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Living Away From College: What I Learned About My Food Habits

I recently flew back to my home of the East Coast after a six-month adventure/vacation/internship in the San Francisco Bay Area. While I lived away from home and college, I learned a lot about my relationship with food…more than I ever anticipated to, that’s for sure, but beneficial in so many ways. 

My past eating habits were not healthy. They were disordered. 

In the Bay Area, I surrounded myself with roommates and anti-diet dietitians who eat what they crave and don’t put themselves on any diets, and I came to the startling realization that I had been in a restrictive, orthorexic diet mentality for the past 3+ years.

Hayes Valley, San Francisco, California 

In fact, it was even more years than this because I remember being a little girl, reading Us Weekly magazine, learning about the latest diets that the stars were doing, which celebrities lost/gained weight, and then thinking I had to go to the doctor’s office and not eat before because I knew they were going to weigh me. Then, in high school, I thought I needed to do ab workouts and only eat a smoothie before going to the beach in a bikini; when my friends and I took pictures, I thought I had to “suck in”.  

Later on, these thoughts manifested heavily in the form of controlling my food intake — from senior year of high school to the middle of third year of college. First, I thought I had to eliminate grains; I eventually went strict Paleo (I thought putting a label on my diet was healthy, but it was actually just legalized restriction) and wouldn’t allow any thing that was not Paleo-friendly into my diet. Then, I had a few short-term stints: low-carb Paleo, juicing, lemon water cleanse. Next, I decided to lift weights and count macros, then just calories. Following this, I went on a terrible 8-week long nutrition plan from a masked diet brand that starts with Tone and ends with Up. Afterwards, I tried going plant-based, and my reasons for doing so were far from environmental and ethical. From there, I went to just being gluten and dairy-free – here’s where I thought that I was “fine”, but I really hadn’t permitted all foods yet; my eating was still restrictive. And finally, in February while in California, I took on a Whole30.

Hayes Valley, San Francisco, California 

 And trying to do a Whole30 is what broke me. For the better. Because for the first time in my life, around 17 days into this month of strict Paleo, I came to terms with the notion that all of these nutritional adventures (yes, even Whole30!) were not healthy for me – they were restrictive and disordered.

 

They were marketed as a reset, a nutrition plan, a cleanse, a lifestyle, but I call bull-shit. They were all diets.

I had become a chronic dieter; I was restricting either food groups, specific food items, calories, macronutrients, or following some plan or Pinterest juice cleanse or reset for over three years. I had developed weird habits around food: I always thought about food, looked up what I’d order at the restaurant hours in advance, bring my own food to events if they wouldn’t have options that fit my eating style, and felt like I had to take pictures of every single meal I ate and post it to let you, a reader & follower, know that I was eating paleo/plant-based/GF.

I believed that I was on some higher moral ground because of what I ate. I was absolutely terrified to eat foods on the “no” list – like gluten, fried food, alcohol, and refined sugar.

I think I even forgot what foods I actually liked and wanted, and I definitely had no idea how to listen to my hunger cues.

Alcatraz Island, San Francisco, California

But when I let go of my Whole30 attempt at the beginning of March, I made a decision out of respect for myself, my body, and my life that I would commit to unlearning all diet thoughts, all body-shaming and weight-related messages, and all, ALL food rules. No more resets, no more labeling how I eat, no more diets.

I am done. 

It’s been a process, and it will surely continue to be one as I move back to Boston and my lifestyle changes (you know, with doing the whole college thing again), but for the first time in years, I’m not giving a damn about what I’m eating, or what my body looks like.

I am understanding how to eat exactly what I want, when I am hungry (or just when my body wants something). I choose to surrender: I let go of controlling how my body looks and exists in the world. Instead, I will work towards practicing simple gratitude for its health, its capabilities, and its pure existence.

From here on out, I will move and eat in ways I enjoy, but I will never again try to manipulate, restrict, harm, or control the one vessel that I have been given to experience life.

Friend, I eat fast food sometimes nowadays. (I like Chick-Fil-A way better than In-N-Out, by the way.)

Whole Foods Market, Silicon Valley 

I eat bagels, doughnuts and cinnamon sugar pretzel bites. I also still drink green smoothies. All these foods fit in my new way of life. 

I don’t say, “Oh no, I can’t eat that” anymore. Period. It was all a lie. I f***ing love gluten!! (And I’m thankful that I’m not intolerant!!)

I don’t have any apps on my phone that track my calories, and I don’t spend time posting as much food on Instagram as I used to. It’s better for me that way.

I no longer spend money on nutrition plans or books that tell me what to eat. I recognize that the most important wisdom for what food I want to eat is already within me. I’ve got this.

I go swimming at the pool and wear sports bras with no shirt in yoga class, and I do not give a damn about how I look or what others think. It doesn’t matter.

And still, of course there are some instances when I accidentally return to my orthorexic, restrictive diet mentality. But now, more days than not, I feel free, intuitive with food, and not obsessed with what I’m eating and how I’m exercising. And that feels too freaking good.

In-N-Out Burger, somewhere in Silicon Valley, California 

We each are on our own journeys. Some, not all, are working towards being body positive, embracing Health At Every Size, and eating without obsession, rigidity, & guilt. We each have some type of body image + food story, but I promise you:

if you acknowledge that you’ve been dieting and food/body-shaming and want to free yourself, you have the power to do so. It’s work, and it’s not always easy, but you are not stuck where you are.

You’re only stuck if you believe that you are. 

Little shifts and positive changes will start to happen for you, if you give yourself honesty, respect, and love. You can do it. We both can (and will)! 

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Author Hannah Liistro

Hannah is a third-year at Northeastern University in Boston. A yogi, chocolate & coffee lover, and grocery store aficionado, she writes recipes, college advice, and skincare reviews on wholesomelyhannah.com (@wholesomelyhannah on Insta).

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