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Walking into a healthy America

Students, teachers on the forefront of diet, nutrition and technology trends

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Junior Amanda Young running during a cross country practice. Photo: Ashley Dyer

As sophomore Alaina Melton sat at the dining room table and stared at the chicken her mother had made on the table, she had a sudden realization that she didn’t want to eat meat anymore. Now over two years later, she is still going strong.
“I wanted to be a vegetarian for so long, but I had so many people tell me I’d only last a week,” Melton said. “Now, it’s over two years later and I’m still with it.”
Melton is part of the growing trend of healthy living making waves across the country, particularly the millennials. Social media has been dominated by vocal vegetarian and vegans, like Melton, who want to spread their message.
“The reason I am so vocal about it is because I love being a vegetarian,” Melton said. “I gained so much energy. It’s just so much healthier for you.”
In a country where over 35 percent of the adult population is considered obese, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, millennials have taken it into their own hands to change their futures with new lifestyle changes.
But, many will say it’s not just about keeping the weight down. It’s about their general health, and the health and protection of animals and the environment,” Melton said. “There are ethical vegetarians and vegetarians that do it for health reasons. I am both, but mainly ethical. I really love animals.”
Melton’s change has been contagious. “Ever since I’ve gone vegetarian, my family has started eating a lot better,” she said. “It’s affected my friends as well because when they see what I’m eating, they see how easy it is to be healthier and that eating healthy doesn’t have to be some elaborate thing.”
Senior Emma Stevenson, an experimenting vegan, said watching documentaries and seeing celebrities partake in the lifestyle change is the reason so many young people have decided to go vegan and vegetarian too.
“I think it’s becoming more common now,” Stevenson said. “They have definitely shed a light onto all the negative aspects of the meat industry.”
The documentaries she watched, “Forks over Knives,” “Earthlings” and “Cowspiracy,” are what she credits most for her change.
“They were really eye opening because I had no idea of the negative effect animal products have on our bodies and the environment,” she said. Like Melton, she has found her new diet provides her much more energy.

Teachers talk health
Lack of energy, a common factor among many who decide to change their diets, is what led math teacher Tara Erickson to see a nutritionist.
“I am hoping that I can discover which foods—maybe gluten, dairy, sugar­—I should avoid so that I feel less fatigued,” Erickson said. “I’m hoping that the result will be something that I can make a permanent lifestyle change.”
Erickson has noticed throughout her time at Haslett that many of her students are changing too.
“We have so much more information now,” she said. “I hear them (students) talking about making good food choices and working out regularly.”
But despite having more available information, biology teacher Kimberly Snook says even students who want to make changes can have trouble doing so.
“As a teenager, it can be hard because your folks are more in control of what’s in the cupboard,” Snook said. “I hate to think of teens getting caught up in the whole dieting thing anyways. I believe it is important to live a healthy lifestyle. The key word there being lifestyle and not diet.”
Snook says staying active and starting good habits is key to lifelong health.
“Living an active lifestyle in high school makes it more likely you will value an active lifestyle in the future,” Snook said. “As a result, you will have more energy, productive thoughts, be more pleasant to be around, hopefully live longer and be less sick.”
Snook, who has been open to students about her struggle with an eating disorder, is now healthy and happy because of balancing her health.
“Being active helps keep my eating disorder at bay. The need to fuel myself for the next workout is more important than depriving myself,” she said.
She encourages students to find a balance for themselves too.
“Any exercise or healthy eating is great, as long as you don’t become obsessed about it. There has to be a healthy medium for both aspects or your body will break down,” she said. “You are too important to let that happen.”

Monitoring fitness
Lack of balance is what senior Shyan Goodrich sees as a threat to health among young people. She decided to start tracking her steps with a Fitbit after she saw her dad doing it and his success with it.
“I thought it was really cool. I wanted to keep track of my steps and then I started working out a lot,” Goodrich said. Her overall goal is to simply be healthier, something Goodrich says her generation struggles with.
“I don’t think they’re (her peers) healthy at all. Things like not eating right or not eating enough, and working out too much. There’s unhealthy habits like that,” she said.
Overall, Goodrich says her steps to living healthier have been worth it.
“I feel better. I’m more energetic, but results are coming slowly.” Slow or not, Goodrich is in it for the long run. “I wanna do it right and be successful. Then, other girls can see it that way too.”
Like Goodrich, senior Makayla Casaday has picked up on the Fitbit trend. Casaday says she likes knowing how many steps she’s taken in a day because it helps her stay motivated throughout the week.
“Days that my step numbers are low, I feel extremely guilty. I know the next day I have to work harder,” Casaday said.
Along with knowing the step count, Casaday also enjoys participating in the “challenges” feature of Fitbits. This allows participants to compete against themselves or friends/family and stay active together.
“Having a challenge with someone means you have a week or weekend to see who gets the most steps within that amount of time,” Casaday said. “I love challenges because I’m a competitive person so it helps push me to exercise more.”

Running for relief
For other students, a Fitbit isn’t needed to get motivated and isn’t necessarily for health reasons. Junior Andrew Schmidt says he runs because it relieves stress and frustration. He also has found that it’s become a habit.
“When I run it makes me forget about the stress of the day and it helps me release it. It’s kind of a habit of mine to stay in shape and I really enjoy it.” Schmidt said.
Senior Emily Wegenke is motivated to run because she thinks it will benefit her in the future. By running every day, she says she’s setting up a routine that will hopefully follow her when she’s older.
“It’s a good way to relieve stress and it’s just a good habit to get into because I’ll always be able to run, even when I get older.” Wegenke said.
Like Schmidt and Wegenke, junior Amanda Young enjoys running and has kept it a part of her daily routine since she could remember. Because of her passion for running, Young’s sister encouraged her to start running competitively.
Since then, she’s made running a big part of her life by participating in the school’s cross country and track teams. She also competes outside of school.
After watching her sister train for a half marathon, Young was inspired to do the same.
After training, Young and her family traveled to Orlando, FL to participate in the Walt Disney World Half Marathon.
Although she was just doing it for fun, Young ended up winning in her age division. Since then she has managed to be a two year reigning champion for the female division ages 14-17.
“There are people announcing your name when you are approaching the finish line and as I was getting there, I heard them say ‘here comes our youngest female runner, 16 year old Amanda Young,” Young said. “It was surreal, I couldn’t help but smile as I ran through.”
Despite her talent, Young says that it isn’t what keeps her running and motivated.
“Running has helped me get over certain things that has happened in my life and that’s why I love it so much.”

Also contributed:
Mia Salvador
Kelsey Johnson

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Walking into a healthy America