From Anorexia To Self Love, A Journey With Alexa Silvaggio
Mastering self-love – or even just self-confidence – is damn hard.
If it weren’t, we’d all be walking around with our heads held high, shoulders back, chests puffed out.
But we’re not.
Too many of us shrink down, attempting to take up less space via diets and weight loss – and it’s not without dire consequence. Sure, clinical eating disorders are at the far end on this continuum of self-love (but really, are they all that extreme when we all know someone – often multiple people – who have been there?), but when the vast majority of women we speak with are closer to that end of the continuum than the “Self Love” side, we know there is a problem – and one we want to help fix (it is, after all, the reason why TheBeautyBean even exists!).
Knowing that we all benefit on our journey with insight from others who have walked the path before us, we asked Alexa Silvaggio – an eating disorder survivor and service based yoga and meditation instructor dedicated to helping others on their path toward self love – to open up about her journey to self love.
We hope you’ll enjoy – and learn something…
Chatting Self Love With Alexa Silvaggio
Can you tell us a bit more about your past and your journey from childhood to anorexia to self-love?
Even in childhood I remember being self-conscious about my body. Growing up in a family full of dancers and being around that lifestyle definitely brought a different sensitivity to the table. I knew what a dancers body was “supposed” to look like, and frankly, my body wasn’t and isn’t meant to be that.
I like to say that we are just like dogs. Some of us are shaped like Pitbulls, some of us are Labradors, or some other breed. They eat the same bowl of food but they are just designed differently. Let’s just say I am more of a French Bull Dog than a long lengthy lassie. Strong and compact, yet curvy. That’s how my body is happiest, but I knew that wasn’t really going to serve in the career that I knew whole-heartedly that I wanted since grade school.
I went off to study musical theatre both at Interlochen Arts Academy and at Syracuse University. The summer between my freshman and sophomore year of college I was hired to choreograph and perform in a dance tour of China. This was a really powerful moment for me, and I stepped up to the plate with my type A characteristics in one hand, and major compulsivity in the other. This damn show was going to be perfect! This was really when it all began.
I also happened to be madly in love with someone who would never love me back. Yes, he was in the show, and yes I was a mess – a puddle of self-loathing, despair, and depression. Now mix that together with a desire to control, an addictive personality, and body image issues, and you are looking at one perfect storm for severe anorexia.
The next year of my life was spent micromanaging my food to potentially gain some modicum of control over my seemingly out of control existence. I ate about 200 calories per day, danced 3 hours per day, and woke up extra early to practice Pilates for an hour before my roommate woke up. My hair was falling out, my skin was dry, my teeth were stained brown from coffee, and I was growing extra hair on my back and arms because I was so cold all the time. I was spacey, moody, and could not stand being present with myself. It was too intolerable. I didn’t have the tools to sit with myself. I was too scared, too sad, and made everything about food to avoid what was really going on.
I hit my rock bottom on a plane ride home to San Francisco. I was scared to see my family, as they hadn’t seen me in months…and I knew that there would be a reaction to my body, as it had changed so drastically. When you’re anorexic, you don’t really feel hungry. It’s rare. But for some particular reason, I felt it this day, so I decided to order a tomato juice from the flight attendant. I asked her for the can so I could read the nutritional facts, and it had 50 calories in it. I shuddered, gave it back, and ordered a diet coke instead. I knew at that moment how utterly dysfunctional my life was. I actually saw it clear as day. Almost as an outsider looking in, I knew that something had to change. I made the decision right then and there to recover, and the journey began.
My sister took me to my first yoga class the next day and for the first time I felt on some tiny level, safe in my body. I could stay with myself. It was still a fight, and a struggle, but I had moments of peace. Therapy, yoga, meditation, nutritional counseling, all were heavy hitters in my recovery, but truth be told, meditation most of all. [Especially] Meditation Studio iOS app by Gaiam (my meditations will be launching soon!) and on the app’s companion podcast, Untangle. These were absolute lifesavers for me and my recovery. I needed to learn to stay – to not check out, but check in. And meditation gave me that.
Other than yoga and meditation, what helped you find body-love?
It takes a village doesn’t it? I definitely saw a cognitive behavioral therapist who helped me work through and process some of my harmful beliefs. I had some really devastating thought patterns that were so unkind to myself. Those had to go. I also needed a nutritionist to help me feel safe eating again. Bringing foods into my life that were going to make me strong an energetic. Shifting my perspective on food, changing my beliefs about what was healthy and what was not. Low calorie does not necessarily mean that it’s healthy. Food is fuel and we need high quality fuel to live our best experience.
How can yoga and meditation help women struggling with their body image/confidence?
Eating disorders, body obsession, or body image dysmorphia is an act of self-hate and disembodying your body, while yoga and meditation are an act of self-love and embodying your body. The yoga and meditation will fill the void, fill your cup, and nourish you.
For women new to yoga and meditation, where should they start?
At the very beginning. I recommend taking a beginners yoga class at your local studio, or even going on YouTube and doing a brief practice at home. If you want to begin a meditation practice I highly recommend starting with the Meditation Studio app’s Meditation Essentials course for beginners. There really is something for everyone on the app, whether you have 2 minutes or 15 minutes.
What does body confidence and self-love mean to you?
Acceptance. Compassion. Gratitude.
This body is so temporary. Honestly, it’s on loan for a short while – and it’s freaking magnificent. My lungs breathe, my heart beats, and my food gets digested without even needing to think about it. I have come to know that my body is a miracle and I celebrate it with gratitude every damn day. It’s not perfect, but that’s where the compassion comes in. My body is the only place I have to live, so I want to treat it with respect, acceptance, compassion, and love.