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Why Giving Feels So Damn Good

giving

Especially around the holidays, people are in the mood of giving. Whether this be giving gifts to friends and family, giving change to the Salvation Army, or making generous donations to philanthropies, people are more open to give. 

But there’s a reason for this.

So why does giving feel so damn good?

After compiling some research together, I’ve narrowed it down to three reasons:

1. Happiness is strongly correlated with relationships.

givingThey say that money can’t buy happiness, but perhaps it can when you buy for others. It is not the physical gift or donation that is what makes you happy, it’s the action. The feeling that you are bringing happiness into someone else’s life makes you feel happy yourself. Best explained by social psychology professor Stephen Joseph of the University of Nottingham, …”the things that are important are things to do with relationships, with other people, and things that help to promote meaning, the purpose in life.” The development of relationships, whether that be rekindling, strengthening, or starting them, gives our lives meaning.

A professor of mine once said that “when you pass, you won’t necessarily be remembered by your resume. But you will be remembered by your actions and who you are as a human being”. Having a successful career should be a goal, but in the end, what you do is equally, if not more important, and giving speaks loudly about your personality.

2. It’s universal.

givingThink of a person who hates gifts. Genuinely, despises receiving anything from others. It’s hard to do so. Primarily because it has been studied that the reward from helping others is deeply rooted in human nature, according to studies from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Despite the various economical and culture differences across the globe, this is one thing that remains true throughout. 

This concept doesn’t make sense to many economists, who often view human nature as egotistic. If you make money, how are you happier by giving it away, in one form or another? However, most people don’t fully understand this greater joy, and thus would never give. But it is worth a shot.

3. There is a physiological response.

givingOxytocin, or the ❤️love hormone ❤️, is released during the action of giving, building that connection between you and others. After this oxytocin is released, there is a lasting effect afterwards where you want to keep giving and doing things for others, so those who give often crave to give again. Also, the mesolimbic pathway, or the reward center closely relate to dopamine, was active when giving, according to researchers.

There’s a quote by Winston Churchill that sums up the joy of giving:

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”

So how can you give?

The obvious donation route may be a little intimidating for college students, especially because #studentloans. However, there a little things you can do to give back:

  • Surprise a friend/co-worker with a cup of coffee or tea.
  • Give compliments to strangers.
  • Invite someone over for dinner.
  • Thank your professors, janitors, security guards, or cashier. Oftentimes, these people go unnoticed for their work, but if we didn’t have them, our world would suffer.
  • Offer your seat on the bus to someone who’s carrying a lot of bags.
  • Do a chore around the house without anyone asking.
  • Pick up the tab during your next lunch with a friend.

Whatever it may be, cherish the joy of giving, #fitufam.

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When It’s Not Fine: A Letter to People Who Always Puts Others First

To the people who always puts others first,

First of all, thank you. There aren’t many people in this world who are like you. You always ask whether or not you can help with anything, you initiate empathy, you let people vent to you even when you are running late and you answer those 3 am SOS texts. You are that go-to person, the “mom” of the friend group that everyone can rely on. 

fine

You catch yourself saying, “It’s fine,” at least a dozen times a day. When the barista messes up your order, “It’s fine”. When someone bumps into you, “It’s fine”. When an aggressive stranger takes your seat on the bus, “It’s fine”. People subconsciously catch onto this, however. 

Like I said, you go out of your way to help others. But it is so easy for “others” to take advantage of this. When you give up your time to help another with their problems, you feel intrinsic joy because you helped someone today and made their life a little bit better.

But what about you?

What about the nap that you skipped out on to attend to someone else? You desperately needed the nap because of your crazy sleep schedule (or lack thereof), but neglecting your needs is second nature. When was the last time someone said, “Hey, I really need you to take care of yourself right now”?

fineSee, this is when it is not “fine”, and you have every right as the selfless being you are to put yourself first. But this is a lot easier said than done. As you attempt to take a nap, you continuously toss and turn, checking every text. Or, whenever you try and do some at-home yoga, you almost always fail at savasana because you can barely close your eyes, be present, and breathe. 

So I’m asking you to do this.

Take care of yourself in order to help those you love. 

As all mothers would say, how are you supposed to take care of others if you yourself are not taken care of? The seemingly selfish act of letting yourself recover and taking care of you can actually be selfless, in the end. So, go and you take that nap, drink that tea, meditate or just close your eyes for 10 minutes and breathe, go to bed early and eat meals by yourself. Those who love you want you to do this.

Sincerely,

The people who love you.

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I Was On USA Today And People Called Me Fat

usa today fat sarah gaines

Yesterday I took over USA Today’s Facebook for a live workout.

Their page has 8.5 million likes. Yes, I said million.

As the current time stands (about a day after), there’s been 53k+ views, 1k+ likes, and 100+ comments. The majority of the comments are overwhelmingly positive, both from people I know who were tuning in to support and others I didn’t know at all. My favorite comment of them all:

Idk you Phyllis, but I love you.

But unfortunately, not everyone is as great as Phyllis.

Here’s what happened:

I was teaching the workout – having a blast as I do when I teach 😉 – and I’d walk past my phone to see friends and strangers alike commenting in. I saw lots of hearts, likes, smileys… all the good stuff. But, this was Facebook and Facebook is the internet, and the internet is a deep dark hole where people like to hid behind their screen and say hurtful things. I started to see some comments rolling in…

Freak
People are mean and rude, ignore them!
My daughter is awesome (love you dad❤️)

So I knew something was up. Tbh, I thought people were making sexualized comments at first which (sadly) would not have been shocking – but that’s an article for another day. Then I saw a comment that said “why is she fat?” and I was like “Ahhh really! We’re still on this?!”

For the record, here’s me:

I’m a bit thick, for sure. But fat? Really guys?

If this would have been a few years ago, these comments may have really affected me. But after years of struggling with body image and obsessive fitness behaviors, I have no qualms with my body whatsoever so I was fine with the comments, I was just more so disappointed that people still believe that fitness equals six pack abs.

Have people like Emily Crocker in your life

I’m writing this today for two purposes:

  1. To reiterate that society’s current view of fitness needs to shift
  2. To remind you what’s worth your energy

For those reading this who don’t know me – Hi, I’m Sarah! I’m an AFAA Certified Group Fitness Instructor and founder of the college fitness community Fit University (the site you’re currently on). I teach strength training classes, indoor cycling, and Kick It By Eliza all around Boston. My passion is showing others that fitness should and can be fun, attainable, and a natural part of everyday life. I’m on a mission to show others that fitness doesn’t look one way, despite what the media has us believing. I make an active effort to call out fads, marketing ploys, “get skinny quick” schemes, and do my best to share that fitness is so much more than what your body looks like.

Back in February 2016, I wrote an article titled “I run a health and fitness company, and I’m a fraud.” Synopsis: While I’d been preaching fitness looks different for all, I’d secretly been trying to get my body to look like what we think a fitness instructor’s body should look like. That article went somewhat mini-viral and resonated with a lot of people. You can read the full thing here.

In the past year and a half since I wrote that article, I think the fitness world has made great strides in promoting the message that what your body looks like is merely a fraction of determining your health, if that. I see it on Instagram, in the Fit University community, and within the people I surround myself with. But I guess that’s the problem, right? We tend to surround ourselves with people who share our same ideals and values. We tend to forget that there are people who…

A) haven’t even been exposed to the messages that make up our values, or
B) have been exposed, and completely disagree

I believe we should all make an active effort to surround ourselves with those people as that’s the only way that we’ll all continue to grow and evolve as humans.

Fast forward to yesterday during the Facebook Live and I was reminded that those people exist as I read through the comments post-workout. 

Here’s the thing – there are so many people in this world who are kind and supportive. Then there’s another group of people who are lonely, hurt, and insecure who have nothing better do to than sit on Facebook, watch a live workout (led by perhaps the most happy instructor they’ve ever seen in their life💁), and instead of getting up and doing the workout, just choose to sit there and comment rude and negative things. I don’t need to bore you with details but here’s some research into why people do that if you’re interested.

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So what do you do?

You surround yourself with the former group of people – the kind and supportive ones – and you let all the negative stuff roll off your shoulders because it’s not worth your time, energy, or emotions. You remember that your body is yours to do with it what you want. If you find people making comments about your body, leave. If you find yourself making comments about other people’s bodies, figure out something else to do with your time. 

People will always have bad things to say. It’s up to you to know what’s worth your time and what’s not.

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A huge thanks to USA  Today for having me on – check out the Facebook Live here for a quick 20 minute workout! Sign up for my email here.

Why You Should be Listening to Podcasts

podcast

When was the last time you listened to a great story? Was it the last time your parents read you a book before bed? The last movie you saw? 

Podcasts are the perfect medium for the modern storyteller. While some podcasts help you escape into the story through a dramatic narration, others are information-based and leave you with actionable suggestions. Regardless, podcasts offer much more than traditional written media because they put a voice with words. You may have a favorite author or blogger that you love to read, but hearing their voice and hearing them express their thoughts literally adds a new dimension to their content.

For very little commitment, podcasts allow you to explore. Don’t like the podcast? Just switch to a different one! If you’re commuting, traveling, or just have time to kill, podcasts can be a welcome recess from music and an effortless method to learn. Though similar to listening to music, podcasts embrace the “multitasking” mindset and redeem lost time to continue to your personal growth. Isn’t that what college is all about?

Where to start? Investigate if your favorite authors and public figures have podcasts. Additionally, three recommendations are below: 

RadioLab– 

RadioLab is described as “a show about curiosity.” The podcast is not specifically about health or fitness, but instead investigates a new scientific question or historic moment, giving listeners an hour of easy-to-digest education. I feel like I’m learning about niche, interesting topics that I’ve never encountered otherwise. Some episodes make you laugh, some make you cry, but regardless Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich from RadioLab are experts in capturing and holding your attention. 

Listen To: 23 Weeks 6 Days

The Minimalists

This podcast is led by two men, Joshua & Ryan, who quit their corporate jobs at age 30 after feeling unhappy, overworked, and lacking control of their own lives. The two of them focus on the principles of minimalism, which focuses on “making room for more: more time, more passion, more experiences, more growth, more contribution, more contentment.” The pair has written multiple books on the topic and publish their weekly podcast to discuss living a meaningful life with less and answer questions from their listeners.

