Over winter break, I went out to dinner with an old friend at one of my favorite hometown spots. The waiter handed us two dessert menus and I felt my stomach in knots as I anxiously stared down at mine. I had skipped my usual three-mile run and gym session that day and didn’t think I had earned a break in my diet. I knew my friend expected me to order something so I went over all my options — I could order something I knew I wouldn’t like so I wouldn’t be tempted to eat it; I could take a risk and get what I really wanted as long as I put the spoon down after a few bites, or I could make up excuses…
I looked up from the menu and casually said that maybe I’d get some fruit. My friend laughed assuming I was joking and replied, “Hah, you would never do that.”
My face turned a little red and I settled on the double chocolate cake and ate the whole thing. When did I get like this?
Everything is simpler when you’re little.
My mom used to be a pastry chef and went to cooking school for a while. She’s an amazing cook and baker, a little out of practice since my brother and I left for college, but amazing nonetheless. When I was young, she taught me all her baking tricks and I spent most of my free time in the kitchen making cupcakes, macarons, cookies… Even trying my hand at croissants and cake decorating. My brother was more into the cooking and the only thing that seemed to stop us from bickering and fighting was the kitchen. Good food made by hardworking hands was what brought my family together for a long time.
As I got older, I took over the kitchen and found I was pretty good at the sweet things. I baked for birthdays, parties, and any chance I got to try new recipes and flavor combinations. My favorite were caramel mocha cupcakes I came up with. I thought baking was something I could actually pursue. I even spent a month in New York one summer interning at a wedding cake bakery and thought I had really found what made me happy.
Priorities change in college.
I haven’t baked in a long time. Things changed fast. I left for college and found myself unhappy with my body, my less-than-active lifestyle, and my inability to control what I was eating. My family seemed distant and I forgot about our nights around the dinner table and smell of my mom’s home cooked meals. And it seemed like no one else thought about any of it. I was scared my friends would judge me for being so concerned about what I did to my body, so I mirrored the people around me, ate what they ate and worked out the few times they did. I lost any sense of control and entered a war with my body.
I shied away from mirrors and spiraled into a pretty dark place where I believed it all made me worth a little less. Food became all I thought about and controlled my every move. I started to resent it and it lost its place in my heart. Whenever I returned home I didn’t want to bake, because I knew I would be too tempted to eat whatever I made. It just wasn’t worth it. I surfed fitness blogs and tried to find healthy recipes for guilt-free cookie and muffin hacks, but they all tasted like crap. So I just gave up.
I thought I was getting back on track.
I’ve come a long way from my lowest points last year. I returned to my rigorous workout routines that I actually love, took control of eating what I wanted to eat, and found a way to listen to my body instead of looking towards my friends’ habits. I’m a little obsessive about healthy foods and spend a lot of time making sure I’m eating right. I’m happy with the energy my body has and the food I give it. I thought I was doing it all right until this dinner and until my old friend made me see how different I’ve become — all because of my battle with control.
My self-consciousness and pursuit of perfection has redefined my values in many ways. I am living a much healthier lifestyle, and I’m okay with my obsession with kale, quinoa and avocados. What I’m not okay with is abandoning what I loved because I couldn’t ever let go. I forgot how much I loved learning to whip cream to perfection and melting sugar into caramel. I forgot that indulging in delicious treats with people I care about is okay sometimes. These things used to make me happy and now the guilt associated with them tortures me. I’m determined to re-examine my relationship with food.
A lot of people write about how they’ve rediscovered their relationship with food and their road to finally finding peace with their bodies — how they’ve finally learned to stop listening to society’s bullshit and eat what they want. I’m not going to lie. I’m not there yet. I’m still going to calculate every meal and struggle with finding the healthiest options on every menu. I’ll still feel pretty shitty if I eat chocolate cake without a workout. But I’m acknowledging that something isn’t right. Something’s missing and I’m going to try to change. So I think I’ll see if I’ve still got it and make these bomb Nutella stuffed chocolate chip cookies tonight.
Be careful of sacrificing whatever you love too.
I believe that finding what happiness and balance means to you is what college is about. Setting priorities and understanding your body and mind and what is going to shape your future is defined by this time in our lives. So take the time to listen to yourself and sometimes your old friends who know you best to make sure you’re embracing everything that makes you happy and never shying away for fear of judgment or in pursuit of whoever you think you should be. I challenge you to look at your relationship with food and your relationship with whatever else might make your stomach turn to knots, and I promise to do the same.