August 1st is #NationalGirlfriendsDay: This Calls For Mimosas and Mammograms

August 1st is #NationalGirlfriendsDay: This Calls For Mimosas and Mammograms

“So, this might be TMI, but…” is the standard disclaimer for a frank conversation a weird rash, a mole that might be a freckle, a lump that feels lumpier, or a tuft of hair in a place no woman wants to find hair. It goes without saying the ugly truth about a woman’s health issues usually flows as freely as Chardonnay on a girl’s night out when she’s with her friends, but many women are reluctant to raise their concerns when they’re face-to-face with an actual physician snapping on a pair of latex gloves. In a world that still largely regards “women’s health” as being synonymous with “period problems,” these candid conversations shared among girlfriends at brunch or waiting in line for the bathroom at a bar may seem like the stuff of a Redbox movie you regret renting, but they can actually play a significant role in women’s lives.

Outside one’s sacrosanct circle of girlfriends—the trusted ones who have held your hair back after too much tequila and hexed every employer and J. Crew bro who’s ever turned you down—talking about your health is a duty fraught with sweaty palms and an urge to flee. In the doctor’s exam room on that crinkly wax paper table cover wearing nothing more than a hospital gown and socks that don’t actually match in the light of day, every woman has experienced the same tense moment. After the doc scribbles something on your chart that you assume could only be, “Didn’t shave for this appointment,” the final click of a pen warns that it’s time for the question you’ve been dreading: “Have you had any problems lately?”

Initially, you think back to last week when you were in traffic and some jerk with more than five bumper stickers barged into your lane, prompting a Gone Girl-esque trance in which you imagined following him home and becoming his family’s nanny through a series of unlikely circumstances. Over time you’d strategically ruin his life little by little, removing the bumper stickers from his car one-by-one as his success and happiness go down the drain. You just want to confirm with a professional if that extent of hypothetical sociopathic revenge is an appropriate response to a reckless lane changer.

But then you remember how your period was doing weird things a few months ago. Or that headache last week that felt like electric eels were hammering your eyeballs from inside your brain. Or that day your nipple was super itchy. Or the diet you’ve been following lately that’s making you feel kind of woozy sometimes. Even with all these unresolved worries, our standard answer to the problem question is some version of, “Nooooope! Not that I can think of.”

For every one woman with no qualms about discussing everything from her labia to Lyme disease with her doctor, there are several more women who’d rather put their faith in Google and Dr. Oz rather than have an uncomfortable conversation with their physician. Every woman should strive to feel as comfortable with her doctor as her hair stylist or her attorney, but if you’re seeing same doctor who delivered you and diagnosed your chicken pox and for some reason is also the pastor at your church and your mechanic, it might feel a little weird talking with him or her about vaginal discharge. Your best friends may not be medical professionals, but as women we owe it to each other to be informed about what’s normal and what requires medical intervention ASAP and pass that information along the next time one of our former MySpace Top 8 ladies complain of a yeast infectionfluenza sinus strep throat pulled muscleitis.

When you’re celebrating #NationalGirlfriendsDay with drinks and a bootleg copy of Magic Mike XXL, take a second to check in and make sure your friends are taking care of themselves. Don’t assume that because everyone in your squad is posting fire selfies on Instagram or trying Paleo for the third time that health isn’t worth discussing. Ask if your sister’s crazy hours at work are still affecting her blood pressure. Trade pap smear stories. Dish on how your stay active between Netflix binges and happy hours. Find out your friend is handling her anxiety. We’re always moving so fast–buying the Oreos we “forgot,” attempting a fancy DIY Pinterest manicure, debating between Valencia and Lo-Fi, budgeting for our next vacation, working overtime to score that promotion–and health too often falls to the bottom of our I Should Maybe Think About That list. We owe it to ourselves and each other (and our cats, significant others, kids, dying plants, etc.) to be aware of how we’re taking care of ourselves.

