How my unhealthy relationship with food developed.
Originally this post was going to be about how I healed my relationship with food, but that part of my story doesn't make sense unless you know how I got there in the first place... I'll save that for the next post. It's quite difficult to pinpoint an exact time when my relationship with food became unhealthy, so let's go back to the very beginning.
As a young kid (I'm talking 5-8 years old), I was naturally quite slim, I wasn't particularly sporty but I also didn't obsess over food - I ate when I was hungry and stopped eating when I was full, pretty simple. I remember Mum asking me to have at least 'one more mouthful' before I was allowed to leave the table - I was so much more interested in going to my room to draw rather than staying at the table to eat more.
I know that my attitude toward food changed at around the age of 8-9 years old when my parents split up. My siblings and I were devastated and we used food as a source of comfort. I gained quite a bit of weight and went from being a slim kid, to kinda a chubby one. I remained overweight for a few years and I know that this is when I developed some significant insecurities and I had a lot of self doubt. I didn't like exercise because I was SO self-conscious and uncoordinated... I thought of every excuse under the sun to sit out during P.E. classes. I didn't like wearing anything that would expose my arms or legs, and I hated having my picture taken. A lot of my friends were slim and would eat whatever they wanted, they were also really active and enjoyed life. I remember being jealous of them, I felt sad a lot of the time and I preferred to spend time alone. I still tried to participate in social activities but I often felt awkward and as though people were judging me.
It wasn't til I was about 13 and I took up rowing, that I started to realise how much better I felt when I did exercise and ate wholesome, nutritious foods. Our rowing coach encouraged us to eat more of 'the good stuff' (i.e. veggies and fresh protein sources like fish and chicken, and slow burning carbs like sweet potato), and less 'junk' (i.e. sugary snacks, soft drinks, bakery foods, hot chips etc.). My chubbiness started to leave me, but I wasn't really focusing on that. I was loving rowing because I finally found a sport that I wasn't completely terrible at. The weight came off because I had changed my lifestyle and diet BUT my goal wasn't to lose weight which I think is important to note. Weight loss kind of came as a by-product of being healthier. However, although I was losing weight and I got down to a pretty typical size for my age, my insecurities still hung around like a bad smell. I still didn't like wearing anything even slightly revealing, I especially hated getting into my bathers in front of anyone and I continued to compare myself to my slimmer friends.
Fast forward a few years, I was 17 years old working on my year 12 assignments, when I opened my Facebook to find a message from a modeling agency asking me to meet with them. My first thought was that they must've sent it to the wrong person, because why on earth would they want me? AS IF I could be a model. I was hesitant to respond, but I spoke to Mum and she said I might as well give it a go and see what happens. So, I met with the agent. She told me that I was "beautiful and had a lot of potential to make it in the industry". Of course it was flattering, but hearing these kind of compliments doesn't register at all when you don't believe them in the slightest yourself. But, eventually the agency convinced me to do a course with them and I was surprised to find that I really enjoyed it. It pushed me out of my comfort zone, taught me more about myself and enabled me to meet a lot of new people. On top of that, I felt as though it taught me a lot of other skills that would translate into everyday life, so I decided it might not be so bad to give modeling a shot.
One year or so later, I had traveled overseas for a while on my gap year so I had only modeled in a few test shoots and had a couple of paid jobs. My agent told me had the potential to do so much more. She said that I could make it internationally and they wanted me to meet with an agent from Japan. I was told that I could make up something like $20,000 in 4-6 weeks (!!!) but the catch was, my hips 'had to measure less than 90cm' (ladies, please don't go and measure your hips, it's a pointless number to know unless you are getting a dress made - remember our hips are made to be wide so we can push those babies out one day). At the time I was slim, I wasn't 'skinny' but I was a size 8 and I was healthy. My hips measured at approx 94cm. So, in my little 19 year old brain, I thought losing 4cm off my hips wouldn't be a big a big deal for that kind of opportunity. As it turns out, I learnt the hard way that you can't spot reduce, and losing 4cms meant losing a lot of weight, when I didn't have a lot to lose.
I started exercising all the time, walking, running, and kick-boxing, every day if not twice a day. I cut so much food out of my diet, to the point where I was only eating a little bit of muesli for breakfast, skipping lunch (or having a coffee and an apple if I was struggling) and eating a tiny dinner consisting of a select group of veggies (and maybe half a fillet of fish). I started measuring my hips, waist and bust (the measurements needed for modeling) every morning and night. I weighed myself every day, sometimes twice a day, and at the end of the week I would work out my average weight for that week. My mindset was incredibly unhealthy but I kept convincing myself it was okay because I was doing it for a 'solid reason'. I started viewing most foods as 'bad foods' and if I ate them, I felt so ridiculously guilty that I would seriously panic. I started avoiding social situations which involved food (i.e. pretty much every social situation; coffee, brekky, lunch, dinner, drinks with friends) because I knew I'd either have to eat the 'normal food' or everyone would notice how weird I was acting. It was exhausting to maintain and eventually I spiraled out of control.
I ended up with severe anxiety and depression and I believe my disordered eating played an enormous part in this. Unfortunately, whilst I did seek support for my anxiety and depression (from my GP and a psychologist) I never opened up about my disordered eating. I refused to talk about it because of a number of reasons. The main reason was that I knew what I was doing was wrong but I had gotten to a point where I was terrified to stop because I was absolutely terrified to gain weight and I wanted to continue modeling. Telling someone my issues with food would mean getting 'better' and I didn't want to get better. It's only now I can see how much more damage I did to my mind and body by suffering in silence for so much longer. I hope that by being open about my experience, it can help others to do the same.
If you or anyone you know is going through a similar situation, please seek support. The earlier you open up the better. I know it is scary but with support, you can get through it. I suggest speaking to a close friend or family, or someone you trust first, then your GP and a psychologist. Also, some helpful online support networks are listed below.