Until the summer before my sophomore year I took a fast metabolism and exercise in the form of regular dance classes for granted. I was naturally skinny so I never gave a second thought to a serving of ice cream or carne asada tacos. Freshman year consisted of a lot of French food (which I don’t regret one bit) and ice cream sandwiches at the dining hall. One photo of me in a bikini changed my perspective - I noticed fat where I didn’t want it and immediately felt a flood of insecurity. I knew I had gained weight but until then I hadn’t recognized the changes it had made to my body.
I watched ridiculous amounts of Youtube videos on the treadmill with dieticians and fitness gurus spewing seemingly endless advice. My mind became crammed with information and I implemented a lot of it. When I cut out red meat and dairy my energy seemed to improve. When I started doing HIIT and heavier weights I noticed my arms getting toned. When I began tracking my macros and calories the abs I wanted finally started to show.
The routine I cultivated meticulously over those years was fine-tuned and helped me feel in control of my health, both mental and physical. I would probably need an annotated thesis to explain this routine fully, but I’ll summarize it for your sake. Essentially, I went to the gym at least five times a week, ate entirely plant-based, designated Sunday evening for meal prep, and had a religious sleep schedule. I’ve always been aggressively type A so it came naturally for me to stick to with what worked.
About 90 percent of the time (back at school) I could abide by the health “rules” I had set for myself. But when I had multiple exams and had to skip a workout, or fell off my clean diet, I looked in the mirror and would pick up on the smallest shifts in my physique. During those times I can bounce back within a week or so, but on low bipolar periods when I binge eat (a habit I’m trying to kick) the mirror was so unkind to me that I was on the verge of tears.
Moving to NYC has thrown off nearly every aspect of my routine. For the most part I’m happy about it. Between my internship, job, daily two hour commute, social life, and sleep it’s much harder to stick to my regimented schedule. The closest gym is a 20 minute walk both ways, I have to travel almost an hour to an affordable grocery store, and to be transparent Artichoke Basille pizza really hits different after a night out drinking. The sum of these changes is that I’ve gained fat and lost muscle. No, I don’t regret getting a bomb brunch instead of fitting my leg day in.
But knowing how my body looks and feels when I’m fit has manifested a nasty voice in my head that I didn’t knew before.
When I pass a mirror this voice tells me that I’m massive, with the shoulders of a linebacker, stubby legs and a bulging belly. My rational brain tells me that health is a long-term lifestyle that does not depend on my outwards appearance and my self-worth should not depend on whether I have oatmeal or a heap of cheesy eggs for breakfast.
The battle between this voice and the truth has consumed a lot of my energy and thoughts lately. To be honest, I nearly cancelled this photoshoot because I felt so much hatred towards my body. I know I’m not alone in my struggle with this voice. Whether you are a fitness fanatic or haven't stepped a single sneaker-clad foot into the gym yet, most of us have days, months, years where we feel ashamed in our skin. I hope to relay the message that I’m trying to learn to whomever reads this:
Your body is a battleship that allows you to jump, leap, dance, and experience life. Your body is small and inconsequential compared to the vastness of this world. Your body does not determine your value.