Body Love Pt 4: University

Body Love Pt 3: Plant-Based Perspective

Disclaimer: Those who have had issues with body dysmorphia or are currently experiencing issues with body dysmorphia should be advised as the following article may contain sensitive topics.

When I thought about going off to university, I had this idea that everything was going to magically come together. I thought that I would ‘lose the weight’, learn to love my body and gain all this confidence in this new environment. That’s not exactly how it went. I loved the independence, but being in a new environment with so many people I didn’t know made me extremely anxious at first. Making friends didn’t feel super easy, and while I enjoyed being surrounded by so many new people, I couldn’t help but feel like everyone was judging me. I felt like appearances started to carry even more weight, from deciding who you sat beside in class to who you chatted with at parties. I had always felt the pressure I put on myself, but I started to feel more social pressure as I started off the semester. I wanted to feel validated, not only in school, but by those around me. It didn’t take me long to realize that university culture wasn’t the best for me.

(Image by Jae Makitalo)

 I loved going out with my friends, but I couldn’t stop comparing myself to everyone around me. I kept track of what I wore, how I did my makeup, whether the girls around me were skinnier than me or not, how many guys talked to me, even how many people would talk to me in general. Although this was different than constantly tracking my calorie intake and the size of my waist, it wasn’t much better. I still saw myself as a sum of numbers, and my worth was defined based on how well I ‘scored’ on a non-existent scale. I felt anxious all the time, and I started to impact my life in a negative way. I found it hard to concentrate in class if I sat alone because I felt like everyone thought I was some loser girl who hadn’t managed to make any friends yet. I couldn’t go to the cafeteria and eat by myself because I didn’t want everyone to see me eating alone, so if I couldn’t find someone to grab food with me, I didn’t eat. I didn’t like studying in the library alone, so I did most of my work from my dorm room, which wasn’t the worst but it made it harder to get things done sometimes. I was in a new environment, so I assumed this was part of adjusting and pushed the anxiety aside, but it didn’t take long for it to build up in other ways.

About six weeks into my first semester, I started to have trouble sleeping. I found it hard to fall asleep because my mind would not shut off. I began to overanalyze everything I did throughout the day as soon as my head hit the pillow. I stressed over whether I said something that could have come off as rude, or weird. I stressed about assignments for school, what I ate and how much exercise I got, and pretty much anything else I could think of. Before long, it was taking me upwards of 90 minutes to fall asleep. At first, this wasn’t really something I noticed. I’m not sure if that’s because it came on gradually, or maybe I decided it wasn’t something worth worrying about. I started to feel tired all the time, found it hard to focus in class, and it didn’t take long for me to notice that my grades were slipping a little. I was struggling academically to begin with in a few of my classes, so the exhaustion didn’t help. 

During high school, I had always done well academically. I wasn’t one of those students who didn’t need to do a lot of work to do well, but I found that if I worked hard, my grades would reflect that. This was not the case for me in university, and I did not handle the realization well. I pushed myself harder, lost sleep and began to stress even more about school. I was unsure about what I wanted to pursue as a major, and I didn’t really love any of my classes, so I began to question whether I had even made the right choice with most of my classes. The more I stressed about my studies, the harder I found it to focus, and the more time I had to invest into my schoolwork. By the time my first exam season hit, I was feeling extremely burnt-out. I did what I could to make it through, but I didn’t really feel like any of my exams went well. However, most of my classes ran year long and I figured I could make up some of the grades in the next semester. 

Throughout all this, my body was taking a hit. The irregular sleeping and eating patterns weren’t healthy, and I felt hungry almost all the time. I wasn’t gaining weight during my first semester, but I felt more social pressure to look a certain way and I noticed myself slipping back into bad habits. I started skipping meals before going out with friends, or even fasting for a day or two in hopes that I would look skinnier. My diet felt very restricted as I was trying to eat vegan on a meal plan, and on top of that, I had this mental barrier of what was healthy vs unhealthy which made it even harder. Whether or not guys flirted with me at parties became a form of validation. I began to feel like despite my efforts to be pretty, I still wasn’t. I didn’t want to sink further into these old habits, so when I returned to university for the winter semester, I switched from a vegan to a vegetarian diet in hopes that it would feel less restrictive. 

When I got back to school, I found myself hoping again that this time everything would fall into place. But, like before, that wasn’t the case. I still struggled with my body and my academics, only now I felt the pressure more since I had already survived a semester. Now, I didn’t really feel like I was still adjusting to the university lifestyle. By the end of second semester, my grades hadn’t significantly improved, and I had started gaining some weight again. I felt stressed about going home because I wasn’t happy with how things had gone throughout the year. I still wasn’t set on a major, I was no longer a straight A student, and I was anxious about the weight I had gained. I was more than happy with the friends I had made, but I still wasn’t happy with myself. I decided, yet again, to put another plan into action. This time, instead of hoping that things would magically come together, I wanted to make them come together in second year. I thought that moving into a student house and having the ability to cook for myself would be exactly what I needed. I envisioned a year of healthy eating, going to the gym, hanging out with my friends, and not only doing well in school but loving my courses. How second year went, however, was nothing close to what I had planned.