Plus how she maintains a healthy relationship with social media.
Gabi Mahan wears many hats. By day, she’s a Licensed Professional Counsel Associate (LPC-A) at Mindful Eats Nutrition Counseling, where she specializes in treating adolescents and adults struggling with eating disorders, disordered eating, body dysmorphia, and other related disorders. On the side, Gabi also runs an increasingly popular Instagram account, @grow_withgabi where she promotes body respect, raises eating disorder awareness, and empowers women to feel confident in their skin. And she’s ALSO the creator of the Normalize You Movement, which was born out of the realization that there’s something missing within the body positivity and body acceptance community: the appreciation that we’re so much more than a body — and that we need to be normalizing what makes us who we are in our entirety (our cultural backgrounds, personality, and interests included).
We caught up with Gabi to chat more about her professional and personal journey, what being a “self-love junkie” means for her, how she maintains a healthy relationship with social media, and more.
Give us some background! How did you arrive at where you are now doing the work that you do?
After my parents got divorced when I was fairly young, I started therapy and remember thinking, I want to do what she does. I really liked the sessions — I liked talking to people, and I really resonated with the work that my therapist was doing. As I grew older, I asked more questions about what it took to be in my therapist’s position education-wise. So I studied some psychology in the IB program in high school, then went off to pursue psychology at UT Austin as an undergrad. And then I knew I had to get a Masters if I wanted to be licensed as a therapist, so I went to Pepperdine University in California to study psychology for a licensure track. I wasn’t 100% certain at the time what I wanted to specialize in, but — and I’m very open about this — I have a history with an eating disorder, which I struggled with for about 10 years. I wasn’t entirely sure that I wanted to pursue that track, but through my own healing and recovery, I realized how passionate I am about helping other people, especially children and teens.
I actually started in OCD work, then found my way into the eating disorder community in Houston. I work now for a private practice, and it’s seven dietitians and me, the primary therapist (and the first they’ve taken on). I see individuals of all ages, and I really, really enjoy the work.
On your website, you call yourself a “self-love junkie.” What exactly does “self-love” mean for you and what are some pragmatic ways you practice it on a daily basis?
When I was going through my own recovery and my own journey, I was really trying to find ways to love myself outside of my physical body and instead learn to love what’s inside — who we are at our core and our personalities. And a big thing that I learned was that when you take the focus away from the body, you come to learn that you’ve neglected all the other incredible parts of who you are for so long. So I really took a lot of time and energy to dive into that other part of myself that I had neglected.
When I say that I love myself, I don’t think of my body. That’s not what comes up for me. What I do think of is my passion for what I do in my life and the hard work that I put into my career, passions, and creativity. I think about my love for my family and my cultural background — just who I am and what I have to offer as a human being, including the energy that I exude. I wasted so much of my life focusing on my physical appearance, so the last thing I want to do is expend more energy in that department.
In your work with clients, have you noticed any trends or themes that have either emerged or become exacerbated by the pandemic and new(ish) social media platforms like TikTok?
Yes. So when TikTok blew up in the beginning of the pandemic, it became really toxic for a lot of my teen clients. It’s led to a lot of comparison, a lot of…what does she eat? I need to eat what she’s eating. A lot of food comparison and body comparison.
People, teens especially, are always on their phones looking at social media, and the media they’re consuming is not benefiting their mental health. So I would say that’s one department that I’ve definitely seen a consistent negative effect on my clients’ overall mental health and wellbeing.
How do you approach social media, given that it’s a foundational element of your brand but also a place that can be performative, curated, and distorted?
When I went through my own recovery journey, I deleted all of my social media because it was one of the things that brought a lot of negative energy and toxicity in my life. It wasn’t serving me, so I told myself that if I ever were to create another Instagram page, I would want to do it centered around eating disorder recovery and awareness. I wanted to share my story and be vulnerable in a way that benefits people — rather than, hey this is me in Hawaii and I’m in this decked-out outfit and there’s all these filters! I really wanted to come back with purpose when I put myself back out there.
And it’s been a really cool experience! I’ve curated my feed accordingly to only follow people that positively influence and uplift me. Aside from my close family and friends, everyone that I follow is a body positive or mental health awareness blogger — or clinicians/dietitians that I work with. It’s very raw, real, and honest. We’re having tough conversations. And whenever I post anything, I think about how it can be the most relatable and a message that people can take home and reflect on. I take breaks when I need to, I post when I feel like it, and I feel driven and creative. But it’s never unnatural.
