what I learned from gaining 40 pounds in college

spain.drink

A big (no pun intended) part of my journey to the happier place I am today involved the struggle that went along with gaining 40lbs in college. When I graduated from high school I was a size 00. I swore up and down I would not gain the freshman 15. Surprise, surprise, I did. But it wasn’t from drinking, it was from me not realizing a good breakfast at D2 contained almost half my day’s worth of calories, and that calories from snacking while I was up until 2 a.m. finishing lab reports and papers didn’t take long to add up. The second that my jeans got uncomfortably tight I was hitting the gym 6 times a week and eating egg-white omelets and fruit for breakfast.

Somewhere in the midst of juggling schoolwork, family drama from afar, a long-distance relationship and the daily battle of not outgrowing my Abercrombie & Fitch jeans, food became basically the only thing I had complete control over and I couldn’t stop thinking about how much I had already eaten that day and how many calories I had left to spend. The guilt I felt walking back to my dorm munching on yogurt-covered pretzels that just tasted too good to pass up no matter how calorie-dense they were was unreal. My nutrition class was ironically the only class freshman year that I got an “A” in. Maybe my new-found ability to analyze the heck out of a food label and count calories in my sleep fueled my worries, but any way you looked at it, I was obsessed.

When I see the pictures of myself now from that time period I have proof that I was quick to get my weight back under control. But at the time I just felt so fat and unattractive. The mirror was not reflecting the truth for me. My clothing sizes told me one thing but what I saw was entirely different and I spent the next year like this – overly self-conscious about a body I should have been so proud of.

Fast forward to October 2012. The day I knew my boyfriend and I were done, I couldn’t eat anything and this continued for almost a week until two of my best friends forced me to eat a bagel and drink some tea. They sat with my on my kitchen floor and made sure I put some kind of fuel in my body. After that day, I was starving, like my body needed to catch up on the calories I had neglected it for so many days, starving and everything went downhill from there.

And then I started drinking heavily. 3-4 nights a week I got drunk with my friends. So that added some calories, not to mention the 4th meal I had after every night out. When I felt alone or sad and just needed something to distract me from the empty depths of myself I ate chocolate, cookies, ice cream, you name it – until I was sick.

I was putting the weight on at a pretty good rate when I got accepted to study abroad in Spain. I tried with a decent amount of effort to shed some pounds for my summer bod but wasn’t quite where I wanted to be when the plane landed in Madrid. I knew I should expect good night life, but I kid you not, we drank every night except 3 nights. For 6 straight weeks. I probably ate 5 meals a day because we never slept. I was so busy living and enjoying my new friends and this beautiful country that all of the sudden I could no longer fit into the jeans I wore the first week by the time we left, 6 weeks later. I knew I had basically overnight gotten fat when my intention was to go to Spain to find myself, returning to America new and improved, bilingual and smoking hot with a tan.

I was so embarrassed to come home. I did not want to show my face, or any part of me for that matter, after having gained so much weight. I didn’t like me so I didn’t understand how anybody else could either. To me, all my inward struggles that only came out when I was wasted were now on display at all times and I just wanted to hide. Every beautiful, peaceful feeling I had in Spain and the love I began to finally have for myself almost vanished entirely because of my fear for what others must think of me and my weight gain. I was not at a place where I could make a change though, the pain and fat-shaming I was doing to myself just made me eat and drink more, perpetuating my dilemma.

It took me graduating and getting away from the constant drinking to start noticing a change but it wasn’t until I moved home that I really began to see a difference. It is easier to meal plan, I hardly drink anymore and after getting into a workout flow I look forward to each day, I’m finally seeing major changes in my body. Not only am I losing weight, I’m toning up. I never really was strong before, just skinny and it’s so fitting that that’s where I am now because I’m stronger on the inside too.

No other thing I’ve ever done is as hard for me to forgive myself for than gaining the weight that I did in college. Being fit and healthy is what I’m all about, it’s my career and it’s a huge part of my life. I couldn’t hide it and it made getting up and putting clothes on the body I hated so much a daily struggle.

I used to be so judgmental and did not understand how people can gain weight. I was just some skinny little girl who wanted to change the lives of overweight people. But now I get what it’s like to not just want to lose vanity pounds but to actually feel unhealthy and be at an unhealthy weight for your body-type. I understand the need to lose weight and the struggle that goes along with it. I think the empathy I have in regards to gaining weight now is such a huge thing for my career.

Sadly I’m not writing about how I was able to love myself even when my outward appearance wasn’t what I strive for, because I didn’t. There was literally only one (drunk) moment when I thought, ” Okay Danielle, so what you’ve gotten a little heavier? You’re still awesome!” And I was nowhere near a mirror at the time. As a current nutritionist and future RD, I don’t believe in accepting yourself at a heavier weight and not trying to be the best you can be, but I do believe in loving yourself as you get to where you need to be. Gaining weight doesn’t make you less of a person, it’s telling yourself you aren’t good enough because of what you see in the mirror that does that, and I finally understand. I’m doing everything I can to be healthy and get into the best shape of my life and some days I’m just going to feel bloated and fat and I have to be extra kind to myself with my inward dialogue on those days. Losing weight wasn’t the thing that made me happier, it was just a result of learning to love and respect myself and finally being able to make the changes that needed to happen to turn my life around from the inside out.

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We only get one life to live so why spend the time you have hating and tearing yourself down when it takes the same amount of effort to do just the opposite?