Opinion: Living with and understanding my anorexia

The smells, sounds, and textures of food, or even the idea of eating, sometimes cause me a great deal of anxiety.

Never mind the anxiety one gets when other people ask “Why don’t you just eat?” as if the choice was that simple.

Watching someone scoff down food makes me jealous and distressed. It makes my eating disorder come roaring back.

Over the years, I have developed an intense fear of gaining weight. The voice in my head is filled with questions like, “How do people enjoy high-calorie food?” 

I only realized that I had an unhealthy eating disorder when my body began to become physically ill. It’s a daily struggle. Sometimes I even wake up with aches and pain from the lack of nutrition in my body.  

But my mind tells me that I should exercise instead of eating more. 

After going through several doctor examinations, I learned that I misunderstood this type of anorexia, one portrayed in the media as the state of being severely underweight. I would imagine a skeleton-like person who binge-eats and then purges the calories they just consumed moments before. 

But it’s not this black and white. 

A destructive routine

I sleep with anxiety counting how many calories I would limit the next day and wake up establishing exercise time to follow.

I engage in excessive exercise and do not consume food unless it’s necessary. By “necessary”, it’s only when I come across gastrointestinal problems. I am simply not trying to lose weight, on the contrary I am trying not to gain weight.  

The thought of missing even one daily workout triggers me. When I fail to do so, I feel like I’m losing control of my life and become a loser in my late 20s.

I often have a distorted image of my body being fat when virtually my body mass index (BMI) is below average. I have no fat to lose but bone.

Tanaphong Uthayaratana, a psychologist who has provided support to people with eating disorders told me, “Some recipients have confronted a traumatic experience in life, or just have a distorted perception of food and body shape.”. 

“We work together with a psychiatrist for treatment to help them deal with challenges of their mind in a proper way,” he said.

Thanaphong added that people with anorexia tie their worth to their weight or shape. The sooner they can let go of negative perceptions, they can overcome the fear of eating.

A mental disorder

Anorexia is frequently misunderstood as a desire to be extremely thin with an overemphasis on beauty. The condition is often mistreated or totally ignored due to its complexity.

It’s ultimately a serious mental health illness. People with this disorder tend to continuously restrict their food intake to below the norm, and it all starts with the mind.

People attempt to encourage or force me to eat more which elevates the shame and guilt I feel from pleasure or satisfaction drawn from eating.

If I have any enjoyment with food, I would struggle with overwhelming emotions. I would suffer from sadness, confusion, grief and anger over a day.

Social Media Triggers Eating Disorder Thoughts

Most of us are struggling with the pressure to match what’s portrayed in mainstream media.  

Social media also presents unrealistic beauty standards, idealizing women to be curvaceously thin and ideal men to be tall, lean, and muscular. 

I noticed that I had begun to create a negative attitude towards my body image as I kept scrolling through my various feeds.

People present the best version of themselves with confidence, or even shape their real size body with applications that distort and alter their body shape on the screen. 

I was conditioned with the idea that I needed to be thin and fit to be seen as normal. 

And this deeply rooted impulse made it harder for me to recover from an eating disorder. “Something’s wrong with me,” I would think.

At a certain point, I decided to get liposuction to improve my body even though my BMI is below 16.5 which is under the average BMI between 18.5 and 24.9. 

Yet after the procedure was finished, I still felt no different.

Confronting eating attitudes

My happiness and sadness relies on how much I eat daily. It’s difficult to recover from it alone as I am fighting against my own thoughts.

Having open discussions with someone helps me to cope with my symptoms in an accepting way. 

It also helps when people begin to understand me. It’s important for them to know that I don’t have a relationship with food in the same way as they do. It gives me freedom to accept myself and helps me to conquer my fear.

Most people would think I am overreacting to my looks or calorie counting, but to me, it’s a serious mental health problem which has developed into a physical illness.

Everyone’s experience of an eating disorder is unique. So, it’s extremely important to encourage those who are struggling to seek professional health and slowly learn about challenges through their real life stories. 

For me, it’s been an exhausting process. But I am improving day by day. And knowing that I’m getting better is for now, enough for me.

Sharing my story, I hope others who go through the physical and mental anguish reach out and find the help they need.

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