As an adolescent, my parents closely observed what I ate, concerned as they were about my growing weight. Nor were they the only ones. Other family members joined in, as did fellow students. Eventually I felt watched and judged almost constantly, both for what I ate and the simple fact of my super-sized body.
I never fully realized how much that impacted me until one summer in college when I lived by myself. It was pure accident, since I was living on-campus and other roommates had been assigned to the four-person apartment, but they never showed up.
It gave me the most incredible sense of freedom.
For the first time since early childhood, I didn’t worry about hiding what I ate from anyone. If I exercised, I didn’t feel anxious about someone seeing me jiggle or gasp or turn red and sweaty, or see how my stomach and chest and thighs got in the way.
And this is the irony. With no one to watch over my weight or appearance so closely, I did something I had never done before: I voluntarily started an exercise program. I began cooking and ate more healthy foods, and while I still had sweets, they were generally homemade.
What a glorious time! I don’t know that I lost weight, but I grew stronger, and felt better physically and emotionally. I grew hopeful for the first time that maybe I could actually lose weight.
Unfortunately, my idyll came to an end in September when three field hockey players moved in. I stopped exercising. My eating habits slipped. I felt judged simply by their athletic presence. I lost that hopeful glow.
But I didn’t forget the experience. After I graduated and moved back to Maine, I got my own apartment as soon as I could, wanting to taste that freedom again. It was as wonderful as I remembered.
It’s probably no surprise that when I lost weight, I did it while living on my own, away from other eyes. Nor is it a surprise that I still struggle with social eating at times because I know I’m being watched, even if not judged. It doesn’t happen all the time, and it gives me hope that eventually I will get past that sense, too, and truly feel freedom in what I eat.