Eating Disorder: How I Overcame Anorexia and Took My Power Back
"You're skinny like a skeleton now!" My mum exclaimed, and hugged me.
It's been 6 years since I've battled with anorexia nervosa. I know what it is.. and have briefly seen how it could affect someone so drastically or ruin my mental and physical health for at least 5 years.
CONSCIOUS OF SELF
My earliest memory of me being teased upon my weight was when I was in primary school and my brother asked me if I’m in the TAF club yet. It may not have been ill-intentioned as obesity is a host of many other problems, but I was young and it seemed wrong to be a little chubby.
My grandpa was also worried and I naturally lost weight due to mugging for PSLE, and was within a healthy weight.
I'm the most insecure about my chubby face, flabby arms and thick thighs, and how my arms looked in a sleeveless top/dress. They would have excess fat and I wasn't the most active as I have childhood asthma. I was more of the "artsy" student who would be in the symphonic band or be drawing in the art club.
MY "SUCCESSFUL" FITNESS JOURNEY BECAME AN ADDICTION
Fitness has become a de-stress outlet for me, especially after I went to University in Australia and after a bad breakup. It was my happy escape and I did most of my workouts at home to save money to go to the gym.
Working out helped me gain my confidence and bettering myself in health. I read up more about nutrition and started learning to cook more healthy meals for myself. Then I met my boyfriend. We got along really well, but my only concern was that he was very, very petite. His thigh was the size of my arm - no kidding!
As silly as it sounds, I didn’t like being “bigger” than him as it may look disproportionate in photos. I decided to lose more weight so we “looked better as a couple”. Things started to take a turn when I thought my goal should be slimming down even further to fit his frame.
There was even a trend on social media that favours girls with “thigh gaps” as being more superior. I didn’t have it and I thought it was possible for me to exercise my way to one..
Turns out I was wrong and I still had it when I was really lean! After much research, I found out that my bone structure was different, which was why I didn’t have it. Even then, I felt like a fool for even following and believing this "trend". Just like the six pack, and the Kardashians' signature inflated boobs and butts... hyped by the media.
Do we really need to be told that we look better with those “assets” created by the media?
I exercised because it felt good and I would do 4-6 times a week. Whenever I did not exercise, I would feel so guilty and punish myself to work out even more after… I did cardio, weights and ab workout almost every day.
Exercising was a means to feel better about myself and my own perception of our relationship — but I didn’t know when to stop. And I didn't know that I was putting my body under so much stress at that time!
Me at my skinniest, malnourished and feeling at my MOST INSECURE.
“THE SCALE DETERMINED MY WORTH AND HOW I FEEL ABOUT MYSELF EVERY DAY."
Watching the scale go down was an unconscious habit and addiction. I weighed myself a few times a week and started being obsessed and empowered by the numbers. It also became a form of "control" whenever things didn't go my way.
I would try to fit in my exercise regime whenever I'm free from school; it helped me to reduce my academic stress and thought it was good.
I followed almost every diet fad — low carb, low fat and even weighing my food to the gram.
I followed accounts that had nutrition posts and the calorie counter was my friend. I could estimate and remember how many calories were there in almost all the food.
I'd even take green tea as I heard it could burn fats and increase metabolism — very excessively.
After all these efforts, I lost at least 4 more kilos, and 37kg was my lowest. After hearing people comment about how I looked, I started to be worried cos I knew my BMI was lower than the standards and I wanted to have a functioning body.
Even sitting and sleeping was uncomfortable, as my back and butt had very little fat.
I tried to eat a little more after that, but subconsciously in my mind, I was still restricting and hesitating on having certain foods.
OVER-EXERCISING & SEMI-ORTHOREXIA
My family was shocked by my sudden weight loss, especially my mum. She hugged me and said I was as skinny as a skeleton - like my grandma before she passed away, and cried in front of me.
I looked at myself in the mirror and reassured her that I looked all right and felt fine, and she didn't have to worry. I didn't really understand what the fuss was about and was in absolute denial!
My arms, back and legs, and chest area were just boney. I also told her that the models and other typical girls in Singapore are also the same size as me, but she would violently shove my justifications away.
I was hurt by that, but I know she meant well. Things took a turn when I lost my period. I missed it for at least 2 months... Then deep down I knew something was wrong.
We spent so much money trying to get my health back.
My Mum spent a lot on my visits to the gynaecologist, dieticians and TCM clinics for tests and treatments to get my period back – my priority as I want to have children and avoid suffering from early osteoporosis as I was calcium-deficient.
I was even also forced to a point to take milk powders to gain weight in case I wasn’t getting the weight or “nutrition” that I needed. My grandpa had the same thing when he was frail and not getting enough nutrition.
