exercising and eating right when young will lead to a better future. As high school students are in a time period physically where their bodies are creating patterns that will last through their adult lives, Gardikes said health is all the more important for students to realize today.

“It’s good to be healthy because throughout life, as you get older, it’s a lot harder to maintain a healthy diet because your body is changing,” Gardikes said. “Lifting and eating healthy now will help prepare you for the future. It will help you live longer than if you were to be unhealthy.”

Taking Action

Obesity is a serious concern for those who fail to embrace the benefits of healthy diets and regular exercise. Solutions to the growing problem are being sought out nationwide as people search for what action to take.

Personal trainer and UA mom Jill Scott believes a more personal approach within individual communities can create widespread change.

“I think education [needs to be the course of action],” Scott said. “I would love to see people seeking to prevent versus just treat, so I think that could certainly be a grassroots effort within schools and communities… I don’t think it will happen from the government down I think it has to happen from the grassroots up.”

Hoover believes the role of education in students’ daily physical education must be reevaluated. With the recent failing of the levy, students in the coming years will have the option of using out-of-school sports as credit towards their PE requirement.

“Right now America’s youth is at risk, and they’re at risk because of being obese and some kids aren’t even obese they just aren’t active,” Hoover said. “And to me there has to be a better way or better suggestions [than cutting PE].”

Long agrees that the importance of schools in the health of its students is significant. Students can spend over 35 hours during a normal week within schools and one of their three daily meals in a school cafeteria, which leaves the institutions in a crucial position.

“Schools play a particularly critical role by establishing a safe and supportive environment with policies and practices that support healthy behaviors,” Long said. “Schools also provide opportunities for students to learn about and practice healthy eating and physical activity behaviors.”

UA students respond

Starting A Path to Wellness

The push to get healthy continues and many diet and exercise regimens have been attempted, yet long lasting results prove difficult to achieve. With so many exercise advertisements and diet programs that promise success, there are several mistakes aspiring health nuts make, according to Scott.

“To lose weight I really recommend that they look at a holistic plan and that they don’t just do something crazy and quickly but really make a plan for what they’re doing,” Scott said. “A lot of times people will just try to get ready for spring break and go down to 1200 calories and just eat things that have no nutritional value… so I recommend healthy eating but reducing what you’re eating and then being consistent with the exercise.”

Long notes the importance of consistency and continuity in any type of diet so that the results are long lasting and effective.

“To be successful, [cutting back on calories] has to be combined with healthy lifelong exercise and changes in lifestyle,” Long said.

Scott added that in today’s day and age there are many different ways to exercise that can make getting healthy more fun and interesting for those who want to try something new.

“If you’re not doing any type of exercise try something new, there are so many fun things [to do],” she said. “Parkour and golfing, bowling, just try to find something different and see what you like. And whatever you try… do it for 30 days [to] really give yourself that time to form new habits because anything’s going to be difficult the first couple weeks.”

The benefits of leading a physically healthy and balanced lifestyle at a young age can also improve mental health, as Eversole noted.

“When I eat healthy and work out I feel more confident [and] I feel better about myself ,” she said.

Despite the extreme measures some students may take on the path to wellness, others, such as Eversole, have found with a sufficient amount of determination and motivation they can be both happy and healthy.

A Skinny Sacrifice

Finding a way to live a balanced and healthy lifestyle can be difficult, but without that balance there can be severe consequences. Pushing oneself too hard to lose weight in order to become ‘fit’ can rapidly deteriorate from a healthy goal to a medically dangerous eating disorder.

Despite the safety felt by many living in the ‘UA bubble’ dangerous disorders like anorexia do exist, and teens in Upper Arlington could be at an increased risk. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) states that the group most at risk for developing this type of mental illness is high achieving Caucasian teenage females belonging to a middle to upper socioeconomic group—in short, a description for the majority of girls at UAHS.

Senior Nina Wehner was just 15-years-old when she began a diet that soon spiraled out of control.

“At first [the weight loss] was in hopes just to get healthy, but then it became an obsession,” Wehner said. “Between October and December of my sophomore year I think I lost ten pounds…then it was I can eat lunch and a little bit of dinner, and a few weeks later it was then I’ll just eat dinner this week and it was just progressively maybe I can get away with not eating today.”

