Approximately 30 million people suffer from an eating disorder in the United States of America, and I interviewed Julia Robleski (’22), who is sharing her story to change the often fatal effects of eating disorders. Robleski’s Instagram page @juliasplate, which has 7,810 followers, and blog, which can be found at https://juliasplate.home.blog/, are “place[s] where I share meal ideas, recipes, my journey of recovering from anorexia and other wellness related ideas,” Robleski said.
Eating disorders and disordered eating
There are several medical eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia, but many people also suffer from the lesser defined “disordered eating.” The BC Children’s Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre loosely defines disordered eating as “a term used for unhealthy eating behaviours and worries about body image.” They go on to mention that “some of the most common types of disordered eating are dieting and restrictive eating.” Disordered eating covers many of the problems people experience in their relationship with food and their body that do not fit strictly into an eating disorder.
As I have mentioned in an earlier article, defining “diet” as “the kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats” can lead to a healthy mindset shift towards a new way to think about food—instead of “going on a diet,” you shift your lifestyle towards eating healthier foods without the strict, often unachievable, rules. I asked Robleski her opinion on dieting. She responded that “Personally, I never, ever use the word ‘diet.’ I believe that diet culture is the root cause of not only almost all eating disorders, but also all of the body image and food-related issues that so many people have. Starting a diet is an incredibly risky thing to do, because it can quickly turn into an obsession that is difficult to stop. In addition, dieting is typically not a sustainable practice. It has an ‘all or nothing’ quality to it that is actually far more harmful to people than helpful.”
Robleski had her own similar suggestion about how to reframe your mindset from the negative connotation of dieting to a healthy way to approach eating. “I believe that the more effective method [compared to dieting] is to establish healthy, long-term habits that will have a positive impact on you and your body gradually. I believe that everything is good in moderation, and you should never deprive yourself. As far as changing what you eat to be healthier, there are so many ways to make quick substitutions in baked goods, meals and snacks to incorporate wholesome ingredients that are lower in sugar and unnecessary fillers or ingredients. That’s basically what my blog is about, so check it out for some healthier versions of your favorite recipes!”
Anorexia: What it’s like
Anorexia, one of several serious psychological eating disorders, is characterized by an extremely reduced appetite or a complete aversion to food. Robleski described her daily struggle with anorexia to me: “It is like trying to live your life with another person inside your brain. This person tells you lie after lie after lie, but you cannot stop listening no matter how hard you try. Recovering from an eating disorder is all about trying to silence these voices in your head. It’s about feeding truth into your mind to combat the lies that have lived there for so long.
In my opinion, there are three stages of recovery from an eating disorder: the physical recovery, the mental recovery, and the emotional recovery. When you first start treatment for an eating disorder, the first priority is obviously restoring your weight and making your body become healthy again. Many people believe that that is the only aspect of recovery, and that once a person ‘looks healthy,’ they are recovered. But eating disorders are so much deeper than they seem from the outside. Even when my weight was restored, I still had a long road ahead of me to heal my mind. When I was sick, I was a shell of a person. I had no joy, no energy, no social life. Over the past three years, I’ve fought every single day to win these things back from my disorder. I am slowly defeating my disorder, but it has taken far longer than I ever imagined to become fully healthy again. I still struggle every day. But I have far more good days than bad days now, which is something I could not have said a year and a half ago.”
Robleski wanted me to add that “If anyone who reads this is struggling, I am always willing to meet and talk and point them towards resources for help.” She can be contacted through her social media pages and at email@example.com. In addition, Hope College’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) provides nutrition counseling with registered dietitian Lindsey Fick. She is available by appointment at Hope’s Health Center every Monday. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at her phone number, 616-403-2016 with any questions.
Julia’s Plate: The role of authenticity in social media
Robleski shared with me about the life of her social media pages: “I started my food Instagram in August of 2016 when I was a junior in high school. My blog came along about a year later, but I have rebranded it several times since then.” Robleski began her struggle with anorexia in the beginning stages of her Instagram page: “If I am being honest, my food blog was originally created when I was in a very unhealthy place. I started my Instagram at the same time that I was beginning to develop my eating disorder. It began as a ‘healthy eating blog,’ which it still is, but my definition of health has changed significantly since then. The theme of my food blog has changed drastically since I started it three years ago, because I have experienced a lot of change in those three years as well. This is why Julia’s Plate is so important to me; as I have grown and changed, it has too.” Her most recent rebranding took place in December 2019, a short two months ago.
