My Struggle with the Freshman 15


This semester, I exposed myself – quite literally – in one of the most personal pieces that I have ever written for my student paper. The paper is circulated widely throughout each of Simon Fraser University’s three campuses, and has a massive online presence as well. In the article, I came clean about my unhealthy struggles trying to avoid putting on weight in my first year of college. As post-secondary students, we always joke around about the infamous freshman 15 – pigging out to no end and having a terrible time managing our weight due to stress eating and a lack of time to cook or do adequate exercise. Though the term is often used lightly, in my case, the freshman 15 was ultimately what pushed me to developing an eating disorder. 400300p2999ednmain1840avoid-the-freshman-15.jpg

I was never really happy with my body at any point in my life. Looking at old photo albums would make me cringe at terrible fashion choices, chubby cheeks and a core section that I didn’t hide very well. Puberty was good to me I guess, as I had stretched out (and have since stopped at the ginormous height of 5’2″), gained some pretty reasonable sized breasts, and developed somewhat nice hips.

But I lamented day and night that I wasn’t skinny enough. This was my struggle all throughout high school – I wanted to be skinny, but I didn’t want to give up my eating habits or my relationship with the couch and the TV. My only real activity was gym class and running late to class.

Then senior year rolled around, and I reminded myself that at the end of it all, I had to be in front of all my peers in some sexy dress that made me look like a princess. So at the beginning of my senior year, I made it my goal to slim down by any means – even if it meant cutting back on some junk food, eating more healthy meals and actually taking physical activity seriously.

Throughout high school I had fluctuated between 110 and 120 pounds. By the night of my graduation, I was 105 pounds. 18 years old, 5’2″, and 105 pounds.

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How to be Your Own Health Advocate


One of the biggest struggles once diagnosed with a mental health disorder is trying to find doca team of medical professionals who are supportive and non-judgemental. This can be challenging because while some doctors are very knowledgeable and kind, you occasionally run into some that are not. For example, my first physician who diagnosed me with anxiety simply gave me a diagnosis without offering any suggestions or treatment plans. Her advice was basically, “learn to live with it.” She told me that I had nothing in my life to be stressed out about so I shouldn’t complain. I didn’t seek out a second opinion because I thought that there was nothing I could do to get better. I also ended up feeling guilty because I thought she was right – I hadn’t gone through any type of trauma, so I felt like I did not have the right to complain.

Another time, I had an appointment with a psychiatrist because I was worried about my sleeping patterns. As soon as I mentioned that I had some issues sleeping, he immediately began to write a prescription for sleeping pills. I quickly told him I did not want to take anything for sleep but just wanted to know some of my options. I thought that was a little risky just to be handing out medication like that without taking a proper medical history first.

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Listening to the Body


In my work as a clinical assistant at a naturopathic medical practice, I interact with lots of people every day. Many of them share their stories with me as I help them prepare for treatments with the clinicians. I’ve heard about countless experiences, but one woman’s story in particular has stuck with me for quite some time: the story of her near-fatal brain hemorrhage, her unpredictable recovery, and the powerful lesson she took from it all.

I will admit, I was overwhelmed when she first described her experience dealing with the early stages of a subarachnoid hemorrhage from a burst blood vessel in her brain. “It was like a gunshot at the back of my head,” she explained, “The sensation came forward to the front of my skull and my world turned upside downQuote-about-listening-to-your-body.png. And I thought, ‘This is it. I’m dying.’” She told me of the day it happened and of the chain of serendipitous events that led to her receiving the critical treatment that she needed to survive. She turned out to be part of the small percentage of people who have survived that particular type of hemorrhage with good recovery and little-to-no permanent neurological impairment. She said that her neurologist was astounded throughout her recovery.

But what impressed itself upon me most about her story was not just her survival, but how she was changed by it. I asked her if she was a busy person before the event; to which she replied, “stupid busy.” She described her pre-hemorrhage life as one full of worry and incessant people-pleasing. She was on medication to bring down her blood pressure and to regulate her sleep and blood sugar levels. She was also constantly stressed and anxious about her family, career, side projects, and obligations to others. One day, her body’s coping mechanisms became overwhelmed by all the stress and she was sent a serious message to slow down by way of a trip in the ambulance to the ICU.


Hearing her talk about receiving an important message from her body reminded me of Dr. Gabor Maté’s work. In his book When the Body Says No, he talks about how the body gives us signs to slow down – such as colds, flus, pain, and small injuries – when we are experiencing excess stress. Eventually, he says, if we do not heed these cautionary messages and can no longer withstand the stress, the body stops it for us through much more serious interventions. This excess stress can be physical, emotional or even spiritual. But the good news is that if we are able to learn to say no to unneeded stress, we can start to heal the less serious illnesses and even prevent more serious ones.

“There was incalculable stress in many forms in my life before,” she said. “I was doing things without considering myself and I was getting sick all the time, not sleeping. And now I just don’t do any of that. I don’t see people I don’t like or commit to things that unduly pressure me. And I don’t feel guilty because I could be dead. It’s as simple as that”.

A particular feeling welled up inside of me as I said goodbye after her treatment, and I will call it inspiration. What she said was right. We could all be dead; it’s as simple as that. Life has no guarantees for us yet we mistakenly put up with the physical, emotional and spiritual stress of today for the promise of an improved tomorrow.


Instead, we can become more attentive to our own bodies. What are our patterns of health, sickness, coping, and stress? How can we notice the small signs the body is sending us? How can respect its messages? It is a powerful and beautiful skill that we can cultivate with practice and patience. And we can start today, wherever we are and however we can,  because eventually, it could save our lives.

*This article was printed with the permission of the patient.


Lachlan is a student of natural medicine at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine and a prospective student of contemplative psychotherapy at the Institute for Traditional Medicine in Toronto. She combines her learning from both alternative medicine and buddhist-influenced psychotherapy to develop a new way to address mental health concerns in a truly holistic way- with mind, body and spirit. Her professional interest blossomed out of her own struggles with depression and anxiety, helped greatly by her practices in meditation and ecstatic dance. Lachlan is a spirit, a writer and a traveler who loves the smell of Nag Champa.

For more info on Naturopathic Medicine and Contemplative Psychotherapy, see

Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine

Institute for Traditional Medicine