By: Katie Lam
Mark Twain famously said, “The two most important days of your life are the day you are born, and the day you find out why.”
Hitting rock bottom with my decade long eating disorder became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life. I want to take you through my journey of self-discovery and confidence with the hopes of empowering you to live authentically from a place of inner strength and character.
Growing up in the heart of Silicon Valley, California, I was blessed with a family who nurtured and provided me with all the opportunities in the world. Ranging from golf lessons from former PGA/LPGA players to piano lessons at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and access to the most elite private schools and country clubs in the Bay Area, I never thought that one of the biggest hurdles I would have to overcome would be my inner demons – self-doubt, insecurities, and broken self-esteem. Everything my parents gave me was world-class, how could I ask for more?
There are many things in life that you simply have no control over, but those are the things that test your strength and character. Having attended an all-girls school since middle school, I was exposed at an early age to a rigorous academic program where high grades and acceptance letters to Ivy League schools were the determinants of success. I didn’t know it at the time, but the tremendous pressure to succeed in such a high-stress environment would trigger something internal that would affect me for years to come. By the end of my middle school years, the high expectations I had for myself combined with the pressure from my family and teachers to do and be my best took a huge toll on my mind, body, and spirit.
Not only did I develop a great deal of unmanageable stress and depression, but I began to use food as a way of self-sabotage, allowing me to escape from reality. I did not just eat just the typical 3 meals a day with a few snacks, but instead I ate 10 times more than the average person. During class breaks, I would find myself stuffing brownies and cookies in my face rather than socializing and creating new friendships. I remember hoarding snacks during the day and after school just to make sure I had access to enough food when I was at home “studying”. My days would consist of food bingeing sprees and movie marathons. I knew that I was not happy at the girls-school, but I managed to push through it because somehow the bingeing and indulgences temporarily numbed my pains and filled my void.
The beginning of high school was the point where I realized my body was controlling me. I still remember eating a gallon of ice cream in one sitting whenever I had the chance or hiding in my closet and stuffing pastry after pastry in my mouth until I was uncomfortably full. I was so addicted to processed foods and sweets, but I didn’t know how to stop the vicious cycle.
At some point, my academics fell apart too. I was so caught up in my food addiction that I had to resort to lying and cheating in order to keep my grades within the necessary range. The unhealthy habits of high expectations and loss of control that I developed early on because of the high pressure environment I was in had caught up to me – I was taught a lifelong lesson. Long story short, I was expelled from the all-girls school and relegated to spending my senior year at a public high school. For the first time in my life, I felt like a complete failure. Things at home got tense, and I shut myself out from everyone in my life because I could not control the situation anymore. I felt so embarrassed and defeated. My family found out my secrets, and I never felt more naked in my entire life.
Then, my college journey started at UC San Diego. After one quarter of college, I gained 25 pounds and failed a course. My parents were of course disappointed, but more than anything, they wanted to help in the best way they knew possible – they decided I would stay home with them until they determined that I was ready to go back to school.
Life at home, at first, was unbearable. I was stripped of my freedom – my parents removed all access to technology and Internet like a modern-day Rapunzel. However, it was a blessing in disguise as I became more focused on developing my inner self and overcoming deep-seated entitlement issues. My mom put me on a strict vegetarian diet to overcome my weight problem and within six months of eating only fruits and vegetables, I went from 165 pounds to 95 pounds. At 95 pounds, I was weak and completely depleted of nutrients, but at the time, I never thought that I would be overweight again. Little did I know, this would be the start of a few more yo-yo cycles I would have to face. Even when my mom eventually helped me return to a normal weight of 125 pounds, I remained confused and unhappy on the inside.
Moving out of my family’s nest and searching for independence in an entirely new environment presented a new set of challenges. I wanted to prove to my family that I could survive out in the world on my own and find my own definition of success and purpose. It was so hard at first. I knew I wasn’t ready, but I gathered all the courage and strength I had to do it. I stayed at a charity home for a year and a half, got my first job as a waitress, and eventually completed my General Education classes at a local community college so that I could return back to UC San Diego. However, despite these small successes along the way, my weight was still a problem. Within a month or two of moving out of my parents’ house, I gained 50 pounds and reached my highest weight of 185 pounds.
