Writing by T // Photograph by Resa Rot
Before I was a teenager, I didn’t care about my appearance too much. I loved being active and playing outside and I had lots of friends who loved me for the funny, honest, and self-confident person I was. That changed really quickly when I was 14, and I’m sure a lot of you can relate to this. I started to become interested in fashion and make-up and suddenly all I noticed was how skinny my girlfriends were and how pretty their faces were compared to mine. Sometimes we would buy the same clothes and all I would think about was how ugly I must look compared to them. I always saw myself as the ugly friend. I have never been overweight, not at all, but the continuous comparison to other people just made me hate everything about me. I hated my short legs and my big nose and started to spread the self-hate towards my parents, who I blamed for the “bad genes”. Looking back at my behaviour now, I do not only feel ashamed but also so very deeply sorry for all the suffering I caused my parents.
It all started with me going on diets all the time because 14 year old me thought that losing weight would make me look exactly like my friends. I didn’t want to accept the fact that everyone is different and that there are plenty of different body types. At some point, I was so afraid of gaining weight that I would even avoid most fruits because they had “too many calories”. I deprived my body of all the nutrients it needed which made me very weak, sensitive, and even more cranky. But of course I never admitted that to anyone– I kept pretending to live a healthy lifestyle, when all I cared about was my appearance and the gap between my thighs. I had lost quite a bunch of weight but never reached the point where I was underweight. And this is exactly what I think is very dangerous: you don’t have to be excessively skinny or overweight to have an eating disorder; there are plenty of people who are at a normal, healthy weight and STILL struggle with their eating behaviour. But as society makes it look like you have to personify one of the extremes, I kept telling myself that I still looked healthy so everything must be normal.
When I was 17, I moved to Canada and everything changed, but not for the better. I had deprived my body of everything it needed for so long, I had not eaten my favourite foods in ages, and I was sick of eating the same stuff all the time. This is when I started to binge. The combination of all the good foods I had never seen in my home country before and my newly gained friends who loved to eat and go out for burgers and pizza made my eating behaviour change for the worse. I ate MASSIVE amounts of food within a short period of time, which– of course– made me feel really bad about myself and resulted in a very strict diet to “punish” myself for eating so much. The strict diet then resulted in binging, feeling bad about the binge and eating even more to make myself feel better. It was a vicious circle that I for so long did not admit to be stuck in. Every time I binged, I would tell myself that “it’s totally normal to eat a little more every once in awhile” and that it’s just a “cheat day” that I’ll make up for tomorrow. When I moved back to Germany just a year later, things got even worse. I would diet from Monday until Thursday and then go on a binge all weekend. I wouldn’t even go out anymore because I would eat so much during the day that I felt too sick and full to even leave my room. None of my friends noticed and I didn’t tell anyone. I felt alone, depressed, and helpless. It went on like that for more than a year to the point where I had gained almost 15 pounds and spent all my time in my room instead of going out with friends.
I don’t know when it happened, but at one point, while I was snuggled up in bed crying, I realized that something HAD to change. I was just a 19 year old girl and I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life suffering from an eating disorder. I had so many dreams and plans for the future; I didn’t want my unhealthy eating habit to dictate my life. I started to read books and watch videos about people who had dealt with similar problems and shared their experiences and what had worked for them. I am aware of the fact that the things that helped me fight my eating disorder will not work for everyone but I’m sure it’ll help at least some of you.
- Eat regularly and do not skip breakfast! This really helped me reduce my cravings as I was filling my body up with all the nutrients it needed. Your body needs fuel to function. Don’t see food as an enemy. Eat the right foods and your body will thank you.
- Do not ban all unhealthy foods from your diet! I used to be really afraid of all the “treats” because these were the foods I would binge on all the time. I’m still very careful with things I see as treats, as these are the foods you are most likely to binge on. But if your diet is too restrictive, a binge is even more likely to happen. It’s fine to indulge every once in awhile, just make sure you’re aware of how much you’re eating.
- Don’t give up! On your way to recovery, you will most likely binge a couple times, as it is a habit that is hard to change. Don’t be discouraged, this will only make it more likely for you to fall back into your old eating pattern. Think of all the little things you’ve already accomplished and be proud of yourself! Be kind to yourself, nobody is perfect and mistakes will happen.
- Be patient! Changes won’t happen overnight. You can not expect to “get rid of” your eating disorder or completely change your eating habits within a week. Like it says, it’s a HABIT and changing it takes time, energy, and a strong will. There are times where I feel like absolute shit, where I hate everything about myself and feel like giving up. This is completely fine, as long as you stay strong. Be patient, but consistent.
- Surround yourself with positive people! People who lift you up and support you in everything you do is what you need! If you are surrounded by people who are only focused on appearance instead of character, it will only make it more difficult for you to love yourself. Be around people who spread positive vibes!
Final words: DON’T COMPARE YOURSELF TO OTHERS. NEVER. This is, in my opinion, the most important thing to remember and it is also what helped me find true happiness. You are beautiful the way you are, as cheesy as it sounds. If you spend your whole life picking out your flaws you will NEVER EVER be happy with yourself. Love and care for your body and you’ll be surprised at how much a positive mental attitude can change. I’ll end this article with my favourite quote: “You are so used to your features, you don’t know how beautiful you look to a stranger”.[share]