This story discusses eating disorders, and may be triggering for some readers. Anyone needing support with eating disorders or body image issues is encouraged to contact the Butterfly National Eating Disorders support line on 1800 33 4673 (1800 ED HOPE).

I’ve fallen into the trap of counting calories before.

That’s why I know, for example, that the two Weetbix, small banana and cup of skim milk I’m about to eat for breakfast is worth roughly 340 calories.

The almond milk cappuccino I’ll buy at the cafe down the road? 80.

My lunch – a can of Sirena tuna atop a bed of steaming brown rice and frozen veggies – packs 400 calorie-strong punch.

What started off as harmless curiosity about the calorific content of the food I was eating (that ‘healthy’ muesli bar has how many calories?!) quickly turned into an obsession.

I began letting calories dictate what I ate, regardless of nutritional value. Skim milk was in, full-fat was out. I routinely praised the person who invented Diet Coke. Peanut butter became a distant memory.

I also began dreading dinners with friends because we’d be eating foods I thought would ‘blow’ my ‘calorie budget’ for the day. On other days, I’d go on mindless binges, plowing through packets of biscuits, barely stopping for breath.

I went from being informed to becoming obsessed, and miserable. I didn’t feel any healthier. I didn’t lose weight. I didn’t feel like I was in control of my body or my cravings, either.

Thankfully, I yanked myself out of this pattern of calorie-controlled obsession with the help of therapy and books. Unfortunately, my story isn’t the slightest bit unique.

The number of people in Australia with an eating disorder at any given time is estimated to be 913,986, or approximately 4% of the population. Of these people, 47% have binge eating disorder, 12% bulimia nervosa, 3% anorexia nervosa and 38% other eating disorders. Eating disorders are the 3rd most common chronic illness in young women.

Two women who have been vocal about their struggles with disordered eating are models Steph Claire Smith and Laura Henshaw.

You’ve no doubt seen Smith and Henshaw sweating up a storm on your Instagram feed.

Together, they run Keep It Cleaner Girls, an online community dedicated to helping young women find their fittest and happiest selves. They’re are a picture of well-rounded health; but it wasn’t always like this.

Smith, 24, gained fame online in 2013, when workout pics she posted to her ‘gram started getting reposted by ‘fitness inspo’ Tumblrs and blogs around the world.

At 18, she was signed with Chadwick, one of the country’s largest and most prestigious modelling agencies. She looked happy, healthy and thriving; but secretly, she was secretly battling a binge eating disorder.

A different kind of 'before and after' photo.. the one on the left, me at 18 years old, first year modeling. On the right, me now, 23 years old. I decided to do one of these because a few of you have either followed me since then, or had scrolled down far enough to see that I was quite tiny back in the day! And I'd like to clarify a few things for you. Firstly, no I didn't have an eating disorder (although back in the day I continuously got told to 'eat more' on social media) I had an incredibly fast metabolism. I was still in my 'childlike body' and I was a late bloomer. It wasn't until 19 when I got hips, boobs and a bum and started to have to actually think about what I was eating and how I was exercising. In the left photo I was eating crap everyday, and lots of it. I was a sporty kid, but didn't do much physical activity at 18, so that was my body naturally. Believe it or not, I thought I had chubby thighs ???? It was scary for me (as it is to a lot of girls and guys) when true puberty hit and I suppose I was growing into my 'more womanly figure' and I was putting on weight. I work hard now for the body that I have. I may be 10kgs heavier than I was but that's life… our bodies change overtime and we have to accept that and love and work with the body you've got! That's not to say I don't have off days where I question the way I look… we all do. EVERYBODY HAS INSECURITIES! And I mean EVERYBODY! But as my good mate @laura.henshaw has taught me, you have to focus on what you LOVE about yourself and your body, and try your best to ignore the 'bad' stuff. We all have transformations, whether they are through training, or eating or just getting older… you're going to change. My message to the younger girls who follow me is to just go with it! Don't be too shattered when you start seeing lumps and bumps appear, and DON'T WEIGH YOURSELF in the process, or ever really. It can be the most damaging thing mentally for you! Just eat well, enjoy life and keep active ❤️I am going to do an 'in depth' YouTube video soon on this topic, so please COMMENT BELOW IF THERE IS ANYTHING YOU WOULD LIKE ME TO TOUCH ON. ???? #selflove

A post shared by Steph Smith (@stephclairesmith) on

25-year-old Henshaw’s story is similar.