At 185 pounds and 5’6”, I was appalled that I could let myself get to 185 pounds in such a short time. I was sure that I had hit rock bottom at that point. I let food take control of my life again, but I was not willing to accept that that was my destiny. My health journey began at this point, and I started to become more aware of my eating disorder. I started reading all of the books that I could get my hands on about healthy living and weight loss. I tried so many diet programs (too many to count), yet none of them worked. It wasn’t until I took up Salsa Dancing in community college that things began to change for good.
Life is full of surprises. I wasn’t supposed to take that class. It was just a moment of curiosity mixed with a thirst for adventure. The first time that I stepped into class, I was unsure, but excited. Salsa was an escape from reality, and sharing the room with artists who got lost in the music and movement created a bubble for me to experience freedom from criticism, negative self talk, and self consciousness. I could do whatever I wanted, dress however I wanted, and create a safe place for the true Katie to come out. I got hooked quickly. I went to every class I could find, from San Jose to San Francisco, because I desired for the feeling of freedom day in and day out. It kept me going. It helped me heal from my insecurities and broken self esteem. It taught me to love myself.
I became sick and tired of doing something destructive to my body and allowing the eating disorder to take over Katie. I started doing things that felt right for me, like opening myself to falling in love for the first time and making friends from different backgrounds. In the process, I gave myself permission to think for myself and the freedom to be myself. I realized that you are in charge of your happiness, and self-love is the key to finding it. It was humbling to learn how to connect to my innermost needs, celebrate the freedom of being me, and accept who I truly am while dropping my destructive patterns.
While salsa helped me heal by becoming active again, I would say that changing my eating habits and committing to a new lifestyle was toughest stretch of my health journey. From 2012-2015, I would try various weight loss programs in between working full time as a teller at a bank and completing my Communications Degree at UC San Diego. As my weight continued to go down and eventually stabilize by the time I moved back to the Bay Area in 2015, I gained a new passion for cellular nutrition and exercise.
I became a health and beauty consultant and an ambassador for Usana Health Sciences, promoting their nutritional products and developing my personal brand which would lead to competing for a pageant later on. After experiencing my own transformation through using Usana’s products, it was powerful to see first hand how I could help my clients through the process of changing their eating habits, controlling their cravings, and embracing optimal health. I learned to connect with my innermost needs and celebrate who I authentically am.
Through developing my first business and building relationships with my clients, I was anxious to spread my message of positivity to a larger community. In 2017, I competed for an Asian American beauty pageant. At first, I was skeptical because of my preconceived notions of beauty pageants, but upon further reflection, I decided that it might be a good opportunity to expand my network and become a role model to others in health and beauty. It turns out that I was right.
Winning four titles in an international pageant, including Miss Asian California, and seeing my picture on the cover of Wired Magazine reinforced my feelings that my worth never hinged on a crown. It was never about the crown or the title but more so the lessons learned, experiences gained, and opportunities to showcase what was in my heart and mind. These titles spoke volumes about my mission to transform my life through personal development, entrepreneurship, and community leadership. Being grateful that my pageant experience acted as a powerful vehicle for me to utilize my platform and empower others around me as a role model would be the trigger to my next chapter of empowering others in both business and entrepreneurship.
Having reached my goals in personal health and wellness, I embarked on a mission-driven professional career. I achieved this by launching an affordable luxury e-commerce and consignment business, Kalon SF, that offers professional and formal wear designed to empower women to look and feel their personal best. Being surrounded by like-minded women over the course of my two pageant competitions, I realized that women are strongest when they build each other up, instead of tearing each other down. This message is strongly rooted in the development of the Kalon SF brand; Kalon SF was created as a guidepost for other women, offering them the tools to self-realization that I gained from my own personal journey. Kalon is a classical Greek word meaning the ideal of physical and moral beauty, and that is the core mission of my company—making outward beauty an expression of inner good and noble character. By creating Kalon SF, my aim is to help other women achieve the confidence and poise that is uniquely theirs.
