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Women Living Well: Mind/Body Connection - 2002
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"Living Well" and Being a Vegetarian

Meghan Lammie

Over the last six weeks, the "Women Living Well" seminar has been a useful tool in emphasizing and expanding that which I have been taught for many years concerning the connection between mind and body. The first time this connection was emphasized for me was in middle school; in my opinion, however, it can never be stressed enough. It is so easy to forget that what one does to one's body could severely alter one's mind (or vice-versa!). In this paper, I intend to discuss the way this seminar has changed my own way of thinking, in addition to the manner in which my life been altered since becoming a vegetarian.

In eighth grade Health class, our teacher showed us the "health" triangle, where each leg stood for the body, mind or spirit. She told us that if any of the "legs" of the triangle were missing, we would be unhealthy people. This teacher was in a very real way proof of that. She ran twelve miles every morning, and told us the first day of class that if she were to miss her daily run for any reason, we would know it. In fact, several weeks later, she came into class late, tired and mean, because she had missed her morning "dose" of endorphins. In retrospect, this woman was both an example of what a good exercise regime could do for someone, and of what an excess of anything (even endorphins) could do to a person. The correlation between a healthy mind and a healthy body seems to be moderated intake of all things, including exercise.

At Bryn Mawr, or at any college, there is nothing easier to do than to neglect the body in favor of developing the mind (or to neglect the mind in favor of developing a taste for beer and pizza). The conditions that exacerbate this problem are, certainly, the amount of work in every class, in addition to the easy-to-get, starchy and fatty foods in the dining halls. What to me is worse, when our young bodies need solid, healthy foods the most, we have the "grazing" period before final exams. Due to the abundance of grazing food, I gained about ten pounds during exams my freshman year and have never been able to get rid of at least five of them!

In my personal "health" life, since becoming a vegetarian almost three years ago, my mind-body-spirit awareness has only strengthened; though it has taken me a long time to see some kind of mutual peace for every aspect of my general health. When I gave up meat, I was afraid of missing all of my daily nutrients and proteins, because I grew up learning that our bodies need meat, because we were made to eat meat. Due to my constant fear of becoming anemic and undernourished, I began to consume food (for the first time) that actually benefited me. I found that my hair became thicker, because I was actually getting enough protein, through tofu and legumes. This is not to say that I didn't eat a lot of pasta, but becoming a vegetarian was the first time I really crossed that threshold of realizing that if I didn't eat well, my mind would be weaker.

Soon after dropping the meat from my daily regime, I read A Diet for a New America, a tremendously informative book by John Robbins, founder of EarthSave International. In it, he details different and varied ways for vegetarians and vegans to eat well. The scariest points, for me, that he made in his book dealt with the necessity of buying organic meat, if one chooses to eat it. Mr. Robbins made it apparent that the sicknesses of animals, mistreated and pumped full of antibiotics, really can affect the way we feel, and think. By simply eating selectively, all of us can prolong our lives (and the lives of other things!), and we can feel better in general.

This discourse, I realize, is predominantly body-to-body: what we eat affects our health. To go back to the "Living Well" course, however, we saw this nutrition theme in nearly every seminar. For example, in the first session, taught by Dr. Larry Kerson, there seemed to be a clear correlation between certain types of food and possible headache or migraine triggers. Not to get too health-nutty, but I believe certain kinds of foods can also trigger anxiety or depression. Too much sugar always makes me depressed, for example. Obviously, an excess of coffee would make anyone anxious. As far as the seminar on addiction goes, again, sugar is an addictive substance. I don't know that it could ruin everyone's lives, but imagine someone with genetic diabetic tendencies. What would (even a moderate) sugar addiction do to them? What if they were to combine that with steady sleep deprivation? The sugar and the lack of sleep could be a very dangerous combination.

"Women Living Well" has been helpful and instructive to me in another way: it has shown me that there are people of authority who care about the state of our young bodies and minds. It was very encouraging to see professors and professionals taking time to talk to us about the up-keep of our bodies, perhaps preventing some of us from becoming their patients later on!

In sum, I feel like I have turned a corner. There are nine days left in my final semester at Bryn Mawr. These last four years have been rather grueling, but if there is one thing I have gained recently, it is a larger perspective on the "wealth" of good health. It is a message I can take with me in life; I believe that a healthy body makes a happier person. This seminar has helped show that "healthy" does not only and strictly mean exercising regularly, but that it encompasses the whole body, so that we keep our "health triangles" well-balanced.

I would like to attach a few websites that I found informative, which might be of general interest :

1 This website is the home site of EarthSave International, founded by John Robbins in 1989.

2 This is another John Robbins website, detailing the ways our eating habits can affect the world.

3 - This is a list of sites about C. Albicans ways to avoid it, ways to beat a yeast infection without medication, etc. Perhaps in the future of "Women Living Well," yeast infections could be confronted. I know many / most women will have a yeast infection at some point, and maybe certain types of medications, preventative measures, and diets could be explored.

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