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.