By Kiran Jagtiani, LiveGirl Intern, Rutgers Business School
Though I didn’t realize it at the time, I was lucky to have grown up in a home where health was an important factor in our daily lives. Ever since I was five-years-old, my mom would tell me to eat healthy. Whether it was incorporating vegetables into every meal or not eating pasta three times a day, there was never a day where I didn’t have a balanced meal. My family rarely ate out and when we did we would lean towards something on the healthier side, such as a Subway sandwich full of vegetables or a chicken burrito bowl from Chipotle (without the sour cream!). I never really understood why my family was like this, but I just quietly obeyed.
As I entered middle school, my lifestyle started to change. I joined a competitive travel soccer team, got my black belt, and even started playing tennis. Never in my life had I been so active. At this time, I started to question my mom’s initial push for me to eat healthier. If I was playing all these sports and was growing fast (I was 5’4” in 7th grade!), gaining weight wouldn’t be an issue for me. Therefore I could eat whatever I wanted, right? So slowly, I started to add more unhealthy foods into my diet. Rather than eating ice cream once a week, it turned into eating ice cream three times a week. But with my active lifestyle, I barely noticed a difference. If anything, my legs had gained more muscle and looked better than before. I felt good about how I looked and that seemed like all that mattered at the time.
When I got to high school, I was still playing all these sports and was maintaining a seemingly healthy lifestyle. However as school got busier, my lifestyle started to change. I quit most of my athletic commitments. Then stress eating slowly took over. The combination of quitting soccer and karate and eating more resulted in my biggest fear: gaining weight. This upset me greatly but since I was so caught up in this pattern, it continued into the beginning of my college career. I didn’t yet understand that gaining weight wasn’t the end of the world, and this obsession to lose weight was extremely unhealthy.
After finishing my first semester, I started to realize that my habits were a bit unhealthy and that I’d spent years going the completely wrong direction. I had been so caught up on what my body looked like on the outside that I had not realized the importance of treating my body well on the inside. Both exercising and eating healthy were completely eliminated from my lifestyle, and I felt the difference. I was often very tired and wasn’t motivated to do much else other than lounge in my bed watching Netflix. It was during my second semester of college that I learned that the two were directly related. On days I ate lots of pizza and bowls of ice cream, I’d feel gross afterwards and would go back to my dorm room for a nap. On the other hand when I ate a balanced meal, I wouldn’t be sleepy or lethargic. It took me a few weeks but I eventually noticed this pattern.
Since this realization, I’ve been able to find a new appreciation for things. Rather than forcing myself to workout just to lose weight, I hop on the elliptical with excitement for the amazing post-workout feeling. Rather than binging on carbs, I enjoy protein-filled salads and don’t feel bloated or stuffed by the end. Changing these two habits have changed my life so much in the past few months. I feel wide awake when I get up every morning. I have higher levels of energy, am more focused in class, and am able to have much more productive days.
Self-care is too often ignored, especially for our generation. We are all going through a lot, whether it’s studying for what seems like endless exams or applying to colleges. In these most stressful times, self-care is needed the most. While stress, anxiety, and depression can be caused by external sources like school, your family, and your friends, self-care can often reduce or even prevent these issues. So put aside time for yourself everyday. Watch your favorite movie. Go to a yoga class. Hop on the treadmill. Pursue a hobby. Trust me, your mind and body will thank you.