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Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Starting Young: A Bad Thing When It Comes to Body Images Issues

The other day, my 3 year old daughter said to me, "I'm feeling fat, so I need to go take a long walk."

Is this the start of myriad negative body image thoughts I will inevitably need to address during her life? Maybe she's just being a word sponge, but I can't believe she said this at her age. Where she learned or heard it, I have no idea. I just want to make sure I don't contribute in any way to it.

I've experienced my share of body image issues like most of us. When you have any unusual feature (in my case, it's being over 6 ft tall), your body becomes a point of commentary. And it can become part of your ego, regardless of whether that feature is considered positive or negative. Fortunately, comments made to me are usually complimentary. The other day, a woman in the gym locker room said to me, "Your legs are absolutely perfect. Amazing." Of note, this woman was herself tall, thin and beautiful. All I could do was laugh. I see my legs (and body, for that matter) as far from perfect - and that's ok.



Men vs. women... Although both sexes are prone to chasing perfection.
"Perfect" is a word we should stop using for many things. None of us can have a truly perfect body, be the perfect parent, the perfect spouse, the perfect doctor. There is no such thing as a perfect home, a perfect job, or a perfect anything. Someone's idea of perfect (in the case of my example, legs) is completely different than another person's vision. Maybe you value strength and thus enjoy the look of muscular legs, while another person desires very thin legs. You can soften the P word by saying "this is perfect for me", but I even have trouble with that. We're never done learning or improving. Why do we spend so much time comparing ourselves to other people and trying to measure up to some sort of perfection endpoint? Endpoints are for fixed mindsets.

Social media, which is a powerful tool for helping us as physicians reach a broad audience with our message, is also a huge conduit for comparison and the pursuit of perfection. And it's frighteningly problematic when it comes to our young girls, who tend to deeply value social inclusion and are very sensitive to shaming. I heard an interview with psychologist Jonathan Haidt, who recently cowrote the book The Coddling of the American Mind. He pointed out an alarming trend of increased depression and suicidality among young girls, which has suspiciously spiked with the ubiquity of social media.

I do love my own body, but I didn't always as a child. I remember wishing to look like "everyone else", to be shorter, smaller, etc. As an aging adult and physician who sees very broken bodies, I appreciate that my body's gotten me through some serious health challenges. I would never trade motherhood for a flat abdomen with no signs of a pregnancy. And I believe in striking a balance between accepting ourselves in the present moment while also trying to make improvements. However, my acceptance only came with age and life experience. I know it'll be difficult to instill these ideas into a young girl's concrete thinking.

What body image issues have you come across with your daughters, and how have you dealt with them? Do you let your girls have social media accounts? I'd love some positive solutions.


Friday, February 8, 2019

Bad Habits and how to (attempt) to kick them

When my mother went in to have her diagnostic laparotomy for metastatic disease, my father said that he knew everything was going to be okay because the surgeon had "beautiful, clean, well-kept hands."

Since that day 10 years ago, I have started to take more notice of hands.  As a doctor, the state of a patient's hands, and feet, can suggest underlying disease, hygiene, social situation. Manicured fingers, dirt under nails, dry skin, scabies rashes, diabetic ulcers, clubbed nails of hypoxia.

As I look down at my own hands, though, I'm constantly ashamed.

Confession:
I bite my nails. Not my nails, exactly, and not biting, technically. I pick my cuticles. It's gross, I know. Disgusting, I get it. It's an infection risk, a way for patients' MRSA, fungus, and ESBL infections to get inside. A risk for herpetic whitlow, paronychia. There is an official medical name: Onychophagia.  It looks unkempt. I KNOW.

I've tried getting regular manicures, but that gets a) expensive and b) time consuming. I tried moisturizing, creams, potions, and lotions and gels and ointments. I've read blogs. (link below). This repetitive behavior is SO HARD TO KICK.

Over time, we as individuals develop so many different habits and routines. The way we brush our teeth, which side of the bed we sleep on, which shoe or pant leg goes on first. What we eat for breakfast, which coffee we order, what we reach for when in need of comfort. Take a minute to pay attention to the things that make up your daily routine. We are creatures of habit.

Diet and lifestyle habits and routines are hard to change as well. With all the focus on "new year new you," the explosion of health and fitness "influencers" on Instagram, and the renewed energy that comes with a dedication to a new diet, eating plan, workout regimen, or health motivation, it should be easy. We have so many cheerleaders; however, ingrained habits require a lot of mental energy to change.

So I definitely have a little more compassion for patients when they tell me it is hard to take a new medication, change their eating habits, work out more. I can't seem to do it myself, honestly. (My 15 lbs- 4 years post baby- prove that) The constant reminder of my raw hands is the sign of a continuous struggle.

How do you motivate change? Have you found success with breaking a habit or changing your diet or lifestyle? What resources do you use, or guide your patients to?



Blogs I referenced:

https://www.glamour.com/story/how-to-stop-picking-your-cuticles-tips

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Scheduling

The first inkling I had that scheduling was going to be rough as a resident parent started before Toddler was even born.

I still loathe the woman at the front desk at my OB office. Every time I waddled in, I would have the upcoming 3  months schedule in front of me and try to schedule as far out as possible. I was charming, flexible on clinic location, flexible about seeing different providers.  “How about Wednesday the 19th at 8:30 am?” “No? Well how about Thurs the 20th? At 1:20 pm?” “How about (insert particular hour) on (particular day)”. Eventually the receptionist snippily asked me to call the appointment line if it was going to take this long to pick a scheduled date. Note: there was no one else in line behind me. I fumed in the lobby as she clearly carried out a loud non-business call over her headset. Thank goodness for an uncomplicated pregnancy requiring infrequent visits and an office across the street from the hospital I work at.

Well child exams have been even more challenging to schedule as I’ve been trying to coordinate around when my child is actually well. I have the same conversations on the phone. No, Wednesday afternoons don’t regularly work for me, just the random one coming up. We have a great great great pediatrician - which means he’s always booked up. I had scored a rare 4:40 end of the day appt today, but alas - double ear infections and a cranky Toddler = a rescheduled appointment. At least today I’ve figured out how to schedule and reschedule online so I can least minimally annoy other people.

Also I’m getting a little anxious. We (gasp) decided to take a week long vacation this year but due to several medical reasons for my entire family... I’m down to 3.5 days off left before graduation. I used 2 in the last 2 weeks. I keep telling myself that hopefully the absolute worst thing that could happen is I make up a few days at the end of residency (as I already am doing) but still. We rolled the dice today and took Toddler to day care after a tearful sleepless night - but I haven’t gotten called yet and already got a photo of his grinning face so life can’t be too bad.

A nice reminder to myself to not get irritated over people constantly rescheduling with me in clinic. Who knows what they are all juggling. Often I can’t keep track of what I’m all juggling. Which reminds me I have to give tomorrow’s lunch lecture. Keep your fingers crossed as we will likely roll the dice again tomorrow.