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Students' Stories

Here are the responses students shared about their experiences with issues of eating disorders, body image and nutrition.

"I came to Princeton and had never had any eating disorders or body image related problems.  However, by the end of the first semester of my freshman year I had definitely gained the freshman 15, in fact it was probably closer to the freshman 20.  I returned from Christmas break determined to lose the weight and get back to the weight I was when I arrived at Princeton and what I had weighed all through high school.  Unfortunately that was easier said than done however, I was determined and neurotic.  How else did I get into Princeton?  So I dedicated myself to going to the gym 3-4 times a week for 2-3 hours each time and limited myself to eating no more than 600 calories (there was a lot of wrongheaded math that went into that calculation).  By the end of freshman year I'd started forcing myself to throw up when I ate something that wasn't on my diet.  This continued through the summer and by the time I came back for sophomore year I had lost some weight and although I limited caloric intake to 600 calories, I was throwing up less.  However, soon the stress of school took its toll and by second semester I was throwing up regularly again.  This continued until the beginning of junior year when I gradually became happier at Princeton.  I was getting my interested in my classes and finally felt like I had found a place here.  Family members and friends always affirmed me and helped me recover and keep me from falling back into binging and purging.  It hasn't been easy but I haven't relapsed or stepped foot on a scale in almost two years.  I'm still not completely better.  Some people say you can never get over anorexia and bulimia.  I don't think that's true but it is a daily battle to not judge others by their weight or make a thoughtless, mean comment about someone else.  But I'm getting better.  And I'm living proof that you can get better, you can love yourself and you will be OK.  When you're in the haze it seems like you can't imagine life without counting calories, vomiting, hating the scale and hating those skinny jeans that never seem to fit without a fight.  But, one day you will find yourself eating something and you'll have no idea how many calories it has and even better, you won't care.  One day you'll get a tummy ache and desperately pray you won't throw up and wonder how you ever threw up daily or weekly for over a year.  You will see a scale and have no desire to step on it and one day you may be able to actually fit into those skinny jeans because you'll find that when you aren't so focused on losing weight and just focused on being healthy, you actually can.  And if you can't, you'll go up a size and it will be no big deal.  You'll probably look better anyway." - Rebecca Basaldua '15
"I am glad this discussion is being started because I know eating disorders are a terrifyingly common thing, but there's such a strong taboo against talking about it in the open. Whenever I mention that I've had one I get a lot of reactions from friends explaining the eating disorder they have had as well. Body image and eating disorders are something extremely personal and important in my life. I am naturally thin - in high school at 5'10" I weighed about 140 pounds, but I had some variant of orthorexia/mild anorexia in high school because I always thought I was fat. I ate 1200-1500 calories a day, exercised a lot, and seriously beat myself up mentally when I couldn't stick to that. At one point I got down to 130 lbs. Senior year in high school my body just couldn't take it any more and I started binge eating. In high school it was fairly easy to control, but freshman year this was a nightmare having open buffets at the dining halls and constant study breaks. I binged on and off throughout freshman year, restarting myself on restrictive diets every time I messed up. I tried to purge once, unsuccessfully, but I am so ardently thankful that I was unable to do this, and never developed bulimia for that reason. Freshman summer, I went to a meditation workshop and accidentally lost a lot of weight. I was thrilled with that, though. Sophomore fall was relatively binge-free, but sophomore spring was the absolute worst - I gained 30 pounds by June. I went on losing and gaining throughout junior year, but junior year I read a book that helped me change my behaviors. I stopped binge eating for months, and after (stupidly) going on another diet just before winter break, started it again last month. However, this time I KNOW how to stop it and I'm confident that I'll have the problem solved in no time. Facts and numbers and whatever are one thing, but the emotions of having an eating disorder and literally being unable to control the quantity of food you eat and feeling an urge to eat everything you see at all times of day is a constant cloud of fear, anxiety, tension, guilt, shame, worry, and stress. It is exhausting. It is debilitating. I have spent many nights crying out of hopelessness and hatred for this horrible problem I have had. And the times when I have been free from binge eating, it feels literally like a high. Imagine a fog being lifted off of you - suddenly you can actually feel your emotions and feel the happiness and tenderness and sadness and love that there is in every day. You can actually connect with people again - it's a shocking feeling of freedom. I've now reached a weight that I'm happy with and know I will never go on another diet. I have stopped binge eating again and I know that the skills I have learned to do that can help other people. I know there are other people on campus with binge eating disorder and other eating disorders, and I passionately want to help them end those struggles because I know how painful and exhausting and life-consuming it can feel. Please let me know if I can contribute to Princeton's efforts to help people feel happy with their bodies and to end these horrible habits for good." - Student '15
