I am honestly so glad that there exists a week where we can raise awareness for something so serious that so many people go through at some point in their lives. Due to pressure from the media, comparing ourselves to most likely fake lives and altered appearances on social media, as well as society’s idea of beauty among many other factors, it’s all too easy to feel like we aren’t beautiful enough. And unfortunately there exists the idea that skinny = beautiful, and that’s where the problem begins.
My Story with Binge Eating and Bulimia
Until I was about 8 or 9 years old I always wore skirts to school, then after repeatedly getting called “fat” off of the skinny, pretty girls in my year I became so self-conscious and wore trousers to school until I was about 16 years old. Looking back, there was nothing wrong with my weight/legs! I was very tall for my age and always had wide hips and long legs which made me look different from the other more petite girls in my year. My mum, a fitness instructor, always made healthy packed lunches, I did karate and played football and lived a generally healthy life as a kid. I always wondered why I was getting called fat off of the skinny girls who ate junk food and drank fizzy juice at lunch when I always just ate sandwiches and fruit! I think it is just so sad that I was only 8 or 9 years old when I started to feel self conscious about my body. When I looked back at the pictures, I wished I could’ve gone back and told myself that there was nothing wrong with my weight and that I didn’t have to wear trousers to cover my legs. This made me realise something very important: the way you perceive your body and the way others perceive your body are most likely very very different, in the sense that you will have a much more negative view of your body than others will. And I just wish that I had realised that sooner.
When my best friend died of cancer in August 2013 that’s when the binge eating really started. I just ate and ate and ate to feel better, and I would eat so much junk food until I was so full that I felt sick, and I guess I saw it as compensating for the emptiness I felt from losing my friend. I also got very comfortable in my first relationship around this time, and was a size 16 weighing around 13 stone/82kg. At this time I was also wanting to go to uni so I was so dedicated to my studies that I never felt like I had the time to exercise. I much rather preferred to learn languages, draw or watch movies. This lifestyle lasted until I started uni in 2014 at age 16. My weight went down slightly due to the fact I was always going to clubs and societies, and I started to play basketball to up my fitness.
My Experience with Bulimia
When I came back for second year of uni, I weighed 13st again from just eating so much without caring over the holidays. I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety a month later in October 2015 and it was around this time that I became so obsessed with binge eating then purging due to such low self-esteem and poor body image. My 18th birthday was in November and I was panicking about my friends and family thinking I was fat or commenting on my weight, because I wouldn’t have been able to handle any negative comments about it given how low my self-esteem was already. Then when my 18th birthday actually came, I realised how hard it was to enjoy it because I was having to plan when I could go to the toilets alone without anyone getting suspicious. I had about 30 family members with me that day, and I found myself getting so irritated when the time for me to purge was dragging on and on, it was so stressful! It totally consumed me and I just find it so sad that I couldn’t enjoy my birthday because I was so fixated on being sick. In just that month alone I had lost around 10lbs, but I didn’t care because that was how much weight I had put on since May anyway and therefore my family wouldn’t have noticed a difference in my weight. I got so many compliments about my weight, which only made me more determined to keep purging.
Veganism & Bulimia
By March, I had lost almost 3 stone/19kg. I was getting really anxious about people finding out I was bulimic given that I was living a very sedentary lifestyle and hardly leaving my room due to my depression and anxiety. I felt so down that I just kept on carelessly damaging my body: I was smoking around 20 cigarettes a day on top of lots of weed so that I would get the munchies to binge then purge, and I was bordering alcoholism in order to numb myself and to make myself sick again. I was putting my body through so much torment that it didn’t deserve! Because I was feeling so low I looked into the vegan diet/lifestyle and wanted to gain back a good relationship with food. So I tried out veganism in March, but because I never gave myself a proper transition period, this caused me to break it and then binge out of guilt and disgust. I began to associate anything non-vegan as a “bad food” that would make me put on weight. I had lost at least 3 stone in just 5 months and people were shocked to see how much weight I had lost. The idea of anyone knowing I was bulimic made me so anxious, so it seemed like perfect timing to try out veganism in March and people never seemed to question it otherwise.
Health Effects of Bulimia
I was constantly exhausted, I had to nap at least twice a day, I always had to plan my day around when I could eat then purge, and this caused me such a great deal of stress and made me unbearable to be around. My throat always felt like it was burning, and my eyes and cheeks looked so swollen and puffy. The skin around my eyes was so grey and my face was so pale, I looked so ill. I also found out that I had gum disease and my teeth got really yellow from constantly making myself sick. There was absolutely no benefit to bulimia, the cons far outweighed the pros! Even if losing weight was seen as a pro, it was such an unhealthy way to lose the weight that it just wasn’t worth it. When I moved back home in May, my mum was onto me and always made sure I was eating and not going to the toilet straight afterwards. Not being able to purge made me lash out a lot and it was so so difficult, but I’m so thankful that she was doing that for me because it made me commit more to being vegan and I finally got a good relationship with food altogether.