 

To help you get the conversation going, Oscar Health Insurance Company has consolidated all the checkups and immunizations that should be on your radar, categorized by age, in an infographic for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Oscar is all about their members really taking control of their health and offers their members a variety of services through their app to make sure they don’t wait until the last minute to get checked out. If you’re interested in learning more about Oscar (that’s the health insurance company, not the garbage-dwelling grouch), you can check our their individual health insurance plans in New York and New Jersey. In the meantime, use their checklist to see if you’re taking all the necessary health precautions, and be a good girlfriend on #NationalGirlfriendsDay and pass it along to the ladies in your life. I’m confident mimosas and mammograms could totally become a thing.

Oscar Women's Checkups

 

Leave The Gym Resolutioners Alone

Leave The Gym Resolutioners Alone

We’ve all seen them. There could be one next to you right now on the treadmill holding on for dear life and hiking up a level 15 incline. You may have spotted one inquisitively eying a BOSU ball, wondering what manner of cruel and unusual punishment a semi-circle could possibly deliver. They’re the Resolutioners who have taken your gym by storm this January to get started on their weight loss and fitness goals, and they haven’t received the warmest of welcomes.

I used to be a Resolutioner. In fact, I can say with confidence that “losing weight” or “eating better” was probably my staple resolution from the year 2003 through 2011. When it comes to my New Year’s resolutions, it was probably only surpassed in frequency by “This year I’m going to have a boyfriend,” or “This year I’m committing to not being so quiet and weird.”

I never stuck to it. I’d show up to the gym in January side-by-side with the men who were put on diets by their wives and the women who want to feel more comfortable in a bathing suit this summer, and for about two weeks, I’d dutifully serve my time on the cardio equipment and hit the mat to do all my crunches. But then one day something would always come up. A tiring, stressful day. The start of my period. A meal that completely undermined every health goal ever set forth by anyone. I’d skip a day or two, and pretty soon I’d stop showing at the gym altogether, becoming the stereotypical person who starts the new year with lofty weight loss goals and abandons them when the going gets rough.

Eventually, I did accomplish the goal I set in my weight loss resolutions each year, but that journey didn’t begin January 1st. Not even close. It was between August 2011 and October 2012 that I lost 120 pounds. I didn’t realize that August was the beginning of something until after I succeeded. You see, after trying and failing to lose weight so many times, you begin every new attempt at being healthier with a measured skepticism, because you know when you don’t have the best track record. I know how hard it is to get started and keep going — and I also know how the start of a new year is empowering — so while I understand why most of us assume (sometimes rightly) that the Resolutioners are embarking on a fool’s errand, I think we could we have a better attitude about it.

This year especially, I’ve noticed that everyone’s really mad at the Resolutioners. I’ve seen a lot of Facebook posts and tweets being posted live from the gym that say things like,

ugh gym is so crowded from these ny resolutioners

can’t wait til the gym gets back to normal after the resolutioners give up

bet there’s gonna be a lot of people at the gym this month…

There was a time when I would have gladly joined these naysayers, grabbed a kettlebell, and rousted these posers from their respective fitness equipment. I know it’s inconvenient circling the gym parking lot for a space, and believe me, I completely relate to the horrible inconvenience of someone using your favorite exercise bike, but what does it say about us that instead of being (even quietly) supportive, we’re jaded on behalf of the Resolutioners who haven’t given up yet?

As someone who has done it several times before, I know how it goes. Many of the people crowding your gym in January will not be there come February or March, but could we extend a disinfectant wipe of peace here? We want people to get healthy, fit, thin, whatever just as long as it doesn’t inconvenience us when one of the newbies uses the hip abductor machine for ten minutes while one of us regulars is impatiently tapping our foot nearby. The “new year, new me” routine has become a bad cliche, but we should be able to put aside our disdain and acknowledge that even if someone doesn’t succeed on their first try, thinking about their health, fitness, and eating habits is an admirable thing–regardless of what time of the year it happens.