"It's hard to be happy about your body image because we are all insecure about something. So, whenever I'm being self-critical, which happens sometimes too often when eating or trying on clothes, I try to focus on what I do like about myself: whether its a physical feature or personality trait. Amongst all the pressure and critique in Princeton, everyone needs some praise. So sometimes, that compliment just has to come from yourself." - Student '18
"I used to be severely anorexic.. now I am mostly recovered and no longer visibly underweight. I joined an eating club where a lot of my friends were, hoping that eating around them daily would help me get over my weird food hangups once and for all. But the dining room is noisy, crowded, sort of dark and full of shifting social dynamics.. completely overwhelming. I try to force myself to eat normally, but I have actually gotten worse to the point where I can rarely bring myself to eat anything but soup and salad ingredients when other people are around. When I'm stressed out, I avoid going to meals for 2-3 days at a time. Worse, people in my club have definitely noticed how weird I am around meals. I get tense, stressed, can't focus on conversations, avoid people for weeks because I'm embarrassed for them to see me with food. I doubt anyone recognizes that I have an eating disorder, because I don't look anorexic anymore. Instead, they just think I am weird, awkward or unfriendly, and while they bonded over meals every day, I got shut out and excluded from the circle. (I have told a couple of close girlfriends, but in general no one has time to hear all this nonsense from a casual friend.) The way our social lives at Princeton revolve around food has totally ruined my ability to have a social life here. I feel like a failure at every mealtime and every time I go into my club, whether I eat/lose weight or not." - Student '15
"My anorexia has been a part of me for eight years; it is a second voice whose dialogue is constantly running alongside that which reflects the rest of my existence. To this voice, I am never good enough. My value is inversely related to my weight, and it is rooted in what others conceive of my attractiveness. If this is not problematic enough, the voice has the ability to creep into my vision and distort what I see in the mirror -- I estimate my weight routinely 30 pounds higher than it actually is. Food is associated with guilt or, now, an alleviation of the emotions that threaten to drive out /all/ thoughts. I live in fear of hunger after living with it, and now I'm afraid that I'm developing a binge eating disorder.
It is hard to fathom a mindset in which a person can coexist with his or her body or, heaven forbid, live in complete harmony with it. Every day is a battle, but my weapons are the love I feel from those around me, the support of therapists and nutritionists, and the reminders of all my body can do when given enough fuel. I can run, I can dance (badly), I can cuddle with friends and travel the world and make love and get lost in a different city in the rain (more fun than it sounds). I can write beautiful words rather than the ugly ones I target at myself. I wish this for everyone, and particularly for those struggling. Everyone's battle is unique; every spasm of terror before the flicker of the number on the scale appears is distinct. But hopefully someday this love of oneself will not be, and will instead be universal." - Student '17
"I'm pretty sure that I'm a disordered eater, and I binge on a semi-regular basis. I tell myself it's ok because it's not a full blown eating disorder. Even though I know it isn't healthy, I'm afraid to ask for help." - Student '16
"My friend is currently facing an eating disorder, and while she has had help for gaining and maintaining weight, I don't even know if she truly acknowledges it. She obsesses over food, and I wonder how often she does not think about it (if ever). I feel helpless." - Student '15
"When I was in my junior year of high school, I came to the sudden and disquieting revelation that my appearance had an impact on how other people perceived me. This revelation was coupled with the corollary that I could change how people perceived me by changing my appearance. I was a bit on the chubby side, and I thought if I could lose a little weight, people (read: girls) might pay more positive attention to me.
So I started skipping lunch.
And the most magical thing started happening.
I started getting compliments on my appearance. I am not sure anyone had ever complimented the way I looked before. I remember one of my friends telling me I looked awesome ("no homo" of course) and I felt so happy.
So I figured I could do without breakfast too.
Hunger became my friend. I felt clean when I was hungry. Like I was heading in the right direction. There are so many things in the world that are impossible to control, but I could do this one thing--I could lose weight--and make the world a little less intimidating.
By the summer before I came to Princeton, I was walking 10 miles a day. I had lost 70 pounds already. I didn't feel fat any more, necessarily.
