Author’s Note: With gamer health and wellness at the forefront of my passion, the next two pieces in my More Than Meets the Eye series will revolve around the physical, mental, and social impacts of my extreme gaming habits and the changes I made throughout the years to overcome some unhealthy behaviors that came with them.

From ages 13 to 17 when I was most invested in playing video games, I spent approximately 20 of my 24 hours a day sitting or lying down. Yikes.

I went from sitting in class to sitting at my computer at home to sleeping in bed. Rinse and repeat. There were probably a collective 90 minutes throughout the day that I was actually walking or moving during this period of my life.

If you know me or my series, you know I am a hardcore World of Warcraft fan. I spent a lot of time on this game as a teen—so much so that I often neglected to care for the main character in my video game: myself! Yikes, again.

The Body

The human body is complex. Sitting in front of a screen consistently for long periods of time contributes to some noticeable changes within our bodies. For me, the change that stood out most was a gradual and steady weight gain.

Inactivity was the root cause of weight gain for me. There were other environmental factors, but I’d conclude that this was the main contributor. Coupled with poor nutrition, I wasn’t treating my IRL body with any respect—meanwhile, my in-game character was buff asf! There was a massive imbalance between my worlds.

As much as I was enjoying adventuring virtually in Azeroth, I wasn’t actually getting up and moving around, stretching, or performing exercise unless it was going to the kitchen for a snack. This went on for quite some time until I was 16. Then, I noticed I had been sizing up in pants on a regular basis.

Upon noticing this initial weight gain, I made it a priority to try moving more often. In between matches or chats with friends, I would get up and attempt some type of physical activity. Whether it was stretching, going for a quick walk with the family dog, or doing a squat challenge I found online, I made a conscious effort to get moving more when I noticed the pounds piling on.

My diet, however, did not change much. Instead, I started paying attention to what I was eating. I studied nutritional labels and logged what I was eating in an app called MyFitnessPal. Despite often staying under my caloric goals of the day, I was still only eating packaged snacks, takeout, oversized portions, soda, and absolutely nothing fresh.

In this period of my life, I never made time or put in effort to cook. I wanted immediate access to good-tasting food, and unfortunately, that resulted in me reaching for unhealthy foods all the time instead of in moderation.

The Mind

These habits felt impossible for me to break. As a result, I would complain about my weight regularly. It didn’t help that I had all of the additional hormonal teen angst to deal with, and on top of that, I was bullied by my peers for being overweight.

It was clear from how I felt, and how I was being treated by other people, that my weight was a contributor to my overall unhappiness. I felt alone and unsure of where to start making changes. This made me feel even worse about myself for not being able to figure it out, and I often felt like a lost cause.

Soon enough, these emotional elements combined to form a monstrous storm of chronic depression, anxiety, and straight up self-hate. I was drowning, and there was nothing for me to grab hold of to stay afloat.

How was I even supposed to enact change to be healthy? Where could I find support for building my body and mind to reflect the characters I played online? The answer may seem simple—to reach out and ask for help—but I was embarrassed of who I had become and was scared to talk to someone about it. How would I get past this?

Luckily, I had been afforded the opportunity to talk about a lot of these things in therapy, but no amount of cognitive-behavioral therapy or talking was helping me lose weight.

The Soul

At this point, it felt like I had dug myself into a hole. Gaming was helping me in so many ways when it came to my social life and my basic human need of belonging, except it was simultaneously hurting me in other ways. It seemed like an unfair catch-22.

I hesitate to use the term “addiction” when I talk about my gaming habit. That’s because it wasn’t the game itself that was addicting for me. Sure, it was nice leveling up and getting new stuff and winning matches, but for me, the real desire to continue playing came because the games provided me a solution to my unmet social needs in real life.

As your typical outcast high school character, I didn’t have many IRL friends growing up. I was quiet and withdrawn in school. In games, though, I felt safe to be myself. Gamers historically aren’t much of an “in-person” bunch, so we use the super-cosmic powers of the Internet to connect, share stories, and be ourselves. That was the real appeal for me each time I logged into WoW.

As I grew up and matured, I slowly learned how to balance these worlds in a way that spoke to my individual needs. I was able to lose 70 pounds, improve my in-person social skills, and level up my career. My next piece dives more deeply into how I was able to find the balance I needed in life over the course of several years.

I owe my life to the gaming community…too many times over. At my lowest lows, strangers from all around the world connected with me and helped me. I owe everything to this community, and the best way I can give back is to pay it forward and share my experience.