Yes, Tove Lo, we ARE talking body.
If I was going to write a blog called Myndfulness with the purpose of confronting all aspects of my psychological directives, I must bring up the topic of body image. Supermodel Alexis Ren recently contributed a thought piece to Cosmopolitan (here) where she talks about the relationship that formed between food, her mother’s death, and her past relationship. I have seen Alexis on Instagram and, like her 9.2M followers, I couldn’t help but admire her striking good looks and, naturally, her figure. Her ability to model and essentially take on the form directed by X company makes her skill of camouflaging her pain all the more seamless. In the article she describes years of poor eating habits and accompanying illnesses due to her malnutrition. She rationalized her behavior by her core belief that her body was, “the only reason people liked [her].” I was surprisingly pleased that the article closed on a candid note that although Alexis is more flexible with her improved diet, she still falls prey to guilt at times. Now, I can only describe Alexis Ren’s food saga for so long until I have to start ‘fessing up about my own.
Starting from a very young age I knew I was a bit on the chunky side. My very leggy, lean sister was picky with food where I was, to my parents’ satisfaction, a well-functioning vacuum. There was not a single food item I refused as a child and I longed for the after-school drive through to McDonald’s and the like. In fifth grade I confessed to my dad at an Outback Steakhouse the true horror I felt about my body. He told me he would help me make better eating choices and through tears of my embarrassment I eagerly agreed. It was the year after that I decided to join the cheerleading team (a cliché to any story, I know) and the pounds melted off. Though, not without a price. I would get home late from practice and have no time for a real meal so instead I would eat a small Lean Cuisine dish as I did my homework. My mom was worried that this new activity would affect my academics, but as I would soon see, there were greater things at stake.
In the mornings I would eat a single clementine and hop in the car to school. After months of practice, I was now at my lowest weight but still not satisfied. I was sleep deprived from working late at night so I looked at food in a passive manner— only for sustenance, if anything. My parents soon understood I was becoming a preteen-zombie so they made me quit the team, something I was actually relieved by. My compulsive scale-checking and dietary restrictions continued onward until I met my middle school best friend. It was then that everything started looking up— though not for long.
A lot of things changed in High School. I had a falling out with the aforementioned girl I became almost sisters with due to rumors and poor communication on both our parts. However, there was little time to fall back into the food-trap before I met a friend who would better my eating habits for a while. This girl was a true “foodie” with a refined palette to boot. We would dine at different restaurants every day and I was carefree with how much I ate. The more foods I tried, the more I questioned why I ever limited myself to the whole culinary world around me. However, my bliss was soon thwarted when I finally noticed my weight was at an all time high and my stomach protruded outward. As much as I enjoyed eating carefree— it was not a sustainable activity. I was forced to notice details of my new body in front of a studio mirror most weekends when I did ballet and the figure in my leotard and tights was appalling to me.
Cue extreme eating disorder. I became more and more angered by my body and decided to take matters into my own hands. I downloaded MyFitnessPal and tracked every bite and calorie that entered my system. Eating out completely mortified me but when I had to, I held on to my willpower for dear life. If I did go passed the limit and eat a caloric entrée, such as my beloved breaded mac and cheese at Clarke’s, I would promptly down laxatives and pray the fat away. At my lowest point I even learned how to throw up after some meals although it left me in despicable pain. My parents were distracted at the time so family dinners were nonexistent. This allowed me to have a small low-calorie bowl of soup with cayenne pepper and a glass of lemon water (also with cayenne pepper) every night without anyone noticing this ritual. I became so emaciated that finally on a camping trip with my once food-companion, she noticed the bones sticking out from me, my senseless panic at having our morning’s cereal with whole milk (God forbid), and other peculiarities that made up the new, shrunken me. Her horror at my new ways made me reevaluate how far I had gone down this path.
Finally, I decided that if I was going to change my body it would have to be done the right way— through clean eating and working out. I downloaded a fitness app on my phone (and deleted MyFitnessPal), found a yoga mat, and swore to working out most days while getting the right amount of protein in. That whole summer before my senior year I finally felt alive and I promised to never lose sight of my health since.
To be fair, that is not where the story ends. Into my first year of college I was still figuring out my new food regimen and I was still a bit restrictive with my diet. I made sure to stay true to the food pyramid, but with limits. True story: That year I told a close friend I didn’t like cookies to avoid eating them at the Freshmen dining hall (note: what savage doesn’t like cookies? I later confessed it was part of an avoidance behavior of mine). Even into my junior year of college I decided to become Paleo and restrict all grains and breads from my diet (even most fruit besides berries). This began some months before my studying abroad trip that I was both anxious and excited for, so I felt like shaking things up with a diet change. To justify my new habit, I told friends I was doing it to help my sensitive stomach (pleading gluten-intolerance) when really I wanted more control of my situation. I lost a tremendous amount of weight from my body’s ketosis but also regained certain fears and anxieties I had in the past. Bread and crackers in Europe are a delicacy openly shared among family and friends. I had to put on my best acting skills to pretend that slipping off course from my diet was not having grave effects on my psyche. After some weeks I finally said good-bye to the Paleo lifestyle all together and decided I would live my abroad experience to the fullest. A true cultural immersion requires trying new foods and I was finally open to the idea. To this extent, I even started eating pork that I had avoided for so many years as a die-hard poultritarian.
Since my recovery from years of extreme dieting, I have become interested in nutrition, constantly searching for ways to get stronger— not skinnier. Since the first day I downloaded the fitness app and took out a yoga mat, I still workout in the privacy of my home (which is OK if you don’t want to expose yourself at the gym!) Like Alexis Ren, I feel guilt at times when I eat a rich dessert or lose control of my carb intake (i.e. drukenly eating a whole pizza by myself at 3 AM). Though, I simply allow the feeling to run its course as I remember I will always have a different relationship with food than other people and that’s totally fine. My new goal now is to gain muscle in a healthy way. In this effort, I downloaded an app called LifeSum that I truly recommend. Depending on what eating plan you choose you can search for different recipes as you track your carb, protein, and fat intake (aka: your lovely macros!) I’m a bona-fide freak about making sure I meet all my health requirements to perhaps an obsessive degree. However, I think if my need for control serves the purpose of helping rather than hurting me— it can stay.
In today’s world Social Media warps our self-images when we see fit models advertising tea and happiness by having a slender physique. I would be lying if I told you I don’t follow certain accounts of fitness stars whose bodies are truly enviable (I am only human after all!) However, I also make sure to also follow accounts like Megan Jayne Crabbe (@BodyPosiPanda) who reminds her viewers to love their bodies with hashtags like #GainingWeightIsCool and #DontHateTheShake. Everything in moderation, including what you eat and what media outlets you view daily.
Final note: If you think you may have an eating disorder, please get the help you need and call NEDA here.