Going Against the Grain (Literally); Or, How I Learned to Be OK with Doing What I Love

I did it!

Having finally graduated from the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota on Sunday, I feel within myself a cocktail of pleasure, anxiety and hope when I think about my journey from point A to point B, and it brings me to a state of realization about myself and the things I’ve learned along the way, things that have shaped my perspective on how I live my life, why I’ve made the decisions I have, and where this will likely bring me in the future. This does connect (perhaps loosely) to the concept of a ketogenic diet, and I will tell you why.

When I graduated high school back in 2007, I felt that the world was readily available at my fingertips, and that wherever I went, success was meant to follow. I’d grown from a shy, reserved freshman into a fully blossomed, confident senior and I had high hopes about where I would bring myself in the following years. Starting off in college, I began in the Psychology department at the University of Wisconsin, River Falls, bright-eyed and ready to spend hours upon hours studying, deliberating and furthering my intellect. I was, to put it lightly, looking through glasses that were very tinted by rose and sunshine. In my time since then, I have undoubtedly been met with many challenges, struggles, cognitive dissonances and disappointments. I plodded my way through failed relationships, academic probation brought on by an abusive situation, frustration with my school work and a growing amount of dispair about the prospects of a future held by a former Psychology student who chose to go with what she was really passionate about: English.

I suppose I might say that, for as long as I’ve known myself (hmm.. my whole life, maybe?) I’ve been in constant pursuit of the things that will help to improve myself, my situation, the lives of the people around me and the future that I hold. In working my way through college, I came up against several situations where my core beliefs about intellectual pursuit and self-improvement were shaken by rigid standards, unforgiving situations and the idea that my passion for words was a dying breed. I felt hopeless for a while, partially because of an especially tumultuous relationship that left my soul bruised and my outlook grey, and partially because of a collapsing economy and the struggles I saw in the people around me. At one point, I felt as though I’d never escape academia, that I’d be bound indefinitely by their standards, and that my own personal pursuits would be stifled by obligations, busy work and a constant barrage of financial, personal or professional struggles.

Over the last year, my perspectives began to shift, and the ways in which I approached my academic career moved from an obligatory state to a personally challenged state. When I found that a class was not meeting the standards of intellectual pursuit that I craved, I sought to find new ways around these challenges by coming up with creative solutions to the problems presented to me. Instead of just squeaking by on student loans, I found work where I could to make ends meet, often times in unconventional industries (freelancing for a media giant and several small websites, entering local event data for the A.V. Club, waking up early on the weekends to take troubled teens out to the mall); I went through financial turmoil, struggled to find classes that would challenge me intellectually, questioned the validity of my degree, and yet I still ended up on that commencement stage along with my peers, happily shaking the dean’s hand and posing for my picture per my parents’ request.

Through all of this, I found myself consistently rubbing up against the standard “grain” of what was expected of me. All in all, this has proven to be a success, partially because of the fact that it has forced me to find news ways of doing things, but also because it’s forced me to change the way I see success, on both a personal and professional level. At the height of my frustrations, I thought about taking a year off from school to explore the world. It was enticing, but in the end, I stuck to what I knew would help me more in the end, and I got my degree. People may scoff at the idea of an English degree, thinking that it is perhaps the recipe for a future of waitressing, substitute teaching or toiling through unreliable freelance jobs until my fingers fall off. My friends, I beg to differ completely.

Just as my academic pursuits have led me through tunnels and loopholes that felt, at the time, fruitless, I’ve found that my critical perspectives and constant questioning of “standards” has brought me to a new level of understanding of my life on multiple levels, and this is where the ketogenic lifestyle comes into play. You might think, “how could earning your degree in English possibly inform your lifestyle decisions or preference for a specific diet?” And my reply is, “in every kind of way.”

You see, when I was required to take specific “core” classe for my liberal arts degree, I questioned the relevance and importance. Why study sexual biology when I should be learning about literacy, research-based writing or articulate group presentations on Shakespeare? It didn’t make sense. But as I worked through my curriculum, I found that each area had specific importance in my intellectual pursuit, and that each could be inevitably intertwined with one another. The common thread I found in myself was the tendency to reach beyond the page, to read between lines and to make inferences about things that weren’t going to be discussed within any classroom setting. I wanted more. I searched for more. And in the end, I found the “more” I was looking for.

The ketogenic lifestyle came into my life because I was looking for something different. I’d been frustrated for a long time about the conventional dieting wisdom that told me to eat bland, uniform plates of food that were “nutritious” but lacked in all other areas of sensational delight. My body wasn’t reacting positively to these foods because I, myself, was not interacting with what I put into my body; the prescribed diet bored me, left me dissatisfied and eventually led me back into my old habits. I couldn’t bear to eat 900 calories a day and spend hours on a treadmill or weight lifting machine that would leave me feeling weak or, in most cases, worse off than where I began. Something had to change.

When I discovered ketogenics, something within me clicked, and the transition seemed natural. Although I’d been conditioned my whole life to depend upon a specific type of sustenance (grains, mostly, with a good amount of sugar added in), I began to look into alternative ways to nurture myself without depriving my senses or going to extreme measures. It was scary at first–most major lifestyle changes are–but the more I tried and invested myself, the better it became, and the more fulfilled I felt. My choice to go against what is now considered to be “common” led me into another world of inner peace, excitement and fulfillment. I wasn’t doing what everybody else was, and this was ok for me. Similarly, in my academic pursuits, I found that simply adhering to the standards set forth by my college wouldn’t lead me into anything meaningful. I strove to find something that would give me the kind of relevant experience I needed while challenging me and constantly asking me to do more than I thought possible. In this way, I pulled myself from a dismal 1.98 GPA to a 3.1 GPA in three years. I read, when I could, outside of the classroom, and used my findings to better inform the way I approached my degree. When I felt like giving up, I looked to the future to see that I could make what I wanted out of myself, and realized that I was only going to get what I wanted from academia if I was willing to put in the effort. In the end, I’ve found, the struggles and the despair I encountered made it all more “worth it” in the end.

In eating in accordance to the ketogenic lifestyle, I’ve found that I’ve become more aware of myself and my needs. I’ve begun to notice the dissociative nature of conventional wisdom, and the ways in which I can combat this dissonance with information. It’s not just about low-carb dieting; really, this is the most minute point of the ketogenic lifestyle, and one that should be considered last in terms of importance. What’s really important, I’ve found, is listening to your body and its needs, acknowledging the challenges associated with such a jump, and persisting in your pursuit, despite the criticisms and uncertainties dealt by the wary and misinformed. It can feel lonely, but only until you find the strength from within yourself–and from the important others in your life who are there to support you along the way.

Dedicated to my wonderful parents, my supportive boyfriend, the friends I’ve come to know, and the community that has bolstered my love of pursuing “more.”


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