If you had to decide between gaining or losing weight in college, which would you choose?
Most of us, including myself, would probably prefer to shed a few extra pounds than to gain the dreaded “Freshman 15.” This isn’t to say that wanting to lose a little weight is a bad thing, however, when it’s driven by negative body image issues or a desire to look prettier or skinnier, it becomes an unhealthy obsession.
Like many other students today, I struggled with some serious weight issues, especially during my freshman year. Partly because college stressed me out so much, but also because I thought being skinny would make me feel prettier, I did anything I could to avoid the Freshman 15. In fact, by the end of fall semester, I had actually lost 10 or 15 pounds. This would have been great, except that because I was already pretty healthy to begin with and I had no extra weight to spare.
There were so many things wrong with this picture. In my mind, I thought I would be happier if I could be like the rest of the skinny pretty girls at Penn. But in the end, I became dangerously underweight, and I felt a lot more miserable than I did before college.
So what actually happened as a result of losing so much weight?
1. I was stuck with a closet full of baggy clothes.
Initially, I noticed my jeans fitting a little more comfortably around the waist. By time I reached the end of first semester, none of my shirts or underwear fit as well as they used to. I even reached a point where even with a belt on, I could easily pull my pants off without having to unbutton them. Basically, my body had transformed into a skeleton.
2. I felt like a total piece of sh*t.
Losing that much weight in such a short amount of time placed serious consequences on my physical and mental health. For instance, I felt tired and irritable most of the time. I no longer felt the drive to do the things I loved, like going to the gym or writing for Spoon. I lost my monthly periods, and I also had more frequent and uncontrollable panic attacks.
3. I suffered from major FOMO.
I knew that if I wanted to be skinny, I had to limit what I could and couldn’t eat. However, that also meant saying no to frat parties or eating out for dinner at fancy restaurants downtown. Looking back, I definitely missed out on what would have been some of the most memorable social experiences of my freshman year.
4. I constantly worried people who cared about me.
While I expected to hear streams of compliments about how skinny I looked, I received a lot of concern from my friends and family instead. Whereas my friends could partially sympathize with the pressures I felt from college, my parents seriously believed I was starving myself to death.
5. I scared boys away.
Almost every time I walked on campus, I would catch guys’ attentions — but not in a good way. At the time, I thought they were showing signs of interest, but in reality, they were just shocked that a girl as skinny as I was could even exist.
6. I felt even less confident in myself.
My mood was dictated by either how skinny I looked in the mirror or how much I weighed on the bathroom scale. As much as I convinced myself that I looked “good,” I always felt unsatisfied with myself and my body. I also got myself stuck in a vicious cycle where the skinnier I became, the more obsessed I was with body image, and the more weight I wanted to lose.
Long story short, my situation became a lot better when I flew back home for the summer. While I did seek professional help to rule out any serious health problems, what helped me the most was spending time again with my friends and family. Overall, I didn’t feel as much pressure to try and stay skinny. So by the time I had left again for my second year of college, I had gained back some of my self-confidence and weight.
This year, I’ve also found ways to keep myself from constantly worrying about my body image. I’m surrounding myself with new friends who know how to maintain a healthy lifestyle but aren’t afraid to late-night indulge in an entire pint of Ben and Jerry’s. I’m learning to eat and enjoy everything in moderation, rather than restricting myself from “unhealthy” foods. I’m also avoiding fitness magazines, fashion blogs and other social media triggers that I know would convince me to start losing weight again.
Overall, it’s been a rough journey. But if there’s one thing I want you to take from my story, it’s that weight loss may not be as glamorous as most people claim it to be. Your body and health are the most important things you own, and you shouldn’t sacrifice them just so you can look a few pounds skinnier.