- I didn't realize until I was about 14 that my body was larger than some of my peers' bodies.
- I stopped eating as much and exercised compulsively. That spiraled into an eating disorder.
- Almost no one in my life except for my family saw it as an issue; in fact, many encouraged me.
I do not remember a day when I wasn't living in a larger body. While I always knew I was bigger than most other kids in my class, I didn't think about it much until I was about 14, when I realized none of the other girls in my class had their stomachs roll over the skirt that was part of our uniform when they were sitting.
None of my peers commented on my body, but the fact that I sat alone most days at lunch was a signal to me that I was different — and not in a good way. And as each day passed, the desire to fit in grew stronger.
The harmful rhetoric I overheard at gatherings from the older women in my family whom I looked up to — such as "a minute on your lips adds a pound to your hips," or comments that boys like girls with curves in the "right places" — didn't help my self-esteem much either. Though I was only a teenager, I understood what the so-called right places were, and I knew my curves were in the "wrong" ones.
I took these comments as an implication that I would never be loved or desired for who I was, in the body I had. This scared me and made me feel that I needed to lose weight to be accepted. The only way I thought that would be possible was if I were to exercise a lot and basically stop eating, so that's exactly what I did.
I started eating less and exercising more, and I pushed through the signals my body was sending that it needed more fuel
I started eating less than a third of what I was used to. I measured out every morsel of food I ate and was constantly thinking about my next "meal" because I was never satisfied.
In addition to having an extremely low caloric intake, which I tracked religiously, I would get on the treadmill at the end of each day and stay on it until the screen said I'd burned the same number of calories I'd eaten. I didn't care if I was lightheaded or exhausted; I pushed through the feeling.
I thought this routine was the recipe for success, but it only led to disaster. I continued living this way for about a year and dropped about 60 pounds.
During this period, my parents were growing increasingly concerned for my health and well-being. They tried sending me to eating-disorder specialists, nutritionists, and therapists, but I refused to go; I insisted to them that there was nothing wrong with what I was doing, though in reality I was silently suffering.
Over the course of that year, keeping up the unsustainable routine I'd created consumed me. I stopped hanging out with friends and going out to eat because I feared not knowing how many calories I would ingest or whether I'd have the time to "work off" the calories I'd eaten that day.
My doctor's comments about my weight only encouraged my unhealthy behavior
When it was time for my annual checkup, my doctor noticed the drastic change in weight. But instead of responding with concern, when she saw the number on her monitor, she simply said, "Good, good."
Hearing these words from a doctor solidified for me at the time that I was doing the right thing and should keep going, despite what my parents and other close relatives thought — after all, I reasoned that she was a medical professional and they weren't.
Most people — excluding my close relatives — saw me only for what I looked like. They'd say things like "You look great" and "Keep up the great work."
What they didn't see was that I was crying myself to sleep at night from the hunger pangs, or that I was about to pass out on the treadmill. They had no idea I was suffering from anorexia. My hair was falling out, I was more irritable than ever, and I was miserable. All they saw was a thin body, and they associated that with health, goodness, and a state of thriving.
Since this was such a traumatic experience for me, I can't recall the exact moment I experienced a wake-up call. But what I do remember is that over time, I gradually started to eat more, develop a healthier relationship with exercise, and realize that self-love had to come before romantic love, at least for me.
Creating a better relationship with my body has taken time and is something I'm still working on — but it's worth it
I began to understand that undernourishing and overexerting my body was the opposite of loving myself, regardless of what I heard around me.
Acting on that new understanding took a lot of strength. Some days were better than others, but over time, new habits formed, and my mindset shifted from one of self-hatred to self-love.
Though my parents didn't say anything to me at the time about this shift, I could tell they were happy to see that my joyful and youthful light was starting to shine through again.
I am in a much better place with my body now, even though I still am in a larger one. My journey with food and exercise has not been easy or linear, and it's one I will be on for the rest of my life. But I'm happy that I started the process of recovery because I feel like I can finally live my life again. I can go out to dinner with my friends or to a theme park and eat ice cream without constantly worrying about whether my weight will fluctuate because of it or whether I'll be able to "burn it off" later that day.
I see now that I spent so much of my life attaching my worth to the look and shape of my body. Today I realize that I am much more than that.