I have always been an athlete. I played soccer from the time I could walk up until high school, when my horseback riding career took over. I began riding horses when I was 11 years old. I started competing in middle school, and it just took off from there. I practiced every single day of the week and now have been traveling the east coast to competitions ever since.

Now that I’m in college, it’s a little different. I still meet my horse at competitions, but am not able to practice as often. Its such an important part of my life and is truly part of who I am.

During the first year of high school, I was riding competitively and playing soccer. This became too much for me to handle alongside my school work and trying to have a social life. I had to choose between the two, and I of course chose horses.

What this meant though, was no more soccer practice. Just riding practice. Now that my focus was on riding, I really stepped up my game. I moved up in fence height and worked hard to be even more competitive.

I started going to the gym to build some muscle to be able to perform better with my horses. What you might not know about riding is that the horses are so incredibly athletic and powerful– you as the rider has to do your part to be able to keep up. You have to be strong enough to stay with them as they jump the higher fence height. So I got stronger.

I also began to clean up my diet. I wasn’t necessarily eating ‘unhealthy’ before this, but I just wasn’t eating nutritiously or even enough food to fuel my body for the amount of exercise I was doing.

After a few weeks of the swap to more healthy food, I gained this huge new sense of confidence. I felt strong, I was riding well, and it was paying off in my competitions. I actually ended up winning the Children’s National Championship with my horse that year.

I think that this just goes to show that when you are eating right and fueling your body, a third component starts to come in: confidence.

One of my favorite quotes says, “Confidence is the companion of success.” This was proven true to me that year, and then again just this past year or so. You can workout 7 times a week, eat ‘clean’, have a super fit body, but without confidence it means absolutely nothing.

Circa my freshman year of college. Coming into college, I had this incredible fear of the “Freshman 15”. The thought of weight gain absolutely terrified me. So one morning in November of my freshman year, I decided to do everything in my power to not let it happen to me. I worked out 1 and sometimes 2 times every single day and I ate perfectly (“perfect”, according to me at the time).

I stopped going out with my friends at night because that either meant eating at a restaurant where I couldn’t control the ingredients or it meant alcohol (and alcohol meant empty calories). I am lactose intolerant, so it gave me an out for foods I didn’t want to eat, like pizza, ice cream, or really anything that came up. If I did have to go to a restaurant, I could order a salad with “just grilled chicken and romaine” because it was “all I could have on the menu”…

It sounds so ridiculous typing this now, but back then it felt like my only option. I felt so in control. People commented, “wow you look amazing,” or “I wish I had your self control around food.” I smiled and nodded my head or thanked them. But I was lying to them and even more, I was lying to myself.

As I lost weight, I kept creating new goals to get lower and lower numbers on the scale and in my MyFitnessPal calorie total. It was a game to me, how to “beat yesterday”, and it was obsessive. I remember finally calling my mom one morning and just crying. I felt so week and so tired, I finally knew it was a problem. This honest attempt to just eat clean and stay fit and healthy in college for myself and my horses, took a wrong turn.

During all of this I was thinking to myself “I’m eating so clean and I’m working out so much! Why am I not happy? This is what I did in high school!” But it wasn’t the same at all: it had become addictive and it sucked all the life out of me, along with all of my confidence. And that’s where it went wrong.

No confidence meant that I could never eat healthy enough or look good enough for myself, no matter what I did. I was fighting a battle that I could never win; I could never be good enough in my eyes. There was no number on the scale, no look of my body, and no number or calories consumed in a day that would satisfy me. And through it all, it took all of the enjoyment out of my life– I didn’t have time for things that could possibly get in the way of my perfect diet and exercise routine.

Today, I recognize that that isn’t what health looks like at all – not mental, physical, or any other kind. This is not to say I don’t still struggle today, because that would be a lie (and I learned lying does no good).

But what is different today is that I am actually able to step back and think, “am I doing this because I love my body or because I hate it?” And if I recognize that the answer is the second one, I make the effort to stop it. This has begun to give me my confidence back. I didn’t realize it was so critical to my life, until it was gone.

Over this past summer, I ate well for my body and was able to workout again because I had the energy and I felt amazing. I was competing all summer on my horse and was getting great results. This gave me even more motivation because I proved to myself I was finally doing something right. What I was doing right was putting my energy into things that made me happy. My confidence is fueled by my riding and competing on horses and from exercise. Strength and being able to lift heavy weights gives me lots of confidence that I can use in my daily life.

I have found now that I can channel my energy into thoughts that serve me well on a daily basis and I can do things that I enjoy and make me happy. I feel as though I’m in a good place now and I have begun to accept my body and to make confidence my own companion. Being a Fit University Ambassador is so important to me because I feel like I can be my authentic self and really promote confidence, health and fitness to college students all over the country.

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