National Eating Disorder Awareness Week: My Experience with Body Image

Naturally, I have always been a very confident woman when it comes to body image. As a dancer, I was always moving. I had a high metabolism as a child, ate whatever I wanted whenever I wanted, and never gained any weight. I was thin and on the taller side and didn't find myself worrying about the size of my clothes.

When I reached junior year of high school, I hit peak growth. I stopped growing taller and despite all of my exercising, my metabolism slowed. I noticed I gained a few pounds, and this hit me hard. And when I say I gained a few pounds, it really wasn’t a lot. To any outsider I asked, and boy did I ask everyone, they didn't notice a change. But I did and I wasn't happy about it.

It made no sense to me that this could happen. I was used to have such a high metabolism that I was just stunned. I wanted to diet, to change my body drastically so I could look like I did when I had entered high school and up until that point. Looking back, these thoughts were extremely unhealthy, and I was obsessed with the number on the scale.

I didn't end up doing any extreme diets or trying to lose weight. If anything I was exercising more with multiple dance shows and rehearsals picking up. I didn't understand that when you hit a certain point in adolescence, you’re body is supposed to change. Well, I understood it, but didn't want to believe it.    

During the spring of my junior year, I started getting really horrible stomachaches. For a long time, I had no idea what was wrong with me. I started cutting foods out of my diet as I pinpointed which ones caused the pain, and in the process I lost about ten pounds over the course of a year. What ended up being simple lactose intolerance caused me to lose so much weight. And to be honest, it was a terrible thing to see on my leaner and smaller frame. I looked too skinny, had a thigh gap (which I had never had before) and lost a lot of my shape. It was rough, but I remember thinking I felt lighter, and it wasn't a bad feeling. But it was a dangerous thought, and luckily I didn't try to go any further with it and develop any eating disorders.

Once I started to eat dairy again, my diet improved as well as my health. I gained back some weight and started to look stronger. It’s strange to look back on photos of me at that time, when I was underweight, because I’m almost unrecognizable.

During the spring of my senior year and the fall of my freshman year of college, I had fantastic body image. I was dancing so that was my exercise, I was eating what I wanted to again and I loved myself. But when 2016 started, so did the thoughts of “maybe I should lose a few pounds” and “maybe I should diet”. And of course I didn't have to. I didn't gain the freshman 15, so there was no reason for me to be having these thoughts. I just did. Sometimes a period of low self-esteem coupled with the expectations of society can cause you to think crazy things.

I would say throughout my college career, I have maintained a back-and-forth body image. I go to the gym regularly but no longer think about losing weight. I haven't danced in two years, which has definitely changed my body, so that’s something I try to work on in the gym in terms of gaining muscle and being as strong as possible. I have finally figured out a healthy balance between eating well and eating junk, because to me a life without ice cream is not a life worth living. I feel like mentally, this is the most positive I have ever been with body image in my career as a college student.

Do I try to remain positive? Yes. I finally and truly understand that everyone is made differently and that we all are not supposed to have the same features. I try not to compare myself to anyone. Do I know that there will be days when I don't like my body? Of course. But that’s true for anyone. The trick is to not let it get to you, especially in the lead up to the summer months. Body image is tough to crack, but it’s not impossible to be positive. You just have to find a balance that works for you.

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