Weight Gain and the Struggle for Self-Happiness

Your body changed when you were young and will continue to change as you age. It’s your mindset that matters, not the numbers on a scale.

By Jill Phelan, St. Vincent College


Everyone has heard of the Freshman 15—most young adults go away to college and find themselves eating more and packing on some extra pounds from stress and junk food.

“But don’t worry, you’ll lose it all by sophomore year,” I’ve been told countless times.

Problem is, I haven’t, and I feel like shit every time I’m reminded that I’m now 30 pounds heavier than I was when I was 16 years old.

I used to think I was chubby in high school when the scale displayed a whopping 115 and my body wasn’t as trim as all the other girls. Now, at 145 lbs., I want to travel back in time and slap my teenage self for being such an ignorant moron.

Weighed Down: The Emotional Toll of Your Freshman 15

I just keep wishing that I could be as slim as I once was, always comparing my current body to my younger one—feeling I’ll never again be as pretty as I used to be.

Losing weight can be really hard, especially when you lead a hectic life. It’s difficult not only physically, but also mentally.

Even when you have the opportunity to eat a salad over a steak, or find the time to squeeze in a 30-minute workout, sometimes you’re just too emotionally exhausted to do anything that requires effort.

And maybe one of the worst deterrents that I face in any attempt to better myself is the paradox that I like to think of as the Spiral of Low Self Esteem (trademark pending).

In this situation, I get so disgusted with my appearance that instead of being motivated to change how I look, I become depressed and distraught instead, believing that I’m not worth fixing because I’m perpetually ugly. Then I eat a whole tub of ice cream and the cycle repeats itself, getting worse each time.

I know that it all sounds very defeatist of me and pretty lazy, but it’s the sad truth. But what’s more upsetting is that I know I’m not the only girl who endures this kind of misery.

It’s unfortunately commonplace to worry that others will judge you based on how big you look in your Facebook pictures, especially in comparison to your older photos. I agonize over the idea of one of my former classmates scrolling through my selfies and thinking, “Wow, she’s gotten fat since high school.”

And I acknowledge that it’s stupid to obsess over those kinds of trivial fears considering that I have a wonderful fiancé and a great group of friends who all love me just the way I am.

But it’s still a very legitimate concern, because I know that I’m guilty of having trolled the albums of old acquaintances and thought such negative things. And if I’ve done it to others, then someone has definitely done it to me. As unpleasant a habit as it is, it’s a very human thing to do.

I’m not saying that I shouldn’t still try to lose weight—because if there’s one thing I hate, it’s modern media trying to convince girls that it’s perfectly acceptable to be morbidly obese so long as you’re confident in who you are, as if there’s no other way you can be less than 300 pounds.

There’s a fine line between loving who you are and working to make yourself better (and by better, I mean healthier—physically, mentally and emotionally).

Melissa McCarthy really opened my eyes after the comments she made a few months ago about her own body. In a nutshell, she admitted that she has recently slimmed down, but she’ll inevitably gain the weight back and believe it or not, it won’t be the end of the world.

Ultimately, it’s just fat. It comes and goes and that’s simply a natural part of life.

I know, mind blown, right? Yeah, mine was too.

McCarthy added, “The thing is, if [my weight] is the most interesting thing about me, I need to go have a lavender farm in Minnesota and give this up,” to which my brain exploded again from her earth-shattering words of wisdom.

It’s normal to get heavier and skinnier over the years. The human body is constantly changing in ways that can’t always be controlled, but that shouldn’t be the only detail of your life that matters.

You can be a hardworking student or a loving girlfriend or a dedicated employee, and none of those are dependent on your weight; they’re only reliant on the substance of your character and how you choose to treat yourself and others.

So maybe I will get back down to 115 pounds one day, but I’m sure as hell not going to get there by berating and loathing myself in the process. If anything, I’ll just end up doing more harm than good.

Girls often make the mistake of believing that once they shed their fat, they will be happy with themselves—but that’s an inverted way of thinking. In reality, the best way to accomplish any goals, including weight loss, is to first be satisfied with yourself. Only then will you be able to take positive steps toward improving your life.

After I got engaged, I was stressed out about getting thinner for my wedding day. I wanted to look my very best for such a momentous occasion, and yet the needle on the scale didn’t budge. It was disheartening to say the least.

Then I realized that how I will look won’t be the main focus of my marriage. What’s most important is being united with the man I love and spending the rest of my life with him. And when I acknowledged that fact, I lost five pounds like magic.

Maybe I’ll drop another dress size come next June and maybe I won’t. Either way, it doesn’t matter. Like McCarthy pointed out, my weight will fluctuate, but I’m so much more than my appearance. So long as I’m healthy and content, everything else is just secondary.