Ask Stew: Anxiety Prior to Departing for Service

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Preparing to depart for military service fills us with many emotions. Being anxious about leaving home, moving to a new city, living with new people, doing new and difficult tasks for your job, and having to stay in shape can all be stressful. However, it is very common to have anxiety the few months prior to departing. As an example of this anxiety, I have included the following email from a teenager who is preparing to join the Army and serve this great country:

Hey Stew, I am an Army recruit going to Airborne after Basic. I have pretty bad anxiety over my weight. I'm 5'5" and according to the website, I can be up to 163 pounds. I've never been near that number, but I'm currently 158 pounds. I'm usually around the 154-156 mark. I rarely eat sweets / sodas. I stick to generally healthy foods, but I eat a lot of healthy food. Before the Army, I would feel full after a meal. Now, I feel like I could still eat. I contribute that feeling to having a more active metabolism and working out daily. I drink about 80-100oz of water a day and eat at least every three hours.

What I do find myself doing is constantly traveling to the kitchen to snack on food. I grab healthier foods. At least, healthier than what I would normally grab before the Army came into my life. Now, I'll snack on a bowl of grapes or some yogurt or dried fruit. Things like that. I just eat a lot of that type of food because I never feel full and I crave that feeling. I almost never feel full anymore and that's what gets to me the most. Working out is the easy part. Controlling what I eat is the difficult part. I weigh myself every morning and every night. I'll even weigh myself after a meal. It's bad and a habit that I feel like I need to quit.

I don't know, I just wanted to share my thoughts and get this feeling of guilt off my chest. I had to tell somebody that I know will somewhat understand as I'm going through this fitness journey in my life all alone.

Thanks for listening and sorry for the long "windiness." -Damon

First of all, THANK YOU. Thank you for serving our country. It is a brave and noble thing you are undertaking and it will never go unappreciated, especially by those who have also served. Second, you should know that this feeling is natural. To help you through the process, keep in mind the following:

  1. Anxiety about leaving home and joining the Army is completely normal. This is manifesting itself with the form of a scale for you. Try and replace the daily weight measurements with weekly instead. Expectation of change causes us to have a stress response even though the change has not happened yet, as the thought of change in your life can be stressful. I recommend trying some Sports Psychology tricks like Name it and Tame it (see link), as well as other calming tasks like making a list of what you need to do prior to departing for the Army.
  2. You are likely still growing. Male teenagers are still growing in their late teens and even early 20s, so yes, you will naturally want more calories. Instead of checking your weight, check your height first thing in the morning. You could be getting taller, which would likely mean more weight gain and therefore an easier time meeting the height and weight standards. Whether you are growing or not, focus on training for the Army Basic by doing runs and rucks. Yes, you will burn more calories and make it difficult to gain weight, but you should be focused on eating for ENERGY to train, not worrying about gaining too much weight.
  3. Eat from the list linked here for more energy necessary for proper training. Eat from all of the food groups, and make sure you are eating carbs such as fruits and vegetables; protein from meats, nuts, eggs, and dairy; land fats from olives, nuts, and fish. Continue to eat healthy. As you grow, your body craves good foods, so you are on the right track.
  4. No need to feel guilty about your habits or anxiety. This is a natural process and you will be fine. Just keep moving, hydrating, and eating for energy. Most of all, stay motivated to serve!

Thank you again for your path of service to our country. Keep working hard and you will find that once you arrive at Basic Training, you will be ready to do your job and learn an exciting new profession that you can be proud of for the rest of your life.

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