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What Dr. Chang Taught Me About Work-Life Balance

For the last three weeks, I’ve been getting headaches and I have an insatiable thirst. I was trying to ignore it, but my boyfriend finally insisted that I go see a doctor. I resisted. It seemed like a waste of time. Besides, I believe almost any ailment can be solved with some water, yoga, orange juice, and sunshine.  I finally decided to go, so I jumped in my car and headed to the posh urgent care center down the street.

The scene:

Me: I’m thirsty all the time and I keep getting headaches! Do I have diabetes?!

Dr. Chang: Maybe. Let’s check your blood sugar levels and see if they are high.

The doctor pricks my finger with an expensive-looking device and then looks confused.

Dr. Chang: Well, you certainly don’t have diabetes. In fact, your blood sugar is extremely low. It’s 75. 70 is the point at which you become hypoglycemic—kind of like the opposite of diabetes.

Me: Oh no…

I’m concerned, but the hypochondriac inside of me is also a teeny bit excited. Might I actually have something real wrong with me?

Dr. Chang: When was the last time you ate?

Me: Um…11:30 this morning.

It is now 6:30 pm.

Dr. Chang: Can I ask why you haven’t eaten in seven hours?”

Me: I guess I just forgot. I’m not starving myself!

Dr. Chang: You know, I see this from time to time. Young people like yourself come in here with the same complaints of headaches and extreme thirst. I start asking them questions, and it turns out that they work so much, they just forget to eat. It’s your body shutting down, begging you for food. You aren’t dehydrated. You don’t have diabetes. You’re just under-eating. I actually get those headaches every single day here on the job.

(By the way, he knows I’m not dehydrated because I preemptively gave him a urine sample in a plastic cup—and my pee was as clear as cold spring water.)

Dr. Chang: You have to eat three full meals a day and snacks in-between. Your body is like a car. You keep letting the gas get down to empty. Instead of the gas light coming on, you get a headache. Your body says, ‘If I can’t have any food, can I at least have some water?!’

Me: Oh, okay… I’ll be sure to…eat.

I felt silly. I felt confused. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I had been starving myself! For the last three weeks, I’ve been eating no more than 2 meals a day, and usually just one big one in the middle of the day.

I tell my boyfriend my diagnosis. “Oh yeah, I noticed that when you stayed with me for two days. You ate only two meals the whole time!”

How could this be? Me? Starving myself? I love to eat! The problem is that in working for myself from home, I’ve experienced such flow and gotten so engrossed in my work that it just doesn’t even occur to me to eat! Skipping breakfast is a no-brainer when you lunge for your Blackberry as soon as you wake up. Most of the time, I just can’t be bothered with cooking, and I finally realize I’m hungry around 10 pm and then avoid feeling guilty for eating late at night by eating some microwave popcorn.

Popcorn does not a meal make.

I know I’m not alone. My friend Laura is a social media superstar and has been working for herself for the last two or three years. She experiences work starvation as well and experiences the tell-tale headaches.

While working in corporate America this summer, I often noticed a fellow intern skipping lunch regularly to work. While I was more than happy to escape the cubicle for a break, she was intensely focused on her work. Food was just not a priority.

Dr. Chang taught me a valuable lesson about work-life balance. No matter how stressful, time-consuming, or just plain fun your job is, you have to take time to live. I don’t mean go to plays, parties, and watch sunsets. I mean the normal everyday living necessities like eating, bathing, and sleeping.

It’s often been cited that Gen Y does not care about work-life balance as long as we love our jobs. However, there’s got to be a limit to it at some point. No matter how awesome your job is, it isn’t worth working yourself to death—or hypoglycemia.

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