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  • Writer's picturekatelyn russell

In a committee meeting last week, my principal started off by asking everyone to share what they are reading, watching, or listening to. It was a delight to hear about what my colleagues were consuming. So I asked a couple of my classes the same question as their exit ticket and felt the same zing of connection. And they were happy to share.

So, here you go. The What I’m Consuming series of this blog, title subject to change.

Reading: Arthur C. Brooks on the Secrets to Happiness at Work - I mostly liked the advice but some of it read as a tad out of touch or maybe with an agenda of supporting businesses in getting workers back to the office.

The House in the Pines by Ana Reyes - I’m about halfway through. It’s a little odd but I’m along for the ride.

Listening to: Boundaries, Burnout, and the Goopification of Self-Care on the Ezra Klein show. Man, this was good. It features Dr. Pooja Lakshmin, author of the NY Times series “The Primal Scream”.

Back to the Beach with Kristin and Stephen - a treat for the millennials who watched Laguna Beach.

Watching: I don’t have a show at the moment so if I’m turning on the TV it’s usually for the classics - Unsellable Houses, Chronicle, or Dateline.

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  • Writer's picturekatelyn russell

It’s dark and quiet. The boys are asleep and it’s mid-September so 5:45 am seems like the middle of the night. I just wrote 3 pages, stream of consciousness, sipping coffee, curled on the couch with a nightlight for guidance.

I need this time before my day starts. It’s integral to my well-being. And yet, how do we study this? How do we capture this messy moment? Is it in the literature? I went to PubMed in search of morning pages and found nothing.

This is where I am finding struggle and tension in teaching health. The health behaviors that reduce the risk of chronic disease, which we invest millions of research dollars in, are well-defined and well-known. My students know that they are supposed to eat fruits and vegetables and not smoke and not drink a ton and move their bodies. This knowledge alone doesn’t change behavior.

What the literature fails to capture, at least what I can find, are all the facets of being human and what contributes to well-being. Maybe this is why the wellness industry is flourishing. You have researchers sequestered at universities, publishing mostly unintelligible papers, and studying what they want to study or what will provide the most funding. I know many researchers who set out to make the world a better place and contribute to knowledge. But what I am saying here is that knowledge doesn’t do much in the realm of behavior change. You have to get your hands dirty. You have to roll up your sleeves and work with the behavior.

The wellness industry knows this, if not on purpose then by profit. They sell interventions. They sell if you do this then you will be healthy. They basically sell action. And with no concrete, easy-to-follow steps, armed with only knowledge and admonishment from the scientific community, humans do what humans do - look for the easy way to get their desired outcome. It doesn’t have to be evidence-based. The evidence is behind a paywall, hard to read, and overwhelming and contradictory. And I think we all intuitively know that we can’t measure everything.


Why is changing health-behavior so difficult?

Well-Being Concepts

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  • Writer's picturekatelyn russell

Updated: Sep 19

There are a few periods in my life where I can look back and see that on the spectrum of “normal” eating and disordered eating, I was closer to the disordered side. There’s no substitute for professional treatment and I worked with my share of therapists. Yet I can credit one book, Women, Food, and God by Geneen Roth, for doing more for my relationship with food than therapy or degrees in nutrition ever did. When I first read it in 2010, I read it, and then I read it again, and then I bought the audiobook and listened to it over and over and over on my 2-mile walk to work and back. It’s not hyperbole to say that it changed the trajectory of my life.

There’s one quote I remember taking my breath away:

“It's never been true, not anywhere at any time, that the value of a soul, of a human spirit, is dependent on a number on a scale. We are unrepeatable beings of light and space and water who need these physical vehicles to get around. When we start defining ourselves by that which can be measured or weighed, something deep within us rebels.” Geneen Roth

My entire college career centered around the number on the scale. Not just from an aesthetic standpoint, but from a scholarly one as well. In nutrition, our professors taught us how to calculate ideal body weight. If the calculation revealed someone to be out of the ideal range, they gave us another set of calculations for how to prescribe a diet that might get their body to that range. As far as I can remember, there were no public discussions of what that might do to a person. Of what it was doing to us. We were a room of mostly thin white women and it seemed fine to tell someone else that their body was unhealthy and they needed to lose weight. We were thin, therefore we were healthy and our eating habits were fine. Someone who needed to lose weight was unruly and had to be tamed. We were there to help.

I realize I’m recounting my experience 15 or so years ago as an undergraduate. My memory is tainted by time. Nutrition education has evolved. But the message I got from my undergraduate education was that the number on the scale matters a lot. It's a proxy for your health. Women, Food, and God put a human between the number and the nutrition recommendations. I can revisit this topic further but it was time to put it out there, to come back to my roots as a writer, and to share the book that the academic in me is ashamed of (my inner critic cringes at the use of God in the title).

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