I Gained 40 Pounds My Freshman Year — These Are the 6 Things I Wish I Did Differently
Growing up, I wasn't overweight, but I was definitely not the thinnest in my friend group. My weight started bothering me when I was 12 years old because of comments my dad made about my weight, and that's when I went on my first diet. Throughout high school, I attempted to lose weight by eating very little during the day. Yet restricting my food only led to binging at night, because I was so hungry by dinner time — I actually ended up gaining weight. I was still at a healthy size, but felt self-conscious about being thicker than my other friends.
When I went away to college, I found freedom in the all-you-can-eat dining halls, the candy at every store, the 2 a.m. pizza deliveries, and the fact that I could eat an entire pint of Ben & Jerry's and there was no one to tell me not to. This was the age before iPhones (wow, am I dating myself!), so there were no selfies or photos posted on social media to make me realize that by the end of my freshman year, I had gained 40 pounds.
Aside from feeling bad about my size, I was experiencing terrible digestive issues and non-stop bloating. I wasn't sleeping well, felt sluggish throughout the day, had terrible acne, and started to feel really sad and avoided social situations. What was supposed to be one of the happiest phases of my life turned into the opposite.
A little weight gain your freshman year is normal, but 40 pounds felt like too much on my 5'2" frame. And the worst part is that the unhealthy habits I learned my freshman year made me keep that weight on until well after college, and it was really hard to lose. If I could go back to 1995 (OMG, that's a long time ago!), here are the six things I would have done differently to stay healthy and prevent that incredible amount of weight gain.
I Would Have Introduced Vegetables Much Earlier
I had been a vegetarian since I was 13, but my staples included buttered pasta, pizza, grilled cheese, bagels, english muffins, and cereal with frozen yogurt instead of milk, just because I could! My dining hall even had these humongous (bigger than my hand) rice krispies treats and brownies, and I had at least two of those every day.
I'd have a banana here and there, and maybe an apple, but as far as veggies went, I literally ate none. I was a vegetarian who didn't eat vegetables! I think my dining hall offered a salad bar, but why would I eat veggies if there wasn't anyone telling me I had to?
One food group I definitely got enough of was candy! Every night I'd hit the store downstairs. They had bins of jellybeans and gummy candies, and I'd eat an entire bag every night. No wonder I was constantly bloated and had issues with breakouts.
A few months into my Freshman year, I discovered that I was majorly lactose intolerant. That didn't stop me from eating all the cookies, pizza, and ice cream I could get my hands on, because I'd just pop a Lactaid pill every time I ate.
My junior year, I moved into a small dorm that was basically a house with 16 rooms and a kitchen. We'd take turns cooking meals for the entire house — all vegetarian — and this is where my joy of healthy eating was finally sparked. This is where I learned the basics of how to cook dry beans, how to bake tofu, and how to make vegetables taste good — all skills I used to eat healthier and lose the weight after college.
I Would Have Monitored My Eating
I never gave my body the opportunity to experience hunger because I always had access to food, and I was eating at least seven times a day: breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner, snack, then a late-night snack or sometimes two, depending on how late I was up.
Before college, I'd feel so embarrassed, watching my grandma wrap leftover food from restaurants in napkins and put them in her purse for later. But in college, I saw what a brilliant idea that was! I took bagels, brownies, and rice krispie treats from the dining hall, and would pull one out during class or while studying late at night.
I also had a fridge in my dorm room, which was always stocked with orange-mango juice and lemonade (I never drank water), and I kept tons of granola bars, chips, crackers, and other snacks in my desk drawer.
I was constantly eating, and when I did, I didn't have any clue that I should monitor my portion sizes. Twice a day, I'd visit the dining hall, and because it was all-you-can-eat, I ate until I was stuffed. If I made dinner in the dorm, I'd cook half a box of pasta and add it to a can of tomato soup, and eat that with handfuls of oyster crackers, followed by a mini loaf of banana bread that I'd buy from the store downstairs.
Going to bed stuffed meant that when I woke up, I wasn't even hungry, but it didn't matter, because everyone was going to the dining hall for belgian waffles and french toast. So I'd follow along and eat anyway, and just kept repeating that cycle every single day.
I Would Have Exercised
My classes were about a 20-minute walk from my dorm room, but since I went to school in Vermont, it was so unbelievably cold that I just took the shuttle buses. I wish I had learned how to dress in layers, so I could've been warm enough to walk to class — that would have been at least 40 minutes of walking a day.
There was a gym right in my dorm, with machines and classes, but I wasn't active growing up, so that was so foreign to me. It wasn't until my senior year when my roommate invited me to a yoga class that I started exercising regularly.
I instantly fell in love with yoga because it offered me this amazing new freedom of feeling strong and confident in my body. Yoga was my gateway drug to the world of fitness, and ultimately turned me on to running, which is what helped me lose the weight a few years after graduating college.
I Would Have Pursued Active Hobbies
Eating had become my favorite pastime, because without fail, it always made me feel happy. And although I had hobbies like sewing my own hippy clothes, painting, and playing guitar, nothing involved being active.
In high school, I was just getting into photography and hiking, and I wish I would have pursued those interests that would have gotten me outside and moving. After college, I slowly started to find active interests, and I wish I found things like trail running, road biking, CrossFit, stand-up paddleboarding, snowshoeing, and skiing sooner. If I had discovered those hobbies that kept me active, it could have helped prevent the college weight gain.
I Would Have Taken Better Care of Myself
Aside from eating like crap, and overeating at every meal, stress, lack of sleep, and keeping my emotions inside also contributed to weight gain. Eating was my way of dealing with stress, and I wish I'd known that there were other, non-food ways to cope. I stayed up late every night and barely got six hours of sleep. I wish I had been better about going to sleep earlier, and feeling comfortable talking to my roommate about being quieter so she wouldn't wake me up every morning.
I never talked to anyone or dealt with all the powerful emotions I was experiencing, and maybe writing in a journal would have helped clear my head and get my feelings out.
Gaining weight in college made me so self-conscious, and I wish I had spoken more kindly to myself, and sought out help, because I felt so isolated and alone. I wish I would have reached out to friends about my issues, because now I know that I wasn't the only one going through them.
I Would Have Realized That Weight Isn't Everything
At the end of Freshman year in 1996 and continuing through 2002, I became obsessed with losing the 40 pounds I had gained, and achieving the "perfect" body. It wasn't until I shifted the focus from the scale to how I felt that things started to change for me.
My diet shifted from tons of refined carbs, to insane amounts of veggies, beans, fresh fruit, whole grains, nuts, and healthy homemade treats. I woke up early to run because I loved the time alone, breathing fresh air, and how that set up my day on a positive note. I loved how doing yoga made me feel more calm and grounded, and in love with myself.
I also realized that in my mind I felt like I looked enormous, but looking back on these old photos, I wasn't. I definitely had a distorted body image, and once I stopped weighing myself and obsessing about what I looked like, I was able to enjoy life more, and ironically, that's when the weight started to effortlessly melt off.
If I had a heart to heart from my present self to my freshman self, I would say eat healthier because it'll make you feel good, spend more time creating relationships and experiencing life, do something active every day that fills your heart and feeds your soul, and above all else, love yourself!