But without the hunger and the exercise, without this battle for dominance against my body, I felt deprived of purpose, of control and worth.
Of course, no one was worried about me. Guys don't get eating disorders, right?
I was cold all the time. I was running on calorie-free energy drinks because I was always tired. I guess you would call this the danger zone.
Here's the big turnaround point: that summer, I also met a girl, and she had been hospitalized for anorexia in the past and she started worrying about me and we started dating and she made me eat and made me get educated on the negative health effects of what I was doing.
So that's the happy ending. Kind of.
Except that four years later I still feel dirty whenever I eat.
I am currently on the longest spell I have ever gone without a relapse of fasting (6 months and counting!), but it is difficult, every meal." - Student '15
"My eating disorder came back when I got to Princeton--not only that, but it became worse than it was before. I've found myself skipping meals to work out instead, and withdrawing socially as a result. Princeton, as a culture, is obsessed with perfection, and that's unhealthy for someone prone to eating disorders. Part of this climate of perfection seems to be achieving conventional physical attractiveness - in the dining hall, I've noticed a huge difference in the way male and female students eat. Male students tend to pile their plates with fries, pizza, burgers, at least six different kinds of carbs, whereas almost every girl fills her plate with kale. Being in this kind of environment has made me feel even worse about how much I seem to eat compared to the girls around me, and has caused me a lot of problems with regard to my own self-image." - Student '17
"I'm overweight, and being overweight at Princeton is hard. Most Princeton students are really fit, and it makes sense because of all of the athletes that are recruited, but the spirit of competition at Princeton transfers over to the social realm. People are looking to take pictures with their attractive friends, not with their overweight ones, and it used to upset me and cause me to question if I belonged in this community. I'm not built physically like most of the individuals here, and that can sometimes mean that I'm not a part of the community, but it has been the students that don't prioritize how fit and attractive their friends are that have been the reason why Princeton is and will always be the most incredible experience. More students should wake up and realize how superficial and artificial the desire to determine an individual's worth by their physical appearance is. I'm tired of the "well it's the real world" bullshit that people use to ignore the issue. Let's make Princeton a place where leaders are built who prioritize the content of one's characters over their tits or abs.
Although I've come to terms with my body image, I know that there is a larger body image issue. I see these beautiful girls buckle under the social pressure from the need to join a specific sorority or eating club and they go from looking beautifully normal to looking skeletal, with their skin stretched tightly over their face and body. I feel bad for these girls because not enough people are telling them that they are beautiful: that they have worth and are loved.
Thank you soooooooooooooooooo much for doing this campaign. Body image is never talked about on this campus, and those who are overweight are made to feel inferior and that they don't fit in, but slowly things like this change that." - Student
"I started being eating-anxious in 7th grade when I had a lot of issues with fitting in with friends, and with some domestic violence issues back home. Looking back, taking "control" of what I ate was all I felt like I could control in my life at that point. Even now, I don't go an hour without thinking about my food choices, although I make much healthier decisions now then I did at the height of my anorexia. I have what many people have called a "fit" or "skinny" body, and although I see that I am overall a thinner person, my eyes always look to the one or two parts of me that I have always believed to be fat. I think this goes to show that body image affects everyone, and is often centered on specific imperfections rather than overall looks. I have gone through bad times and good times, and in the bad times I get near panic attacks about what I have eaten, and in the good times I am able to brush it aside. I think I probably waste about an hour each day worrying about my body, and it sucks. That's a lot of wasted time that I could spend being happy. I hope that one day my food choices can simply be about what I want to eat, rather than what society wants me to look like, or what my anxiety dictates." - Student '18
"Having a huge workload led me to cut out social time and activities I was involved in to the point where the only break from studying was meals and exercise. This is very dangerous. I had 2 moderate disordered eating episodes in high school which resurfaced when I started doing this, whether I was obsessively planning what I was going to eat (constantly checking the dining hall app) or making mental food lists with calorie counts, planning a week ahead sometimes, looking forward to and planning "treat days" like they were a holiday. Remember to fill your life with activities you love (even if there's a lot of school work) that keep your mind busy and away from the monsters." - Student '18
""There is not enough time for hating yourself. Too many things to make. Go."