Maybe some of the Resolutioners are doing it for the wrong reasons. Maybe they’re not as motivated as you are all 365 days of the year. Maybe one of them really is systematically trying to ruin your workout experience by hogging all your favorite things. All of that could be true, but all of us regular (and less regular than we’d like to admit) gym-goers should make the choice to be supportive anyway. No eyerolls, no snarky tweets about the guy who couldn’t figure out the stepper, and no wishes that the Resolutioners fail just so you don’t have to deal with them in your shared space anymore. We should all be hoping the Resolutioners become regulars because that means they succeeded.

My advice? Leave the Resolutioners alone and focus on you.

This article is also featured on Huffington Post.


You can follow Katie on Twitter and Instagram (@bykatiehoffman), and don’t forget to like Sass & Balderdash on Facebook!

Stop the Holiday Plate Hate

Stop the Holiday Plate Hate

It happens every holiday season. Pies, cookies, cakes, candy canes, gingerbread houses, failed recipes that still resulted in you licking the spatula when the dough may or may not have just been butter, sugar, and raw eggs–there’s a ton of delicious food hidden around the house in Tupperware containers like a breadcrumb trail to diabetes.

Separating eating from the joy of the holiday season is challenging, because a lot of us have some very specific positive memories about the holiday baking from when we were still leaving milk and cookies out for Santa. I come from a cookie household; every holiday season my mom would make chocolate chip cookies and sugar cookies. When she made the chocolate chip cookies, she’d give me my own little bowl of the semi-sweet chips, and while she gave everything a final stir with the designated wooden cookie spoon, I’d meticulously lick both of the beaters clean. In hindsight, these may have been strategies to keep me away from dipping into the dough for a few minutes rather than privileges. Have you ever noticed that moms make the best cookie dough? I’ve made numerous batches of cookies using the same recipe my mom uses, but the cookie dough never turns out as creamy and perfect as when she does it. I’m convinced that becoming a mother ups a woman’s cookie dough game.

As for the sugar cookies, they had to be rolled red and green sugars, and it was my responsibility to keep the bowls filled with enough sugar to coat the tiny balls of dough. Sometimes I’d get creative and roll a cookie in both the red and green sugars, and my mom would pat my head and feign wonder at my astonishing creativity. Before the first batch of cookies was done, she would tear a long sheet of paper towels and lay it across the length of our kitchen table. In the later years, I’d play defense in an effort to keep my dog Milly from stealing all the cookies.

I have so many happy holiday memories of family, togetherness, gifts, but most of all, eating. With so many food preparation traditions, it’s impossible not to get a little nostalgic for when the counter felt a lot taller than it does now and recalling a time when cracking two eggs gave you a profound sense of accomplishment. As a kid, watching my mom transform a bunch of carefully measured, yet seemingly random, ingredients into something delicious was like seeing a magic show in the kitchen. Maybe none of that should compel me to eat more, but it does. I think that’s true for a lot of us. We’re eating cookies (cakes, etc.), but we’re also consuming memories in the most tangible way we know how.

And so we fill our plates to celebrate, to relax, and to remember, and we feel the need to justify it.

“With all the gift wrapping I endured, I deserve this entire pie!”

“I always gain weight during the holiday season–no use fighting it.”

“I’ll work it all off in January… I’ll even make resolution.”

Can I tell you something–something that you shouldn’t take lightly coming from someone who is admittedly an emotional eater and still managed to lose 120 pounds without cleansing, teatoxing, or bidding farewell to carbs? You can (and maybe should) eat some extra goodies during the holidays, because even if you successful abstain from all the cookies, you will find an excuse to spite eat later on, and it might be worse than what you would’ve eaten in Santa’s honor. What’s spite eating? It’s when you eat a bunch of garbage to get revenge on yourself because you regret not eating something else (i.e. the seasonal goodies).

Even though it’s weird to tie food to your emotions, and it has the potential to lead to overeating and/or weight gain if you’re not completely honest with yourself about it, I think it’s a lot more common this time of year than we realize. The holidays bring up a lot of stuff; they can be stressful whether it’s because of in-laws or your shopping budget, and turning to the sugar cookies your mom used to make is probably better than drinking an entire bottle of wine or Scrooging and Grinching all over someone’s holiday spirit. Fitness gurus might advise, “Going to the gym will make you feel better! Don’t let holiday eating ruin your routine!” Well, yeah, I can totally confirm that 30 minutes of cardio will get those endorphins going, but what “routine” are you ruining by eating an extra cookie? Living your life?

