I (B)eat it. So can you.

May 29, 2023, 3:41 p.m.

Author’s note: ED stands for eating disorders, which include anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating and orthorexia among others. I’m only addressing anorexia in this article since it is what I went through and can speak from personal experience.

It had been a dream all along. My dream. Not my parents’, nor my brother’s, nor my teachers’. For a decade, I had promised myself to always give a 100% in every endeavor I undertook. And after years of chasing that dream, here I was. September 26th, 2022: officially, my first day as a Stanford undergrad. At face value, I was just an Indian girl — fitting more the anatomy of an 8th grader than a college student —  with her trademark round, black glasses (purchased circa 2014) who was as excited to begin this new chapter of life as every other frosh. However, face value is often far from a reliable measure of a subject’s true story. What I mean to say is that over the years, I’ve come to realize that there is almost always more than what the eyes can see. Controversial opinion: I think eyes lie to us.

Notwithstanding my excitement, I felt something quite contrary at the same time. I guess, it felt like guilt — like I was hiding a dirty little secret or doing something I knew I shouldn’t be doing. The weird part is, I had known this all along even before I came here, but had managed to bury it deep within me. But the physical shock of transitioning to a new environment and first-day-of-school-anxiety mixed with my dirty secret to create a volatile cocktail that made my insides — and my mind — feel like a battleground. As I confronted my reality for the next four years, I was forced to also confront my secret, guilt, lie, and unease, for it was strangely all of it yet none of it. ED* (pronounced ee-dee) and its faithful sycophant Anxiety had colonized me. Again. And I was slowly becoming a slave to them. Again.

I wish I could say that my first quarter was everything I had hoped and dreamed it would be. But who was I kidding? ED’s wishes were my command. While ED reveled in its heightened sense of authority, I hid under a shell to conceal my inability to stand up against it. While ED took pleasure in my acquiescence, I ached with shame at my blind obedience. While ED felt accomplished in being able to keep me all to itself, I felt like the biggest failure in feeling isolated — disconnected from the world around me, especially from the people in it. It wasn’t the first time I was experiencing this. Back when I first encountered it, I was a vulnerable teenager who blamed her problems on everything and everyone but herself.

“It’s the vibes in this city.”

“The people here just don’t get me.”

“Why does everything have to be so hard here!”

“I just need a change”, I told myself, “new place + new people + new life = new me.”

Out of all the different ways in which I blamed the world around me, the last one was the one I was most adamant on. It’s no surprise that I convinced myself that moving to college would kind of guarantee the conditions I needed to be a better — if not the best — version of myself: unaffected by the problems that I thought wore me down because of the place I was in and the people who surrounded me.

Turns out, I couldn’t have been more naive in my expectations. I vividly remember telling my parents how everything felt so hard. So tiring. So… disconnected. “Maybe Stanford isn’t the right fit for me”, I confessed. My parents listened silently on the other line. The kind of silence that expresses helplessness, almost as if this was their failure and not mine. After a minute of simply listening to each other’s breath on the phone, my father said, “the issue has never been the place or the people, Arshya. It is in you. It will travel with you wherever you go. And it will go away the day you decide it can no longer have power over you. You (and only you) are the key to your happiness. Unlock it. I know you can. You know you can.”

I guess, to the disappointment of your expectations, those words from my parents were not enough to help me introspect about myself. Somehow, I made it through fall quarter and, much to my excitement, was on a plane home for the winter break. I think it was something about spending those two weeks at home — away from the rapid cruising of bicycles, frantic fervor of meeting deadlines, and crazy adrenaline — which forced me to slow down and confront what was really going on with myself.

It had been a while since I last journaled, but I took this opportunity as a sign that if I was too ashamed to speak my guilt out loud, I could always write it down. And so I did. I wrote down a list of things I was guilty of doing and things I desired instead. Since the real page in my diary is probably tear-soaked, ink-smudged, and incoherently abstract to an ordinary person, I took the trouble to make it easier for you to read:

1. I was more concerned about counting calories and steps than being present with people and during experiences.

2. I hid parts of myself because I thought people judged me all the time — the way I looked, walked, ate, studied etc. I thought everything that could possibly be judged was being judged about me.

3. I withdrew from the people whom I did bond with because I was ashamed of my insecurities and struggles.

4. I was caught up with trying to take hard classes that sounded “smart”, rather than doing what I really wanted to do.

5. I was trying to merely survive.

And the other list…

1. I want to be able to make memories with friends without worrying about what will happen to my body if I simply let go and listen to my heart.

2. I know it’s clichéd but I just want to be myself. It’s exhausting playing the role of someone else.

3. I want to be comfortable in my skin and be vulnerable with those who are close to me, if that is what will help me engender trust and belonging.

4. I want to do things that excite me. Work, even though challenging, should be engaging enough for me to want to get up in the morning, go to class, and look forward to learning something new. If I still want to be in a course that I’m not the best at but it stimulates me – that’s something I’d love to try.

5. I don’t want to just survive. I want to THRIVE.

Upon writing this, my mind was relieved of its unacknowledged thoughts like an email account getting rid of its unread emails. I read these points several times during my time back home in the hope that I could imprint my desires on my brain and manifest them in reality. On my flight back to Stanford, I wasn’t sure if I was ready to return, but now that I was on the plane and going to be there for the next six months, I realized that now is the right time to try and actualize my words into action.

