The Age-Old Struggle {In Which I Finally Talk About My Weight}

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

[Disclaimer: if reading about body image bothers or triggers you or if you are recovering from an eating disorder and would prefer not to read this, then please do what is best for you.]

I've thought about writing this post many times. Contemplated how to word it, how much to share, how much to not share...whether I should even address it - even though any long time readers can tell - or simply continue hiding and staying quiet until things have improved.

In many respects, my concerns and even the subject of this post are silly and so very unimportant in the grand scheme of things...but when you're a girl, this sort of thing becomes monumental, unavoidable fact of your world.

I am, of course, talking about the fact that I have gained weight. 

There. I said it. It's quite humbling and yet freeing. There are so many thoughts jumbled up in my head, both good and bad, about that statement.

I was quite chubby as a young preteen and finally decided when I was about 14 that I was tired of being unhappy with how I looked, not fitting into most clothes, etc. I completely changed my lifestyle all on my own: I started exercising regularly, eating healthier, and by the time I was 17, had become a Zumba dance fitness instructor and was a semi-vegetarian.

All in all, I lost about 30 pounds or so. I loved my healthy lifestyle and maintained my weightloss until last year, when I was 19.

Summer, 2012
Last summer (and really during my senior year before that), I lost a good bit of weight to due the stress of choosing which college to attend. I was at a very healthy weight, but dropped probably 5-10 extra pounds.

 I've always been more of a stress eater, rather than someone who eats less when stressed, but that summer was different. As a result, I went to college as the tiniest I have ever been. I was a very healthy eater, a Zumba instructor, and someone who regularly practiced yoga... so I never, ever thought I would gain "the freshman fifteen" pounds that is so infamous among college students. I was determined not to.

May, 2012
However, most of my meals were in the residential dining halls - and while they always had a salad bar and healthy options - most of their food also contained a good deal of salt and sweeteners. When I came home for Thanksgiving, I had gained a bit of weight, but just a few pounds, which was actually probably good for me.

 That semester proved very difficult for me, though. I was under a great deal of stress again - but this time it was academic. I was in a very demanding honors program, which was both academically stimulating and challenging. I was overwhelmed with the workload and amount of research, essays, and reading that was assigned. I was so busy trying to survive that I didn't have any time to blog, to write, to read for fun, to watch movies, or doing any of the creative things that bring me joy. I felt so drained of joy and creativity.

 I was so overwhelmed with school and worried about making poor grades that I exercised very little. I walked everywhere to my classes, but it was a definite step down after two years of exercising an hour each day, five times a week.



Before I go any further, I want to state that I absolutely, completely loved my first year of college. I met so many wonderful, loving people, made incredible friends, learned so much, grew as a person, and was blessed with some amazing experiences. But with all positive things, there's always a bit of negative. All freshmen struggle with adjusting to college life, and experience some level of stress, no matter what. 

The last part of the semester came, with finals looming near, and I began stress eating. There was also some uncertainty about whether I would be able to return for my second semester because of financial reasons. I still hadn't gained THAT much, but I definitely wasn't happy with my body at that point and I felt heavy. Finals were pretty rough, but by God's grace, I finished with all A's, which meant a 4.0. That was 100% God - I was so sure I was going to fail all of my classes (lack of sleep and lots of stress contributed to that belief), but He pulled me through!

Now I was home for Christmas break and of course, it was sugar, baked goods, and Starbucks holiday drinks everywhere I looked...I managed to do all right through the holidays and even lose a pound or two.


New Year's Eve, 2012

(Keep in mind that I never weighed myself during the last year and a half, so I never had any idea what I weighed when I left for college or when I came home for Christmas break. I don't like numbers on a scale and prefer to simply go by how my clothes feel, as I think it's a much healthier and positive mindset - for me personally, that is. Everyone is different.)

The spring semester was really when things began to pile on (pun intended). Ironically, I was teaching Zumba classes on campus twice a week, had gotten a grip on my honors classes and knew how to handle the workload. But one of my weaknesses is taking on far too much more than I can handle. I ended up taking two honors classes, three regular classes, teaching Zumba twice a week, and working a part-time job on campus. The strain of being pulled in so many different directions began to take its mental toll and I gradually was just trying to survive the semester. I ended up dropping a class, which helped a little, but not much. I was so busy running around from one place to another that my time management ended up being very poor.

 I have realized that it takes very little for me to feel defeated, like a failure, or discouraged. Stress over not getting everything done that I needed to seemed much higher when I also reminded myself I wasn't exercising outside of my Zumba classes, that I wasn't eating as healthy as I used to, that I had gained weight, that I was always running late, that logical writing and rhetorical arguments didn't come as easily to me as it did to my best friend.

In short, I very quickly became consumed with negative thinking towards myself. I was tired of having additional responsibilities like work (even though I appreciated both of my jobs which were work study) instead of simply studying like many of my classmates. My sleep schedule got severely out of wack and resulted in more late nights at the library than I care to admit. It became very easy for me to get upset and frustrated with myself. I had planned to run a half-marathon, but realized it would be a horrible idea because I hadn't been training for it at all - another thing I was upset at myself for.