“In the beginning, my food blog was honestly about weight loss. Now, my food blog is all about finding delicious foods that will make you and your body feel the best. I also talk a lot about promoting positive body image and forming a healthy relationship with food,” Robleski said. Surprisingly, when I asked Robleski about her family’s support of her page, she said “I actually kept my food blog a secret from everyone except my family for a very long time! As it grew, some of my friends started to discover it, and at first I was really embarrassed every time someone would ask me about it. But my friends have been nothing but supportive of it! I love to share the food and treats that I make with my friends and family so that they can taste test my new recipes.”
In the age of “influencers,” people who influence others on social media due to their large followings, Robleski’s pages and the following they have gathered show the desire for authenticity and honesty about the difficult situations that are many people’s reality. Many women I follow, along with Robleski, say that they started their pages to keep themselves accountable or simply to share what they were already doing in their lives, not out of a direct desire to become “insta-famous.” Robleski said that “When I started it [my Instagram], I did not think it would turn into anything special, I just wanted a place to post all of the food pictures I was taking on my phone. It has been so exciting to see how it has grown and expanded over the last few years. I love connecting with the people that follow it, and I love being able to share my message with a lot of people.”
While some influencers may be popular due to their looks or style, Robleski has found that “my food blog has by far been the most beneficial tool that I have had in my recovery. Through Instagram, I have made incredibly valuable relationships with other people who have had similar experiences. When I first started treatment for my eating disorder, I felt so alone, and it wasn’t until I discovered this online community of thousands of people who are all walking through the same journey that I started to feel less ashamed and afraid. I have made amazing, life-giving friendships through Instagram. I believe that battling an eating disorder is one of the most difficult experiences a person can go through.”
The difficulties of maintaining an online profile
Along with being a full-time student, Robleski participates in Hope’s cross country and track and field teams. “It is challenging to balance my food blog with academics and athletics because I would love to be able to put so much more time and energy into my blog than I am able, but I do my best to not put pressure on myself. For the most part, it is entirely up to me how much I post, unless I am doing a collaboration with a brand where I have to post on a certain day,” Robleski said, sharing about how she manages keeping up with her pages. “It is always my goal to post every day, but a lot of the time that doesn’t happen, which is totally okay. I have taken a few long breaks from my Instagram since I started it. Sometimes, life just gets too busy and because academics and athletics are a bigger priority for me, my blog is the first thing to give [up]. Additionally, from a creative perspective, I find it really beneficial to take occasional breaks because I am always more inspired and excited when I come back!”
Some people spend their entire college career learning about how to work in marketing or create effective web presences like Robleski’s. I asked her if she built her blog herself, to which she replied “I did! My first two blogs were much more basic, but when I rebranded last December, I was intentional about adding a little more spunk to my website. It is still very basic; I created it with Wix. I really have absolutely no idea how to make a website! Wix is one of my favorite blog sites because it is very user-friendly and they offer a lot of online help for the process of designing a website.”
In terms of her blog and Instagram content, Robleski said her go-to food post is her “most popular recipe, Cinnamon Banana Oats. I also make a lot of banana breads and healthy cookies, and I love cooking with sweet potatoes.” Like many other students have quickly realized, college takes lots of time and work, and Robleski’s life is no exception. “I definitely have struggled to find content to share since starting college last fall,” she said. “When I was in high school, it was easy to work on recipes and shoot photos because I had access to my kitchen every day. Now, I usually work really hard when I am home on breaks to do a lot of recipes and photos so that I have content to post while I’m at school. I also post old photos sometimes, and I’ve started expanding my page to include content about my life in college. I do share about running occasionally on my blog, but it is not my main focus.”
Robleski’s tips for beginners
“My biggest piece of advice to someone who is looking to start their own blog/Instagram page is to go for it! I think that having a ‘side hustle’ is one of the most beneficial things a college student can do. Aside from the amazing connections you can make through social media, having a unique goal that you are actively pursuing outside of academics is something that will make you stand out in the future. It is also a great way to express yourself and to pursue something fun outside of academics.”
Inspirations to Robleski’s blog
“There are so many people who inspire me; too many to count,” Robleski told me when I asked about who inspires her. “Some of the main accounts that I love are Jeannette Ogden (@shutthekaleup), Rachael DeVaux (@rachaelsgoodeats), Rachel Mansfield (@rachlmansfield) and Lex Daddio (@restoring_radiance). They are all such incredible women who are so creative and kind. Not to mention, they create the best recipes!”