Updated: May 7, 2022
I feel like we now live in a world that is saturated in diet culture. It appears we have become a society that is insanely obsessed with looking like the next North American top model, stopping at nothing to have the perfect skin, boobs, ass, lips, and abs. Now, I get wanting to have a healthy, beautiful vessel to go through life with; who doesn’t want that? But it’s so scary to see that on everyone’s “road to healthy” health is the last thing they are achieving,
People continuously talk about good food, bad food, and 15-day fat loss regimes. Don’t eat carbs. Eat only once a day. Cheat meals only after you’ve lost 50 pounds. Keto, lazy keto, dirty keto, and daily fasting. Work out like this and go to the gym and do that. Take these supplements to bulk up but skip them when you’re shredding. Watch your calories. Don’t eat after 7 pm. Try mixing your morning protein powder with your Starbuck’s 9 oz. venti size coffee. The information comes in fast and furious, and the rules change almost every month. It’s utter madness.
Generations past have all struggled with some degree of body dysmorphia, and it seems as though everyone today hates their body, no matter what they look like. So much so, that they are willing to gamble on all the misinformation they hear and see on social media and take it to heart. Everyone is listening to people who have no business speaking about health in the first place.
There are a million of these so-called social media weight-loss expert influencers, whom I like to call “ the madness enablers”, posting daily about where you can purchase their programs and begin changing your life. Every other profile you land on is yet another person “claiming” to be a fitness guru, personal trainer, or weightlifter, all trying to convince you that their way is the best way. So, you follow and mimic them all, taking bits and pieces from everyone, believing that they hold the key to your happiness and have all the answers to your health problems. But that’s just it; they don’t. They aren’t experts just because they’ve lost 20, 30, or even 100 pounds, or gained an impressive amount of muscle over COVID. Is what they’ve accomplished remarkable? YES! Should they be so proud of themselves that they shout it from the rooftops, telling the entire world? Absofuckinlutely! But the only thing they are experts on is themselves and their own journeys, not about you and yours! We are all different creatures, intricately made. What has worked for you may not be the answer for everyone. What’s more, I would almost bet that if they’ve lost or gained weight that easily, they probably listened or followed someone else’s unsafe, and unhealthy advice – and the cycle of insanity continues.
People have become so brainwashed that they are willing to harm their bodies, just to try the latest fad diet foods and workouts because someone online swears it helped them lose 50 pounds in 2 months. We are so desperate to change what we look like that we will buy, use, or do anything because anything is better than our present-day reality, But, at what cost? Make no mistake, there is always a cost. Perhaps not today or tomorrow but torturing your body and treating it poorly will come back to haunt you – believe me!
I have spent most of my adult life chasing the latest fad everything, and it’s harmed me in ways that I would never wish on anyone. Wanting to look “model perfect” is insanity, and we need to stop this because it’s killing us – mentally, spiritually, and physically. Living this way causes mental health issues that will stay with you for a lifetime.
I think that we are all suffering from eating disorders and body dysmorphia; most of us in silence. A bold statement, I know, but I don’t think it’s all that far-fetched. Just look at how we obsess over food, calories, macros, body image, looking magazine perfect, working out obsessively, calling ourselves fat, skinny, and ugly – all because we don’t fit society’s ideal of beauty. We spend hours and hours online, wishing and wanting to look like the men and women we see there.
Did you know that 20-40% of fashion models suffer from eating disorders? These are just the statistics from those who’ve come forward with their mental illness struggles, I suspect this number may even be close to 50% because most struggle in silence. They diet and exercise in a dangerous way to look perfect for their photoshoots, only to still have their photographers airbrush their images to the exact perfection required for the fashion houses they represent. All that sacrifice and torture, only to be told that you still don’t look perfect enough. The images we see aren’t real, and we all know this. Yet we will stop at nothing, going to such extreme lengths, desperately pursuing the impossible.
I sadly understand this madness all too well. As a kid, I was underweight. My mom used to chase me around the house with a spoonful of food because I hated eating. I used to think that mealtimes were boring and would much rather be outside playing with my friends. It got so bad that my parents took me to the doctor because I was somewhat malnourished and had to be put on medication to help increase my appetite. When I hit my teenage years, I ran track, played a ton of sports, and practiced kick-boxing – which made me muscular. Between that and puberty, I was no longer the underweight kid. People started calling me thick. I started hearing people say that girls shouldn’t have big muscular arms and legs and that I should probably go on a diet so I wouldn’t get fat. Fat? All because girls shouldn’t be that muscular? By the time I was 20 people called me chunky. By the age of 25, I was obese by society’s standards.
