Our online social profiles only show the highlight reel of our lives. We compare ourselves to that one picture that made it onto the profile out of the hundreds taken which was then photoshopped to look flawless. Falling victim to the compare and despair mentality fuels body shame.
As a part of my interview series with public figures who struggled with and coped with an eating disorder, I had the pleasure to interview Victoria Evans. A former university athlete, Victoria began her career in the corporate world with a prominent Fortune 500 company in the beauty industry. During this time her challenges related to extreme dieting and over exercising became a catalyst to creating a solution to an issue millions of women deal with today.
As a successful Intuitive Eating Coach she is disrupting the diet industry through her fundamentally science based approach. Victoria helps countless women heal their relationship with food by optimizing for happier and healthier lifestyles. She travels frequently to locations such as the UK, France, Italy and various countries in South East Asia while providing solutions to women through her online programs.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself and what you do professionally?
I was born in a small town north of Toronto called Lindsay, Ontario in Canada. Growing up I was always athletic and eventually played NCAA volleyball in Pennsylvania. I am currently based in Bali, Indonesia where I work online as an Intuitive Eating Coach. In my own recovery from my eating disorder, I struggled with the limited resources available to me. As a result, I created the solution to my own problem and became the coach I needed in my own eating disorder recovery. With my personal success, I now share the very same coaching program that saved my own life with the women whom I work with on a daily basis.
Thank you for your bravery and strength in being so open with us. I personally understand how hard this is. Are you able to tell our readers the story of how you struggled with an eating disorder?
After gaining weight in university I felt very uncomfortable in my own skin, this was further magnified when upon graduation I began working at a top level beauty company. I made a conscious decision not long into my corporate career that I wanted to fit in, to be happy and to feel good again but in my mind at the time, this meant weight loss. I turned to social media and found an Instagram fitness influencer with the most followers and the best abs and I bought her 12-week weight loss guaranteed plan.
That’s how it all started, with a diet. I never planned for it to go as far as it did. The meal plan was so restrictive, so intense and so obsessive that it sent me over the edge. I was constantly dizzy, exhausted and starving. I was overweight when I began the extreme diet plan so when the weight fell off me at an alarming rate, instead of being taken to the hospital for anorexia, I was promoted as the fitness influencers poster child of weight loss. “Look at Victoria, she is killing it on my 12 week program” the caption would read with my before and after photo. I was praised for my transformation and willpower. I was acknowledged for my beautiful jutting out collar bones and asked for free weight loss tips. I went from invisible to an inspiration overnight.
But the extreme restriction and weight loss had taken its toll. I lost my period, my hair started to fall out, my skin dried up… I could no longer go out to eat with friends, God forbid skip a workout. My life revolved around food and my body. After some time living in this restrictive hell, I began to go on binges at night, my body desperate for calories. But since I was obsessed with staying skinny, I couldn’t fathom the idea of gaining the weight from the binges. Bulimia took hold of my life with such power that I lost all sense of who I was. It felt like I had disappeared and had become my eating disorder. I didn’t want to live this way, each day I would tell myself that I would do better, that I would l get it under control…. But I also didn’t know how to not be the girl I had become. We live in a society that praises the bodies that the eating disorders create yet hypocritically scoulds the behaviors behind them.
What was the final straw that made you decide that you were going to do all you can to get better?
It was early summer in Montreal and I woke up from a restless sleep with hunger pangs. I had only laid down a few hours earlier after spending the night purging. I was dehydrated, cheeks puffy, throat raw and exhausted. Still asleep, I stumbled from my bed in my studio apartment into the kitchen and grabbed the only food still in my cupboards, trail mix. I began grabbing handful after handful into my mouth… I had almost polished off the entire bag before I realized what I was doing out of sheer horror.
It was 3am at this point and I tried to purge as much as I could of that trail mix but I was so afraid of those calories that I couldn’t even imagine going back to sleep. There was only one thing that my eating disorder voice in my head would allow me to do. I had been lying on the floor crying in the bathroom and so I rolled onto my side and on all fours crawled to my front closet. I shakily pulled on a pair of black leggings, sports bra, socks and a top, laced up my running shoes and put in my ear phones. I set out on a 30km run. A magic number I had pulled out of thin air that I thought would be adequate punishment for my trail mix feeding frenzy. It was pitch black when I started running, I still remember the headlights of cars lighting up my face and it being filled with tears as they drove past. I remember thinking how pathetic I must have looked to them but I that didn’t have any another option.