To add to her struggle, Wehner’s cousin and best friend, Bethany Terry-Wehner, was dealing with anorexia at the same time. The two girls were the only ones who knew there was something more sinister occurring than a normal diet.

“My cousin had been a model and she was over in L.A. and we both basically had an eating disorder at the same time, and it was acknowledged but we both encouraged each other [to keep losing weight],” Wehner said. “[Our illness] was known to someone but it was [someone who was] in denial that it was a bad thing.”

The inability to recognize a problem is a common thread for those with this type of mental illness. The DSM states that one of the symptoms of anorexia is a disturbance in the perception of one’s body image. Psychiatrist and UA parent Kevin Ware has seen this startling occurrence within his own patients.

“[People with anorexia] see an obese person no matter how much weight they lose,” he said.

And unfortunately for the thousands across the country struggling with an eating disorder, the path to recovery is a much longer one than the rapid descent into mental illness.

“It’s a really hard condition to treat because you’re telling them all of your thinking has to be corrected,” Ware said. “You don’t believe you’re ill but… you are.”

Not only is the psychological harm of these mental illnesses devastating, but, as Ware points out, many are hospitalized and even die of various health concerns such as malnutrition, heart trouble and starvation. In fact, these illnesses have the highest mortality rate of any mental disorder, demonstrating that when mental health is ignored, the results can be detrimental for physical health.

“With an eating disorder you have to remember it’s a mental disorder and a physical disorder so mentally you can’t separate the two,” Ware said.

For Wehner, one of the hardest parts was how psychologically draining the disorder was combined with the lack of proper nutrition.

“It’s all pretty terrible because it’s not only a big physical toll, but it’s also big mentally,” Wehner said. “I was just always really worn down and I think that was really hard.”

The recovery process for Wehner was a long one, and to an extent, is still ongoing.

“One of the biggest things is just eating in front of people, that’s the hardest thing that you have to overcome,” Wehner said.

Part of what made recovering so difficult for Wehner was admitting there was something wrong in the first place. For others suffering from a similar condition, Wehner understands the struggle but urges others to seek help immediately.

“The hardest part is admitting ‘I am not ok’ and I remember that was one of the scariest things,” Wehner said.

Once Wehner came to terms with her illness, she was able to reach out to her family who helped her recover from her ordeal, both physically and mentally. Now, after going through such a traumatic event, Wehner has a new appreciation for the importance of self-acceptance.

“It’s really important [to accept yourself] because in the end, you’re going to be with yourself the rest of your life,” she said. “You’re the one person you’re not going to escape from and you need to be happy with who you are and every aspect of yourself. Loving your body is the first step to accepting a lot of things.

The Double Standard: ‘Thinshaming’

By guest columnist Morgan Wilhelm, ’14
Everyone has seen the photo on Facebook. Three petite women and three plus sized women. The caption: “ I think these girls are hotter than these.”

Many people feel that this is socially acceptable—that to comment on a skinny girl’s weight is different than commenting on a plus sized woman’s weight. Some feel skinny women are the reason for eating disorders. In fact, I was told that I was the reason that women have eating disorders. That was a big weight to put on my shoulders. I remember feeling very ashamed of my weight at that point. I wondered if I was beautiful. Was I too skinny? Would anyone ever find my boy hips attractive? Does my lack of curves make me less beautiful than those curvaceous women?

I feel that people look at skinny women and think, “She must always feel confident.” I’m here to say that is simply not true. It is never acceptable to make the statement that someone is more

beautiful than another simply because of weight. If I should not tell another woman she is too large, then why is it alright for someone to tell me I am too skinny? I can’t count on my fingers how many times I’ve been told to eat more from people that don’t even know me. That isn’t right. There shouldn’t be a double standard. Everyone is beautiful.

Many ads that preach about loving your body and feeling good in your skin only show plus sized models. The ads assume that skinny women always feel beautiful, that the only women who need positive reinforcement about their bodies are those that cannot fit into a size two. My personal belief is every woman should always be told they are beautiful.

Beauty ads that want you to “love the skin you’re in” should showcase a myriad of women. From skinny to plus size. The only ways to combat the “beauty epidemic” in our society is to make every single woman on this earth feel beautiful. That means excluding no one, putting down no one. Instead of focusing on our flaws we must embrace our perfections. Everyone is beautiful.