Working To Be The Best Version Of Yourself: College Edition
Going to college is a completely life-changing experience, + most of us have a rough start. For many of us, it is our first time in a new place with new people, + it feels like we just went from being at the top as a senior in high school right back to the bottom as a freshman again. This might be your first time being able to completely decide what to eat, when to work out, if you should go to class, who you should hang out with, + much more. This might also be the first time that you start to struggle with things that you hadn’t before coming to college. This was the case for me, as my first few semesters of college really brought my anxiety + disordered eating to light.
Anxiety is something that I have struggled with my whole life, but I did not know that it was anxiety until I came to college + started taking psychology classes. I have always been a Type A person + considered myself a perfectionist, but I had never considered that it was because I had attached my worth to external factors. This included how well I did in school, how busy I was, how many friends I had, + so much more. When things did not go my way, I would experience many symptoms of anxiety that left me feeling emotionally exhausted + drained, but I did not know that was not normal until I came to college. In college, I would stress myself out about every single assignment that I had to the point where I would feel sick before exams + panic if I did not do well on them. I experienced my first intense panic attack a little over a year ago towards the end of my junior semester, when the stress of everything became too much. I remember trying to make myself super busy so that I wouldn’t have to think about all of the anxiety + stress I was going through. But, the thing about anxiety is that it doesn’t go away until you work through it.
Disordered eating was also something I have always struggled with, especially growing up as a dancer for sixteen years. From a young age, women especially are exposed to ideal bodies + expected to look a certain way. This resulted in me starting to workout on my own with youtube videos at the age of 13 + making a tumblr account of skinny girls that I wanted to look like. I was always very active with sports, so I didn’t have to worry about my own workouts too much until coming to college. The first semester was rough, since I did not know how to go to the weight side of the recreation center + would force myself to use the cardio machines. I was also new to unlimited dining, so I immediately gained 15 pounds within the first few months of school. I still remember the time I saw a picture of myself from New Years Eve my freshman year of college + immediately burst into tears, that was the beginning of the downward spiral for me. I began to eat less + workout more ++ I was not fueling my body with what it needed. I started to lose the weight pretty quickly, so I kept doing it. I would “punish” myself if I ate badly by going to the gym to burn off the calories, + I really looked at working out as a way to be the smallest version of myself possible.
All of this came crashing down at the beginning of my sophomore year, when I went out for the night, but I did not eat anything the entire day so that I could look better in pictures. I ended up getting extremely drunk after having little to drink + when my friends came to me concerned, I realized that I actually had a problem. I wasn’t able to talk to them about not my disordered eating + working out habits for a few months, but it was something I became aware of + wanted to fix. I did not want to keep punishing my body for the way that it looked + fighting a constant battle every time I ate something. I did not want to keep placing my worth in how little food I ate for the day + how much I worked out.
I share all of this with you because I know that I am NOT the only college girl that has gone through struggles of anxiety + disordered eating. I know how common these challenges are. I know how toxic the environment of college can be in terms of both anxiety + body image. I want to share my story to remind you that you are not alone + show you that once you decide that you want help ++ you want to be better, you can be. So here are some things I have done/learned that have helped me heal my relationship with food + continue to help me when I struggle with anxiety:
There is something about connecting with someone else’s story + seeing their success that makes you more motivated to help yourself, I swear! It is also so helpful to understand what is actually happening when you experience anxiety or fall into disordered eating patterns, + that awareness is key to making a change!
#1] Letting Go of Leo by Simi Botic
#2] Badass Ways to End Anxiety + Stop Panic Attacks by Geert Verschaeve
#3] Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch
#2] The CHAARG Podcast [SO many amazing interviews ; )]
#3] The Babesment
I never realized the power of writing in my journal until I did the CHAARG Body Positivity Challenge two years ago + was encouraged to journal every day for 28 days. After this, I realized how helpful it is to just get your thoughts out of your head + onto paper so that they aren’t just bouncing around in there anymore. It takes away a lot of their power when you can look at them + try to imagine the advice you would give a friend if they were saying this to you.
I spent two years googling “therapists near me” but then telling myself that my problems were not bad enough to go talk to someone about it. I promise all of your feelings + problems are valid, + everyone deserves to talk to someone about it. I know that it can be a financial burden, so if you are in college I do recommend seeing what services your school has to offer!
One of the biggest things that helped change my relationship with food + my body was taking time to rest. This was something that I was forced to do once quarantine started + the gyms were closed last year, but it was a blessing in disguise. It was really hard for me to not be moving my body + to be eating more, which showed me that I was still not in a good mindset with my eating + working out. But once you actually take that time to rest [I mean at least a full week!], you realize that it doesn’t destroy all of your progress + you actually feel stronger. It shows you the benefits of giving your body rest + even if you are feeling scared to do it, doing it proves that you can.
This could mean waking up + doing the workout that your body wants to do that day, or starting a more structured program to help you stay motivated. For me, it was training for a half marathon with CHAARG Run Club. This was my second half marathon, but I followed a more structured program + tailored it to my needs. I didn’t beat myself up if I woke up + felt like I needed a rest day, I just adjusted the week so that I could do some stretching + move the running workout to a different day. I also started to fuel my body because I realized the difference it made when I was properly eating in my training. Not only did training for a half marathon help my relationship with working out, it helped my relationship with food + eating so that I now look at food as a source of fuel.
Overall, there are so many things you can do to start working on yourself. This in itself can be overwhelming + make you not want to start because you do not know where to start. My advice is to pick one thing to start with + slowly add on from there. You are not going to change overnight + healing / recovery is not a linear process. You could be doing really well for a long time + then one hour, day, week, or month might be another low. That is okay, it does not erase the progress that you have made. It just means you are human. We will never be perfect + now is the time to realize that ++ stop expecting that from yourself : ) As long as you are focused on healing yourself + have that open mindset to always learn something new, I promise you will start to feel better.