With the holidays coming up, the stress of eating can be high. I know the feeling and if this is you, just know that you’re not alone. Today, I want to talk about why I don’t believe in eating disorders. If you feel triggered by this, please stop reading. This is meant to be informative and helpful, not the other way around. Please be real with yourself about your healing process and what you want to expose yourself to in this moment. To start off, here’s the definition of an eating disorder according to the Mayo Clinic:
“Eating disorders are serious conditions related to persistent eating behaviors that negatively impact your health, your emotions and your ability to function in important areas of life. The most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder.
Most eating disorders involve focusing too much on your weight, body shape and food, leading to dangerous eating behaviors. These behaviors can significantly impact your body’s ability to get appropriate nutrition. Eating disorders can harm the heart, digestive system, bones, and teeth and mouth, and lead to other diseases.
Eating disorders often develop in the teen and young adult years, although they can develop at other ages. With treatment, you can return to healthier eating habits and sometimes reverse serious complications caused by the eating disorder.”
When I read this definition, I feel stressed, to be honest. It’s not because I’m being triggered, but because the definition itself feels limiting, judgmental, and negative. I put in bold the words that stood out the most to me: serious, persistent, negative, dangerous, impact, harm, and complications. I think that when you are told that you have an eating disorder, it’s easy to think that there is something wrong with you. The word disorder itself, doesn’t give us permission to trust ourselves. It implies that we will always stay stuck and we will always be sick. To me, it’s avoiding what we really need to be paying attention to, which is the root cause.
EXPERIENCES WITH EATING DISORDERS
Before I get into the root cause, I want to share other women’s experiences with eating disorders with you. I made a survey asking women about their experiences with eating disorders and noticed a lot of similarities between their stories and mine. These women first encountered eating disorders from ages 15-21. Many of them were obsessively measuring and weighing themselves. It was something that completely consumed their minds. I asked about triggers and these were some of the responses:
“People, emotions and my environment at a young age. After that it was habitual.”
“I was slightly bullied in freshman year of high school but never on my body. Maybe I wanted to be idolized and looked at as the skinny model instead of the quiet, weird girl.”
“Bullying, toxic image, and eating values passed down by my parents, unhealthy relationships within family, foods I used to eat as a child that made me feel better when I was bullied.”
“Standard modeling measurements.”
“Fear to not be skinny enough (I wouldn’t call it an eating disorder as I can go in and out of it, but a distorted way of eating in relation to jobs).”
“Foods that remind me of my childhood, negative comments about my weight.”
“Thinspo was a trending thing on Tumblr so I’d stalk that every night. I never wanted to be skin and bones, just loved hip bones and bony knees.”
“For me it’s certain people or really intense feelings of anxiety or sadness.”
MY EXPERIENCE WITH AN EATING DISORDER
While reading these, I could relate to all of them. I never actually considered myself to have an eating disorder, but what I used to do to my body was self-harm. It was coming from a bad place, even way before I started modeling. I had always looked up to the Victoria’s Secret Angels growing up and would always look up their measurements and try to be like them. I’m not going to blame anyone for the way I ate, but I was in a vulnerable place with all of those influences around me. I was pretty shy and dealt with bullying at school, so when I started modeling it was an outlet for me to feel good about myself (at least in the beginning). The biggest mistake I made was feeling too happy from compliments. I know that may sound funny to you, but it’s actually very problematic because this meant that when I was insulted I would feel it just as hard in the opposite way. I became so ruled by my outer appearance and I definitely equated my self-worth to it.
I started modeling locally when I was 13 and became very aware of my body at that age. I took every criticism to heart but wanted to work really hard and follow my dream of being a model. My weight shifted a lot throughout my teens. I would become really small by obsessively going on the elliptical and taking small bites of foods. However, I could never quite sustain it and I would always end up binging. I had no education of what it meant to be healthy and didn’t realize that I could still be thin without hurting myself so badly. I didn’t work out for joy like I do now. I worked out because I was a people pleaser. I ate the way I ate because I was a people pleaser. I wanted to feel worthy so badly.
One of my first shoots at 13
I kind of gave up on modeling after the constant yo-yo struggle of my weight. I figured it wasn’t going to work out for me, so I decided to enroll in college. I was shopping for college at Ikea and was scouted from my then manager, who signed me to an agency in LA. The obsessive dieting and working out started again. I would wake up in the mornings with this bizarre feeling in my head. I don’t really know how to describe it, but it was this weird sensation in my head that built up as I was starving. I’m 5’10” and I was 110 pounds at that point. People started to comment on how skinny I was and I absolutely loved it. I loved that people were worried about me, it made me feel so wanted. People would ask me for advice on what to eat and I would lie to them because I didn’t want to tell anyone that I wasn’t really eating. I didn’t want anyone to stop me.
When I was 19, I started working in LA and my agency was impressed by my measurements (32-24-33.5). I did my best to keep it up. I was so excited to be able to model in a big city, but it was becoming hard for me to maintain my measurements. I was really lonely all the time. I moved from the model apartment to my own place. I had a few friends, but most of my time was spent either on castings, waiting for castings, jobs, and running in the gym. I placed such a high importance on my looks, that I would prioritize it over things that would keep me healthy like a social life and things like that. Modeling also didn’t make it easy for me to prioritize healthy things, as I felt I was always on hold for castings and jobs. I had to be available all the time for that.