Most of us college students have felt like Joshua & Ryan at some point in our lives: burnt out, tired, and overburdened with tasks to do and stuff to deal with. While their solution of fully embracing and practicing minimalism may not be realistic for all of us, their lesson is still relevant: embrace experiences and try to minimize the burdens we carry with us.

Listen to: 007 | Stuff

Nut Butter Radio– 

Homegrown by two members of the #FitUfam, Holly van Hare and Hannah Liistro, Nut Butter Radio discusses health/diet industry and everything about it- body image, food, and fitness. It’s really exciting that partnerships and projects like this can grow out of the work we do here at FitU, and this weekly podcast is honest, interesting and relatable. You’ll find yourself nodding along in agreement with Holly and Hannah- and may even find you’ve shared similar experiences. A podcast by two health-oriented women who know what college students want to talk about means Nut Butter Radio is a must-listen for FitU readers!

Listen to: #009: Dining Out Intuitively 

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A Must-Read Message for All Health and Fitness Extremists

balance

Fitness so readily lends itself to extremes. For many people, it seems like you either spend the day on the couch with chips and ice cream or you schedule all of your workouts and prep all of your meals so you can be the “most fit”. But both of those strategies backfire quickly, and finding the right balance can be a serious challenge. Once you get moving, your fitness-loving instincts whisper, “More is better,” and, “That’s not good enough,” even when you’re exhausted and need a day to rest or are tired of your leftover roasted veggies. But the funny thing is, more exercise and vegetables aren’t necessarily better – and are often unhelpful. 

If you always work out more, you will probably overtrain. If you eat the same thing every single day, you will probably miss out on social activities (and a whole bunch of nutrients in other food). And if you never rest, you will probably burn out, lose your motivation, and then need a lot more rest to recover.

But you don’t want to lose your progress. You don’t want to sit down and realize how comfortable it is and never get up. So, you keep going, all while wishing in the back of your mind that you could just chill the heck out and figure out what balance actually means. That’s why you’re reading this.*

*This advice is solely from personal experience and intended for people who might be looking for a little reassurance or guidance. If you feel like this advice is impossible to implement in your life and you have a more serious problem, please reach out to professionals who can help you overcome addictions or eating disorders. 

If you can’t imagine a day without a killer workout…

… Try taking your gym time one day to go for a leisurely walk with a friend or a podcast, or spend that time foam rolling and stretching.

For me, getting some blood flowing feels good. It wakes me up. I like talking to the gym workers in the morning. It’s a very positive routine. But I used to feel like if I was making the effort to go to the gym, I might as well become a sweaty mess while I was there.

After months of this, the initial boost of energy my workouts gave me started fading into a serious mid-morning crash, so I started to reconsider my everyday workouts. Spending that time once or twice a week moving in a gentler way felt really good. Nothing changed dramatically about the way I look, but if it had, it would have come with a healthier mindset, so that would have been #worthit. 

If you often don’t let yourself give into your cravings…

… Eat a little every day (or every few days). If you make a food a staple of your diet, you know it’s always going to be there and you don’t need as much of it. My example? Protein bars. I kid you not – I really enjoy protein bars that much. If I don’t have one for months, as soon as I get my hands on one, I want ten. And… they don’t take up that much stomach space, so I can totally eat ten. But if I have one every day, or every few days, even though they aren’t necessarily the healthiest, I don’t ever feel like I need ten.

So, if you want a little chocolate or pizza or ice cream, try having a little – regularly.

When you tell yourself you can eat whatever you want, whenever you want, your cravings don’t have as much control over you.

If you feel guilty when you aren’t “being productive”…

… Change your definition of “productivity”. For example, I recently started reading for pleasure (almost) every night. I’m not reading for school or professional development. I could be blogging or practicing yoga or cleaning some part of my house. But I sit down, turn off my electronics, and read. I used to feel so guilty about this, but then I decided it is productive.

How? Well, it relaxes me before bed and helps me fall asleep more easily. Otherwise, I would probably get sucked into Instagram and Facebook and some comparison trap, and then I’d go to bed feeling bad about myself and thinking about all the ways I’m not as good as every person on social media. And then I wouldn’t sleep, my body wouldn’t recover from my workouts as well, and I’d feel bad the next day, too.

Do you feel guilty when you go to bed early because you could be doing things? Well, you’re giving your body the chance to repair itself from whatever stress it is under. Do you skip stretching or avoid yoga because they don’t burn a bunch of calories? Well, they do increase your mobility and making your future workouts easier. Do you love to write but always neglect it because you’re never going to publish a novel? When you write, you’re developing communication skills and probably enjoying yourself, though. Isn’t that productive?

The Disclaimer

None of these methods are foolproof, but they serve as good guides with actionable steps to help you overcome your all-or-nothing mentality. You’ll probably still work out too much occasionally or eat eight brownies when you meant to eat one. You might still overextend yourself. All of that is okay – life is as much about balance in general as it is about balancing moderation and extremes. You learn from all the things you didn’t want to happen, and you’ll know how to handle the situation next time. Be gentle with yourself.

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Read This When You’re Struggling to Love Yourself

The media makes it hard to love yourself, but you don’t have to listen.

Your body, health, soul, and spirit are a beautiful gift all together, but the world doesn’t always tell you that.

On one side, an exquisitely photoshopped women stands in front of a mirror, posed precisely to accentuate her already-thin waist and strong-yet-lean body. She has thousands of Instagram followers, all of whom adore her online personality.

They call her “health goals.”

Her hair is perfectly messy, her arms are perfectly toned, and her entire image is perfectly filtered. The only imperfections on the scene are:

  • A: The gross gym bathrooms in the background.
  • And B: The ever-so-slightly, almost impossible to see warped scene around the edges of her figure, evidence of a computer’s intervention in her waist. 

That small, secondary imperfection really makes you think. “Neat! I had no idea a wall could bend like that!”

(I’m kidding.)

The other side of the “beauty” argument is the one I love with every fiber of my being: the overtly positive viewpoint, the one that calls for you to love yourself, accept yourself, and celebrate yourself.

Personally, I choose to subscribe to this new method of thought – the one that asks for kindness, patience, and love.

However, loving your body isn’t always easy.

Serial photoshopping, false health information, unsustainable weight loss schemes, and body shaming run rampant like a disease across the globe. These are the factors stand in the way of self love. They demand that we give up our battle and give in to the tiny demon that whispering in our ears, the one telling us that we’re incapable and inadequate, that we don’t look perfect and are therefore undeserving of joy.

It’s easy to forget that your body is a gift.

In the face of all that negativity, you might fail to remember just how remarkable your are. Your gift, like an old friend that you stopped checking in with, gets forgotten. Your body becomes the Christmas gift you opened but never quite got around to appreciating.

This can manifest itself in a few ways. You might start wearing baggier clothes, hiding your body away for later. You might not allow yourself to use your body in ways that are fun and liberating, like dancing by the pool or on tables. These scenarios build up and start to have an effect on your life. You start to feel inadequate just because you’re told you are in imagery.

However, when you look at the facts, you’re truly incredible. And mind you, I haven’t met you. I can’t speak to your double-people-over-with-laughter sense of humor or your unique set of talents and abilities. I can’t compliment you on your strong soul– the one that gets up again and again after being pushed down.

But, I can tell you this: your body is capable of amazing, amazing things.

I stumbled upon this pretty epic slideshow of body-centric facts and discovered some very incredible things. Did you know that you – yes you, are made up of 7,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 atoms? All of those atoms exist to make you who you are, which is really kind of epic. 

Those atoms and molecules and proteins and more give you a brain and a heart. Your brain is full of knowledge, wonder, and creativity, and when you’re awake, it produces enough electricity to light up a light bulb. Meanwhile, your heart controls its own orchestra: a system of 100,000 miles of blood. It produces enough energy to pilot a truck down a scenic way for 20 straight miles.

Not only is your heart powerful, but it is also perceptive: your heartbeat responds to music, and will adjust its pace to accompany your earbud symphony.

Humans have engineered light out of nothing, have conquered land, air, sea, and even space. We have traveled to the most ancient parts of the world, and have seen incredible things with our eyes, which, by the way, can see about 10 million different colors.

People can complete 100-mile races. They can climb to the top of the Earth’s peak, and lift weights over three times their own mass. Humans have found hope in the darkest of times, and have persevered through terrors beyond belief.

We have made it so far. Your existence is a product of grit, tenacity, and effort. Your existence is beautiful, and epic, and startlingly awesome. Look at all that others have accomplished – surely there is no reason why you are not capable of greatness.

What, just because of what you look like? No.

You are tough as nails (seriously, your body contains enough iron to form a 3-inch nail), powerful as thunder, and a scientific wonder. It is your right and your duty to love yourself, for to do anything else would be a disservice to the greatness you encompass.

I implore you to treat your body as a gift.

The next time you want to give in to the demons in your mind, fight them off. You are fully equipped to conquer all the trials and tribulations that come your way, including the challenge of practicing self-love.

But, I believe in you, as do those who love you most. So treat your body as it deserves to be treated, and think about yourself as you deserve to be thought about.

Your body is a gift, and most importantly, so are you.

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Four Healthy Habits that are Never Too Late to Start

Healthy Habits that are Never too Late to Start

Although there are tons of different ways to lead a healthy lifestyle, there are a few common habits that the healthiest people in the world often practice. These healthy habits are neither dramatic nor difficult (no, you don’t have to do HIIT workouts every day), but instead represent greater lifestyle choices that are practiced by healthy people in every country, at every age.

The following are a few simple healthy habits that are easy to adopt, no matter what stage you’re at in life. While these healthy habits may seem obvious, they are often forgotten and are not pursued until the damaging results take place. Take care of your body with these simple tips:

1. Wear sunscreen.

Everyone needs sunscreen, regardless of age, gender or race. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lives, and the best way to prevent this is to wear sunscreen whenever you go outside (AKA every day). Wearing sunscreen not only prevents skin cancer, but also prevents the sun from damaging and aging your skin. 

habits

These days, sunscreen has evolved and become less sticky and oily, making it easy to add to your skincare regime. Many people get their protection through a daily moisturizer with SPF that they apply to their face and neck in the morning. Even if you haven’t worn sunscreen for years, start wearing it now to prevent further damage to your skin. While a tan may look good now, the effects of this sun exposure will be evident later in life. 

2. Drink water.

Everyone has heard the advice to drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day. Although there’s no single number that fits all of us, The Institute of Medicine determined that an adequate intake (AI) for men is roughly about 13 cups (3 liters) of total beverages a day. The AI for women is about 9 cups (2.2 liters) of total beverages a day. This number increases if you engage in activity that makes you sweat or if you live in a hotter climate. 

