- What is the Freshman 15?
- Dieting can become dangerous
- Meredith Healey’s saving-grace moment
Extreme experiences offer universal lessons. Meredith Healey got healthy by being open to advice from others.
I wanted to highlight Meredith Healey because her story would have helped me.
Health professionals often tell us what we should do to get better. But when you’re preoccupied by weight, it can be difficult to drop all the information you’ve carefully collected–everything you’ve believed for so long, and simply follow new information.
When I had an unhealthy relationship with food I desperately wanted to hear from someone who’d been there and back; someone who knew what it felt like to be me but had also managed to get healthy. I wanted to hear their solution.
Meredith Healey’s experience and mine are different. But there are many important parallels. And even if your experience isn’t as extreme as ours, there are key lessons to be learned.
My hope is that if you can see some of yourself in any of the stories on this site, that you’ll be more open to try some of the steps that prompted a turning point in our lives. For instance, talking to someone you trust or speaking to a doctor. Or, if your eating isn’t disordered, the big message is a reminder; one often overlooked when people set out to reach a healthy weight: It’s important to meet your body’s needs. The easiest way to do this is to eat 3 balanced meals each day and get moderate exercise. Giving your body the energy and nutrients it requires helps you achieve a healthy body, mind and real beauty: discovering your interests and using them to help others.
Fearing The Freshman 15
I remember the day I decided to lose some weight. I anticipated a journey of courage and determination with physical and mental rewards. What I got was the darkest moment of my life, looking into an abyss of mental fatigue and depression I thought I couldn’t escape.
How dare people tell me I would inevitably gain 15 pounds?
– Meredith Healey, journalist
I was 125 pounds and 5”5 – average for an 18-year-old girl. I was the top student in my class, in my fourth year of varsity basketball, and held the role of Copy Editor of the Yearbook. But I had an unusually easy final semester, and as someone who thrived on competition, I sought a challenge with myself. In the winter of 2006, I set a goal to lose 15 pounds. The purpose? To get ahead of this ‘Freshman 15’ everyone kept talking about.
It wasn’t just fellow students who talked about ‘Freshman 15.’ I read about it in Cosmopolitan magazine. Teachers warned us about it. Parents referred to it jokingly when looking ahead to our first year of post-secondary. I was disgusted by it. I grew up with a Mother who kept a healthy cupboard and fridge – skim milk, whole wheat bread, triscuits and salsa instead of Tostitos, sugarless cereals. I was disciplined. How dare people tell me I would inevitably gain 15 pounds?
When you think you’re dieting, but loved ones worry
I started simple. I set myself a diet of 1,500 calories maximum a day. I ran 15 minutes outside and finished with a 15 minutes Pilates DVD my Mom used. After a couple weeks, little result. Granted, I didn’t give it much time. But I’ve always been a stubborn woman who wants results fast. I stepped it up to a limit of 1,000 calories a day and worked out twice as hard. Two weeks later, I felt my body getting thinner and tighter. Perfect. Exactly what I was looking for.
… Meanwhile, the oil to my weight-loss engine was a stack of fashion magazines.
– Meredith Healey
At THIS age and in this state of mind, I probably would have gorged on poutine as a celebration for my strict regimen and rapid result. Instead, the transformation slowly turned into a mental disease. I didn’t know, of course. In that current state of mind, I thought, “This is great. This is easy. Why am I even setting a limit? I should try to eat as few calories as possible.”
Meanwhile, the oil to my weight-loss engine was a stack of fashion magazines. I once idolized Barbara Walters and Meredith Viera. But the ambitious journalist I was turned into a narcissistic yet self-deprecating and ugly version of who I used to be. Again, I didn’t see this. Friends came to me with their concerns, tried to help, some even cried at my doorstep. To me, they were jealous. “They just wish they could have this kind of willpower,” I sickeningly thought. The models in the magazine epitomized my vision of beauty — frail but feminine, gaunt but powerful.
Come summer, I was 100 pounds. The weight fell off of me once my diet became black coffee, red grapes, and watermelon. To quell the pang of hunger, I would chew gum, take hot showers, stare at the magazine models, or take a walk.
You’re probably wondering where my parents are in all of this. They both spoke to me about my weight loss. As medical professionals, they recognized what was happening. But I was a teenager who knew how to trick her parents. Here and there, I would agree to a family steak dinner. They didn’t know that when I laughed into the napkin, it was the medium rare filet mignon they perfectly cooked coming up into it. I was never a deliberate bulimic. My body just could not sustain substantial amounts of food. I tried to swallow a piece of steak and my stomach rejected it.
