Whispers of the stampede

Pari Goel

No, that has dairy in it. I can’t look bloated. 

No, that has white bread instead of multi-grain bread. 

No, their smoothies have added sugar in them. 

No, I already had my calories for the day. 

No, this is my first meal of the day. 

No, I haven’t burned off that cookie yet. 

No, the dress is still too tight. 

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It feels suffocating to go to WU sometimes. I will be sitting in my 12-1:15 class, counting down the seconds until I get to catch up with a friend over my favorite meal from Sprout. I have it all planned out: sweet potato salad, new sauce with the extra crunchy soy nuggets, and maybe explore the mac and cheese from Farmstead. Motivated by these juicy flavors, I suddenly become an olympian sprinter with one goal: get in line before the 1:15 stampede. 

But, as I finally reach the finish line and the smell of WU is no longer so distant, the hunger leaves my body. Instead, I am met with gut-wrenching anxiety. The girls to my right discuss their new diet plan: intermittent fasting. The girls to my left sip on their iced almond latte, “saving calories for when they go out.” My mind begins to hyperfocus on every aspect of my appearance, wondering if my hair looks too greasy or if my jeans are too tight. Am I really even hungry? I mean, these girls aren’t. And they have the perfect hair, the perfect makeup, the perfect life. If I want to be like them, then maybe I should try intermittent fasting and drink a latte for lunch. 

 

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has had experiences like these. Yet, we don’t talk about disordered eating culture enough. For starters, our definition of “healthy eating” entails restricting our intake to match a toddler’s diet, cutting out critical food groups, and disregarding all hunger cues. We have normalized a culture where our first meal is sometimes at 4 pm or “we forget to eat” until late hours of the night. We move our bodies as a form of punishment - as a way to fit ourselves into the preferred aesthetic. Regardless of how blatantly wrong this seems, we refuse to leave the cycle. Our closest friends reinforce our behavior, because they are stuck in the same wheel of “not good enough.” 

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If everybody around us engages in this toxic restriction and constant self-criticizing,  we find ourselves wanting to be a part of it too. Nobody wants to feel like they are on the outside. It almost seems that to be “accepted,” we must continue to punish ourselves. Why is it considered trendy to replace meals with caffeine? Why is it considered trendy to force dietary restrictions on ourselves when they aren’t medically necessary? We have enough pressure in our lives. As students, we have constant assignments, exams, and projects. We have commitments to student organizations. We have friendships to foster and maintain. But I want you to take a second to ask yourself, how can you possibly do all of this when your mind is constantly tracking how much you ate, what you ate, and how long you worked out for? We need to learn to let go and embrace the spontaneity of life. But, I know, it’s hard to let go. I often find myself comparing my WU order to the person in front of me. I compare my body to the girl standing next to me. I zoom into every imperfection on my face in group photos. And in all of these situations, it’s as if my mind believes that by eating a salad instead of rice or dairy, all my problems will go away. 

 

The truth is, food isn’t really the problem. The problem is that we are taught that we will never be enough. We are taught to keep hurting ourselves. We strive for an idea of perfection that does not exist. I want you to say this to yourself one more time and really think about it: food isn’t the problem. If we keep believing it is, we will never learn to truly love ourselves. I hope we all remember that true self-acceptance does not come from reaching a calorie goal, number on the scale, or size in jeans. True self-acceptance comes from our passions, our views on the world, our interpersonal relationships, and our life-experiences.