Drinking water helps your kidneys remove toxins from your body, keeps your skin vibrant and moisturized, and prevents muscle fatigue. Because the effects are seen so quickly (have you ever drank water while dehydrated and immediately felt better?)this is definitely a healthy habit to adopt, no matter your age. 

habits
The best way to ensure you drink enough water is to track your intake throughout the day. Many of us carry around a reusable water bottle, so figure out how many bottles of water you need to drink to hit your goal. I try to drink a gallon of water a day, and I know that five of my bottle equals one gallon. If I haven’t refilled my bottle three times by 3 or 4 p.m., I need to speed up my drinking. If this is too intimidating, try to drink a little more each day and be aware of how much water you’re sipping (and how much you aren’t sipping). Being intuitive is the first step towards healthy behavior change, which includes staying hydrated.

3. Go to the doctor regularly.

Anyone else put off going to the doctor in college just because Mom wasn’t scheduling your appointments anymore? While it can be difficult to find a new doctor or dentist wherever you go to school, regular health exams and tests can help identify problems before they start, and dramatically increase the chances of treatment and cure.

Most university health centers offer check-ups and STD testing, and can offer recommendations for primary care physicians in the area. A yearly visit to the doctor and biannual cleaning at the dentist are a necessary check-in to ensure our bodies are functioning properly. 

4. Get quality sleep.

It may seem obvious that sleep is beneficial. Even without fully understanding what sleep does for our bodies, we know that going without sleep for too long makes us feel terrible. Sleep is vital for many bodily functions that we need throughout our lives, like our metabolism, memory, learning, and emotional well-being. 

healthy habits that are never too late to startLike you’ve probably experienced after a good (or bad) night, the effects of your sleep occur almost instantly. Therefore, by improving your sleep, you’ll feel the benefits quickly. While the amount that a person needs to sleep every night differs for every person, finding your optimal number of hours is key. Do you feel tired if you get six hours of sleep instead of seven? Or if you get ten instead of eight (yes, it is possible to get too much sleep)?

Another step is to create a good sleep environment, void of distractions like electronics, light, or sound. Additionally, reserve your bed for just sleeping (not homework or eating) so that when you get into bed at night your body knows it’s time to sleep.

The key to a healthy life is prevention. All of the above actions are investments. If we treat our bodies well and invest in our health before they start showing signs of worry, we will live happier, healthier, and longer lives.  

Check out these articles too:

When Instagram Eats Are Excessive

instagram eats

Let me start off by saying that my Instagram account is dominated by food. I’ll throw in a flat lay, fitness pic, or my dog once in a while, but mostly… food.

Why? It’s pretty and I love it. I like eating it, I like cooking it, and on a stressful day, my food probably looks a little more together than I do. Just being honest.

And you know something? I love Instagram. I have friends from Instagram I’ve never met in real life. I adore getting foodie and fitness inspiration from other people who are interested in wellness. Instagram honestly gives me opportunities I would not have without it. Technology is awesome.

But, of course, there’s a “but”. Actually, there are several.

The Bowl Topped with the Contents of Whole Foods

I love toppings. My salads better be a whole lot more than just lettuce, and my smoothie bowls will usually have some granola, nuts, and fruit on top. That’s not what I’m talking about. No. I’m talking about the yogurt that is topped with two different protein bars, an ocean of nut butter, an avocado, five bananas, a fried egg, a deluge of cacao nibs, a sprinkle of whatever superfood powder was on sale, and a bag of granola. Am I exaggerating? Only about the five bananas. (It’s more like two.) 

Is that bowl pretty? If you do it right, maybe.

However, it’s also something I am almost positive no one was doing before they cared how pretty their food looked. First, how can you taste any one of those components when they’re all competing for your tastebuds’ attention? Second, as much as I adore lots of food and healthy fats, it’s hard to believe that your average person is eating that much food at any one meal. That’s the sort of bowl that looks ultra healthy to the untrained eye, but is probably more than the average active person needs. If that’s really what you’re eating, cool. If that works for you, great. But if you’re posting it simply because it’s stunning and over-the-top, maybe mention that in your caption.

The Macro-Friendly #FoodPorn

Instagram practically explodes every time there is a new processed fit food that is supposed to be as good as dessert. I am as in love with protein-packed “ice cream” and the occasional protein bar or cookie as the next person. If you love it and eat it, post it. 

But please, recognize it for what it is. It’s a stand-in for the sugarier, fattier, more caloric version of dessert. Is it healthier? That depends on what your goals are. If you’re scared to eat Ben & Jerry’s, so you’re subbing it for Arctic Zero… rethink that restrictive mindset. If you just like Halo Top sometimes or it sits better with your stomach, there’s nothing wrong with that. I can relate.

instagram food pornAnd for the love of all that’s good in food, don’t top Halo Top with a Pop-Tart, six Oreos, a Quest Bar, and zero-calorie chocolate syrup… unless all that really tastes great to you. I can’t say I’ve ever tried it, but I’ve had all those things individually and while I guess it looks impressive, I really can’t imagine it tastes great. 

The Barely-A-Snack Meal

We all have different fueling needs. It depends on your personal chemistry, your activity, what you’re planning on doing tomorrow, and how much you slept last night, among 5392 other things. I’ve unintentionally been the person who doesn’t eat enough all day and doesn’t think much of it, only to be starving at night. Don’t be that person. Don’t eat spinach, a carrot, and two slices of turkey for lunch or a single egg with half an apple for breakfast.

On a different note, if this is you and you’re struggling with the idea of eating more, reach out for help here.

The Every Superfood in Existence Smoothie

As a foodie and fitness lover, I have jumped on more health trends than I care to admit. I love collagen, I feel best when I eat mostly Paleo, and I add maca and nutritional yeast to all sorts of foods.

But here’s the catch: I don’t think you need any of those things to be healthy. I just like them. 

instagram smoothieIf you see an Instagrammer adding six types of mushrooms, eight herbs, collagen, cacao butter, and three potions you can’t pronounce to your smoothie, you might feel like you have to do that. You absolutely do not. I love it when people admit that, but all too often, they make all that extra stuff seem vital. Those things are fun, and probably not unhealthy, but they are not necessary and anyone who tells you differently is lying. Those all cost a pretty decent amount of money that college students definitely do not need to be dropping on smoothie ingredients. 

Balance out your smoothie with some protein, carbs, and healthy fat. Toss in some spinach or another veggie to add nutrients. Go organic if you want. Don’t add too much sugar. Ta-da. No fancy superfoods needed.

P.S. It takes way less time to do that than to measure and add nineteen other things.

So as great as Instagram can be, it can also be a case study in all sorts of unhealthy and unnecessary behaviors. Just use your common sense about your own health and your own body, and you’ll be good to go.

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Why You Should Study Hard But Travel Harder

Studying abroad is and experience that truly cannot be described. You are entering a totally new atmosphere. Wherever you choose to travel to, it will be worth it. While you’re there, these are the three things to focus on:

1. Meet the Locals

You will become friends with locals. The locals allow you to gain an insight on the culture that you couldn’t understand without talking to them. You can read all you want, but you will never fully understand their social norms unless you submerge yourself into their environment.

Befriending locals allows you to expand your horizons from beyond the local tourist points and find the hidden gems of the city. 

2. Gain New Skills

You will better your skills. Going to places with cultures very different from your own expands not only your knowledge, but your communication and interpersonal skills, as well. Language barriers worry people – but that is part of the beauty of new places. You learn different words and slang within that country and can then understand the way people communicate to one another. You discover what kinds of things influence the people there (gender, socioeconomic status, etc.).

3. Enjoy Yourself

You will have the absolute time of your life.

Everyday is a chance for a new adventure. You get fill each and every day with the beauty of a different culture. You get to taste new foods, learn a different language, stay up too late, maybe drink too much, and spend day after day enjoying your wonderful company – whoever that may be.

The number one reason I picked my university is because they had ways to travel. From the first day you tour the school, they make sure you understand that traveling is a huge part of what makes your experience, your education, and the school itself. 

So no matter what, study hard and travel harder. I promise you that the best way to learn about a culture is to live it, breath it, and speak it every single day.

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Fall in Love With Being a “Work in Progress”

You’ve criticized your body for so long. Try loving it and see what happens.

It is unfortunate that an industry that has the potential to be so empowering capitalizes on peoples vulnerabilities and uses them to their advantage more often than not. Yes, I’m talking about the health and fitness industry. 

“Get flat abs fast!” “Lose 10 pounds in 10 days!” “Shrink for the Summer!”

These words have all been scribbled across the covers of a few of the latest issues of some of my favorite health magazines. I’m not denying the fact that many of these magazines have some of the most inspiring articles and stories within them, and I read them religiously, but a select few publications grab your attention with unrealistic expectations and that is what drives me nuts.

 

A post shared by E i l e e n (@simplyeileen_fit) on

Being a nutrition and public health student, it is easier for me to notice the absurdity of these claims than the average person because I learn about these things every day. However, what happens when the already self-conscious young girl grocery shopping with her mom sees these magazines in the check-out lane and decides to give it a read? What happens then?

I know…because I’ve been that girl.

You start trying out these crash diets that are promoted as “healthy.” You start comparing yourself to the, often times, photoshopped models on the cover. The little self-esteem that you did have starts to dwindle. And, you feel defeated when the results that you were told you would see in two weeks did not appear.

That’s not what every person who reads a health magazine experiences, but that is what led to a lot of eating issues for me, and I’m sure has been a trigger for many other people, as well.

We’re all a work in progress.

I’ve been known as the “strong” girl my entire life. Strong ice skater. Strong cheerleader. Strong dancer. I gain muscle much easier than the average female, and because of that, my strong, muscular legs were my biggest insecurity. In high school, this led to me taking drastic measures to try and loose the muscle that I wasn’t trying to gain (at the time) in the first place.

I saw women on television that were thin and girls on magazine covers that seemingly had it all, and I placed an unnecessary pressure on myself to look like them in order to feel happy. Reality check: a certain body type is not going to make you any happier or any more confident. Yet, I fell victim to the “Bikini Body in a Week” traps because I didn’t know any better, and this played major tricks on my mind.

Looking back, I was beautiful then, and I’m beautiful now. We’re all a work in progress, and that’s okay.