Throughout this entire journey, I managed to starve myself into dizzy, fainting episodes for months, and then moved on to a bulimic and binging disorder – eating everything around me until I threw up! I went on every stupid diet out there, depriving myself of everything – including respect and love for myself. I counted every single calorie that went into my mouth and obsessively tracked pounds and inches. I became so addicted to food. Then, I became equally addicted to controlling my weight. I became an expert at manipulating my body into extracting calories. I wasn’t a “normal bulimic” meaning I hated throwing up food. It made me sick getting rid of food that way, so I learned how to expose it another way. I learned all about sugar alcohol in diet foods and how if ingested in excess, they would work as laxatives did in the body. It felt better to do it this way and it became an obsession. It was a game of how much weight I could gain and then lose at one time. I ate to the point of exploding and then all I had to do was “get rid of it”. I did this for years. I lost 100 pounds 2 different times in my life in a matter of 7 months, by doing this and eating only egg whites, lettuce, and chicken at a minimum. I then broke down these simple proteins by using sugar alcohols as an aid to make sure I had nothing in my body by the end of the day. No one had a clue how much I was hurting myself, but all I kept hearing from everyone was how great I looked.
I still remember the first time my mom caught me throwing up in the bathroom. I hadn’t really thrown up. What she overheard was my attempt at doing so – unsuccessfully. The look on her face made me want to die. It was a cross between mortification and pain, followed by rage. She told me that I was never to do this again, and I didn’t, at least not at home. Although I was so embarrassed that she witnessed my moment of weakness, I thought perhaps that would ease her grip on me. That her desire for me to be “the perfect looking daughter” would fade away, but it didn’t. She continued to comment on my food choices, and how much I ate. Whether I ate a little or a lot, I wasn’t even sure, because all she ever said was, “that’s enough!” I always got stern looks from both my parents, every time I tried to go for a treat. I wasn’t allowed to eat the way my brothers did. They were “normal”, and I wasn’t. I had different rules. From birth to about age 16, my mom was used to hearing compliments about me all the time. Neighbors and friends would tell her often what a gorgeous-looking daughter she had, and how personable I was, but that all changed. When I began gaining weight the compliments were replaced with ridicule and snide comments. I was only “gorgeous” in everyone’s eyes because I was skinny with a pretty face. The ironic thing was that my face and persona they loved never changed, the only thing that changed was my weight, yet my value disintegrated. I was no longer worthy.
Looking back now, I obviously know that my parents never wanted to hurt me or deprive me of anything (including food), but it should have been handled differently. They always gave me everything and were incredible parents, but there was this continual pressure put onto them to know everything, and it wasn’t possible. They were young parents in a new country, trying to make a way for their family. They weren’t experts on nutrition, nor were there external organizations to go to for help as there are now. Back then, going to therapy was unheard of, not to mention proof to your family that you were crazy. Growing up in Italian culture, people gossiped about that sort of thing all the time. It showed weakness that you couldn't handle your own problems and needed to seek out professional help. But I can honestly say that my parents never cared about that. In fact, they suggested repeatedly for me to go and speak to someone about my feelings, regardless of the obvious ridicule they would endure should members of our family hear about it. The most important takeaway here is that my parents didn't cause my eating disorder, society's ideals did. Their views were tainted by a society and a culture just as ours are today. Of course, the communication was wrong and their belief in beauty was all messed up, but they (like the rest of us) were taught this bullshit.
Opinions and beliefs are taught and encouraged by people and things around you. You are not born thinking this way, you are trained to think this way. Thankfully today, we have learned that we do not have to be the product of our environments, we can rise above them.
The beauty ideal has always been toxic. In my culture, women all had to have exceptional bodies and beautiful faces. If you didn’t, you were unfortunate, and it looked bad on your parents. I can still remember one of my aunts asking my mom why she wasn’t doing anything about my weight problem. That if I was her daughter, she’d put a stop to it. I felt like an injured horse, being discussed to be taken out to pasture and shot for being imperfect. I know it stung my mom and hurt her a lot, but you can't stop the banter of idiots! She was made to feel like she was failing her child and failing as a mother. It was unfair and very cruel.
Sadly, cruelty and comments of that nature continued throughout my life to the present day, by many members of my extended family, but the difference now is that they aren’t dealing with my well-mannered and shy mother anymore, they’re now dealing with me, and God help them all! Hell has no fury like a woman scorned.
At 48 years of age, I still battle with eating disorders and food addiction every day. It’s something that will be with me forever. I work very hard to keep the addiction at bay, but it’s never easy. Even with all the counseling, therapy, and medical care that I’ve received, it is very difficult to rid your mind of a lifetime of brainwashing habits and dysmorphia. Food addiction is not like any other addiction because you need food in your everyday life. You need it to survive. It is easier to kick alcohol and drugs than it is to change a food addiction. I must be around my addiction every day, which makes it so hard to cope. The thing that is killing you, is the same thing that keeps you alive. Ain't that the rub?! But I’m learning that food is not the devil, it’s how my brain looks at food that’s the issue.
