Autumn is here. You can taste that indescribable yet distinctive flavor in the air. You can feel it in the increasingly cooler mornings and evenings. You can see it in the increase of toned bodies and taut skin parading around campus. Summer is over kids, and thank God. While most people spent it at the beach or traveling, I used those precious months to prepare for a long harsh Santa Barbara winter.

I was surprised to see that an extra 10 pounds of insulation snuck its way onto my body between June and August, although with free access to the dining commons I should have known better. As I gorged myself twice a day on free food, my mind took stock of the bodies around me. There were girls so thin they looked like they’d snap in half if you sneezed on them and guys with chests and arms so thick from gym worship that I wondered if they could wipe their own asses.

Fools, I thought. Victims of a fantasy. Why can’t they be happy with themselves, I asked, as I jammed a piece of chocolate cake down my gullet. How soon I would be eating my words as well.

As a kid, I was plump. As a preteen, I was fat. As a teenager, I was obese. My yearbook photo looks like a nature photographer documented a shaven gerbil. I developed a borderline eating disorder my junior year, consuming a paltry 1,000 calories a day. Living hungry was a way of life if I wanted to be attractive. Forty pounds dropped from my waist, and I was satisfied enough to return to semi-normal eating habits.

However, seeing those extra 10 pounds recently on the scale scared the hell out of me. I relapsed, this time falling back on excessive exercise, a strict diet and heavy smoking. Luckily, it only took me a few days to realize I was back in the same beauty trap as before.

Eating disorders are rampant in college, and both women and men suffer. Bulimia, anorexia, and exercise addiction are far too familiar demons. The pressure to be chiseled is especially high in a town where the weather is fine and the shore so close. We all want to be beautiful, thinking that enlightenment and happiness is a result of a diminishing waist size.

To be honest, if you’re fat, nothing makes you happier than losing weight, but too often we set dehumanizing goals for ourselves. No longer are we defined by things like personality or character, but rather by our physical shape, and nothing else matters.

It’s naive to say that we should be happy with ourselves. Being overweight is just as unhealthy as it is to be underweight. If we want to be beautiful, then we need to realize that beauty comes from good health. Tearing our bodies apart in the gym and starving them to death are ugly practices. Instead, like with most things, moderation is the key.

Yes, I wanted to be attractive. Good looks are what catch the eye first, but was it worth destroying my body and self-image to fit some soulless ideal peddled to me by society? The iconoclast in me screamed the answer: Fuck no.

So, taking this into account, I decided to be healthy and worked out a solid plan. I jog every night I have the energy and time, my diet is neither too deep-fried nor too green, more of my time is spent not smoking, and I rarely drink. It’s far from rigorous, but it’s all I can do to make sure I’m around as long as possible.

And for the first time in a life characterized by self-disdain, I’m learning to enjoy my body. I like my paunch, and I’m not concerned with whether it shrinks or not. My butt, which before had a marsh mellow-like consistency, is now firmer. I’m very proud of it now – it may never look good in a Speedo, but then again I never plan on playing water polo. These small changes partnered with the knowledge that I am the healthiest I have ever been make me feel attractive. Fantastic images aren’t beautiful – humanity is.

Daily Nexus columnist Steven Ruszczycky promised his editors he’d never write about his penis. His butt, however, is fair game.