By Jordyn Sava
Through lifestyle changes, fad diets and workout trends, diet culture constantly displays the message that being thin is the key to a happy and healthy life.
According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), 20 million women and 10 million men in America will have an eating disorder at some point in their lives. Students at the College are no exception to this serious, yet treatable mental and physical illness.
To help change the definition of society’s beauty standards, content creators on TikTok — Brittani Lancaster, Victoria Garrick, Clara Guillem, and William Hornby are just a few — create videos to normalize normal bodies.
Junior public health and psychology double major Maia Franco uses TikTok daily, and has been pleased with the amount of videos she sees promoting body positivity and intuitive eating.
“I have struggled with body image and disordered eating for about a decade,” Franco said. “I wish that the content creators on TikTok were around when I was younger and struggling.”
Various influencers have also helped Franco deal with harmful thoughts about her body and relationship with food.
One influencer who isn’t afraid of showing vulnerability on her account is self-love queen Rachel Roberts. She uses her channel to spread what Franco describes as, “the messages that young people need to hear, not the messages we had to hear from diet culture first.”
Meet Rachel Roberts
21-year-old “recovery influencer” Rachel Roberts strives to help individuals within the TikTok community achieve food freedom and self love with her positive and inspiring videos.
Roberts has spent the past six years of her life battling four eating disorders: anorexia, bulimia, orthorexia and binge eating disorder.
Now, she has fully recovered from three, and is currently in recovery from binge eating disorder. Her platform on TikTok is dedicated to sharing her recovery journey and providing a safe place for others fighting similar battles.
The body positivity advocate first downloaded TikTok to express herself through fun, random videos. After some time, she dabbled with the idea that she could use her platform for more than just entertainment. She started posting advice to fight the influence of diet culture.
When opening up about her eating disorders, she never thought it would resonate with so many. Now, she has over 30,000 followers who turn to her for advice on recovery, self-love, and mental health.
About six years ago, Roberts began going to the gym as a way to strengthen her body and mind. But the more she worked out, the more aware she became of her body. This led her to “clean up” her diet and cut out any foods she deemed “unhealthy” at the time. Noticing changes to her body only fueled her desire to lose more weight, and pushed her to further extremes.
“I became so aware of my body and all of my perceived flaws. One of the biggest things I used to struggle with was the guilt of eating food that I thought was unhealthy,” Roberts said. “I was absolutely terrified to eat things like chocolate and cake because I thought that I would immediately gain weight.”
Road to Recovery
Roberts spent the majority of her teen years attempting to live up to society’s beauty standards, struggling with feeling isolated and constantly tormented by the thought of food. She was consumed to the point where she became a shell of the girl she once was.
In August of 2020, Roberts realized she deserved more than what she was going through.
“There’s so much more to life than what you look like,” she said.
There have been many bumps along the road to recovery — nights spent feeling alone, days with relapses and long periods of wanting to give up.
One of the biggest challenges Roberts faced was learning to not restrict after a binge. The false voice in her head told her the only way to feel good mentally after a binge was to restrict the next day. After years of convincing herself she and others would hate her body unless she continued with this cycle, she took a step back and redefined what she viewed as worthy.
“My body tells a story of how strong I am,” she said. “I am not defined by what I went through.”
Another struggle of hers was finding the strength to continue in recovery.
“The first step for me was accepting that weight gain might happen and that I was maybe going to have some days where I felt really uncomfortable in my own body,” she said.
Roberts had to give up control, starting with putting an end to counting calories.
“Knowing that I needed to stop counting calories in order to find happiness and to find freedom and that was probably one of the biggest things I ever did to help my relationship with food and my recovery,” she said.
In the fall of 2020, Roberts accepted full recovery. She refused to let the hard days define her, and kept pushing herself.
“I got knocked down so many times that it almost felt like I was never going to get out of it and things would not get better,” said Roberts.
On the “bad days,” Roberts practices a lot of self care which includes journaling, practicing gratitude, repeating positive affirmations, and yoga. She fills her days with what makes her feel good and allows time for herself. Ignoring the mirror on the harder days has also been essential in feeling best.
“I really try to limit mirror time and not bodycheck,” she said. “I think a lot of the time it’s when you start looking in the mirror and analyzing your body that you don’t like that you see and start to feel bad about yourself.”
In educating herself more about eating disorders and the recovery process, she stumbled across intuitive eating — a practice centered around listening to your body and honoring cravings. Roberts said that intuitive eating helped heal her relationship with food.
Now, Roberts is a total food freedom advocate who found her purpose by bringing awareness to eating disorders. After years of fighting her own battles, she uses her story to help others. She shifted her TikTok from a personal page to a place people could feel heard and understood in their recovery process.
At the College, TikTok’s influence has to Franco’s club, TCNJ HOSA, who met with Dr. Austin Chiang (@austinchiangmd). Throughout the past year, the gastroenterologist who has over 390K followers on TikTok gained popularity by spreading accurate information regarding the virus, gut health, and more.
“My favorite things about TikTok are the influencers who share positivity and hope, and the ones who are funny too. For me, TikTok is a safe space,” Franco adds.
Roberts’ videos cover a variety of topics centered around food and mental health. From “What I Eat in a Day” videos to a series called “Reasons to Recover,” Roberts shows the importance of self love and listening to what the body wants.
“You don’t have to look perfect to love your body and you don’t have to starve yourself. You can have a balance and enjoy food every single day,” Roberts said.