Julianna Morrone, Sacred Heart University, Region I SAC Representative
February 28, 2019
Social media is constantly portraying an ideal lifestyle with images of lean models eating gourmet salads made for them by their personal chefs, after going to the gym with their personal trainers, and wearing the cutest workout clothes. They look so happy displaying what appears to be a picture-perfect and healthy life. Then, there’s me. I sit in my bed spooning mouthfuls of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream into my mouth as I scroll through Instagram feeling increasingly guilty for the pizza I had for dinner, for skipping my workout, and for looking in the mirror and not being satisfied with my body.
As a college student, my time and my funds are limited. How am I supposed to compete with celebrities, models, and bloggers on Instagram whose resources enable them to achieve our society’s image of perfect health? The struggle with body image is amplified by the posts we see on social media, despite the reality that much of what we see posted may be unrealistic and impractical given the circumstances of our daily lives.
During my freshman year of college, my main lifestyle goal was to avoid gaining the mythical “Freshmen 15,” and yet, the endless supply of french fries, pizza, chips, and ice cream tempted me. I ended up gaining some weight, and becoming very discouraged about it. This led me into a cycle of trying to eat healthy, trying to workout, and then becoming disappointed in myself when I succumbed to my busy schedule and the case full of desserts in the dining hall. I started to define myself based on my weight. I envied the girls I saw on Instagram. I hated what I saw in the mirror, but I pretended not to care. For a while, I gave up on myself. I stopped working out because I no longer saw the point. I stopped worrying about what I ate. I felt less and less like my happy, energetic self.
Now, jump ahead to my senior year of college. The stress of applying to graduate programs, working a job, staying involved on campus, and balancing all of my activities looms over my head. However, trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle is no longer a stressor for me. I used to stress myself out about trying to eat perfectly healthy and trying to exercise all the time. I stressed myself out to the point of giving up on caring about my lifestyle. Three years later, eating healthy and exercising are integrated into my daily life. I feel like me again, and I attribute this to finding ways to stay active that I love, and help me to relieve stress. Running, barre classes, boxing, hiking, and paddle boarding have become the highlights of my week. I found activities that I love, and because I love them, I find ways to make time during the week to do them. I have prioritized exercising. I no longer feel like it is something I have to check off on a checklist, but rather, it is something I love to do. My eating habits have also adapted since my freshman year. I am no longer so hard on myself when I “cheat” and have pizza for dinner. Do I eat pizza every night? No. But, I don’t follow a strict diet either. For me, what works is maintaining a balance – eating everything in moderation. By doing this, I can still eat my mom’s homemade cookies when I make a trip home for the weekend, but I won’t overdo it. Finding nutritious food options that are easy to make, and yummy to enjoy has helped me love food again.
I no longer define myself or how my day went based on the foods I ate or the exercise I did or didn’t do that day. I now use these aspects of my life to help me be the best version of myself. In everything I do, I want to do my very best, but I can’t do that if I am not my best self. The guilt of failing to maintain the lifestyles I saw on Instagram used to eat me alive. Of course, I still have days when this guilt creeps back into my mind. On those days, I remind myself, the goal is to be my best, healthiest, and happiest self.
Check out https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/ for information and resources on disordered eating.
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