In my freshman year, on an evening in late September, I sat in my common room in Welch, entryway C, fourth floor, scrolling on my laptop on Amazon.com. I placed an order for a family pack of goldfish. It seemed like an awesome snack to have in bulk for my entire suite, and plus, this box came with so many different flavors. Flavor-blasted pizza, flavor-blasted cheddar, and even some kind of sweet vanilla cupcake graham cracker flavor. Why not? I ordered it. I would munch on it by the handful at 1:00 a.m. with a cup of coffee while working into the early morning hours. I would wake up at 9:12 a.m. for my 9:25 class, ditch breakfast and make it just in time for the lecture. It’s ok. I could subsist on more coffee to get me through the day. Literally, it’s fine. When I made it to the dining hall for a meal, I might as well eat with abandon. Afterall, I deserved it after after a full day of classes, rehearsals, commitments and skipping all my other meals. Plus, there would be another shipment of goldfish in my suite.
I lived this way for the majority of my freshman year. I didn’t realize the destructive nature of this cycle until my health, both physical and mental, started to collapse. I put on weight fast (and it was more than just your standard freshman 15), I experienced ongoing flares of painful cystic acne around my chin and jawline, and I was missing my periods. I had no desire to ever go out and enjoy myself because I felt too insecure. And my moods were insane. The highs were so high, and the lows were so low; I felt all the feelings of being a lonely freshman in college, and tried to mask it with being my hyper-excited Cami self, relying on optimism to get me through the year and assure myself (falsely) that I was thriving. And, on top of it all, I would have never admitted this as a freshman. I needed everyone to know that I was having a near perfect time at Yale.
I never took the time to step back and assess these emerging health issues until I finally returned home to Los Angeles for the summer. The most glaring wake-up call arrived when, on my first day back, I was getting ready to sing at a fundraising event. I cared so much about the organization for which I was singing, and so many people I loved and respected would be in the audience, and I of course wanted to be at my best. I remember trying to put on a dress I had bought last year at the same time, and I could barely zip it. I had caked on layers of makeup to cover up my stubborn acne, to little avail. It seems vain and superficial, but I looked in the mirror and felt like I didn’t know myself. What happened?
Once I got over being emo (my favorite abbreviation for “emotional”) about how I looked and felt, I decided to ground myself in some reality and finally visit a doctor. The first thing I felt I needed to address was my acne. I had never dealt with skin problems before, and now I had acne all over my face, chest, and back. I didn’t even want to wear tank tops. So, I went to the dermatologist, who suggested that I go on accutane to heal my acne. She also required that I go on birth control because if I were to get pregnant while on accutane, the medication would cause severe birth defects. She handed me a thick packet of paperwork and contracts to sign before starting accutane. I read through the material, noting that side effects of both accutane and birth control included hair loss, sudden weight gain and sudden weight loss, bouts of depression, anxiety, skin peeling, nosebleeds, dizziness, drowsiness, brittle nails, and joint pain.
I thought to myself, “What in the world is this medication?” I know it has helped so many people transform both their skin and their lives, and I respect their decision to use this medication. But something in my heart told me to hold off on trying accutane.
I soon visited another doctor doctor, who diagnosed me with PCOS -- Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome -- which explained all my symptoms perfectly. This is the most common hormonal disorder among women of a reproductive age, and one of the leading causes of infertility in women. It affects roughly 1 in 10 women, which shocked me, because I had never even heard of it until I was diagnosed. It results from a hormonal imbalance in the female body, specifically having high levels of androgens (male hormones) and high levels of insulin, which leads to insulin resistance.
My doctor suggested birth control as a treatment for these symptoms, but advised me that going this route was a “band-aid” method of treatment -- it silences symptoms, but does not eliminate them completely. It would artificially introduce hormones to my body, but my body would not learn how to regulate the hormones by itself.
Again, my heart told me to seek alternative options. I researched holistic approaches to healing PCOS symptoms. That summer, the one between freshman and sophomore year, I radically changed my lifestyle; I cut out processed sugars and snack foods, eliminated gluten, and started to seriously manage my sugar intake to eliminate the insulin resistance that had resulted from PCOS. I focused on eating raw, unprocessed foods that were low in sugar. Auspiciously enough, I also started my yoga teacher training that summer, which really allowed me to get in touch with my body, mind, and spirit, and also get back into a regular routine of exercise and mindful movement.
After a summer of implementing holistic health practices into my lifestyle, I reversed my PCOS symptoms almost entirely. I lost all the weight I had gained freshman year, my skin cleared, and I felt brighter and more energized. And I finally got my period back. I now embrace that a regular period is an essential indicator that your body is functioning smoothly. Honestly, this has been a PSA, because I’ve noticed that there is an all-too-clear stigma about publicly talking about periods and women’s health in general.
