My relationship with food is so important to me, and it hasn’t always been a good one.

For as long as I can remember (up until I graduated from college), I always had this desire to look a certain way. When I was in high school (and before), I wanted to be skinny. Puberty hit me really early, so between second and third grade, I blew up like a balloon. I also moved after 3rd grade (I was 9 years old) and had to meet new people and make new friends, so I was kind of hyper-aware of my appearance. A lot of the girls I met were naturally very thin and I felt incredibly out of place. From then through high school, I just wanted to be skinny, because I felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb and I just wanted to fit in.

I am grateful that through this time, I was able to keep some sense of objectivity. I was able to take a step back and view myself the way other people viewed me rather than the way I viewed myself-- I knew nobody was standing around thinking about how fat I was or that I was weird or that I didn’t fit in. That’s only how I felt about myself. What helped me was to think about how I viewed other people. I had a friend who always complained about being fat, but from my perspective, she was thin and beautiful. I recognized that just because she viewed herself that way, it didn’t mean other people felt the same way about her. So I allowed that view to give me perspective about myself.

Now, this doesn’t mean that I was never self-conscious or didn’t desire to change the way I looked. It did, however, help me keep some of my sanity and keep my from developing obsessive habits.

I also knew that increasing my knowledge about nutrition and fitness would help me better be able to see myself from an appropriate perspective, so this is around the time I started developing an interest in studying exercise.

This interest also developed because I realized that I did not have a very healthy family. My immediate family is in good health, but my extended family is not.

We have some really great German genetics.

If I was was going to grow up with their same German blood in my body, I knew I would easily be on the same path if I wasn’t conscious about what I was putting in my body.

I actually have this vivid memory early in high school (probably sophomore or junior year because I was starting to think about what to do in college) where I consciously thought to myself that it didn’t matter how much debt I went into, it didn’t matter if I worked in that career after I graduated, but for the next 4-6 years, I need to dedicate my life to learning how to be healthy, or I wouldn’t make it a priority.

Even though at this point I decided that learning how to be healthy was my life’s purpose, that didn’t stop me from gaining 15 lbs my freshman year (even as an athlete).

I couldn’t seem to develop a philosophy for myself or any good habits, because it seemed that no matter what I read or learned about nutrition, I would read something else that completely contradicted it (more on that later).

So by my sophomore year, I had gained 15 lbs while trying to learn how to be healthier (that’s why I went to college). I was also incredibly stressed out between classes and activities.

After quitting just about everything I was involved in (except for school), I was able to focus on intentionally implementing fitness for the first time in my life. Up until then, I had just been active because I was in sports, and was never forced to. After I quit volleyball, I started learning about how to design a fitness program and how to lift weights. I fell in love with strength training and realized I was good at it. I started learning how to fuel my body.

HOWEVER, I also started to fall into some “unhealthy” health habits. Like I would feel guilty about eating “bad” foods. Most of my meals consisted of dry baked chicken and microwaved frozen broccoli. And because I wouldn’t let myself eat “bad” foods, I would often binge when I gave myself the opportunity to.

Eventually I settled into the pattern I am in now-- I don’t deny myself McDonald's or pizza or ice cream. I eat lots of fruits and vegetables, because I understand they are full of nutrients and lots of good stuff, but I also know that as long as I manage my portion sizes and eat a variety of foods and maintain my weight, there is nothing wrong with fast food or pizza or takeout every now and then.

It has taken over a decade of solid work to get here.

Here's what I wish I could tell my 17-year-old self:

You’re doing a lot of things right. It might not feel like it right now. You don’t really know who you are yet. But you’re doing so many things right.

At 17 years old, you weigh 175 lbs and think you are overweight.

I can’t wait for you to fall in love with the gym and get as strong as you possibly can, because in 10 years, you will have gained and lost 25 lbs, be stronger than you ever believed you could, and feel like 175 lbs is pushing underweight. And the funny thing is, you couldn’t really care less about how much you weigh. You feel good and you’re healthy and that’s what truly matters to you.

At 27, you will weigh exactly what you need to be healthy and have very little excess body fat. You won’t be overweight. You won’t be underweight. You’ll be strong. You’ll be confident. You’ll be, by pretty much every definition of the phrase, “a picture of perfect health.” And that’s really all you’ve ever wanted. You’ve worked hard and you’ve struggled and you’ve learned so much. And now, because you’re a teacher, you get to help and teach the girls who are in the same shoes you are right now. You wish you had that mentor in your life, but you’ve always been very independent and have kind of been turned off by advice. Now, you get to be a mentor to young women just like you. And that’s really really all you’ve ever wanted.

<3