After gaining the freshman 15, I remember coming home at the end of the year and for the first time in my life, feeling unhappy about how I looked. I never really thought about my body in high school. Perhaps it’s because my mom cooked nutritious dinners for my family every night and packed me healthy lunches for school every day. Perhaps it’s because I played sports and never paused to think about whether I was getting enough exercise. Perhaps it’s because I knew that, thanks to genetics, I’d always have a slightly curvy Mediterranean shape, so there would be no point in worrying about my weight.
When I came to Williams, however, a combination of stress, snack bar and a complete and utter lack of exercise took a toll on my body. I’m not bitter about it; weight gain happens. However, that summer after freshman year, I noticed that most of my high school friends hadn’t gained weight, and I realized I wanted to get back to looking like my high school self – weight-wise, at least.
That process took a while, and now, over two years later, I am just getting there. It took quitting the Record, keeping better track of the food I consumed and remembering that I actually like to work out – well, sometimes.
However, I’ve developed a new problem: I constantly obsess about what I eat and when I work out. Just to be clear, I eat pretty much whatever I want, whenever I want. I’m eating a Tunnel City bagel with cream cheese as I write this – a meal that would probably make some students here cringe. But I’ll likely spend the whole rest of the day feeling guilty about this choice. With respect to exercise, I work out a fair amount, although I’m not really a gym rat; I’m never there for more than an hour. The issue is that when I don’t work out, I worry even more about that Tunnel City bagel’s effect on my body. I’m genuinely thankful that the dining halls don’t post the calorie contents of their food – other than online – because even though this might lead me to make healthier choices, it would further fuel my obsession.
I complain about feeling “fat” on a daily basis. Usually these complaints are reserved for my boyfriend because no one else would listen to them, so here is a public “I’m sorry, and thank you” to him. Truth be told, I know I’m not overweight. I fall pretty much slam-dunk in the middle of the healthy weight range for my height. Yet I simply cannot look objectively at my own weight anymore.
I can’t help but think that the college environment exacerbates my fixation on my body and may even have caused it in the first place. For example, eating meals in dining halls has presented me with previously unimaginable difficulties. In high school, I never looked at what my friends ate for lunch, and at home, my family and I eat the same food. But at college, there’s so much to choose from, and I find myself staring at the girl who orders a salad while I grab a cheeseburger. Part of me sighs because that salad without dressing or protein is probably just as bad for her health as my cheeseburger is for mine, and part of me is jealous for not having enough willpower to make the same choice she did. Somewhat similarly, when friends and I bake cookies and someone doesn’t taste one, I get upset that they’re not indulging because, after all, what is life without chocolate chip cookies? But then I wonder if I’m doing something wrong for eating one. Being a non-athlete at a school like Williams doesn’t help. I feel an unspoken pressure to look like I play a sport, whatever that means. Even though I don’t share my body image struggles with my friends, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that I’m not the only one dealing with these concerns.
I also no longer feel safe from these issues at home. I had an internship this past summer that left me too tired to work out on weekdays. When I’d come home after work, my mom would mention that she saw so many of my peers at the gym and suggest that I join them. My high school friends seem to be struggling the same way as I am, perhaps even more so. They’ve lost weight by eating less and working out excessively. I’m the “biggest” one, which prompts all sorts of self-doubt.
The worst part is when we gossip about other people’s eating or exercise habits. I doubt I’m the only one. “So-and-so” doesn’t eat any more. “So-and-so” is at the gym for three hours each day. Maybe we need to actually say something to “so-and-so” and help her or him get help because gossiping about it won’t solve “so-and-so’s” problem and doesn’t help me with mine either.
I know my problem isn’t that bad. It’s not physical, at least. I eat, exercise and sleep normal amounts. Yet I still feel that I’m caught in a vicious cycle. I stop what I’m doing multiple times per day to recount what I’ve eaten. Maybe I should be more careful about what I put into my body so I don’t have things to feel guilty about later. I know, though, that the problem isn’t really with my habits; it’s with my mentality. I need to evolve healthier attitudes toward food, exercise and weight. Although I’m still figuring out how to do that, acknowledging my fixations with the three aforementioned terms is a positive start.
Catherine Gerkis ’14 is a Chinese and math double major from Larchmont. N.Y. She lives in Dodd House.