Trigger warning : This blog explores eating disorders in depth and the writer’s 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. Nevertheless, 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 reach out to Freed connect –
My fixation on my body shape began young with the media and people around me reminding me of the perfect ideal of a thin body and telling me there was something different and wrong about my larger body. It started in my teenage years, crept up on me in my early 20s. I remember writing in my diary for pages and pages at no end, about the discomfort I felt with my body, a discomfort which has now become a constant companion. I don’t know for sure where these thoughts came to find a house in my heart and head, but I can attribute it to some things. I know that constant comments about my weight gain from those close to me was a starting point. Watching films and TV shows filled with what the media prescribes as the ideal body for a girl, a fair thin hairless one made me aspire to attain that body. The absence of representation of all kinds of bodies made me believe that there was something inherently wrong with my body as it existed. I still chase this constant feeling that the body I have isn’t right and would only rightfully be loved and cherished once I lose weight and fit into the “perfect body”. As a teenager I did not have the sensibility to not let social media and my loved one’s comments get to me on a deeper level especially when it was always around me. The media combined with comments from loved one’s made me wonder if I had less willpower or was just lazy as I had been told several times.
That is when I decided to take matters into my own hands and gain control. I started using an app to count calories and it was a slippery slope towards a disastrously unhealthy relationship with food. I was 16 when I was obsessed with counting calories. I lost a lot of weight by eating way too little for a growing teenager and overexercising. That was when I received compliments for losing weight and looking so much better now. This only encouraged me to continue weight loss efforts, even if they were not conducive to my overall well being including my mental health. This period of weight loss was followed by weight cycling and Yo-Yo dieting. This was when I would lose and gain weight using different means, sometimes calorie counting, sometimes not eating at all for days, embarking on fad diets and overexercising. I saw that those around me were unknowingly encouraging such behaviours by telling me that losing weight was the ultimate goal and practically nothing else mattered as much. In fact, losing weight had become my primary goal.
However the years of restriction, demonising food, disconnection from my body and psychological deprivation then turned into Binge Eating Disorder, as the mental health community would call it. I can recall this pattern of binge eating and the distress beginning when I was 20 years old. On most days I would binge on a large amount of food in a short period of time, often feeling like I had no control over the impulse and amount of food I ate and consequently felt shame and guilt as a result of the binge. After most of these instances I would tell myself that I would not eat for days or skip meals as a means to restrict. The restriction would feed into the binges and the binges into the restrictive eating pattern.
I didn’t know then that my behaviour was an eating disorder, was shared by many others and that it was in fact causing me a lot of distress. Subsequently, I gained a lot of weight over the years, way more than I had lost from before. When the Pandemic hit, things definitely became worse, more hoarding of food, more weight gain than I had seen before. Being at my heaviest, I felt terrified to go back home, anticipating comments about my weight gain. I was even afraid for days to meet my best friend even though I knew she wouldn’t judge me at all.
I know it all seems contradictory but while I ate a lot of food in my binges, I very deeply cared and worried about my weight. In fact the preoccupation with the weight is what kept the eating pattern going as the binges and restrictive periods both fed into each other. At the age of 24, I hadn’t until 6 months back heard about Binge Eating Disorder. Culturally, in the average Indian household it was never spoken about or even known. I knew I had a troubled relationship with food, I just didn’t know what it was.
One night, curious about my behaviour I ended up on the internet with lots of late night reading over the course of the night. Over the next week I found myself reading accounts of others who felt this way and scientific work which articulated not only my behaviour but also how I had felt over the last four to five years. This realisation was empowering because I knew I wasn’t crazy or alone, along with being hard and terrifying as I didn’t know how I was going to get help. I navigated through my feelings and sought help from my therapist. I read a Guided Self Help book on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Binge Eating Disorder which had steps to help me figure it out and found multiple resources, all from which I took bits and parts from, which helped me establish a relatively regular eating pattern and also work on my relationship with my body. I tried to listen to myself and take care of my needs to help with the way I feel and the eating pattern. It is work in progress but acknowledging it, seeking help and finding resources definitely were imperative in the journey towards feeling better.
Someone close to me who knew what I was going through once asked me, the world goes through this aspect of body shaming, so why did I react so adversely to it and develop an eating disorder ? ‘It’s a question I have asked myself several times, “why me?” and was very well put by one of the characters on this Netflix show, called Feel Good. Mae, a comic who has had trouble with drugs, mental health and explains her head as a cupboard full of tupperware containers with mismatched lids, asks a similar question to Audrey who is a staff at the rehabilitation facility. Mae asks “ Why do some people need so much help just to exist and other people don’t need any help at all ? ” and Audrey responds by saying that it could be genetics or trauma or a million other things and we can’t know for sure for each person. What Audrey was getting at and what I have recognised is that there could be a plethora of reasons for developing an eating disorder including genetics, gender, media’s portrayal of thinness, past trauma, stress and body shaming. I have also recognised that for me the question of “why me? ” over time lost significance for me because it shifted to “what seems to be troubling me? ” and “what support can I gather or what can I do to move away from the distress? ” . Of course my feelings and the path to feeling better isn’t perfect or even finished in fact and everyone’s journey would be different. I only wish that we as a collective society can move towards a more compassionate space where we are not reduced to the sum total of what other people can visually grasp in half a second and are seen as whole individuals beyond our appearance. A world where we can openly speak about our struggles without shame and give and receive the support we so rightfully deserve.
P.S. : Resources that have helped to cope with my feelings and mental health are seeking therapy, dancing, reaching out to my lovely supportive friends, learning yoga , learning mindfulness, doing a course on and embracing self compassion, openly being able to talk about my struggles (in some spaces where I felt safe) and using this book which is an evidence based method of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – Self Guided Help.