I often wonder what it would be like to wake up every day and not worry about food. That I could live in a world where I didn’t need it to exist. The very thought of putting a forkful of food into my mouth is like anxious adrenaline. For a very long time, I would go through so much panic when it came close to mealtime. If I am honest, I still have a lot of anxiety over it today. I’m anxious before, during, and after I eat anything. I immediately think about why I ate that, why I ate so little or so much, why I ate so fast, why I ate at this time, and what I have to do to get rid of it. It’s a vicious cycle, every day. It’s truly an awful way to live. But I am getting better.
It has been 2 years since my last bulimic episode and 9 months since I last binged food. I am so grateful to be recovering. But, I also know that it can happen again. If it does, I know that it's not the beginning of the end. The road to recovery is not linear, and it only means that I have to evaluate why it's happening and start again. I take things one day at a time and move forward.
Today, I just try to focus on eating the foods that I know will nourish me and give my body the strength it needs to move and perform as it should. I don’t diet anymore and haven’t for 7 months. I eat everything and deprive myself of nothing anymore. I try to give myself natural things that will fuel me, calm me, and make me feel good. I am learning that the road to being/getting healthy shouldn’t punish or kill me. Instead, it should be empowering me. I’m not saying that I’m now cured all of a sudden, or that all my anxiety around food has magically disappeared, it hasn’t. But I am slowly learning how to exist in a world with food and things are getting better.
My journeys have taught my family and me a lot. That health is the most (and only) important thing that matters. All they want for me is what they've always wanted - that I live a long, healthy, and happy life. I'm beautiful regardless of what I look like. It took a long time to come to this understanding and it's all a work in progress, and so am I.
I not only want to get better for myself, but I need to get better to teach my nieces and nephews the proper way of looking at beauty. As they move into their teenage years, I am so afraid of what they will be taught and of who will deem them worthy enough of respect, love, and image to just exist in this world. I cringe when I hear their family members say, “don’t eat that” or “that’s enough”. It scares me. I watch them count sugar grams in the foods they eat and discuss carbohydrates all the time. They determine how many calories they’ve consumed and are worried. It crushes me and breaks my heart. Sometimes, I’m afraid that their obsessiveness with being healthy will turn into a horrible eating disorder, like mine. That what they may be hearing at school, in their homes, and seeing on their smartphones will break them. I know of 6-year old’s currently in therapy for the treatment of their eating disorders, this is the world we live in. I thought growing up in my era was bad, but it’s much worse now, with social media at their fingertips.
Truth be told, I blame myself for how my little ones see food. I think that they (and their parents) see me and do what they do, so they never look like me. I feel so guilty about that, but it's something I'm working through.
Beauty should never be measured as self-worth. Beauty isn’t tangible. It exists in every part of making up who you are. Our bodies are beautifully engineered mechanisms that will fascinate you if you let them. They are not meant to be abused, so if you are, stop doing so. You are who you are, and that is pure perfection. You are not a mistake. Your design and make-up is exact. God makes no mistakes - remember that! You were not meant to be or look like anyone else. So, love your body through every season it is in. It sees you through all the good and all the bad, so have mad love and respect for it, always! After all, they are the shells that hold the most important thing about you – your spirit.
We need to change this diet culture epidemic now before it kills us all. Numbers on a scale cannot and should never determine someone’s worth. Beauty isn’t in the clothes you wear, the color of skin you are born with, or the culture you’re born into. The only beautiful thing that’s worth anything is what we are all born with - our souls. It is then the job of all those around you (including yourself) to nurture, guide responsibly, and love that soul with all their might, helping it grow into something marvelous.
Be proud of who and what you are always and at all costs because you are absolute perfection. Don’t ever let anybody tell you differently.
Information contained in this blog is intended as a personal storytelling resource only and should not be used for diagnosing or treating an eating disorder. Not all people with eating disorders will experience all the symptoms described here. This blog is not a substitute for expert professional care, but rather a discussion piece. If you have or suspect you may have an eating disorder, please consult your health care provider. If you are currently suffering from an eating disorder in silence, there is help. Please seek it out. Talk about to a loved one, or anyone you trust. There is help.
National Eating Disorder Information Centre – Toronto, Canada – (416) 340-4156
Sheena’s Place – Toronto, Canada – (416) 927-8900
Center For Change – USA – 1-888-224-8250