This is just my story. If it doesn’t speak to you or you don’t connect with it, that’s all right. I’m here today to talk about mental health and to possibly help someone in the process by sharing my experience.
The weeks leading up to my hiatus were incredible. Incredibly isolating. I was falling apart at the edges. Unraveling at the seams.
One morning in January 2019, I hit a breaking point. I was laying down in my old Koreatown apartment, curled into a ball. I was crying and unable to get up. I was having a panic attack. The years of carefully watching what I was eating and trying to be the best version of myself had led me here. Fear and panic took over. The thought of going on Instagram and posting as the Lee everyone expected me to be was too much. I couldn’t be the self-loving, happy, balanced person I had promoted myself to become.
In fact, I was the unhealthiest I’d ever been.
I was an anxious shell of myself. I didn’t know what was wrong, but I knew I had to stop doing what I was doing. It didn’t feel right on so many levels, but most of all, I knew I was sick.
I was preoccupied with making sure I wasn’t using any plastics, with making sure my home was free of toxins, with making sure my diet was perfect and always in my control. I was obsessed with operating to the best of my ability all the time - I wanted no bloat, no inflammation, no stress, the best sleep, and I needed total access to my healthy list of “okay” foods - primarily, no processed sugar, no gluten, no dairy, no soy, etc. etc. etc…just to feel good.
These aspirations affected every single aspect of my life: who I hung out with, where I shopped, what time I went to bed, who I followed on Instagram, who I dated, where I vacationed.
A major drive behind this way of living was to be my best self, but also, it was a way of controlling and managing my weight. I was terrified of gaining weight.
Who am I without wellness?
Who am I without all these products and “healthy” diets?
Who am I, without my eating disorder?
Those are the questions I set off to seek while I went on hiatus in February 2019. I got those answers, and so much more.
You probably know me as a wellness blogger. That’s how I got my start and that is what my adult life has been built upon. I associated myself with the wellness community, I was the wellness community. If you cut open my arm, matcha would bleed out from my veins.
Wellness culture was my community. Most of the people I knew, who I spent my time with, and basically every single decision I made with my life- was dictated by “wellness culture”.
Wellness is not inherently a bad thing. I am speaking about a very specific type of wellness, the commodification of wellness that has gained popularity over the past 10 years and how it and its ideals negatively affected me.
According to the dictionary:
wellness | ˈwelnəs | noun the state of being in good health, especially as an actively pursued goal.
Overtime, the wellness industry has grown to $4.2 trillion in 2017, according to this study. This includes (and perhaps the largest aspect of this astronomical number): the diet and weight loss industry.
Wellness means something different to every person, culture, and community. My definition of wellness was “the wellness diet”, or, basically, a very discriminatory and unfair portrait of the “recommended way” to live. Wellness culture, one could say, can be damaging in its own way. Many wellness products as we know it fuel people’s insecurities and make shallow promises. It demonizes western medicine and medications. They make you believe that if you take enough of their probiotics of drink enough of their tea, things will be okay. Many products market themselves as “brain boosting” or “tummy flattening” or “energy doubling” while promoting diet culture language such as “zero sugar”, “high fat”, “low calorie”, confusing and blurring the lines between the product’s intention, values, and results.
Much of wellness culture is fueled by fatphobia, a fear or dislike of fat people and/or “obesity”. Wellness has been tainted by the diet industry. Fatphobia and weight stigma are an issue because there are higher rates of depression, anxiety, and social isolation. Fat people also have a 2-3x higher chance of engaging in suicidal thoughts and behaviors, lower rates of participation in preventative health services, and fewer job opportunities.
I was using wellness as a way to control and manage my weight, appearance, emotions, and experience in the world. Many people engage in wellness practices while maintaining good mental health and not getting obsessive. For me, I couldn’t. I missed that boat. A diet for me will 100000% end with an eating disorder and a preoccupation with food. A diet doesn’t necessarily mean a restriction in calories, it can also be following a certain way of eating: paleo, keto, gluten free, high-carb. For me, those diets end up the same way: with an eating disorder. (Just to be clear: I am not speaking for those who have food allergies or medical conditions, I am only speaking about my experience with disordered eating.)
While becoming utterly obsessed with my physical health, my mental and emotional health were unraveling. I seemed healthy on the outside- and perhaps, to many- I was, but internally, I was unwell.
And this is what the wellness culture I am addressing seems to lack- a disregard for mental health and a preoccupation with physical health, economic privilege, unrealistic body ideals and body discrimination.
And, most of this is euro-centric idea of wellness prioritizes’ white people’s lives, ideas, and bodies.
While I was on my hiatus, I entered treatment for my eating disorder. I had eliminated certain food groups, was spending upwards of 75% of my day thinking about food, didn’t know what “healthy” meant anymore, and had depression, anxiety, and the OCD to go along with it.
If you had asked me 1 year ago if I believed I was supporting an unhealthy idea, I would have told you no.
I truly believed I was doing something good for myself and others. I didn’t have the tools to know I was harming myself or possibly others. I’m aiming for moral progress, not moral perfection. This space has always been a place for me to share what’s feeling authentic and real for me in the moment, hence why I went on a hiatus to rethink the direction I was going in.
My treatment experience was incredible, and I am privileged to have been able to afford professional help and care for my eating disorder when most people don’t have access to such help. I was able to heal in a safe and professional space, closed off from the world and protected from HIPAA. I was able to answer the questions of who I was and what I wanted from my life. Not everyone gets that opportunity, which is a problem in and of itself.
After I discharged from treatment, I started working with an All Foods Fit MPH, RDN. I have amazing professional help. I am not ready to disclose much more about that aspect of my life, but feel it is important because eating disorders amongst the wellness community are REAL and IMPORTANT. While we tend to call those who are “healthy” disciplined, strong, and with ample self control, many of these people are suffering.
Orthorexia is real. It’s understudied and some question its validity. It’s not in the DSM-5 yet but I know it will be soon.
Over the next few weeks and months you will see a major content shift on my platforms, I will be speaking more about orthorexia, eating disorders, diet culture, social justice issues, fatphobia, the wellness diet, health at every size, economic privilege and the “wellness identity”.
If you or someone you love is struggling with an eating disorder or suicidal thoughts, please reach out for help:
Eating Disorders: text 'NEDA' to 741741
Suicide: 1-800-273-TALK [8255
See you soon.
xx - Lee
Comments are moderated. Read my comment policy here.