My music playlist was on shuffle and it came to one song that I put on repeat; “I hate you, I love You” by Gnash. This song in that moment seemed to mirror the toxic relationship between my eating disorder and I. The lyrics go:“I hate you I love you, I hate that I love you, Don’t want to, but I can’t put, Nobody else above you, I hate you I love you, I hate that I want you, You want her, you need her, And I’ll never be her….You don’t care you never did, You don’t give a damn about me, Yeah all alone I watch you watch her, She’s the only thing you’ve ever seen, How is it you never notice, That you are slowly killing me”.
With this song in my ears the sun began to rise over the city. I stood on top of Mount Royal, face still wet with tears and said out loud “I’m done”. I knew three things in that moment, 1. That I had hit my rock bottom and couldn’t live this way anymore. 2. That there was no magic number on the scale that would ever be enough, that could ever make me happy. And 3. That I couldn’t do it on my own, I needed help. When I got home, I called an eating disorder hotline and that was the first step in recovery.
And how are things going for you today?
It seems a lifetime ago thinking about going on that 30km run at 3am. Today I eat what I want, when I want, with intuitive eating. I go to restaurants with friends and pick food off the menu with leisure. I exercise because I love my body and want to keep it strong and healthy instead of as punishment or as permission to eat. I rarely weigh myself but when I do, the number has no meaning to me since that number can’t tell me anything about who I am, my value, my worth or my happiness. I do still occasionally hear whispers of that eating disorder voice in my head but now that voice is so small and so powerless and I can simply choose to ignore her. I am happy, confident and excited about life.
Based on your own experience are you able to share 5 things with our readers about how to support a loved one who is struggling with an eating disorder? If you can, can you share an example from your own experience?
1. Don’t make any weight related comments. Even things that to someone not struggling with an eating disorder would not find problematic, someone who is can misinterpret and find it very upsetting. For example one day after having won the battle to eat breakfast one of my family members commented that “ I was looking healthier…” . For someone else that might have been a compliment, but for me healthy meant fat, that I had gained a lot of weight. Examples of non-weight related comments to ask could be: “‘how are you?”, what do you feel like doing today? how are you feeling?”
2. Be conscious of your comments about your own weight, body and eating habits. It can be triggering to hear a loved one or friend say that “they need to lose weight, the diet starts tomorrow, or they will have to burn it off at the gym.“
3. Don’t comment on our food choices when we are eating. For example, I would come up with very bizarre flavor combinations of foods that I considered “safe”. Eating in general was anxiety producing and so just simply allowing us to make our food choices without judgement will help us gain confidence in recovery.
4. Don’t comment on the amount of food we are eating since it can make us feel really insecure and start to spiral. For example, my friend and I both ordered a bowl of curry at a restaurant. I finished mine and my friend exclaimed “damn girl, you finished yours?”. I felt embarrassed for finishing my food and defensive. I found myself needing to justify the amount of food I’d eaten that day.
5. Educate yourself. It can be really difficult to support someone if you don’t understand what it is you are trying to support. Do as much own research on the illness as you can. Read books, look through websites, talk to health care professionals; the more knowledge you have the more supportive you can be.
Is there a message you would like to tell someone who may be reading this, who is currently struggling with an eating disorder?
I would tell them that they deserve to get help, they deserve to get their life back, that they deserve to get better and that they are worthy of recovery even if it doesn’t seem like it. I would tell them to get as much support as they can. The more people fighting the battle with you the easier it is to win it. If the people around you aren’t able to be your support system, there are many resources out there like hotlines, support groups, chat rooms and different types of therapy that will get you through this.
According to this study cited by the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, at least 30 million people in the U.S. of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder. Can you suggest 3–5 reasons why this has become such a critical issue recently?
- Today on social media we are flooded with nutrition accounts with beautifully curated plates of healthy foods. This falsely promotes the idea that we should always be eating perfectly like what we see online. Then, when our food reality does not match up to it, we feel guilty and ashamed which are two driving emotions for eating disorders.
- Even within our circle of friends, our online social profiles only show the highlight reel of our lives. We compare ourselves to that one picture that made it onto the profile out of the hundreds taken which was then photoshopped to look flawless. Falling victim to the compare and despair mentality fuels body shame.
- The increasing availability and promotion of services and products aimed at changing our physical appearance. These include influencer diet plans, weight loss supplements, waist trainers, detox teas, fitness apps and calorie counting apps just to name a few.
Based on your insight, what can concrete steps can a) individuals, b) corporations, c) communities and d) leaders do to address the core issues that are leading to this problem?
- As a society we need to openly talk about eating disorders and raise awareness just like we are starting to do with mental health. When we bring it to light we remove the shame and remove the power.
