With dread in my heart, I slowly peered into the stainless steel pot sitting on the stove. The slightly yellow and watery mush of cabbage soup glared back at me, and immediately, I wasn't hungry anymore. No, the soup wasn't a failed attempt at delicacy—it was made to be unappetizing. Cabbage soup, made with only boiled cabbage and some other vegetables, had been just one of the many fad diets I tried in a desperate attempt to lose weight in high school. It felt like maybe, just maybe, losing weight would magically solve all of my issues, and my insecurities would melt away along with the fat.

Societal Pressures

Photo by Alexander Mils on Unsplash

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I can't remember when my obsession with weight loss started, but it must have been a gradual process, imposed on me by society while I was still a kid. Commercials advertised beautiful dolls with unattainable figures. Magazines sat on shelves next to the checkout section of the grocery store, with titles like "How to Lose 10 Pounds in Ten Days!" and "Secrets to Getting a Bikini Body for Summer." Movies showed magical makeovers, where the main character lost some weight and ended up with the boy and her dream life. It was easy to associate "skinny" with "beauty" and "happiness," and as a chubby kid growing up, it felt like losing weight was the only solution to attaining a "good life."

I started to become self-conscious of the food I ate. I watched other girls around me eat dainty portions, and the two servings of pasta I ate sit heavily in my stomach. Suddenly, food didn't taste as good anymore. Whenever I ate things that I enjoyed, I was flooded with guilt—I'm not supposed to enjoy eating. 

That's when I was introduced to the world of dieting. Juice cleanses? Intermittent fasting? Paleo? Some of them restricted certain food groups, while some of them limited the times that you're allowed to eat. However, all of them sent me the same message: losing weight is more important than my physical or mental health.

The Weight Loss

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By some miracle, I lost at least 20 pounds my sophomore year of high school. And by miracle, I meant that I skipped many meals multiple days a week and worked out excessively. My weight loss was by no means healthy, but it didn't matter to people. My friends pointed out the differences, my coach congratulated me, and boys started to notice me at school. None of them bothered asking me about how I lost the weight.

Of course, my weight loss method was unsustainable. My body was getting used to the calorie deficit, and I had to eat less and less to keep the weight off. Not only was I hungry all the time, but losing weight actually made me more self-conscious than before. I spent the time that I wasn't worrying about food now worrying about whether people noticed I lost weight or if I looked better. 

I can't say that I didn't experience some perks after losing weight. Like I said, I was receiving attention from boys that never noticed me before, and people tended to be nicer to me in general. After a while though, nagging thoughts started surfacing in my head. Why did people only want to get to know me after I lost weight? Do people like me for me or for the way I look? And the scariest thought: What happens if I gain the weight back?


Photo by Luisa Brimble on Unsplash

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The truth is that losing weight didn't solve any of my issues, and it only made me more obsessive over the way I look and created more insecurities. I do have to make a disclaimer here: everyone experiences their weight loss journey differently, so people's thoughts regarding this issue will be different. Personally, I realized that I was losing weight for all the wrong reasons. Although it is completely valid to lose weight for physical looks, it was not the right reason for me.

I lost weight for other people, and it ruined my relationship with food and with myself. I know I've probably gained back a bit of weight since high school, but I don't find it necessary to weigh myself anymore. Naturally, sometimes I still find myself struggling with my body image, but now I recognize that the number on the scale is not indicative of my self-worth. 

Nowadays, I've been slowly rebuilding my relationship with food by eating the things I enjoy and listening to my body. Instead of viewing food as a system of rewards and punishment, I try to see food as a form of nourishment. Each meal gives me the energy to live freely in this world, for me to love others and experience everything that life has to offer. Losing weight is not worth the physical strain on my body.

I know that topics like these, such as body dysmorphia and eating disorders, are difficult to talk about with others, but it is important to reach out for help if you need it. It took me a long time to realize that my behaviors were unhealthy, and since then, I have talked to friends, family, and therapists about this. It's important to remember that we don't have to conform to society's beauty standards, especially if it comes at the cost of our physical and mental health. 

If you or someone you know are struggling with an eating disorder, here are some places to look for support:


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