Lucia shares how her tendency to overachieve and the stigma attached to mental health issues led to secrecy and isolation during her eating disorder journey. Being put on a diet at an early age placed our guest author on a slippery slope of struggling with self-consciousness and buried emotions. Lucia stresses the importance of reaching out for resources and support early for those who struggle with an eating disorder.
Q: Tell us about how your relationship with your body and/or eating habits first began to change. Did any major events or memories play a role?
A: I think it was a collection of things, a constellation of small hurts, that led me to change my eating habits and attempt to control my body. I remember being a little girl, maybe seven years old, and getting the impression that I was too big. I remember being put on a diet because I was “overweight” even though I’m not sure that was objectively true. I spent the rest of my childhood being very conscious of my body.
When I started high school, after a summer trip to southern France with my best friend spent eating delicious food and soaking up the sun, my parents signed me up for a gym that was down the street. I had a personal trainer who told me to stop drinking pop. I didn’t think much of it because by that point I was quite used to other people telling me what to eat or not eat, but that was probably the beginning of any serious issues. I was an overachiever (I probably still am) and I wanted to “succeed” at this thing that I never quite got right throughout my young life. I spent the rest of high school trying to make my body smaller and being praised for it.
Leaving my parents’ home after high school was devastating to me and I began to use food as comfort. It took me over a decade to begin to balance my relationship with food and my body.
Q: What were changes in your thoughts, feelings, or behaviors that you noticed during this time?
A: I was body conscious as a child – there was a bit of shaky self-perception there but I remember also being quite happy. When I started to lose weight on purpose as a teen, I began to take pride in how much I exercised and how much weight I lost. I simultaneously began to hate myself whenever I gained any weight back or when I stopped losing as much weight in the timeframe I’d set. I have journals from that time and they are filled with a lot of dark thoughts – a lot of shame, anger, guilt about my needs for nourishment and love and acceptance. I went from being a happy kid to a seemingly well-adjusted teen with a whole bunch of rage simmering just under the surface. In my twenties, I looked back at my “skinny days” with a mixture of fear and nostalgia.
Q: Did your cultural background play a role in your journey?
A: Peruvians are well-known hearty eaters, but Latin culture is full of fatphobia and my family was no different. Unsolicited body comments are common and diet culture is alive and well in Peruvian society. I think those pieces of my culture made me more vulnerable to disordered eating. The stigma associated with any mental health issues and associated secrecy didn’t help.
Q: Did your relationship with loved ones change in any way when you had an eating disorder?
A: In some ways, it felt like I’d finally accomplished the thing that my whole family – parents, sisters, extended family – wanted me to accomplish. I felt like they were generally approving, saying that I looked great. I know now that they had some concerns but had no idea how to broach them or how to talk to me about how I was feeling. They did, however, genuinely approve of my hard-earned thinness because they thought it would make my life easier.
Spoiler alert: It didn’t.
Q: What did loved ones do to support you that you found helpful or what kind of support do you wish you had received?
A: I wish I’d had the words to express what I was feeling out loud. I never told anyone anything until years later. I think if I’d had the words, I might have looked for help much earlier and may have discovered a lot of other drivers behind my food/body issues that had very little to do with food or my body. I wish that I had felt connected to others and that my loved ones accepted me regardless of my size.
Q: Did you seek treatment/support?
A: Not at the time, not at the most difficult moments. I’ve been much more conscious of the effects that my relationship with my body has affected (too) many other areas of my life as I’ve gotten older. I began therapy a few years ago and am still untangling everything.
Q: What resources or types of support did you find most helpful during this time? (Ex. Individual therapy, support groups, school counsellors, apps, treatment, etc.)
A: I didn’t access any of these supports for a long time. I’ve been finding individual therapy really helpful in the healing process. I’d like to try support groups going forward because there can be so much comfort in being part of a community and in knowing that you’re not alone in your experience.
Q: What kinds of self-directed behaviors did you find helpful? (Ex. Journaling, meditation, hobbies, habits, etc.)
A: Journaling has always been a big outlet for me, especially when I didn’t trust that I could verbalize my feelings. It’s great to vomit all my thoughts – the brilliant, the good, the bad, the hideous – onto a piece of paper so that it’s no longer inside my body. Journaling gives me some distance from my narrative, which is just *chef’s kiss* amazing.
About the Author
Lucia is a Peruvian woman of mixed European heritage. She is a writer, editor, and human being with a keen interest in the intersection of mind, body, and spirit. Lucia moved to the West Coast in the middle of a global pandemic, after accidentally falling in love with the mountains. She is pursuing a career in psychotherapy, where she hopes to create spaces for others to honour their hearts and bodies.