When I was a freshman in college, I was all over the dieting game.

I’d cut out carbs, cut out desserts, cut out anything remotely delicious. It was a continuous start-stop cycle. As you can imagine, in the latter half of the year, I thought I was killing it- between my restrictive intake and consistent gym visits, sure, I lost weight. However, despite the quick results, they didn’t last long. Simply put, I wasn’t working out for the right reasons. I used this goal of weight loss as a distraction from the chaos that surrounded my freshman year. Somehow, I correlated working out and losing weight with the reason things weren’t going right. I thought that if I slimmed down, I’d be happier. I didn’t have the right attitude. It’s funny, how things tend to connect, and I’ve asked a few family members and friends and it all seems to match up: I was my skinniest when I was the most unhappy.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a pretty positive person. However, as many people experience, freshman year of college is just plain wild. You don’t know who your friends are, how to handle academics, or if a guy likes you or simply wants to hook up with you. All of these anxieties, combined with my subpar self-confidence led me to put a whole force of energy into my appearance. It’s interesting looking back at it now, and thinking about just how much energy that took. I still have the remnants of that time period physically across my body. Like most women, I’ve definitely acquired a few stretch marks. They scatter like tree branches across my body, the reminder of gaining weight, losing weight, gaining it back, only to lose it once more.

As I hit the age of 21, suddenly my negative outlook on weight loss, fitness, and healthy living has acquired a new, positive perspective. It’s a day-to-day basis, and I’m relieved to have finally found the happiness in fitness. It’s not about the amount of calories burned anymore- it’s about the rush of endorphins afterwards. It’s no longer about restricting my intake- rather, it’s about balancing the days I’ll allow myself to splurge and the days I maintain a healthy diet. Fitness doesn’t have to be negative, nor does it have to be associated with low self-esteem. Although I have my days of insecurities, (don’t we all?) it’s different now. It’s happy. It’s rewarding. It’s acceptance. It’s learning to love every mark on my skin and it’s remembering that self love is so much more gratifying than self loathing.

When I was younger, all I wanted to be was skinny. Now? Not so much. Sure, I’d love a killer set of abs. I’d love to tone up my stomach muscles and arms. Who’s to say that can’t happen with a healthy approach and a good attitude? But overall, I want to be my healthiest, happiest self. We all have different fitness journeys, some just start off on a bumpy trail. The important part is to remember why you’re on your own: and if it’s for anyone other than yourself, it’s time to reevaluate.