Anxiety attacks, hair loss and insomnia
My first year of university is when my illness took a turn for the worst. I never thought my weight loss could manifest into anxiety. But it did, at one of the most critical points of my life. Balancing my drive to lose weight with my first year of journalism school became a disaster. And not the kind Donald Trump talks about. I mean an actual disaster, at least mentally.
In my mind, I was healthy, and everyone else was fat.
I would wake up at 6:30am to go to the campus gym, work out for an hour, then make it to my 8:00am class. I always skipped lunch, replacing it with a tea or coffee, and would return to my dorm at 6:00pm. But in October, panic attacks disrupted everything. My first one occurred while walking to French class. My heart started thumping against my chest. I stopped in my tracks, clutched my chest, and took a breath. It didn’t last long. I took another one – even worse. I can only describe my feeling in one way: I 100% thought I was having a heart attack.
I was angry at the ER doctor when she told me it was a panic attack. Then she took a brown paper bag and forced it over my mouth. After 20 seconds, my breathing was back to normal. And then she told me to return to my dorm.
I spent two more months enduring panic attacks, hair loss in the shower, spontaneous nausea, faintness, and insomnia until I finally sought help. Don’t give me credit yet. I booked a health appointment to fix my panic attacks. In my mind, I was healthy, and everyone else was fat.
Meredith Healey’s Turning Point
My saving-grace moment happened in November of 2006. I was in the campus health clinic, explaining my panic attacks to the doctor. My obsessive self-control meant I had come with a list of drugs that WebMD had advised for me. He nodded, politely, at my suggestions. Then he brought me to the weight scale – routine for any doctor’s visit. I’d done it before. I knew I was 100 pounds and proud of it. This was the moment, the second, everything changed. My weight was 89 pounds.
I have never been happier in life and love. What else really matters?
– Meredith Healey
I collapsed into the doctor’s arms, sobbing over the realization that I had completely lost control. I don’t know why it was that number that snapped me out of my mental condition. I guess it’s because I weighed the equivalent of a soaking wet grade school boy, and how could that ever be healthy or sexy. The doctor prescribed me anti-anxiety medication, and I pledged to re-nourish my body of all that I had deprived it of. The panic attacks quickly stopped, but it took months to get my stomach accustomed to meals again, and years to push back against the demons that tried time and again to return.
Today I’m 28 years old. I’m still 5”5 and now 130 pounds. I work out 30 minutes 3 days a week. I eat three meals a day with the occasional snack in between. My idols are once again renowned and history-making journalists like Dan Rather and Benjamin Bradlee. And I’m senior writer for CBC’s Power & Politics, our national political show. I have a loving and supportive family, a large group of hilarious and comforting friends, and a boyfriend who can only be described as the love of my life. I sometimes look in the mirror, and pull at my love handles or curse my Mother for the ass she gave me, but then I remind myself — I have never been happier in life and love. What else really matters?
You can hear Meredith Healey share more of her story on CBC Radio’s show Campus.
Thank you Meredith Healey for sharing your story with the goal of helping others.
Your awesome work ethic made it a pleasure.
Are you or someone you care about preoccupied by trying to lose weight? Here’s some ideas to help you or a loved one open up:
If you have an unhealthy relationship with food:
Think of 2 or 3 people you trust.
Set a time to speak to one of the people you trust. If you like, jot down a few of your concerns. Focus on what you’re most worried about. Share how much time you spend thinking about weight or food during the day and night. Consider how this has affected your school work or professional life, social life, etc. Don’t worry about saying it perfectly, the most important thing is to start a conversation. If you prefer you can write a letter.
What you want:
The goal is to have someone who can go through this journey with you and help you figure out the next steps. Don’t expect perfect help. The idea is to make decisions together, like making an appointment to see a doctor. Speaking to experts saves time. If the first person you approach isn’t as supportive as you hoped, don’t worry. Reach out to another person you had in mind.
If you’re concerned about a loved one:
You’ll find more information here.
No matter how extreme your experience is, it’s important to make healthy changes so they’re lasting improvements. Sign up for my weekly blog post (below) and you’ll receive one of the best strategies I learned. It will help you build healthy eating and exercise habits—or reach any goal.
Build healthy eating and exercise goals. A healthy weight will follow.
Galaxies, by Jenn Grant
I heard this song recently on CBC’s q with Tom Power. I love the dream-like feel to the music. The first time I heard it was on the radio. The audio-only effect helped me get lost in the lyrics. I love when the song asks: “What are we made of?” We are made of every experience we’ve had. It’s the dark days that allow us to appreciate the fantastic beauty found in the bright ones. And it is our trials and tribulations that allow us to empathize with others and be more human.
Sharing what I learned makes those 10 years worth it
Have you ever opened up to someone when you’ve had a problem?