By Heather Nelson

Note: this article is part of a series. Heather shares her journey into a healthy lifestyle — body and mind — and invites you to take part in your own. 

If you’re thinking about or have thoughts of suicide or are concerned about someone you know or just need someone to talk to, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or chat with their counselors here. If you think that you or a loved one may be suffering through an eating disorder please check out the resources here or call the National Eating Disorder Hotline 1-800-931-2237. (All resources are FREE.)

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Running has become a passion of mine. It’s the perfect me-time.

Pizza, beer, tacos, margaritas. Rinse. Repeat.

The diet of any 22-year-old trying to finish her college degree, balance a social life, and cope with leaving the best college town ever…right?

Ask most college students if they consume a healthy diet and they’ll probably admit that they opt for convenience over real nutrients. (Insert: cream cheese pizzas from Pizza Shuttle or a couple scoops at Sylas and Maddy’s.)

It’s no secret that college — the late adolescent years — provide the time for students to develop their own opinions and prioritize new things in life. During this time, many students are learning to become independent and are, simultaneously, challenged to make important decisions. Food is overlooked. I mean, your mom isn’t cooking for you anymore, and you actually might have to make a grocery list. Enter a series of problems, that, in turn, lead to weight gain: excessive alcohol consumption, decreased activity, less sleep, and stress.

So, when I started to fall subject to the unhealthy eating habits, I didn’t think twice. Most people I talked to about college warned, “beware the ‘freshman 15.’ You’ll miss your mom’s home cooking.” Indeed. The dimly lit lunch hall was my heaven! I could eat pizza *and* have an ice cream sundae every day if I wanted. I also had no one at the grocery store to say, “No, put that back. We don’t need it.” Similarly, no one warned me about the “senior 30.”

While this event probably isn’t common — and I may not have accumulated all the weight in one year, though I’m almost certain I did — it happened to me. I gained nearly 30 pounds during my senior year. The weight gain, an accumulation of stress (and other factors), turned into a cycle of bingeing on food and feeling complete disdain for myself. I quickly noticed that my clothes fit tighter and that I felt lethargic. I made no significant changes, but I added a few extra cardio days to my schedule. Then, those gym/cardio days became less frequent. My wardrobe thinned to a mere few pairs of sweatpants and oversized sorority t-shirts.

I was hiding.

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I remember looking at this picture — this was the “a-ha” moment. The moment I thought, “it’s time to change.”

 

In November 2015, I finally had enough. Nothing fit right. My sense of self-worth dramatically diminished. It was time to change. I began to follow at-home workouts on YouTube, while some I found on Pinterest. Many enticed me because I’d be able to burn that “stubborn” belly fat and “target” my flabby arms. I ventured to the Student Rec Center a few times a week and “punished” myself on the treadmill. “Run for as long as you can, as hard as you can,” I convinced myself.

When the weight wasn’t falling off, I decided to join Weight Watchers. I added vegetables to my diet, restricted carbs a bit, and tried to cut back on sugary foods. But, the restricting led to me sitting alone in my room eating a box of Oreos. The cycle continued on. Regardless of how I cheated the system, I began to see the scale move. In small increments. It was enough reward to continue. I stuck with Weight Watchers until I left for job training in Florida, where my situation only got worse.

Not only did I realize that I was experiencing depression — suicidal ideations, loss of interest, insomnia — I began to realize my relationship with food only continued to worsen.

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Yes, I’m smiling, but that doesn’t discount the exhausting mental storm that brewed inside.

I returned from Florida with extra weight — the 15 pounds I’d lost and the gravity of my deteriorating mental health.

To be continued…

****

My journey into a healthy lifestyle didn’t happen rapidly unlike the damage I’d done. In fact, the change moved at turtle-like pace. The progress I needed to make was daunting, exhausting and frustrating. It was anything but linear. And it was eye-opening.

I took many different routes to find where I’m at today. And so far, I’ve learned there’s no formula or map or cookie-cutter shape that works for everyone. The process varies and so do the results. (I found this disappointing because I was hoping to look like an airbrushed model at the end of this.) The diet/fitness industry will convince you that their way is the only way. Breaking news: there is no “right” way.

This is a reminder to stay true to yourself, listen to your gut, and find what works best for you. That’s what I hope for you. Throughout this series, in which I’ll walk you through my own fitness/health findings, I hope to inspire you to make small changes in your life. Maybe you’ve been waiting for the perfect moment or something to guide you along.

I hope to share the tips and tricks I’ve learned along the way and the struggles I’ve had, too. My “journey” is far from over, it’s just beginning. I hope yours is, too.

Below is this week’s call to action! 

If you are struggling to make healthy changes in your life, here’s a few ways to get started.

  1. Open a journal (or grab a piece of paper/your smartphone). Take five minutes to write down where you see yourself in a year. If everything went according to your plan, where would you be, how would you look, how would you feel?
  2. Revert back to question one. Is the lifestyle you’re leading today propelling you in the direction of your goals? Could it improve? If not, why and how can you change that?
  3. Set a goal for yourself. Goals are SMART. For example, if you’re wanting to go from couch potato to marathon runner, your goal might be to walk or run-walk for 30 minutes twice a week.
    • Reassess your goals after a week. How did you do? If you didn’t follow through, how can you change to make yourself successful?
  4. Post a motivational quote or picture somewhere that you’ll see it every day. (Maybe set a motivational phone lockscreen.) Use this as a reminder to reach for your goals.

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