Today I am excited to introduce Lindsay Heuser, a 22-year-old AmeriCorps volunteer living in Colorado, a lady I view as wise beyond her years. Currently applying to medical schools, she will be featured at length in my book, The Complete Guide for First-Time Marathoners.
Lindsay has recently changed her relationship with running as a means of relieving stress, boosting her self-esteem, and pushing herself to new heights. She decided to run a marathon so she could challenge herself to do something she had previously never dreamed possible. Running a marathon, to Lindsay, is the ultimate way of celebrating a positive relationship with her body and affirming a belief in herself.
Today’s post is Part I in a two part series, to be completed on Friday. To read more about Lindsay’s adventures, visit Summit Sandwiches, a blog that she authors.
It sounds like you have recently developed healthier eating and exercise habits since you graduated from college. What triggered the changes?
After graduating college, I moved away from the comfort and convenience of my college’s dining halls into my very first apartment in Hartford, CT where I began service as an AmeriCorps volunteer. Because AmeriCorps volunteers don’t make much money, I realized that I would need to learn to cook in order to save money and produce the types of meals I generally like to eat. I was lucky enough to grow up in a house where fresh meals were emphasized, so I was really motivated to try to learn to cook. As I perused through recipes and shopped for ingredients at the grocery store, I realized that I now had full control over what I put into my body….so I had to make a choice: Did I want to rely on convenient, prepackaged foods, or did I want to create meals that nourished my body?
I chose the latter, and I’ve since become very passionate about cooking meals that are both delicious and nutritious. For the first time in my life, I was taking full reponsibility for my health, and I found it very empowering! Now, I love to read labels and shop for whole foods whenever I go to the grocery store. I like to know that the things I choose to put into my body are actually good for me and will give me sustained energy for the day.
What advice would you give to others who might focus too much on their body’s imperfections? How can running help?
I used to have self-esteem issues while in high school, and most of it stemmed from my discomfort with my body. I didn’t like its shape; I always wondered my thighs were so large, and I perpetually longed to be one of those slender, “willow-y” types. I thought that this would be the key to my future happiness, but the more preoccupied I became about body image, the less happy I was. I think the best advice I can offer to anyone struggling with body image is to focus on the things that make you happy and embrace those activities with your whole heart. It’s much more difficult to obsess over “bodily imperfections” if you’re doing things you love.
Running became one of these activities for me. While in college, I never saw running as a pathway to empowerment. Rather, I saw it as a way to burn x amount of calories in x minutes, but after graduating college, I began to use running as an outlet for stress relief during my AmeriCorps service. Beyond just reducing stress, I noticed that I felt so proud of myself after finishing up my runs. My outlook on my body slowly began to shift during this time. Instead of hating my thighs, I became increasingly proud of them for all the feats they could accomplish. I began to seek ways to challenge myself, and slowly but surely, I began to develop a newfound belief in my own abilities. Running has forever changed my outlook on body image, and I think it’s a wonderful way to discover the extent of your own determination, willpower, and strength. In other words, it’s a way to really discover who you are and take pride in your own abilities. Afterall, what could be more beautiful than being proud of who you are?
Tell us about your career plans. Has this influenced a healthier lifestyle?
I’m currently in the process of applying to medical school and hope to become a physician focusing on primary care. In other words, I’d love to be one of those doctors who people visit for regular check-ups and things of that nature (i.e. the family doctor who establishes long-term relationships with her patients). I think primary care is such an exciting field because it’s at the forefront of reform in the healthcare industry. Our nation needs more primary care doctors as they are in the best position within the medical field to effectively collaborate with patients and encourage them to lead healthier lifestyles.
I’m a firm believer in the power of preventive medicine as a means of both reducing rising healthcare costs and promoting healthier habits across our nation. I hope to encourage people of all backgrounds to live healthier lifestyles in order to avoid acquiring lifestyle-related diseases like Type II Diabetes. I think it would be hypocritical of me to affirm the importance of healthy living to my future patients if I didn’t emulate that sort of lifestyle. In other words, if I’m going to talk the talk as a primary care doc, then I have to walk the walk. I hope that my efforts to lead a healthy lifestyle might someday inspire my future patients to do the same!