 

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We have this idea in our mind that “we will be happy when…” and we need to get rid of that notion entirely. It’s unfortunate that we have been led to believe that seeing a lower number on the scale will immediately solve all of our problems. Society has made it so that it feels wrong to be happy and that we always should be striving for more.

Health is not a quick fix.  It is a lifestyle. And each day you have to work for it.

Fitness shouldn’t be about looks, but about loving what your body can do.

The human body is quite remarkable. Your body literally fights every day to keep you alive, yet, we spend so much time hating it. 

We can all reach a place of peace with our bodies, but that peace is not going to be a result of a smaller waist or thinner thighs. That peace is going to be a result of loving yourself throughout your entire journey. Throughout your entire life, really.

If your goal is to lose weight and start eating healthier, love yourself right now. If your goal is to get stronger and fitter, love yourself right now. If your goal is to compete in a bodybuilding competition, love yourself right now.

If you’ve been working towards your goal for months and have seen progress, love yourself right now. If today is the first day of your new lifestyle, love yourself right now.

My point being, if you genuinely try to find self-love at every stage of health and fitness (not just when you reach your goal), you are not going after your goals out of hatred towards your current self, but to better yourself as a whole. If you think about getting fitter or losing weight as a means to enhance the amazing person you already are, then your motivation will be higher and you’ll find the journey a lot more empowering than dreadful.

Comparison is the thief of joy.

Don’t let magazine cover girls make you feel inadequate. Most of the time the girl on the cover doesn’t even look like the girl on the cover because of how photoshopped the photos are. If you are taking steps towards better health, your efforts are not any less valid just because a magazine cover is claiming that there is only one type of “bikini body.” 

You are you, and that is your power.

Find empowerment in fitness, not hate. Each workout is making you stronger and each meal is making you healthier. You are doing this for you, not for anyone else. So love yourself, during each phase, because each phase has a purpose, each phase teaches you something new, and each phase is beautiful.

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I Took A Week Off From Working Out: Here’s What Happened

Nothing.

That’s exactly what happened: nothing. At the end of one week without working out, I looked in the mirror and nothing had changed. If anything, I felt more liberated. My body felt a lot better rested.

Let me back up a few weeks. 

Have you ever reached the point where you’re fed up with the gym? Where your body and mind just don’t feel like working out? Your alarm goes off and you can’t imagine getting up and dragging yourself to the gym. Or the late afternoon rolls around and your body is just begging for a nap.

A few weeks ago, I reached this point. I absolutely resented going to the gym. It was then that I asked myself: why am I forcing myself to workout if my body doesn’t want to?

So I decided to take a whole week off from the gym, and what happened was both surprising and empowering: nothing. I actually felt better rested, my mind felt clearer, and I didn’t gain or lose a single pound.

I had more time to study, do work, and hang out with my friends. My diet was a lot more balanced and I felt relieved that I didn’t have to force myself to get up and go do something I was dreading. It was in one word, freeing. 

After my week of relaxation was over, I felt rejuvenated and ready to continue with my workouts. 

I Took A Week Off From Working Out Here's What Happened

I realized that taking time off from working out isn’t the end of the world.

In fact, it can be a whole new beginning for a fresh spurt of motivation. Taking breaks from the gym not only gives your body time to rest and recover from the constant stress it’s under, but it also strengthens your mental resolve. Before that week, I would have been afraid to take more than a few days off from the gym. But realizing that it really has little effect on performance, I feel like I can practice mindfulness and balance even more.  

The Bottom Line:

If you are tired, worn down, and sick of the gym, take a break. Listen to your body. Respect your body. It is smarter and more capable than you think. 

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Why I’m Over The Quick-Fix Health Industry (And You Should Be Too)

Reality check: quick-fixes don’t work.

The “quick-fix health industry”, by my personal definition, is any company/person that sells a product specifically designed to “make you skinny, fast”. It could be a diet pill, a spot-reducing device, an impossible-to-maintain nutrition regimen, or any other improbable (and likely miserable) manner of weight loss. I’m sure you’ve all seen or heard the following buzzy phrases:

  • “Lose 10lbs in 10 days!”
  • “It’s the diet your doctor doesn’t want you to know about!”
  • “This new, vibrating body corset will melt away belly fat!”

Important PSA/news flash/message for the public: it’s all nonsense. 

The Evidence

Exhibit A

First of all, my Facebook is absolutely plagued with a product line called, “It Works!”. The brief breakdown is as follows: the company sells body-toning products, and is most infamously known for their “crazy wraps.” As explained in this brilliant article by one James S., “the only thing It Works! works at doing is to make the owners wealthy by selling multilevel marketing weight loss bullshit.” 

Can anyone really explain to me how these products create “lasting” results, scientifically? And how can anyone possibly believe that this is sustainable?

Exhibit B

Garcinia Cambogia (GC): everyone’s favorite diet pill! (Sarcasm, my friends.)

You’ve likely seen the ads, read the reviews, and/or have been skeptical of its effectiveness. Here’s the real talk: in a Women’s Health article, author K. Aleisha Fetters explains that GC is not FDA regulated. In this article, Sue Decotiis, M.D, explains that “Most brands of garcinia cambogia extract diet pills, including big names, have failed independent laboratory quality and quantity testing.” Hmmm… Additionally, the pill hasn’t been tested against a placebo, which means theres no guarantee this actually works.

You might have seen crazy before/after pictures that lead you to think otherwise. If you have, just know that the pill and other products like it often steal images/information from reputable sources and call it their own. 

These are just two I chose out of infinite examples: juice cleanses, no-carb diets, and waist trainers are just as bad.

These fads typically get worse in the summer.

Watch our for headlines about dropping 20 pounds or getting a bikini body.

How To Get A Bikini Body:

  1. Go to the store.
  2. Buy a cute bikini.
  3. Go home and then put on the cute bikini.
  4. Congratulations! You have a bikini body.

Seriously, that’s all there is to it. You are beautiful and wonderful and fabulous, and beside that, you don’t want what these phony fitness fanatics are selling.

Okay, so let’s say you fell off the “healthy lifestyle” wagon (maybe you’ve forgotten what a vegetable looks like), and would like back on.

You came to the right place!

Fit University is here to offer you support, guidance, and an entire community of resources and allies.  We’re not trying to sell you a quick-fix; rather, we’re here to offer you fun and also sustainable ways to reach your goals.

Not only do we give you free access to workouts, wellness news, and fun-yet-healthy-yet-so-delcious recipes, but we’ve got each other’s backs, we hold each other accountable, and we provide unconditional fit-family love, even when you’re at your lowest.

health industry

So before you call up your local quick-fix provider, take a minute to think about what you deserve. Be wary of those who claim fast results with no effort. These products are ineffective in the long term. Also, they can take you down paths of disordered eating and diet yo-yos. Lifestyle changes are slow and steady, but with patience, you’ll achieve all you set out to accomplish. 

Instead of a quick-fix, you can try out a new class, incorporate more fruits and vegetables onto your plate, or/also take time out of your day for yoga or meditation

In conclusion, I implore you to stay away from these brands/companies/sellers, and I ask you to take care of yourself– sustainably. You’re worth it.

Additionally, if you find yourself in need of a support system, Fit University is a judgment-free ally. I can promise you that our events, chapters, and social media accounts are way more exciting than wrapping yourself in plastic wrap.

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Reality Check: You Don’t Have to Exercise for Hours to Be Healthy

General health guidelines suggest we all get at least 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per day. Disclaimer: I’m definitely no medical professional, nutritionist or anything of the sort, so these are just some thoughts and a reminder of this guideline.

To some of you, this may seem like nothing. To others, it may seem like a big step up from your current fitness routine. 

Well, first let’s establish what exactly qualifies. According to the Mayo Clinic, moderate aerobic exercise includes activities such as brisk walking, gentle cycling, swimming, and mowing the lawn. Surprised? I sure was. I always thought this meant things like jogging, things that feel like focused exercise.

In this very inspiring, but also equally influential, world of health and fitness, it’s easy to feel like you need to take these guidelines to the extreme. Ten (even three) mile runs, hour-long spin classes and yoga that makes you sweat buckets full – these are all great, but only if you are doing them because you want to. Moving your body should not be a chore. It should help relieve stress, not stress you out.

This is your reminder that doing no “real” exercise is okay. As long as you are getting in some daily movement, you can meet the requirements. You don’t have to break a serious sweat every day to be healthy.

This is not at all to say hitting the gym or going on a run are bad. It’s just meant to show you don’t have to go crazy in your quest for health.

The idea of a gym, fitness classes and the like only came about in the past fifteen to twenty years or so. Before that, exercise came in the form of simply moving around as part of one’s daily routine. And it can still be just that way. 

Takeaways

First, don’t ever feel like you need to force yourself to exercise. It’s simply not needed to be healthy. Just get some movement in daily. 

Second, working out should not be your number one priority – you have a fun to have, friends and family to spend time with, and dreams to chase.

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How Rowing Gave Me the Strength to Overcome My Eating Disorder

The strength I gained from rowing saved my life.

I’m no stranger to competition. In elementary and middle school, I found as many ways to use my competitiveness as I could manage, playing every sport you can think of. Soccer, field hockey, ice hockey, ballet, gymnastics, volleyball, ballroom dancing, and even horse-back riding.

Once I hit 8th grade, my competitive nature started to have a dark side. I grew more and more competitive against myself, and fell into a downward spiral, striving for perfection. Before I knew what was happening, anorexia had taken hold of my life.

This same spring in 8th grade, I tried rowing for the first time. The sport was focused on power, technique, and strength. It helped me find a reservoir of mental strength I didn’t know I had; it ended up being the thing that gave me the strength to beat the disease. Rowing made me competitive against my anorexia instead of against myself; I was intent on making myself the strongest I could be.

I started rowing in 8th grade through an introductory program offered by my high school. For six weeks I woke up three days a week at 5:15 am to get to practice by 5:45 am so I could get to classes by 8 am.

Surprisingly, the early mornings weren’t a negative to me. They were a positive. 

Waking up early wasn’t hard, and the sport was so rewarding that I realized I wanted to continue even after the six week season ended. 

Once, I was told to draw a pie chart that diagramed the proportion time I spent thinking about food, weight, and looks in comparison to family, friends, and my hobbies. At the lowest point, my thoughts about food took up 1/3 of my mentality. It was overpowering my mind. And, yet when I rowed, all that chatter quieted down; all I would focus on was taking the next stroke. Following the person in front of me, one stroke at a time. There was no space for negativity, compulsive thoughts about food, or plans to skip my next meal when I was carrying a heavy boat or trying to remain in sync with my teammates.

