Trigger warning: This post includes a personal account of eating disorders. It may be distressing to some readers.
I grew up overweight on Queensland’s infamous Gold Coast, the unofficial capital of tiny, tanned bodies — where plastic surgery is widely accepted as borderline necessary and everyone is chasing the perfect body. I was nearly six feet tall by the time I finished high school and my strong Germanic genes means I am all broad shoulders, big feet and muscly legs. There was no hiding from the school yard insults where being called a “huge bitch” by people I didn’t even know was pretty much a daily occurrence.
I am almost certain that my mother had an eating disorder when I was a child and likely some degree of body dysmorphia. She was a similar build to me but never worked out, rarely ate and maintained a single digit dress size for most of my childhood.
She never tried to force her eating habits (or lack thereof) on to my sister and I, however she did constantly point out much larger women than her and ask us if she was as big as them. We’d always reply ‘no’, whether they were or not, which was quickly met with a relieved, “Thank goodness!”. Looking back at this now I realise that I will forever feel guilty for being larger than a size 10 and that I too will ask the same question from time to time.
I struggled with my weight throughout my teens and picked up a hefty drinking problem when I was 16. Alcohol made me more confident, or so I thought. I could hang out with my friends without worrying about what someone was thinking of my thighs, stomach and double chin. Of course with excess drinking comes even more weight gain. I weighed nearly 100kg by the time I graduated high school.
The day I turned 18 my friends and I attended a bunch of Gold Coast nightclubs and I realised I desperately wanted to change. I coveted the bodies of the skinny girls dancing in the crowd, the tiny legs precariously held up by towering stilettos, the small waists, the tight bandage dresses with not a lump in sight. I started smoking, switched to a “vegan” diet — which eliminated everything except celery sticks, vegetable minestrone and protein shakes — and the weight started falling off.
This is where things started to get scary.
With my overnight weight loss came massive praise and encouragement from my friends and family. I started working out 3-4 hours a day, drinking only water from 8am-6pm and then when my stomach was in knots late at night I’d eat a banana or two. “I wish I had your willpower and discipline,” my friends would say. “You look amazing, keep it up!”, my family would tell me. No one really asked how I was losing the weight and if they did I’d simply say it must be the vegan diet and all the jogging I was doing. I religiously journaled my calorie intake every day via a phone app and quickly went from a reasonable intake to a radically reduced amount. Funnily enough when I’d close the program every evening after logging my calories my phone was the only thing giving me health warnings and informing me that my diet and exercise regime was extremely dangerous.
Once I had lost a few kilos I quickly became addicted, I started researching ways to lower my calorie intake and became comforted by the feeling of an empty, burning stomach. There were times where I’d break and eat 3 or 4 sandwiches in one sitting and then spend the next hour crying alone in my bedroom.
I stumbled across pro-anorexia websites in my quest for “thinspiration” and at the time I thought I had hit the jackpot. The girls were so supportive and helpful and I wanted to look just like them – all collar bones and thigh gaps. Some of the more well known members of these groups would suddenly disappear for weeks at a time after being admitted to hospitals by their parents. They would come straight back on and complain about how hard it was going to be to lose the weight they’d gain in the eating disorder clinics. Shockingly, I sympathised with them.
I lowered my calorie intake even further and the praise kept coming. Not once did someone express concern for my rapid weight loss. I went to my GP after fainting 3 times in as many weeks with dangerously low blood pressure. I informed them that I’d recently lost over 30kg but they didn’t ask how. I was sent off for cat scans to check for MS and tests to determine if I had a leaky valve in my heart. When the results came back negative they simply put my symptoms down to dehydration and lack of sleep. The health scares didn’t stop me though. I simply added spinach and blueberries to my diet thinking this would keep me from malnutrition.
It wasn’t until I met my last boyfriend that anyone called me out on my eating habits. We’d go out to dinner and he’d eat an entire pizza while I’d have a few mouthfuls of a garden salad and feign sickness. We’d work out together and I’d need to stop every 10mins or so to avoid passing out. I loved him and wanted to appease his requests for me to eat more.
For the next 4 years of our relationship I steadily gained weight – for him, not for myself. I began to resent him and blame him for my weight gain and it took a massive toll on our relationship. Right before we broke up my step father commented to my sisters that I’d gained a lot of weight and that he wouldn’t be surprised if my boyfriend was going to break up with me; I moved out in December.
I haven’t eaten today and I had half a banana (sliced, weighted and logged in my journal) and a few cups of black coffee yesterday. I have my first date next week since ending my 5 year relationship and I have no plans to eat until then and likely won’t do so for days afterward. I woke up this morning and my stomach is flatter and my legs are noticeably smaller, but I am utterly exhausted. My friends and family are again telling me how great I am looking, that my face is noticeably slimmer and that I’ll be back to a size 8 in no time. I’ve been more honest this time around, telling them there’s no secret to it, that I have just stopped eating. “Who cares, you’re losing weight!”, one of them said just last week.
Eating disorders aren’t always visible, especially when they begin and you are already overweight. The problem now is that I know this extreme diet works, it didn’t fail last time and it’s proving to be just as effective now. The thought of dying from a heart attack before I hit 30 does scare me from time to time but when you’ve been conditioned to hate your body with such intensity the risks truly seem worth it.
I don’t think I will ever be rid of the school yard taunts in the back of my head and my parents continue to focus on and talk about mine and my 3 sisters’ bodies. My plan going forward is to lose a satisfactory amount of weight first and then seek out a psychologist to help me get started on a healthier lifestyle. With so much positive reinforcement from my friends and family I don’t know that it will work. My self confidence is so shattered from schoolyard bullying and my step father’s cruel taunts that I think as long as I fit in to the tiny box of socially acceptable body weight then I will be happy.
Is anorexia genetic? Post continues after video…
I don’t recommend this lifestyle to anyone. I accept that this is a psychological issue and not sustainable. I feel terrible when I go to sleep each night, I am always cold thanks to my low blood pressure and my skin is suffering from premature ageing. If you have a friend or loved one that is rapidly and unexplainably losing weight I think it’s time you talked to them about it, regardless if you think they look better than they have in years. It might not work, but speaking from my own experience the worst thing you can do is reinforce their dangerous eating choices. Ensure you are complimenting a healthy, happy person instead of unwittingly encouraging their dangerous lifestyle.
*The author of this post is known to Mamamia. There name has been changed to protect their privacy.
If this post has brought up issues for you, you can contact The Butterfly Foundation by calling 1800 33 4673 or by visiting their website here.