I am a survivor of an Eating Disorder (ED). And I’ve learnt so much which I hope more people will be educated about. I’ve written my ED story several weeks ago and I’ve only recently plucked up the courage to post it. So I decided to take the leap of faith and broadcast it here. Don’t get me wrong, it’s so hard for me to post this; it’s been in cold storage for weeks. But if I help someone then it’s worth it.
Much love to everyone who’s suffering, seeking to gain for insight or just passing by. You’re amazing xoxo
My Eating Disorder
Everyone has a story. But not everyone realises that.
Despite bumping around as an awkward teen, I was blessed with a reasonable first two years of high school life. After those two years, however, I began to change. When I was 14, “diet talk” started to seep into my consciousness.
It started off so innocuously. I often said to my friends, “I think I need to go on a diet”, words that were commonplace in our thinness-oriented world. So I thought, there was nothing exceptionally harmful about wanting to be slimmer, right? I still ate, because I loved food too much and did not have the ability to count calories, so I was fine, right? Wasn’t it healthy to be mindful of what I ate?
When I turned 15, my personality took an unexpected turn. Previously a bubbly, passionate girl, I noticed myself drawing back. Hanging out with friends felt more like an obligation than a respite, and I started to compare myself with other girls- a lot. As all these shifts took place, it did not occur to me that I had gained an evil soulmate named Ana.
As a 15 year old, dieting ideals had become so entrenched into my subconscious, I was not even fully aware of them. This gave Ana the chance to tear me up from the inside. Oftentimes, the most subtle means of destruction turn out to be the most devastating. I remember being obsessed with comparison to other girls. After a period of time, I began to take to the scale- something I never thought I would ever be bothered with. I weighed myself periodically, hoping, praying that the scale would show me what my heart desired. As I previously mentioned, I was a food lover, and I was well-known for my hearty appetite. So even though the weighing scale became my bible, I still ate, because I just couldn’t help it. Because I was still eating, Ana told me that I was a worthless waste of space. Ana would hold my hand and remind me, that because I was still eating, I had to try to restrict myself. I had to exercise self-restraint.
Never would I have known that subscribing to Ana’s plans would force me to sacrifice any ounce of control I had over myself.
When I believed that Ana had my best interests at heart, it was too late. I was trapped within her cruel dictations. I was bound by the fear, starvation and isolation that she inflicted upon me.
Looking back on my life as a 15-16 year old, I will never forget the pain and self-hate I subjected myself to, because they are just too vivid and terrifying to be forgotten. As a 16 year old, I had dropped xx pounds on the scale, but Ana would not stop. She refused to say “enough”, but instead, she whipped me into a vicious cycle of eating, crying, not eating, feeling faint, desperately wanting food, eating, crying, not eating, crying again…
This is not the kind of life befitting of any human being. Apart from losing xx pounds, I also lost all my friends (I became severely isolated socially), my outlook on life and my greatest childhood passion- service to others. I had been an avid volunteer at volunteer and welfare organisations (VWOs) before Ana’s arrival. I derived joy from giving and helping people. When Ana, she snatched all this empathy away from me. One day, in the depths of my disorder, when I realised I had not been doing community service for a weirdly long time, I tried to research about an association for the blind where I used to help out at. I scrolled through the volunteer webpage. Then the most frightening sensation of all struck me- nothing. I was an empty shell. At that moment, I became so confused, I tried to force myself to feel empathy, to feel just anything at all, but not a single feeling could be generated. Ana had ripped my passion and all possible feelings from my heart, broken it through my ribs and tore it out of my soul. At that moment, I cried. I cried every day because of Ana, but this time I cried much more.
I cried so hard, but Ana was not a Good Samaritan. She lived off my cries, like a sadistic abusive partner.
