When I was in college, a friend of mine introduced our social circle to a classmate she had befriended. Let’s call her Val. Val had moved to Pittsburgh from Argentina to be closer to some of the best doctors and hospitals as she had a few surgeries since a child, including one or two kidney transplants and a need for ongoing health care.
You can imagine that the majority of time I spent in college doing anything social involved partying (and lots of it!). Val would be with us at parties and bars smoking like a chimney and drinking like a fish, just like the rest of us.
And then it started hitting me; Val was someone who was always tinkering on poor health with frequent trips to doctors. And I remember one night being out and someone asking her why she drinks if she has had kidney transplants and she responded with, “I know I’ll need another one day, so I may as well do what I want.”
Wow. I felt a bit stunned and I can admit, right or wrong, I judged her for it. Finding a kidney match and going through surgery is not something to take lightly. Not to mention, the kidney she currently had that gave her renewed life was a gift, a gift that she took for granted. A gift that could have gone to someone else. I found myself pulling away from her because even at 20 years old, I started feeling a little icky, like an enabler to her. I did not really want to have that on my conscience. (She also had an 8×10 framed photo of herself on her night stand which further validated to me she was of a different mindset than me).
And don’t get me wrong. Everyone deserves to enjoy life. I get that completely. I know other people who have overcome major medical conditions and drink and party. The difference is, they do things to balance that out and to be overall healthy, like eat well and work out.
With Val, I didn’t get that sense from her. When she didn’t have a cigarette in her hand, she was coughing up a lung. And in between coughing, she was downing beer.
I thought about Val recently because of a conversation I was having with a friend about Lap Band Surgery. She was telling me how it has become increasingly popular with family and friends of hers back home to be getting the surgery. I do not know the specifics of how anyone can qualify for elective surgery or the process so I am by no means calling myself an expert on the subject. I have seen people have great results with it and can appreciate this being a great option for the right people.
So going back to my friends’ social circle, many of whom have been having this same elective surgery. They tend to be of a higher social class (i.e. they can easily spare the money to cover the surgery) but more importantly, they have this blasé attitude about it. Like, I will eat and drink what I want. I will not exercise and it’s ok. I will just have surgery. And then even after surgery, they continue to eat and drink the same foods, albeit I am guessing in smaller quantities.
Even with their children, they allow them to eat whatever they want whenever they want. They do not encourage fitness and likewise, they dismiss any concern of them having weight gain because they will opt for them to one day to have surgery as well.
And here’s the thing and why it correlates to Val. There is this perceived attitude of I will do whatever I want, in excess, to my detriment, and will just have a rather invasive surgery to fix it later. Like, no big deal right?
For those people who fall into that mindset, particularly when it comes to losing weight, they also miss out on that pride and great feeling of accomplishment when they work fucking hard to better themselves. They miss out on that confidence boost of getting to where they are by making conscious decisions to balance what they eat and spending time on their fitness.
And to me that is a shame. Because that pride, that feeling of working for what they have, is what creates longevity with health. It is what keeps people from yo—yo dieting and from going from one fad workout to another. It is what drives them to appreciate and enjoy the time they spend working out and appreciate fueling their bodies with the right things.
Our bodies can be really resilient, powerful machines if we let them heal and we treat them with respect and love. I know it can be really daunting to make major lifestyle changes. I know the reward and pay off for changes are not always immediate, which can discourage many from ever even trying.
I really wish though for anyone who wants to make changes to their health and lifestyle in the New Year, to think about it like a privilege, not a punishment. To find passion and enjoyment for living healthy and to find the courage and inspiration to be in in for the long run.