5 Things I Learned About My Body After Ignoring My Health In College

by Erika Huber

It's my senior year, and I feel like a senior citizen. My joints hurt, I'm tired all the time and stairs are my enemy. The past three and a half years of college life have worn me down.

It didn't have to be like this. I could have done a lot of things differently in order to avoid a system crash. But here I am, 22 going on 90.

Here are five things I learned from forgetting to take care of myself at school:

1. Freshman bod is greater than — not equal to — senior bod.

Surprisingly, our bodies change a lot during the time we're at college.

A lot of us will realize (much to our dismay) that the hangover is real when you're finally of the legal age to be hungover. My 18-year-old body could spring right out of bed after a crazy Friday night, but my 22-year-old body will spend Saturday morning and afternoon praying for the mere ability to crawl.

Over the course of my college career, I have developed spring allergies I've never had before, a lactose intolerance and the dire need for sleep I could once go without.

Not all of us will experience drastic changes to our bodies during college, but a lot of us do. Our biological functions change throughout our lives. My problem was I was in total denial of this fact of life, and I went against it.

2. Health and fitness are not a part-time deal.

After straining muscles I didn't even know I had, I came to the very obvious realization that strenuous activities and workouts have to be built up to. You can't just randomly go hard one day and expect your body to be like, “Wow, I feel so good now. Please keep making me do things I'm not equipped to do.”

The body needs constant maintenance and care. Getting fit isn't something you can wait until the last minute to do.

Dieting takes time as well. Our bodies need vitamins and nutrients.

3. One weekend is all you need to throw your system out of whack.

Over winter break, I celebrated the holidays and several birthdays. I did “eat, drink and be merry” like never before, and I made no time or effort toward being health-conscious.

While the holiday season is notoriously known as the season for letting ourselves go thanks to “bulking” and “cuffing” with equally squishy and lazy partners, the people who make things the hardest on themselves during this time are the ones in college. We have just finished grueling finals, so we celebrate literally everything.

“Passed my math class by a point!” Drink. “Got an internship for the spring!” Eats entire cheesecake.

We college kids come up with the craziest excuses to eat and party during winter, and then we go back to school a month and a half before spring break, thus transitioning from one extreme to the other. How my winter break body will be ready for spring break, I have no idea.

4. Being legal doesn't mean you need to drink whenever you go out.

As soon as I turned 21, I was overwhelmed by my menu freedom at restaurants. I suddenly had a reason to pair a chicken Caesar salad with a super sugary alcoholic drink in a fancy glass.

It's easy to abuse the power of being legal, and it comes back to bite you in the stomach and bank account.

5. I'm young, but I'm not bionic.

It was a sad day when I realized pulling an all-nighter would leave me nauseas and incoherent the next day. I'd been writing entire papers the night before they were due for years, but suddenly, my body was like, “Nope, sorry.”

I used to be able to go through classes without eating, and I'd still be cognitively functional. Not anymore. I have to make time to eat, or I'm useless.

I also used to pig out — food baby and all — and then wake up like I'd never put myself in a food coma. Goodbye to those days and my miraculous metabolism. Hello, gym.

All the lessons I've learned (the hard way) about taking care of myself really stem from common sense. But the point I'm making here is that a lot of us push our bodies to the edge in college because they've never failed us before.

We think we're indestructible, until something happens to make us slow down and realize that just isn't true.

I learned to get past the denial of my inevitable aging. I now pump the brakes and take the time to do all the little things that'll keep my machine running smoothly.

I may not need a cane to get across the stage at graduation after all.