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Sydney Sadick is a fashion and lifestyle expert who also hosts a weekly show on @TMRWxTODAY talking to the hottest internet celebrities of the moment. In her new book, "Aim High: How to Style Your Life and Achieve Your Goals," Sadick opens up about gaining 30 pounds in college and learning to ignore Instagram messages calling her "chubby." Read the excerpt below.
Chapter 9: Tipping the Scale
When I was growing up, I never thought about my weight. My mom cooked almost every night, so what I ate was essentially chosen for me. I loved sweets, (and still do) and I always had a healthy relationship with food. Unlike many of the girls around me, I didn’t control the food I ate or not eat something that I really wanted. I never overanalyzed how I looked in clothes and kind of accepted myself as is. I was happy with how I looked, and confident with my outfit choices. I was fortunate to have a caring family that enabled me to develop this healthy relationship to body image.
However, I was surrounded by friends who sometimes grew up with different circumstances and obsessively discussed body image. Frequent complaints included “My hips are too wide!” and “My stomach isn’t flat enough!” The list went on and on. Remember that iconic scene in "Mean Girls" when Gretchen Weiner says, “My hairline is so weird” and the rest of the clique follows suit with “My pores are huge” and “My nail beds suck”? Honestly the rants became background noise to me, because at that time I couldn’t relate. But these insecurities, retrospectively, represented something bigger. Your weight, health, and exercise habits can impact all aspects of your life, including how you dress. Feeling good impacts looking good and creating this foundation early is advised.
When I was 18, I entered my freshman year of college at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and there was a lot of talk about the “freshman fifteen” (a typical weight gain of 15 pounds). Even then, I didn’t take this phenomenon seriously; it applied to others and not me. I felt totally immune to it, concluding that the freshman fifteen was linked to horrific eating habits like late night pizza (everyone in D.C. went to Jumbo Slice, the after-party hot spot also known as the hub for the best pizza in town) and drinking lots of alcohol (a prerequisite for Jumbo Slice). College drinking is such a major contributing factor to weight gain and luckily it wasn’t my thing. I’ve never been fond of alcohol, never experimented with it in high school, and didn’t even drink until I turned twenty-one in college. I still don’t drink that much to this day.
During my first week of college I met two boys who grew up in Pittsburgh, my mom’s hometown. They all went to the same high school. We quickly realized that we all were focused on our work and careers and hated drinking and going to clubs. So much for fun college times! So, when my girlfriends went out to the bars and clubs, the three of us tried different restaurants around D.C.—pizza places, Chinese, Italian, the list continues. Retrospectively, I was ordering more than I realized to keep up with the boys’ larger appetites. Even when I started with healthy salad, I had French fries on the side. Pasta alone apparently wasn’t enough, so I added bread. Lots of it.
To top it off, dessert became a habit each and every night. I am not talking about shared desserts with my friends or a few bites of a chocolate cake. Let me get real with you: think mile high cakes, bread puddings, cookies, and pies. There was no stopping me at Old Ebbitt Grill, a restaurant next to the White House known for top politicians meeting and negotiating policies. For me, this is where I negotiated (with myself) how much dessert I could eat in one night. D.C. was also a launching pad for several amazing cupcake emporiums, and I suddenly became a cupcake aficionado! Loads and loads of cupcakes in every flavor combination imaginable from s’mores to banana. Cupcakes became my freshman year guilty pleasure and I downed them as often as my friends downed beers. Give me some Red Velvet and "Sex and the City" reruns and I was good to go!
I remember the very day I realized I’d gained weight. I had just finished rushing for my sorority. I put on a black dress for a girl’s night out and my stomach was truly bulging out of it.
It was a “food baby” on steroids. I couldn’t believe it. It’s even hard writing about this now, years later, because it was such a raw moment. I totally lost control. At first I thought I was just bloated (maybe my period was coming?), but I was actually “bloated” for the prior three weeks. Looking at myself in the mirror, I was beyond upset, so I decided to go weigh myself on a scale.
I’d gained thirty pounds. I’m really petite (five foot one) so a thirty-pound weight gain on someone with my height and build was impossible to hide and I didn’t handle it well. I became the latest person to embark on a trend that I had not been planning on following: not just the freshman fifteen, but the freshman thirty. I was devastated, to say the least.
Weeks went by and I still felt horrible, so I called my grandpa Marvin because he was the only person who could make what felt like the worst scenario seem OK. He told me I’m beautiful and I would deal with it like I do with everything else. That was helpful, but it would take a long time for me to feel confident in my own body again.
It wasn’t until I moved back home after graduation that I made health (not weight loss) a priority. I hired a trainer (Yeufre; you can see him in my Instagram stories), worked out three days a week for an entire year, and ate smaller portions. Also, just being back in New York City made a difference. I could walk everywhere. In college I was basically walking from the dorm to class to the library and back to the dorm. NYC was my playground to walk around in! I was studying so much in D.C. that I was just sitting all the time and had limited natural exercise. Finally, post-grad, I found a winning combination of the changes I made and saw strong results. These changes didn’t happen overnight though; to be realistic, it took a few years of a stressful job and a healthy exercise and food program to get into the best shape of my life and back to feeling confident wearing clothes beyond leggings and sweatshirts. A friend of mine once told me to be careful when wearing leggings because they are almost too comfortable, and it’s easy to eat as much as you want. Quite honestly, those clothes make me a little uncomfortable now. They take me back to the years of my struggle and you shouldn’t own or wear anything that will impact your mood or confidence. All of those college clothes were either sent to a consignment store or given away. As a graduate trying to make waves and achieve her goals, there was no room for memories of these haunting times.
To note, I’m not a hundred pounds like I was when I started college, but I still lost a lot of weight and have never looked thinner or felt better! It really isn’t about the number, but how the weight is distributed, and, as we know, muscle weighs more than fat. It’s almost scary looking back at how naive I was in my food choices. Even sadder is how upset I was at myself: how much I hated looking in the mirror and getting dressed in the morning. It still hurts when I get random direct messages from women on Instagram today, almost weekly, criticizing my weight, one writing that I have a “fupa”; another that I’m chubby. I’ve found that the better I look the more girls are being catty and making my weight a topic of their conversation. I believe women should be supportive of each other and not putting them down. It’s so disappointing to see this happening. It’s frankly body-shaming and cyber bullying.
Today, I focus on what and how much I eat. While not obsessive, I avoid foods that result in binge eating and try to be healthy each and every day. I never eliminate my favorite chocolate candy or chocolate chip cookies. But I do stay away from the dreaded cupcakes and maybe only indulge in one (typically mini versions from Baked by Melissa) a few times a year. I definitely have cupcake anxiety — eek!
I work out as much as I can, which is sometimes difficult with my career, but I don’t get upset with myself anymore. I just strive to improve and have a more consistent workout schedule, when possible. The point of my cupcake story is a lot of us have experienced or are experiencing a struggle with how we feel about our bodies. Just because we might not be in what we view as our ideal state of being doesn’t mean we’re not worthy of looking great.
Aiming high is all about still wearing incredible outfits, dressing up, and showing up every day for your present and future self, because no one else is going to show up for you. Living a balanced life is critical and creates a spiral effect from your health right down to your clothing choices. Today, I’m way more confident in what I wear because I know I’m a work in progress.
And when I throw on a pair of heels, they make me feel unstoppable even when I eat too many cupcakes and all I have on is a pair of biker shorts and an old tee.
Excerpted with permission from "Aim High: How to Style Your Life and Achieve Your Goals" by Sydney Sadick. Copyright 2020 Skyhorse Publishing.