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  • Andrea Juarez

Growing up in weight loss culture

Photo by @yunmai / Unsplash

I’m only 22, but I spent more than half of my life trying to lose weight.

When I was eight years old, on Christmas eve, one of my aunts asked me what my bottom size was.

I felt ashamed of revealing I was a kid’s large since my other cousins were thin, so I lied. “Medium,” I responded, nervous.

My aunt nodded, gave me a fake smile, and went to the back of the room to join her sister. I heard her saying how the skirt they had bought for me wouldn’t fit.

“She getting fat, she’s not going to fit in,” I heard one of them say.

The word fat is a negative adjective in our society. No wonder why my eight-year-old self listened to this and immediately left the room to cry.

Looking back, I find it incredibly sad to think about myself dealing with a negative body image at such a young age.

We live in a crazy diet/weight loss culture and women live under enormous pressure every day to fit a certain standard, no matter their age.

A National Report on Self Esteem from 2008 shared that 71 per cent of girls with low self-esteem felt their appearance did not measure up, including not feeling pretty enough, thin enough, or stylish enough. The report also mentioned that 62 per cent of all girls felt insecure or not sure of themselves. Their self-esteem was strongly related to how they viewed their own body shape and weight. I was one of those girls. When I was 13, I was a few pounds overweight — I weighed 70 kg, I’m 1.67 cm tall — and my mom suggested I started working out since she saw a spot of cellulite on my left leg. All of a sudden, cellulite became a big flaw that I needed to get rid of as soon as possible. I joined a Zumba class, had Herbalife milkshakes for dinner, and went to a nutritionist who gave me an incredible diet: I had to eat a lot in the first week, even more than I usually did. However, in the second week, she put me on an 800 calorie-a-day diet. That’s when I began panicking about “cheating” on my diet — I thought I would gain ten pounds if I had one chip. I quit dieting and told myself I should focus on working out instead. I joined more intense Zumba classes and started obsessing over calories via MyFitnessPal. But the healthier I ate, the more anxious I felt. Nine out of ten times, I ended up binge eating. Everything in my life was okay: I had (and still do) a great, supportive family and friends, and my school notes were fine but I couldn’t help being self-conscious. I felt an enormous pressure to get rid of cellulite, lose my stomach fat and weight so I could be slim, confident, and happy, like the girls from my class. I wondered why didn’t I look the way they did if I put so much effort. Hint: I binge ate and they were ballerinas (they probably just had a fast metabolism.) Also, my whole family from my father’s side has belly fat. No matter how much we diet or exercise, we can’t get rid of it. It’s in our genes, but I didn’t get the memo at that time. At 15, my male friends always talked about sports and working out. Once, one of them asked me: If we went out a couple of times, would you lose weight, so by the time we’re dating, you’re skinnier? I said no. I found it ridiculous and even funny at the time, but it’s actually kind of messed up.

