Trigger warning: Eating disorder
“It won’t hurt to eat one more roti” my mother said as she got annoyed at my constant rejection of food. I had already eaten one roti with dal. That was all I was eating for the day, no matter what happened.
Fair warning, this story won’t be rated PG-13. I want it to be a cautionary tale, and not a glorified teenage experience. This is going to get serious. Are you ready? Cool. Here’s what happened.
I was naturally chubby, like kids are in their pre-teens, and I had no opinion about my body whatsoever. All I cared about was that I was perfect in art class and English.
But, it all started when my grandfather, who I genuinely respect, told me that I should lose a bit of weight. He told me to stand on the scale, and said “You’re 55 kgs right now, come down to 50 kg, and it would be perfect.”
I’d just entered my teens and that demand hit me like a truck: outer appearance matters, and people create your complete persona around it. For now, the only way for me to be ‘perfect’ was to lose five kilos. What does a naive mind do to solve such a problem? It starts with twenty minutes of jumping jacks and mountain climbers, with a few breaks in between.
Exercising is proven to make you feel better by pushing dopamine in your brain, and I was hooked. Within a year of healthy workouts I was able to reach my goal weight of 50 kgs. My mind did not want to stop there. Frustrated with the weight plateau I had hit, I knew that simply cardio an hour per day wasn’t going to cut it.
‘Diet is the number one way to lose weight. Good food equals a good physique,' I read in a weight-loss book. Cue the calorie-counting app, and keeping a record of all I'd been eating. Soon, I was turning a single mouth-watering meal into tangible numbers. The average 2,000 calories I was consuming daily slowly went down to a mere 800. Or, barely two rotis and a cup of dal.
I started falling in love with my tiny wrists and the gap between my bony fingers, and took it as a compliment when my friends would wrap their fingers around it. At the same time I hated how my thighs touched and the disgusting skin folds I had near my armpit. I wanted to suck out all the fat from my body.
So, I planned another goal: to eat just 500 calories per day. In order to suppress hunger pangs throughout the day, my trick was to drink green tea or coffee in plain water, fooling my stomach with dehydrating caffeine. Constant headaches were given the paracetamol pill, and sleep became my best buddy to ease out the tiredness. Which, of course, did not help, but gave me hollow cheeks and dark circles.
Naturally, my 5-feet-self couldn’t handle the 500 calorie mark for long, and on some nights, I succumbed. I sneaked into the kitchen at 2am and stuffed chocolate biscuits of every brand that I could find. My body was on autopilot, filling up in one go. Mentally, I was devastated, crying out salty tears with a runny nose as I took an involuntary bite. Disappointed to the core, I vowed to not eat breakfast the next morning.
Accepting that I was ill, and the actual path to recovery wasn’t easy. It was realising that your worth is not measured by how thin you look, or how low your body-mass-index is. Recovering is learning that instead of improving, I was punishing my physical embodiment because it did not look like the one I'd seen on magazine covers.
Changing the narrative of the way I looked at myself helped me respect my body more than ever before. It made me realise that my body does a lot many jobs than just be there, and look conventionally pretty.
If you are someone dealing with this, take it from me: it's best to take the route which is right for you in the long term. Even if, it makes you feel a pit in your stomach as you introduce it to a tasty piece of cheesecake after three years of starvation.