Incoming freshmen make it a goal to avoid the Freshman 15 at all costs. They try to make the best decisions in the dining hall, whip up those low-cal frozen meals in the microwave in the dorm and try to stick to a reasonable workout schedule. Some entering freshman year might even have the goal to lose weight. My goal was just the opposite.

During my senior year of high school, a series of events caused me to begin over-exercising; you could say compulsively. I was running 3-6 miles every day after school, doing CrossFit, and barely taking any rest days. To make matters worse, I was not increasing the amount of calories I was consuming. After a couple months, I was already experiencing female athlete triad, and, one day, my heart rate had dropped dangerously low to 36 beats per minute.

I did not realize the amount of weight I lost until I went to my doctor for a physical that May, two months after my habits began. I was 110 pounds, and at 5 foot 6 inches, my BMI (body mass index) was 17.75. A BMI below 18.5 is considered underweight. With not even a heavy weight to begin with, I had lost over 15 pounds, and I had stopped getting my period. My doctor said that 120 pounds was a reasonable goal for me to restore my health. Losing weight had not been my intention, but I was too comfortable with my current lifestyle to cease exercising.

There is nothing wrong with being thin, as there are all different body types, but I was not a healthy thin. Aside from no longer getting my menstrual period, my hair began to fall out and bony parts of my body were very easily bruised, such as my hips or my rib cage. It hurt to sleep sometimes and if I banged my hip on a counter, I was convinced it was going to break.

The worst was being told by people very close to me that they were afraid to hug me because of how thin I was. That killed me.


Photo by Jackie Kuczynski

I agreed to see a nutritionist that summer, but I gained only a couple pounds. There was a certain comfort zone I had to stay in when I was eating, and I still felt as if I needed to exercise every day; therefore, my weight gain goal was harder to achieve that I thought.

It was time to leave for college, and kissing my parents goodbye, I promised I would do my best to gain weight. I started off the semester with my strongest intentions, but the craziness of adjusting to college life further postponed my progress.

I was on my own for making food, since the dining hall food caused me to beg my parents to not get me a meal plan. On top of my daily exercise, I was walking up what I’m pretty sure was one of the only hills in the entire state.

I was honest with my parents, and told them that I had lost another 7 pounds. I was at 103, and when I returned home for Thanksgiving break, people took notice. My old coach, my guidance counselor, and my teachers all commented on my weight within a minute of seeing me for the first time in months.

Was I really that tiny? I had to ask myself. When I looked in the mirror, I did not see a girl who was too thin. I was pretty happy with what I saw; not too thin, not too fat. It had been brought to my attention that I was experiencing body dysmorphic disorder.

My case was different: instead of finding a minor flaw and mentally exaggerating it, my mind was ignoring a major flaw. The problem was still the same: I was seeing something different then the rest of the world was seeing.

Having incentive to gain the weight I needed was much more difficult when I literally could not see the change that needed to be made.

After freshman year, I had been through a lot and had learned countless lessons, so I decided to spend the summer focusing on me and creating the best version of myself, including regaining my health. I like to think I am an independent person: I always want to figure things out on my own. However, this was not the time for me to try something that had not shown me results.


Photo by Jackie Kuczynski

I thank God every day for the man he put in my life. One of the trainers at the gym had always been friendly and we always struck up good conversations. One day, something in my gut told me to open up to him about what I was going through. Turns out, he had been concerned about me for a while, noticing how thin I was becoming over time and my habits when I returned from break. “Great, another one,” I first thought to myself; but I knew he wasn’t there to judge me. He was determined to help me.

I started training with Mark immediately, and he wasted no time. “No running, three protein shakes a day, and stop eating so clean. You love ice cream? Eat it every day.” I spent the next month opening up to Mark during our sessions, about everything, and he just seemed to understand me and why I did the things I did. He taught me very basic body building techniques, made me write down all my workouts and all my food every day.

By the time I was leaving for school, I was up 5 pounds. Mark asked me how much I was going to weigh when I came home in December, and I confidently replied, “120 pounds.” That was 12 pounds to gain in 4 months, which seemed attainable; however, let me remind you about how difficult it was my freshman year to manage my weight. He raised his eyebrows at me, but I just smiled ear to ear and said, “Watch me.”