 

It didn’t take me long to realize rowing was a sport for crazy people. It took me even less time to know I wanted to be crazy with them. 

In Boston, rowing on the Charles River has given me exposure to meet a diverse group of people who share a passion for being on the water. Meeting people I felt connected with at Radcliffe, CRI, or Cambridge Boating Club, I quickly learned I had stumbled into a fantastic and small world full of extremely competitive, supportive, and crazy people. I loved it. 

On a scientific level, rowing was beneficial not only because it helped regulate my stress levels, but also because it builds bone density. A major consequence of anorexia is osteoporosis, a disease characterized by weak, brittle bones that occurs from lack of nutrition.

Of course, I didn’t know this when I discovered rowing, and it wasn’t a factor in my choice to stick with it. That makes me so grateful for my decision. Rowing was helping me to build myself up for the future at a time when I was preoccupied with destroying myself in the present. 

After finishing my freshman year, I switched to private school and had the opportunity to row on the school’s team. By the end of that season, I had wholly recovered from anorexia, and I credit a good part of that recovery to rowing. Now, rowing does for me what my disorder used to: it helps me to cultivate laser focus and allows me to be competitive with myself. 

And now, I’m still rowing in college. The small rower I was in middle school no longer exists. Now, instead of worrying about eating too much, I worry about not eating enough.The possibilities of my body are endless– why would I want to ever hold myself back by not eating enough? 

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I Thought My Eating Disorder was “Healthy Eating”

This article was contributed by Bree from Simple Healthy Eats. Bree is a health coach and health food blogger. Check out her blog and drool-worthy Instagram for more.

I never thought it’d happen to me.

I didn’t start calling it an eating disorder until a few months ago. To be honest, I think I was in denial. I thought I was completely in control of my diet, and I thought an eating disorder could never happen to me… Sure, I read about plenty of eating disorders, but for some reason I was blind to my own. I knew I was binge eating and that was pretty bad, but I never believed I was dealing with something more than just overeating. Except I was, and now I know my eating disorder was happening in secret all along.

Denial, Denial, Denial

My eating disorder started the moment I began obsessively counting the calories and macros in an app on my phone, the moment I was feeling anxiety about spending nights away from home without access to “my” food. I was approached by a woman in the gym locker room who told me that I should be careful, and that her daughter had recovered from an eating disorder when she was younger. What did I do? I thanked her for her kindness in reaching out to me and assured her nothing was wrong, then I left in disbelief.

I kept working out like crazy, tracking my macros, and getting more and more obsessive over my weight loss. I thought she just didn’t understand that I was “healthy” and “fit”. I was “in control” of my own body – there was no way she knew anything about me. To be honest, I was kind of upset the whole thing even happened.

This was 4 years ago.

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My Obsession with Weight Loss

When I look back, I know I believed with my whole heart that I was healthy. I had a six pack, my thighs didn’t touch, and I was lifting weights like I had never been able to in my whole life. I characterized my health by how skinny I was, and how loose my clothes fit. I was finally losing all the weight I wanted. I was one of those skinny girls I always wanted to be. I thought I was healthy and that the woman in the locker room, who reached out to me, just didn’t understand. She couldn’t possibly know the insecure place I came from, that all I ever wanted as a little girl was to be skinny, that I finally had the dream body I’d always wanted.

But she was RIGHT. Looking back I one hundred thousand percent had an eating disorder, but I didn’t know it. I was starving myself, overexercising, and losing my sanity to negative self criticism a little more every single day.

When I think about what I really did to myself, losing my sanity feels like an understatement. I was down right obsessed with weight loss. It was like no matter how much weight I lost, I wasn’t good enough. I remember seeing 106 on the scale at one point. I’m 5.5″ and I started my journey at 140 pounds. The weight loss was crazy to say the least, and 106 pounds wasn’t a healthy weight for me at all. Now I’d say I’m somewhere in the 125 pound range, but I haven’t weighed myself in a while. I don’t need to.

I Hated My Body and My Whole Life

If I look back, I know my obsession absolutely stemmed from my insecurities growing up. For almost my entire life, I can remember wanting to be skinnier. I tried dieting since I was in 5th grade, and I was constantly comparing myself to the pretty, skinny girls around me. I remember being in middle school and crying at night because I hated my body so much. I swore I’d never eat cookies again almost every single night; I wanted to stop eating sweets so that I could be pretty and skinny like the girls I was comparing myself to. But instead of keeping that promise, I’d only get more discouraged with my lack of willpower. I was ashamed that I couldn’t stop eating cookies, no matter how hard I tried. My torturous relationship with food was a vicious cycle of restricting myself from my favorite treats, then binging on the very food I was depriving myself of.

At first, losing weight was fine. I wasn’t overweight, but losing a few pounds wouldn’t make me underweight either. I started learning about nutrition and I gradually lost weight by working out and eating healthier. It was all good, and I felt pretty amazing about myself for being able to successfully lose weight for the first time in my life.

However, once I got to my goal weight, after losing 15 pounds, that wasn’t enough. I was looking at the fitness models I was comparing myself to, and I definitely didn’t look like them. I had to be skinnier. Leaner. Stronger. Better. It was like no matter what I did, I wasn’t good enough. I became a monster inside, and I had no mercy on myself. I stopped treating myself with kindness and I ignored all my basic needs in order to reach the extreme body image goals I had in my head.

I Was Starving Myself

My routine was insane.

I don’t know how I did it for as long as I did. I remember getting up early to go to the gym and do my lifting routine before I drove an hour to work. I had my 400 calorie dinner early the night before, went to bed hungry, woke up the next day still hungry, worked out, and then I wouldn’t even let myself eat my grossly under-nourishing breakfast until I got to work.

I was torturing myself, punishing myself in fact, in order to be skinny and “good enough”.

Finally, something had to break. I started giving in to my hunger by eating part of my breakfast (a banana) in the car instead of waiting until I got to work… because I was SO hungry and I felt like I couldn’t live another minute without eating. My hunger was so bad that I was eating both my breakfast and lunch as soon as I got to work at 9 am – but I somehow convinced myself everything was fine.

Then, when I got so beyond hungry that I couldn’t take it, I’d give in and buy an organic granola bar from the vending machine. But because I felt so guilty about not sticking to my calorie count, I’d only allow myself to eat half of it.

I was eating hundreds and hundreds of calories less than I actually needed to be eating because a fitness calculator told me I could only eat ‘x’ amount of calories if I wanted to lose weight. I wasn’t eating to support my workouts and I was literally starving myself. No wonder I was always exhausted, cold all of the time, and slowly losing myself to an eating disorder every single day.

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Becoming a Warrior

Some people might read this and think: Wow, I’m only trying to eat less cookies. My life isn’t like that at all. And some women might think: Wow that’s exactly like my storyBut either way, there’s something important to learn from my eating disorder.

It’s that no matter what your goals are, if you notice an obsession starting, it’s so incredibly important to recognize the signs and to seek help. An eating disorder is always knocking on the door when weight loss becomes an obsession, and an eating disorder is not something I would ever wish on anyone.

But don’t worry, there is a happy ending. It’s absolutely possible to heal from and eating disorder, and now I practice self love every single day. Recovering from an eating disorder is a journey and treating yourself with kindness is absolutely the most amazing way to heal from taking such a huge mental and physical toll on your body.

So what happened? I stopped counting calories and I lost my abs, but I gained my LIFE back.

I told my boyfriend all of the horrible things I had put myself through mentally and physically… and now he’s helping me love myself more every single day. Personally, I don’t think recovery has an end point, but I also think most people with an eating disorder would say that too. It’s a living journey, like a scar on your body, but it acts more like a scar on your soul. The wound will heal, but it’ll always kind of be there. The pain I went through reminds me that I’m a warrior– that I battled for myself, and I won.

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This card is with me always.

My boyfriend, Mick, made this card for me so that I’ll always remember to be happy with myself. He made me write, “I’m happy because I love my body” then he laminated it for me. Now, I keep it with me every day as a reminder to love myself because I am loved.

This little act of kindness WORKS for me. When I’m feeling down, I hold that card close because I can feel the emotion and confidence in those words. I AM happy, because I LOVE my body. This card proves that you always have the option to change your mind and start loving your body – and believe that you can start that right now! <3

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Eating Disorder Prevention

I’m thankful to be able to share my story, and to be able to use my blog, Simple Healthy Eats as my way to empower other young women, so they can see their own eating disorder and stop it in it’s tracks, heal from one they’ve already discovered, or even prevent one from happening in the first place.

If you feel like your obsession with weight loss is starting to turn for the worst, it’s never too late to get help – the best place to go is the National Eating Disorders Association’s website. No matter if you have an eating disorder already, or are simply afraid that it might be happening, please tell someone. At the very least you can absolutely talk to me. Send me a message here.

xoxo,

Bree

For further information on eating disorders and to learn where to get professional help, please visit the National Eating Disorders Association’s website.

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I Refuse to Live Up to Your Summer Body

All bodies are summer bodies, despite what the media wants you to think.

The media’s attention is revolved around the way we look.

When it is summertime, we emphasize visibly thin and muscular people. We call this a “summer body”, as if only this lean physique is appropriate for summer clothes and activities. Any other body doesn’t belong in the summer. In the wintertime, we still emphasize the look of summer, as if we have to look a certain way to prepare for it.

“Summer bodies are made in the winter.”

We’ve all heard that one before.

Why are we advertising the summer body as something so important? What are our fall, winter, and spring bodies? What even are “summer bodies” and why do they have to be made at all?

I mean, think about it:

Why should I feel bad about my physical strength and health not being as visible because I have more body fat than the media’s image?

Why can’t I love my body every season, every hour, every minute and second of the day?

Why do I have to feel the need to change my body to enjoy a beautiful, fun, activity-filled season?

Why can’t all bodies thrive in the summer?

These beliefs can have some negative consequences.

We’re willing to extremes where the way we look begins to overshadow the unhealthy measures we take to get there. Looks become more important than health.

I overcame my struggle with body image, and you can too.

It took me almost three years to lose 20 pounds of body fat and maintain it. It took this long because of some of the side affects that come with having PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome). I am strict with my meal prep and exercise. I teach group fitness classes, too. But I also like to enjoy some ice cream or a piece of chocolate here and there, and I should not feel the need to make myself go crazy over it.

