If you or someone you know has an eating disorder and needs help, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline at 1-800-931-2237, text 741741, or chat online with a Helpline volunteer here.
“You deserve to enjoy food. You deserve to enjoy exercise. And you deserve to have a life that’s not revolved around those two things.”-Zahra Biabani
Growing up, I had zero qualms about what I ate, when I ate or how much I ate. The rule in my house was if you were hungry, then you ate what you were hungry for. End of story. I had a nasty sweet tooth as a child, so my favorite foods included (but were not limited to) strawberry Pop-Tarts, Fruity Pebbles and Hershey’s chocolate. I also possessed a strong love for sugary drinks, and once I even ended up in the hospital with a kidney stone as a consequence of too many sodas—sorry, Mom and Dad! My mouth is watering just thinking about my childhood go-tos. As a kid, there was nothing better than going into the pantry and helping myself to whatever I wanted.
However, as I got older and became more serious about sports and working out, I traded in Mountain Dew for Gatorade and switched out Pop-Tarts for protein bars in order to properly fuel my body for these intense types of activities. It wasn’t like I didn’t still crave the aforementioned sweets, and I still would have them every once in a while, but I realized that I had to cut back on these sugary treats if I wanted to avoid early burnout and fatigue during sports. So as a result, eating sweets became a rarer occurrence for me by default. I just didn’t realize that this would be the beginning of the end for my enjoyment of these fun foods.
Once I entered high school, I discovered the wondrous app that almost anyone with a mobile device knows by the name of TikTok. At first, like many others, I greatly enjoyed exploring the app and watching 15-second videos that were extremely entertaining. Unfortunately, I did not realize just how much I would allow this app to slowly take control over so many aspects of my life, including one that was already in a deeply fragile state: my eating habits. As an impressionable teenager that was easily influenced by social media and what other people were doing, I found myself quickly falling deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole of diet culture and learning about foods that I should be eating versus foods that I shouldn’t be within six feet of. I would watch video after video of girls with incredible bodies that religiously followed varying diets that often contradicted each other, and I tried them all with little to no success before standing in front of the mirror and feeling immense disappointment toward the person that was staring back at me. I felt like I was failing both myself and the influencers that swore by their tips and tricks for eating right and looking in shape. As I fell further down into the hole of healthy eating, it became increasingly harder to dig myself out of it. I was underfed, underwhelmed and undernourished, but I did not understand why.
After numerous failed attempts of trying to follow these wild and unattainable diets on this app, I was forced to come to terms with the one big reason why they were not working: because these people are not me. What works for some people may or may not work for me, and that is totally okay. After learning this crucial fact and speaking with people I knew about their own experiences with different foods, I knew that it was all one big trial-and-error system that I had to personally work through to see which foods and eating habits fit best with my own body and personal goals. No, I didn’t look like many of these other people on TikTok with six-packs and lean physiques, but I didn’t have to. The version of myself that I was happiest with would most likely differ from the other individuals I watched videos of due to various factors and circumstances.
Once I made peace with this, I found that it was much better to look at these videos and see a cool food or eating habit that I wanted to implement in my own life without the addition of crippling disappointment if it did not work for me. I no longer feel the need to restrict myself or follow an insanely hard diet that does not benefit me and the goals that I am trying to achieve. Now, I can have my cake and eat it, too.