Almost a year after I started my journey to recovering from bulimia, I went to Italy during my year out from university (which I took due to poor mental health). I worked as an au pair for a very traditional family in the Italian countryside, who didn’t understand veganism, who didn’t understand why I refused to wear make-up although my face was red and, most importantly, who couldn’t understand why I was “fat” and vegan. So around a month after constantly being given negative comments about my appearance (mostly about my face and weight), I relapsed and was sick one night after several Italian women telling me to go easy on the polenta because it would make me fatter… But this time I didn’t get the “cleansed” feeling purging brought me, I instead felt ashamed and disgusted with myself that I had given into their negative comments and thus let them win. I haven’t purged since. The next morning, I took a shower and I remember looking at myself. I suddenly, for the first time in years, felt this big wave of happiness and love upon looking at myself in the mirror. I then burst into laughter and then tears, crying then laughing hysterically. That was probably the most pivotal moment in my journey towards self-love. I looked at my red face and smiled, I smiled upon looking at all my blemishes, acne scars, freckles… I looked further down and smiled at my curvy figure, my soft skin, the dimples on my thighs. It had taken me 19 long years to finally look in the mirror and not be filled with so much self-loathing. Instead of pointing out what I didn’t like about my body, I finally saw what I did like. I then took a picture (I rarely take pictures of myself) to celebrate.
Working Towards Positive Body Image
Looking back at that photo, I am far from feeling how I did when looking in the mirror nowadays. After a horrible semester abroad in France where my diet consisted of starving some days, binge eating on others, and eating pastries and breads from bakery bins due to having hardly any money, I’m almost the same weight I was before I suffered from bulimia. And although I’ve thought about resorting to my old ways as a means of losing weight, it really just isn’t worth it and I would rather weigh more and be healthier than weigh less and have a bad relationship with food again. Although that part of my life was basically rock-bottom, it taught me many things:
1: You are SO much more than your appearance!
We live in a society where we are judged automatically and unintentionally by how we look, it’s how first impressions are made. But how we look is only secondary and, in the grand scheme of things, really doesn’t matter! There’s nothing wrong with taking pride in your appearance, but there’s nothing wrong with indulging in certain foods and feeling guilt-free! The older I get the more I realise how short life is, and I feel kind of annoyed at myself for spending so many years hating my body, when it is all you have: hating your body won’t give you a new one, and the more you feed yourself negativity instead of love, the more you’re going to believe it. Try to think of at least one thing you like about yourself, whether it’s about your appearance or your personality or a life achievement, and give gratitude for it every single day and you’ll discover more and more amazing things about yourself. What I once used to see as flaws (i.e my red face/freckles) I actually embrace now and I see it as making me unique, and unique is beautiful!
2: You don’t have to be skinny to have an eating disorder
Whenever I heard of eating disorders, I always thought of being dangerously underweight. But, like mental illness, eating disorders can also be invisible. A classic example is my doctor: when I told him I was suffering from bulimia and wanted to be referred to a clinic, he looked at me a bit confused and sighed while reaching for a sheet of paper and then asking me to step on the scales. It was like he didn’t believe me. Eating disorders aren’t just anorexia, even as a bulimic I was never “too skinny”, I had just lost too much weight over a short period of time. I went from being really curvy and having big legs to having a thigh gap in just 3 months…
3. The people you are comparing yourself to on social media aren’t perfect either!
As you’ve most probably heard before, nobody is perfect! Everybody has their hangups, things that they’d rather change, and a lot of people on social media only like to show the good going on in their lives instead of the bad. “Influencers” will show what their version of the perfect life is, even though it isn’t even like that for them in reality! With countless apps that alter your body and face to get it to look how you want to look, it’s hard to tell what’s real and what isn’t. And the majority of the time, it isn’t. So before you compare yourself to the pretty girl with a so-called “bikini body” laying on a beach, or the guy with huge muscles, just ask yourself “is it really worth comparing myself to them?” Instead on focusing on what you don’t have, it’s time to appreciate what you do have. So-called flaws and imperfections are beautiful, they are what make all 8 billion of us on this planet amazing and unique! We’ve just been brainwashed by society/media/social media to think that cellulite, scars, pimples, fat rolls, skin blemishes etc. are unnatural, but they are a part of life! You’re constantly told to cover this and hide that, to make something bigger or smaller to look a certain way, but the only people who ever benefit from altering these things are just the companies you pay money to.
So whether you’ve suffered from an eating disorder or poor body image, or have thought about it, or have generally fallen victim to societal pressures, let me just remind you of this: your weight does not define you, the lower or higher a number on a scale does not equate to how well you are going to do in life or how beautiful or worthy you are, your beauty comes from within and your achievements come from how amazing a person you are! The bodies we are in are all that we have, in the sense that they literally carry us through life,so it is important that we give them as much care and love and nourishment as possible, although it can be incredibly hard at times. Eating disorders affect such a large number of people, and it’s not at all easy to overcome them overnight. They can take weeks, months, years to overcome. But it is a journey to be embraced, and the universe only gives us what we can handle, and so it’ll only makes us stronger in the end.
If anybody is still suffering from an eating disorder, whether it’s anorexia, bulimia, binge eating etc., I just want to remind you that you are beautiful no matter your weight! Like everything in life, this is only temporary, and some day in the future you will look back and feel so incredibly proud of yourself for overcoming something so incredibly difficult. Even if you relapse, please don’t be too hard on yourself: you’re doing amazing and each day you are working towards loving yourself and your body more and more. If you ever feel alone, just remember that you are never alone and there is help out there if you are looking for it. A website that really helped me is https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/
I know that it’s incredibly difficult, exhausting and frustrating at times, but we are so capable of overcoming any obstacles, and I am so grateful that we live in a community where we can share ideas and experiences which will help each other grow. If anybody would like to talk about their experience with someone who has been there before, please feel free to message me on my instagram: @hippie.ki.yay