It wasn’t until I was 16, during my first year of high school, that I opened up to my best friend about my frustration: I needed to be thin in order to feel beautiful. I went back to dieting, this time with an excellent nutritionist: she wouldn’t make me starve, the food menu was tasty, and included all the food groups. She suggested following my diet with exercise, and I did. I grew an obsession with running and stair climbing. I loved it so much that I worked out five or six days a week. One time, a high school classmate asked me what I wanted the most in life. I replied with: 'A flat stomach'. Like the Victoria’s Secret model I had as my cellphone wallpaper. The great diet and intense workouts led me to lose 9 kg in two years. I reached my goal of weighing 63 kg --120 pounds--, but I still wasn’t satisfied with the reflection in the mirror. Or the number on the scale. I wanted to get to 58 kg. My nutritionist said she wouldn’t help me lose more because I reached my healthiest weight, so I stopped seeing her and searched for advice online. At 18, I did a five-day juice detox and kept exercising rigorously. This time, rocking a prom dress was my excuse to lose weight. On the last day of my detox, I got home from school and felt like I was going to faint. I made myself another juice and took a nap. During the weekdays, my diet was extremely healthy, with no junk food. But on the weekends, I would binge eat and drink. I enjoyed drinking because it distracted me from my insecurities. A few months after my high school graduation, my knees started to hurt terribly. It hurt to walk. The physiotherapist suggested I stopped running for at least three months because I had tendinitis from working out so much. Not being able to work out gave me anxiety, which led to eating more. I gained weight and felt like I was failing myself. At 19, I moved to Canada and everything changed. I was busy enjoying life. Then I started college and worked part-time. I tried eating healthy and working out but my time was limited. I kept the same old habits to “keep some weight off”: I had green tea on an empty stomach, oranges for breakfast, and lemon was my go-to salad dressing because citrics are supposed to burn fat, right? School anxiety also made me binge eat. And after having large quantities of food, I felt mentally and physically exhausted. Every now and then I would see my friends enjoying their meals and ask myself: Why can’t I be like them? Why can’t I stop thinking about how many calories, salt, or sugar I am inserting into my body? After finishing my two-year diploma, my stomach began to bother me. It was a pain I never felt before. I was burping a lot and my stomach hurt a lot. I told my doctor all the symptoms and turns out I had an acid stomach. I had to remove green tea from my diet along with the food that I enjoyed the most, at least for a few months: green apples, strawberries, chocolate, lemon, salads. That’s when it hit me, after thirteen years, that I messed up my stomach with my weird eating habits. And my knees too. I asked myself: Why did I do this all along for? What was my main goal? Being thin? If eating healthy and working out are supposed to keep me healthy, then why did I feel so sick? What was the point of all of it? I was angry for causing this to myself and for damaging my body and my relationship with food.

It was not until 2019 that I discovered the term orthorexia — a yet to be confirmed term for an eating disorder where there’s an obsession with eating healthy. Binge eating is also considered a form of an eating disorder. I worried about my body image for about thirteen years, but I am aware that there are women who worry all their life.

On the Christmas Eve of 2014 — I was 17 — , during my lowest weight, the two aunts that said I was too fat as a child, looked at me from head to toe and told me I looked gorgeous. Yet they asked me to stop losing weight because I was too skinny. Can you imagine? Whether you have too much fat in your body or too little, you’ll never please people. Back when I was a teenager, being skinny was the norm. I never fit in because my body has a pear shape, which is now considered the “ideal body shape” thanks to the phenomenon that is Kim Kardashian. But how is a body supposed to be in fashion? It’s a body. I’ve never heard about men’s types of bodies being “trendy.” We’re surrounded not only by billboards and magazines, but also by the Internet and social media, where you see ads, pictures, and videos of these flawless, photoshopped humans.

We also have easy access to blogs and videos of so-called ‘fitness gurus’ or ‘health influencers’ who don’t even count with professional credentials, yet we follow them for diet and health advice. I used to follow a YouTuber who claimed that raw veganism was the healthiest diet ever. I tried it for a month and lost my period — pretty much a warning sign — so I gave up on it. Four years later, she uploads a video apologizing for being caught eating fish and eggs, saying how sick she was from her diet. Why is it so hard to accept ourselves the way we are? Probably because there is an entire industry profiting off and feeding our insecurities. According to the Global Weight Loss and Weight Management Market report, the Weight Loss and Weight Management Market accounted for a value of $168.95 billion in 2016 and is projected to reach a value of $278.95 billion at the end of 2023. At only 21, I forgave myself for mistreating my body. I realized that I am more than my weight and learned to be grateful to my body for all that it does for me: It keeps me alive, it lets me walk, dance, swim, hug, and so many other wonderful things. But I know my body is only 1/3 of my whole self — I have a brain and a soul, too. There is so much potential we have to unleash if we focus on different things apart from diets and appearance. We have way more things to offer apart from a perfect body and a pretty face. We need to learn to love ourselves and never forget that the potential we have goes beyond physic. Just as actress and body image activist Jameela Jamil said once: “The minutes that we spend thinking about how much we hate our bodies are minutes that we are not spending growing our talent, growing our minds, growing our businesses, growing our families, and growing our overall happiness.” Do yourself a favour and take care of yourself, both physically and mentally. I invite you to accept yourself and take care of your body, because you will live in it for the rest of your life.


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