On Celebrity 'Nutritionists'

On Celebrity 'Nutritionists'

After years of “struggling” with keeping my weight down in the underweight BMI range, I decided to enlist the help of a celebrity nutritionist. This person is not actually a trained nutritionist – they are a type of alternate health practitioner. They do not have a medical degree. But they claim themselves to be a “guru nutritionist”. We worked together on and off from 2014 to 2017 and to this person I attribute in large part my shot digestive system and a smattering of choir voices in my head that work to pull me out of my self and my power, and into my reflection. It absolutely kills me that they work with a huge amount of young women, models and non models alike. This person and many like them are not empowering. They are the epitome of diminishing. And the fact that they are getting paid stupid amounts of money for their ‘work’ makes me furious.

This person took my fat measurements, and claimed me to be “a mess”. My BMI was in the underweight range. To be honest, I’m not really sure what a mess even means. Any trained dietician would probably recommend me putting on a few pounds. But, this person thought I needed ‘all the help I could get’ to lose that pesky extra weight that was regulating my hormones and keeping me healthy. The plan was simple. Shakes and steamed vegetables that brought me to well below 800 calories a day, and fistfuls of supplements – all that they sell to you. Every single one of their clients gets put on the same plan (maybe a couple pieces of protein added here and there). Never mind any individual conditions. With my first year nutritionist degree training, even I know that every person has different nutritional requirements. This person is making a killing off the sales of their shakes and supplements alone, never mind the cost of the actual sessions, off of a starvation diet plan.

I happily went along with their plan for a few months, lost loads of weight, along with my period, my digestion and nearly my relationship. But you know, you win some you lose some. This was my first experience of extreme weight loss. And when I decided to start eating well again, (not a lot, but three meals a day, mostly vegetables, no “carbs” – it would take me four years to eat them again, including fruit - and no liquid nutrition) I gained back all the weight and then some in the space of a week. The maintenance plan that was given to me consisted of eating eggs and chicken instead of the protein shakes, and I was met with a shrug when I told them I was vegan.

And along with the weight gain came the most horrifying stomach problems I have ever experienced. I assumed that they would go away, that living off of chocolate flavored medical food for three months had just changed my gut, and I needed to readjust. But this first experience changed my digestion for good. And each successive starvation cycle only made my gut problems worse. It has now been nearly four years since I first stepped into their office, and it has been four years of agony. I have managed to get it under control mostly through a low fodmap diet, exercise and meditation, but I get terrible flare ups every couple of months (through accidently eating foods like cauliflower or mushrooms, or stress). It is truly debilitating.

I should have learned my lesson after round one. But. ‘nothing tastes as good as skinny feels’ right? (Bad. This is bad.). And I had pressure on me from all sides telling me to lose weight. So I went back. This time a little heavier. My BMI had been moved from underweight to healthy for the first time since I was 14. In that sense this pseudo-nutritionist had done their job, albeit through an extremely unnecessary, roundabout way. I walked in, measurements were taken, they looked me in the eye and said “you are fat”.

I was astounded! Never in all my years of modeling had someone come straight out and said I was fat. Agents and clients at least had the decency to dance around the subject, telling me to “tone up”, “lose an inch”, “work out a little more” or “try limiting desert!” (who eats desert these days anyway?! I sure as hell wasn’t then). I wish I had told this fake doctor to get fucked. I guess I am doing that now. But instead, I got back on the plan, hating myself even more, and lost the weight that my body was so desperate to keep on. This time I lost a lot more weight. This time I was on it for longer. This time my boyfriend was ready. This time my period went away for a year.

But boy I looked GREAT! (please note the sarcasm here. When I look back at photos of me from this period, I get so sad. My eyes look lost, and remember so strongly the pain and anxiety behind them.) Some clients were happy, and weirdly enough, some were not. The clients who were worried, I owe my career and health to. They are the ones who like me “curvier”. They aren’t into selling clothes on severely underweight bodies, housing a human who has lost her power. They celebrate women in all her strength, not ask her to diminish in size until she is lost. I love these people. Today these amazing people I get to work with are my closest friends, and they have been with me every step of the way in this journey. I want to see the industry ruled by these sorts of clients – brands who champion women in all shapes and sizes. Even those ‘out of shape’ size 4’s.

However, in spite of these fantastic humans and clients, it was required of me to lose weight again. So the last time I went on this plan, I decided I would just stay on it. I would not get off the plan, even when my work did not require me to be tiny. As fake doctor’s maintenance plans didn’t work, I would just stay on the shakes and vegetables until I retired from modeling.

… When one is malnourished, the brain does not exactly work properly.

Mentally I was completely shot. All my experiences (I won’t bore you with my tales of three years worth of extreme dieting followed by extreme weight gain) of gaining so much weight so quickly had opened a flood gate of self hate in my head. My perceived failure in keeping myself sick had vastly increased my mental demons to the point of lethargy, mild depression and anxiety. This time I really was a mess. Long story short, this all culminated in a series of massive panic attacks, which finally got me into therapy. Weirdly enough, it took me three months of mental work to finally let go of this fake doctor’s protein shakes, even though I was experiencing some mild agoraphobia along with the anxiety and self hate. The nutritionist had more supplements to sell me to help with my mental struggles. I would sit there in therapy, and justify why I couldn’t let go of this fake doctors ‘plan’. I was convinced that I wasn’t as unhealthy as I actually was, and that it was actually ok for me to be dizzy all the time, be scared of the dark and a raging insomniac.

But all things must end eventually. One day I woke up, and realized I would never survive losing that much weight again. Feeling myself completely lose my grip on reality, and the slow recovery was sobering. Plus I was gaining weight. Thanks in part to my wonderful loving husband I was slowly coming back to life. When I finally got my period again, it was like greeting a long lost friend. Who kind of hated me, but that’s ok, I was an abuser. I had let my body become so deprived that my endocrine system had shut down. I vowed to never lose my period again (this did not happen, but that’s another story) and so I realized, why am I holding onto this expensive, fear based diet that isn’t serving me anymore? I definitely did not come onto this decision empowered. I got rid of the shakes and suddenly felt the floor drop from beneath me. I had completely lost any idea of what to eat – I had no idea when I was hungry or what I even liked. But slowly, one step at a time (that’s also another story) I found myself where I am today.

Because I am free. It took a very long time, and a huge amount of work with the occasional relapse. But I can honestly say, that I am in a place where I am ok being honest about my past. I am angry. I hate the fact that there is a person out there who calls themselves ‘doctor’ without a doctors degree. They call themselves a ‘guru nutritionist’ without a nutritionists degree. They make a killing selling young girls too many products they do not need, to make them extremely underweight. But what makes me most angry, is that there is a place for this in our society. I want women to be able to be the size that works for them. We should not be being told to diminish. I am coming from an extreme world, where it is all about the way you look, but I feel this changing. People want to know our stories, and clients want to know us as people. The fashion industry is not a terrible place. In spite of my recent stories – I truly love and value my job and the people I meet. I have felt a huge shift that has made it ok for me to tell my stories, and not be alienated. Unfortunately, with any change, it can take time for all the players to catch up. And it is these players who we must treat with respect and love. Change comes about through peaceful conversation. Never attack and defense.

At the end of the day, I just want our bodies to not be these instruments of control anymore. I want us to demand freedom. Because we will get there. Let’s keep talking about this. Let's destroy the place in the fashion industry that keeps this fake doctor in business. I believe the fashion industry is powerful, and should be a positive place. So let's employ healthy, and positive people in it. Let's be the change we want to see.

These are my stories. And I dictate my road.


Peace and love


Photograph | Jason Lee Parry

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