They say hindsight is 20/20. Now, I don’t know who ‘they’ are, but in this case, I agree with them.
There are so many eating disorders people from all over the world face; from pica (eating anything & everything) to anorexia nervosa (not eating at all). I suffered from Binge Eating Disorder (BED). I was never diagnosed but that is because I was such a good liar. I knew how to manipulate everyone around me so much so that no one figured I was suffering from an eating disorder. In fact, they all thought I was such a small eater who was just unfortunately endowed with a damn sluggish metabolism.
The people in my family do not consider such issues issues. I imagine they would probably have dismissed it with a shrug of the shoulders or a wave of the hand. “Ah! You just have to stop eating so much and so irregularly” is what I guess they would have said. Then again, they may have been supportive. I don’t know because I was never officially diagnosed. So if I didn’t know back then I was suffering from an eating disorder, how would they? Plus, there was the fact that I was unknowingly (or knowingly?) manipulating them into thinking that I never ate much. It was just so unfair that I had such bad ‘fat’ genes on top of a rather inactive metabolism.
At age 11, I weighed an astounding 68 kilograms. That’s almost a 150 pounds! I was selected and advised by my Physical Ed. teacher to go for the school’s Trim And Fit (TAF) program. I managed to convince my parents that it wouldn’t really help and that it was a plain waste of time and effort. I even gave them my sad, pathetic puppy-dog eyes and it worked. My dad wrote a letter to the teacher explaining why I was unable to attend these sessions after school. Apparently, I had tuition classes that couldn’t be rescheduled. One for me.
Over the years, I steadily and almost consistently grew larger and larger. I was 84 kilograms at age 14 (that’s a 185 pounds), 96 kilograms (212 pounds) at age 16 and 116 kilograms (256 pounds) when I was 18. However, I was at my all time highest at 117.6 kilograms (259 pounds) from age 18 and I miraculously (or not really) managed to keep it that way till I was 21. By then, I was heaving my obese self everywhere. It was painful to walk short distances (like from my bedroom to the kitchen, which in totality was less than 15 steps), it was outrageously challenging when I had to play light sports during PE and I was feeling constantly warm. I perspired buckets daily. While in Primary 5 (5th Grade) I could escape the dreaded TAF program, I wasn’t so lucky once I entered Secondary School (High School). I was coerced into running & jumping & climbing thrice a week in the mornings while the rest of my slender counterparts complained about how boring it was to have to read during reading period before and after assembly. That wasn’t boring to me. It was sweet mercy.
On the plus side, my ammunition for manipulation was restocked. While I ate like a hippo at home, I created yet another misleading image for my parents: how hard I worked out at school and still, despite being a small eater, I was either (a) growing fatter or (b) remaining fat. I hated myself though. Whenever I binged, I knew that the pleasure I derived from the sugary foods I was shoveling down my throat at an alarming rate was short-lived. That it was as ephemeral as smoke. Yet, I couldn’t stop. While munching on the plate of fries drenched in mayonnaise before me, I would be contemplating my next meal. No, not for three hours later. Rather, three minutes later.
But it wasn’t like I didn’t try. I had been on diets. Diets that lasted as long and hard as the time I took to wipe a plate of fried noodles clean. Or as long as I took to finish off an upsized meal of double Quarter Pounder with large fries. On these diets, I was extremely strict with myself. I consumed small meals, no processed foods and stuck religiously to my daily exercise routine. Most of the time, these diets helped for a few days and I could see some difference. But the moment I hit a plateau, I went off course. I figured it wasn’t worth it to stay on track if there wasn’t going to be any tangible benefits. It was sacrilegious to give up my food and see it amount to nothing. I underwent one such diet when I was 17 years old and was just entering Junior College (11 Grade). It was a new school and I had a clean slate so I wanted to make good of it. I was motivated. I stayed on my diet for about 4 months. That’s as long as I ever went. I was extremely rigid with myself. I had no sugary foods at all. I ate brown rice and vegetables and measured portions of meat. I snacked on peanut butter sparingly spread on 2 slices of wholemeal bread and I drank plenty of water. I also made sure to run 2.4 kilometers (1.5 miles) come what may – rain or shine, sick or healthy, dead or alive.
I managed to lose 14 kilograms. That was 30 pounds of body weight. But then, I plateaued. And my willpower declined. And I resorted to eating rubbish once again. This was another way I managed to screw my ‘healthy lifestyle’ up – I turned a slip into a fall. In a moment of weakness, if I took a bite out of a chocolate cake, or if I popped a fun-sized Mars bar into my mouth, then that was it. The whole diet was ruined. There is no point staying on it. So, I’d veer off course and start the shoveling process, more vehemently this time to make up for loss time when I was on the diet and could not have such foods. This vicious cycle kept me busy for basically my whole life. I dieted, lost weight, plateaued, end up eating more, leading to the piling on of all the weight that I had lost plus more and then I re-started the whole process again. It was a unhealthy process. I was struggling day in, day out. I was always preoccupied with thoughts of weight loss. I hated my body.
The worse part was the comfort eating. Because I felt so useless and ugly, I ate to feel comforted. I derived pleasure from food. And that made me put on more weight. Even this was a nasty, vicious cycle. I couldn’t seem to get out of it.
