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How I Stopped Feeling Guilty About Eating

Op-ed

TW: brief mentions of eating-disorder-like behavior. If you or someone you know is struggling, please reach out and receive help.

Growing up, there were rarely moments where I felt truly beautiful. I remember the constant dread of having to go shopping because it meant having to look at my body in the dressing room mirror. I was self-conscious in anything from jeans to swimwear, and I hated the way that everyone else seemed to fit in their skin, while mine hung on my frame, never quite right. For years, I made up excuses to avoid eating. I went through obsessive phases of working out, "mindful eating", and skipping meals. While many of my intrusive thoughts and insecurities linger with me, I can now say that I cannot imagine my life without food. I enjoy eating because I don't need to deserve a reason to nourish my body. I eat what makes me feel good, and I feel the best I ever have. Here is a bit more about my journey of self-acceptance and building a better relationship with food.

As a young girl, I was raised learning that I should aspire to have the body of an American girl, to cross my legs under the table, and finish everything on my plate. In my culture, the greatest way to show respect towards a person is to show appreciation for the food they made you. Food was a form of care. If I was sick, I was spoon-fed bowls of my Baba's turnip soup, and on birthdays, I happily cleared the bottoms of beef noodle soup bowls, slurping as loudly as I could.

I was always on the heavier side as a kid, but back then I didn't notice nor did I care about my multiple chins, growing cellulite, or the fact that my thighs spread like gelatin unlike the legs of my fellow peers. The first time this was pointed out to me, I was shocked. I had never thought of it as a bad thing, but once a boy in my fifth-grade class wrinkled his nose and called my thigh fat gross, I immediately started to hate it. It was crazy how quickly I started to take other comments to heart as well, especially the ones from family. The casual comparisons of my weight or body to my sister's or my younger self, slipped in haphazardly by females in my family, still eat away at my self-confidence, though I try my hardest to not let it act as a setback after how long it has taken me to get here in my journey of self-acceptance.

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Around the summer between 6th and 7th grade, I went vegan. While at the time, I was convinced that I was doing it solely because my favorite cow from a nearby farm had died, I realize now that the self-deception was extremely detrimental towards my mental health. Even if I did not understand it then, going vegan was a subtle, socially acceptable way for me to skip meals. Veganism is pretty common and is a great way to protest the environmental downsides of the food industry and the cruelty that animals are faced with if it is done in a healthy manner, which in my case, it was not. I held myself to such strict rules and would feel so betrayed if I broke them. It got to the point where I was doing the Chloe Ting abs challenge twice a day, jogging for an hour, and running on nothing but a salad at noon, and an awful-tasting protein bar washed down with water. It got to the point where I started to enjoy the feeling of drinking water on an empty stomach, or where I rationed the number of pomegranate seeds I ate. I had no idea that I was counting calories so frequently that it became habitual, or that this was not actually good for my wellbeing, metabolism, or growth.

The thing that may have surprised me most was the amount of praise I received as I started inevitably slimming down. I was applauded for my persistent behavior and "healthy habits".

I didn't realize how miserable I was, and how trapped I had become. But I was only 12 years old, and society's toxic effect had forced me to torture myself when it came to nourishing my body. Part of the reason I'm still not on social media as a 15-year-old is because of the pervasive and socially acceptable trends of glow-up culture, "that girl" routines, and diet culture. This is not to say that body and food positivity does not exist on platforms like TikTok, Youtube, and Instagram. If you find that they boost and help you with your journey, I completely encourage you to keep hearing from those influencers who help you come to view food in a more positive light.

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My parents weren't around much in my childhood, but around the peak of the pandemic and during lockdown, my dad started to notice that I wasn't eating as much as I should. He actively made sure that I had something I enjoyed eating every day, and lunch became my favorite part of day. It was a break between long hours of staring at little boxes on zoom, and a chance to debrief and chat with my dad over good food and good company. I started to understand what eating is all about.

Learning to get rid of a mindset of viewing food as "good" or "bad", eating with another person, and reminding myself that I deserve to eat and feel good has helped me improve immensely. Though there are still days where I pick myself apart in front of a mirror or "accidentally" skip meals, I am in a much healthier place knowing that whether I eat is not dependent on how much I've exercised or how many calories I will intake. That will all vary day to day, and your weight and body will vary too. It's natural, beautiful, and a part of growing up.

While this is much easier said than done, we need to start to embrace change. We won't always look the same as we did a year ago, or maybe even a month ago, and that's okay. Our jean size does not define our body, and clothes are meant to fit you, not the other way around. I am the heaviest I've ever been, but I am more confident than I ever have been as well. Weight and beauty are not correlated, and insecurities are not insecurities unless you make them ones.

Self-love is a life-long process that I am just beginning. Don't be too hard on yourself, and don't forget that it will get better, but it starts with yourself. Your body is yours to take care of, yours to nourish, and yours alone. It has been with you through so much, and it will continue to be yours to love.

Audrey Wu
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Audrey Wu is a freshman in high school in Washington DC. She's passionate about activism for topics such as women's rights, climate change, and Asian-American rights. Audrey is an ENFP and loves to read, write, and daydream about the world around her.