I share videos of myself eating on social media. Here's why I call out trolls who criticize my weight.
Do I call out every mean comment I get? No. But every once in a while, I'll feed the trolls.
I eat and travel for a living. It might sound too good to be true, but I promise, it's a real job. I've been writing about food for a few years now, and have been creating food-related content for brands and companies even longer.
Since I started posting on TikTok, my account and following have grown to numbers beyond my wildest dreams. My job is delicious and it's a lot of fun. But, while many think working as a creator is a cakewalk, it does come with its own set of rancid experiences.
"This gluttonous [piece of s***] needs to have her kids taken away [so they don't] end up fat."
That's just one comment from one video — and no, I don't even have kids yet. This is the underbelly of what it's like for creators every single day. Today, I sit back and laugh at what these accounts have to say about me and my body, but it wasn't always that easy.
A childhood fraught with body image issues
I've loved food since I was a little girl. At an early age, I jumped at the chance to spend days in the kitchen with my grandma, my Mimi, learning how to make family recipes. I remember being as young as 4, climbing onto my Poppy's lap to watch Emeril Lagasse and the Food Network together for hours. It was something I was naturally passionate about.
Fast-forward to elementary school where, at the ripe age of 8, I was hyper-aware of what my body looked like. In the years before, I struggled deeply with anxiety and a panic disorder. As a result, I had difficulty keeping food down or having any type of appetite. As my panic attacks became less frequent — although they're still something I struggle with to this day — I was able to eat a more normal diet without getting sick. I gained weight, and many in my family let me know it.
Throughout elementary school and into my first two years of high school, I was embarrassed to eat in front of anyone. The lunchroom was a struggle and I was often picked on for my weight. Even at home, I sometimes felt embarrassed to ask for seconds or to inquire as to when dinner would be ready.
Still, my love for food could not be extinguished. My grandparents never made me feel ashamed and their home was my safe haven. They took me on vacations and to fine-dining restaurants, they taught me about the history and culture behind food and they always made meals special. Their support led me to apply for a technical high school where I was a part of the culinary arts program. We spent hours a day in a commercial kitchen but, even then, I sometimes felt ashamed of what I loved.
In my final two years of high school, I was sick of the bullies, my self-hatred and feeling like I wasn't good enough. I counted calories. I worked long days, then spent hours on the treadmill. I went to nice restaurants and panicked when I was served lean seafood that had a drizzle of butter the menu didn't warn me about. I was smaller, but it felt impossible to enjoy the things I had before.
Making peace with food and my body through social media
I've struggled with my relationship with food my whole life. I came from a family that told me to clear my plate, but made me feel ashamed and unhealthy for gaining weight. As a kid, I had doctors tell me I'd weigh 400 pounds in high school if I didn't get control over my diet. It breaks my heart because I look back at photos and I see a very normal, healthy, average little girl. My whole life it felt like my love of food would be the struggle that would forever control me … until it didn't.
During the coronavirus pandemic, TikTok began to grow as a real contender in the social media space. I had continued my education in public relations and communications, not the culinary arts, but I'd been working exclusively in social media for years at that point. I loved watching trends and of course, had quite a few food clients under my belt: Hard Rock Café, 8 O'Clock Coffee, Good Earth Tea, Newman's Own and more. I had run my own public Instagram account for years, where I'd built a small-but-connected community. I saw people making food videos on TikTok and I couldn't stop thinking: I could do that.
I started making food videos on a whim. At first, it was reviews of restaurants in the Orlando, Fla. area where I lived, but things really took off when I showed myself eating. I was nervous, but my boyfriend, who has a successful TikTok account of his own, pushed me to get in front of the camera, and it really worked.
I saw other creators, like Brittani Lancaster, sharing their journeys with disordered eating, eating disorders and food freedom, and they inspired me. Their content made me want to build a healthy relationship with food for the first time in my life — to allow myself to eat what I wanted in moderation and stop putting so much pressure on myself to eat 1,200 calories (or less) a day.
As I started posting, it was exciting to see people comment and follow my account for more videos. But the more people you reach, the more people exist who won't like you. It's simply impossible to please everyone.
Putting food and body-shamers on blast
I don't remember my first hate comment, but I was expecting it after years of ridicule as a child. I also can't remember the first time I started responding to my trolls, but in August 2022, I publicly called out a negative commenter for the first time. I remember that well.
I was sitting on my couch when a comment came through on a video of me eating a TikTok-famous pastry in New York City. I was so proud of that day, that story, that content and that moment.
"Way to disrespect that culinary masterpiece by shoving it in your mouth like a hog," it read. "Jesus, have some respect for the croissant and yourself."
