Today was quite an emotional day for me.
I gave a TEDx speech about my eating disorder and how it helped me learn what self-love truly means.
While yes, I did slip up during my TEDx speech, standing in front of the audience and finally putting into words my eating disorder was an overwhelming experience for me.
I’m so thankful for having the opportunity to talk about how my eating disorder shaped me and ultimately discover what self-love truly means.
For those interested, below is the transcript of my TEDx speech.
Hope you enjoy!
It was exactly around this time four years ago that I started my eating disorder. While I can’t pinpoint the specific start date, what I do remember is this. I was currently taking a week-long trip in Rome during spring break with my Latin class and was eating well. And I’m not taking that “eating well” lightly. I was eating rich pastas and gelato every. Single. day. But eating well was common to me. Growing up, my food consumption always went into my height. I never had a problem with my weight or my self-confidence. This is not to say I was arrogant and self-centered, it’s just to say that I never really paid much attention to my appearance.
But coming back from the Rome trip, I decided to lose some weight. Part of the reason was all that pasta and gelato I indulged on. But the bigger reason was that I started noticing I was a bit chubbier than my other friends who happened to be all stick thin. Now, for someone who grow up not paying attention to her weight that much, these foreign and unfamiliar thoughts overwhelmed me.
Nevertheless, not knowing any better, I downloaded the MyFitnessPal app. For those who don’t know MyFitnessPal, this is an app that tracks your caloric intake to lose weight, gain weight or maintain weight. Of course, in my case, I was using it to lose weight. I put in my current weight, goal weight, my activity level. Being the “goody-two shoes” girl I am, I religiously followed the 1,200 calories that this app instructed for me to eat.
It became a routine. Half a bagel for breakfast. A meager salad for lunch entailing a handful of spinach, cucumbers, and tomatoes and of course, no dressing. And another meager salad for dinner. No drinks except water. No snacks no matter how hungry I was. No cakes, no processed food, only this and nothing more. I did this for three months while running track, or at least attempting to run track given how little I ate.
And soon enough, Food consumed my life. When I wasn’t eating, I was drooling over my next meal. When I was eating, I became guilty for eating too much. My mind was always noisy. Voices of “Stephanie, don’t eat that. Stephanie, you are fat. Stephanie, you need be hungry or else you’re not doing it right.” My calorie counting became another class for me. I obediently counted and measured my food logging into the MyFitnessPal app. A good day meant that I went under my 1,200 calories. A bad day meant that I went over my 1,200 calories. My life became purely numbers: the 1,200 calories, sub 100 pounds on the scale, the size double zero on my clothes.
But I am not here to storytell about my eating disorder. While I do not consider myself fully recovered, I feel enoughly distanced and detached from it now that I can talk about it with a fresh perspective. I’ve realized how much food is a representation of myself, of ourselves. It’s how we take care of ourselves, it’s how we view ourselves – whether that is subconsciously or consciously.
As someone with a perfectionist and Type-A personality, I wanted one more aspect in my life to control, to perfect. And that perfect standard meant being skinny, meant restricting my food choices, meant over-exercising, and ultimately, losing a sense of myself in the process to become society’s perfect.
But as much food is a representation of ourselves – whether that’s the perfectionist side of ourselves or the more complacent side of ourselves – in this modern 21st century we’re living in, it’s so easy to believe what we’re supposed to be. We’re supposed to be the health nut who lives on kale salad and avocado toast. We’re supposed to be fitness maniac who loves going on morning runs. We’re supposed to be a certain size and live this supposedly “healthy” lifestyle that ultimately makes us feel unhappy and unfulfilled.
Doubting our ability to provide the best for our own bodies, we create habits—or, more accurately, unrealistic and restrictive rules that we impose on ourselves. We trust others’ rules and opinions to fix our own bodies—but why? The culture assumes it has the authority to show how we’re taught to love ourselves. The media and current slew of weight-loss programs teach us that our habits will ultimately allow us to love ourselves. We have to eat green smoothie with kale and spinach and whatnot, and we should only eat desserts that are made from all-organic, vegan ingredients. If we don’t, we’re taught to believe that we are not taking care of ourselves or valuing our bodies.
However, in reality, I believe that our love reflects our habits. The true order is actually switched. We already love ourselves. Let me repeat that, we already love ourselves.
Our habits do not lead us to feel self love. No, our already existing self love forms our habits.
We do not eat well to feel self love. We do not exercise to feel self-love. We are constantly bombarded with fat-free, low-carb, low-calorie food ads. But these ads are simply for us to be in the illusion that by eating these foods, we will in the future, love ourselves. That we will in some unforeseen future, will finally accept ourselves.
But the truth is, we already accept ourselves. We already love ourselves. The fact that you are living right now. The fact that you are breathing right now goes to show how much you love yourself.
Once you realize and fully believe that you do indeed already love yourself, the food you eat simply becomes a reflection of this acceptance and abundant love for yourself. And so, no food is bad or good. There is no moralizing involved because we are already good, we are already loved, we are already enough.
By no longer having to quantify our worth, we no longer eat excessively to feed our inner psychological need, nor do we over-exercise to reach a certain body type built upon elusive happiness. Instead, we eat for physical nourishment, and we exercise for physical vigor and strength.
We eat a green kale salad to honor our body’s physical needs. But we also eat a hamburger to respond to our body’s natural emotional need. We exercise to give the movement and strength our body wants. We live life not to love ourselves, but we live life to affirm this great love for ourselves. I already love myself. You already love yourself. We already love ourselves. And that should be enough.