“It’s just your age,” the doctor told me as I adjusted myself in the uncomfortable white gown on the starched paper. I didn’t want to believe him. I had come into my yearly checkup bound and determined to tell him my current birth control was making me gain weight. His ideas were different, and, really, how do you argue with a doctor who’s known you most of your life? But when he said it was just my age, I began to think how I was the only 22-year-old I knew who was packing on the pounds. The simple truth of the matter was that I had gained 30 pounds in the year since I had been married, and it added up so easily.
After I wallowed in self-pity and anger for months, stubbornly sticking to my birth control explanation, I started to take a serious look at my lifestyle. I was only 22, but I was still eating like I was 16 and playing sports. Since I moved away from home, the staples in my house had been pizza, tacos, hot dogs and macaroni and cheese. I also had an unhealthy obsession with chocolate, and it was a weekly routine to make chocolate chip cookies. These things are the foundation of any good college diet, but I couldn’t live off them forever. The extra jiggling around my midsection when I ran on the treadmill told me that.
Just before I got married, I had motivation to work out. I, like every bride, wanted to look stunning on my wedding day, and I did. I worked out nearly every day and ate small, sensible meals. I was skinnier than I had ever been in my life. Down from the unbeatable size 11 that had always haunted me, I was easing into a size 9. I remember yelling at my husband, then my fiancé, from the dressing room that the smaller clothes fit. He had to explain to the attendant how I had lost some weight and how I was just ecstatic about the results. I was. For the first time in my life, I felt small. I felt beautiful.
My workout routine—or lack thereof—has been more difficult since I got married. I joined a gym, but once I stopped seeing results, I quit. I even tried to diet a few times. My mom introduced me to the South Beach Diet, and it worked for a while. I lived off celery and peanut butter, nuts and chicken salad (not on bread, mind you, but on lettuce) for a month. Have you ever eaten so much of something for so long that it makes you sick to think about it? That’s what the South Beach Diet did for me. I didn’t have the money to have variety, and the second I decided it was stupid and had a piece of bread, the weight came crashing back. This came coincidentally around the same time I stopped seeing results at the gym. I resolved that life was too short to live without bread and cereal.
Now, more than a year after that ill-fated checkup with the doctor, I still carry the extra weight. But I’ve learned a lesson. I had to accept who I was before I could ever think about who I could be. I found happiness in other areas of life and stopped worrying every time I looked in the mirror. Because of the way I was created, I will always be just a little on the pudgy side. Should I watch what I eat? Yes. Should I exercise consistently? Sure. Should I stress myself out because I might never have a flat stomach? No. I have enough stress in my life.
Once I accepted the facts of life, working out and eating better became more enjoyable because the pressure was gone. I wasn’t looking down on myself anymore. I changed for reasons other than vanity. I started caring about my husband’s health along with my own, and that gave me a desire to try to fix healthier meals. Now instead of Hamburger Helper three times a week, we’re eating more fruits and vegetables. We talk about how we are young and how much harder it will get in the future to stay healthy, once we have kids and real jobs and even less time for ourselves. It pushes us to act now so we don’t waste our younger years being unhealthy. I really do want a healthy heart and, consequently, a clear mind.
I’m looking forward to a future of just feeling better. Since I started changing my lifestyle, I’ve been a happier person. My body feels better, and I’m beginning to see the world a little more optimistically. I still have strong cravings for chocolate, but for my next doctor’s visit I’m researching the healthy benefits of chocolate in my daily diet. I don’t think he’ll buy it.
[Erin Shipps is a 23-year-old student at the University of Kansas. She is finally graduating in May and looking forward to more changes in her life.]
READ MORE LIFE | POST COMMENTS BELOW