weight gain insecurities

Food and weight have been on my mind recently. A lot, actually. Ever since I came to college a year ago, I have gained over 15 pounds – and have kept all of it. It made me feel insecure and fat. But the worst thing was feeling like I had no control over my own body. How could I have gained so much weight in such a short time, when I had been fairly skinny for all my life? How could I have let this happen? My weight gain was a blow to my self-esteem, my discipline.

It occurred mostly during the first half of the year, a result of many factors. Though I had ate relatively healthy for most of my life and continued to do so in college, I also tended to overeat and overindulge in my all-you-can-eat dining halls; I often ate until I was full or even stuffed, to ‘maximize’ the money that my parents were paying for each of my meals. I continued exercising, but only did yoga and cardio for the first half of the year, thinking that this was all I needed to ‘tone’ my body. I stored snacks in my room, and only later did I realize how often I would munch on them mindlessly while I was stressing over school work.

In the second semester, I learned from these mistakes – but I also made others. I started controlling my portions when I ate at the dining halls; however, I started eating out more often with friends, and still ate until I was stuffed. Sometimes, on my attempts to ‘restrict’ myself from overeating, I would find myself insatiably hungry on certain days, and just eat all day. I was exercising regularly, and this time I did more than just cardio – I started strength-training as well. But I seemed to be hungry more often than not. I was eating all my meals during the day, and often had healthy snacks in between my meals. I became obsessed with eating at the right times, and getting all my ‘nutrition’ in that I wasn’t really listening to my body.

I gradually learned that my ‘binges’ tend to result from restricting my food intake too much, even if it doesn’t feel like it. If I don’t restrict myself, if I eat just enough food to keep me satiated, I won’t crave food. I won’t think about food as much, I won’t want sugar as much, I won’t torture myself as much. Most importantly, eating until I’m satisfied will prevent me from falling into a negative cycle of restrict-binge, and feel a level of shame and self-hatred that no one should ever feel about their own bodies.

As I’m writing this, it’s summer and I’m currently living by myself in a studio apartment. My roommate won’t move in with me until the end of summer, so I’ve had plenty of time for myself. A lot of this time has been spent learning how to buy groceries, cook, and understanding my body’s relationship with food. There are so many things that I still don’t understand, but I know that by being by myself and trying out different recipes and ways to eat, I will eventually understand it better. Cooking by myself has helped me appreciate how foods turn into proper meals, and have also helped my palate adjust to a more whole-foods approach. By enjoying cooking, I am enjoying eating more (it’s hard to not enjoy what you cook, to be honest).

Despite my weight gains and insecurities, I also saw how my body changed positively. For one, I no longer get cold as easily. For all my life, I would get cold so easily. I would walk around the house sporting fuzzy socks and a scarf all day long – except when I was exercising. I no longer need to do that (I still wear socks though – it’s become a habit). I wear more reasonable clothes when I go out, and it makes me feel so much stronger and better about my body. And with this new strength, I have also noticed that I no longer get colds as often. I was actually sick for most of the time during the first half of the year for reasons that I don’t yet fully understand, but when the second semester came around I rarely got sick; I would get cold-like symptoms that would go away by themselves in a few days or so. My immune system had gotten stronger. I also felt stronger. Starting to strength-train and lifting some weights allowed me to turn my body fat (or some of it, at least) into muscles. I started seeing my muscles slightly become more defined, and this allowed me to train much better. Overall… I feel better than I have ever been. I feel physically stronger than ever. Now I just have to convince my mind too.

I decided to write this post because I happen to have just finished reading Portia de Rossi’s memoir Unbearable Lightness recently, and it spoke to me on so many levels. Portia wrote a strongly emotional memoir about her eating disorder (anorexia, and then bulimia) and sexuality (she’s gay, and now happily married to the one and only Ellen DeGeneres). She talked about her self-imposed pressure to attain perfection ever since she was young, whether it be in school, law school (which she later dropped), modelling, acting, or in life. Because she was constantly being judged on her appearance, she began to have a distorted view on herself. She didn’t want to be just thin, she wanted to attain the unattainable ‘perfect’ thin body. At her lowest point, she was only drinking wine on a given day – wine that she would purge at the end of the day. She talked about how, no matter what the scale said, she could still see fat in herself. No matter how thin she was, she still saw flaws in herself. Until one day, she almost died.

Then, her road to recovery was a rocky one too. She went from skinny anorexic to ‘fat’ bulimic in a short span of time. Through months of counseling sessions and time, she learned to regain a more clear view of herself. But she continued to fall back into the black hole time again. Recovery wasn’t easy.

In her epilogue – which takes place years later-  she talks about how she actually got better. At one point she talks about this girl who seemed like the type of girl that eats what they want to without getting fat. Ice cream, pasta, chips, etc. Most surprisingly, she would sometimes forget to eat a meal when things got busy at work, or not finish her meal at a restaurant because she was full. But alas, that was the secret to her well-established eating patterns: eating until she was full and satisfied. No restricting, no counting calories, no overly obsessing over what kind of food she was eating or when she was eating. Just intuitive eating. There was no need to overthink about food, or think about food at all, if she was having enough of what she wanted.

Because I knew I could eat pasta and ice cream again the very next day if I wanted to, I stopped wanting it in excess. If it were going to be available to me anytime, why eat like it was the last time I’d ever taste it? The fact that I stopped restricting food made it less appealing.

