Trigger warning : This conversation explores eating disorders in depth and the interviewees experience and how she coped with it. If reading someone else’s experience may not be helpful for you or may trigger you right now please don’t read further. You can always come back to it at another time. If you did read it and felt triggered or have more questions about eating disorders and need support for yourself or a loved one please call Freed Connect 022-35005611
Hello, My name is Harshita MirpurI and I am a 27 year old chef based out of ChennaI Tamil Nadu. I am using this platform to understand Eating Disorders better and also to share about my own experience as well.
When did you first learn about Eating disorders? What was it like?
I didn’t know there was something called an Eating disorder until I watched a documentary by Shane Dawson. That is when I simultaneously realised that there was something called an eating disorder and that I was struggling with it.
What makes you want to share your experiences today?
It is still an ongoing battle, I am not completely cured from it. I have not been diagnosed by a professional but based on my own research I think I had bulimia, started with binge eating and was heading toward anorexia. I didn’t know what I was doing and felt scared. I started binge eating and gained weight and as a response to that developed bulimia. I feel like I am going back into binge eating but sharing experiences with my sister has been very helpful. I want more people to know about it and speak about it. I feel like talking about it might help someone else relate to or understand it.
I think talking about it is so important, thanks for doing that. How is your relationship with body image and food?
As a chef, I’m always around food. My relationship with food is ironic because of my job, and I am always surrounded by food. It gets complicated because of my job which is why it becomes even harder for me.
I started binge eating in 12th grade and I was also a stress eater. I started eating to cope with the feelings I was having. My first experience of having an unhealthy relationship with food was during 12th grade board exams, and I gained a lot of weight. That’s when I started college and people commented on my weight. I became conscious and entered a bad relationship with food, and began starving.
There was a time when I read an article. It said that models usually eat food and try to puke it out to get the energy but not put on weight. It was said as a solution so at that time when I read the article which was worded in a very suggestive way, I was very naive and instantly saw I was losing weight which is what I wanted at the time. If I can read something like that and be convinced that I could be healthy with it, I don’t really want other people to believe that. I know now that it was not healthy to do so.
What do you think about mainstream media/societal expectations to look a certain way?
I feel really scared and sad when thinking about people that are conventionally targeted by social media. There is also a misconception that only “ thin ” people suffer from an Eating disorder or body image issues. Which is not the case. Imagine if the media can get through every possible size and shape, imagine the influence they have on us, imagine what they could be telling us. I mean it’s gotten better now especially the content I’m consuming on instagram. People are talking about the importance of consuming whole foods, emphasizing the importance of not cutting out groups of food and having a balanced meal. However , in between it got so bad, people were talking about not just what you should wear, how you should look but what you should eat. Keto got so famous in between but now to think of it, cutting out a whole group of food is having an unhealthy relationship with food. I am not a nutritionist but this sounds alot like having an unhealthy relationship with food and I know it because I can relate to it. Social media and influencers have a lot of influence and should be more responsible about what they’re saying.
If you wanted to explain to someone who doesn’t know anything about Eating disorders, how would you explain your Eating disorder?
I am constantly thinking about eating in a good or bad way. I am constantly craving things, and when I give in I am constantly feeling guilty about why I did that. It’s exhausting. I also want people to understand that Depression, anxiety and Eating disorders are interlinked and can make each other worse. I suffer from anxiety and that triggered my Eating disorder to a point where it got very bad. For those who don’t know much about Eating disorders, don’t just be like you need to have discipline when it comes to food, because it’s not that simple. For someone who doesn’t know what an Eating disorder is, it’s not as simple as being disciplined about your food. It’s a lot more. It’s connected to a lot of other mental issues as well. A person might look at me and be like oh you’re so fit but internally i’m thinking im the most unhealthy person ever. It’s internal. You look at yourself and you can’t see what you truly look like, those lines get blurry.
What do you think are some of the reasons why you developed an Eating Disorder?