Despite working as a model and leading a seemingly glamorous life, she was racked with worry about food. She’s been vocal about her journey on Instagram, assuring her followers that there’s “no magical weight that brings happiness”.

My transformation ???? (from left to right). I used to train to be skinny and lose weight, count calories and had really bad social anxiety when I went out to eat with friends. I put so much pressure on myself to be good enough to model it consumed me. I even stopped doing my interval runs (which make me happy) because I was scared it would make my bum measurement grow too much. It makes me so sad to think back and think that when I first saw the photo on the left I thought I looked too big compared to the model next to me. I can promise you – there is no point you will be 100% happy with your body by trying to be as skinny as you can. You always just want to change something else. I am so happy and proud to now be 10kg heavier between the photos but I am SO much happier. I can enjoy food with friends, eat something naughty without worrying at all the next day and most importantly I exercise for myself and how I feel. I LOVE feeling strong and live a healthy life because I want to be the happiest and most energetic person to the beautiful people I have around me. Being strong is awesome and muscle weighs more than fat so I never weigh myself anymore (I used to every day.) I promise you there is no magical weight that brings happiness. Being skinny won't make you happy- being healthy will ❤️ My transformation is more mental than physical and it took me 2-3 years to get into the mindset I have now- but anyone going through this now. I promise you can change your mindset over time ❤️

A post shared by laura henshaw (@laura.henshaw) on

Talking about this stuff is hard, especially for models whose livelihoods depend largely on the way they look.

That’s why we here at PEDESTRIAN.TV were stoked when the pair agreed to sit down and have a no holds barred chat about all things body image.

Talk us through how you started modelling. How old were you when you first started?

Laura Henshaw: I was 19 when I started modelling. I was scouted at my cousins engagement party by an agent and was really excited about it at the time. The modelling industry appears really glamorous from the outside and so I thought I was in a dream when I was first scouted.

Steph Claire Smith: Being a model was always a dream of mine. I did it for a few years in primary school and had a break from it as I was finishing high school. In my last year at school I did a few test shoots and met a photographer who sent my images into agencies like Chadwick. I got a meeting, they liked me, and boom. I quit my casual job at boost and started working as a full time model. It was a dream come true.

Good to be back! Exciting week ahead of me then Bali next week! ????????

A post shared by Steph Smith (@stephclairesmith) on

Once you started modelling, did your eating habits change?

LH: Yes, they did. I was already (thanks to social media) putting pressure on myself to be a certain size and starting modelling definitely amplified this. There is so much rejection in the industry, and I didn’t have as thick skin when I first started as I do now and so it’s really easy to get caught up in wanting to change your body to look ‘skinnier’ because you think clients will like you more (which is not the case).

SCS: At the beginning they didn’t, but then that second wind of puberty hit so I had to start really trying when it came to healthy eating and training. A couple of years in I modelled in New York, that’s when my eating habits really changed because they wanted to dramatically change my body shape.

Did you start counting calories?

LH: Yes I did. I used an app and it started to control my whole life. I thought about food 24/7 and got really anxious anytime I couldn’t control exactly what was going into my body. It got to the point where I skipped dinners with my friends because I didn’t want to eat out. It was a really negative mindset, and took me a few years to get out of. Steph really helped me with this.

SCS: I was never a calorie counter, I didn’t have the patience for it. But I was extremely fussy, wouldn’t eat salt, any oil, butter or sugar, barely ate out and it got so bad that I would deprive my body for too long and binge out regularly.

How common do you think these restrictive habits are in your industry?

LH: I think it is, but not many people talk about it. Some girls are naturally really thin and especially in Melbourne the industry is more accepting of all body types, however from speaking to some girls I have worked with it does happen quote often, especially in younger models that are still so easily influenced and impressionable.

SCS: I didn’t, but I know people do, and I think it can become common in our industry but you don’t need to be in our industry to pick up a bad eating routine anymore – unfortunately girls (and boys) are putting way too much pressure on themselves these days because of things like social media and they’re trying to find this ‘perfect’ look that they think society wants them to be. You no longer need the added pressure of the modelling industry any more to feel that stress on the way you look.

It’s the reason we developed KIC – to give young girls the chance to focus on feeling healthy and doing good things for your body and mind, without the idea that you need to look a certain way by restricting yourself.

