Lee is a 26-year-old recipe developer and food stylist based in Los Angeles. She creates some of the most bomb-ass chia parfaits, smoothie bowls, and macro bowls on Instagram, and loves sharing her passion for conscious eating and mindful living. But her journey with health hasn’t always been easy. During my trip to LA last month, I met up with Lee in her studio where she opened up about her struggles with an eating disorder, what has helped her heal, and how she deals with those inevitable bad days.
“Growing up, I was super active, happy, social, supported, and loved. I had a lot of friends, and was always super comfortable in my own skin. It wasn’t until I turned 16 that I suddenly began focusing on my body in a negative way. It was during a trip to California with my family, we were shopping around, and I just remember all of a sudden feeling really uncomfortable in my skin and unhappy with the way I looked. I started obsessing over my body and felt the pressure that society puts on us women to look a certain way—to fit a certain mold.
I started to figure out that people would respect you more if you watched what you ate, and guys would like you better and girls would want to be friends with you if you were skinny. Girls were supposed to focus on the way they looked and had to make sure they stayed in shape; men had to make sure they were tough guys, with little or no emotion. That’s what the media and society teaches us. So I absorbed it all.
I developed an eating disorder at age 16 and struggled deeply for 2 years. I was isolated, depressed, secretive, dishonest, untrustworthy, and a shell of a person. I put my friendships on the line and tested my relationship with my family. I kept my disorder secret because it was the only thing that made me feel okay and it was the only way I coped.
Finally, when I turned 18, it got so bad that I had had enough. I knew I didn’t want to live a life enslaved to the scale. I knew there was more to life. I knew I could get over this. I just needed help. So, with my tail between my legs, I approached my parents and told them that they were right—I did think I had an eating disorder and I needed help recovering and gaining confidence. I ended up spending 6 months of my senior year of high school in a treatment facility in Florida. I was going to therapy 4 hours a day, seeing nutritionists, and getting my life back. It was the best thing that happened to me. Recovery doesn’t happen overnight—it can take years to truly get to a healthy place—but I learned all the tools I needed to break free from my disordered eating habits.
ON DEALING WITH BAD DAYS
I feel like there’s this misconception, especially as a blogger who focuses on health and wellness, that I never have bad days because everyone, especially the health and wellness community, is all about uplifting and inspiring. And that can get really exhausting to be constantly saying, ‘Good morning, everyone. This is my beautiful breakfast bowl and I’m doing all these great things today and this is my perfect life.’ Obviously, we all know now that Instagram is very curated and we don’t show the bad parts, but I want to be very clear to everyone that I still have bad days. I have bad weeks. I have bad months. I have days where I don’t want to go work out. Days where I don’t want to go see friends. Or I’ll have a bad day and look in the mirror and not like what I see.
But when this happens, I have a list of healthy coping mechanisms I turn to—yoga, candlelit baths, movie nights, calling my friends, my mother, writing in my journal, meditating, going to a spiritual gathering, running, sweating it out in a sauna—all rejuvenating, healthier ways to cope with whatever I’m dealing with rather than bashing my body. I realized that my body has nothing to do with the actual issues in my life, and it’s literally just a vehicle through which I can experience life. Helping others in finding recovery is also a great way to help myself. Once I can remind myself of that, I’m good to go.
ON HER FAVORITE SELF-CARE RITUALS
Yoga, for me, has helped me recover in my eating disorder more than anything else because of the spirituality aspect. It’s meditative and helps calm my anxiety. I actually did my yoga teacher training last year. There’s this thing called Vritti, which is that voice in your head, and yoga is literally the practice of quieting that voice—the constant chatter and racing thoughts.
I’m also really into taking baths. I’ll add Bergamot lavender and Epsom salt, a muscle relaxer, in my bath. You can make your own soak by just adding salt and your choice of essential oils. I always do lukewarm baths because hot baths are not good for your skin. I’ll light candles and I’ll sit and read in there for 20 minutes.
Spending time alone is really important for me. I’m very social, but I’m also an introvert, so I need to be alone to rest and recharge. If I’m on a trip with friends or visiting family or have friends in town, and I’m spending a lot of time with them, I need to go home, reset, journal, and set intentions. It’s crucial that I set aside time for little acts of self-love.
ADVICE FOR GIRLS WHO STRUGGLE WITH BODY IMAGE
I would say for me the biggest thing has been talking about it, because talking about it takes the stigma and the shame away. There’s this unspoken rule that women need to look a certain way, but we’re also always supposed to be happy and everything’s supposed to be effortless. I think that’s really damaging to your psyche. I think it’s important to speak up when you’re not having a good day or feeling negatively about yourself, instead of just isolating yourself, not responding to friends’ texts, or engaging in destructive behavior. You reach out to people you can trust and confide in and say, ‘I’m having a really bad day,’ and you talk about it. Then they might say, ‘Hey, I’m having a really bad day, too.’ It just feels really good to talk about it and know that you’re not alone.”
Photos by Stephanie Park