In 2014, as a 16 year old, I had hit rock bottom. Never in my whole life had I felt so despondent, so hopeless, so alone. Ana had promised me happiness in thinness, but all she gave me was self-destruction. As a 16 year old, instead of hanging out with friends, I would hide in my house and pretend I had “something on”. I lost all interest in boys. My heart would palpitate so hard whenever I had to meet someone, it was debilitating. (Social Anxiety came with my ED) When I absolutely had no choice but to meet someone for lunch one day, I desperately Googled the calories in the food they offered at the café and planned my order a week in advance. At home, I secretly weighed out all my food including rice and tomatoes. I remember feeling so downright exhausted every morning when I woke up because every new day meant nothing for me. The only thing it signalled was another laborious day of fretting, eating then crying, starving and counting. Yes, my friends, this was how I lived my life for a very long time. The only thing Ana helped me achieve was to waste away in hell.
At the end of 2014, I came across a Tumblr page, Let’s Recover, founded my an Anorexia survivor Amalie Lee who dedicates a large part of her life today educating, informing and inspiring. This webpage changed my life forever. On Let’s Recover, I found out about the most ground-breaking idea I have ever heard of (at that time) – that fat is not unhealthy. I read about the beauty of our bodies in internal regulation such that no matter what we ate, it would fight to maintain our weights about an optimal set point unique to EACH body on this planet. No one body is the same. Likewise, there is NO such thing as a “healthy” weight. You can be xxx (insert any number here) pounds and healthy. Reading all these articles which are, by the way, grounded in science (whereas a bullshit indicator BMI is NOT), was a magical experience. Remember, my friends, fat is not unhealthy. Please get rid of the mind-set which society has programmed you to adopt. Fat is beautiful.
Please don’t get me wrong, my life did not change immediately after reading those blog posts. There is no “ED recovery fairy tale” (i.e. girl eats more with the support of her family, cries occasionally, but after some time comfortably settles at her weight, and she officially recovers and feels awesome blah blah blah). Recovery hurts like a bitch. But that’s what makes it worth doing. Challenging your mental demons can make you feel like breaking down, but if you pull yourself back up again and FORCE yourself to move FORWARD (i.e., gaining weight, body positivity etc) and NEVER lose hope, you have won.
They say that you are never the same person you were before you walked into the storm, and with this statement I can concur. I am evidently a vastly different human being compared to the crazy little girl at the age of 13 or 14. After conquering my ED, I have become a thinker. I daydream more often, and think about the meaning behind what people do. But more significantly, I love myself today. I have apologised to my body for beating it up, but thank it profusely for never letting me go, for persevering until I decided to let Ana go. Today, my body is as strong as ever, and I thank it for preserving this life which I once thought was not worth living.
As morbid as it sounds, I am grateful for this challenge that I was presented with. This episode that broke me down also helped me acquire, albeit very painfully, pieces of enlightening wisdom. Eating disorders, I have learnt, comes in all sizes. EDs do not discriminate. When I was at a “normal weight” (as dictated by the very inaccurate BMI), my abnormal behaviour was perceived as that of a teenage girl making steps to a healthier lifestyle. It was only when things began spiralling out of control, when people became convinced of a serious problem. Why do people need convincing? Does understanding, help and extra sensitivity really need justification? My ED took root when I was at a “healthy weight”. Ana took advantage of the stereotypes surrounding EDs to consume me from the inside.
Most of all, I have learnt of the widespread discrimination that does not derive as much attention as it should. That is fat phobia. I am a slim girl and I know it. Privilege is being able to write a long story about your experience because you can be sure more people will applaud you for your courage than not. Many fat girls, on the other hand, are being mocked and derided, including those who have recovered from, or are recovering from an ED. So as a girl with a body deemed acceptable by society, I need to be constantly aware of the fact that the people truly bearing the brunt of society’s “body ideals” are the people who are actually fat, and not those who think they are.
Life is still bumpy today. I face challenges, and I am in the process of gaining back the remnants of confidence I need to face the world. However, I know I have a strong mental foundation grounded in my unconditional self-love and unshakeable purpose. I want to empathise with more people and to dedicate a part of my life to changing what society understands about health and beauty. People of fat bodies, thin bodies, all skin colours, all heights, all ethnicities, with disabilities etc… are ALL immeasurably beautiful, society just needs to be prepared to see that beauty.
As a survivor of Anorexia, I can tell you with conviction in my heart that life is worth living after all. And to all the people struggling with EDs or who feel driven to hate themselves in silence, I am here for you. Never give up.