If you currently suffer, have suffered, or know someone who suffers from an eating disorder, sexuality issues, or just any sort of insecurities, I highly urge you to read Portia’s book. Not only does it talk about a highly relevant topic for many of us today, it also talks about it in such a raw, honest and utterly pure way. I could not have read a better book with a better story and ending.


staying healthy in college

Sleep, eat and exercise. Three simple things, yet when life’s demands get in the way, it’s easy to push these things aside. But for me, these three things are non-negotiable. As someone who fusses over the smallest things, mulls over assignments and stresses about school work easily, I have learned to prioritize my health. I may not always be able to control my emotions or how I react to particular situations, but I can control my lifestyle. By controlling the physical aspects of my health, I am also helping keep myself mentally and emotionally sane.  Now that I’m in college, it’s easy to fall into the temptations of social pressure and delicious food places that surround me. But, as my life has gotten more regular and stable, so have my habits. This is what I *normally* do to keep that up:

Sleep. I need at least 7 hours of sleep each night to function like a normal person – ideally 8-9, so I go to bed between 11pm-12:30am, and wake up around 7:30-8:30 every day. All my classes start in the morning and end early afternoon, so it’s crucial that I wake up feeling rested in order to be able to focus well.

I often find myself in need of a mid-afternoon nap. I combat this by letting myself take a nap, for ideally 30 minutes. Even though power naps can help you focus better, they can also be dangerous. Over-napping is a real thing, and it’s an awful feeling waking up from a nap and seeing that it’s already dark outside. So other times, I drink coffee during lunch if I have the stomach for it; however, it’s not always the most efficient option for me, and personally I would rather not grow ‘dependent’ on it.

So, the best way to combat this is by actually getting quality hours of sleep at night, and finding other activities to prevent me from falling prey of z’s, such as taking a walk after lunch before heading back home to do work, doing some light exercising to increase blood flow, or just pausing from whatever task I’m doing lest I grow even wearier.

Eat. I live in my college dorm, which comes with a meal plan, so I eat most of my meals at the school dining halls. The tricky thing about this is that all the dining halls are all-you-can-eat, so it’s easy to overindulge in foods when you’re really hungry or stressed about work. So this is what I’ve been doing:

  • Breakfast: I make porridge with milk and granola (or just milk with cereal), paired with a fruit (usually a banana) that I eat later in between my classes. About once a week, I have a full meal at the dining hall with eggs, pastries, and bagels (and other yummy food).
  • Lunch: I am hungriest at this time of the day, so I eat at the dining hall and get most of my nutrients of the day: veggies, eggs, some meat, sometimes a bagel (if I haven’t had it for breakfast) and coffee.
  • Dinner: Sometimes I buy a wheat wrap with chicken and veggies from the school’s food cafe/market. If I’m not too hungry, I have milk with cereal, coupled with a fruit and/or a pastry that I brought home from the dining hall.
  • Snacks: I have a big Kirkland Mixed Nuts jar sitting on my desk, and I snack on it every time I crave something. I also take small packs of nuts or granola bars in my backpack in case I get hungry in between classes. I also have chocolate, sometimes cookies and other not-so-good snacks lying around in my room. The way I control my intake of these snacks is by limiting myself from buying such snacks to 1-2 times a month.

One thing to note is that because I’m living in my college dorm, I can’t really cook. My meal plan allows me to have 10 meals a week, but because I’ve used part of the meal points to buy groceries (milk, cereal, and other foods), I have started to ration my meals so I have enough points till the end of the semester. I make my breakfast most days and don’t eat at the dining hall for dinner (when it’s the most expensive), but I always make sure I eat there for lunch to get my nutrients of the day.

Even though campus is surrounded by myriads of food places, I don’t eat out by myself that much. Lately I’ve been eating out about once a week, and if I eat out it’s usually with someone else or to treat myself. I spend money on groceries, because I believe that eating well is worth every penny, but I don’t think eating out is that worthwhile, especially as most restaurants (and even the dining halls themselves) don’t offer the healthiest food options.

Exercise. This is where I like to have the most fun in. I like to mix exercising with sports, so I joined my uni’s recreational figure skating team at the start of the year. Besides that, what I have been doing on my own is explore the exercise opportunities that I can do. As a student at my university, I get free access to the gym – including the myriads of cardio, strength-training and other group classes that it offers. Lately, I’ve been very into power yoga, which I do about 2-3 times a week. On other days, I like to combine nature with exercising, so I go hiking or for a run. I don’t exactly live in the safest neighborhood, so I can’t really go that far, but I can go far enough.

All these three things are bound together: if you sleep well, you will eat well, and you will exercise well. If you fail on sleep, you will need to compensate it with a nap during the day, depriving you of your exercise-time. If you don’t eat well, you will most likely not have the energy to do things as well, such as exercising. If you don’t exercise, I find that it makes it harder for me to sleep at a consistent time every day, thus disrupting my sleep cycle.

I was down with a cold for nearly 2 months since the start of the Fall semester, and it most definitely took a toll on my performance. There were some weeks in which my cough prevented me from falling asleep peacefully at night, or I coughed so much during class that I found myself not able to speak up when I had something to say, or not being able to breathe normally because my nose was so clogged up. I would come home from school tired and beat. This persistent told made me realize that I have a weak immune system, so it’s even more important that I take care of the aspects of my health that I do have control over. Stress, anxiety and other worries affect my immune system, but if I take control over my lifestyle, I will be able to manage my health much better.

This just comes to show that we each have different needs, strengths and weaknesses that are individual to each of us. I’m prone to getting cold (and getting a cold) easily, which means that I have to pay special attention to how I take care of myself accordingly. Understanding what your body needs and finding your own balance is the key to keeping you healthy.