My point is, no matter how crazy the marketing gets about working to get your summer body in the winter, it is completely unrealistic to change your entire body in the span of a season, and sets people up for failure. Everyone’s body works differently. Health looks different on every person.

I have a twin sister who is half my size, and I would always compare my body to hers. I would feel bad about myself because of it; but then I realized that realistically, I will never be her size. Our body frames are completely different and I have to accept that. I can continue to stay healthy and get stronger every day, but I should not feel bad about the way my good health looks on me just because I don’t fit the stereotypical “summer body”.

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Whenever I see ads about prepping your summer body in the winter, or getting a “beach body”, I start to feel self-conscious and ultimately terrible about myself. I feel inadequate. But I’ve learned to work through it, and I remind myself that:

  1. Everyone’s body is NATURALLY different, so some have that smaller leaner body and some don’t and they’re both still perfectly healthy.
  2. My body is strong and beautiful and serves me well every day, even though I do not display all the “cuts, washboard abs, and toned muscles” of the models in the ads.

It’s easy to get caught up in the media and forget that appearances are a benefit that develop over time, sure—but our first goal is to get strong and healthy, rather than doing whatever we can to look “thin” or have a “summer body”.

When I show off my body, I’m trying to say, “Look at the muscle that I built,” not that the muscle makes me look like all the models in the media. I am not weight training or doing cardio to look petite, thin, or for others. I’m doing it to be strong and empowered myself.

I flaunt my body to say “look at the strength I’ve gained through my hard work” and not for people to compare and feel bad, or to go crazy to do what they can to look my certain way.

The negativity around body image today is really a problem.

For people who already suffer from a distorted body image, marketing can make it even more difficult to overcome.

According to www.eatingdisorderhope.com:

“Only one in five women are satisfied with their body, and that 47% of 5th-12th grade girls reported wanting to lose weight after looking through magazines…Advertising for the summer season has, over the years begun to promote an unrealistic and unhealthy standard for women to achieve the perfect bikini body, which is represented as being very tan, thin and toned.”

Yeah, you read that right: 47%.

That is a HUGE number of women feeling negatively about their bodies. Not to mention the pressure on males, which is also harsh and not brought to light as often as it should be. When you have a daughter or a son, is that the message you want to promote to them? That they should feel the need to “fix” their bodies? Maybe even to a point where they hide treats they eat from you because of the pressure they feel? Where they will feel that self-conscious about enjoying themselves once in a while?

Let’s talk about the Fiji study for one minute.

In the South Pacific culture, it’s considered worrisome for people to lose a ton of weight and it’s an insult to be called “thin”. Before TV and the electronic media arrived in Fiji, women had no problems with their appearance, and didn’t think there was anything wrong with their bodies. After TV arrived to Fiji in 1995, eating disorders (which were previously nonexistent) soared in prevalence after watching American television. Girls began to think of themselves as fat and believed that they had to lose weight. So they purged and began to act on other unhealthy weight loss behaviors. This is exactly what summer body promotion is doing—making people feel badly about themselves, and believe that their body as it is, all year round, is not good enough.

So let’s think about how we can fix these misconceptions and how we, as a society, can heal.

How do we tell hard working and sleep deprived parents, or hardworking students, that the way they look is good enough? Many of them already do all they can with their time to stay healthy and fit and succeed in other aspects of life. The fact is, our bodies change. Our bodies change when we have kids, our bodies change as we age.

In many cases, it is completely unhealthy to have a low body fat percentage. Body fat is what protects your baby if you become pregnant. And for both males and females, body fat is necessary to protect and cushion your organs.

Promoting a summer body is not the only reason the way we’re thinking about our bodies causes trauma. However, it is a huge influence on us that we see every winter: in ads, in our email inboxes, and on TV. It becomes a significant contribution to negative body image because we see “beach body” and “summer body” everywhere we look.

My takeaway?

I do not need to work on a “summer body”, I already have a great body that will look great in any weather.

Mind you, I am a beautiful size 8 or sometimes 10. I have muscles, I have strength, I have power, and I have a healthy heart. No, my muscles are not all that visible, but the health is 100% there and I will be unapologetic for it.

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I will not live up to your summer body.

If I did, I would have to take extreme unhealthy measures. If I did, I would lose all my muscles and good health I worked for. My body is not your body. My summer body is most definitely not YOUR summer body. Consistency, not extremity, of good health is key.

Check out these articles too:

I Was Body Image Obsessed Since Grade School: Here’s How I Finally Found Peace

From Image Obsessed to Body Peace

I’ve always loved being outdoors. As a kid, I grew up in a cul-de-sac and I was always outside. I would follow my older brother and his friends around, attempting to play any sport they were: I tried basketball, skating, biking, and even snowboarding when we went on family vacations.

I soon developed my own passion for horse-back riding. It’s an expensive sport, so I didn’t compete often. But I loved taking lessons anyway. I think I cried myself to sleep a few times because my mom wouldn’t buy me a horse– and let’s be real, I’ll probably always shed a tear every Christmas when there’s no pony waiting by the tree with a bow on it.

 

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When I was in 3rd grade, I started to get a little chubby. I didn’t realize at the time, but the reason for my weight gain was probably a steroid medicine my doctor had put me on for a really bad case of bronchitis. But I was only in 3rd grade, and still a kid– it wasn’t until a boy at school called me fat that I had even noticed.

And my struggle with body image began. I started to notice that I was always just a little bigger than my friends; and I began the treacherous “yo-yo diet” struggle.

Seriously: in the 5th grade I went with my mom to a weight loss center. The people working there must’ve thought my mother was crazy or just being mean. But it was me who was so aware of and worried about my weight. At the tender age of 11, I knew that my body wasn’t how I wanted it to be and that I wanted to “be on a diet” to make myself slimmer.

Flash forward to my growth spurt. I started to even out, as naturally kids’  bodies do, but the yo-yo dieting continued. In high school, I was still at it and trying to lose weight. I got a gym membership when I turned 16, and I would still try to diet when the scale wasn’t where I thought it should be.

The 6 months leading up to college were when it was probably at its worst: I was trying to lose as much weight as possible before I thought I would inevitably gain the freshman 15. To me, this made sense. Throughout freshman year, I tried to prevent those few extra pounds persistently. It became an unhealthy obsession of counting calories and working out that distracted from school and enjoying my everyday life.

It wasn’t until my sophomore year in college that I decided to make peace with my body.

The scale would jump up and down but it always seemed to stick around a certain number. So that’s it, I said to myself, I have to accept that my body is happiest when I am at that weight. I finally stopped restricting myself with my diet and instead decided to live “80/20”: make healthy choices 80% of the time and 20% of the time indulge (in moderation).

Instead of dieting and exercising, I decided I wanted to live a healthy lifestyle. And it worked– I loved it, and I felt happier and more balanced than ever. This experience eventually lead me to deciding to double major in Exercise Science and Dietetics, and hopefully one day soon, I will become a Registered Dietitian helping others chose to live an active, healthy lifestyle. 

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When I started my journey with the fitness part of this lifestyle change, the biggest thing for me was trying a bunch of different workouts so I wasn’t ever bored with my routine. I’ve tried everything from kickboxing to Zumba to lifting to yoga.

Overall, though, I would say my favorite workouts are ones I do with a friend. The gym can get pretty monotonous, so grabbing my roommate or calling one of my best friends up to go to a yoga class makes it extra fun. Plus, they help keep you accountable!

I used to really like going to group fitness classes on campus or at a local fitness studio- I tend to go through phases. A big group of my sorority sisters used to go to a bootcamp on campus, and it was so much fun! We all saw such fast results because we would push each other to go every week.

I even tried a 7.1-mile obstacle course race with my friend Megan last year! (Peep the post mud-race photo.)

Right now I’ve been into the different “guides” trend. One of my best friends from middle school @gertnergrind came out with a glutes guide which has been literally kicking my butt.

I believe its good to switch up my routine to make sure I’m challenging my body in different ways and to keep from getting burnt out. I also couldn’t finish an about me without mentioning my favorite workout partner – Doobie. My rescue pup who also rescued me a little bit.

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So that’s a little bit about my journey. As of now, I’m really excited to start contributing to Fit University– I feel like this is a place where like minded college students came come and not feel left out of the party scene. Why? Because it’s a big health/fitness party! Be on the lookout for some recipes, tips & tricks, and probably more dog pics from me. And if you want to see more, follow my foodie Instagram @college_bitez!

Check out these articles too:

I Went A Year Without Taking A Rest Day.

Yes, a whole year. Those Nike’s have gotten their fair share of wear and tear.

Well, ok not quite—11 months and 20 days. Nearly made it. That one-year mark was sinfully close, and I was tempted out of my mind to hit that 365-day mark. But I’m actually really proud of myself that I didn’t.

Why tell you this seemingly irrelevant, immensely personal aspect of my life? Simple: I’m not the only one who’s done this.

The fact that more than one human being would span a year of their lives without a day off from exercise might seem crazy to you, especially if you don’t exercise regularly or aren’t particularly interested in fitness. I mean, for many people, it’s hard to motivate follow-through on gym trips even once or twice a week.

That used to be the case for me, too. There was a time when I claimed I would never be someone who enjoyed exercise. I joked with friends about it and expressed extreme distaste when people invited me out on runs, to workout-related on-campus events, or to attend a yoga class at a nearby studio.

Then, I stumbled upon exercise that I enjoyed. I attended a few group fitness classes on a whim, and found that I loved not only participating in group exercise, but doing cardio and strength moves that didn’t involve monotonous gym machines.

From there, I fell in love with it. I was making goals and achieving them. Like a BOSS. And I felt great. I was more productive, emotionally balanced, and readily equipped to deal with the myriad of life’s daily stressors and unpredictability.

So I exercised more. And more. And more and more and more, and eventually I got really good at it. I even became a fitness instructor. (Don’t get me wrong—I don’t regret any of this. I’m still a fitness instructor, and I love every second of it.)

I started to work out every single day (without exception) last August, making sure I planned time for it. “Not exercising” didn’t even occur to me as an option. If there wasn’t a fitness class available for sign-up, I planned out an individual workout. If there was, you bet I’d be there.

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I’m the one on the left. Loving the sweat, as usual

I didn’t even think about the fact that I wasn’t taking rest days. I was feeling great! Moving, lifting weights, running, jump-squatting, and getting stronger all the while. Until, of course, I wasn’t. My body got tired, but I didn’t know enough to make the connection as to why it was feeling that way.