I never exuded that much confidence in years. I moved into my new apartment, and wrote my goal weight on my walls. Every two weeks, I wrote a new goal weight, usually just a pound or two. I made sure my roommates knew my intentions (shout out to my roommates for constantly listening to me go on about this, you girls rock).

The semester was anything but smooth, but it was amazing. About a month in, one of my old friends looked at me and with no hesitation said, “Jackie, you look so healthy now. I’m really proud of you.” I heard things like this the entire semester, and it warmed my heart. Each time someone said, “you look so muscular,” or “your arms look amazing,” it prompted me to eat another tablespoon of peanut butter after my workout.


Photo by Jackie Kuczynski

Shout out to the girl who asked me if I teach fitness classes at the gym because my “arms and shoulders were super toned.” Maybe one day.

After each weigh-in, I called Mark, my mom and my dad. The celebrations over the phone were a huge motivation for me. Even after gaining just one pound, I would be nearly in tears. This was exciting.

A month in, my high-waist shorts did not fit over my butt and I had to buy new bras (apparently, my weight was going where every girl would want it to go). I ripped a pair of leggings, but a couple pairs of my spandex were starting to fit again.

The pains and constant bruising on my hips disappeared, I looked and felt healthy, and my period came back. This was huge for me, and I proceeded to call my mom crying and tell my best friend, who screamed and squeezed me.


Photo by Jackie Kuczynski

Thanksgiving rolled around and my mom visited me and the first thing she said was that I looked great and healthy. She told me several times during that visit that she has never seen me eat so much food in my entire life, and that she loved it. I confidently weighed myself in front of her, and I was at a healthy 117 pounds. Three more to go.

Finals week rolled around and a couple of my best friends and roommates struck up a conversation with me while at the library. They told me how proud they were of me, and how great I looked. All I could say was thank you, not only for what they were telling me there, but also for the whole semester. From getting ice cream with me at 2 am, stuffing our faces with Mexican food, and forcing me to take rests days by snuggling instead, these girls were a big help in my weight gain.

It was time to go home. When deciding which jeans to pack, I had to do some impressive hopping and wiggling to get them over my thighs – no complaints. This was my struggle the whole semester, and I low-key loved it.

Basic body-building and A LOT of clean eating got me where I am today. The daily protein shakes, extra scoop of peanut butter (or other healthy fat), and extra helping of whatever I was craving repaired my body, rebuilt it, and then fueled it. Don’t get me wrong, multiple scoops of ice cream was definitely allowed and encouraged, and still is.

I thought about my weight a lot over those 4 months. I knew I was gaining it – the scale and my clothes could testify. Gaining 17 pounds was a lot of weight, and it was noticeable for those around me; however, I never looked in the mirror and saw it being put on.

Pound after pound, I always looked at myself with the same self-love. My stomach was flat and toned; my legs were getting larger but still remained lean. My upper arms were once thinner than my elbows, and my ribs used to show on all sides, especially my back. Now, those areas were blessed with muscles and a layer of healthy fat. I proved to myself that even as I becoming heavier, I did not view myself differently.


Photo by Jackie Kuczynski

In fact, walking into the gym 17 pounds heavier, I was beaming with confidence. I did not feel like people were staring at me because I was skin and bone. Although I was not positive that there was a difference my appearance, I had to ask myself, “Now imagine yourself minus 17 pounds.” Looking in the mirror, that hit me hard.

So what had stopped me in the past from putting on this weight? This is where Mark comes in. I needed someone who somehow knew what I was looking to accomplish and who was willing to give me the knowledge and be my mentor. People are put into your life for a reason; you will know who they are when you meet them.


Photo by Jackie Kuczynski

I went back to the gym when I got home, and I wanted Mark to see the goal he had kick-started. I saw him glimpse at me in the mirror, and I turned around and sprinted into his arms, putting him in my strongest hug. “You look incredible, I am so proud of you.” Me too.