As I got more into modeling, I began to see what it really was. I started to feel really ugly. I was always torn about whether or not I should quit. I loved the creative aspect of it, but I wanted to stop feeling so worthless and ugly all of the time. It would make me so upset, that my muscles would ache. I started to have panic attacks. I felt like a failure, but a secret failure. I never let anyone in on my struggle, because I thought I could make it out myself. I would cry probably three times a day and think about how I could kill myself. I was in a very dark place with it and I just wanted to feel well.
I became addicted to juice cleanses and they would often work for me. My head would always hurt and I would feel so sleepy all the time, but I felt it was worth it so I could do a good job with my measurements. However, one time it didn’t work. I remember this was a 5-day cleanse and by the end, I went on the scale. I had stayed the same. The scale read 120 lbs. I remember crying so much about it and feeling hopeless. I had to go into the agency later that day for digitals and they reminded me that I should really be working on my measurements. This made me feel so lonely after what I thought was hard work.
Looking back, I really had no idea what the fuck I was doing. No one had educated me about any of this. I never knew how to lose weight in a healthy way and I didn’t know how to go about it at all. I would ask for advice and was recommended a book called Skinny Bitch. From what I remember it was about being the bitch that eats less. It was just a mentality, which was already not working out well for me.
Me in Japan at my lowest weight: 105 lbs.
Sometimes on castings, people would say really mean things to me. I’ve been called fat, ugly, not sexy, and so on. Sometimes the comments would really get to me, especially when they said it while they touched me. I remember one time, a stylist grabbed my legs and asked me how I am allowed to model when I’m fat. Of course, it wasn’t always like this (I met so many amazing people too), but I think these comments affected me so much because of my need for approval and I felt so lonely. I would come home to my empty apartment and cry a lot. I started to wonder if this was even worth it anymore. I worked so hard, but sometimes that wasn’t enough.
Me at 19 in LA
I always felt close to being enough though. I was never enough, but I was almost enough. And that was good enough for me to keep going. I want to say that I don’t have a problem with modeling in general. That is not my issue. However, what I do have a problem with is the lack of support in the industry as a whole. I was young, vulnerable, and naïve. I didn’t have the right information to get me to where I needed to be in a safe way. Of course, I lied about everything and said I was doing fine but we can’t let the liars run the show.
If there was anything that I wish I knew then, was that I didn’t have an eating disorder. I was perfectly fine, but I was just responding to the pressures around me. I was responding in the best way I knew how to in that moment. If I went into this situation with my 26-year-old brain, things would be a lot different. I am educated on health and wellness now (IIN Certified Health Coach, Natural Foods Chef and almost completed my BA in Food Studies) and I have an understanding of my body and what I can and can’t handle. It has taken me years to get to this point. I had to undo what I learned and learn how to meet myself where I am while reaching for my goals in a safe way.
What I and the other women have in common on the survey is trauma and it doesn’t matter how big or small the trauma is because either way, it’s just trauma. It’s important to understand these traumas because it’s really easy to develop an emotional attachment to the negative habits we develop because of the traumas.
This is why I want to change the way we talk about eating disorders. I would like to call it an eating response, rather than an eating disorder. I got this idea from Mastin Kipp, an inspirational speaker when he talked about PTSD one day becoming PTSR. There is less judgment involved when we call it an eating response because it allows us to observe ourselves and get to the root cause, which is our trauma. I also think it’s important to say that an eating response doesn’t have to be defined by positivity or negativity. A response can be either one. For example, if you are excited to go somewhere maybe you won’t eat for a long time. You don’t have an eating disorder. You are just excited. Maybe you are really sad and you don’t eat for a long time, but this is just a response and not a disorder. An eating response gives us the chance to trust ourselves. There is absolutely nothing wrong with you (even if you don’t believe it yet). We can’t limit ourselves and stay stuck by calling it a disorder. We need to ask ourselves what we are responding to and understand how we can unravel it to heal. For me, that was taking space from modeling and getting an education. It doesn’t matter how you heal, as long as you are being real with yourself.
I also want to say that restricting food intake doesn’t have to be a bad thing. I know you might be surprised at this after me discussing my struggle, but it was only a struggle for me because of the way I viewed myself in the world. I said I felt lonely and worthless, but the reality is that I’m not lonely or worthless. There are always other people going through the same thing. I have a much healthier relationship to food and my body today. I work out almost every day and sometimes I even fast, but it only works because I don’t hate myself anymore. I’m working out because I love the way it feels, and I do the same for eating. Restricting food intake doesn’t have to be a bad thing, as long as it’s coming from a good place. If we continue to search for peace externally, we will never harness our own internal power.
“Stop walking through the world looking for confirmation that you don’t belong. You will always find it because you’ve made that your mission. Stop scouring people’s faces for evidence that you’re not enough. You will always find it because you’ve made that your goal. True belonging and self-worth are not goods; we don’t negotiate their value with the world. The truth about who we are lives in our hearts. Our call to courage is to protect our wild heart against constant evaluation, especially our own. No one belongs here more than you.” –Brene Brown
If you’d like to read more about eating habits click here to see how I stopped binge eating.
Love you all xoxo