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Exercise still makes me feel GREAT! That will never change.

Here’s what I did know: exercise made me feel happy, confident, and empowered. So when I felt worn down and tired, I exercised to combat those weary feelings. And it did make me feel better—briefly. I would feel better until my body got over the endorphin high and (of course) became tired again. But that part wasn’t obvious to me. What was obvious was the rush I felt when I finished a tough workout. So, logically, I chased that rush with fierce determination, day in and day out.

I didn’t realize it, but I had become addicted to exercise.

This happens to a lot of people. And it’s time we talk about it. It’s time we mention, discuss, and hopefully learn to adequately address the rampant affliction that’s hitting young adults everywhere: exercise addiction.

You can’t tell me that this is not true. Not only have I experienced it firsthand, as I’ve explained to you above, I’ve also witnessed it festering in and tainting a number of otherwise positive environments. My campus gym? Rampant with it. My fitness instructor coworkers? Horribly infected. The accounts that follow my Instagram? Wretched with signs of belonging to hopeless addicts.

Let me get one thing straight: it’s not the people themselves that are wretched. It’s the addiction. It sucks. It seriously, seriously sucks. I mean, it’s a complex issue—I love exercise! And unlike alcohol, exercise is not something you should cut from your life entirely. Refraining from exercise entirely is not only unrealistic (you’ve gotta run to catch the bus now and then, maybe you want to go hiking one day, etc.) but also not at all recommended for your mental, emotional, or physical health.

Unlike alcohol, exercise doesn’t result in horrible hangovers, but instead boosts your productivity, mood, and overall vivacity.

Unlike alcohol, exercise addiction is not an affliction that is openly talked about and commonly treated.

Unlike alcohol, exercise addiction is not looked down upon by society and your peers (in fact, I’d argue that it’s actually admired).

Alternatively, like alcohol addiction, exercise addiction has the potential to take over your life. Like other addiction, exercise addiction has the potential to ruin your relationships, aspirations, and emotional stability. Like other addiction, exercise addiction is difficult to overcome. Like other addiction, recovery from exercise addiction involves withdrawal, emotional tumult, and potentially even medical bills.

Like other addiction, exercise addiction can cause serious and irreversible harm to your body.

Really? you’re thinking. I can end up in the hospital from getting too much exercise? Yes.

Ok, not like “I’m super fit, oh no I’m going to die!” No. More like “I’ve been overextending my body for 5 years now and keep running on two stress fractures and a heart rate that’s too low.”

Yeah, then you might.

I’ve witnessed consequences happen on less extreme, short-term scales, too. I have friends who, on sudden and dramatic plans to lose weight, overexercised for a couple of months and neglected to take rest days. These friends experienced some unsavory consequences including (but not limited to) stress fractures, sprains, and bone density changes.

So it can happen. And it does. Which is why it’s important that people know about it so that they can catch it before they, too, fall into a worsening addiction that’s hard to shake.

You might be wondering: who am I to be preaching all of this?

“Hi, my name is Holly and I am an exercise addict.”

CHORUS: Hi, Holly.

Ha, ha. But I mean, I just told you that I almost made it a year without giving my body a rest. So why listen to me? I don’t know what I’m talking about.

Ok, that may be true, but I do have experience; and I’m writing this because I’m hoping that someone out there can learn from it. I’m hoping that someone—whether it’s someone who’s planning on an extreme diet and exercise crash regimen to lose weight, or a fitness instructor who’s genuinely just lost his or her balance somewhere along the way—decides not to chronically overexercise because they’ve learned a bit from my mistakes.

Read about what constitutes overexercise here.

So. Based on my experience:

What happens to you when you don’t let your body rest?

  1. You feel tired.

    (Duh.) My body’s baseline feeling became just that: “worn out”. Notice that I didn’t say “sore”—it didn’t feel like muscle soreness. I experienced daily aches and pains and a general feeling of overuse, but my muscles wouldn’t get sore like they used to. I’m not sure why this is (I’m not a doctor) but I do know that once I did take that rest day, I was astonished at what it felt like to live in a body that wasn’t exhausted.

    It actually stressed me out. Why do I have all this energy? Should I do something to use it? What can I do to use it up? With my experience of “normalcy” at exhaustion, I was itching to try and get there again, itching to try and feel normal. This, I now know, isn’t healthy. “Normal” shouldn’t equate to “tired” in a healthy individual. Yes, it happens, and actually needs to in order to get stronger. But it shouldn’t by any means be a constant. So I went through with the rest, and learned something else along the way: change, in any and all forms, requires feelings of discomfort. However, these feelings do eventually subside, and something else good just might come of it.

  2. You get really protective over your time at the gym, and snap at people who “get in your way”.

    I was exercising every day, and I would not let anyone obstruct that. If people did, or if a friend suggested that I skip it, I would become genuinely upset. The gym was my time, and no one was going to take it from me. This mindset steadily grew into an encroaching “all-or-nothing” attitude in which my time at the gym was sacred. I was going to make it perfect, no matter what.

  3. You miss out on opportunities and experiences because you decide you’d rather exercise instead.

    So say I’d planned to exercise at 10 AM on Sunday morning. I was all signed up for my class and ready to go. Then, a friend planned a brunch at that same time and invited me to join her and some people I’d wanted to get to know. No way I’d choose to go to the brunch. I’d already planned to go have my sacred gym hour, and no one was going to get in my way, remember? Same thing applied in this scenario. Forget about making those new friendships—I’d choose to miss the brunch, every time.

  4. You stress out a lot over when you will exercise and if it will be “enough”.

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    Me after I tried out Bolly X (similar to Zumba); I look carefree, but I  stressed a lot over the fact that the dancing didn’t make me feel exhausted, instead of just enjoying the day.

    Schedules don’t always work out. What if something came up that drove a wedge into the time I’d dedicated to my workout? It was always a possibility, and always a worry.

    And like I said, once I did make it there, that hour was sacred and perfect. And if I’d signed up for a new type of class, I couldn’t be sure if the workout would be “enough” for my level of fitness. Leading up to the experience, I’d be stressed that I wouldn’t get enough of a workout out of the hour. What if it was too easy? What if I didn’t experience that post-workout high I so ardently chased? That would suck. So I’d worry, until I of course had a tough workout again and then it was okay.

    The problem with this mentality of exercise being “enough” is that it’s an ever-increasing scale with no end goal. So what have I learned? There doesn’t need to be a standard of “enough” exercise, unless it’s for health-related reasons—do what is best for your body and what you feel like you want to. Do what makes you feel good. The end. For me right now, that’s still a lot of exercise. I’m still intending to stay fit, that hasn’t changed. But if I’m not working out to the point of exhaustion every time, I no longer feel anxious about it. It’s okay—the workout was fun, anyway, even if it wouldn’t have hit my previous standard of “enough”.

What happens when you take a rest day after a year of neglecting to do so?

  1. You cry.

    I cried twice. It was an emotional day, in a lot of ways. Not only did I realize how reliant I’d become, I was also experiencing some anxiety and, frankly, panic. Tumultuous, indeed.

  2. Your body thinks it can feel itself getting weaker from just one day.

    This was a trick of my mind: in all probability, my body was getting stronger. Finally, finally, I was letting it use its recovery time towards building itself up, rather than scrambling to recuperate after being repeatedly broken down. But the power of perception wasn’t on my side, and I thought I would lose out on the progress I’d made at the gym. The verdict? I did not.

  3. Your muscles actually ache from not being used.

    Weird, but true.

  4. You’re hyper-aware of your body and how strong it is.

    After that year of exercise, I’m pretty dang strong. I found my arms and abs flexing without realizing it. Additionally, I was increasingly conscious of how much work I could be doing, but was choosing not to. The contrast drove me insane.

  5. You try to get out of it.

    This is hard for me to admit, but I did almost give up. A friend of mine teaches tabata at my campus gym and texted me that day to ask if I was going to her class. I told her I was. In the moment, it was easy to make excuses. I ended up planning on going to the high-intensity tabata class in the late afternoon, making the contention that it was of course a positive choice: I loved that class, and had gone every week. So it was ok. I was making a decision for my own enjoyment, indulging in a “treat yoself” moment. (False.)

    I told myself I’d rest another day (knowing full well I wouldn’t) and my brain conveniently blocked out the warning signs that I was making a choice that was potentially bad for me.

    The class was (in)conveniently cancelled. When I found out, at first I was angry. Furious, even. My excuses had been outed. Something had gotten in my way. At that point, I knew I couldn’t hide it anymore—I had a problem. In order to still exercise and not take my rest day, I’d have to work much harder to come up with a plan. I’d have to premeditate my negligent, self-sabotaging decision to give up. I’d promised myself rest, and instead I would be actively denying myself from it. If I exercised I would have to feel disappointed and weak, out of control, and addicted, rather than proud, positive, and strong. So I followed through with it, and wow I’m glad I did.

  1. You’re immensely anxious.

    That being said, it wasn’t easy. Like you can probably already glean from the previous bullet points, I was a miserable ball of moving tension.

  2. You’re really hungry.

    Ok, so I’m not sure if this happens to everybody who experiences this. But it happened to me. I was hungry all day, and I ate just as much (if not more) than I usually did with exercise. Why? I still don’t know. What I know is that I hated it, and I grew really frustrated trying to understand why my body was craving food when I didn’t “need” the calories I usually did. Read here about why healthy eating is actually NOT about the calories here.

  3. You have tons more energy than you’re used to.

    This is something I was told would happen, but didn’t believe. Well, it’s 100% true. It’s not jittery energy, either, like when you drink too much coffee, but instead is genuine vivacity. So if you’re on the fence, try it. It’s pretty great. On the day itself, of course, I wasn’t happy and the energy wasn’t all positive. But it was there, and my workout the following day was AMAZINGLY motivating and powerful. It’s amazing what a little rest can do.

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What’s in the future for me? Hopefully, a future where I find balance and moderation with exercise. I’m hoping for a future where I make fitness-related goals for myself and work to achieve them while remaining within the scope of my physical and mental health. Undoubtedly, this will take work and practice. I’m getting there.

I’d love to chat about it, if you’re interested or experiencing something similar.

Not sure if you’re experiencing exercise addiction?

My advice is to take a step back and evaluate. What happens when you can’t exercise? Is your impression of your exercise inextricably tied to the way you view your day overall? Is a day with exercise a “good day” and a day without exercise a “bad day”? Are you taking rest days? If you are concerned that you might be addicted to exercise, consult a medical professional.