Look, I’m not advocating you eat your way into a merry Christmas, but as long as you’re honest and aware of what you’re eating and why, you’ll be in a good position to balance your holiday food intake with your normal diet and physical activity. We shouldn’t use the holidays as an excuse to gain weight just because it’s trendy to bond over our egg nog and collective body shame this time of year, but we need to stop the holiday plate hate, too. No one should live in fear or self-loathing because some gingerbread men got the best of him or her. Most importantly, we need to stop basing all our eating decisions on a New Year’s Resolution to get in great shape by summer. When it comes to taking care of your body, future promising is possibly the worst thing you can do (besides eating raw butter), because there are no guarantees besides your good intentions, and I hate to be the one to tell you this, but those aren’t always enough to motivate you.

Take one day at a time, and keep everything in perspective. If you feel like eating all the cookies, ask yourself why that is and decide your portions from there. Don’t think of eating only in terms of what you’ll need to do on the treadmill to erase those calories. And please please please, don’t opt out of holiday traditions because you can’t trust yourself around brown sugar (this one’s mostly for me, shout-out to brown sugar).

If you can be honest about your eating, you’ll be able get through the holidays enjoying food and making memories without sabotaging your health or fitness goals. I promise.

Keeping It Off

Keeping It Off

As of October 2014, it’s been two years since I lost 120 pounds. In case you’re just tuning in, I lost weight from August 2011 to October 2012.

There are articles out there that suggest once you’ve been significantly overweight, even if you lose a substantial amount of weight, it’s nearly impossible to keep it off. Apparently there’s research and science behind it, and I’m sure if you’re looking for a reason to give up on your latest diet, you’ll Google that article, cancel your gym membership, and whip out your bag of despair Doritos because why not? You’re doomed.

I hate about 90% of what I read about losing weight. I hate these inspirational people who talk about eating kale like it was religious experience. I hate reading about all these bizarre diets, cleanses, and teatoxes. I hate seeing “after” pictures of people who lost hundreds of pounds, yet miraculously have not one inch of loose skin draping their body. I hate people who think because they’ve lost weight they understand every obese person in the world and must impart their profound wisdom unto them to save them. I hate these fitness Instagram accounts that claim squats can give you an ass that was very obviously assisted with fat injections and/or implants. I hate that people compare themselves to celebrities who have hardcore trainers and the freedom to workout for hours every day if they wanted. I hate that there are people who assume losing weight is an admission that you hated yourself when you were fat, and therefore you think all other fat people in the world are gross and should do exactly what you did.

If you want to lose weight, I mean seriously lose weight, you don’t need to cut out carbs or sugar or dairy, you need to cut out the bullshit. 

You want to know how I got fat? A thyroid problem? A weird gene mutation? A slow metabolism? Nope. I got fat because I predominantly ate shitty things and didn’t exercise. It was that simple. Now, that’s not say one should never eat shitty things or going to the gym is mandatory to be a “healthy” person, but matching your french fries with a little walking will make you feel better, even though you won’t want it to. I remember when I started going to the gym, I was hoping it would be awful. I was hoping I’d gain weight somehow, and I could rationalize that being the gym was actually bad for me, so I should just stay home and keep eating to entertain myself.

When you want to become healthier and lose weight truly for yourself–not because your parents want you to, your best friend does yoga, or you have a wedding coming up–you need to be honest about your bad habits and your food weaknesses. It’s 5:28 AM as I write this, and if someone presented me with a dozen cookies, I would probably eat half of them, because I’d insist that calories don’t count until after 6 AM. I eat to relieve stress. I enjoy going to restaurants and eating because it soothes the anxiety of life. It’s not crystal meth, but it’s a weird coping mechanism at best and an addiction at worst.