Is there a difference between counting calories and being aware of how many calories are in certain foods? Do you think it’s unhealthy to adjust your choices according to how calorific they are (e.g. substituting lettuce leaves for burger buns), or can these be clever choices?

LH: For me, any type of thought about calories is one I don’t want to focus on again.

I think the most important thing is to focus on eating a diet rich in whole foods (foods in their natural state that aren’t processed such as fruit, veggies, eggs, nuts etc) and focusing on what you are eating instead of what calories you are eating. A chocolate bar might have the same amount of calories as a healthy smoothie, however the smoothie is obviously a better option as it is full of nutrients to fuel your body.

We don’t put any focus on calories, we focus on eating well for how amazing you will feel as we believe this is how young women can have the best mindset about what they eat, and not get obsessive like we both did when we were younger.

SCS: Calorie counting works for some people, for me it doesn’t because I become too obsessive and I forget to actually just enjoy food. The reason I don’t completely agree with it is because a certain chocolate bar could be the same calories as a meat and veg meal, but we all know which one is healthier for you.

Steph; you’ve discussed binge eating publicly before. Does it still affect you in any capacity today? How do you think you overcame it in a healthy way?

SCS: I haven’t completely overcome it, but I know how to handle it. Whenever I’m overly stressed or I’m for some reason really concerned with my appearance – I’ll fall into it again. But I’m better at pulling myself out of it now. Instead of punishing myself I just wake up the next day and start fresh. I’ve learnt that my happiness is just as important to me as my physical appearance and diet.

Post #kicgirls HIIT sesh @shortstrawhawthorn feed ???????? Best smashed avo in melb ????

A post shared by Steph Smith (@stephclairesmith) on

What are some methods you use to deal with the pressures of modelling? 

LH: I don’t feel any pressure anymore as modelling isn’t my main focus, however what helped me was finding other things to focus on. I know if I work hard with uni I will do better in my course, or if we work harder on kicgirls.com we will grow it to where we want it to be as we can control the outcomes through hard work.

With modelling, there is not a lot you can control and so now if I do get a job it’s a bonus but I never worry about rejection as I have other avenues in my life I focus on that are more important to me.

SCS: I’ve grown to realise that I’m not going to be perfect for every job and that’s okay. If I miss out on a job I know now it doesn’t mean I’m ugly, or fat… I’m just not right for the job. Once you get that mindset, it’s a lot easier to stay confident within yourself in the industry and not break down from the pressures. I’ve also been doing it for so long now that it’s not my priority. I now am a part of multiple businesses that are so incredibly rewarding in so many ways, my mind is less focused on the way I look now.

Do you ever switch off Instagram completely or have digital detoxes?

LH: Yes definitely. I try to switch off a few hours before bed (some nights I fail but I do aim for this) to ensure I am present with my friends and family and don’t spend time endlessly scrolling. My favourite thing to do is run, it is my form of mediation and my way to wind down after a crazy day.

SCS: I never switch off completely and this is because I genuinely enjoy it. But I do believe in no phones in bed, no phones during a movie and no phones during dinner!

A lot of people say that the rise of “Instagram models” posting pictures of their toned physiques can be damaging for young women. You both post pictures of yourselves in bikinis looking fit and toned. Are you criticised for this? 

LH: Yes I agree with this, and this is the reason I developed my bad eating habits when I was younger. For this reason I am so so passionate about never being a bad role model for the young women that follow me.

Steph and I are always very real and open with our following about everything in our lives and make sure we post both sides of it (the good and bad). And we never ever use tuning apps to change the way our bodies look in images, we would never want to create a fake image for others to aspire to. We created KIC to help us connect with our followers in a way to inspire them to be the healthiest and happiest versions of themselves, and stop focusing on trying to look like distorted images of ‘perfection’ online.

Before I post anything, I think ‘is this a positive influence for the young women following me?’ and I will only post if it is.

SCS: I can appreciate where people are coming, but as long as they know that there are a lot of accounts out there who aren’t damaging! Laura and I like to keep it real.

We don’t mind sharing days when we’re bloated, or have pimples, or stretch marks, or cellulite… and we love sharing photos of how our bodies have changed and developed over the years because it’s important for us that young girls aren’t comparing their lives and their bodies to what they see online.

We try and relate as much as possible!

So there you have it, folks.

We mightn’t all be shiny Instagram-famous professional good looking people, but we can all benefit from being a little kinder to ourselves.

Image: Supplied