Sending Love To Everyone Who Has Struggled with Diet Culture and Body Image

Trigger Warning: Sensitive Topics for Some Audiences


Dear Fifteen-Year-Old Me (And Everyone Else Who Has Ever Dealt With This),


Don’t listen to that inner critic. However you may look or whatever the number on the scale may be, please remember that every person deserves to feel comfortable and confident in their body, whatever that may mean for each individual. 


And that includes yourself. Everyone deserves to feel safe and know that resources are available, and that they are not alone. 


For years, I had this bellyaching to be something more than what I already was. I wanted to be the perfect person that I’ve grown up striving to become. Dear self, I’m sure you remember. 


I would exercise excessively, counting every calorie intake, and not eat anything for breakfast or lunch at school. Sometimes I’d get by with tiny apple slices and fresh mints. I would cut off some meals from my Asian heritage because they had “x” number of calories mixed in with all the wonderful ingredients that made these dishes so great in the first place. If I ate something, I would obsess over how I needed to work out as soon as possible to lose those calories.


With this pattern, I developed a sense of self-hatred. One that tried to swallow me whole and prevent me from living a healthy lifestyle. 


I wanted to be perfect because my whole life, I had been exposed to the idea that being myself was just not enough. Growing up, there was not a lot of representation for minority women in the media, unless they were models, and even that was rare. I thought if I’d have this radically transformative change in my physical appearance, then life would be mine for the taking. 


But doing this every day? Feeling guilty for eating proper meals? I was fatigued and starving. What was so wrong with how I looked in the first place? Growing up, I had all these ideas of what someone needed to look like in order to be successful and “pretty.” But aren’t we all already beautiful in our diverse ways, without these societal standards? 


I used to drink weight-loss teas. It tasted disgusting, but after two hours of working out every day freshman year, I needed something to boost my energy (or so I incorrectly thought). Whenever I’d order a drink from Starbucks with one of my friends, she’d tell me that the frappuccino was her dinner for that night because of all the calories they had, and that she couldn’t possibly bear to have any more or “treat herself.” 


We were entrapped in “diet culture,” in the most unhealthy way, without the proper nutrients and the right number of daily calories. We were fifteen years old and we were struggling with untrue expectations that negatively distorted our views on our body image. 


Looking back, I believe that negative body image is a societal problem, one that we need to work together to change and advocate for. 


There’s something concerning about the fact that mainstream media focuses on weight-loss so much. Getting exposed from an early age to this diet culture craze is dangerous. It’s not right that magazines and commercials portray how people were solely depressed before their diet pills and weight-loss supplements, as if not weighing a certain number means that you are incapable of overall happiness or success. Why does not looking a particular way disqualify you from following your dreams or being deemed “worthy?” 


In our world, there is such praise for being a size zero, and fatphobia is such a popular trend. There is nothing wrong with being thin, but there should be more encouragement to be healthy in terms of what that means to you since everyone is different. Some are naturally born a size two and others genetically are not (and BOTH should totally be okay!). Let people live their best lives, thin or plus-sized or somewhere in-between, without teaching them to hate themselves explicitly for looking a certain way. Body inclusion and body positivity need to be further celebrated!


It has been a long journey, but after my personal experiences and everything I’ve come to learn, I have worked hard to try to abandon the harmful diet culture. My personal fitness journey is not about the number on the scale, but about how I can accomplish little goals that slowly turn into big ones, such as improving my time when exercising. Compared to where I was five years ago, I can emotionally say that when I go to the gym now, I do it out of self-love rather than self-hate. I do it to get stronger and more in tune with myself. It is stress-relieving for me, and I am now doing it for the right reasons rather than the wrong ones. 


My workouts are beneficial not just for my physical body, but also for my emotional and mental health, which matter just as equally. I can do cardio and core workouts now without feeling so critical. I try to eat healthier and incorporate different types of ingredients and food in my meals, rather than just cutting everything out completely like I used to. Balance is important! Now, I realize that I can allow myself to eat different foods instead of using yo-yo diets, which can cause excessive weight-loss and gain, making you extremely sick.


But, I’m not perfect. These days, it can still be a battle. But now, I can look at my reflection and smile at my growth. I am appreciative of the opportunities I have in regards to access to healthy foods and advocating for people who don’t. I seek education about the fact that weight does not account for muscle mass, and that some athletes weigh more, although they are still very fit, because weight is distributed differently in each person’s body. 


Now, I am beginning to exercise regularly while still eating. It’s more difficult when I’m stressed. I try to focus more on the things I love rather than the things I cringe at when I look in the mirror--it’s not just about what we see, but what we don’t see. 


The way that you critique yourself is not how other people see you. You are worth much more than what your inner demons try to tell you. You are enough just the way you are.


And if you do think a diet or workout-plan is for you, asking for doctoral or professional advice is not shameful either. 


Now, I am learning to embrace my body and all its curves, flaws, and imperfections. Your imperfections make you stunningly beautiful, no matter what size or shape you are. Let’s learn to stop being afraid to speak out against diet culture, because it does lead to eating disorders and body dysmorphia, which are killers. These illnesses have almost taken away people I love, and have tried coming for me. Proper education in matters about weight and the road to healthiness is so important. 


In terms of the diet culture we’ve been exposed to from an early age, we as a society need to work on being more accepting about how different our bodies and appearances are, because there is no cookie-cutter size for beauty. Every single body deserves to be comfortably and confidently appreciated. Representation and inclusivity matter.


You are not alone in your struggles. Remember: self-love and recovery is a continuous journey, but you are stronger and more beautiful than you initially believe. 


Sending you all love and strength always! 

Maria xoxo