As a fairly underweight 13-year-old, I had an epiphany. Food was amazing. More specifically, the food that had for many miserable years been hidden from me by my overly cautious parents was amazing. For 13 years of my life, I went to school everyday, believing the unbearably healthy fruit in my lunchbox was exactly what every one of my classmates ate, too. That is, until I accidentally caught a glimpse of my friend’s lunch once. Cookies? For lunch?! Excited by all the new possibilities this had opened up to my juvenile mind, I confronted my mother about the surprising lack of packaged foods in my lunch. In her defense, she was trying to keep me “healthy.” At the time, however, my love for chocolate surpassed all logical thought that my barely developed brain was capable of, and I resorted to discreetly directing all my pocket money towards packets of pure processed sugar.
Throughout middle school and high school, the habit never broke, and due to my relatively high metabolism and athletic activity at the time, there were no visible effects of the sugar collecting in my body. The worst part was that people around me would often comment on how “fit” I looked, further perpetuating the delusional idea that I was perfectly healthy. Coming to college, however, changed everything.
I’m not entirely sure if it’s just Stanford or every other American college, but free food happens to be the most commonly used bait to attract students to campus events. Do I want to go to that club kickback this weekend? Of course not. “We have pizza from Treehouse, come through!” That changed everything. Throughout fall quarter, junk food was so readily available at all times. Boba mixers, cookies at on-call, pizza at every club meeting — junk food was everywhere. It still is. The occasional indulgent snack would have been understandable, but most of these foods started becoming daily meals for me. This, paired with an extreme lack of exercise, resulted in something new for my extended family of Indian aunties to comment on when I returned for winter break.
The comments on my appearance, back home, as unsettling as they were, jolted me back into realizing that I maybe, possibly wasn’t doing my body any good. Certainly, comments like, “Oh you seem to be eating a lot at college,” were not the best way for me to arrive at that realization, but I finally did. Consequently, I’ve started making small attempts to eat healthier and avoid the impulsive candy bars and Doritos. But I’ve also realized that, more than trying to control what I look like, it’s important to not let others’ impressions of me negatively affect how I look at myself. It’s ridiculously easy to fall into a pit of low self-esteem and obsession.
It’s challenging to avoid foods that I love, but it’s just as challenging to avoid skipping a meal. Or being mad at myself for missing a gym session. It’s the most clichéd message out there, but I’ve only just learned why it matters. It’s important to be healthy, and if you’re not, it’s so much more important to work towards it instead of allowing yourself to be consumed by self-loathing. It doesn’t have to be self-love. For now, just acceptance will do.
Contact Raagavi Ragothaman at raagavi ‘at’ stanford.edu.