Confession: I Gained the Freshman 40

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Often, people assume that health and fitness professionals have never had to struggle with their weight. You may think that we love to exercise and must have a natural aversion to all decadent or "sinful" foods, too. But that couldn't be further from the truth—at least for me. I was fit as a child and teen, and I am now as an adult. But college was a different story...

I gained about 35-40 pounds in college. I can't tell you the exact number, because it depressed me to get on the scale, so I just stopped looking. I was a little underweight when I started school, because I was exercising like a fiend and eating way too little. (I thought what I was doing was healthy. How little I knew then.) So when college started and I was living off of dining hall food, barely sleeping, and engrossed in a stressful major at a competitive school, I didn't have time to exercise like I used to, and I started stress eating. After under feeding my body for so long and then eating more, my weight ballooned up quickly—to the point that none of my clothes even fit! Talk about embarrassing. I came home for the holidays and my tell-it-like-it-is grandmother said (in front of everyone), "Nicole sure has gained weight in college!" (Thanks Grandma…I hadn't noticed.)

My weight issues continued for a few years. I remained overweight and unhappy, and was constantly getting ready to start new diets and fitness programs. I'd tell myself "No sweets starting Monday!" or "I'll exercise for 2 hours every day." Each plan would last about a day or two, and then I'd gorge on bags of candy and start skipping my workouts. I struggled with emotional overeating and an obsession with food, all the while hating how my body looked and wanting to change desperately!

So what did change? I learned to accept myself and care about myself. I learned to stop saying no to sugar, carbs, candy, or other "bad" foods. I learned to listen to my body's REAL cues for hunger, to stop reaching for food to cope with bad feelings, even when my body wasn't hungry. I re-trained my brain so that it was no longer "normal" to snack every time I watched TV or went to a movie. And I stopped obsessing with my weight (I threw out my scale). It didn't happen overnight, and I didn't even lose weight for a long time. It wasn't easy. I had setbacks, but I'd keep them in perspective and just keep trying to be better to my body and myself. Even without losing weight at first, I was happier. And I knew that eventually, my body would return to what was normal.

Over the years, I continued to drop weight without even trying, just by eating in moderation (when hungry), exercising in moderation (without focusing on the calories burned), and focusing on my health overall. Now I'm at a point where I'm happy enough with my body. I'm fit and healthy and I can look good enough in my clothes to not feel self-conscious. At the same time, I can enjoy eating without obsessing about the calories or fat, and I can exercise as much as I feel like, without forcing myself to do things that I don't enjoy. Overall, the things that helped me most were:

  • Learning and honoring my body's true signals for hunger and fullness. I don't eat by a clock, and even if I just ate 1 hour ago, if I feel hungry enough that my belly rumbles, I'll eat. At the same time, I won't eat just because food is around (at a party, at the movies, in the evening at home). Also, learning to be satisfied without being stuffed goes a long way.
  • Not weighing in. I never weigh myself. I have a general idea of how much I weigh, but I gauge how well I'm doing based on how I look and how my clothes feel.
  • Exercising because it feels good. I do not pay attention to how many calories I burn. To me, that's just one small factor. Instead, I exercise at the appropriate intensity for me and I pick workouts that I enjoy because they're fun or because I know they keep me healthy, fit and feeling good.
  • Journaling. I turned to my journal to help deal with my emotional eating issues. When I'd slip up, I'd write about what happened, examining what I was really feeling and what I could have done to remedy the situation without turning to food for comfort.
  • Taking care of myself. Instead of hiding in oversized clothes (like I had been), I bought new, flattering and fitted clothes that gave me confidence. I decided that I was worth it just as I was and I deserved to look good, even if my weight wasn't where I wanted it to be.
  • Not comparing myself to others. This was probably the hardest of all, but the more I compared myself to others, whether it was women I saw on campus or celebrities in magazines, the worse I felt about myself. So I stopped. And I learned that variety is what makes the world go 'round. We can't all be size 2's with amazing legs and cellulite-free butts. But we can choose to be fit and happy in the bodies we have right now.