There’s only three weeks left of 2017, and I’m sure many of you are beginning to think of your New Years Resolutions. I’m just going to take a wild guess and say that the majority of people are planning on going on a diet or losing weight. Before you go ahead and do that, I’d like to share with you a story I call ‘The 3 Years of My Life I Lost Trying to be Thin’.
Three years. From 16 to 19, those were supposed to be the best years of my teenage life. But instead of going out with friends and enjoying myself, I was obsessed with shrinking myself. I ate the same ‘safe’ foods everyday. I exercised on the days that I was supposed to. Because God forbid I might blow up into the size of a gigantic killer whale if I had a bite of ice cream or missed one workout.
Fast forward a few months, I had reduced myself down to skin and bones. I was constantly cold. My hair was falling out. It hurt to sit on a wooden chair because my bones were sticking out. None of my old clothes fit so I had to shop in the kid’s section. When I couldn’t find a pair of shorts that wasn’t too big on me, the saleslady told me maybe I just hadn’t hit puberty yet.
Thankfully, I eventually realised that I needed to gain some weight back. But I still had an extremely skewed image of my body in the mirror. I remember thinking I was massive because I didn’t have visible abs anymore. I was never satisfied with my body. Memories of people picking on my size when I was younger haunted me. I was terrified of going back to how I was before.
Guess what happens when you diet down to that extent? Your body fights back. As Geneen Roth so nicely put, “for every diet, there is an equal and opposite binge”. That is exactly what happened to me. Once I had given myself a taste of all the food that had been forbidden for so many years, I went absolutely crazy. At first it was amazing, it felt like I was free again after so long. But then the weight came back rapidly, and so did the self-hatred.
I didn’t understand why I couldn’t stop myself from eating all the junk food. I had done it so easily before for so long, surely I could just go on another diet to lose the weight again? Little did I know, binge eating isn’t about willpower. Your body is constantly trying to keep you alive, of course it will try and get in as much food as possible before another period of starvation begins.
I remember looking at myself in the mirror a month after the binge eating started. I burst into tears because I couldn’t recognise my body. All the thoughts came flooding in: how people used to tell me I was fat as if I didn’t already know it; how I always felt like the bigger friend; how I thought I would never be worthy because of my size. It was like my worst nightmare coming true.
I didn’t want to see anyone because I knew they would comment on my weight gain. For a while I didn’t even want to leave the house because I had felt so ashamed of myself. I hated every part of myself. I felt worthless. Life seemed worthless. The worst part was that no one understood what I was going through. People told me to ‘just eat healthily’, ‘eat like a normal person’ or ‘have some willpower’. It’s not about that.
When a binge happens, you’re suddenly not yourself. Everything becomes a blur. You eat anything and everything you see until you become uncomfortably full. Then you eat some more. The next thing you know, you’ve demolished a whole pint of ice cream, an entire sleeve of biscuits, a jar of nut butter… You feel completely disgusted by yourself. You hate what you’ve done, but you know there was no way you could’ve stopped yourself. You vow to eat better from now on, to never let it happen again. But the binge and diet cycle goes on and on.
Imagine living with all that shame. Hiding your disorder from other people out of fear of judgement. It’s not glamorous. No matter how much you try to explain it, people don’t understand unless they’ve been through it themselves. You end up spending an extortionate amount of money on food to binge on. You hate everything that you’ve become.
Does that diet still sound like a good idea to you? Unless you’re clinically obese, you are probably perfectly fine. Diet culture does a very good job at convincing us that we are too big, that we need to buy this program or a certain product to help us lose weight. That we will feel more confident and be more attractive if we lost those extra pounds. Please take my story as a cautionary tale.
It pains me to look back at old photos of me at my lowest weight. I’m also still struggling with binge eating today. But I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it weren’t for all this. I needed to gain all that weight in order to learn to love myself no matter what. I needed to realise that my worth is not based upon my size nor appearance. That I was born perfect, and so are you.