Please be advised that I don’t recommend you read this if easily triggered. While I have tried to make it as least triggering as possible, it may still contain disturbing content. Trigger warning ahead.
Eating disorder help resources can be found here.
We were in South Africa – Cape Town, to be specific – back home visiting our family. You see, we’re a South African family and the majority still live there which will explain a lot further down the line. All throughout our trip, I became increasingly fixated on my body image and my weight. By this point, I had already suffered with my eating disorder to a very large extent. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had struggled with an eating disorder for most of my life Though, I wouldn’t admit it. I thought my behaviours were just oddities – just odd things about me hat were actually commonplace. Only they weren’t. Not eating for hours and hours on end is not normal, not when you’re doing it on purpose. Shaking with thee fear of people seeing me eat at school was not normal. But, I suppose I was in denial that anything was wrong, as I had already been in pain for years.
I hate being asked when my eating disorder started, because I can’t remember that far back. It’s something the professionals love to ask – “when did it start?” or “how long have you felt this way?” I can’t remember. The earliest I can remember is being about eight, in my room at night, telling myself; “if you eat two naartjies (that’s the Afrikaans word for oranges) and do 50 jumping jacks, you’ll lose weight.” That’s the first of it that I can remember. To be honest, I don’t think a lot of people like to think about that. I think that certain people might think that I fabricated that piece of information for some kind of attention, but I didn’t. I promise you that. I know that it sounds sad, but I don’t feel it is. I just feel like I’ve always been this way mentally, even if I haven’t always been the ideal fit of showing the physical symptoms. I don’t know what to tell you – it’s just something that I’ve dealt with.
Back when we were in South Africa, my eating disorder built and built. I was still eating – but I didn’t want to, and it wasn’t without a heaping of guilt every single time. I can remember that I convinced my Mom to buy us a juicer when we got back to the U.K. because I claimed to want to be able to make my own smoothies in the morning. However, she didn’t know that I was actually planning on fasting and only drinking juices to lose weight. She got really mad when I started to refuse meals, and I think there was a part of her that knew something wasn’t right, but she assumed that it was just a period of time that I was going through. It wasn’t – and I do think a part of her knew this. Years before, I had gone through days of trying to restrict my diet and trying to do little methods of ‘losing weight’ which are really just myths.
When we did get back to the U.K., my Mom agreed for me to have a gym membership as long as I was going to the gym with her and doing it the ‘right way’. She knew that I wanted to lose weight and ‘get into shape’ and, like the good mother she is, she decided to support me rather than make me do it by myself. She didn’t think I had to, but she knew that, if she tried to stop me, I would do it anyway. So, when we got back, we set up a gym membership for us both. I went back to college, she went back to work, but I had the renewed fixation on losing weight.
Now this was another thing that didn’t seem too out of the ordinary – I was – and still am – young, I was trying to figure out who I was (I’m still doing that, too), but wanting to lose weight obviously wasn’t unheard of. It was something that a lot of people my age were doing – they were going to gym, either to tone up or lose weight, and I just felt like it was my time to follow the trend and do what everybody else was. I thought my body was wrong. Admittedly, I still think my body is wrong, but that’s part of the reason that I’m writing this – to share my thoughts and my journey thus far.
We started going to exercise classes and working out in the gym a few times a week and I felt so much better for it. I don’t know whether it was actually because of endorphins being released or because I was fuelling my eating disorder, but I convinced myself that I felt better after working out. A part of me knew that it was because I knew I had burnt off some energy, and so I wasn’t being as hard on myself as I would’ve been if I hadn’t exercised. I used to say ‘I feel so much better now’ and ‘I actually enjoyed that’ but, really? Who was I kidding. You want to know what sports I enjoy? Swimming, horse riding, cycling outside. Not running on a treadmill staring at a monitor playing a silent television program.
I was never bad at physical education in high school – I was actually pretty good, if I do say so myself. There was one time where I dislocated my finger during a match of dodgeball, shrugged it off, and continued to play to try to win. My finger was purple by the end of the match, but I grinned and took it. But, that being said, I’ve never been a fan of competitive sport just for the sake of it. I’ve never been one of those people that thrived off of exercising. Instead, it felt like something I just had to do. I wanted to burn off what I was eating, and I so desperately wanted to see the results of losing weight, that I somewhat forced myself to make exercising an obsession.
A part of me can’t believe that I’m writing this, because it seemed normal at the time. It seemed like the right thing to do – it seemed like the thing that I had to do, no choice about it. Looking back, it was ridiculous. The first gym session we had, I almost fainted because I went too hard on the stationary bike. I was sweating, I was exhausted, and I was getting delirious because I wasn’t drinking enough. Then, my Mom and I decided to go to a boxercise ‘beginners’ class as it was recommended by somebody at the gym itself. I cannot begin to tell you just how much it should not have been classed as a ‘beginners’ class. Please, never go to a boxercise class if you’re not used to going to the gym. I could hardly get through the warm up, let alone partake in the rest of the class. It was ridiculous! It’s hilarious looking back now, and I just remember making eye contact with my Mom during the class and trying to shoot her signals of distress. Ideally, that should’ve been my first hint that maybe the gym wasn’t for me.
I loved swimming though, I love to swim. It must be my South African heritage or something because I’m definitely a fan of the water. The pool plus the sauna? It was therapeutic, and I hope to be able to go swimming again one day and experience that without feeling like I need to push myself to dizziness. But even that makes me stop and think; am I saying that because I really want to, or because I just want to work out? Eating disorders make you second guess everything about yourself.
Admittedly, with all the exercising, the weight did start coming off, and coming off pretty quickly. I thrived off of seeing the numbers on the scale go down and I looked forward to weighing myself every week, trying to see if I could lose more than I did the last week. If I did, I felt a sense of euphoria. If I didn’t, I would tell myself I wasn’t trying hard enough.
As the weight contained to fall off of me, my Mom decided that something was wrong. I was becoming too fixated on the numbers, I was restricting my intake every day, and I was having panic attacks about eating. She knew that something wasn’t right and I think it probably scared her to see me free falling into an eating disorder. We went to the gym a few more times, but it died off. We were too busy, my Mom didn’t have the energy to go to the gym after a full day’s work and I didn’t have the energy after college and not eating all day. Going to the gym faded out of focus, and we eventually cancelled our membership because it was just money going down the drain. Did that mean that I stopped working out or stopped caring about burning off energy? Not at all – not in the slightest. I would work out at home, trying to burn off the calories that I thought I was eating (when I didn’t really have anything to burn off) and everyday the guilt of not exercising heightened.
Though, now my Mom was wary that something was wrong, but I still didn’t think I had a problem. To be clear with you, I still don’t.
More To Come