The people who know me well would describe me as someone who is perpetually in school. I even have “lifelong learner” on my LinkedIn profile title. Since my undergrad, I enrolled in a 6-month coding bootcamp, started (but didn’t finish…yet) studying for ACE personal trainer certification, received certification in a 200-hour yoga teacher training program, and am currently wrapping up my 300-hour program.
I also graduated with an MA in Media Studies and continued on to a PhD program in Human Geography. In all of that time, I also experienced chronic illness and had to change all of my plans, dropping out of the PhD program while still pursuing other forms of learning.
Now I’m back in the academic world. In Fall 2021, I began my Nutrition MS program, an all-virtual school that I’ve been able to fit around my work and other obligations. One thing I wanted to make sure to do was document some of my takeaways after every term, and perhaps more often than that. This week, I started my second term, so I figured it would be a good time to reflect and share some thoughts from the beginning of the program.
In the first term of my nutrition program, I had to take three prerequisites – Anatomy & Physiology, Biochemistry, and Nutrition Fundamentals.
Anatomy and Physiology
Thank goodness for Hank Green and the Crash Course series for Anatomy & Physiology. I don’t know where I’d be without it. Seriously, YouTube and TikTok were my best friends that helped me get through this course. I’m really trying not to beat myself up about getting an A minus, mostly because I was SO CLOSE to an A (I’m talking one or two right questions away from an A). However, I learned so much in so little time, and I can already tell, one week in, that the things I learned in A&P are going to help me in this term’s classes immensely.
In the course, we covered all systems of the body and were required to do a final project based on two systems and the ways macro and micronutrients interact with them. I had a lot of fun with the presentation (that’s really where I shine), and the discussion board participation along the way wasn’t too bad. However, every test, and I mean EVERY TEST, was brutal. I would study the entire weekend leading up to the test. No amount of time felt sufficient. I know I did the very best I could and I have no regrets.
One continually frustrating thing about anatomy, in addition to other science classes, is that textbooks still speak in incredibly binary language. Despite the fact that the school I’m going to is very forward-thinking, the textbooks we’ve been assigned and the lectures I’ve received so far just don’t line up with the way we should be talking about anatomy. My qualms with this binary language led me to do some searching for universities that are doing things differently. The only one I’ve been able to find is Monash University – they made a statement last year about how they’d like to redefine anatomical language. Incidentally, if you know of any other universities taking this on, please let me know – email me at email@example.com.
Monash University is also the university that created the guidelines for the Low FODMAP diet, so I loved them already. Their statements just make me love them more! I’m seeing Monash as a possible future university to engage with in some fashion. After I get some more coursework under my belt, I definitely want to reach out and talk to someone there about their progress on redefining anatomical language.
Surprising even me, biochemistry was my favorite class. We started with some basic chemistry concepts and moved into organic chemistry mid-term. I remember all my pre-med/science-track friends in undergraduate school telling me that organic chemistry was the hardest thing they did, so I was dreading picking it up. However, after a couple weeks, I had a decent handle on how everything worked and really enjoyed learning new things under that umbrella.
The trickiest part of the biochemistry course was the amino acids quiz we had to do. I found a YouTube video that claimed to help you memorize amino acids in “9 minutes” – sure, if 9 minutes means all weekend long rewatching a 9-minute video, I suppose you’re right. The video, and an app I found, were incredibly helpful, all snarkiness aside. I know amino acids will feature prominently in future coursework, so I’m happy they prepared us like this.
One of my favorite parts about biochemistry is that my professor had review sessions before each exam. It was nice to hear people via Zoom give answers and get an inside view of what the exam would be like before I took it on the weekend. While I’m pretty self-motivated, it is lonely doing coursework without much interaction between students. Even Zoom meetings make the experience feel more personal. Plus, I ended with an A!
This was a fast and furious 7-week, 2-credit course, meant to get our feet wet in nutrition basics. During the half-term, we covered macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates, and lipids), and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, etc.), with a discussion post due every week, a midterm, and a final. The whole course felt like a whirlwind but it was pretty fun and not too difficult. If I did poorly in the class most closely aligned to what I ultimately want to do, I’d be worried. I got an A in this class, juuuust barely, and am excited for this term’s class that dives more into the practice and research behind nutrition.
One thing I will say that I don’t like about nutrition education is some of the shame and casual ableism and fatphobia I’m encountering. I prefer to stay on the positive, health-promoting side of things. I want to encourage people to eat foods that make them feel stronger, more energetic, less pain – foods that can ease your gut or calm inflammation. Something I’ve noticed with most coursework are casual (or not-so-casual) mentions of what one of my yoga mentors calls the “shoulds.” “You SHOULD be eating this way.” “You SHOULDN’T be enjoying this thing at this frequency.”
Even if it’s true, even if there’s all the evidence in the world to eat or not eat a certain way, I don’t think we get anywhere by shaming someone into changing habits. Plus, there’s so much complexity in the world of health and nutrition that admonishing one thing someone likes to eat ignores the entire constellation of habits, foods, and lifestyle and genetic factors surrounding a person. It feels terribly reductive, and I’m not digging that part at all. Luckily, I can choose to take the information I learn and present it in the way I find most beneficial and least harmful.
That’s where I’ll leave my thoughts for now. I’m very excited to see what the next term holds. Maybe I’ll pop in somewhere in the middle with a few more thoughts. For now, it’s back to the books!