Or, you know, take a rest day. And don’t wait a year to do it, either.

DISCLAIMER. Again: I AM NOT A DOCTOR. I am a college student who studies a non-scientific subject and overexercises. Therefore I am by no means a professional.

There’s A Hidden Health Crisis On University Campuses Around The U.S., And You Should Know.

Let’s talk eating disorders.

It is December. One of the most beautiful, event-filled months of the year. The holidays are fast-approaching, the year is finally coming to a close, and we can all taste the beginning of a glorious new year. We’re spending much-needed time with the friends we’ve been separated from all semester, and with the family we’ve missed so much. We can breathe a sigh of relief: finals are over.

It’s also the time you start to hear friends and family members say some upsetting things around the dinner table.

These could sound innocent, like, “Oh my God, I better stop eating now- I want to be able to fit into my pants tomorrow!” or “Ugh, I am going to have to add an hour to my workout tomorrow to work off this dessert.” It could even be guilt-clouded, like: “I have been so good until today…” as they stare at their licked-clean plate of pie. To you, these things might sound harmless. But it’s important to pay attention:

eating disordersHow we discuss food matters.

If you’re someone who has struggled with an eating disorder, it’s difficult to just laugh and joke around about these statements. To you, they are all too real.

People who struggle with eating disorders might have thoughts such as these running through their mind all day. Someone in recovery could finally be doing well and letting go of restrictions they’ve been imposing on themselves, only to be set back as soon as they hear a statement as seemingly innocent as the ones above.

Eating disorders are psychological; you can’t know if someone has one just by looking at them, which is exactly why it is best to completely avoid statements that associate guilt with food. This is true for your own mental health as well. Why feel guilty and contribute to our toxic culture of comparison when you can preach positivity instead?

It is a widespread misconception that having an eating disorder such as anorexia, bulimia or other eating disorder is simply a choice an individual (man or woman) makes, and could be reversed if “he/she would just eat”. This is horribly inaccurate. Mental health is just as important, and sometimes difficult to manage, as physical health. No one chooses to get cancer, in the same way that no one chooses to struggle through an eating disorder. From the outside, you do not see the constant battle the person is going through with everyday things such as meals, exercise, and self-confidence. Having meals with others can be very difficult and stressful, and the person could be battling an internal conflict and experiencing discomfort that you can’t always see. Being a college student struggling with this (and being away from home) can be especially difficult.

Eating disorders do not discriminate. You never know who is starving themselves, purging their food, or exercising excessively, thinking they will be happy with themselves once they achieve the endlessly unattainable ideal of “skinny.” (If this sounds like you, let me let you in on a secret: The cycle continues. You never feel happy continuing with the cycle. Recovery is the first step towards happy. And it can be a long journey, but one that’s so worth taking.)

Early on this semester, I became friends with a girl named Meg Mottola through the Stony Brook Running Club. While getting to know her, I learned about her passion for educating others about eating disorders.

For most of my life, I have struggled with body image, and I developed an eating disorder early on in college after experiencing a lot of weight gain. I read her Facebook posts about her experience and recovery, and I knew I was not alone. Someone went through, and is going through, similar experiences to my own, in the same collegiate setting. Meg is a junior at Stony Brook majoring in Psychology and plans on pursuing a Master’s in Sports Psychology. She has experienced living with an eating disorder in college, and is on the journey to recovery. I asked her a few questions to learn more about her experience.

It is my hope that those reading this can learn something valuable from her words, just like I did.

Do you think there is enough education available for those looking to learn about eating disorders? Why do you think this education is important, especially on college campuses?

“Yes, I do think that is enough education available for people to learn about ED’s. Do I think we are utilizing the education available? No.

I think many people are naive to just how destructive and deadly these disorders are. Many turn a blind eye, including colleges. There are very few colleges that have specialized services for students struggling with these disorders. Typical counseling and psychological services sometimes aren’t enough. Students that do struggle with these disorders are referred to off campus professionals. While that can be great, it isn’t always conducive. Insurance often denies care to people with eating disorders until they are deemed ‘sick enough’ and by that point it could be too late. Having free services on campus is a life-saver to these students but without professionals being educated and having some sort of training, these students are not having their needs met.

It is so important to educate others simply because this disorder has the highest death rate of any psychological illness. Every 62 minutes someone with this disease dies (Eating Disorders Coalition). Eating disorders on college campuses are rising in prevalence each and every year. Educating others (including students) on how to recognize signs and symptoms, how to approach a friend, and how to support a friend, would allow those who suffer to not feel alone and to feel like their struggles are valid.

There is such a stigma on eating disorders which makes sufferers feel ashamed and as a result they hide their disorder. So by educating, we could get rid of that stigma that those who struggle aren’t just doing it for attention or because they’re vain. It is not just a women’s disorder, and it isn’t JUST about the food and weight.

Also, education could help lead to prevention, which is HUGE. Treating eating disorders is complex and finding a cure has been SO difficult. Instead, we need to focus on prevention and education. These things are key when it comes to that. Awareness campaigns and groups could be implemented on campus. I know certain college campuses have student-run groups that help provide support and body positivity to those who struggle with eating disorders or other issues that are body-image related. National Eating Disorder Awareness Week (which is annually held every February) is a perfect opportunity for colleges to get their students involved in raising awareness and being advocates for those with eating disorders.”

Our Fit University chapter @ Stony Brook will raise awareness in February.

Share a bit about your experience and what it is like recovering in a college setting.

“Recovering in college was extremely difficult. I’ve been in recovery from anorexia and exercise addiction for 7 years now. When I first came to school 4 years ago, I had just left treatment for the 3rd time. There were no specialists at my school and I could barely afford to see an outpatient team. I remember trying to see a professional on campus and her first question to me was, “Wait, so you still have an eating disorder?” I was baffled that someone who apparently was a professional in the psychology field could even say that. With proper education, people would know that this disorder doesn’t just go away one day. It is a process.

eating disordersRecovery is a journey. Coming onto a college campus, I would constantly see and hear phrases like “freshman 15 this”, “don’t eat that”, “choose this option”, “stay away from crap”, “avoid these foods”, “X is bad and Y is good” – all over the campus dining halls.

First of all, a certain food can’t be morally good or bad. When we label food that way we begin to think we are essentially good or bad too based on what we eat. If we stopped labeling food, the way we view it might change. Also, every student has different needs, but on college campuses especially. I think it’s safe to say that we’re targeting only one side of the population, and the way we interact with food isn’t at all suited for those either experiencing or in recovery from an eating disorder. It actually is an eating disorder sufferer’s worst nightmare.

These exact sayings about what to eat and not to eat, and what foods are “good” vs “bad”, were things that I told myself for so long, things that led me down a destructive path.

At the time, it was triggering. And it was everywhere.

I understand that there is an obesity epidemic, but people forget that there is another end to the health spectrum and that it’s just as dangerous. Nothing in the campus dining halls were geared toward the issue at the opposite end.

I was constantly filled with guilt if I chose to have a wrap over a salad one day. In my recovery, I learned that after denying myself of food for so long, it’s okay to eat these things in moderation. I can eat pizza. I can eat a cookie and I don’t need to go the gym to burn off the calories right after.

I think even having an extra dietitian as a campus resource who had extensive clinical background would have been helpful, especially since disordered eating and eating disorders are becoming so common among college students. No one knows how to approach it or handle it, so we kind of brush it under the rug and think, “It’s just a phase. It’ll pass.”

The gym is also a breeding ground for disordered behavior. I used to spend hours in my campus recreation center yet no one ever approached me or asked if I was okay. That only made me feel like what I was doing was okay. Eventually I suffered multiple injuries and so I was forced to stop. In our society we are told to workout more and more and that if we do, then we will be happier. Being on a campus where the gym was open more than 15 hours in a day was so hard for me. No one in campus recreation centers are educated on what to do if there is a student with an eating disorder or a student is suspected of having one. I think it’s SO vital to have that kind of education for the professionals within that department. Even having a specialist within the rec centers (like a sports psychologist or sports nutritionist) would have been helpful; Especially after my experience at the counseling center that first year, I felt I couldn’t talk to anyone at school. No one understood.eating disorders

The lack of support on campus was really hard for me. You begin to lose meaning of what health is about. It becomes solely about the body and what you look like, instead of something fun and enjoyable, and you see that so much on college campuses and in our society. Instructors talking about burning calories and working out because you feel you have to, not because you want to. We need to start preaching body positivity and helping students redefine what health really means. You don’t need to workout to earn your next meal. Recovery from an eating disorder is literally doing the opposite of what society tells us we need to do.

Recovering from anorexia and exercise addiction is hard in this society. Sometimes, recovering is gaining weight, even when society is preaching we have to lose it to be happy and love ourselves. I mean think about it, when was the last time you saw a weight gain ad?

Recovery is eating that slice of pizza because you want it and it tastes good. Recovery is saying no to yourself when you get the urge to go to the gym because you want to burn off everything you ate. It’s working out because you ALREADY love your body, not so that you can love it. It’s finding exercise you enjoy, not dread. It’s knowing that just because someone else is at the gym for 2 hours, doesn’t mean you should be there too. It’s realizing that dieting won’t solve your problem, and losing weight isn’t the key to happiness. It’s skipping a class one day because you know you need to eat lunch and a mental health day would do you good. It’s always asking yourself, ‘is what I am doing now going to help my future self?’

I owe so much of my recovery and success to my friends on campus. I became very open about my eating disorder as time went on so I’ve been able to get continued support from them. I also owe it to a few professionals I have met on my campus who were willing to educate themselves. Without their support, I wouldn’t have had continued success with my recovery.

eating disordersNow if only we could expand that education. Recovery from an eating disorder is hard but society makes it way harder. It can be made easier and more effective. College is filled with so much pressure and so much wanting to fit in and ultimately this can lead to a lot of destructive health patterns. The biggest thing for my recovery has been support, and that is exactly what many college campuses are lacking. With proper education comes support, awareness, prevention, and strategies to intervene and give someone the proper help. You can’t go wrong with education. It can only help.”

If someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, something as simple as asking how they are doing every once in a while can have a big impact on them. Show them you care and they have your support.

Shout out to Meg for letting me interview her!

Sources:

http://www.eatingdisorderscoalition.org/documents/FactsAboutEatingDisorders2014.pdf

http://nedafeedinghope.tumblr.com/