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Health and Wellness

By gjmacdougall

The Lerner Health and Wellness Center at GW is a place where a large number of students spend their time. Membership comes free with enrollment, so why would you not use it? Everyone else does.

A friend recently shared an article from The Guardian about orthorexia and this made me start thinking about image, health and wellness in the States. Yes, it's a stereotype, but I do get the feeling there's a greater emphasis on image in America. The food, I would say, could be deemed 'unhealthier' than in Europe, but the gym and fitness culture is also bigger, along with the portion sizes. And there seems to be an uneasy relationship between the two.

In terms of health, it feels sometimes like the 'wellness' has been a little lost.

Obsession with health and fitness is something that it is all too easy to get sucked into. Obviously exercise is medically a good thing, but you get the sense, and experience it also, that the motivation to work out comes from places of insecurity over image and the idea that 'everyone else does', rather than for the health benefits.

As mentioned before, in terms of food, everything is amplified: the portions, the decadence, the intensity of flavour - and also the guilt. There's this idea that if you eat something deemed 'unhealthy' you have to justify it by explaining how you'll go to the gym later so that it will all be ok. You skip that cupcake catch-up with a friend...or you do it anyway, and then beat yourself up about it. Everyone else does.

And of course the market also has its say.The cost difference between traditionally 'unhealthy' foods such as burgers and cookies and 'healthy' foods is quite staggering, and though in the UK the 'unhealthy' foods are also cheaper, I feel it is not quite to the same extent. If you have limited money, the choice has already been made for you.


The idea of image and presentation came up again during my week (though in a much more lighthearted way) with one of the scarier moments of my life: doing a Southern American accent in front of a drama class full of American students, for midterm rehearsals. One cliché that I was thankful is mostly a reality is the welcoming and encouraging nature of Americans, as they were very supportive about it and still wanted to talk to me afterwards, so they didn't seem too offended with my attempt...

This contrast between Britain and the States was also found in my participation with friends in a 'trivia night' at Tonic, a restaurant I walk past longingly every day on the way to class. 'Trivia night' is the equivalent to the British 'pub quiz' (and my friend who had studied abroad in the UK did say the lounge at Tonic had one of the most pub-like atmospheres she had found in DC) but I did not find the questions to be equal. Left to my own devices I would have been lucky to score a handful of points - if I go again I definitely need to brush up on baseball, presidents, and Dragon Ball Z - but my smarting competitive pride was more than soothed by the restaurant's basket of tater tots, a food stuff I had only ever heard described in films and on tv, let alone eaten.

Other unique State-side experiences were checked off this week, watching the CNN Democratic Debate whilst eating heavenly homemade brownies, pumpkin picking at Larriland Farm, Maryland (sampling the delicacies of funnel cake and apple 'cider' and driving past scenery that reminded me of New Jersey, bringing the memories rushing back), going to the Smithsonian National Zoo and also attending the Washington Prayer Gathering on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.The biggest was probably the White House Fall Garden Tour which was a very surreal experience, as a house and gardens which ultimately seem so ordinary, end up meaning so much, complete with the full force of US security.

Up close and personal
Up close and personal

However, it's not only the big things but also the little ones that continue to strike you as different and serve as a reminder that you're in the US. Groups of smartly dressed sororities and fraternities spilling onto the streets on their way to chapter meetings and initiations, the blank stares you're met with when you call a piece of clothing a 'jumper' instead of a 'sweater', police officers with guns - these all add up to create the experience of a different culture.

This week has been the one where I've most been missing home, the sudden drop in temperature reminding me of England and Edinburgh, combined with the flood of GW students' parents arriving for 'Parents Weekend'. However my friend's family who were down for the weekend very generously also took me out for sushi (like brunch, it's becoming a problem) at Kaz Sushi Bistro, ending the night with my first ever crêpe from GW-staple Crepeaway, and so making me feel part of a family even though far away from it.

The past few days have been unexpectedly laid back but this week things pick back up again with tech week and performances for the GW Shakespeare Company show 'The Merry Wives of Windsor', along with a few deadlines.

To another week of American experiences, cliché and otherwise,


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