You’ve finally made it. You’re wearing the cap and gown, anxiously awaiting the moment you’re ushered to turn your tassel, signifying the declaration of that you’re a college graduate. You’ve dedicated four hard years to furthering your education and are now sitting in the stadium of one of the top universities in the country with your family there to cheer you on. This is the biggest moment of your life and should be treasured.
Except you’re fixated on cake. Cake, really? Yes, cake. That beautiful vegan cake your father went to great lengths to procure solely for you, to make you happy on your graduation day. Rather than let this thought fill you with joy and gratitude, you’re filled with fear knowing you’ll have to eat it. You don’t know the calories. You don’t know the ingredients. You don’t know how much exercise is required to burn it off, so you’ve already made arrangements to be in the earliest spin class the next day to prevent any ounce of fat from accumulating on your body. All this unnecessary anxiety caused from one piece of cake on a day that’s meant to be celebrated.
This is the detrimental thought process that gradually began taking hold of my mind over the past year. Because I had no idea what post-graduation life would entail, I clung tight to one thing I knew I had control: my weight. It began innocently enough with eating clean, counting calories, and developing a regular workout routine. I was graced with labels such as “health freak” or “health nut” and took immense pride in them. Friends and strangers alike kept telling me how great I looked and were enthralled by how tiny I was. But it never seemed to be enough in my mind. I had to eat cleaner, slash more calories, and workout even harder. If there was a way to lose weight, it was pertinent that I incorporate it into my lifestyle.
In some cases, this even included healthy foods like sweet potatoes and bananas because they were too high in carbs. I wouldn’t allow myself to make sandwiches using more than one piece of bread, mind you, the healthiest possible bread I could find. More than one piece of fruit a day would allow for too much sugar in my diet. I wouldn’t dream of eating any products with more than five grams of sugar. Suggested serving sizes were too large for me, so I ate less. Cooking, one of my favorite things to do, was tossed to the side because I knew I would have to calculate the calories in each recipe I wanted to try. Going to restaurants was completely out of the question. I denied requests from friends to spend time together because there was the fear that food may be involved somehow. I hated for people to see me eat, fearful they might think I was eating too much.
I was consuming at least 1,000 calories fewer than what my body required to function on a daily basis. Factor in the workouts I was doing, sometimes twice a day, and you can imagine my level of exhaustion. I look back and cringe at the thought of how tired I was, even after a full night’s sleep. I had enough energy to get me through that early morning workout but not much else. I would go about the rest of my day completely depleted of energy. I’d been active my entire life and was now getting winded from walking up a flight of stairs.
Fast forward a few months to the end of August. I was offered a job and moved back home to save money while I worked. Everything was slowly falling into place and a regular routine was in the process of being established. That meant I could relinquish the obsessive control over my weight, right? Not exactly. It took at least a month after starting my new job before I realized the toll I had caused my body.
I was getting ready for work and looked in the mirror, as I do every morning. But something sent panic through me: the sight of my scalp. Hannah, the girl with notoriously thick hair, who was born with a full head of hair, now had thinning hair. I wouldn’t blame you for thinking this sounds completely superficial of me. But it’s a real wake-up call when something you’ve been praised for endlessly is no longer applicable, especially when you can’t blame anyone but yourself. It was this realization that caused me to truly take a hard look at myself. In addition to the thin hair, I looked frail, exhausted, and downright miserable. And I felt miserable. I was constantly freezing, despite wearing sweaters in the middle of the summer. I was irritable because I was constantly hungry (just imagine being “hangry” all the time). I was so incredibly uncomfortable in the little skin I had left.
For the past month, I’ve been working with a dietitian. As sad as it sounds, I’ve had to teach myself how to eat. I’m learning how to eat when I’m hungry, which is something that shouldn’t even require a second thought. I’m learning that food is energy. I couldn’t recognize this simple concept and I hate how long it took for me in order to do so. Food is essential to our well-being and I recognize how absolutely ridiculous it was for me to fear it. The first day I increased my caloric intake, the benefits were instantaneous, giving me more energy than I’d felt in a year. After months of feeling hungry, even just minutes after eating, I finally felt full and satisfied. I can’t emphasize enough how great a feeling that is and I’m ashamed how long I went denying myself of it.
I wish I could say I’ve completely stopped counting calories, but I haven’t. I can’t yet go out to eat without having an intense wave of anxiety strike me and instantly wrack my brain for excuses. I’m still not at my ideal weight. Recovering from an eating disorder is a gradual process and I know these issues will resolve in due time.
So far, my weight has increased by 10 pounds. I am eating the proper amount of calories my body requires. I am still exercising every day, but my mindset towards it has changed: Not every workout has to be more intense than the last. I enjoy exercise now that I have the energy to go about my day afterwards. It’s not a punishment for the foods I consume.
From a young age, we are taught to never be satisfied or happy with the bodies we’re given. There is always some improvement we need to make in order to love ourselves, rather than accepting our bodies for what they are. Gaining ten pounds over the course of a month brings on a lot of days where my body image is not the least bit positive, but I’m finding these days are becoming less frequent. I’m learning how to live without my life revolving around food. Because that’s not living. What does my weight have to do with my ability to perform my job well and pursue my passion? Does my weight take away from the fact that I graduated from one of the best universities in the country? Is the love from my family and friends contingent on a number on the scale? No, no, and definitely not.
This fixation on weight is so irrelevant when looking at the big picture of how much I’ve accomplished, how lucky I am to have family and friends to support me, and the dreams I still have to chase.