I didn’t look in a mirror for an entire year

Photo courtesy of Dani Sisson, Student Publications

Content Warning: Body Dysmorphia, Disordered Eating

In March of 2020, as the world was descending into a lockdown, I remember anxiously scrolling through Facebook and happening across a post by an acquaintance from high school: “Remember that it is okay to gain weight during quarantine.” Simple as it was, that modicum of acceptance would burrow its way into my mind and act as the catalyst for one of the most monumental changes in my life to date.

Growing up as a dancer, I had been conditioned from an early age to use the mirror as a place for self-critique, regularly spending hours a day staring at my reflection in an effort to perfect a new move, straighten my lines, correct my form, or simply criticize my body. As with many people, this desire for control over my own body eventually resulted in disordered eating habits.

With years of critical conditioning, engagement in diet culture, and fatphobic marketing serving as the backbone of my relationship with my own body, I was extremely worried about the possibility of weight gain during quarantine, but that small Facebook post refused to leave my mind.

After several weeks of yo-yo-ing between restriction, guilt and the thought of that Facebook post, I decided I had had enough. I began looking into stories online of those that had recovered from habitual disordered eating, and I stumbled upon the concept of “Intuitive Eating.”

Marketing itself as simply “listening” to my hunger and eating when I felt hungry, I was skeptical of the possibility of having a relationship with food that didn’t include me counting every calorie, but I was willing to give it a try.

Armed with research from the Internet and the guidance of a licensed nutritionist, I dubiously embarked on a journey to find my lost hunger signals and a long unknown acceptance of my own body. I turned away from the mirror, and began trying to look inward in an effort to cultivate a healthier relationship with myself.

It was difficult, at first. After almost two decades of marketing around needing to control, optimize or bio-hack my own body, I felt as if I had no connection whatsoever to my own hunger and satiety cues, and that the idea that my body could regulate its own food intake without constant micromanagement was absurd.

I often felt discouraged, thinking that I wasn’t intuitively eating “correctly”. I could tell my body composition was fluctuating, my hunger was often unstable, but I continued on with the support of those around me.

Over time, listening to my body and responding with acceptance to whatever hunger showed up, whenever it showed up, I started to think less about food. I ate exactly what I wanted, whenever I wanted, with absolutely no restriction, and my body flourished.

Whether it be because of the sudden satisfaction of nutritional requirements or the lack of constant mental anguish over food and the consequently high cortisol levels, I began to have more energy throughout my days, and I began to see my body as healthy by the way that it functioned rather than by the way it looked.

After a year of avoiding mirrors, scales, and nutrition labels, I’ve been able to cultivate a relationship with my body based on respect, patience, and gratitude. When I look in the mirror today, instead of seeing all of the “imperfections” I saw a year ago, I see a body that offers me nothing but love, a body that is capable of incredible adaptability – a body that is doing its best to keep me alive and doing a damn good job of it.

As things continue to open back up here in the U.S., there is sure to be an onslaught of marketing from the diet culture and wellness industries as they attempt to recoup profit losses from the past year. While my journey is far from over, it is my hope that by discussing these issues openly, our post-pandemic world can be shaped into a more accepting one than that with which we started.

If you are a student currently struggling with body image, disordered eating, or any nutrition related concerns, don’t hesitate to reach out to Georgia Tech’s Nutrition Counseling services (healthinitiatives.gatech.edu/support-services/nutrition-counseling) or any of Georgia Tech’s other counseling services (counseling.gatech.edu/). Other helpful resources can be found on the National Alliance on Mental Health’s website (nami.org/Home).