BOSTON — Most college students live in fear of the dreaded ‘freshman 15’; however, during my sophomore year of college, I experienced the opposite with my ‘sophomore 110’.
The most popular unhealthy college activities include excessive drinking, late night junk food, pizzas, fast food, and ‘café runs.’ Despite the common misconceptions about gaining weight in college, there are ways to avoid temptations and maintain, and even create, a healthy lifestyle.
The majority of college students experience anxiety over exams, all-night drinking binges, and trepidation about classes, but I experienced euphoria in a form I had never known before. In my first month of sophomore year, I weighed in at 260.5 pounds. By second semester, I had transformed my life by dropping 110 pounds in a mere five months.
For as long as I can recall, I have always been unhappy with my appearance, but never had enough motivation to make a change. My parents urged me to change my unhealthy habits and were fearful about my increasing chances of heart disease and diabetes.
Food was one of the only comforts in my life and it was a clutch that I refused to let go of. I commonly indulged myself with any food I could get my hands on. I was suffering from obesity and a complete identity crisis.
One of the most important motivators in my success was my mother, Deb Barnard. She was the initial catalyst in my journey towards transformation and greatly aided in my success. “Never give up, Brooks. No matter who or what attempts to push you off track, remember where you’ve come from and what you’ve been through. You can do anything you put your mind to,” she said.
Another one of the powerful motivators in my life was my father, 50-year-old Bruce Barnard. “The most important thing in life isn’t if others love you, but if you love yourself,” he says.
The words of wisdom from my parents gave me the strength I needed to pursue my goal.
A necessary realization
On August 26th, 2007, my life drastically changed. I had just finished showering and walked passed the mirror. I saw my flabby arms, protruding gut, and bloated face. I finally had seen what everyone else saw, but what I neglected to acknowledge: I was obese. I was no longer myself.
I ran to my scale and when I read ‘260.5,’ my mouth dropped. I vowed to change my life. I promised that I would never give up or let anything stop me from looking like the person I knew I was meant to be. I made a pact to fix what I had let get so out of control.
Tears ran down my face and I frantically tore up every picture I was in.
I could not bear to even look at myself because I had been abusing and destroying my body for so many years.
The first two weeks were the most difficult. I had cravings for soda, junk food, ice cream; anything that would satisfy my appetite. I forced myself to accept that macaroni and cheese was no longer an acceptable dinner, but grilled fish and vegetables were.
After the first two weeks, I had already seen a change with the first 20 pounds. Sacrificing my favorite foods and laidback lifestyle was challenging, but after becoming so involved in my own health, I learned to love the lifestyle.
I began to do 30 minutes of cardio daily and incorporated daily exercise into my schedule, even if they were miniscule amounts. Slowly, I began to see differences in my clothes and body.
Motivation and determination
After years of failed attempts and letdowns, I realized that my long-term problem was that I lacked motivation and determination. Motivation can come from any source.
My motivation stemmed from a self-hatred of my body and the inability to love who I was. I was motivated to discover who I was and where I wanted to go in life.
I knew that the way I was living wasn’t who or how I wanted to be, and that was enough to force me to undergo this radical transformation. Whether drawing motivation from yourself, a friend, a pet, a favorite activity, a movie, an actor, or anything for that matter, finding that inspiration is vital in maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Staying committed is essential for long-term success. I stayed committed by putting my weight as the banner on my cell phone to remind myself what I had been working so hard to repair.
Regardless of the type of cue, any kind of reminder is helpful in keeping your mind on the right track.
September approached quickly and I had to fly from my home in Georgia back to school in Boston. The move proved to be a struggle, because I lost the physical manifestation of safety, support, and the backing of my parents.
As time passed, I started seeing less drastic changes. I felt discouraged, but my disappointment only increased my will power and determination. I drew inspiration from my emotions and feelings before losing the weight. By looking at old pictures, I re-gained the impetus to strive for the thin body I desired. I started lifting weights, pushing myself harder at the gym, and controlling portions.
Soon after, I saw the weight begin to come off again. Exercise is another crucial component to losing those extra pounds. A physical trainer at the gym I attend, 22-year-old Kaitlin Notafrancesca, urged me to continue with exercising.
“If you eat healthy and avoid the gym, you aren’t doing your body any favors. The most important thing to remember is that exercising prevents muscle loss, increases your metabolism, increases endorphins that provide you motivation, and even helps control your appetite,” said Notafrancesca.
The hardest part of my experience was the constant push of temptation. My roommate, unlike me, was not concerned about his weight; therefore, his nightly pizzas and soda were constantly attempting to thwart my success. The one factor that allowed me to surpass temptation was that stimulus and drive to make this attempt at weight loss my last.
Luckily, I was successful in evading temptations.
I did not ‘cheat’ on my diet for the entirety of the five months it took me to take the weight off.
Another temptation at college was the pressure to drink and party. It is nearly impossible to resist the temptation to have fun, but there are healthier alternatives to chose from. Instead of having beer, I would mix vodka with crystal light.
I discovered that this healthy alternative saved me from gaining weight. My physician, Dr. Stanley Cohen, backed me on my choice.
“I would never advise alcoholic beverages on a diet, but if you are going to, this is one of the healthiest ways. Not only is crystal light a five calorie drink, but mixing vodka with water hydrates your body as you drink,” Cohen said.
By continually urging myself to work harder and sticking to my exercise routine, I was successful and I finally reached my goal weight of 150 pounds by March 12th, 2008.
I attribute my success to many factors. Through my experiences, I discovered that weight loss success is created through a combination of self-determination, stability and support, eating healthy, and exercise.
I attribute the majority of my success to self-determination. Stability and support are also both key ingredients to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. I drew my inspiration from my mother, father, grandmother, and my best friend, Justine.
I knew I could fully rely on them for support because they had my best interest at heart and were willing to emotionally, physically, and psychologically push me towards my goal. Without the support from my family and friends, I would have had no one to turn to when challenges arose and when I needed support.
One of the biggest manifestations of support during my experience was my grandmother, Barbara Parsons. She was able to provide motivations for me in ways that others were unable to.
Her own struggles with weight loss and gain were crucial components in my change. She would call me weekly to check on my progress and provided the support that I needed to continue. “How’s the diet going?,” she would ask. Her constant reassurance created an underlying impetus for me to complete my goal.
Building a strong support team is vital in prevailing against obesity.
One thing I wish I could have changed about my transformation is my inability to close out those who do not have my best interests at heart. One of the reasons I chose to change my life was to have people stop saying hurtful things about me; however, I discovered that people can be just as cruel and hateful when you are in shape than when you are out of shape. Friends become jealous, people make catty comments, and acquaintances urge you to give into temptations.
I was successful in evading their attempts to bring me down, but my journey could have been easier if I was more willing to let go of unsupportive friends. I’m able to stand up to them now and acknowledge that they are ‘temptation-creators.’
The ultimate transformation
After the experience, not only did my body transform, but every aspect of my life. The attention I received was unparalleled to my life before. I had gained maturity, independence, confidence, and a new found inner strength that I was able to harness and channel to achieve my goals.
Throughout high school, my grades were anything but important; however, after my transformation, I found myself wholly dedicated to school and higher education. Not only did losing weight improve my health, but I learned that it allowed me to build stronger relationships, a strong sense of inner self, and an overall better well-being.
Taking control of my weight has allowed me to take control of my destiny. The ‘new me’ was someone I appreciated and loved. After my radical transformation in my sophomore year of college, I was finally happy. I had uncovered the truth to the perplexing question: who am I?
I am Brooks Barnard.