Sophomore year of high school, I was diagnosed with my anxiety and panic disorders. It was a long time coming, and I've written about my mental health countless times before, but something I rarely discuss is the impact my mental illness has had on my body image. During that time in high school, I practically stopped eating because I was having too many panic attacks to keep down meals. I dropped down to 99 pounds at the lowest. I hated feeling the bumps and cliffs that my ribs and my hip bones made when I laid in bed. I did not have an eating disorder, which is another deeply important issue from which many people suffer, but I simply could not eat for a month-long period. My diet was smoothies and shakes, McDonald's fries when I was having a good day and Cheerios.

Flash forward to my freshman year in college, and I weigh in at approximately 135 pounds. I'm a size 6 now. I do not take up as much space as I could, but I still feel like I am too much. In high school, I was thrilled to gain weight. It meant I was healthy and well-rounded, something I had worked towards since the earliest stages of my anxiety. But when I came to college, it felt wrong. Perhaps it is the Freshman 15 label, or the fact that I feel inadequate when I can't find time to work out or cook healthy meals. Whatever the case, each day when I look in the mirror, the negative thoughts multiply. I talk down to myself, I notice stretch marks and I wonder how on earth I will survive the holidays carrying love handles like this.

And then I have to do the routine. The healing routine. The positive reinforcement routine. The routine of telling myself the truth.

I am beautiful no matter how much frozen pizza I eat. I am worthy of all good things, no matter how squishy my thighs are. I am brave, brilliant and kind in this flawed and changing skin. As long as I continue to work and take care of my health, the outward result will not matter.

I came to this internal dialogue after a light-hearted realization about this topic that has made my heart so heavy for years. 

If pugs are happy — with their rolls, snarly sounds and stubby feet, why can't I be happy with my protective belly, untoned biceps and child-bearing hips?

For as long as I've had the anxiety, I've had the refuge in animals. Specifically dogs. Specifically pugs. It took turning on Doug the Pug's Instagram notifications and filling my dorm room with pug plushies for me to realize that these fascinatingly dorky creatures in nature are happy in their own pure essence. 

Then I began picking up on other things in nature. The trees on campus, the flower gardens, the clouds in the sky — none of them care about their size, shape or color. Granted, many of these things don't have hearts and brains, but I've never looked at a sunset and said, "ugh, if only that yellow hid more behind the pinks, then this would look pretty." 

I realized that the criticism I was doling out to myself was the worst combination of words my ears have heard. I was the one making myself feel gross, unwanted and incomplete; no one else (except maybe Donald Trump).

I feel like a lot of freshmen can identify with the internal battle of becoming enough during a huge transitionary time in our lives. Stress-eating is at an Olympic level, we worry if our high school friends will notice our weight gain on our "Year One" Facebook albums and we lack basic necessities of sleep, hydration...and vegetables. Many of us make valiant efforts (and succeed!) to form consistently healthy lifestyles, but it's also a major source of stress.

So I do little things. I drink water. I do yoga while I watch Netflix. I take the scenic route to class on moderate weather days. I interact with Doug the Pug on social media. I remind myself of the lightning bolt marks on my thighs, the sexy, human curvature of my body, the way I like to dress and the strength I have found in being healthy — in being bigger than the things that used to control me. 

That's not to say I'll definitely be making an effort at something of a beach bod come March and April, but I must continue working towards accepting everything — internal and external — first. I can't just be proud of the good, strong parts of my body and my soul, but the messy, dirty, ugly parts, too. Running on a treadmill and putting less ranch on my salads does not remove my anxiety or my appetite. I'm not ashamed of the food I like to eat, or the food I don't like to eat, for that matter.

Kale is overrated, I can't make a smoothie bowl to save my life, I don't know how to use 80 percent of the equipment at my school gym and as far as protein trail mix goes, I like the M&M's and cashews. I work hard at all things in my life, but I'm not going to work so hard that I lose all my emotional progress.

I'm cute as hell, I'm empowered on a Meryl Streep level and, best of all, I'm still growing.

So treat yourself to a cookie and a puppy break, and know that in doing so, you are just as valuable and loved as you were yesterday and as you will be tomorrow.

*If you or someone you love is struggling with their emotional health, reach out to or*

Lead Image Credit: Instagram // Kamstagrams