I felt like I looked fat , I felt bad and wanted to look a certain way. When I was in 12th grade, everybody including me didn’t find my eating pattern abnormal. I was eating an abnormal amount of food, at abnormal times and for the wrong reasons. At that point, my parents, teachers, friends no one thought it was a problem. We have to acknowledge that nobody was aware of this. Binge eating, even for a 16-17 year old girl is not seen as such a big problem. Any sort of abnormality should have been addressed right then, a professional should have been brought in. Right now in hindsight it’s such a simple answer but at that point of time, it was normal, even for me.
What are your thoughts about Eating disorders being a largely western concept?
It’s not. I mean, how ignorant could you be to think that it is a western concept? It is so common in India for people to comment on people’s weight. Why would you think that doesn’t affect people? Health as a concept itself is hard for people to grasp. When it comes to food, people are like it’s just food. When I put on weight, I had people commenting on my weight, when I lost weight I had people saying why are you dieting? Stop dieting. And everytime I put something in my mouth, even when I was eating when I lost weight I had people snarkily saying how come you’re eating? Aren’t you dieting? You have a comment for every single person at every shape or size so you need to wake up and realize it has an effect on people. I think you’re in denial and escaping by saying depression and Eating disorders are a western concept. You need to wake up.
What do you think has influenced your relationship with your body and food?
I do this thing where I look back at old photos, I think I was fine, why did I think I looked ugly or overweight? The fact that I say that for every single year of my life helped me. Now I’m able to appreciate my body a little more. My sister helped me realize this and it empowers me to enjoy myself in the moment. So my parents don’t know the depth of this disorder but they have been extremely supportive. They give me my space to be and figure this out on my own and also check in every now and then.
What do you think loved ones can do to support people with an ED?
This is a common thing that I read and I think it’s very true- don’t comment on someone’s physical appearance if they can’t change it in 5 seconds. It’s extremely rude, why would you do that? Why would you comment on someone’s clothing, their weight or what they’re eating at that time? It’s none of your business. You don’t know what they’re going through. So that’s a start, whether you know that person personally, don’t talk about their weight. Some family members come from a good place but they should educate themselves about eating disorders. That’s not our job to educate them, because we’re dealing with the impact of it anyway. I would tell family members to hjust process it in their head and then say things. Think about whether you would like to hear this from someone else and only then say it.
What helped you have a better relationship with food?
I was scared of not knowing what I was going through. I told my sister to keep an eye on me, if I am acting fishy after a meal, not eating well. I told her to just ask me what was happening and check in. I told her not to barge into my room, because that would make me hide things from her even more, but to check in with me as to how I am doing. It helped me be accountable. It is helpful to let loved ones know how you’re doing, especially if they live with you.
Did you have any other external support- a therapist, support group?
I recently started seeing a therapist for my anxiety, not necessarily for the Eating disorder but, it does come up there. I know that this is another long journey. The first time I talked about this was with Kamakshi, we talked for about an hour and half and that was the first time I talked to someone outside my circle. I was very nervous to talk about this with a stranger. It was extremely liberating to talk about this, it’s helping me heal as well. We talk about it, there’s more conversations and more people realize that this is happening to everyone- regardless of their size or weight.
What do you think it takes to challenge societal norms about what is “ normal ” and how one should look ?
I think I would be giving you a wrong picture if I said those notions aren’t still stuck in my head. I’m not going to be happy looking at my weighing scale seeing I put one weight. Why do I have to be sad about it? It could be healthy for me. The notion of putting on weight is still scary. I think what helps is, when you see someone demeaning the way they look, call it out- say it’s not nice to do that to yourself. It could lead to a conversation and maybe they’ll stop saying it and that means that they’re saying less negative comments to themselves, and be kind.
In the end I just want to say that you are beautiful, you should eat whatever you want, of course have a healthy relationship with food, nobody should tell you how you should look and what you should eat. You’re on your own path and you will figure it out. If you are able to talk about it, that’s half the battle won.