Hi friends and family. So much for keeping a blog update of my travels in Asia! Well, hopefully you got what you wanted from my pictures and posts on Facebook. I suppose subconsciously I thought that would suffice and thus pushed blogging to the back of my mind.
WARNING: This blog post is long and about to get personal and potentially TMI. If you don't want to read about my health problems, just hit the back button in your browser, I won't take any offense! I promise future blog posts won't be so "in-depth".
Recently, however, I've rekindled the idea of blogging, but with a different purpose. You see, this semester has been one of ups and downs, mostly because of my health. I'd been having pains in my abdomen that had been present for a while but were dull and sparse enough for me to overlook them, especially living in a foreign country where I have no health insurance, but they became bad enough early this semester that I'd been forced to go to the local hospital for a diagnosis. (So you don't worry, because I know I'll get messages: No surgery was required, it was more of a diagnostic visit where the doc poked around and ordered some tests including a blood draw and sonogram.)
Unfortunately, the diagnosis I received left a lot to be desired.
Upon the initial visit, we were led by my symptoms to believe that I either had gastritis or gallbladder problems. Long story short, neither of those were the case. My doctor said that because of my history of (largely stress-induced) Irritable Bowel Syndrome otherwise known as IBS, it's likely that the stress of living in a foreign country and whatnot is likely the culprit, gave me some meds and sent me on my way, and told me to come back if it got worse. Which so far, hasn't been necessary, but the pain hasn't exactly gone away. I wondered, could the doctor be wrong? I trust him to do his job of course, but it worried me that this was a symptom I'd never experienced before, where most of my symptoms from IBS have been pretty consistent since I was diagnosed many years ago.
So, I decided to change potential contributing factors. Having a degree in health promotion and education, I would say my diet was so-so: I enjoy eating fruits and veggies but coming to Taiwan was certainly an exercise in not indulging my desires. Desserts and fried food are my usual enemies, and they are plentiful, especially in a student-populated area such as mine. Additionally, I knew I could up my physical activity. Thankfully, I'm required to walk pretty much everywhere I go, but I wanted to raise the bar for myself.
Enter the last 2 months. I wanted to see how far my body can take me and how good I can be to it. But in order to see my progress, I had to see where I was at the time. I'd lived my entire life between being just about sedentary or lightly active, with more digestive issues than you can shake a stick at. I started at 175 lbs. (79 kg for my friends outside the US), with relatively decent health, but often tired, anxiety-ridden, and perhaps indulged myself a few times too often. I'd been slowly improving all of the above on my own since I'd started my education in health, but this was the last kick in the butt I needed to really jump start the life I honestly never really knew I wanted so badly.
What did I do? Well honestly, it might sound like common sense, especially to those who've already gone through such a health ordeal and to my Public Health friends and prior colleagues, but my goal in writing this is to share my life with those I'm apart from, and to help those who might need guidance or inspiration of their own.
I just exercised more and ate more fruits and vegetables. It sounds easy, and for those blessed with natural or already developed self-discipline, hats off to you, but acting on it is a lot harder depending on your environment, time, and people you surround yourself with. Thankfully I've learned about the ways outside and internal factors can influence your habits and intentions, so I'm ahead of the game (perhaps I will write another post about those factors and how you can identify them and begin changing your habits) but many people aren't aware just how much there is going against you when you try to make ANY kind of lifestyle change.
For me, the exercise bit wasn't so hard as Taipei is a pedestrian-friendly city and I genuinely enjoy doing certain types of physical activity (but something that's never changed--I seriously loathe going to the gym), but changing my diet was harder. For those who aren't aware, Taiwan has many kinds of cuisines and all of them are delicious, many of them cheap depending where you find them. Unfortunately, a lot of them, especially the cheaper ones, are often cooked with a lot of oil or fried. Drinks are also often served with sugar already added (and I enjoy my tea with no sweeteners--many tea shop employees have given me weird looks!). My lactose intolerance isn't such a big deal here because apart from western-style restaurants, I don't really have a problem finding dairy-free stuff even though I can tolerate a little.
Finding fresh, minimally processed and sweetened or oiled food is troublesome, especially since I need to eat out because I don't have a kitchen. Thankfully though, vegetarians are plentiful here and fruit is dirt cheap. With just a few weeks of eating vegetarian at least 1 meal per day and upping my intake of fruits and nutrient dense veggies at vegetarian buffets and local fruit stands, I improved my digestion issues significantly, though recently due to stress I've been having issues. The gallbladder-area non-gallbladder pain is still there but my other digestion issues have been greatly reduced. So, in my book that's a great start.
With the combination of exercise at least 30 mins per day, 3 times a week (a combo of riding a bike along the riverside on sunny days, making an effort to walk more than usual, and doing dance and other workout videos in my home with the help of YouTube), drinking more water, and improving my diet, I've lost about 4 lbs/2 kgs in the last month and a half or so, but to me what's more important is that my health is improved (at least in some areas) and well, I just feel good. I have missed quite a bit of class from being in and out of that upper abdominal pain and stress-induced IBS, but apart from that, I feel satisfied with my overall lifestyle, which I never realized would make me so happy. Yes, I can be in pain and miss class, and still be incredibly happy.
I feel I still have a long way to go though. I have a lot more to explore about my body and health, and I have a lot of goals I'd like to accomplish outside of those realms, so that brings me to the reason I want to revisit this blogging idea: so I can essentially publicly reflect on my experience and hope that it may help others. Additionally, I'll still give you guys the highlights from my travel--stuff I haven't posted on Facebook, and basically make this a diary as well. I hope you'll join me for the ride!
Blog Posts Coming Soon
Anything else you guys are interested in reading about, either about Taiwan, my life, or health in general? Leave me a comment below!
Hey there! I started this blog to keep my family and friends back home up-to-date with my life as I live, study, and work in Taiwan. I'll fill you in on my life here, food, adventures, and health! Follow me for updates!