This year-long journey taught me that food is often the most powerful “medicine.” I experienced this not only in terms of my physical health, but also my mental health. I simply felt better and more energized. I could be my best, most abundant self when I wasn’t living off of packets of goldfish at 1:00 a.m. like I was in October 2016. And my body thanked me for this by healing itself of hormonal imbalance. I found healing in food, and this was empowering to me and it strengthened the relationship I had with my body. My body could heal itself through mindful lifestyle choices without birth control pills and without accutane. I know now that food is fuel and also that food is healing.
Fast forward to Summer 2018, which was a formative one for me. I spent ten weeks in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, doing a theatrical apprenticeship. I have always loved performing, and I still do. It’s what I want to do with my life, and how I want to make a living after I graduate from Yale. However, this summer, for the first time, performing wasn’t an extracurricular activity. It was a professional, career-oriented pursuit---a job. This, too, led to some important realizations. For one, I realized that, for myself, it could be potentially harmful for me to conflate passion with profession. I needed something else that I could come home to at the end of the day. So I decided to start working on a “passion project.” Something to fill my soul and fulfill me creatively that was not tied to a career or my professional goals -- something just for fun.
Thus, I decided to really go full send by creating a food-and-wellness-oriented Instagram account, @camikeepseatingthings. I chose this title one morning in Pittsfield as I was walking to rehearsal on a whim. I thought it rolled off the tongue in a nice way, it had my name in it, and the verb phrase “keeps eating things” implies continuity and longevity.
I had no plans or goals for the account when it started. I love journaling and writing and I thought that an Instagram page would be an ideal fusion of things I love: developing recipes, iPhone photography, food presentation. I could also use the page to discuss other areas of wellness that extend beyond eating well, such as exercise, journaling, and meditation. Focusing my energy on food and wellness was changing my life and energizes me. So why not create an online photo journal of sorts? After a year of mindfully cooking healthy recipes centered around unprocessed, nourishing ingredients, I had so many recipes I wanted to share with the world! Summer 2018 was the time to just do it. I had actually started the account at some point in my sophomore year after I took a pretty picture of my plate in the dining hall one morning. I had 12 followers and updated the page irregularly. I began routinely posting my meals and recipes while living in Pittsfield. My account has grown to a following of about 1,600 and it has led me to find a new community.
Food is the fuel that allows us to live, breathe, act, react, communicate, observe, think, and feel. What we eat and how we choose to fuel ourselves profoundly impacts the way we conduct our lives and the way we manifest our thoughts and desires into actions.
I wish I could say that I’ve always looked at a plate like this and thought: Oh My God Look At This Robust Plate Of Well-Curated Plant And Animal Matter That I Will Consume To Help My Body Maintain Sufficient Growth And Energy Through Essential Physiological Metabolic Processes. This Plate Contains Fiber, Protein, Nourishing Fats, And Quality Carbohydrates That Will Allow Me to Live My Most Abundant Life.
That’s honestly a weird way to frame how I view this salad. But that’s what it is. It’s true.
I no longer feel an impulse to bulk-order goldfish from Amazon. I have developed a relationship with my body where I know what will energize and serve it, and what will not. This doesn’t mean I never enjoy a treat! It’s just that I try to strike a balance in my lifestyle and I now know how to fuel myself effectively. Everyone is different! You have to do what is right for YOU in terms of fueling yourself.
My relationship with food is constantly evolving. Recently, I have reflected upon the social factor of eating well, as eating is inherently a social activity, especially in college. I know that for women in particular, we feel pressured at restaurants, parties, or gatherings to be “down” and “chill” enough to eat refined, fried, or processed foods with a can of beer or a cup of wine from a box. I don’t want to seem difficult or high-maintenance in these settings, but I also don’t want to feel like trash the next day. So, in these situations, I try to remind myself that the bottom line is that eating well should not be weird, sad, or limiting. Sometimes I attempt social experiments where I bring a plate of gluten-free, naturally sweetened cookies to parties, and I say nothing about their ingredients, or how they are 100% wholesome and unprocessed. And they disappear instantly! Eating raw, unprocessed foods was normal for hundreds of thousands of years as humans were evolving (hence the popularity of the recently emerged “caveman” or “paleo” diet phenomenon). It’s been important for me to reclaim and normalize a focus on real, healthy, whole foods that energize me. And I often remind myself that it’s wild how we got to a point where we crave flavor-blasted-pizza- -sweet-vanilla-cupcake-graham-cracker-goldfish at 1 a.m.
By Cami Arboles (@camikeepseatingthings)