Aimee Elliott graduated summa cum laude from the University of Louisiana at Monroe (ULM) with a Bachelor of Science degree in speech-language pathology. She continued her graduate studies at ULM to obtain a Master of Science degree in the same field, where she currently holds a 4.0 GPA. Aimee was a member of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars (NSCS), the National Society of Leadership and Success (NSLS), Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society, and the National Student Speech, Language, and Hearing Association (NSSLHA) throughout her undergraduate career. Furthermore, she was nominated by instructors within the Speech-Language Pathology (SLP) department to serve as the NSSLHA officer while attending graduate school. Aimee contributed much of her time volunteering to serve the community in affiliation with ULM’s SLP program by helping to plan and organize events for clients who attend ULM’s Kitty DeGree Speech and Hearing Center, as well as promoting wellness regarding speech, language, and hearing, in schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and various health fairs.
Her plans are to dedicate her time to working as an SLP in the medical field, specifically with the adult population, to help them with their communicative, cognitive, and/or swallowing needs to improve their quality of life. She aims to positively change people’s lives by giving them a voice and the communicative abilities to tell their stories, wants and needs, as well as connect with others. Aimee is the daughter of 35-year Welder member, Mitchell Elliott, Sr., and wife, Kimberly Elliott. Aimee is also the granddaughter of 52-year Welder member, Emmitt Elliott. Her brother, Mitchell DeWayne Elliott, Jr., and two uncles, Marty and Mark Elliott, are also Welder members of Local Union 798.
I have lost 100 pounds by adopting a healthy lifestyle. I learned a wellness secret for college students along the way. My journey of discovery began one day in Civics class.
“Ronald, it’s your turn,” said Mrs. Hirayama.
“Oh, okay,” I stuttered.
I was in the 12th grade, and it was my turn to present.
“Don’t trip; don’t trip!” screamed the voice in my head as I stood.
Not only did I trip, but I fell straight on my face. The class erupted. I did not know what hurt more: my face, or the fact that Mrs. Hirayama was laughing too.
Eventually, I made it to the front of the room. At this point, my knees took on lives of their own, shaking madly like Shakira’s hips. I opened my mouth. The only sound came from the ticking clock.
I stared at the students as they stared back at me. My lips quivered in silence. Half the students were shaking their heads, as was the teacher. “Ronald, sit down,” said Mrs. Hirayama.The bell rang; school was out. I felt like my heart had been shred apart. On my way home, a couple of Civics classmates rode their bikes past me. “Get outta the way, useless pig!” they yelled.
I found myself burning with shame. Deprecating remarks like these were typical of my teen years as I struggled with both obesity and autism. Not only did I struggle with repetitive motions with my knees and lips, but I also struggled to articulate words. I also had difficulty reading both body language and sarcasm. I simply could not tell if people were joking or being serious. Furthermore, I laughed at the wrong times and had the tendency to stare at people without blinking. My weight further reduced my self-confidence.
I felt trapped. However, there was one person who saw potential in me. In a concerned tone, my friend Nehemiah said:
“Life is short; you only get one body!”
He was right. I realized I could be the first in my family to take a stand against obesity. While I walked home that fateful day, I resolved to be different from my unhealthy parents. I pushed myself to transcend my depression and obesity problems. I challenged myself to start living.
I asked for Nehemiah’s coaching, and together we created a diet and exercise regimen. I promised him I would lose 30 pounds. By persisting with Nehemiah and holding myself accountable, I was actually able to lose 100 pounds over two years, starting at 260 pounds and ending at 160 pounds. I broke down in tears several times in my journey. However, in my moments of self-doubt, I used the memory of my failed presentation in Civics class. That was the last time I would allow a class, along with the teacher, to laugh at me. My desire to triumph over pain was channeled into real weight loss results. In addition, my confidence and social skills drastically improved as I continually lost weight.
The members at my local church saw my physical transformation and social improvement. In turn, I became an inspiration and volunteered to create the Fitness Association. Along with a select group of people, I was able to empower others on issues related to health, fitness, and nutrition. In the end, we helped hundreds of people in turning their habits around. For example, young Bobby and Sally learned to pack their own sandwiches to school instead of eating unhealthy, oily school food. In addition, Mr. Li set a goal to bike to work three times a week, and he ended up losing over 20 pounds. I was able to influence people and inspire them to change their lives for the better.
In my journey of losing weight and helping others, I uncovered a profound lesson: habits are more powerful than emotions in achieving health and wellness. The key to great health, then, lies in leveraging solid habits with the compounding effect. The compound effect occurs when small habits accumulate over time to produce remarkable long term results. If one is living in the compounding zone, one will continually push oneself beyond one’s perceived limitations. For instance, whenever I became tired during exercise, I would push myself to do extra sets. I would jog for an extra minute at the end of my runs, and I would eat extra fruits beyond my quota for each day. When these actions in the compounding zone became a consistent habit, my bodily progress became truly impressive. By adding a companion to my schedule to hold myself accountable, I was able to generate sustained results.