With all this stress, my sugar + caffeine intake increased. Because I was staying up so late to study or because I couldn't sleep from stress, I would snack. Well, all those snacks add up. When I am highly stressed, I crave sugar like a mad woman. All my additional muchings, lack of sleep, and very little exercise accumulated in a very real weight gain. This, of course, only added to my negative thinking: 'How could you let yourself go?!' 'How embarrassing.' 'Wow, and you're supposed to be the healthy one - look at you now.' 'What will all your friends think - the semi-vegetarian fitness instructor who gained the freshman 15?'


February, 2013
It was horrible, and I was very unhappy with my body, with how I looked, and with how I felt. Many of my clothes no longer fit or were tighter on me...I didn't really share my frustration or how I felt about myself with most of my friends on campus. I didn't even really discuss it with my best friend, who had gained a few - only a few - pounds herself. Her weight gain was not noticeable, whereas mine was. Being surrounded by fit friends and a campus full of girls who were in shape or didn't seem to have gained weight doesn't exactly encourage talking about your weight gain.




What I really remember about the spring semester was how much happened, both at college and outside college. My younger brother had to go through several surgeries for his knee and then was finally told he could never play cutting edge sports like baseball and basketball again - both of which were his passions. My mom had poor health, and there was additional family stress.

I do want to emphasize that everyone has problems and causes of stress, so in no way do I think I am special in that regard. I am sharing my story because the way I reacted to said stress was a huge part of my weight gain.

I finished the spring semester with decidedly lower grades: I made B's and B+'s, which was a blessing, but after the previous semester, I couldn't help feeling like I had failed after all. However, it was a learning experience - I can pinpoint all the things that resulted in those grades and how I can not make those specific mistakes again.

Looking back over the past semester, I realize that I basically had burned out by the end of April. So I came home determined to lose weight, get back into exercising, and thus back in shape for the next school year.

Ah, how the best-laid plans go awry. I was home for a week before I started a summer job which had long hours; I often got home at 10:30 or 11, and promptly reached for chocolate or ice cream. Again, I was learning the new ropes and stressed by how much I had to learn and how meticulous + precise I had to be in my job because I was handling money. I then started summer school which meant class everyday, a large amount of material covered each day, and tests nearly every week.

I was also home, which meant I could eat non-dining hall food,go to fro-yo shops, etc. My plans to exercise on a daily basis fell through because I was so exhausted from work and school that I wanted to do nothing more than curl up in my bed and sleep when I got home. I had very little time to study because of work, so I eventually had to quit. My stress wasn't entirely abated because I was taking a science class - which is my weakness. Start talking about atoms, electron levels, and DNA replication and my brain freezes. I finished summer school finally about a month ago, and actually managed to do all right in the class, which I was immensely happy, relieved, and proud about.

Of course, after all THAT, I didn't want to. do. anything. So I caught up on sleep, watched many Netflix episodes of Doctor Who, Robin Hood, and Merlin. I basically enjoyed being lazy and had absolutely no motivation to exercise, even though I now had time.

And quite truthfully, the reason I haven't kept up with Modest Monday more this summer is because I am not happy with how I look...I don't feel pretty when I look at pictures of myself and I don't think I look my best in them. So when it comes to snapping pictures of my outfits, I've become more and more reluctant to do so, because let's be honest...none of us like unflattering pictures. And lately I feel like I can't take any that flattering! It really is very silly, I know, but there it is. We've all been there when we've seen a picture of ourselves that we didn't like how we looked in them.

It sort of feels like an out of body experience, because in many ways I don't feel like me. I feel like I'm trapped in a thicker skin that I can't seem to shed, and picking out outfits - rather than pure fun - has become more of a "What I can wear that will hide what I don't like?" or even worse, "What fits today?"

Ugh. It is not nice. I don't like it. Because, honestly, gaining weight stinks. It is so, so easy to gain weight just like that and so very hard to loose it. It takes a toll on your self esteem, your comfort level, and even your confidence.

But I'm determined to get back to feeling like me again, to be a better, healthier, stronger version of me. I may not end up being as fit as I was before...I may not end up being as tiny as I was when I started college. But I want to be the new me - one who makes good choices and takes care of herself.

August, 2013

So, now, I'm heading back to school weighing more than I did last August when I arrived as a freshman. I'm looking forward to walking everywhere, getting back in a routine, and actually making time to exercise this year, because it really is necessary for my sanity and I've missed it so. I'm taking a break for teaching Zumba because I got burned out with teaching last semester, which took all the joy out of it for me. But I'm planning to still be active and get back to being Grace.

To loving how I look and being a healthier, more positivity-filled me.



If you ever gone through something similar or perhaps are right now, I completely understand and sympathize with you...body image and being happy with how we look is so hard! For many of us, it's something we constantly struggle with - for some, it's not really an issue. But we've all struggled with how we look or how much we weigh before. Maybe you've gained weight, or maybe you can't gain weight despite your efforts. It's a universal bond among women...and something we all go through at one point or another.