I lost weight the hard, awful, soul-crushing way: I improved my diet and started to exercise regularly. I didn’t avoid carbs. I do not always “eat clean.” Processed foods, gluten, dairy, and chocolate are all part of my diet. I don’t drink soda. I avoid fast food. I try to eat a fruit and/or a vegetable with every meal. I eat a portion size fit for a 24-year-old woman and not a walrus. I work out for at least 30 minutes every day–a combination of cardio and strength training. Losing the weight is easy (despite the gallstones), but maintaining my weight is the truly hard part. The year that I lost weight started at the beginning of my senior year of college and ended the fall after I graduated, so I was only working part time for that duration. Weight loss easily became a priority then, because I had all the time in the world. No one wanted to hire me, so I may as well hit that strength training class! Now that I work full time, I’m not in the same pique physical condition I was in when I could work out for two hours every day, but that’s okay. I’m a real person now with a routine. It’s good to have distractions so you can adjust your lifestyle accordingly. I’m happy to have settled into a new routine that I can reasonably maintain longterm.

Losing weight is probably one of the most significant things I have accomplished and will accomplish in my life, and I can’t guarantee I’ll never gain it back anymore than I can guarantee Lindsay Lohan won’t relapse (again). All I (or anyone) can hope to do is be honest and aware of my bad habits. It’s not easy, and it’ll probably on get harder over time, but I refuse to believe that because I was fat most of my life that I’m destined to be fat again.

How to Really Achieve the Perfect ‘Beach Body’

How to Really Achieve the Perfect ‘Beach Body’

As sunny skies and warmer temperatures promise to banish any lingering winter sweaters to the back of the closet, we’ll soon be welcoming the beginning of swimsuit season — which also means it’s only a matter of time before we’re besieged with advice about how to obtain the elusive “beach body.”

You’ll find clues in clever magazine headlines (“Make ‘Em Swoon this June with a Toned Tummy!”) and lurking in every unwelcome pop-up on the Internet, as if attaining this “beach body” is a high-stakes, low-calorie scavenger hunt whose success predicts how much fun you’ll have this summer. One article will guarantee the fat-busting powers of this or that super fruit! An esteemed blogger will extol the virtues of bodyweight exercises! That one famous personal trainer will insist that following his two week plan will whittle the waist of your dreams!

Without disputing the efficacy of any of those methods, I want to fill you in on a little secret that you may have forgotten between pomegranate and plyometrics: You already have a beach body. Believe it or not, you’re in it right now.

This alleged “beach body” is actually the same as your “lounging-on-the-couch” body and your “sitting-in-a-boring-meeting” body. Your “beach body” is not being held hostage anywhere, and a month of healthy eating and exercise isn’t required to rescue it from its carbohydrate-crazed captors. The truth is, unless you have an open wound, a sand allergy or you ate less than 30 minutes ago, you are qualified to slather on some sunscreen, put on a swimsuit and head to the beach.

Summertime may be the season of fun in the sun, but it’s also the time of year when body consciousness is at its apex. Despite acknowledging that our insecurities are something we all have in common, all too often we’d rather pursue vague body ideals rather than take an honest look at ourselves in the mirror and determine what we need to do to be happy in the body that we have. When it comes to our physique, we’re quick to prioritize the value of what we could have over what’s already ours. It certainly doesn’t help that countless entities have made a business of making us feel as though our bodies must be a constant work in progress, devalued by an endless list of finishing touches that promise to bring us one step closer to confidence, a six-pack, or a “beach body.” The trouble doesn’t lie within having insecurities about how our bodies look in our swimsuits; the issue is that we allow third parties to make that distinction on our behalf.

Striving to feel and look your best at the beach (or anywhere) is a positive goal, but using this “beach body” balderdash isn’t the right way to achieve it. Instead of worrying about some transcendent beach body that could be yours after a week of crunches or adhering to a stringent juice cleanse, embrace your body. Accept the body you have that exists right now — the body that thanklessly gets you around everywhere, the body that you scrutinize unkindly and the body that will still be around once the swimsuits are gone and the sweaters triumphantly return from the shadowy depths of your closet.

