Freshman year of college throws you many challenges. Some immediately come to mind, like making new friends and learning to live with a roommate. Others lie under the surface, like all the stressors and anxieties that come with this transition to a new environment. Everyone reacts to stress differently. Some bite their nails or pull at their hair, others organize the same desk drawer four times over. For me, I restrict my diet.
I’ve always dealt with bouts of low self-esteem and anxiety. Ever since I can remember, I’ve had issues with my body and what I think others think of me. When I was in the seventh grade, a boy called me fat. I recall even the most insignificant details of that moment. I stood next to my friend’s desk when he walked behind me. He squeezes by—the row a little tight—looks at me, scoffs and says, “Geez fatty I can’t even get through.” When anxiety overwhelms me, my mind goes back to that day, among countless others I’ve now added to my collection of memories.
These thoughts manifested itself in patterns of disordered eating.
When I got to college, I became infatuated with following what I thought were the exercise and dieting habits of the majority of the girls at my school. I thought a “normal” Boston College girl’s day consisted of going to the gym to run on the treadmill and only eating egg white omelets, salads and chicken breasts.
Someone with an outside perspective may see this as a healthy meal plan. But when someone does this day-in and day-out without any change in their routine, it has the potential to turn into a vicious downward spiral. I fell into this downward spiral in the spring semester of my freshmen year.
Let me take a step back. By no means do I consider myself skinny. But contrary to the popular belief, disordered eating isn’t discriminatory to size. Everyone assumes you must be underweight to develop a problem. Listen carefully: There is no minimum weight or specific criteria to reach in order to develop unhealthy eating habits.
My intentions were clear: I simply wanted to lose weight. I gained extra weight in the winter that I quickly needed to shed. I started eating an egg white omelet with spinach for breakfast, a small salad for lunch and a chicken breast with a baked potato for dinner.
But something gradually changed. I stopped eating breakfast and instead downed at least two glasses of water in the morning. Next I casually removed the baked potato from my diet. Then I stopped eating chicken, substituting it with another salad instead. For those of you counting, that’s absolutely no protein in my diet. None.
We live in a society obsessed with thinness and quick results, and that leads people to do almost anything to get ahead. In my case, I added and started to abuse weight loss pills in my daily routine. You know, the weight loss pills that promise a faster metabolism and more fat shed but actually just fill you with caffeine and other chemicals.
I, like many others, believed that these pills worked wonders. They answered my prayers and would be the quick fix to the body of my dreams. I took two pills twice a day to start, but doubled the dosage the next week. A few days later I took the pills whenever I thought I looked a little chubby. They became my morning pills, middle-of-the-day pills, night pills and my oh-I-should-probably-lose-a-little-more-weight pills.
The scariest part? I didn’t intentionally do this to myself.
I simply stopped grabbing as much food at the dining hall. Midterms and finals hit without a warning and soon the stress took over. I rushed from my classes to my extracurricular activities, desperately trying to stay afloat in this chaotic ocean I made for myself. The water rose with my anxiety. All I could think about was fitting everything into my schedule.
To this day, I can’t recall what I did that week that caused me such anxiety. I only remember the feeling of constant pressure on my chest and head, begging me not to fail. Because of this tunnel vision, I only ate three meals in three days. And although I call them meals, believe me, most people would classify them as snacks.
But I didn’t see a problem. I hadn’t lost an absurd amount of weight, maybe a couple pounds max. Certainly nothing that drew anyone’s concern. After all, I didn’t compare to the pictures of girls in your middle school health books, the ones who warn of the signs and effects of eating disorders.
While eating dinner with my closest college friend at the end of my chaotic week, I didn’t eat much of my food, brushing it off by saying I simply wasn’t hungry. But later that night, when I felt as if my head would explode if I held onto this secret for any longer, I told her. My hands shook and tears filled my eyes, afraid she wouldn’t believe me since I didn’t meet the assumed essential criteria. But, to my surprise, she never second-guessed me, never questioned what I said.
From that day on, she became my support system. She carefully inquired about my day, gently asking about my food intake. She helped me realize that my happiness couldn’t be derived from a smaller waist or size 0 jeans.
Despite these realizations, I cannot fix these unhealthy mindsets overnight. No magic pill exists to help me see the beautiful, confident young woman I yearn to see in the mirror. Now entering my junior year of college, I still struggle with disordered eating. Every day presents a new challenge where I need to actively choose to eat.
Eating disorders do not take one simple form, nor do they affect only certain people. Since no one talks about this people like me suffer silently, telling themselves they can’t have a problem since their bones don’t jut out from their skin. Eating disorders affect anyone, no matter their shape or size.