Meg Payne reveals misconceptions, struggles, epiphanies and turning points highlighting the life of a teenage athlete and the perception of health. How much of her story resonates with teens you know? What perceptions of health are we teaching the next generation as adults, coaches and parents?
How could I not be healthy?
I’ve always considered myself to be a healthy individual. Growing up, my mother was a health and physical education teacher and I was a competitive gymnast who practiced a minimum of 20 hours per week.
From the ages of five through twelve, healthy meant pushing myself to the extreme at gymnastics practice. I was picked up early from school each day and trucked 40 minutes away to the gym. Picture this; little Meg inhaling some on-the-go, processed snack and doing her best to complete her homework while leaning up against the windshield of a Ford F-150. It was a sight to be seen, trust me! Practice involved a brief warm up and stretch, perfection of skills and routines and about an hour of conditioning. It involved a lot of sweat, a lot of tears and a lot of brushed off injuries. Side note - in case anyone is wondering, gymnastics was the first “cross-fit,” in my opinion. It wasn’t until later that night that I could tell if my workout was productive and I could live up to my “healthy” persona for another day.
Here’s the test: walk through the door, throw the gym bag on the floor, plop lifelessly onto the couch and lay there for a minute. If I couldn’t muster the energy to get back up and I could feel my body aching and throbbing, I was satisfied with my practice that night. It pains me to admit this, but I spent countless nights falling asleep covered in chalk, wearing nothing but my leotard to bed. Yeah…healthy…
Keep in mind, this was during the era of Nicole Richie, Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and the other members of the emaciated media posse.
During my teenage years, my metabolism could no longer keep up with my workout regiment. I was growing and developing, which changed my center of gravity. y passion and drive for pushing myself to the extreme at practice also increased. My body was going through significant changes that didn’t mesh well with scrunchies and leotards, so I redirected my “healthy” focus onto food. Notice my idea of healthy as a child did not involve food whatsoever - ahh life was so much simpler back then! This time my idea of healthy involved eating to survive, also known as eating as little as possible. Before you start feeling sorry for me know this; I was terrible at eating to survive! Truthfully, I always had enough to eat, but would have constant internal battles with myself that would be debilitating to my ego. There were some dark times for me as a teenage athlete, but it eventually drove me to study nutrition at college and become involved with the Student Dietetic Association. Two years of studying nutrition at school was enough to set my twisted ideas of “healthy” straight. I finished my Bachelors degree in biology, combining my interests in what you consume with how your body reacts.
In my early twenties, I sought out a health-related internship to help gain some experience and beef up my resume. I was lucky enough to land an internship opportunity with a Boston hospital that forever changed my perception of healthy. One day, I was cleaning out the materials closet in the department to help organize and take inventory of the brochures. Most of the usual suspects were there; nutrition, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, physical activity, stroke etc. Weaved in between all the standard brochures were fact sheets from the U.S. Government with titles like; “Cosmetics”, “Hair Dyes and Relaxers”, “Decorative Contact Lenses”, “Tattoos and Permanent Makeup.”These stood out to me like a pineapple in a sea of raisins. While I was finishing up that day, I asked my director about these topics. Little did I know this would open the floodgates to a whole new world of healthy for me and honestly, the conversation is still ongoing. She informed me that health also involves things other than food and exercise; it involves things that touch the outside of our bodies such as; types of soaps, shampoos, lotions, cleaning products, makeup, nail care and so on and so on.
Notice my idea of healthy as a child and teenager did not involve being aware of hidden toxins in common household and beauty products. Why does life have to get more complex as the years go on?
The missing piece to my healthy lifestyle puzzle!
I began to read books and blogs that peaked my awareness for this subject matter. It forced me to reflect on my own personal products and how they were affecting me, positively and negatively. My relationship with food and exercise eventually became much more robust so I was able to turn my attention to product toxins. With the faintest pitter-patter of baby steps, I was able to incorporate this way of life into my world. My healthy lifestyle journey experienced some detours, construction, failures and successes, but in the end I feel I have a strong grasp on what healthy means to me and my body.