If you go to the beach this summer, I promise you that you won’t see two bodies that look exactly the same. You will not be an outsider looking on from the sidelines while everyone in the “beach body” club plays volleyball. There is not one definitive “beach body.” There’s your body, what you do with it and how you treat it. Don’t let anyone else’s perception of a “beach body” determine whether you wear a tee shirt or a cover-up.

Most importantly, instead of looking for methods to achieve a “beach body” this summer, pour yourself a glass of lemonade and enjoy the sunshine.

This post originally appeared on Huffington Post.

5 Things to Keep in Mind Before You Ditch the Gym This Year

5 Things to Keep in Mind Before You Ditch the Gym This Year

With the end of January closing in, many gym-going New Year’s resolutioners will stow away their neon gym shoes, delete their food-logging apps, and hang up their resistance bands in defeat. Regardless of what your get-healthy goals are for 2014, if you’re feeling a little jaded, intimidated, or overwhelmed by what’s going on around you at the gym, here are things to keep in mind before canceling your membership.

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1. You don’t have to run

You also don’t have to do yoga if you’re not interested in reuniting with your transcendental self. You don’t have to take spin classes if going to spin classes is tantamount to torture in your book. Not everyone is a runner or a yogi, and just because you don’t have any marathons or downward facing dogs in your future doesn’t mean you can’t accomplish your fitness goals. When you go into the gym, especially as a newbie, it’s easy to feel pigeonholed just looking around. You’ll see all the treadmill devotees, elliptical junkies, Stairmaster admirers, and you’ll feel oddly pressured to commit to one lifestyle, even if you hate it. There’s no one right way to get/stay healthy or lose weight — so don’t feel guilty for not listening to the treadmill’s siren calls.

2. Leave your insecurity in the locker room

When I was 120 pounds heavier than I am today, one of my biggest fears about losing weight was simply setting foot in the gym. I was apprehensive enough to believe all the super-fit people would collectively pause their up-tempo Rihanna covers and snicker behind my back while I drowned in my own sweat for 30 minutes on the elliptical. In hindsight, maybe a few of them did laugh at me when I thought I could keep up a 6.5 MPH pace on the treadmill, but it really doesn’t matter. Repeat this mantra the next time you feel the least bit insecure at the gym: I’m here with the best intentions to be healthy, and no matter what I’m physically able to accomplish, I showed up. Don’t let the potential for what someone could think hinder or halt your progress.

3. You don’t need special gear

Sure, the moisture-wicking is great, and a miscellaneous zippered pocket above your ass crack can really come in handy, but don’t think you have to spend a fortune to fit in at the gym. There’s no shame in wearing a baggy tee shirt from college and some elastic band pants with a stripe down the side to your workout (my go-to look, by the way). Trust me, you’re going to be sweaty and disgusting whether your tag says “Nike” or not. And, ladies, just the skip the make-up, OK? Your swinging ponytail pendulum as you jog is sure to capture the hearts and minds of countless gym bros.

4. Race the person next to you

Sometimes your “Eye of the Tiger” playlist won’t be enough to motivate you through the longest 15-minute stationary bike ride of your life. In these times of desperation, I like to pretend I’m racing the person next to me. Nothing gets the adrenaline pumping like totally schooling some middle-aged man or the Lululemon lady—whether they’re aware of it or not.

5. Be reasonable

Despite your best intentions, you won’t be able to get to the gym every time you want to go. One day you’ll be hungover; next month you’ll be on vacation indulging in some delicious escapism so satisfying that the dreaded kettle bells will cease to exist for a while. Don’t feel guilty for deviating from your exercise regimen, but don’t let life’s special occasions tempt you into an excuse-filled shame spiral into couch potatodom. Don’t use that bogus reasoning that because you already missed the gym two days, you may as well not go back to the gym until next week. Some days you’ll have to drag yourself to the gym, moping the whole way. Don’t let the rough days divert your attention from all the other days you felt like you really kicked ass when you worked out.

Originally published to ThoughtCatalog.

