Podcaster Steph Sanzaro uses her voice as fuel for change
Vulnerability was once a concept so foreign to Steph Sanzaro that the idea of admitting her sincerest pain stirred an unbearable level of anxiety.
But as a naive outsider looking in, one wouldn’t have known the dark thoughts swimming through the depths of her young and impressionable mind. The 23-year-old said her body image issues were first brought to the surface when she was a high school student.
Her morning ritual involved stepping onto the scales to monitor the number that appeared once her feet were planted side-by-side in a painful ceremony of self-sabotage.
“I got down to 47kg, I was anaemic, iron deficient, hair was falling out. And I thought that I looked good. And I also thought that it was not enough,” she said.
“I would always go on a crazy diet, or stop eating carbs or dairy, and then I’d restrict so much that I’d then binge really, really hard. There would be a constant cycle of me being super skinny and then going the other way and completely blowing out.”
The relentless back and forth motion of Steph’s inconsistent eating habits eventually took its toll after years of obsessive behaviour. In adolescence, she viewed eating as an escape – a place she could safely retreat if she was having a bad day or in the middle of a fight with a loved one.
“Whenever you have that binge, you feel guilty for it. And there’s a lot of shame, and a lot of self-loathing,” admitted Steph.
“You hate the way that you look, you hate the way that you’ve done it and the way it’s made you feel. And then you end up eating again to make yourself feel better, or it’s the other end of the spectrum and you don’t eat at all.”
When her days at Belmont High School concluded, the thoughts – despite her best efforts to leave them behind – walked away with her. In 2017, she won an eight-week F45 challenge and dropped to 52kg. While she was proud at the time, the weight slowly returned.
She went on to become a personal trainer in Geelong and later Brunswick, but the side effects of her polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) coupled with her self-image issues saw her question herself again.
“Being a PT, you’re constantly worried that people are judging the way that you look. At this time my hormones were an absolute mess,” she said.
“I had severe acne; it was like boils on my face. I was incredibly oily, massive welts and my self-esteem had plummeted.”
A trip to an Ocean Grove psychologist in September 2018, which has since become a recurring appointment, was when Steph started to beat her eating disorder, anxiety and depression.
She described it as a “turning point” in her seven-year journey to bettering her mind, body and spirit – a process that inspired her to participate in a raw photoshoot and share the images via her Instagram account, @plantbasedbody__.
“I don’t love my lower body at all. My bum has cellulite and stretch marks all over it, my legs are huge. But that’s just the way I’ve seen myself. I don’t feel that way now,” she said with a smile.
“The greatest benefits come from our deepest vulnerability. I put that on Instagram and it was the boldest thing I’ve ever done, but it’s had the greatest awards.”
More than 700 likes and 100 comments of encouragement later, Steph upped the ante for her 3,000-plus following and started a podcast where she interviews people from the region who have endured struggle and come out on top.
A keen public speaker and vocalist, she said using her voice in the hope of inspiring others to follow suit was her ultimate goal.
“I know that a lot of people will be suffering alone in silence with their mental health issues. The idea behind it (the podcast) was that people would listen and go ‘alright, I don’t need to openly talk about this right now with somebody in my life, but it’s nice to know that someone’s experiencing the same thing’.”
“I want people to know that I’ve felt that way, and if they have too then it’s okay and it will get better.”
The Plant Based Body podcast is available via iTunes and Spotify. Steph also shares plant-based recipes on her Instagram as well as honest and thought-provoking posts. For more information, visit plantbasedbody.co.