My first year of college was definitely the most transforming experience yet. I entered the semester with a ton of excitement and hope for a new beginning, but feared gaining the notorious “Freshman 15” (though studies say it's actually less). Somehow, I thought I would be immune to it, and I proceeded to have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or bowls of sugary cereal as snacks, and never said "no" to a late-night ice cream run. The freedom was blissful, but it didn't spare me the consequences. The following events led me to a place where I restricted my calories without considering the health effects.

How the diet started

Dipa Halder

I remember sitting down for dinner one day and realizing that my pants had never felt so tight around my waist, even before I had eaten anything. When I returned home for winter break, my aunts and uncles gave me concerned comments about my weight, staring at me whenever I entered the room. My insecurities got the best of me and I became determined to take immediate action through a diet where I drastically restricted my calories.

The routine

Dipa Halder

I spent an obsessive amount of time researching different ways to lose weight. The numerous lists of foods to eat and not to eat allowed me to mentally categorize which foods were “good” and “bad.” No bread. No potatoes. No dairy. No processed snacks. Salads with every meal. Zero calorie drinks. The most important rule? I made sure I restricted my calories to 1200 or less. This diet of minimal carbs and fats was also paired with a ritual of daily squats and crunches. If I got hungry, I forced myself to drink water until I was full. 

The damages

Dipa Halder

I didn't realize it at the time, but now I can see that I had all the signs of a calorie deficiency. Only after a month, my skin became flaky, and I was losing huge clumps of hair in the shower. I lost a significant amount of muscle mass, constantly shivered under layers, felt exhausted all the time, and lost my period. Constantly unsatisfied, I turned to stalking Instagram feeds filled with images of the “restricted” foods like creamy mac and cheese and ice cream sundaes.

The worst side effect was my grumpiness. I grew short-tempered and snapped at my parents for the smallest annoyances. I had no energy to socialize or the motive to meet up with some of my friends. Eventually, I realized that I hadn't had a genuine laugh in months.

Dipa Halder

Compared to my relative “happy weight,” I had the physique of a pre-puberty self. I remember my shock when I checked my weight for the first time in months and saw I had lost 25 pounds in less than 3 months. Keep in mind, I’m only 5’2”, so the loss was significant.

Though I received many compliments for the weight loss, I only remembered one comment: “You’re disappearing.”


platter, feast, seafood, shrimp
Sara Kim

I feared going back home because I knew I wouldn’t be in control of what I ate. But the nostalgia of home-cooked Korean meals slowly motivated me to work my way to health. The comforting flavors made me begin to enjoy my meals for the feeling instead of for the calorie content.

Dipa Halder

I gained weight and started to feel bad all over again. However, I kept ignoring it once I reminded myself that I had to get my period back. As I progressed in returning to a healthy weight, I began to love my body more for its natural state and started owning it as myself.

The change in my mental health was even more drastic. Now, not only do I have a lot more energy and motivation, I’m happier. I now choose to enjoy my time, especially since I’m still young, by listening to my cravings and giving my body a diversity of flavors. When I eat according to my needs, I have a fuller stomach and a fuller state of mind.

Healthy habits

Dipa Halder

Though I no longer care how many calories I eat, I still make sure to drink lots of water and eat my fruits and veggies. I know not to be so hard on myself when I want to treat myself to a new restaurant or enjoy a delicious looking pastry in a bakeshop. I’ve found my balance with moderation and a reasonable diet that gives room for indulgences.

Dipa Halder

I still struggle with constantly thinking about food. Those thoughts fill me the most when I get bored, leading me to sometimes go into a cycle of snacking, feeling guilty, and stress eating again. Though I sometimes avoid social situations that involve junk food, I can tell that I'm beginning to calm down my food anxiety. As harmful as my diet was when I restricted my calories, this whole process was a learning experience that led to a lot of self discovery. 

Dipa Halder

Surprisingly, I’ve been able to relate to others who have had very similar stories. Even though it’s a topic that encompasses a dark time, it's helpful to share these insights in order to offer a comforting hope for recovery. For people going through similar experiences, I share this to say that you're not alone and there's a way out. The idea of restricted calories makes food seem like the enemy, but I've recognized that food is really meant to be enjoyed by both the body and the mind.