On Twitter, I saw a girl tweet about how she was ruining her summer body by eating pizza. When I logged onto Facebook, a link to an article about avoiding the "freshman 15" popped up on my feed. Advertisements everywhere tell me to eat clean or take diet pills or go on a juice detox to lose as much weight as possible, as fast as possible. We're assaulted from all directions by media clambering to tell us how to mold our bodies to fit their definition of perfect, whoever "they" are. And it's easy to fall into that trap, but it's a dangerous one. I know because I've already been there.
When I was in high school, I was the cute one, and I was sick of it. I felt like all my friends were cooler than me and looked better than me in pictures and had tons of boys after them. And for once, I wanted to be the girl who wasn't just cute — she was hot. The girl who looked the best on Instagram and the girl who had a new boyfriend every week. So I looked at myself, and I looked at the girls I thought I wanted to be like, and I tried to think about what made them different. My conclusion? They were thinner than I was.
For me, the solution to my problems boiled down to one simple thing: if I could become skinny, I would become exactly the girl I’d always wanted to be — confident, pretty and magically nicer, to boot. Because that’s what always happened in movies, right? It would be easy, I told myself. Wrong.
I tried every trick in the book. I went on a juice detox that made my stomach growl. I downloaded apps that would count how many calories I’d consumed and remind me when to exercise. I started working out once, twice, three times a day in addition to the time I spent at my ballet studio. But it wasn’t enough. After a month of work, I’d only lost a few pounds. So I told myself I’d try a new trick: starving myself.
It started my sophomore year, a game I played where I nibbled on snacks and pushed food around on my plate and made myself cranky and exhausted. Then, when I got so hungry I overate in the following weeks, I purged. It turned into a vicious cycle of not eating, binging and purging — one that didn’t end until I was dragged into the doctor’s office kicking and screaming and nearly sent off to a rehab facility, just a few months after my 16th birthday.
I talk about my eating disorder in the past tense, like it's something I got over, but the reality is I’m recovering every day, and every day I’m tempted to fall back into that cycle (and sometimes I do). When I was 15, it seemed like a quick solution to a problem that had plagued me for much longer, but it became a toxic behavior that I’ve had to fight against every day in order to lead a healthy lifestyle.
To some, this may seem like the foolish behavior of a misguided teenager (and in some ways, maybe it was). But this is a problem that is very real and very relevant. Nearly 91 percent of female college students diet in order to control their weight, and 86 percent of women under the age of 20 meet the criteria for early onset eating disorders, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD). Perhaps most startling, 25 percent of female college students use binging and purging as a way to control their weight, also according to ANAD.
There are lots of reasons to want to make some changes for freshman year. It’s a fresh start, but sometimes it feels like everyone could be judging you based on how you look. However, there are plenty of other healthy ways to institute change in your lifestyle, like getting a new haircut, doing more outdoor activities or limiting the amount of processed food you consume. But let me assure you, bulimia is not a diet plan. Anorexia is not a temporary quick fix. Take it from a girl who’s still dealing with the repercussions of the decisions she made in high school: it is something you’ll carry with you for the rest of your life.
Lead Image Credit: Charlotte Astrid