How Wellness Culture Backfired For Me

by Emily Sobelman
Also Featured on KQED
07.05.18

I’ve struggled with eating for most of my adolescence. When I was 9, a friend told me I looked anorexic, and I took it as a compliment. I would stand in front of a mirror and count how many of my ribs I could see.

When I hit puberty and started gaining weight, I was panicked. My entire identity felt tied to being skinny.

I decided the solution to my problem was skipping meals. A breakfast here, lunch there, until it almost became a game to see how long I could keep myself from eating. This went on for almost two years, before a teacher noticed and sent me to a school therapist.

Since then I have been learning how to eat regularly and healthily through therapy. I live in a good city for healthy eating. Wellness culture is incredibly strong in San Francisco. It’s a city rich in salad bars, health food cafes, and juice joints.

But there are downsides to the wellness trend. As someone prone to extreme dieting, it was easy to take healthy eating too far.

I don’t remember the first time I heard it, but the idea is imprinted on my mind: carbs are bad. This mentality prompted me to develop a new set of unhealthy eating habits, while I was trying to get help. If my only option was a bagel, or something else heavily processed — I felt justified in not eating at all. When I started obsessing about it, I got to a point where no food was clean enough.

It took a psychiatrist to explain to me that this was also disordered eating–masquerading in the disguise of wellness. And it took time and work for me to recover. Sometimes it’s easy to slide backwards.

Looking back now, I understand that my habits were incredibly unhealthy. Wellness culture backfired for me.

Now I’m learning that eating food–any food–in moderation is far better than extreme dieting. It’s become an education, not just in moderate eating, but also in living with ambiguity.

This story was originally published on July 5, 2018.

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