-Tavi Gevinson" - Student '18
"It's easy to feel fat anywhere but especially easy to feel fat here." - Student
"I struggled with disordered eating for about a year, beginning in the spring of my freshman year. I am a student-athlete, and my desire to be thinner was not appearance-driven but performance-driven. That, paired with my competitiveness, helped me validate the unhealthy decisions I was making. I was obsessed; I thought almost constantly about how much I should or shouldn't eat, how much I weighed, how much fat I had compared to muscle.
I saw short-term results from my disordered eating. I lost weight, ran faster, and had a good fall season. But although I was in denial that my unhealthy habits would catch up with me, they did. I was unable to compete in the winter or the spring of my sophomore year because of injury, which I suspect happened in part because my body didn't have the energy to heal and rebuild itself after workouts.
In retrospect, I am very lucky that my time off from competition sort of jolted me out of my disordered eating habits. But if you find yourself caught in the same cycle of obsession that I was, there is help available from the outside too. You can talk to a friend, an RCA, someone at CPS, a nutritionist, a dean, a trusted professor... the list goes on. Many people around you are going through similar difficulties, and you might not know it, so please please don't be afraid talk to someone and get help. You are stronger when you ask for help than when you cover it up." - Student '16
"I was told by a relative that I was too big to be a flyer on the cheerleading team the summer before my freshman year of high school. I haven't stopped thinking about how to make myself smaller ever since." - Student '17
"It's hard for me to separate my weight from my self-worth. I've always been (by other people's standards) thin, and I've always alternated between moments of priding my thinness and moments of not believing in it. By the time I started high school, I had come to need and crave what was praise from some and concern from others: "You're so skinny!" My freshman year of high school, I was diagnosed with anorexia. Everyone around me was very supportive and sincerely wanted to help. I learned that a lot of other girls were going through similar experiences. But this didn't make me feel better--it made me feel envious. My eating disorder had received medical attention fairly early on (I had had what could probably be fully defined as anorexia nervosa for about 4 months), but I knew other girls managed to go so much longer than I did, to eat less than I did, and to lose more weight. I wasn't special.
On the surface, I'm over my eating disorder now. I consume a sufficient amount of calories every day (not that I don't keep track of them) and am on the lower end of the normal weight range. I eat chocolate and cheese and peanut butter. But underneath, I miss being 20 pounds underweight. I reminisce about the "control" I had freshman year of high school. I'm bothered when someone is thinner than I am or eats less than I do. In many ways, I wish I could move on--but at the same time, I'm afraid that if I do move on, I'll get fat. And so with my permission, my eating disorder lingers, not really revealing itself on the surface, but always ensuring that I'm never fully satisfied with who I am." - Student '17
"I had anorexia in high school and started to withdraw from just about everyone. I remember people who cared about me urging me to eat more or even scolding me to do so, which only made me shut down further. Only in the past month or so have I brought myself to call it by its name. It didn't feel like a disorder when it happened because I was just trying to make myself normal. I've never actually described to anyone here how exhausting it is to be so filled with self-disgust every minute of every day. It still comes back in flashes and I don't know how to prevent it. Being hungry still feels really good sometimes." - Student
"It started with my mom telling me that I was too short to be noticeable or attractive, that short girls don't get any attention because they're so mousy looking. I know she was just trying to scare me into going to sleep earlier and stop staying up so late, but she must have said it hundreds of times from the time I was in ninth grade to now... that it's burned into my brain that I am short and short is unattractive, therefore I am unattractive. That's it. There's nothing else but height, according to her. And she's said it so many times that I even believe it's true myself and I think of myself as unattractive every time she looks at me disappointed and says "If only you were two inches taller" and I have this sinking feeling in my gut and I feel terrible about myself. When I tell her about my dreams to be an actor, all she does is look critically at me and say "Are you sure you're good looking enough?" and it feels really horrible. Objectively, I know I am pretty. People have said it to me. My parents' friends, my friends, and I get enough attention from the opposite sex to know that it's true that I am not ugly. But the only thing that I feel is unattractive, because of all the times that my mom has told me that I am, and all the things she has told me are unattractive about my face. So every time I look in the mirror, I automatically pick out the flaws in my face when I look in the mirror. I see how my upper lip protrudes about a millimeter over my lower lip, how my lips are slightly open (about two millimeters) when my mouth is completely relaxed, how my chin is not as sharp as it should be, how my neck is too short, how my teeth are too big, how round my face is. I'm not ugly. I know it! But why am I always trying to convince myself that it's true?" - Student '17
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