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MIT blogger Cami M. '23

on fitness, health, and food by Cami M. '23

a couple of moments over the years

content warning: mentions of calorie counting, vague eating disorder related things, body image, body weight, physical appearance

My relationship with food, health, and fitness has always been rocky. I don’t know if I can really pinpoint where it first started but I definitely have a lot of pretty strong memories over the years.

Throughout elementary school, I was relatively hyperconscious about my weight and my physical ability. Though I wasn’t particularly overweight, having a close family member who was fat was something I wasn’t really allowed to forget.

It’s something that my family members would poke fun at and point out and I think seeing the way that this person took the heat for their weight made me incredibly aware about my own.

I could make a whole separate blogpost about this and how angry it makes me that someone as beautiful and as talented and headstrong as this person was reduced to merely their number on the scale, but I digress. For the most part, my family was pretty heavy. Filipino food is not really known for its healthiness — we douse food in oil and soy sauce and garlic and fats and call it a meal. (And it’s absolutely delicious, but definitely not the most nutritious.)

From there on out, I was aware of my flesh body and form. In elementary school, I found a metric that determined how acceptably fit I was and stuck with it: how close to last am I for PE team picks?

Physical education was, to say the very least, the bane of my existence throughout elementary and middle school. I hated running. I was not good at it. I am asthmatic and running and I have never really gotten along but also I’m incredibly lazy and have been in front of a computer since the age of 3 and never, ever entertained the idea of pursuing sports seriously.

I had a brief stint with swimming, but I knew it wasn’t something I’d wholly ever pursue because I just didn’t have that competitive drive for it. It was just something I really, really loved.

Aside from PE, my cousins were raised by one of the very few thin people in my family and since they were young, they didn’t really know what they were doing. They’d often make fun of me for being on the weaker side, how at the age of 7 I couldn’t do a proper pushup or couldn’t properly haul myself out of the pool when all the other kids could do it. How I couldn’t climb into the back of my grandpa’s pickup truck with ease, but they most certainly could.

It became a running joke, something to poke at: c’mere and look at how weak Camille is.

It wasn’t something that ever bothered me too, too much but it was definitely something that has lasted until now.

In middle school, I developed crushes on student athletes (or as much of a student athlete you could be at the age of twelve) and I remember feeling like they’d never bat an eye at me because I wasn’t athletic; I couldn’t plank as long as Tiffany could or play soccer like Jackie could. My bodies just didn’t move like theirs.

Or look like theirs, either.

In the September of my sixth grade, I skipped a meal for the very first time. I remember making a big show out of it, wanting someone to notice that I was adamant on skipping meals because of how I felt about my body, and maybe someone or anyone would notice and tell me that it looks fine.

And people did, but it came from the very same girls that would look in the mirror in the locker room and pinch at their skin and go “I’m getting so fat” even though I weighed 20 pounds heavier than them. I was always the heaviest friend in a friend group.

It got so bad to the point where I simply snapped and said “If you’re so fat, then what am I?” which caused them to profusely apologize. “No, no, not you, Cami.”

I remember turning to YouTube for help. I would try and do pilates every day, with titles advertising false promises like “Abs in 2 weeks” or “Get rid of that chub ab exercises”. I would go to my room every day after school and lay down on the hardwood and just plank or do crunches or any other ab workout until I was nauseous.

Unluckily for me, my stamina was pretty shit so these would only maybe be 10 minute workouts until I was out of breath and panting on the floor. Which only made me feel worse. Ten minutes? Really?

For the next couple of years, my life was just this. It was skipping meals and repeated ab workouts and constant checks in the mirror. It was cracking and eating every delicious sugary food there was then feeling like shit afterwards. It was staring into the toilet bowl, wishing my emetophobia away so I could just fucking do it. It was leaving the bathroom with a stomach still full of garbage and a feeling of cowardice and defeat.

When I finally came to college, I took Intro to Weightlifting for Women as my first PE class. It was empowering and fun and exciting. It was the first time I felt my body was capable of doing big things and the first time in my life I didn’t feel so weak.

But then came January 2020 where I had a check up with MIT Medical and they weighed me and–

I gained ten pounds in one semester.

I remember calling my mom and ugly crying on the phone. Was this the Freshman 15 everyone had warned me about?

I came home due to the pandemic in spring 2020 and fell back into my old habits. “Muffin top workout”, “10 minute abs” “Lose weight fast”. I became obsessed with my weight again, taking photos every single day and taking note of my measurements in a notes app.

In summer 2020, I learned about macros and calorie tracking and intermittent fasting. I set my eating window from 1pm to 9pm, I limited my calories, and embarked on a 40-30-30 macros split.

Every day, I ate the same thing. I had an omelette and a protein bar for lunch and a protein shake for dinner. I’d work out for an hour every day.

I looked in the mirror and I looked good. My stomach was flat and I could take pretty pictures in the mirror and post them without a care. I finally had that body I wanted.

But I was hungry all the time. And I was tired all the time. And it felt like I still wasn’t satisfied with where my body was because even if there was a flat stomach there were still my chubby sides and big thighs and flabby arms and–

In fall 2020, I lived with my boyfriend who kept an eye out for me. “Cami, did you eat today?” “You need to eat,” he’d say as he ordered me food. Having someone watch and mediate the way I treated my body helped me a lot, and I slowly shifted away from intermittent fasting and calorie counting.

In spring 2021, as we moved back onto campus, I began working out six days a week again on a push/pull/leg split. One of the great things about lifting is that you, in fact, need to eat a lot in order to gain muscle and see results.

In this time, I also got a FitBit and was able to track the calories burned each day and steps taken. I found that I burned an amount that was so much higher than the amount I had restricted myself too, and it was in no way healthy. I’ve been weightlifting consistently since then and have found a lot of empowerment in it. I eat without a care, I find exercising fun and it’s something I look forward to, I look and feel a hell of a lot stronger.

There are, of course, still tiny setbacks. I feel guilty sometimes when I don’t go to the gym or if I skip a day. Spraining my ankle was the worst because I started to feel stunted and lost, just as I was making progress. And now that I have COVID, I’m really scared all my progress in the gym is going to slip away.

But I am most definitely in a better place than I was before. Exercising is something that has been incorporated into my daily routine, has empowered me and helped me get rid of this feeling of helplessness and weakness that I’ve grown up with all my life, and has healed my relationship with food. I love seeing the progress I make and watching me go from barely being able to bench the bar to now adding weight on each side as I do it. Or watching my form improve with every cue I learn. Or honestly just feeling more confident as I walk around on campus.

The goal for now is to get stronger (without teetering into a problematic space). But I’m very proud of where I am now.