OAC member Seena Gaines
OAC member Seena Haines

— Reflection by Seena Haines, OAC Member from Jackson, MS

I recently found some of my childhood photos stored in a box, and they’ve challenged me to do some self-reflecting lately. Despite my smile in those photos, I wasn’t happy. My weight first began to climb in elementary school. After my teachers noticed that I often read upside down and backwards, I was diagnosed with dyslexia, a type of learning disorder. Because of this, I had a hard time keeping up with my peers in school. My mother enrolled me in a special after-school program, but other kids would often shun me and tease me. I guess this is what led me to turn to food for comfort.

Growing up and Struggling with Weight

But this only made matters worse. I was also teased about my weight. I had a very difficult relationship with my father which led me to comfort myself with food and hide my emotions. I remember eating lunch at school, then a second lunch when I got home, then dinner, followed by a snack almost every night. I wasn’t very active in school, either. Although I tried some sports, I didn’t stick with them for very long. I was very sedentary and my weight peaked in high school as I approached 200 lbs.

Learning to Practice Self-care

Things shifted in high school when I reached a tipping point with my weight. My father had several heart attacks and chronic illnesses at an early age. He was only in his 30’s! I was afraid I might develop the same health problems. So, I made the decision to pay more attention to my eating habits and physical activity. I joined a gym and began to keep a food diary. My health goals forced me to become more aware of my eating habits and notice patterns in my behavior.

With this, I lost weight very slowly. By the end of my senior year I had lost 60 lbs. I also developed a consistent workout schedule because being physically active helped me ease my anxiety and stress.

Applying What I Learned

Following high school, I pursed a bachelor’s degree in nutrition and dietetics. Unfortunately, during my first year of college, my father died at age 44 from a heart attack. To earn some money while in college, I started to work as a pharmacy technician. I really liked the work and discovered how much pharmacists can really impact people’s lives! After graduating, I decided to get a doctoral degree in Pharmacy. I wanted to combine my knowledge of nutrition and medication to work with patients with chronic diseases (similar to my father) that are often influenced by obesity and a sedentary lifestyle:

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Heart disease

Since high school, my weight has fluctuated, but I’ve managed keep it in a healthy range. Throughout the past 30 years, I’ve been able to pick up patterns when my weight starts to gradually increase. When I notice myself slipping into problematic behaviors, I return to some of the tools I have in my toolbox to help me. This involves a lot of self-tracking and self-reflection. All of this has taught me that weight is very complex and managing it can be quite hard. I’ve learned to be dedicated at prioritizing self-care and mindful of my thoughts and behaviors.

Here are some of the things I find helpful:

  • Paying close attention to my nutrition habits
  • Building muscle – not just focusing on the scale
  • Practicing yoga and doing weight training through CrossFit
  • Avoiding too much of a calorie deficit
  • Making time for mental and emotional wellness

Passing it on to Others

OAC member Seena Gaines doing yoga
Seena in one of her yoga poses

As a lifelong learner, continuing my education and training has been important to me. In my “day job,” I work full-time as a faculty member at a school of pharmacy. I also became a credentialed health and wellness coach and a certified yoga instructor so I can help others by empowering them to make healthy lifestyle changes and cultivate self-compassion! My greatest joy is working with patients, clients and students as their guide on the side to reach their wellness goals.

The current COVID-19 pandemic has forced me to think about ways of teaching yoga and providing coaching without borders. In April 2020, my husband and I started a YouTube channel: the Yoga Apothecary. In our video series — Wellbeing from A to Z — I provide a weekly wellbeing message while leading a vinyasa style yoga practice. Not everyone is a “yogi,” so we later launched the Wellbeing Elixir, a free bi-weekly newsletter and blog. We hope this information can increase everyone’s happiness, vitality and sense of wellbeing — especially during a time when we need it most! Music, poetry and the visual arts are important parts of our wellbeing formula.

My Note to Others

I still don’t like my childhood photos. I see the younger me – the person unhappy in her skin. However, I’ve learned to live a much happier life with the help of hard work, lifelong learning, persistence, passion and help from my support system and community. These are all essential pieces to any wellness journey — especially support. If you are struggling with your weight or any aspect of your health, don’t be afraid to lean on others for help!

Note: the OAC Community Discussion Forum is a great place to connect with people sharing similar experiences, find support, and offer support to others.