In the past decade we’ve focused a lot on why women should stop obsessing about their bodies. It’s true—we tear ourselves apart, allow ourselves to be judged and even judge ourselves on our weight, butt shape, breast size, and everything else in between, except perhaps our accomplishments.
All yet every day I see the opposite problem. I see women—smart, educated, creative, passionate and career driven women, who aren’t suffering from over-thinking about their bodies, they are suffering from ignoring them.
I recently had a patient, a 39-year-old lawyer and single mother of two, who was suffering from chronic headaches. She was exhausted all the time. She was living on diet coke and coffee to get through the day, forgetting to eat lunch then overdoing it on take out at dinner.
She wasn’t exercising or meditating and as a result she was gaining weight. We tested her and found that despite having a normal body mass index (BMI) and being in her late 30s, she had a blood sugar imbalance called Metabolic Syndrome and abnormally high cortisol levels throughout the day and evening, causing her belly fat to accumulate while her sleep quality sank.
But all she could focus on was her job as a lawyer, her main resource for supporting herself and her family—and that wasn’t going well either. She was at odds with her boss and was afraid of getting fired.
Seeing her test results shocked her. It finally clicked that she was sacrifcing her body for the sake of “getting it all done”—the drive to achieve had become more important than eating, sleeping, moving or managing stress with something other than a glass of wine. The irony was she wasn’t excelling in her career and she felt she was letting herself down.
So I worked with her to start an eating program that included protein, healthy fat and fiber with every meal. Our health coach worked with her on her caffeine habit and helped cut her coffee intake to one cup per day. We also showed her how to use Headspace, the free meditation app that comes with her Parsley Health membership to get 10 minutes of quiet alone time at the end of the day. This helped to lower her evening cortisol. We also convinced her to start going to yoga twice a week. The investment in the babysitter was worth it.
Her primary care doctor had suggested she go on Adderall, which would have made her blood sugar and sleep much, much worse.
At Parsley Health we suggested she make her body her focus so that she could find greater success in her life. She saw her blood sugar normalize, lost 10 pounds and began getting seven hours of sleep a night. But more importantly she had more energy and clarity that allowed her to ask her boss for the support she needed, a new secretary at work and the ability to work from home three mornings per week. I saw her six months later and she had gotten a raise. She was working fewer hours, and getting more done every day, giving her time to go to yoga and join a jogging group.
My colleague Dr. Tiffany Lester, Parsley Health’s San Francisco Medical Director had a similar experience in the Bay Area.
One of her patients is a 32-year-old female entrepreneur who came to her because she suffered from chronic fatigue and insomnia despite daily meditation and exercise. Dr. Lester placed her on a 30-day-detox and she felt so good that she wanted to continue the detox indefinitely!
She finally began sleeping soundly through the night and had the energy to tackle her business with no coffee required. This is the power of real food. Eating food that doesn’t have a barcode is one of the quickest ways to regain your health. No matter how busy you are, healthy choices are available and abundant if you make it a priority. So choose you. Choose health. That is the key to success.
I think Dr. Lester put it really well when she told me, “”We all have the same amount of hours in a day as Beyonce. Prioritizing your health is how you maintain success over an extended period of time.”
The sacrifices we make to be successful as parents, as partners and at work can’t be at the expense of our physical health.. The body will always find a way to get what it needs—rest, sweat, good food, sleep—even if it has to take you out for the count to get you to slow down and take care of it.
When we invest in our health as women, we are setting ourselves up for success in life. Making my body a top focus of my time and energy every day has led me personally to find my passion, feel good about who I am, find love, pursue a challenging career and now to be a mother. While the temptation is to pour everything I have into what is outside of me, when I give my body the attention it deserves, the rest falls into place effortlessly.