It all started with Freshman 15. I thought it was a myth, that every freshman would gain 15 pounds in his or her first year of university, but I started gaining weight. I had to do something about it, and when I did, my period stopped coming. I was proud of it.
I was on the all-you-can-eat residence meal plan. Some of you may know the residence as New College near Spadina Avenue. There were so many options to choose from: chicken fried rice, seafood risotto, veal parmigiana, and even waffle stations. How can one resist with so many choices and unlimited access? I had to try everything, and of course, within the first few weeks, I gained a few pounds. Freshman 15 was real.
Unlike other university students, my program required us to take Physical Education (PE) classes. On days we didn’t have PE classes, I would go to the gym. Gradually, it felt like I wasn’t exercising enough in PE classes, so I would also hit the gym on days I had PE classes. Since group aerobic classes were fun and free, I started going to them with my friends, on top of my gym routine. I felt so accomplished that I was compulsively exercising for at least two hours daily.
Food wasn’t interesting anymore. A weighted stomach disrupted my exercise routine so I ate very minimal. Around 8:00 am, I would have a boiled egg, ½ cup of oatmeal, half a grape fruit, ¼ cup of milk, three pieces of lettuce, and two slices of beefsteak tomato. Around 11:30 am and 4:30 pm, I would have some salad and ½ cup of cooked proteins. It was the same food every single day and I didn’t care. If I accidentally ate anything “extra”, I would exercise extra to burn off the calories.
I would eat quickly to avoid the crowd. I didn’t want to be judged on my food choices, and I wanted to get ready for my evening exercises. My weight started to decrease, and I was even more motivated to exercise and eat less.
Since social events included food and often interfered with my gym routines, I stopped participating. I would go as far as walking my friends to the restaurants, and then bail out last minute. Each afternoon, I would have to nap from feeling fatigued. My daily routine would be so rigid that anything out of the ordinary would make me anxious and irritable. I didn’t actively spend money — everything I wanted I had on campus.
Within six months, I was already down 25lb, weighing 93lb, and I am only five foot two. I wasn’t sexually active, but my period stopped coming. The skin on my hands started to peel. My dad suspected I had osteoporosis because my wrist was very thin and soft. I didn’t make many friends either. I thought this was all normal because of studying.
When summer came, I moved out of residence and went home. Having my “normal life” back, I realized I had been sick. Friends and family were concerned for my extreme weight loss. Not only did I not get compliments on how great I looked, I also got scolded for looking like skin and bones. I found out my conditions were called Orthorexia and Compulsive Exercise. They are two types of eating disorders, but not as famous as Anorexia or Bulimia. My attitude and behaviours of excessive healthy eating and exercise were signs that something was wrong. Over six years, my weight fluctuated between 93lb and 135lb because I would binge eat to “get healthy” from eating too healthy.
I still have moments when I don’t feel good enough because I don’t weigh lighter. My weight now fluctuates between 105lb and 112lb but I accept that. That is the sustainable range I look and feel good in. I recognize that it is okay to put on some weight when it’s the festive season, to fast intermittently because that is the latest fad, and to maintain an appropriate gym routine.
I practice mindful eating. Occasionally I indulge in foods that I actually enjoy, but I don’t eat foods that just taste “okay”. I maintain 15 minutes of high-intensity exercise 4-5 days a week, and I also try to brisk walk when I am taking breaks from work.
This lifestyle works for me, and I am happy I have finally found it after 12 years. I hope you have already found yours.