Blurred Lines: About Food, Not Robin Thicke

Blurred Lines: About Food, Not Robin Thicke

No matter how many times you get your heart broken, have a birthday, get promoted, or survive another day without Ian Somerhalder responding to your declaration of love via Twitter, food will always be there. Food becomes a major part of our lives, from looking forward to the dry chicken and five-tiered cake at weddings to the curative powers of anything containing chocolate, it’s easy to have a complicated relationship with what’s in the fridge simply because eating becomes a major part of so many of our experiences.

There are those who buy books dedicated to food’s preparation, and those who delight in chowing down on whatever those oven-mitted martyrs prepare. There are those who see food only for how many calories it could potentially add to their waistline, those who see food as a flavorful enemy, and those who treat food likes a reliable, silent confidante. For a long time, I was relying on food for consolation, but after too many unreturned texts and catching food having dinner with my best friend, I finally saw food for what it really is: what’s on my plate.

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My complicated relationship with food probably started in second grade. I was eight when my grandma died and I started staying home by myself before and after school because I was an only child, and my mom worked full time. …That isn’t an RSVP to a pity party, by the way, that’s just what happened.

When I’d get home from school, after conquering my reading homework, I’d find myself bored watching Arthur on PBS. To pass the time, I started having snacks even when I wasn’t that hungry. A few cookies one day, some strawberries the next, a small bag of potato chips the day after that. It didn’t seem like a big deal, but I didn’t realize I was setting a precedent.

Back then, I was forcing boredom and food together much in the same way I made my dog stuffed animals marry outside of their breeds. As I got older, any time I was bored, I’d grab a snack or a can of pop–it became a reflex. In junior high and high school, when stress (at least what I thought was stress then) became a part of my life, my entertainment eating turned into eating when sad, happy, nervous, annoyed, content, worried, or premenstrual. Food became the common denominator for experiencing everything I felt. Its primary purpose wasn’t nutrition, sustenance, flavor, celebration, reward, or even an answer to a growling stomach. It became my constant; a way to deal with whatever life threw my way, a convenient emotional booty call just waiting for me in the kitchen cabinets or refrigerator door. This tempting tradition resulted in my metamorphosis from pleasantly plump to technically obese.

I can recall several moments where I had glimpses of honesty about my eating habits. I’d be on my third piece of pizza thinking, “Why am I eating so much of this?” I’d be absentmindedly watching a movie with a bag of Chex Mix, and reach in for another fistful, hopefully filled those delicious dark brown rye chips, and come up only with crumbs. “Oh my gosh, I ate that entire bag one sitting…” I was relieving my stress by treating my stomach like a bottomless pit. I thought filling my stomach would make me feel whole. The thing is, the respite only lasted until I found the bottom of my ice cream bowl.

At the beginning of my senior year of college, with the inevitability of “real life” looming on the calendar, marked by a graduation cap in May, that something changed; I changed. I realized that even though I was generally happy, I wasn’t healthy, and more importantly, I could be happier without my eating habits weighing on my conscience every time I took a gratuitous bite. I needed to get the Hamburglar off my back.

I analyzed my relationship with food, and take it from me, it’s not easy to admit to yourself that you’re relying on a huge helping of chicken alfredo to let yourself feel. Beyond my emotional eating, it didn’t help that I was eating proportions that would make Gaston from Beauty and the Beast blush and treating McChickens like their own food group. I objectively appraised my diet, and I saw that I needed to make changes to be healthier. I didn’t go gluten free or vegetarian. I didn’t embark on the Paleo Diet or Master Cleanse. I changed my perception of what and why I was eating, and in so doing, I gained a deeper appreciation for all food, including the green stuff that’s good for you.

There’s nothing wrong with celebrating with a piece of cake, taking a friend out to dinner, or indulging in a cupcake because it was one of those days, but I think it’s important to know why you’re eating what you’re eating. I hate these blurred lines with food, because it so easily becomes a stress ball, a shoulder to cry on, or a way to pass the time, but I’m more aware now.

Now food is just what’s on my plate.