Trigger Warning: This post touches on my personal experience with self-image issues and an eating disorder
I didn’t always have self-image issues. From the beginning, I knew I was beautiful, like join-and-win-beauty-pageants beautiful. But I was a brainy girl who grew up around a certain kind of people—the kind with something against the mixing of brains and beauty. Or they thought I was ugly and didn’t want me to know. Or they thought I was beautiful—and for some twisted reason, they didn’t want me to know.
Things only worsened in high school and college. When puberty hit, my once-steadfast self-image crumbled under people’s unsolicited opinions of my appearance, the most predominant one being: I needed to lose weight. During my teenage years, my weight ranged from 110 to 130 pounds, with my height at 5’2”. Still, I listened to those opinions; it didn’t matter if they came from a place of ill will or good intention. I starved myself to lose weight. Then, I felt terrible and overate. Then, I purged and exercised and dieted until I could feel my clavicle again. I would get compliments for my “newly improved” body. I flashed smiles and said thanks, but I hated those commenters for enabling my behavior, and even more, I hated myself.
I didn’t know I had a problem. Although I understood Bulimia Nervosa from its portrayal in movies and TV, I didn’t recognize my symptoms. Perhaps, I did but lived in denial about having them. If I hadn’t gone to support groups and counseling for my other mental health issues, if self-image topics didn’t routinely creep into talk therapy, I never would have admitted it—I was, I’ve been a bulimic.
I exhibited all symptoms of Bulimia Nervosa on WebMD except for one. If you or anyone you know has these symptoms, please get help. This eating disorder is potentially life-threatening. I had it for nine years; I haven’t had an awful relapse in another nine. But I still suffer from its effects.
A host of digestive problems stemmed from my bulimic years, the worst one being Barrett’s esophagus, which means I would need to get checked every three years for Esophageal cancer. That, and I can’t have caffeine anymore, which is pretty crippling considering my preferred work hours as a writer.
On top of the long-term physical damage of Bulimia, for so long—I’ve attached too much of my self-worth to how others perceived me. I gained social anxiety deep enough to make me not want to return to my home country, where pointing out someone’s weight gain is somehow “a sign of caring.”
I said, I haven’t had an awful relapse because I still turn to food for comfort; I still straddle the fine line between living healthy and obsessing over weight loss. The good news:
- I haven’t induced myself to vomit in years.
- I’ve been doing my best to stay away from my triggers: boredom, stressful jobs, and people who have nothing better to say.
- I am focusing on what I can control. I may not be able to avoid all my triggers, but my reaction is something I can try to control.
- I’m repairing my relationship with food and my body, being kinder to myself, and feeling less guilt.
- I face Bulimia, along with my other demons, by writing about it.
We all start out beautiful, but life has its way of corrupting how we see ourselves. Healing is remembering and undoing.
There is no clear-cut solution, but the first step is to acknowledge the problem, and the next step is to seek support. If you suspect that you or your loved one has signs of an eating disorder, click this helpful list of hotlines on Bulimia.com.