These words are coming to you from a coffee shop where no, I did not order a chocolate croissant and type away with greasy fingers like I may have a year ago. They're also coming to you from the mind of a girl who got on the scale this morning, hated what she saw, thought of all of the holiday food she could've declined, and quickly opened her phone to Google, "Can I lose ten pounds in a week?"
That girl knows she sounds insane, but hey, there's a lot else on my mind -- going back to school in San Diego in a week, seeing all of my friends, and feeling like the holidays hit my health way harder than I wanted or intended them to.
But a year ago, this girl would have been looking forward to heading back to school, seeing her boyfriend and diving into a pint of Ben and Jerry's with him (our favorite), baking, going out to eat with friends, and living with very little regard for what I was putting in my body. Did I know what I was doing to myself? Deep down, yes, and I could feel it. But on the outside, I didn't act like I cared.
My journey to where I sit today is complicated and difficult, but it centers around something I've discovered about myself in the past year, and that is my incredibly difficult relationship with food.
Since being home for the holidays I've been trying to get out for runs when I can. On a few of these runs, I've let my mind wander and it's helped me trace where my relationship with food stemmed from. And once I placed it, it was astounding to me how it had impacted my life and my choices.
My parents have never been poor eaters. In fact, how they fed us and were role models for healthy eating is quite remarkable to me, looking back. Milk was a dinnertime staple, as was a vegetable every night. Fruit was always part of breakfast, as was a good fruit juice. Wheat bread was commonplace, and white bread was not a typical purchase. There was a candy cabinet we had, but it was kept high up and we couldn't reach it until we were tall enough. On top of that, I watched my parents make good changes to their health while I grew up. And now, they continue to strive to be healthy and active.
When I was a Junior in high school, I made a major change in my activity and began rowing competitively. It was at that point that food became such a reward system for me because the levels at which I was burning calories through long practices meant I could eat massive dinners after practice and continue to stay in shape and even lose weight. I didn't need to care about calories, because most of the time, I needed to consume more.
When I got to college, I continued to row. Recruited to be on the team, I worked hard to make times and standards. But crew became extremely difficult for my mental health, and looking back I know that I experienced bouts of depression through my first year of school. My anxiety was high, and being away from home didn't make it easier. Slowly, food became an ultimate comfort. With everything so different and challenging in my worldview, food remained constant. But that wasn't visible because I was training 20+ hours a week and packing on muscle, so any weight gain from meal plan food in excess seemed almost trivial. It was all muscle, right?
Fast-forward to my second year of rowing. I was feeling hopeless under the pressure to compete on my team and was plagued by anxiety. Going to practice wasn't a joy anymore, but I continued to train and eat like an athlete because the caloric deficit allowed me to. It all came to a tipping point, though, and I left the team.
The following year would prove very difficult. Issues in my personal life and the change that followed leaving student-athlete life did a number on me, and what I thought would be an escape from the athlete life was the opposite -- my anxiety was ramping up and my living situation fueled its fire, too.
Rowing was a life change in high school, it was a life change in college, and leaving that life was another change I wasn't ready for. But one thing that remained constant? Food.
Half a year after I left that team, I recall one night walking into my bedroom with a pint of ice cream (yes, just for me, and I'd probably finish it in less than an hour) all while rationalizing the poor eating habits that became an endless comfort during a hard sophomore year of college -- I'm young, I should live my best life and eat what I want while I can.
Getting on the scale didn't really help that rationalization.
Through several failed attempts, I recognized that I needed to get fit and lose some weight. But it wasn't until I saw my scale blink 2-0-0 that I became concerned. I tried apps, smoothies, all kinds of stuff and it wasn't working, because my food relationship was toxic and on my end, misunderstood.
Six months later, I'm happy to report that I made some changes. I lost the weight, feel like a new person, and now I know a lot about food. I found a diet that worked for me and truly, made me feel amazing and energized. But I'm still sitting in this coffee shop reflecting on what I saw on the scale this morning.
Mental health, life's obstacles, and my perspective on food came together to create a very toxic relationship with consumption that I still deal with. I have a major sweet tooth, often call myself a "bottomless pit" when it comes to eating a big meal, and generally just LOVE to eat. My mind centers around food when I'm eating next, and I can even tell you exactly the snacks I'll have on my road trip back to school this weekend. Fortunately, I've planned out healthy snacks!
I know that I'm not alone. I can imagine that so many struggles with the urge to have a sweet treat, the satisfaction that comes from an amazing meal, or the comfort that comes with good food if your day was difficult. And I want you to know that despite weight loss, my food relationship hasn't entirely changed for good. Not every day is easy, and I'm not perfect. But I'm growing in other areas -- self-control, balance, willpower, and knowing what is and isn't good for me. It's an ongoing battle, but one thing is for sure: I won't give up, and you can't either.
I took photos of myself along my journey, and one that haunts me is the day one photo. Looking back, I couldn't believe who that girl was and what she had allowed herself to become. Many old photos now have me thinking hard about the changes I've made and how thankful I am for them. And while it represents a lot of struggle, I also love that day one photo. Because it not only shows my progress but my bravery and decision to start and not give up. Whether you struggle with sweets, battle an eating disorder, need to make changes, or you've gotten to a healthy place, one thing will remain true: Giving up in the struggle to take care of yourself isn't an option. Keep going.
Food and I will always have a complex relationship, but I'm happy to say I've decided who wears the pants -- it's me, I'm in control, and I'm going to keep going. My health is priceless, and so is yours. Not every day is easy, but reflecting on obstacles overcome, I choose to keep trying.