Even so, it’s important to point out that social media growth comes with cons. You get hate messages and comments. You get people very narrow-minded or fat-phobic, so that’s definitely been a very different territory that I never had to navigate before. But because I’m in such a good place with my recovery and helping other people recover, it doesn’t really phase me. I’ve learned to filter it out and just remind myself that it has so much more to do with them than it has to do with me. And I’ve found it in my heart to think…You know what? I sympathize with them, because they must be really hurting to say such awful things.
Why did you decide to start the Normalize You Movement?
Like I mentioned, when I decided to come back on social media, I really wanted to be intentional and make an impact by focusing on raising awareness and having these conversations that people aren’t having as openly as I feel they should be. I wanted to create something unique to me so I wasn’t just some other influencer that posts about body acceptance and self-love. So one day, when I was laying in bed on my explore page, I saw so many things about normalizing normal bodies or normalize this, normalize that. And I thought to myself…Nobody’s normalizing YOU. We’re all so unique and have so many different things to offer, and while all these hashtags are great, things like “normal bodies” are subjective. Everyone defines that differently. So I thought…You know what I want to normalize? Me. You. I want to normalize each individual. Because there’s only one of us, and we should always be celebrated. We each have our own quirks and kinks, who we are and what we have to offer personality-wise, the energy we exude, and all those kind of incredible things that make us who we are. That’s how I came up with the slogan, Normalize You.
You write on your website that you help clients embrace “radical acceptance.” What does that mean in practice? What makes it radical?
When I think of radical acceptance, I think of the shame and fear in not looking like this thin ideal, or having love handles, or having this or that on our bodies. We focus a lot on imperfections rather than radically accepting who we are, meaning everything about us. With “radical acceptance,” we can stop fighting reality or trying to change or mold into something that we were never meant to be. Instead, we can start accepting who we are in every way and begin celebrating that.
How does your sense of style play a role in the radical acceptance of your sense of self?
I always tell my clients that one of the best things they can do for themselves is buy clothes that fit their body and not try to squeeze into something! Because the fact of the matter is that there are clothes you don’t feel comfortable or confident in, so why would you want to wear those? The beauty of clothing and fashion is that there’s so much out there to choose from, and there’s so many different styles that you can try to figure out your sense of style and what you feel the most beautiful in.
Personally, I love clothing. I love feeling classy and sexy and beautiful in what I wear, so I definitely think that my elegance and appreciation for my curves and my body really does come out when I feel my best.
Do you have a style icon?
Yes! Her name is Raeann Langas. She’s a curve model and fashion blogger on Instagram, and I freakin’ love her style. It’s sometimes simple, other times super elegant and sexy. And she’s always wearing things that she feels comfortable and confident in, that accentuate her curves.
But I’ve also adopted a lot of my style from friends and family. My mom, for example, is very into clothing and taught me what to look for in clothing stores. So a lot of my sense of style grew from her.
What is it about Revelle and its mission that attracts you?
Everything that Revelle stands for aligns so well with my values, in the sense that I work with so many clients who heavily dislike their bodies and can’t find a store where they feel like they’re accepted. At Revelle, it’s not just about the jeans. It’s about celebrating your body and knowing that you are worthy of a pair that fits your body in the way that makes you feel comfortable and sexy. And knowing also that you can literally try on the same pair of jeans in different styles in the same store, and they all fit differently. Sometimes they don’t even fit. So I love how Revelle’s focus is away from the size or the fit and more about…Hey, let’s tailor to your needs and your body. A very specific, unique body. And let’s find something that works for you.
Because I remember so many times when I would go jeans shopping, especially before figuring out what fit my body and what worked for me, I was always disappointed when I would see these really cool jeans styles, like boyfriend jeans, then I would go to the store and I would try them on, and they looked super crappy on me. Or I just didn’t feel very comfortable and confident in them. And you start to think that you’re the problem, when the fact of the matter is that you were never the problem, and this obscure sizing and just all these weird sizing issues in America and the lack of inclusivity with sizing is really the problem.
So I love how Revelle makes you feel seen. And it doesn’t matter what you look like, what size or shape you are, you’re going to answer these questions and you are going to find the jeans for you.