Grab a snack and get comfortable because this is a long post!
After mentioning having anorexia in my last post, many of you got in touch with me, asking how I recovered or what my story was.
It’s important to highlight just how detrimental this illness is. According to Mayo Clinic, “Anorexia is characterized by a distorted body image, with an unwarranted fear of being overweight.” It is typically more common in women than men, however both genders are susceptible to the illness.
I was lucky enough to recover from this life halting sickness, however, many people who do suffer from anorexia, struggle with it throughout their lifetime.
Society likes to downplay eating disorders, blaming the patient by accusing them of wanting attention and such.
That is not true. Just like any other illness, there is a blend of biological, environmental, and psychological reasons that all play into whether someone will have anorexia in their lifetime. It’s just harder to cure because it is a mental illness, rather than a physical one.
Example: You’re more likely to have asthma if you live in an area with lots of pollution and it runs in your family. Same goes for eating disorders.
When I lived in Pakistan, I did Tae-Kwon-Do, horse riding, and swam so wasn’t as insecure about my body. I was teased for my hair and round face, but usually brushed it off. But, after moving to the States, I went to schools that didn’t offer extracurricular activities and I didn’t know where I could go to get active, so it was hard for me to see my body change from fit to soft.
It also probably didn’t help that almost any time I went to a desi party, aunties would mention how healthy I was, and that I should look like my skinnier family members.
My mom was always an advocate of a healthy lifestyle. She discouraged any diets so it was hard to blatantly diet as a young child. Instead, I would do little things to try to “maintain” my weight. I would throw my lunch away at school everyday, after nibbling enough to sustain myself for the rest of the day. I did 500 sit-ups, jumping jacks, and squats in my room every night. I wore clothes that were way too big for me to try and hide my body shape. To put it simply- I was insecure and unhappy with my weight.
When I began dual enrolling as a senior in high school, I needed a PE credit to graduate so I joined a jogging class. In the beginning, my sole focus was to become more active and increase my stamina. I would eat a pre and post workout snack, usually consisting of a bagel with peanut butter, a banana, and/or yogurt.
As time went on, I began thinking about what I put into my body. Every night, I would be Pinterest-ing 1500 calorie meal plans that would help me lose weight faster. My focus had shifted from being healthy to being skinny. I want to say this is when my anorexia took full effect.
I started dieting and cutting foods out of my diet; foods that were healthy! But because one website said glucose turned into fat, grapes were off my eating list. Eventually, the only foods I was eating were zero fat, zero calorie diet foods and green vegetables. Fruits had too much sugar, and anything containing fat was a no no. I was terrified of going out to eat, and would google menus with their nutrition to see what had the least calories and fat that I could order.
I had become obsessed with what I ate and was so unhappy. Fear had overtaken every aspect of my life. I stopped hanging out with my friends so I wouldn’t have to eat with them. I would go to class, go to work, and go home. I would eat two meals a day, usually a green smoothie that was watered down to have more volume for breakfast and a salad with fat free dressing for dinner.
I lost about 60-70 lbs in a span of six months. I weighed less than the 6 year old child I nannied and I still didn’t think I was skinny enough.
It wasn’t until my mom and her sister cornered me one day and told me enough was enough. The next morning, I was taken to the doctor where I was told my kidney and liver would shut down within a month if I didn’t immediately gain 10 lbs.
The thing about anorexia, and being ridiculously underweight, is that your brain becomes so deprived of nutrients that your frontal lobe cannot work properly. That depletes your reasoning skills and causes you to continue acting irrationally. I didn’t care if my organs were failing, I just couldn’t allow myself to gain weight.
Without my mother and family’s constant support and encouragement to eat, and without their unwavering love, I probably would have died. Anorexia debilitates any desire to live because fear becomes so prominent.
I would cry when my mom would place a glass of chocolate ALMOND milk in front of me, but eventually, as I gained more and more weight, my desire to recover grew, and I taught myself to enjoy food again. I stopped reading nutrition labels and purposely avoided going to restaurants that displayed calories. I had to make a conscious effort to eat food I used to love and not be scared to gain weight.
My husband is another reason I recovered. It wasn’t because a man approved my eating, but seeing his positive attitude toward food and constant encouragement to just enjoy life was my final step into remission and complete my recovery. I learned to totally let go and just live life.
It took me a few years, but I am no longer afraid of food. I still make efforts not to trigger my anorexia, such as not weighing myself, but I have finally taken control of my life. My attitude toward food and health have also changed. If I eat salads for both lunch and dinner, I make sure to eat a chocolate bar and indulge a little as well. Life is all about being happy and being in balance.
Mental health is extremely important. Commenting on the way someone looks can effect them more than you might intend and we do not know what someone might be struggling with. I encourage everyone to stay positive, enjoy life, and refrain from being critical towards anyone- whether that be the way they look, act, sound, or eat.
I hope this gives you insight on how serious mental illness can be. Life is hard, especially with media highlighting how a man or woman should look, but everyone is beautiful in their own way. My inbox is open for anyone struggling or anyone looking for advice.