MORE THAN THE PHYSICAL. I FELT UNWORTHY.
My family didn’t dare to talk about this issue – which I understand as it could cause me to feel embarrassed, but it’s MORE THAN just about eating more. It’s a deep-rooted mental issue and barrier that I had to fight against every second.
It was like me trying to resist the devil who kept reminding me that I am not enough. To be liked, I had to do a list of things to my body... and I've thought about just disappearing.
However, to recover, I had to constantly remind myself that I needed to live and nourish myself, for God has given me life for a reason.
MY RECOVERY JOURNEY
I didn’t realise this, but I caved into the foods that I used to love. I was frightened of carbs like potatoes, fruits, avocados 🥑 (YUP) and nut butters. I would steer clear away from them. I’ve even purchased powdered peanut butter but they tasted nothing like the real deal.
I started to lose control whenever I'm around high fat or high carb food after restricting so much. I didn't realise it, but I was binge eating. My body was in starvation mode and all it wanted was CALORIES and the most sinful food ever at one go!!
For instance, I could eat a whole tub of Ben and Jerry's Ice cream, pack of potato chips, or digestive biscuits at one sitting. I also had many PB and J sandwiches. These were the foods that I used to love, but to have them at such large quantities left me so sick and bloated the next day.
However, I recognised that it was necessary for me to recover as I missed these foods so much. I even fought the urge to exercise after binging. Purging wasn't an option for me as I hate the horrible feeling after throwing up.
After these efforts and a lot of self-restraint on exercising, I gained back some of my weight again and after 2.5 years of not having a period, it finally came in 2018! I did it!
I was so proud of myself.
What helped me in my own Recovery:
1. Be brave and admit your disorder
This is the very first step to recover. It's terrible trying to admit this but YOU HAVE TO, and to 1-2 people whom you're comfortable with so they can provide the support that you need and to make sure you're doing all right.
Go out more often with them and have delicious foods.
I was bawling when I told my boyfriend. But turns out, he was supportive of me and agreed that I was way too skinny.
He actually liked me at my usual weight so I was overthinking so much about myself! Even if he didn't think that way, taking care of my health would be my priority.
2. "Extremes are easy, balance takes practice"
I love this quote so much that it has saved my life. I have to credit it to someone I found online who offered me her tips to help me recover from this dark place (thank you A).
It's actually easier to lose weight, gain weight but harder to maintain. I also realised that this can be applied to many aspects of life. We often think that to have more of something is better, but that’s not the case with all things.
Balance is what we should practice mindfully and we have a larger purpose on Earth.
3. Give back to the community
God has been a huge part of my journey. I realised he has been with me every step of the way. I am so grateful of my functioning body, when others don't even have such privilege.
Instead of focusing on yourself, try to give back to others. Life doesn't just revolve around you and your looks! There's so much more to life than that.
I spent time volunteering at an old folks home and brought me immense joy to help these lonely folks, when no one is there to keep them company.
This hymn has helped me a lot, especially when I was in a dark place. It brought me a lot of comfort. My favourite part is "Our worth is not in what we own or how we think we should look.
We'll eventually lose our physical youth but what's left of us is energy – using our gifts, skills and values to add value to others."
3. Start LOVING your body, rather than finding more "flaws" with it
The media is always here to criticise and scrutinise our looks and make us feel inadequate with superficial trends. Your relatives or family members may judge or comment about how we look, but we need to learn to IGNORE.
'Unfollow' those on social media whom are not "sparking joy" in you or make you feel horrible about yourself (unrealistic long slim legs, ripped abs etc.)
Our belly rolls, bloated tummy, moles, stretch marks and flab on anywhere that you can't tone.. learn to love them. These are what makes you unique and your happiness will not come from having a nice flat tummy.
You may be obsessing on other areas if you've obtained that.
While negative thoughts on my own body may always lurk somewhere at the back of my mind, I will try to catch myself and ignore them.
4. Seek support from your loved ones and professional help.
If you are experiencing disordered eating, just know that you are not alone! Confide with a trusted friend, go out, have fun... and forget about your barriers or fear foods.
Also, seek help from professionals to assess your health condition, and keep track of your progress and stay accountable too. Don't let your disorder define or even rule your life.
We have to learn to stay adaptable to situations that you can't control.
It’s a never-ending journey to learning more about health. We need social support which I feel is a big gap in Singapore and not many people talk about it!
You know your body and what’s best for you, true health comes from inside out. Love yourself and go conquer this and take your power back with a huge smile.
I'm here to support and be your cheerleader!
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!