My Journey to Balance: Part 1
I want to share my story of finding balance, because I want others to see that while balance is an individual experience, the emotions that come with finding it may be universal. My story cannot speak to yours, but if it helps one person feel like they have somebody by their side, that is more than I could ever hope for. In order to see how I found a balanced life and how I am still working to improve my balance, you have to see how I became unbalanced in the first place and the moment I realized I was no longer happy.
After finishing up my first year of college, I headed home, excited for summer. I was ready to see my friends from home, have an internship, and travel. What I didn’t realize was how much my eating and exercise habits had changed since entering college. And I most certainly couldn’t predict how much me noticing said change would impact my psychological mindset.
My whole life, I had been playing sports. I played soccer, tennis, and ski-raced throughout the year, and then in the summer went to various sports camps and continued taking tennis lessons. When I got to college, I didn’t play sports anymore and I didn’t think about going to the gym. While I had played all those sports, I had never really thought about any of it as exercise. They were just activities I partook in after school with my friends. The gym was something else altogether.
During the year, I found myself only eating breakfast and dinner, maybe a few snacks like power bars or fruit in between. I would eat a lot for breakfast though—half a bagel with cream cheese, a bowl of yogurt with granola, some fruit. Like exercise, food had always been something I enjoyed, but I had never over-analyzed how much or what I was eating.
When I got home for the summer, I started making lunch plans to catch up with friends. My body, at this point completely unused to eating lunch, was now always full. I was still eating a big breakfast, then a big lunch a few hours later, and then snacks, and then dinner. At my 19th birthday, my friend took a picture of us. When I saw it, I only noticed my stomach. And I was incredibly disgusted with myself.
While I had never paid much attention to my exercise or eating habits, I had always considered myself in shape. I am naturally lean, so when I saw a protruding stomach, I was terrified. Just like the media wants us to believe, I thought skinny equaled beautiful. I suddenly hated my body and committed myself to making my flaws go away. I downloaded a ton of exercise apps, started reading non-stop about exercise and nutrition. I learned to cut out sugar, to not eat bread or pasta, milk was not allowed, and I had to exercise every single day—both lifting weights and cardio. Instead of dedicating my summer to my friends, internship, and family as I had initially expected, I grew consumed with my new mission. I was going to get back in shape before school started.
Looking back, I expect there are a variety of reasons why I was so suddenly dedicated to “looking good.” I had grown up hearing flat stomachs were enviable, a boy had recently made me feel undesirable, social media was becoming more prominent, and I wanted to prove to myself that this was nothing more than a setback I could overcome, just like any other trouble I had faced in my life. So when school came around and I still didn’t have the body magazines and media promised would make me feel happy, others feel envious, and others desire me, I was mad at myself. So, I started eating less and working out more.
This continued throughout my sophomore fall semester, and I was never happy. To this day, that semester is by far the hardest time period I have ever undergone. I was taking five classes, the president of a club, in two music groups, three internships… and I was dealing with so many psychological setbacks which I refused to admit to anybody, including myself. I couldn’t eat sugar without stopping. So therefore I refused to eat sugar except for a few times a month. But on those days, I would not be able to stop. At a friend’s birthday party, nobody was eating the ice cream cake, so I ate the entire cake myself and then ate three cookies after. Out to dinner one night with friends, I had the biggest ice cream sundae I had ever seen, and even though I was going to throw up from how sick it made me feel, I kept eating. I didn’t sleep for 72 hours and went to the gym for four hours the next day because of the guilt I felt.
One California winter day, I was leaving a cappella when a fellow club member offered the group cookies. I remember running through all the options in my head: “Okay, I can take one and throw it out.” “But what if someone sees me throw it out?” “I just won’t take one.” “What if they judge me for not taking one?” I knew consuming the cookie was going to hurt me—I wouldn’t be able to mentally accept the decision. But afraid of my peers’ judgment, I took a cookie, a bright pink, heart-shaped cookie with beautiful pearl sprinkles, and I shoved it in my mouth. I walked away fast from practice, taking out my phone to call my mom, crying over the phone to her as I continued to shove the cookie in my mouth, telling her I had no self control. She asked me to stop eating the cookie, but I couldn’t… it sounds so silly, but I legitimately couldn’t. I wanted to prove to myself that I could eat the cookie without feeling guilt, but I felt so much guilt that eating the cookie became a way to comfort myself, and the cycle kept repeating. When I entered my dorm room, I sat on the floor, crying to my mom, feeling like I had never felt before. I had never experienced anything I couldn’t ultimately control. But here I was, half a year after my “mission” began, and I still wasn’t happy.
I knew then and there that I needed to confront this issue. The issue had never been I didn’t look good enough, the problem from the start was the way I regarded my body and the fact that I believed something physically needed to change for me to be happy. I thought the only way I could be happy was to have the body society deemed as beautiful. But how could I be myself and how could I find my individual balance if I was so consumed with what everybody else thought? I needed to remember that I am my own person, like my father always taught me, and work towards fulfilling my true self and my own pure happiness.
To see how I ultimately started working towards this balanced life, click here!
Have you ever become consumed with what society tells us is healthy or beautiful? What harmful messages do you wish society would stop spreading?