TW: mentions unhealthy weight loss, dieting and eating disorders.
When I started high school, I struggled with an eating disorder. For me, my self-confidence was at its lowest, and I felt a sense of accomplishment when I skipped a meal or lost a few pounds. My weight dipped significantly, and when no one noticed, I thought it was my sign to keep going. Meals were torturous, and I squirmed at the thought of gaining weight. My eating disorder became my life. And I know I’m not the only one.
According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, 42% of girls in grades 1-3 want to be thinner. Along with this, 81% of ten-year-old children are afraid of being fat, and 46% of children ages 9-11 years old have been on diets either “sometimes” or “very often.” Eating disorders are one of the deadliest mental illnesses out there, and the more we understand them, the better we can prevent them.
My personal experience has been with anorexia. And while there are many different eating disorders- I’ve rounded up some harrowing realities of living with an eating disorder based on my personal experience.
When an eating disorder takes over your life, so does food. In my experience, my obsession was avoiding it at all costs. When I had to have a meal, I would obsess over the food in front of me. I had lists upon lists of foods I could and couldn’t eat. And I knew how many calories were in random foods to categorise them into “good” and “bad”. I remember feeling a sense of pride around my eating disorder. I felt accomplished when I skipped a meal and felt guilty when I ate something substantial. And when I ate more than I wanted to, I would punish myself all over again and obsess even more.
Inspiration to be thin (or “thinspiration”) was everywhere I looked. From skinny models on billboards to celebrities on social media, it was hard to ignore the unrealistic beauty standard set for me. Sometimes I would go out of my way to find this “thinspiration,” but often, I didn’t have to go looking for it. Even watching TV triggered my eating disorder. A study conducted in Fiji during the 1990s found that the introduction of television led to low self-esteem and eating disorders in teen girls. These issues were previously unheard of in Fiji. This shows that media matters. And despite some improvements in body positivity, there is still a long, long way to go.
This one is not only true for eating disorders but many mental illnesses as well. With any problem, there is always someone who has it “worse.” This can make our struggles feel unimportant and invalidate our experience. And eating disorders are no exception. Years ago, I told myself, “I can’t have it that bad if there are others worse off than me.” I focussed on the fact that other women with eating disorders weighed less than I did, and therefore, I wasn’t bad enough. In reality, my eating disorder didn’t need to be “bad enough” to be a problem. After all, there is no one way to suffer.
This was the most challenging part of my experience. When I ate, I tried to eat in private to avoid discomfort. And when I had to eat in a group, I felt disconnected because I was obsessed with food. It wasn’t easy to be present in social situations when I had a secret at the forefront of my mind. I didn’t want others to know about my struggles. Because despite wanting help, I didn’t want to change. I felt in control when I restricted my eating, and I was terrified of losing control.
It’s been years since I had an eating disorder. And despite developing a healthier relationship with food, I sometimes find myself slipping into the same toxic mindset. To an extent, fitness saved me. I realised it was possible to be confident in myself, be healthy and get stronger at the same time. When I started working out, I built my appetite and felt stronger. My energy skyrocketed, and so did my self-confidence. I realised getting better was worth it, so I committed to myself.
It’s sometimes challenging to work in the fitness industry, where dieting and calorie-counting are standard practices. But I’ve found my own way of monitoring my progress. If I’m happy with myself, that’s progress. Not being a slave to my eating disorder is progress. And to the Young Alphas currently struggling with their self-confidence- I promise, it does get better. Progress can be slow, but after all, progress is progress.
To read more about mental health, check out this article on What It’s Like to Live With Borderline Personality Disorder and click here for more resources.