Bianca Tjoeng on Overcoming Her Eating Disorder

Bianca Tjoeng of @tangerines.and.honey can best be described as confident and well-spoken. With a tough exterior, this Boston College junior prides herself not only for being disciplined when it comes with academic deadlines and achievements; Bianca is also disciplined when it comes to restricting her caloric intake — a vicious cycle she’s recovering from. 

On first scroll, her Instagram @tangerines.and.honey can pass as another account posting healthy food and recipes. But as we dig deeper through her captions, her bowls of oatmeal are tokens of her path to recovery from her eating disorder. For years, Bianca feared eating oatmeal because of its high caloric amount. She was scared that eating a bowl would make her gain weight, and so began her fearful relationship with food. During quarantine last year, Bianca decided that she needed to seek help. Thus, she started @tangerines.and.honey as a journal for her ongoing, non-linear path to recovery. 

How and why did you start @tangerines.and.honey?

I started the account during quarantine last year. I had a really bad relationship with food and my body during quarantine. When I was scrolling on Instagram, I came across an account posting bowls of oatmeal. That reminded me how much I used to love eating oatmeal my grandmother would prepare for me but my relationship with food became so bad that I was scared of the caloric amount in a bowl of oatmeal. I then discovered more body positivity accounts and started following a lot of them. Because I was inspired by these accounts that helped me face my eating disorder, I started @tangerines.and.honey to document my recovery. 

What made you decide that you wanted to seek help and recover?

My dad works in the food industry back home in Indonesia. My relationship with him revolves around food. For us, sharing a meal together is how we connect with each other. It’s a part of our culture to always ask the people we care about “Udah makan belum?” (“have you eaten yet?”). When I was at my lowest point, I’d fear going out to eat with my family and friends. I would obsessively check the menu and try to plan my meals around my caloric intake. My loved ones always had to accommodate my dietary needs. I decided then that I was being selfish. The fact that my eating disorder disrupted my relationship with my family was why I decided to seek help. 

Did you feel uncomfortable at first sharing your personal struggles on a public Instagram account?

Oh for sure. When I first started the account, I didn’t want anyone to know. I feared people would tease me for it. But my sister and friends managed to find out. I figured that I didn’t want to hide it anymore. People who genuinely care for me will be supportive of my path to recovery. 

You’ve made a community of 5000+ on your Instagram. What do you hope to come out of this community?

I think the health and wellness industry is saturated with a lot of white women. I notice a lack of Asian representation because Asian women are often perceived as petite and skinny. It’s rare to see a petite Asian female who lifts weights. In Indonesia, we also avoid talking about eating disorders because it’s a taboo topic. When I was struggling with food, a lot of my family members would compliment how good I looked because I was thin. This would further feed into my restricting and binging cycle, worsening my eating disorder. As an Asian woman, I hope to start that conversation and encourage others to seek help when they need it through the @tangerines.and.honey community. 

How has seeking professional help guide you through your recovery?

First of all, I highly recommend seeking professional help if you’ve recognized that you’re struggling. I think therapy has made such big, positive impacts in my recovery. My therapist recognized that I’m a very disciplined person. I take pride in my self-discipline, which is why I obsessively count calories and stick to my macros because skipping a day would mean breaking that discipline. But my therapist said, “If you can be that disciplined to yourself, why can’t you be more disciplined at being kinder at yourself?” Shifting that mindset helped me a lot. 

“Pseudo-recovery over the summer. I was beginning to recover, but I still counted calories and still tried perfecting my macros. This was a good start, though, as I’d been allowing myself to eat things that used to be scary to me: bread, chicken thighs, BANANAS. Slow progress, and I had severe panic attacks and breakdowns through this period.”

How did you start intuitive eating?

Although I am getting better at intuitive eating, I’m still learning. My recovery isn’t linear. There are good days when I would eat ice cream if my body craves it. But there are also bad days, when I would restrict because I told myself ice cream doesn’t feed into my caloric budget. I’d end up binging at night. When the bad days come, I would fall into a negative mindset. I am still learning to be kinder to myself by listening to my hunger and cravings. 

What steps do you take when you recognize that you’re restricting?

I really do try to listen to what my body wants, but habits are really hard to break. What’s helped me a lot is to remind myself that I only have one life to live, and I repeatedly tell myself “Oh, I can only have ice cream 30 days in a year, or I’m going to gain weight if I stop restricting.” My roommates and my boyfriend are always there to keep me accountable, and having them helps me a lot in my recovery. 

“Me in Jakarta over winter break. Committed to full recovery here in that I chose to be present with my family and enjoy food freely with them. I no longer worried so much about the calories I was eating — after all, how can you calculate every single calorie when it’s your grandma cooking your food? — and I ate whatever I wanted at home. This picture is of me and the gym with my sister. Movement is a crucial part of my well-being, to be honest, and I’m not ashamed to say it. I like physical activity and exercise, and although I was eating lots of food in Indonesia, I made sure to move too.

Me in Boston just over a week ago. I’m wearing a backless dress here — something I never would have done in the past out of issues with body dysmorphia. I still have depression, anxiety, and several eating disorders, but I also have a therapist and a good support system. I still find myself accidentally restricting, but I also know how to be kinder to myself. I exercise regularly, I try to get as much sleep as possible, and I’ve learned to slowly let go of things that I cannot control. This was taken after eating a really big meal at a Cuban restaurant with my boyfriend. Recovery is hard, but it’s so beautiful too, and this is proof of it.

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