Skip to main content Skip to header navigation

How modeling triggered two decades’ worth of food and body issues for me

Lucee Santini

Today, I went to the gym and I noticed how busy it was. Then, I remembered that January is the one time of the year when the gym is packed. They offer specials and incentives to fulfill your New Year’s resolution of getting back in shape. In December, it trickles down and people stop going. What happens?

I was discovered by a fashion designer on a plane going to Italy. I was flown to New York and stayed for about a week, did some test shoots and was told to go back home and work out and tone up. I was only 19 years old, 121 pounds and 5 feet 9 inches tall. I was very disappointed with this news.

More: How working out makes me feel I can conquer anything

When I got home, feeling like a failure, I took action.

Food became my enemy. My relationship with food changed at that moment. Fat grams were counted daily, and I took drastic measures to lose weight. I looked at labels and studied them. Sometimes, I ate graham crackers for lunch and maybe an apple. Lean Cuisine was big back then, so I ate their frozen dinners. I even worked for Jenny Craig at the front desk. I was always around diets. I have probably said that word more times than I have said “hello,” “good-bye” or “thank you” in my lifetime.

When I had an opportunity to move to Europe to build my portfolio — as many models often did — Kate Moss was the supermodel of the moment, and the waif look was in. Nobody bothered me about working out anymore, but weight was an issue for all models. Since we were poor at the time, going from casting to casting, eating one meal a day was normal.

Cigarettes and coffee were breakfast and snacks. Both were more important than food and kept me skinny. I went from drinking White Russians to Baileys on the rocks — the cream in the White Russians was too fattening.

I remember standing in front of the mirror at 116 pounds, completely satisfied with myself while my roommate was telling me that I looked ridiculous. I was naturally voluptuous, and my weight was now disproportionate. My hips and breasts were about 34 to 36 inches, but my waist was 24 inches. I didn’t care. They wanted skinny, and I would give them skinny. Skinny meant work.

When I moved to Miami Beach to continue my career, I started being rejected by agencies. I was 24 and struggling with my weight. I was about 125 pounds and told to lose “a little.” Now it wasn’t as easy to lose it as it had been in Europe. I started partying, and my methods were not working anymore. I shopped for diet pills and eventually took laxatives.

I could not manage my weight, no matter how hard I tried.

More: 7 Things I learned from overcoming my food addiction

By this point, I started bartending at night for extra income and stopped caring about modeling. I worked jobs here and there, but was always waiting to get paid “by the clients,” according to the agency. One agency got “robbed,” and their files were conveniently taken. The $500 I was owed was gone.

I got tired of going to castings when I could work at the bar and make hundreds of dollars at night, meet famous people, party for free and sleep all day. Maybe my big break would come that way? The luckiest I got was a slap on the butt by Oliver Stone while taking a group picture behind the bar. With bartending came partying, so I continued to gain weight while getting bloated, yet still tried to manage it using other ways to lose weight.

I remember a photographer who really believed in me when I didn’t. He took me to a well-known agent on Ocean Drive and she mentioned something about my nose and my teeth — nothing positive. I got a page in Vogue and Ocean Drive for a designer in Miami. I had been partying all night before the shoot. This was an opportunity of a lifetime. I was glad to get it, but my spark was gone.

I could never live up to anyone’s expectations, so I just checked out. It just wasn’t worth it anymore. I was tired, depressed, stressed and no longer cared. I started seeing a therapist about my depression. But we never discussed my diet.

I look back to when it started. Before I was a “working model” I remember eating a whole tub of Lean Cuisine Ice Cream because it was “fat free.”

When I went to Greece, my suitcase had been packed with more rice cakes then clothing. They didn’t sell the rice cakes that we had in the States so I had bought enough to last me. I ate rice cakes to maintain my weight but then I would binge again on chocolate. There was no balance. Cigarettes helped with my appetite. But alcohol made me eat more. Hangovers called for comfort food. The partying caught up with me.

Although the partying stopped, the dysfunctional eating continued for the next twenty years. I used food to alleviate my stress or anxiety. I overate for every occasion whether I was depressed or celebrating. Again, there was no balance. Either I looked for ways to lose weight or I binged.

Later in my life, with the stress of being a stay-at-home mom, running a business and trying to do it all, my weight bounced up and down. I snacked on the kids’ food and binged at night in front of the TV. It made me feel better, but then I’d have remorse and would punish myself by eating more.

I started to have self-loathing. I hated myself and took it out on my family. When I was out of control with my food, I was out of control with my life.

It wasn’t until I took away sugar that I started to feel normal again. My hormones balanced out, and I lost 25 pounds in 14 weeks, with help from Smart for Life. It’s very simple and that’s what I need — no sugar, no salt and no dairy. But I did it the healthy way and I check in with them once a week which makes me accountable. I don’t snack on the kids’ snacks. I consume lots of protein and vegetables, and I exercise at least twice a week.

I am happier, although I miss the sugar. But it was also all the behaviors leading up to unhealthy eating that I had to stop. The obsessing. The walking back and forth to the refrigerator telling myself, “just one more.” Now I have so much energy. Taking care of myself, loving myself and being there for my kids build up my self-image. I’m about to turn 45, with a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old, and I’ve never felt so at peace with my body image. The ghosts of my past no longer haunt me.

More: How to prioritize your health — even on those hectic parenting days

Leave a Comment