Let me set a scene for you. It’s August 2016. I have just married my favorite person on the planet. We are talking about starting a family. I’m feeling the healthiest I’ve ever felt in both mind and body. Life felt like I always hoped it would. But there was a time in my life when everything felt the exact opposite.
A lot of people don’t know this, but during my freshman and sophomore years of college, I gained over 35 pounds. Yea, forget about the freshman 15…I crushed that; I more than doubled it, actually.
Up until I got to college, I was fortunate to have a lot of things go my way. That also meant I hadn’t had many opportunities to learn early the value of failure. I also always had a pretty healthy perception of my body. But a lot started to shift during my senior year of high school. I experienced my first heartache when my first love and I broke up, and that’s when I started paying more attention to what I was eating and how I was exercising. Eating and exercising felt like things I could easily control during a time when my emotions felt out of control.
I experienced a lot of (what I perceived to be) rejection as I entered college. I didn’t get into the musical theater schools I applied to. I didn’t get into the singing groups I auditioned for at the University of Michigan, the school I was attending. I wasn’t making new friends. Thoughts of “you’re not good enough” swirled in my mind constantly. So I went back to the things I could control: food and exercise.
At first, I lost weight. And that made me feel good. We live in this society that bombards us with images of what “beautiful,” is, and I was doing all I could to fit it. I’m sure that somewhere in the back of my mind I thought that if I looked a certain way all this rejection I was feeling would go away.
What quickly started to happen, though, is my obsession with restricting food became all-consuming. The more I restricted, the more I wanted to rebel. That’s when the binging started. To try to compensate for the overeating I was doing, I would go to the gym for hours at a time hoping (futilely) to burn off the calories. I quickly saw, however, that no amount of exercise could undo the damage I was doing to my body with the food I was eating. In fact, spending hours upon hours on the elliptical was creating damage as well.
This is when I started gaining weight rapidly. Sure, food was fueling the weight gain, but I was binge eating to numb the discomfort I was feeling emotionally.
Weight gain in college is often associated with too much beer and pizza. That wasn’t the case for me. In fact, I barely went out in college. Instead, I spent more Friday and Saturday nights than I care to admit alone in my room. To stifle the intense feelings of loneliness, I ate. Other weekends, I would flat out avoid college all together and go home, but that didn’t help either. I felt so uncomfortable because I felt so out of control. Out of control of my eating, out of control of my feelings, out of control of my future. I didn’t know how to end this cycle of hurt I was doing to myself. This all went on for more than two years.
Things finally started to change the summer going into my junior year of college when I took a backpacking trip through Europe with one of my oldest childhood friends. That trip took me so far out of my comfort zone that it forced me out of my own head and my own way. My time in Europe showed me how much opportunity and good there is in the world. (It’s also what made me fall deeply in love with the cathartic power of traveling.)
When I returned home, it felt like a switch had flipped in my brain. I no longer felt compelled to gorge myself on a tub of ice cream at night. I knew I didn’t want to fall back into my old ways; I wanted to take care of myself because I finally started to see my value. I was scared, though, that this metaphorical switch could flip back at any moment, so I found myself a really good therapist and got to work.
I don’t want it to sound like my trip to Europe magically cured me; it didn’t. I think it was the jolt I needed to shake me out of the horrible headspace I had been in for years. Truthfully, it took me years to develop a healthy relationship with food and my body. It took me years to release the worry that I’d end up back in a binge eating cycle if things got tough and gain back all the weight I’d worked so hard to release.
That’s why before I got pregnant, I definitely had some fear about how I’d handle the weight gain that goes along with growing a baby. And I’ll be honest, as my baby grows and I watch the numbers on the scale go higher and higher, I am reminded of a time in my life when watching those number climb up and up felt like the absolute most miserable thing in the world. But every time I step on the scale, I remind myself that my reality now it completely different than the reality I lived in in college.
This time, I see the weight as a physical representation of the dreams I’ve always had of being a mother coming true. My belly is badge of honor I get to wear. I wear every pound with pride knowing that my body is nourishing this baby, and the baby is growing like a champ!
I also can see how easy it would be to fall into the trap of using pregnancy as an excuse to go nuts with food! And even though the whole “eating for two” thing has been discredited, I know it can be tempting. I’ve tried to take a different perspective in my approach to taking care of my body (both during and before pregnancy). In line with the way I manage my anxiety during pregnancy, I choose to take care of my body with the same respect and compassion I would a child. I wouldn’t allow my child to gorge on fast food, so why would I do that to myself?
There are two simple strategies I live by to maintain a sense of health and balance:
I’d love to hear your experiences with your body image and how you take care of yourself. Let’s help lift each other up with strategies for health and well-being.