What made me decide to call this person out was that she was not a troll. She had a public account with her name and place of work listed. She was a nurse. This made me blindly angry. To see someone so judgmental and unkind and so obviously fatphobic working as a nurse — someone we're supposed to trust with our health. That's when I knew I wanted to do something about it.
I took a screenshot of her comment and tagged her, calling her out for the way she was acting. "Everyone say hi to my new friend, Brittney," I wrote. "She's an amazing nurse and dog mom — and an online cyberbully who puts other women down in her spare time."
I uploaded it and a "trolls" highlight on my Instagram account was born. I'm also known to call people out in the comment section on Instagram. On TikTok, I'll answer their unkind words with a video of myself.
Do I call out every mean comment I get? No. It would take forever and I don't spend my life harping on negatives when I have so many wonderful, positive comments and experiences to put energy into. But every once in a while, depending on how I'm feeling that day, or how much time I have on my hands, I'll feed the trolls.
Why I decided to feed the trolls
I have rules of course. I'll seldom go more than one round with these people, but at the end of the day, I'm a make-lemons-into-lemonade kind of girl. I realized in calling people out on their horrible comments, I felt pride in standing up for myself to body-shamers and bullies for the first time. Also, my videos performed a bit better, which at the end of the day, benefits only me.
Plus, I do it for the little girl I was, and for all others who still struggle with their body image and relationship with food. I want them to know my page is a safe place, and comments like that aren't OK.
When I was in my early 20s, my mom got incredibly sick. In the course of a year, she passed away. She was young, she ate a "clean" diet and she was in perfect health. Out of nowhere, she was sick and then gone. It was unfair, and I miss her every single day. But losing her changed me.
I do it for the little girl I was, and for all others who still struggle with their body image and relationship with food."Josie Maida
Life is short and we never know what tomorrow will bring. I realized I couldn't spend another moment hating myself: I couldn't waste a single second on being anything but grateful for the body I have.
I let go of hatred and insecurity and little by little, the words and opinions of strangers on the internet had less and less impact on me. Life is short, and I'm here to enjoy every single moment gifted to me. I'll always taste that dessert or say yes to that trip, because not a single moment is promised to us.
Finding balance … and freedom
Does this mean I'm reckless in my diet with no thought about health or nutrition? No. Some people can't see beyond the video on their screen: A thirty-second clip of my life is not indicative of every meal I eat and, to be honest, once I embraced food freedom and stopped restricting myself from the more fun foods I loved, I started to genuinely crave nutrient-dense food, too.
I've never been picky, but I enjoy things like fresh vegetables, fruits and light meals even more now because I don't feel like it's all I'm allowed to have. To me, life is about finding the balance that works for you.
I call out trolls and mean commenters because I know if they're saying these things to me, they're saying them to someone else, someone who isn't yet where I am on their journey, who might be really hurt — or who might hurt themselves — over comments like these. My true hope is that these people, who so often go unchallenged, feel embarrassed and learn that if you have nothing nice to say, it's better not to say it at all.
Finding unexpected empathy for my trolls
Will I stop anytime soon? No, and I have no regrets. Still, I think the most unexpected thing is how genuinely bad I feel for my trolls.
I'll always remember one in particular. After a quick Google search, I realized her restaurant had recently failed. I'm sure that was difficult for her, but it seemed she filled her time with mocking me as a way to cope. She picked at my weight, my job, my content, my values — anything you could think of.
One day, I told her a food brand liked my content so much they flew me first class to another country to write a story and create content about it. I haven't heard from her since. It feels like a win, but a part of me truly hopes that she realized all that negative energy she spent on me could have been put into something positive for herself. For anyone to spend so much time thinking of you when they've never seen you outside of a screen? You've become the star in their story, while their happiness has taken the backseat.
A post shared by Travel Food • Theme Parks • Orlando Lifestyle | Josie ✨ (@josiemaida)
I've been on a heck of a ride in my 28 years. I have a lot left to learn, but I've learned so much. Deep in my heart, I know the kinds of people who scroll with vitriol each day and leave heartless, cruel comments are unhappy themselves. They're so miserable, bored and sad in their own lives that they can't see beyond it. Maybe they struggle with their body, mental health or journey to happiness, so seeing a woman enjoy life and food with reckless abandon is a reminder of what they don't have. I think we're taught a "perfect body" equates to happiness, so it drives people crazy to see although I have imperfections, I've found a way to enjoy food and enjoy life.
I still have days where I can't believe the little girl who was embarrassed to eat in her own home now eats with millions of people daily across social media platforms. I've come a long way.
As I'm writing this, I've received about four negative comments. I know in the role I've chosen, that will never ever stop. I filter out the truly heinous and focus on the amazing things, adventures, moments and people my job has brought into my life. I'm truly grateful for the community I've found and for the incredibly kind comments they share with me. My heart doesn't have room for the bad.
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