Control. At home, I had control. I could control exactly what I did, where I went and most importantly, what I ate. I loved that my structured life didn’t let me stray far from the path that I set for myself. Every morning I opted for coffee instead of a meal, and during school lunches I would do my homework. Dinner was a challenge since I couldn’t hide from my family, but if I ate slowly enough my parents would think I had a full meal.
I remember the last couple weeks leading up to moving out I worried more about my eating habits than anything else. Would I have the ability to control myself? What if I start gaining weight? What if I undo all my hard work when I see all that food?
I shouldn’t have thought like this- no one should. But when you spend enough time worrying about your appearance, it starts to take over your whole life.
Every morning I woke up and weighed myself before heading off to school. As soon as I got back, I weighed myself. After swim practice, I weighed myself again. After an exhausting day of watching the number on the scale, I would close it out by weighing myself right before I headed to bed.
When I wasn’t busy with that, I would distract myself during the day to avoid eating any excess food. School took up seven hours and swim practice covered another three, which kept me on track for the most part. What really got to me was that window of time before dinner, and then the hours after it. To resist temptation, I would tell my parents I had to run a few errands, or I would lock myself in my room. I would say I was just so tired after a long day.
My packed schedule in high school gave me the structure I needed to keep myself in check. When college rolled around, I had to figure out how I could “keep my eyes on the prize” in such a loose environment. I wouldn’t have those huge blocks of time filled up, and I certainly didn’t have the option of going for a drive to get away from food.
While I could control myself before, nothing scared me more than the idea I couldn’t do it at college. I would have unlimited access to my dining hall filled with greasy, fattening foods all day long. But my determination was strong, and I stepped on campus with a strict rulebook to follow. For a solid month I stuck to it, too. But things began to change.
I hated myself even more, somehow. Even though I refused to eat anything outside the salad bar, went to the gym as often as I could and lost five pounds within my first week, there was something wrong. I wasn’t happy and I certainly wasn’t healthy.
It started with a cookie.
Weeks had passed, and I thought I deserved a treat. I battled back in forth in my head whether I really earned it, but my roommate assured me I did so I listened. I couldn’t be more thankful that I did.
It wasn’t the sugar or the carbs that I fell in love with. It was the feeling of acceptance. I allowed myself to eat what I wanted for once, and it felt (and tasted) amazing. Better yet, my body didn’t self-destruct. I didn’t hate myself. This moment of self-love made a dent in whatever cage I stuffed myself into the past couple years. Escaping the cage became my new goal.
College is a time for growth and the start of the rest of your life. I realized that the life I had then wasn’t what I wanted. There was more to me than the crazy diets and exercise.
I held onto that mentality with everything I had in me, because I wanted so badly to reclaim my body. I took baby steps, but even the smallest of movement is still progress. Some days I filled up my plate a little bit more and other days I enjoyed a sweet treat. Part of me was still scared and even a little angry that I chose to abandon my original plan, but deep down I knew it wasn’t right to continue down that path.
There were days I grew frustrated with the changes I saw in myself and I would revert back to my past behaviors- old habits die hard after all. When I walked around campus and saw how some people were nothing but muscle without an ounce of fat, I fell back into the trap. If they could do it, so could I, right? These bouts of doubt, however, were nothing compared to the happiness I felt when I remembered to love myself.
After a month of nurturing myself, I can confidently say I’m in a much better place physically and mentally. I still have quite a ways to go, but the self-doubt and insecurity that used to smother me are only memories now.