Conquering my eating disorder has probably been one of the most difficult yet rewarding experiences of my life, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. This experience has opened my eyes in many different ways.
It led me to understanding the meaning of recovery. Recovery. It will be challenging. But it will also be worth it. You will relapse, and that’s okay (as long as you keep fighting). You may feel alone in your struggle. But you will also help others who are struggling. Your loved ones may not understand, but you can always explain. You will have good days, and bad days, but the bad days will become fewer. Your problems won’t magically go away, but they will become manageable. You might not feel different at first, but when you’re done you will be happier, healthier, stronger, and recovered. That is why you have to keep fighting.
It led me to finding my passion for entrepreneurship and empowerment. I left a very privileged life that my family gave me at birth to find what made me happy, and it came by taking one step at a time and exploring many different passions. Every job I took, sport I played, and activity I participated in played a role in crafting my personality and values. While struggling with my eating disorder, I discovered that in order to empower others, change had to come from within. I knew after I had conquered my decade-long eating disorder that I wanted to empower others to overcome their own demons and help them believe that anything is possible.
It led me to the discovery that the journey is really about the person we become, not just the goals and successes we achieve. I never imagined my life going the direction that it did, but it taught me to never underestimate my worth. I gave myself the opportunity to love myself during the process, and by doing so I am now able to share this journey with the world to empower others. While I was still building my confidence throughout my journey, I knew that I wanted to empower others and help them overcome any hardships they were facing. Growing up in the Bay Area, I was familiar with pageantry but never envisioned myself competing in one. My win as Miss Asian California gave me the opportunity to not only showcase my culture as an Asian American, but to become a role model in the health and beauty industries. On top of my business performance being recognized internationally by Usana Health Sciences, the founding of Kalon SF has marked an important milestone in my career and self-discovery.
The vicious cycle of bingeing and losing control was not an easy one to break, but it’s something that I worked on consistently and persistently in order to enjoy the reward – a life free of self-sabotage and low self-esteem. In spite of this, I tell people to enjoy the path, not just the reward. We often set goals for ourselves: advancing in our careers, getting that fit and healthy body that we dream of, being better parents or children, and so forth. But the real gold in achieving our goals is to love the process and the grind as much as the results. As human beings, we are frequently disappointed because more often than not, our goals always seem very far away – almost unattainable. But the true value of achieving goals does not lie in the rewards that we receive but rather in the PERSON WE BECOME as a result of pursuing our goals. So don’t be too hard on yourself. Enjoy the roller coasters, embrace the challenges, and celebrate the process because you will get there!
Socrates once said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Today, I challenge you to think about your purpose and examine what your life is all about. Give yourself permission to do something that no one expects you to do. When I look back and reflect on my journey thus far I am thrilled with how far I’ve come. But I am even more excited to see what I will accomplish in the coming stages of my life. The only impossible journey is the one you never begin.
Katie Lam is at her best when life brings her challenges. As a competitive swimmer and golfer growing up, she struggled with her weight and battled a compulsive eating disorder, which resulted in weight swings from 95 to 185 pounds. Conquering a 10-year eating disorder through her discovery of cellular nutrition and salsa dancing has transformed her life and enriched her personal development, entrepreneurship, and community leadership. With a background in sales, event planning, and business development, Katie has built an impressive record of achievement in healthcare tech, nonprofit, banking, and venture capital, and most recently in beauty tech.
Having reached her goals in personal health and wellness, Katie is embarking on a mission-driven professional career and aims to make a meaningful social impact that is global in scope and consistent with her passion for inspiring and empowering others. She is achieving this by launching an e-commerce business that offers work wear and formal wear designed to empower women to look and feel their personal best–a goal that is one of Katie’s defining characteristics. When she isn’t consulting others, she enjoys traveling, golfing, and reading.