I obviously know how difficult it is - and how hard it is to verbally admit it to someone. However, I loved having the two or three really close friends who didn't judge me whatsoever...and who had gained some weight themselves so we could grouse together. There really is nothing like complaining to someone who understands where you're coming from because they're in the same boat. ;) So if there's any of you girls out there who wants to vent or talk about it, you are more than welcome to shoot me an email.

Or simply find one of your close girlfriends, a sister, your mom, or a good female family friend...it's always so encouraging when you talk to someone. They remind you the world isn't ending simply because your clothes are a bit snugger than normal  - and that you are still beautiful, regardless.

Much love,
Grace

14 comments:

  1. Thanks for posting this, Grace. I def know how it feels but am hoping that this will be the fall of change for me. Have a great semester! Lots of pray, hugs, and chocolate (but no calories) :)

    Ariel

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    1. You are so welcome, my chickadee - I thought of you and was going to send you the link. I hope this will be a season of change for both of us - we can do it! I love you and am sending hugs, prayers, and calorie-less chocolate your way too. :)

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  2. Thank you so much for this...I wouldn't have the guts to do so, so I really admire you for sharing your story. It helped me a lot just to know that I'm not alone in this kind of struggle. Best of luck and God bless you! <3

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    1. Thank YOU for your comment! The main reason why I ended up sharing my story was because, like you said, it always makes me feel better when I realize I'm not alone...so if by putting myself out there means I can let you know that you're not the only one struggling with this! Praying for you and wishing you well also!

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  3. Love your blog. Thank you for writing this. You are such a beautiful girl! God bless you always!

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    1. Thank you so much for your kind words! I'm happy you enjoyed the post. God bless you too!

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  4. GRAAAACE YOU ARE SO BEAUTIFUL!!!!!! IN EVERY WAY!!!!!

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    1. Your very sweet enthusiasm makes me suspect I know you in real life... ;)Yes, no? Thank you, dear!!

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  5. I hear you!! My similar experience came senior year: first semester I was running and lifting weights several times a week, eating healthy, and staying really busy. I got the thinnest I'd been in who-knows. Second semester I had a thesis and a wedding, and all of a sudden I was just too busy to workout. Curiously enough, my wedding wasn't so much a motivation for me to get more in shape as my marriage is now! To me being a skinny bride wasn't a big deal. I just wanted to get married and BREATHE again. Now, though, I realize that babies are a real possibility, and their health is going to be affected by mine. That's motivation!!

    It's hard to find a balance. I don't like diets and I like enjoying with Peter all the things that he likes. As always moderation is the key, but it's tough when we have Cadbury chocolate in the fridge! lol. Having him aware of my goals and ideals helps me stay on track, though, and he knows to give me only one scoop of deep dark chocolate ice cream unless I have a REALLY good reason.

    My new workout favorite is the calendar on blogilates.com, because it's fun (having a video to follow along with makes it much harder for me to stop when I feel a little tired) and challenging but not TOO hard (the difference between having to take breaks and modify some moves vs. not being able to doing anything at all).

    Thanks for opening up. I think it will help lots of people. I mean, look at me! Suddenly I feel more secure facing and talking about my own fitness struggles. :) Love you! God bless! ♥

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    1. Clare, first of all, bless you for your lovely long comment! It was so encouraging...I've been getting so much feedback from girls and women who I thought looked beautiful and in "perfect shape" - like you! I thought you looked simply stunning in your wedding pictures. <3 It is very nice to hear you can relate though...I seriously underestimated the stress and business of college when it came to staying healthy!

      And yes, the balance is so hard. The whole it's-summer-and-I-want-ice-cream mentality is hard to beat, but I know I'll love my healthier foods once I get back into them. Good for you getting Peter to help you! I think daily support is a great idea. You're certainly already more disciplined than me when it comes to the number of scoops! ;)

      I've done the blogilates videos before, myself. They're very good - I'll have to check out her workout calendar. I'm so glad my opening up helped you feel more secure. I'm a huge believer in community because it makes us realize we're not alone! Love you too and God bless!

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  6. Thanks for sharing, girl! I'll be praying for ya as you are striving towards health and balance. :)

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    1. You're welcome, Megan - thank you for your comment and prayers! Much appreciated. :)

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  7. I definitely sympathize deary! ESPECIALLY with all the college stress. I'm not the only one! And I've gained weight too. I've always been super tiny but as I've gotten older, I guess that's not just going to happen anymore, and if I don't change my lifestyle, I won't lose weight.
    I think going through something like this, where we regret all our mistakes, allows us to pinpoint what went wrong, like you said. We can look at a few things to try differently. I know it won't be easy...I fool myself into thinking I'll be so much better at time management, when I know it'll take a lot of planning and will power.
    And I need to make exercising a priority too. I'm actually taking a Zumba class once a week this semester ;) But I have to tell myself that's not enough exercise, so I can try to change my whole lifestyle.
    Maybe that's what sophomore year is really about: a lifestyle change, once we realize we do get a second chance after that freshman year. And I'm so excited to make that happen. Eeeekk we're both starting our sophomore years in like a few days!!!

    xoxo,
    Liz B

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