Fitness influencer opens up about anorexia, eating disorder recovery

My friends appeared to lead normal lives. They could eat anything and never worry about their appearances. Meanwhile, at home, I cut slices of bread and pretended to eat. As soon as my parents turned their back, I returned the pieces. I learned all kinds of tricks to hide my disorder. 

  • 1 year ago
  • April 19, 2023
7 min read
Julieta on stage during one of her live shows. She often trains in front of a live audience for her channel, where she performs her own training routines. Julieta on stage during one of her live shows. She often trains in front of a live audience for her channel, where she performs her own training routines. | Photo courtesy of Julieta Puente
Julieta Puente was born and raised in Gualeguaychú in the province of Entre Ríos, Argentina. At 18, she moved to Buenos Aires, where she worked as a journalist in print and television media. During the pandemic, through her Instagram account, she came up with “Cardio of Happiness,” a free online training session that she shares with her followers.
Through her online presence, she also works on a newspaper that offers fitness advice, such as training routines, etc. She taught her lessons at multiples venues, such as the Movistar Arena, where she did live streaming with the musical duo MYA and Obras, to an audience of over two thousand people. She also hosts the radio and streaming program Biri biri, on the República Zeta platform. She is outspoken about eating disorder recovery.
According to data from the Association for the Fight against Bulimia and Anorexia (ALUBA), between 10 and 15 percent of the Argentine population has an eating disorder. On the other hand, a report from the La Casita Foundation, a center specializing in eating disorders (TCA), shows that Argentina is the second country with the highest number of cases, behind Japan.

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Sports always felt like a passion to me, or a form of therapy. There came a time when I focused too much on my appearance, and let that obsession consume me. I suffered from anorexia my entire adolescence, and it became extremely hard to get out of. Being able to connect with others through fitness saved my life. 

I quickly became addicted to suffering 

I always loved gymnastics. It started at the age of four, after I attended a class, and fell in love with it. By the age of six, I was already competing in championships, and traveling across the country. From that moment on, I trained every single day. At the age of 14, my best friend Tomas received a cancer diagnosis. The news broke me, and I channeled that anguish into food. I became anorexic. My illness turned into an escape. While he suffered, and underwent cancer treatment, I starved myself nearly to death.

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It felt as though I wanted to suffer in parallel, as a way of being there for him. I did not realize how twisted that was. The stress from the classes and competitions only made my eating disorder worse. I compared myself to others and put myself down constantly.

It took time before I understood what was truly happening to me. At the time, it felt completely normal. Once my suffering became apparent, stopping seemed impossible. I needed help badly but could not bring myself to ask for it. For weeks and weeks, I struggled, watching my body change, and feeling emotionally empty inside. 

After I left the hospital, I knew I needed to take control of my life again 

My friends appeared to lead normal lives. They could eat anything and never worry about their appearances. Meanwhile, at home, my eating disorder took over. I cut slices of bread and pretended to eat. As soon as my parents turned their back, I returned the pieces. I learned all kinds of tricks to hide my anorexia. 

Eventually, clothes became too large for me, and I needed to wear multiple layers, so no one noticed. All the lying and strategies added more stress to an already difficult situation. Eventually, I started losing a lot of hair, my nails stopped growing, my menstruation stopped, and my skin took longer to heal. I had no strength at all. On my fifteenth birthday, when my parents prepared delicious food to eat, I stayed away all afternoon. It felt heartbreaking. 

One afternoon, at a gymnastics competition, I began to faint. My dad noticed and took me straight to the hospital, still in my competition outfit. In the doctor’s room, my parents cried and shared their disappointment. Those words broke me even more. I felt so much anger at myself for my eating disorder, and I went into treatment, which lasted about a year. The hardest part did not occur there. Rather, the difficulty began when they discharged me, and I faced the prospect of managing my own life. In time, I moved to Buenos Aires. Everyone worried, but I moved forward, always setting my mind on something, and I fulfilled my goals. I knew I was not going back. 

Quarantine gave me the chance to find my path 

Once I got to Buenos Aires, I began studying journalism. I wanted to find a job quickly, so I focused on that. I stopped attending gymnastics classes, but still went running whenever I shared by dream of working in journalism and media with Tomás, my friend who lost his battle with cancer. In that moment, I knew he would be proud of me. Before his death, we attended a casting together. They did not chose me, but two months after his passing, they called me back. I attended another casting and got the job. I like to believe Tomás was my guardian angel that day. There will always be a part of him in everything I do.

Slowly, I saw my life change for the better. I started doing cardio purely for happiness, without caring what my body looked like. During COVID-19, when they announced a strict quarantine around the world, I refused to stop training. With the lack of proper outdoor space, I turned to social media and online training videos.

A photo of Julieta (left) in her teens, in the midst of her battle with anorexia. | Photo courtesy of Julieta Puente

With this new hobby, I wanted to build my own space. First, I gained access to my building’s multipurpose room. We had little lighting, and I did not own a tripod, so my boyfriend held up a ring light as he filmed with a phone. When I uploaded the videos, they reached many people, and the positivity poured in from strangers everywhere. I realized how much I loved motivating others and spreading good energy.

Building a presence on social media and gaining popularity 

At first, I asked my trainer for fitness routines to film. Eventually, I started looking online and creating them myself. I stuck them on the walls and practiced throughout the day. Quarantine gave me plenty of time to find inspiration and build something. Meanwhile, at work, I felt I hit a wall. I no longer felt satisfied and craved something more. I found myself at a crossroads. Either I could stay in journalism, or I could leave it all behind and focus on this thing that made me feel happy. My boyfriend supported everything and gave me the push I needed.

Working on social media, television, and coaching people, I often feel pressure about my looks. I believed people looking for a coach or trainer judged you by your appearance. When people encountered me on the streets, they often made comments about my physique. Girls who followed me on social media began using my looks as a reference. Suddenly, I felt an urge to maintain my shape and stopped relaxing with food. I began demanding too much of myself, but this time, I realized it before it went too far. My friends and boyfriend sat me down and urged me to take it slow; to make sure I felt happy with myself first. I became defensive, but once I was alone, I realized they were right.

Staying true to myself became life saving

A major component of my eating disorder recovery included being honest with myself and others every step of the way. If I felt swollen or bloated, or even too tired one day, I accepted it and took it easy, rather than feeling guilty. I became very open on my social media platforms, too. My job makes me feel constantly exposed, and I needed to make my peace with that. I did not want to mislead anyone, especially knowing my audience includes mostly women. Through my videos and honesty, I wanted to make them feel better and be kinder to themselves. 

Today, the possibility of a relapse seems far away. I feel lucky that I have worked on myself for years and reached a point where I no longer live in fear. It took a lot of time, but it’s all part of the process. Cardio and fitness training helped me the most. They allow me to reconnect with my body in a healthier way. The moment I publicly opened up about my story, a huge weight lifted of my shoulders.

Today, I enjoy personal success, beyond just work. I feel happy. Many people ask me how I do so many things at the same time, and the answer remains simple. I looked for it. I wanted it, and now I get to enjoy it. After enduring so many hard times and years of sadness, combining work and play feels like the perfect mix. 

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