Spoiler alert: it was NOT easy. Sometimes, it still isn’t. There are bad days but some good (even if relatively “inconsequential”) in those days as well. There are days I feel guilty about eating what my soul desires rather than what conforms to ‘clean-eating culture’, but more days where I derive happiness from the food I eat and the people I share it with. There are bad body image days but more appreciation for how much I am able to achieve with this body. There are days, which feel too hard and too long to continue, but more instances of me finding a reason to go on (sometimes it’s the idea of lying on my bed and watching Netflix and others, it’s just the thought of getting done with the Pset!). There are days where I just want to snuggle with my puppy and have dinner with my parents and brother, but there are also days when sitting with my friends under the sun in Myer Green (shoutout to Emi, Nima, Anna, and Niam!) makes me feel like I’m not too far from home. In short, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m probably never going to be perfect at dealing with bad days, body image, homesickness, anxiety; however, that shouldn’t stop me from at least trying to aspire for a state that feels comfortable and conducive enough for me to do more than just survive. In the words of Brene Brown, a leading shame and vulnerability researcher, and one of my favorite writers: “I’m a recovering perfectionist and aspiring good-enoughist.”

The quote mentioned above is the mantra that has gotten me here today. If you told me that I’d ultimately survive and thrive at the end of my freshman year, I’d probably do a Will Smith on you for cracking a joke that was too close to home. But now that I can proudly say that many therapy sessions, nature walks, Barebell bars (iykyk), Pizza-My-Heart- slices, fountain hops, pop-culture convos (thanks Megan :)), and cycles of falling and getting back up again later, I am in a place where I feel like I’d want to share what practices my journey consisted of in the hope that it may help you some time. So here it is:

1. Be SELFish

Yeah, I’m serious. However, there’s a difference between being selfish and SELFish. The latter means to prioritize yourself and do things that contribute to your peace of mind, even if they may cause others discomfort at times. This doesn’t require you to be insensitive at all. In fact, research shows that people who have the courage to put themselves first not only live happier and more fulfilling lives, but are also able to be more vulnerable and empathetic towards others. Remember that it is easier to fill another person’s cup when your own cup is full.

2. Listen to your body — the physical and mental signals

The first step is to acknowledge the signs that your body is giving you. Feeling more tired than usual? Take a nap. Or two. Or give the gym a break! Feeling low, stressed or anxious? Spend time asking yourself what’s troubling you and speak to family, friends or even a therapist about it. Feeling hungry? EAT! Even if you just ate? YES! Even if your mind tells you it’s not worth the calories? YES! Though it takes time, you’ll soon learn to silence the noise preventing you from hearing what your body is telling you and what feels and is right.

3. Accept the fact that this won’t be easy, but it’ll be worth it

When I first decided to take the plunge and finally get over my eating disorder, insecure ED would always try and hold me back. It made me feel ‘fat’, gluttonous and guilty. Sometimes, those things affected me deeply, but with therapy and constantly challenging those baseless thoughts, I was able to get through the discomfort. Honestly, all those tears and feelings of hopelessness were worth the confidence I have today.

4. Baby steps count!

Know that this isn’t a race. This is your struggle and your journey, so take it S.L.O.W. If you struggle with ED like I did, every meal is an opportunity to make an attempt at trying a new or feared food, increasing portion size, eating till satiety etc.. The same applies to other struggles as well: addiction of any kind, lack of motivation, sleep deprivation — you name it. I know Stanford finds it hard to recognize  “small” numbers and gains, but trust me when I tell you to get rid of the “small steps don’t count” mindset. That being said, some of us (me included) may make faster progress and that is okay too. Ultimately, we need to go at our own pace rather than looking over our shoulder or at the people running beside us.

5. Spoiler alert: you will fall many times but always remember to look up.

I wish I had a dollar for each time I thought of turning back and felt like the biggest loser in the world. The road to healing myself was anything but linear. It almost felt like I was a toddler learning how to walk. But each time my butt hit the ground and I wallowed in self pity, I realized that the only way I could go from there was up. And so, I looked up and saw people and things that were there to support me along the way. It doesn’t matter if you fall a million times if each time you learn how to get back up and move forward again. And if you look up, you’ll always find someone to hold your hand or something to keep you going (like the animal cracker at the end of the room! 🥹)

6. And finally, YOU do YOU

It took me a long time to realize and come to terms with the fact that one size does not and cannot fit all. Clothes, diet-plans, regimes, schedules, gender, sexuality etc. are not meant to fit people. It is we who have the power to choose what works and makes us feel our best — not for anyone else, but for ourselves.

​So the next time you feel guilty about not being a size 2 like the ‘other’ girl or helpless because things aren’t going your way or depressed because life feels too hard or anxious because you don’t feel good enough or overwhelmed because there’s more on your plate than you can handle or even if you just want a break for no “justifiable” reason at all — take some time to check in with yourselves and on those feeling similarly around you. Ultimately, the only person standing between you and your dream life, ideal state, and best, thriving self is yourself. So be kind and true to yourself. And for god’s sake, just b(eat) that pi-zza-(t)roll!

Login or create an account