I belong to the category of people who’s never been particularly skinny or obviously overweight. Instead, I’d like to think that I’m extraordinarily average. I’ve never had issues with buying clothes, (although I have been stuck in a dress once) and I did my fair share of exercising to make sure I could climb stairs without running out of breath. If I’m honest I have nothing to complain about. But like many people, I wasn’t happy with the way that I looked. I didn’t like that I had a double chin if I didn’t keep my neck upright at all times, I didn’t like that my smile widens my face, and I really didn’t like how my tummy spilled over my jeans when I sat down.
I’m human, and we all have flaws that we’d like to change. So I did. Except what started out as a New Years resolution to lose weight quickly spiralled into an eating disorder that took over my life.
About two years ago, I started dieting because I was sick of the way my body had changed since I came to university. Bear in mind that I grew up in a semi-vegan, gluten-free, oil-free, fun-free household, so naturally, university was a massive change. At some point, wearing jeans became almost suffocating so I promised myself I was going to start clean-eating and going to the gym again.
“Dieting”, as it were, is easy when you come from a family that eats McDonalds on an annual basis. I began counting calories, “cleansing”, lifting, and being an absolute pretentious dick for about a year. You know the endorphins that they tell you about? I was having none of it but I ran and lifted and cycled anyway because I was determined to get in shape. And for a while, everything seemed to work. My body looked the fittest it had ever been, the abs were showing, and my double chin nearly disappeared. I became obsessed with wanting to see results and I was driven to the point where people around me were beginning to worry if I was going to crash and burn out. But every time they expressed that, I would shrug it off by saying that I’d rather be hospitalised with an eating disorder than to be obese.
Then it was as if God heard me and gave me exactly what I wished for.
I got into an accident shortly after that left me injured I couldn’t walk or move for a month. In the state that I was in, both mentally and physically, I couldn’t handle the thought of consuming more calories than I was burning, and I became so desperate that I started purging everything I ate because I was so, so afraid of gaining weight.
At the time, I didn’t see anything wrong with what I was doing. Yes, it probably wasn’t the best thing for me but I was so blinded by the idea of a perfect body that I would do anything to have it. I was so close to getting what I worked for and I didn’t want my efforts to go to waste. (And to hell with doing cardio six times a week again!) But even after I recovered, I didn’t stop the purging. I actually started eating unhealthier food because I didn’t need to feel guilty after. That’s the thing with bulimia, and any other eating disorder for that matter, it’s addictive, it’s relieving, and it’s the easy way out. I could eat a burger and go to the gym after, but why do that when I can get rid of it in a matter of seconds?
I began vigorously exercising, binge-eating, purging, feeling guilty, then exercising again. The cycle starts the same way every day and before I knew how to stop, I was trapped.
The worst thing about having an eating disorder is feeling isolated because you’re embarrassed to admit that you have a problem with food, which sounds silly, because it’s just food, and it’s just eating. How can something so trivial have so much control over a person’s mind and body? And being bulimic puts you at the back of the line, because even if you are struggling, you’re not struggling enough for people to help you, as compared to someone who’s nearly dying of malnutrition.
Even now I’m wondering if this is a story worth writing about, when there could be other people who’ve been through worse, for longer periods, that can tell it better than I can. There were many low moments where I felt selfish and weird to admit that I was suffering, like it wasn’t worth seeking help for because after all, it was just food. And I lacked the self-control to eat it right. But eventually, I saw the real problem, and ironically, it had nothing to do with food. EDs were never about food, but rather the distorted relationships we have with ourselves. For me, eating was a means of emotional comfort, a way to distract myself from reality. Never once have I felt happy while stuffing my face with cookies, but for a brief moment, I’m distracted and I escape to a happier place.
Eating wasn’t the issue, letting myself down was. I thought that if I couldn’t have the body that I wanted, then there was no point in trying, so I might as well eat. Once I admitted that, I didn’t need professional help to recover, I just needed time and patience to know and love the person that I am regardless of whatever size that I wear, which in all honesty, has been the most challenging part of recovery yet.
Self-love can be confusing. On one hand, the angel that sits on your shoulder tells you that you look beautiful despite the jiggle; on the other, you have the devil that tells you to lose weight because it’s for your health and your upcoming beach vacation. The devil wants you to have good Instagram pictures, so in the name of “self-love”, you listen to her and go for a run. That isn’t self-love, that’s self-judgement, but it’s not a bad thing either.
The difference between the two is that the angel who embodies self-love, she sees you for more than your appearance, and self-judging Satan over here, sees you for what you can become and pushes you to be better, and for that reason, they’re both equally important. The process of recovery for me is learning to listen to them both and trust that they have my best interest at heart. They are miniature versions of me after all, and we want the same thing, which is to get better. I try to remind myself that I am a person with a mind and a soul that the mirror can’t reflect. Who I am isn’t just a collection of body parts, and I have more to offer to this world, so much more than I may realise now.
It can be hard sometimes to resist comparing yourself to the stranger on Instagram with the perfect life. I get that. Wanting a sculpted body isn’t a crime either, but if ever you find yourself going to the gym because you ate that extra slice of pizza, then you’re not loving but punishing yourself, and that’s destructive both mentally and physically.
Take it from me, the person who dragged her body through hell and back because she was caught up with the idea that how she looked would represent her happiness. Bulimia broke me, but I’m grateful that it has forced me to learn to love the person beneath all the skin and fat. It taught me empathy for others who have struggled, and struggle, just like me. Every day is a chance to put myself back together and heal.
And for those who can’t find the courage to speak up, I hope you find love and forgiveness within yourself too. No pain is invalid or less important, because you deserve to get better and you CAN live the best life that isn’t controlled by an endless cycle of negativity. Love the person you are now, only then will the six pack mean something.