Desperate to go to castings in New York, model Steph Claire Smith, then just 20, was told she needed to lose yet another inch.
But in her bid to be the ‘right’ size for agencies across the pond, she says she put herself under ‘restrictions’, which involved limiting certain foods, as well as binge eating.
‘I had a beautiful relationship with my agency [in Australia]’, Steph tells Metro.co.uk’s mental health podcast, Mentally Yours.
‘But coming over to New York, it was a very different experience… I was very small, but I was still growing into my more womanly figure. At that point they said, “we won’t send you out to any castings, see if you can lose this last inch. Once you have we’ll be happy to represent you”.
‘Because I wanted to make it work I was like “yep”.’
But her journey to lose that final inch left Steph, now 29, with an inability to ‘live a life that brought me joy because of the restrictions I put myself under.’
She adds: ‘I felt like I was constantly needing to change more and set new goals and aspire to some aesthetic goal and I’d get there and it just wasn’t enough.’
After a particularly dark year, Steph left the modelling industry and, along with fellow model Laura Henshaw, founded the health and wellness app, Kic.
Kic aims to change people’s relationship with the often toxic ideas of what fitness and wellness means, instead encouraging users to feel good, rather than reaching aesthetic goals.
‘It’s really, really important that we try and find something that is going to make you feel good, mentally and emotionally as well,’ she says.
Growing up, Steph, from Australia, says she was ‘really, really lucky’, she adds: ‘My mum didn’t speak about body insecurities or diet trends or anything around me.’
But once she entered the modelling industry, she says she soon became ‘utterly consumed’ with extreme dieting and exercise.
‘I was very specific with the food that was entering my mouth, restricting myself from foods that I had always eaten and loved,’ says Steph.
‘I started to make up in my mind that I must have intolerances because my stomach bloated slightly after I ate, when it was literally because there was food in my stomach.
‘When it came to exercise I started to be really specific with what I was doing and I was trying to do the movements or exercises someone had told me would make you the littlest. Or you don’t want to put on too much muscle, you can’t do strength training, because you’ll get bulky.
‘I would overeat all these foods I deemed healthy to the point where I would make myself sick. I was never diagnosed with it but it definitely brought on patterns of behaviour like binge eating and bulimia.’
But, after struggling with bulimia and binge eating, it was founding Kic and falling pregnant that really helped her to ‘let go’.
Steph says: ‘When I was pregnant with my son Harvey, that was a point where I really just had to let go because I didn’t necessarily have the routine I once had with fitness.
‘Even with food I had to be a lot more flexible and I think what I found through motherhood is, letting go of the routine has been incredibly healthy for me.’
One of Steph’s aims is to help people find the workout and lifestyle that works for them, rather than feeling into the trap of restrictive behaviours disguised as ‘wellness’.
She says: ‘We want to change the relationship that people have with wellness and with themselves because for a lot of people, their relationship with wellness isn’t isn’t a positive one.’
She continues: ‘There’s still so many mixed messages… If you find that you’re following some sort of diet or exercise routine that you’ve heard works wonders online from someone, and you’re not finding any happiness or joy in it, it’s not for you.
‘If you get to the end of the workout, if you are constantly finding yourself not enjoying what you’re doing, or you’re not getting that rush and feel good feeling, you’re not doing movements that suit your body and lifestyle.’
She adds: ‘I think it’s really important that obviously, along with the help of the experts guiding you, to define what healthy means to them.
‘To me, it wasn’t about training every single day. I was training my a** off so that I was challenging myself and getting a new PB every time, but I’m not an athlete, I don’t necessarily need to push my body to that point.’
But Steph does add that it’s totally fine to jump on a new trend and see if you like it but it’s important that ‘if you don’t like it, don’t follow it’.
If you don’t like the exercise you’re doing, Steph says you will find it hard to stay motivated.
Steph adds: ‘The best way to stay motivated is to make sure the exercise that you’re doing, you’re enjoying, and you’re doing it for wanting to be healthy and find energy, and not for an aesthetic goal.
‘Aesthetic goals will continuously change. You’ll get there, you might have like one second of joy, and then you’ll find something else to do. I don’t know of many people that have been able to have that as their sole why, and it hasn’t turned into something ugly.’
Ultimately Steph says that staying mentally well, happy and healthy is all about tailoring an approach that works for you, in every aspect of your life.
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