It’s been awhile. I’ve had a lot of things floating around in my brain lately, shifting. I took a step back from a lot of things, especially in social media, and I’ve been seeing my perspective on some things change. I have a lot of posts I want to write on these things. This will be the first of them, but I also want to touch on how we label ourselves online and how that possibly minimizes us as people, as well as the struggles of learning to take up space.
Today though I want to talk about body image, diet culture, and how hyper-focusing on being healthy can screw up our relationship with food and our bodies.
First and foremost, I have never had an eating disorder. I have, however, had problems with disordered eating at various stages in my life. What I mean by disordered eating is that I have gone through times where I’ve obsessed over calories, not allowed myself to have certain foods, tried to eat mostly raw food, not allowed myself to eat if I didn’t work out, and just in general felt guilty about eating. None of this ever developed into prolonged obsessions that really damaged my health, but it certainly messed me up mentally. I am someone who wants to be healthy but struggles balancing physical and mental health. And that comes down to having bad body image.
I was a pretty small child and I felt okay about myself until I was about 12 or 13. And don’t get me wrong, that’s still pretty young, but there are definitely people out there that struggle with body issues from a younger age, which breaks my heart. When I hit puberty I started to fill out more, mostly in my butt and thighs. I started to have a hard time fitting into my jeans and I noticed my first stretch marks when I was about 13. Looking back it was ridiculous how upset I was about it -I wasn’t big by any means, but to me, my legs and butt looked huge. I grew up in the 90s and the early 2000s, a time when super skinny was the ideal. Girls wanted to be stick thin and curviness was not nearly as well appreciated as it is today. I started wanting to cover myself up, especially my bottom half. I had a lot of long, flowy skirts, which I loved, but I loved them because I thought I looked smaller in them.
I struggled on and off with those feeling throughout high school. It was when I got to college that I really started to hate how I look. I lived on campus and I definitely got the “freshman fifteen.” I attribute part of this to the fact that I went from a situation where we didn’t always have enough food in the cabinets to one where I could eat a normal three meals a day. My sophomore year of college I had my first “successful” diet. It was miserable. I did at least an hour of cardio every day and ate a strict 1200 calories. None of those calories could come from anything with sugar unless it was fruit. I lost 20lb in about two months. At the time I was really proud of myself for committing to a diet and getting results. I got tons of compliments from people which pushed me to keep going. I was never one of those people that was stick thin. My lowest adult weight was somewhere around 130lb. And all of that sounds great in theory, but I wasn’t in a good place. I was obsessively tracking my food, denying myself meals if I didn’t work out, and said no to every little sugary treat that was ever offered to me. I have a distinct memory of my friend trying to get me to have a piece of cake and I was so adamant and upset about it that I had to leave and go back to my room. I wanted the damn cake.
That was the beginning of my on and off obsession with food and calorie counting. Sometimes I feel really good about myself and how my body looks. Sometimes I wish I could chop off all my extra weight. Which head space I’m in tends to depend on my anxiety levels, who I’m spending time with, and who I’m following online.
When my anxiety is really bad I’m much more likely to be picking apart my body. How I look is one of the things I get anxious about. I assume that other people think I’m overweight and gross looking. I worry that people are judging me on what I eat and then I judge myself. It can become a pretty severe downward spiral.
Now let’s get this bit out of the way: I’m vegan but I did not choose to go vegan for health or weight loss reasons. I know a lot of people do and that it can lead to having some pretty bad disordered eating. My decision to go vegan was ethical more than anything. However, this does not make me immune to falling down the vegan health rabbit hole, especially on YouTube. There are a lot of health obsessed vegans on the internet. There are a lot of crazy vegan diets: raw until four, high carb/low fat, vegan keto, etc. The list goes on really. It’s easy to watch skinny, fit people on the internet talk about how they only eat raw food and think that’s what you should be doing in the name of health. But health isn’t the same for everyone and just because people look fit and have a lot of followers doesn’t mean they know what they’re talking about.
My food issues make me susceptible to falling into the health vegan trap. I have caught myself feeling like I need to cut out gluten or cook without oil, or eat completely raw. None of those types of diets are sustainable for me and instead of accepting that, I have shamed myself into feeling bad because I’m not mentally strong enough to just be healthy. And that’s completely ridiculous.
I feel my best physically and mentally when I just eat the food that I want to eat. It sounds like the easiest thing in the world, but it’s been a struggle. I’m learning that it’s not healthy for me to follow fitness accounts online or watch certain people on YouTube that advocate for certain kinds of vegan diets. I’m the kind of person that needs balance between eating kale salads and vegan ice cream and I’m trying to not feel bad about that.
I turn 29 this year. As I get older I find myself just getting tired of thinking about how I look all the time. I have put so much effort into trying to look a certain way and worried endlessly about how skinny or not skinny I am. It’s exhausting. All I want to do is live my life and be comfortable in my own skin. I don’t want to worry about stretch marks or cellulite or stomach rolls. None of that matters in the kind of life that I want. There are so many more important things like my relationships with people and the adventures I want to have.
I’d love to hear from you guys about this topic. I think that sharing our struggles with others and opening that dialogue can be so helpful. It’s easy to feel alone and like everyone else has their shit together but I really don’t think most people do. No one has it all figured out. No one is always 100% happy with themselves and I think that’s okay, as long as we acknowledge it, talk about it, and are able to move forward from those feelings. So let’s chat, I’d love to know your thoughts as well as any tips specific to feeling better about your body.