Whenever I see something that compels me to write, I sit down and write it immediately. And that’s exactly what happened when I watched Meredith Foster’s recent video where she shared her eating disorder story.
Growing up, Meredith was one of the first female YouTubers I discovered and looked up to. I followed her before she became a part of the negative girl gang she mentions in her video (a.k.a. the Savage Squad), and only recently reconnected with her channel. The impetus? Eating disorder recovery, of course!
My eating disorder was a major reason why I drifted away from Meredith’s content, so to hear she was coming clean about struggling with anorexia and bulimia made my heart burst with love and empathy. Now, I’ve gravitated back to her content because her recent videos have felt more honest and more raw.
Admittedly, I still have mixed feelings about Meredith’s content and approach to recovery — which I’ll talk about in greater depth later on — but I wholeheartedly support her and her recovery. I don’t think she should have to defend herself or her story, but as a recovery advocate, I also felt it important to debunk a few eating disorder myths she perpetuates in her video.
For those of you unfamiliar with Meredith Foster, aka StilaBabe09, Meredith is a full-time YouTuber, not much older than I am, who struggles with anorexia and bulimia. She began making beauty and lifestyle videos in high school, fell victim to bullying and embarked on a journey that eventually brought her where she is today.
In her recent video about her eating disorder, Meredith acknowledges a lot of the pressures she faced as a teen YouTuber. Though her life may seem glamorous to some, she was bullied so harshly for her passion that she had to leave public schooling behind. Soon after, Meredith fell in with the wrong crowd, made some bad decisions (i.e. drinking too much; sleeping with the wrong guy — #beentheredonethat) and found herself worrying about her body’s size and shape for the first time.
Like so many of us, Meredith worried there was something wrong with her body, especially with the way that guys she was dating (or flirting with or hooking up with) saw it. So, she started dieting and exercising under the guise of “getting healthy,” yet soon lost an unhealthy amount of weight as she fell victim to the pressures of diet culture. She even lost her period as a result of her extreme fitness routine (the subject of an entirely different video a few weeks before).
Now, here’s where Meredith’s recovery story gets a little wonky: while Meredith eventually found a therapist, whom she worked with to get clean from her eating disorder, she never visited a treatment center. Instead, faith and fitness played a huge role in her recovery.
Meredith claims she received a vision from God while on a wellness retreat, which encouraged her to seek help for her eating disorder and become an advocate for other women struggling with their body image and fitness routine. Now, Meredith runs an account called @babessquat, where she shares her recovery journey and uses fitness as a means to empower young women to become #strongnotskinny.
As I mentioned previously, I’m entirely supportive of Meredith’s journey and advocacy for people with eating disorders. No matter what path or shape our recovery takes, recovery from something as oppressive and debilitating as an eating disorder is always worth celebrating. I will never, ever fault Meredith for getting healthy and getting the help she needs, no matter what form that help takes.
BUT….and this is a big “but:” I do take issue with a few of Meredith’s points. Rather than faulting Meredith, however, I’ll be treating these points as ED myths to debunk — and, of course, focusing on the facts, rather than slamming some poor YouTuber who’s just trying to recover and help others recover, too.
Myth #1: Religion and recovery go hand-in-hand.
Yes, this is true for some — but it isn’t true for all. And while faith clearly helped Meredith find recovery, I worry she may be alienating some of her audience with her newfound spirituality, as she encourages her followers to seek out Jesus and turn to God for strength.
The fact of the matter is that mental health recovery should be treated as secular, just like the United States government and public school system. And I get it: Meredith isn’t a mental health professional; she’s just a person with a YouTube channel. But a person with a YouTube channel has a lot of power over young, impressionable girls — especially when those girls are already vulnerable due to eating disorder recovery.
So, if you’re a fan of Meredith’s and you’re feeling a little alienated and lost, let me reaffirm that you are worthy of recovery regardless of whether you worship God, Allah, Yahweh, Jesus, the Universe, the Goddess, the Force, the Flying Spaghetti Monster or nothing at all. No matter what you believe, the strength to recover is already inside of you — all you need to do is pursue it.
By that, I mean that you should pursue recovery by whatever means YOU see fit. For some of you that may be faith; for some of you it may not. Either way, there’s nothing wrong with you….because there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to eating disorder recovery, even if it sometimes sounds like it.
Myth #2: Trading starvation for squats will help you recover.
As a fan of Meredith’s, I have some sincere reservations about supporting her @babessquat account. Knowing she has a history of eating disorders, and how slippery a slope working out at the gym has been in my own recovery, I worry that Meredith may be trading anorexia for orthorexia, instead of using fitness as a sincere means of recovery.
Still, Meredith is adamant that transforming her relationship with fitness has had a profound impact on her eating disorder recovery. But that’s another truth that isn’t universal in ED recovery: for some of us, fitness may be empowering; for others, it may be enabling.
At least in the initial stages of recovery, however, most professionals recommend abstaining from exercise — especially when you have weight to gain. So, while changing your relationship with fitness is definitely critical in eating disorder recovery, that might mean going from a gym bunny to a couch potato for awhile.
Despite what you see on Instagram accounts like @babessquat, that doesn’t mean you’re not recovering — in fact, just the opposite! So, whatever you see people doing on Instagram, you do you, boo. What’s right for your recovery, may not be right for someone else’s.
Myth #3: You don’t need to go to a treatment center.
Even Meredith herself acknowledges the myth behind this misstep in her own recovery. In her video, she says she wishes she went to a treatment center so she knew what to expect from her body during the recovery process — for example, that bloating is completely normal as your body adjusts to eating normal quantities of food again.
When you don’t have lots of weight to gain or aren’t at high risk for self-destructive behaviors, outpatient treatment offers a less restrictive way to get the help you need, while still preserving your independence. However, I think it’s important to note that treatment centers can provide specialized care that outpatient therapists and other mental health practitioners cannot.
If you are severely underweight, suffer from dangerous health complications as a result of your eating disorder (for example, electrolyte imbalance from excessive vomiting) or present a danger to yourself or others, inpatient treatment just might save your life. In fact, if your doctor determines your health is in danger, you may not have a choice. Inpatient treatment facilities and hospital units can offer specialized treatments such as feeding tubes and 24/7 monitoring that can be absolutely essential in certain cases where the patient’s life may be in danger.
In conclusion, here’s my advice: whenever you feel like your eating disorder is out of control, when it feels too big to manage on your own or when you simply feel too sick physically to deal with your psychological symptoms, it’s time to seek the help of a physician you trust. They can help you find inpatient or outpatient care for your eating disorder — and weigh in on which option might be best for YOU.
Remember: you can still be a fan of someone without modeling your recovery after theirs. Everyone is different — and I don’t just mean that some of us have millions of YouTube followers, while most of us do not.
Recovery looks different for different people. But whatever yours looks like, I think we can all agree on one thing: eating disorders suck! So, let’s lift each other up, not tear each other down. Let’s beat our demons together, one babe squatting (or sitting) at a time.