Finally, I decided to change things around. My cousin had been to a nutritionist and she had paid for a eating plan lasting for a year. She was on it for only 5 months because that was how long it took her to lose all the weight she wanted to lose. She reached out to me and helped me get in touch with the same people. I, too, signed on for a year. The eating plan was extremely inflexible. There was no leeway what so ever. I had to follow it to the point. And I did. I don’t know what made me change my mindset, or what propelled me to stay on it and try my best. It could be because I was at an all-time low. I had seen myself in pictures at a relative’s wedding and I looked horrendously huge. I was a walking, talking whale. There was also the fact that my cousin (although no where near as huge as me – she only needed to lose approximately 33 pounds while I had 130 pounds to consider) had been successful. She had recorded her weight weekly and was expected to log in and update her statistics on the webpage. She recorded a loss almost every week. I knew then that I had to do something and the living example before me was motivation enough.
The way I see it, there were many factors that had led to my downward spiral into an abyss so deep and dark that for the longest moment in my life, I thought I could never escape it.
1. There was the fact that I was so young and didn’t have the proper guidance regarding nutrition.
2. This resulted in repeated failed diets which just served to whack my self-esteem and drop me lower into the abyss. I kept thinking nothing would ever work and so I stopped trying and just kept eating. This defeatist mentality was detrimental to my health and overall well-being.
3. I gave up too easily. Every time I slipped, I never thought of keeping calm and just carrying on. I made sure to turn it into a rapid, heart-stopping nose dive. I plummet deeper after I made a mistake like succumbing just for one moment to the extra piece of chicken mum had cooked. This attitude usually made things worse because I went back to square one, plus a few steps backwards. So really, I went back to square -10 and that made my journey longer and further from my goal weight.
4. I didn’t realise that there were intangible benefits to eating cleanly. I only saw the tangible aspect of it – whether I lost any weight and if so, how much. I should have considered the other benefits I get from eating healthily such as a renewed sense of confidence, less-fluctuating energy levels, and the fact that I wasn’t stuffing my arteries with bad fat. These were things I couldn’t see or measure and so I had disregarded them. But now I know, there is more to being healthy than just weight loss.
I am still on my health plan. Many people think I use it as a crutch and that I do not know how to live without it and I want to out rightly say that indeed, I do. Being on a plan frees up so much of my mind. I no long fret over what to eat, what to cut down, what to replace or how to juggle my cravings. I just use the plan and follow it. No questions asked. I also make sure to have cheat sessions. I have been on the program for 2 years now and have had 2 mini break sessions (lasting for a couple of days where I eat anything & everything) and a major one (which lasted for 2-3 weeks). Although, I have to admit, every time I go on these breaks, I fall ill. I get terrible stomach upsets and I become leaky both at the points where I put food in and also, south of the border. My body is no long accustomed to so much sugar intake at once. However, I’d justify these breaks as psychological rather than physical and so, I still would have them in future. I’d just take care to be more mindful of the amount of stuff I put into my mouth.
I have had a series of gastric attacks since 16 years old, and I think I can attribute that to my overeating. This irregularity in my meal times & size has caused many of these attacks. So much so, that I went in for an endoscopy to see if there were any other underlying concerns such as a tumour, or cancer, or ulcer or whatever. Fortunately, there was none of that. But I do have a hiatal hernia. This occurs when the stomach section protrudes into the esophageal area, through the diaphragm separating the two regions. In my case, this most probably came about from eating too much and too fast. The excess weight I was carrying around when I was obese could also have played a part by pushing in my stomach (since it was padded all around) which caused it to be distended upwards into the esophagus. However, many people suffer from a hiatal hernia and it is not fatal or even problematic most of the time. My gastric attacks come on because of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), resulting from the hernia, which is a chronic case of acid reflux. But this too, is very manageable.
Being on the eating plan (which has been revised for phase two of my diet) has helped because now I eat five small meals at regular intervals. I am so thankful that I found it (through cousin dearest who was kind enough to share with me her problems, struggles, achievements and successes). I am also extremely grateful to have such a supportive family without whom I couldn’t have even gone one step. My mother, despite juggling a career as a teacher and 5 other kids, has steadfastly went on to cook for me every single day. She learned new recipes, measured my portions day in and day out, and went on last minute grocery shopping rounds just to make sure I have what I need to for my meals. She even packs them up for me during days that I am at the university with classes the whole day and can’t come home to eat. My dad runs around the whole house, earnestly screaming for joy every time I lose some weight. My siblings take care to ask me how I am feeling and they considerately take the pains to put every single sugary stuff out of my sight. Though these days, it’s no longer required. I am able to handle myself and so, food is no longer my main priority (on some days). The fact that I have my siblings around me all the time to have fun with or just watch TV with makes most of my days much more fun-filled and this serves as a much needed distraction on days where I feel like eating the whole refrigerator clean.
Thus far, I have lost 44.2 kilograms of body weight and I aim to lose another 14 kilograms before stopping and slowly easing off my plan. To say that I am anxious is the understatement of the century. New worries plague me: Will I resort to going back to my old unhealthy habits? Will I function optimally without the plan? How do I choose the foods to eat? What if I pile on all the weight back?
I know that it is not going to be easy. That once the weight has come off completely, there is another journey to be undertaken. That this is simply the beginning, not the end. I have to rebuild my muscles, tone up, learn to incorporate better exercise regimes into my lifestyle and learn to be confident about making my own choices. I also have to learn to be strict with myself when deciding on what to eat but I must also know when to back down and allow myself some breathing room. I must not always turn a slip into a fall. One piece of candy now and then ain’t gonna hurt no one.