I also learned that the key to sustaining healthy habits is to change one’s exercises. Indeed, the body adapts to the same routines used over time. The FITT principle (changing the Frequency, Intensity, Time interval, or Type of exercise) can be used to vary one’s workout schedule. That said, healthy living is a lifetime endeavor because it requires one to alter exercise routines to prevent the body from plateauing.
In all, the secret to a healthy lifestyle involves leveraging novelty in one’s life. When variable workouts are consistently performed with the compounding effect, results will skyrocket over time. Such habits can be initiated during one’s college years and can be sustained over a lifetime by partnering with someone with similar fitness goals. Indeed, I have taken advantage of these strategies and remain committed to a lifetime of healthy habits. I invite you to jump aboard.
A bowl of trail mix – a curated mixture of almonds, walnuts, dried apricots and dark chocolate morsels – sits beside me as I write. I wonder if I will be denied this scholarship because of the last chocolate chip I munched. But that chocolate chip keeps me going. By giving myself choice, living a healthy life has become a way of life.
Sustaining a healthy lifestyle has never been easy for me. When I first began college, I mindlessly enjoyed the unlimited ice cream and chocolate chip waffles on Saturday mornings. I had days when ice cream on top of my waffles made for a classic pick- me-up morning feast. I eventually realized, however, that this meal had the exact opposite effect of a “pick-me-up”. I felt lethargic and tired. I was first surprised and then became depressed once my jeans became a little too snug. Like many college students, I bounced between extensive varieties of diets. The 1200-calorie days. Fat- free foods. Zero-carb diet. The ketogenic approach. Many of these diets were great for a few days, even weeks. Then, I’d get a sniff of fresh chocolate chip cookies or a grilled cheese sandwich. Sometimes, it would simply be a carton of full-fat yogurt. When I’d have one of these “cheat” bites, my entire day of dieting would crumble apart and I’d resort to overeating, perhaps it was even binge eating. I would not be able to concentrate on school or immediate assignments. Rather, I’d take the day off while eating all the sinful foods I had restrained from myself. There were days I would eat until my stomach hurt. There were nights I hated my body and myself. I would feel useless and simply go to sleep. The next day, the diet would start again. To overcompensate, I’d go half a day without eating. Needless to say, I never lost a sustainable amount of weight during this period of dieting. More importantly, I was unhappy, unproductive and very unhealthy.
A year later, I began studying for the MCAT – a crucial time for any premedical student. While studying for the exam, my days were jam-packed with study sessions and summer school so I didn’t have much time to think about my diet. I fell into a rhythm of waking up early each morning and eating four home-cooked meals everyday. Every evening, I would go to the gym so I could energize myself without the need for caffeine. I slept by midnight everyday and made sure to get 8 hours of sleep. Studying for the MCAT was like training for a marathon; I didn’t want to cram and made sure I had ample energy to study diligently for the entire summer. Suddenly, it wasn’t so hard to eat healthy on a regular basis. No urgent cravings and no binge eating. With the exam only weeks away, food was not the center of my attention.
Today, I am twenty pounds lighter than my first year of college. I am mindful of what I eat and how much I eat. However, I hold myself to no restrictions. A philosophy of healthy living as a lifestyle allows me to enjoy day by day. I’ve learned to forgive myself and celebrate milestones. These changes have brought me ample more happiness and pride than my weight loss.
As a medical student, I have the great pleasure to learn from physicians who value the art of medicine as much as the science behind it. One physician in particular is Dr. Sheffield, an endocrinologist at Kaiser Permanente. During a lecture on obesity,
he asked us, “Which two specialties in medicine express the most compassion?” According to a survey, the answer was oncology and pediatrics. His rationale behind the answer was that both of these specialties have something special in common; oncologists and pediatricians never blame the patient for his or her disease. Then, Dr. Sheffield asked us to consider the following hypothetical situation: “It’s 2 AM, and you’re the physician on call. An obese, diabetic man just suffered a heart attack from exacerbated atherosclerosis.” He wondered how many of us would blame the patient, “if only the patient watched what he ate”. He urged us to think like an oncologist or pediatrician and be more compassionate towards our patients.
I think back to my difficult and ongoing journey towards maintaining a healthy lifestyle. I will never blame my patient for his or her inability to sustain a nutritious diet. I have learned from my personal and academic experiences that healthy living is really a challenge of a lifetime. I strive to eat mindfully, exercise frequently, sleep well and perhaps most importantly – forgive myself. Eating well and losing weight is hard. Maintaining healthy habits to be sustained over a lifetime is even more difficult. I have realized that I will not lose weight in a day, nor will I gain it overnight. The best and most practical approach is to forgive myself and move on with the day. No day should be wasted because of a chocolate chip cookie.