Looking back at her past self, Jerika Ejercito Aguilar shares her story on healing and recovery, which she hopes to impart to her daughter.

In a world where physical appearance, “body goals,” and diets pretty much dominate our daily feed, it is mind-blowing to think that there is actually a different way to view our health and body image.

My Body Image Back Then

Growing up just like every girl in the early 2000s, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and Paris Hilton was my definition of “body goals”. Thus, the unrealistic pressure I placed upon my petite Asian body was extreme. At the age of 15, I started taking fat burners and diet pills. I even worked out for 2 hours every day and starved myself for days!

Of course, this regimen was not sustainable, so I would relapse and binge eats for weeks—punishing myself afterward. I would then feel guilty and painfully worthless. Eventually, I acquired Bulimia in high school, up until my mid-20s.  

Me at 15 years old. I was the cheerleading captain during Junior high when the early onset of “diet mentality” started to plague me. I remembered feeling so fat and insecure at that time, but I just had to suck it up. Looking at it now—from a different mindset—makes me feel sad for my younger self.

I feel that I had an average body type growing up—not too skinny and not too fat. But because of society’s standard, being skinny was always the goal for me. No matter what it took, I had to be skinny. Thus, I was very unhealthy, but I looked good in a Herve Leger. And back then, that’s all that mattered!

This kind of mentality plagued my late teen years and most of my 20’s. Obsessing over being a size 0 to 2, feeling worthless when I was beyond my goal weight of 105 pounds were just some of my worries. I also loved food, but hated what it did to my body. 

Me reaching my “goal weight” of 105 lbs. I was miserable, anxious, and tired, but I looked good in photos.

Of Body Expectations and Pregnancies

And then, I got pregnant. The horror of weight gain was insurmountable. As much as I was excited to be a mother, I was also in a constant battle between excitement and despair. I wanted to “have my body back”. But now that I think about it, I never lost my body in the first place. It was the mentality I had—that I was worthless in a bigger body.

The constant battle I have with myself every time I’m pregnant can be exhausting. I’m both very excited for the life growing inside me and anxious about the changes happening in my body.

After giving birth, the mission was to bounce back. And I did! But the toxic habits came back with it. My anxiety wrapped itself around the rules of my restrictive diet. My incredibly unhealthy relationship with food escalated once again. I found myself labeling food as “good and bad”, obsessing over the number on the scale, going on fasts, and working out like crazy.

Having a child and being consumed with my physical appearance became a real struggle. The anxiety crippled me. I was always tired, mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted because I felt that I have completely lost control of my body while giving life to my beautiful children.

Calories in, Calories out. IF, Keto, HCG, 1 hour on the bike, and 1 hour of running were all part of my regimen.

Finally Seeking Help

Fast forward to me now about to have my fifth child and my only girl, too! It got me thinking: do I want to raise her in this kind of environment? In this toxic diet culture where she would always feel less than enough? Where her appearance is given more weight than who she really is as a person? Where her self-worth is defined by her appearance rather than her values? Where she would obsess over the number on the scale and her clothes? Where she’d constantly label food as “good and bad”?

I refuse to make my daughter feel the way I felt! That’s why I finally sought help.

Getting Help and Getting Back Up

I found Elisa Oras while I was doing my research on intuitive eating and disordered eating. This was me taking back control and being intentional about how I want to live my life and about the kind of environment I want to create for my daughter and the rest of my children.

In my mind there had to be another way to live this life other than being bound by restrictions, rules, and diets that felt so unnatural to me. Once again, I had to fight for the life that I wanted. A life that’s free from toxic thoughts and unhealthy relationships with food and my body.

Elisa is an eating disorder recovery coach who helps people recover from eating disorders and return back to intuitive eating. She is trained in Eating Disorder Intuitive Therapy and is a Certified Life Coach and an NLP Master Practitioner. 

Elisa shared with me that she fully recovered from bulimia, orthorexia, overexercising, and extreme dieting last 2014. Thus, she is passionate about helping others to do the same by sharing her knowledge and experience through her YouTube channel Follow the Intuition and website followtheintuition.com

In 2016, she published the book BrainwashED, which talks about diet-induced eating disorders and how to recover from them step by step. Her approach to recovery is combined with nutritional rehabilitation, brain retraining, and un-brainwashing from diets and all restrictive behaviors. Her goal as a coach is to help her clients start listening and trusting their bodies, so they can achieve independent and lasting full recovery.

The Recovery Process

I spent 8 weeks with Elisa—unpacking and unlearning deep-seated toxic ways of thinking. A few were:

  • That I had to “deserve” the food I eat by exercising before or after I ate.
  • “I just ate all my daily calories for lunch, so I should definitely skip dinner!”
  • That I can dictate the weight of my body.
  • Healthy = skinny
  • Carbs are evil!
  • The concept of “cheat days”

This was only the tip of the iceberg. This process forced me to dig deep into my childhood experiences—to see the kind of environment I grew into and to revisit the toxic thoughts that I chose to hold onto for decades. Reframing these thoughts took time and a lot of self-reflection.

There were two parts in this recovery process that I liked most. The first includes re-framing my mind and shifting my focus on things that actually matter to me. I was too consumed with body image and body goals that it distracted me from the values that I wanted to build my life on. The second part was meeting my 4-year-old self and assuring the little girl in me about my worth and identity. That I was more than what people think. That my body then and now does not dictate my worth.

A Message to My Daughter

This was so powerful for me since I can imagine saying the same thing to my daughter: “You, my darling, are beautiful in every way. There is nothing about you that I will change. You are completely lacking in nothing. Your worth is in who you are in Christ. The way you look is good, but who you are as a person is what truly matters. I love you just the way you are. And do not let this world tell you otherwise.” 

Now I know that there’s more to life than counting macros and calories, overanalyzing food, and trying to keep up with diets. I am a work in progress and the journey to self improvement is a life long process. But most of all, I am just glad that I was able to start the process of healing. I found a new sense of freedom choosing this path of acceptance and love.

Through therapy and Elisa’s help, actively pursuing a healthy mindset is something I can truly pass on to my daughter and my four boys.

On the path of healing with my daughter in tow.

For those who want to know about my sessions with Elisa, please watch this video:

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