Prior to the pandemic, I never gave a second thought to what I was eating. If I was hungry, I ate. If I was craving chocolate, I had chocolate. If I had just finished eating a meal but I wasn’t satisfied, I would eat more. I didn’t realize how lucky I was to be able to look at a piece of pizza and not immediately think about the different ways that it would seemingly affect my body, or what I could substitute that craving with.
When the pandemic initially hit New York in 2020, it hit it hard. Everything was shut down within a week. My mom, as a pharmacist, was extremely conscientious about social distancing. For around three months, I pretty much never left the house. Stuck with only my own thoughts and the increasing popularity of TikTok, I turned my boredom into the idea of creating new “healthy” habits.
Every day, I would wake up at 1 PM– after going to bed at 4 AM– and work out, dutifully following along with videos by Chloe Ting, a YouTube fitness influencer. I internalized viral videos entitled “Weight Loss Challenge” or “2-week Shred” and started to believe that something about my body needed to change. What’s more, I believed that this change had the power to make me significantly happier within a week or two.
Those videos seemed to be ingrained into all aspects of my surroundings. Not only was I constantly thinking about them, but influencers on TikTok were promoting them, and most of my friends seemed to be following along. Looking back, it is clear to see that this was a monster of my own creation. During the pandemic I was never even around enough people to feel that my body was being judged by others. My own thoughts were enough to fuel my actions. If I went one day without working out or eating “healthy,” I became my own worst disappointment.
Something I believed saved me, or at least kept a small part of my daily mental battle at bay, was the concept of intuitive eating. To me, intuitive eating has given me the freedom to eat food without criticizing myself for it afterwards. By being “in tune with” and listening to my body, I have developed a new mindset that allows me to eat whenever I’m hungry and genuinely enjoy the process of doing so.
Of course, all my negative self-talk didn’t just disappear overnight. With pandemic restrictions easing, and the start of my internship, a part of my brain just seemed to expand. I was intellectually stimulated for the first time in what felt like so long, allowing my mind to no longer be dominated by restrictive thoughts. Up until that point, I was so bored that I had subconsciously made the object of my attention the person I looked at daily in the mirror. As I began to fill my calendar with activities where I got to leave my house and see friends, my body slowly stopped being my fixation.
I now find myself increasingly grateful for my ability to, once again, enjoy seemingly mundane activities, like getting lunch with friends. There is a powerful message behind watching the people I love– and those I don’t even know– genuinely enjoy food. There is a strength in abandoning thoughts of “forbidden” foods and no longer spending mental energy on them. There is a pride I feel for both myself and the women around me who have been able to remove themselves from this seemingly never-ending cycle.
While I don’t think there will ever be a point when I’ve completely escaped these thoughts, I have come to realize that that’s not an entirely negative thing. This experience has strengthened the relationship I have with myself. I now know what it takes to pull myself out of negative self-talk. I now know that I am entirely capable of flipping my mindset. I now know who I can count on and who I can’t.
Above all, it has helped me recognize how grateful I am for the daily functions of our minds and bodies. Our perceptions of ourselves have the powerful ability to drastically change what we choose to do and how we interact with others. As we continue to navigate our unique journeys at Duke and beyond, it is essential to remind ourselves daily of our strength. Candidly, I live by the advice I would give to others, rather than what would first come to mind for myself. This serves as a reminder for me that anything I do throughout the day is an accomplishment and should be viewed as such. To that end, while today might seem difficult, we've all made it through worse days.