- We need to stop praising weight loss like it’s the most impressive thing a person can do. If you notice someone’s weight has changed, instead of commenting on it, ask how they are doing or how they are feeling. We are more than our bodies, so let’s treat each other as such.
- We need to increase the exposure of different body types in media. The social requirement to conform to a certain body type becomes magnified if media is only ever showing one type of body as beautiful. The more we see bodies of all shapes and sizes represented, the more likely we are to accept our own.
As you know, one of the challenges of an eating disorder is the harmful and dismissive sentiment of “why can’t you just control yourself”. What do you think needs to be done to make it apparent that an eating disorder is an illness just like heart disease or schizophrenia?
There needs to be education on the fact that eating disorders are mental illnesses. An eating disorder at the core of it has nothing to do our body and everything to do with a sickness of our mind. Telling a person suffering from an eating disorder to “just control themself” is like telling a person with depression to “smile” or anxiety to just “calm down”. The mind is unwell and what is often referred to as the ED voice (eating disorder voice), has taken over. This voice sounds a lot like the real us but it has other priorities, priorities to fill us up the need for control, with shame and guilt and the requirement to continue to shrink.
Another important thing to remember is that people of all sizes, genders and races can suffer from an eating disorder. You cannot tell who has an eating disorder by simply looking at them so do not try to distinguish who has an illness simply based off of appearances.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that have helped you with your struggle? Can you explain why you like them?
Two books I loved were Hungry For More and The Goddess Revolution by Mel Wells. These were the first books I came across that I felt I could really relate to in my struggle with my eating disorder and provided actionable steps and education on how to get through it. Apart from the two books, I myself had to pull together key information from hundreds of research papers, articles, theories and textbooks as I felt there were no solid resources available to me that could really create the change I needed. The culmination of this ultimately became what is now my coaching program.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“This too shall pass”. I love this quote so much that I got it tattooed on my arm so that I can read it all the time and be reminded that no matter how tough things are, no matter how bad it seems, that this pain, this suffering, whether it be with my eating disorder or life, that it will pass and things will get better. The second meaning of this quote is remembering to take a second to slow down and realize that the good moments will pass as well so to cherish them and be grateful.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
In addition to the 1:1 coaching where I help women heal their relationship with food, I recently launched The Craving Food Freedom Academy. The Academy is an online self-paced interactive course where women learn how to stop dieting, stop self-sabotaging, how to heal their relationship with food AND most importantly how to eat intuitively.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the largest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I would inspire women to demand better representation of body types in media. Support and invest in brands that embrace body positivity. If we demand to see more than just one body type represented with purchasing power, then we will be supplied with a variety of body shapes and sizes. When we are exposed to bodies that resemble our own we can better accept and love ourselves which removes the need of dieting, food restriction and will help prevent people from getting eating disorders as well as aid those in the recovery process.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!
About the Author:
Originally from Israel, Limor Weinstein has been anorexic and bulimic, a “nanny spy” to the rich and famous and a Commander in the Israeli Army. Her personal recovery from an eating disorder led her to commit herself to a life of helping others, and along the way she picked up two Master’s Degrees in Psychology from Columbia University and City College as well as a Post-Graduate Certificate in Eating Disorder Treatment from the Institute for Contemporary Psychotherapy.
Upon settling in New York, Limor quickly became known as the “go to” person for families struggling with mental health issues, in part because her openness about her own mental health challenges paved the way for open exchanges. She understood the difficulties many have in finding the right treatment, as well as the stigma that remains so prevalent towards those who are struggling with mental health issues. She realized that most families are quietly struggling with a problem they’re not comfortable talking about, and that discomfort makes it much less likely that they will get the help they need for their loved ones. She discovered that being open and honest about her own mental health challenges took the fear out of the conversations. Her mission became to research and guide those families to the highest-quality treatment available. Helping others became part of her DNA, as has a commitment to supporting and assisting organizations that perform research and treatment in the mental health arena.
After years of helping families by helping connect them to the right treatment and wellness services, Limor realized that the only way to ensure that they are receiving appropriate, coordinated and evidence-based care would be to stay in control of the entire treatment process. That realization led her to create Bespoke Wellness Partners, which employs over 100 of the best clinicians and wellness providers in New York and provides confidential treatment and wellness services throughout the city. Bespoke has built its reputation on strong relationships, personalized, confidential service and a commitment to ensuring that all clients find the right treatment for their particular issues.
In addition to her role at Bespoke Wellness Partners, Limor is the Co-Chair of the Academy of Eating Disorders. She lives with her husband, three daughters and their dog Rex in Manhattan.
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