TRIGGER WARNING: Mentions of eating disorders and mental illness. If you think you are experiencing symptoms of an eating disorder, please consult a mental health professional at the soonest time possible.
When I was in my first year of college, I had an eating disorder.
I spiraled into it after years of struggling socially and academically at a science high school. Somehow, I started to think that I didn’t have the colorful social life and love life I wanted because of my weight.
Now that I am older (and hopefully wiser), I am aware that this may not have been true. But back in 2007, body positivity was not yet a thing. I noticed that the twenty boys in our class of thirty only paid attention to the prettiest girls, and they were often slim.
I happened to like a boy in high school, and while we did become friends, our relationship didn’t progress the way I wanted it to. It turned out our sexual orientations didn’t match. I knew it had nothing to do with me, and it most certainly wasn’t his fault — but deep down, I also couldn’t help but feel rejected. Whenever I’d look at my pictures at the time, a hurtful voice in my head would taunt me, telling me I was ugly and that no one would date someone who looked like me.
So, I resolved to lose weight quickly. At first, I thought exercising would be enough. But the weight stayed on, and I still felt ugly. This pushed me to try restrictive dieting, which gave instant results. But it also changed the way my brain was wired — and that scared me.
As time passed, I grew obsessive and paranoid around food. I became overly wary of tiny details like the calorie content of whatever I ate. I looked at nutrition labels for minutes before resolving to buy a snack. If the calorie content exceeded 100 calories, I’d refuse. I didn’t even mind traveling to another store further away just to satisfy my “need” for a lower-calorie alternative.
Back in college, everyone seemed to like eating out. On the other hand, I couldn’t enjoy dinners with my newfound college friends. I always worried that the food served would be too calorific for me. The thought that my classmates all seemed so carefree about eating only made me feel disconnected from everyone else.
Months of dieting and intense exercise brought my weight down to an alarming 39 kilograms. That’s when the digestive issues started. I began missing classes because I wasn’t well enough to go. I also stopped having my period, started growing fine hair (lanugo) all over my body, and noticed that I felt colder in temperatures I used to tolerate quite well. My complexion was also affected — though my skin is naturally a pale chinita white, my skin tone became yellower than normal.
My changing appearance and behavior drew concern from my parents – as it should have. Thankfully, they got to me — and I realized soon enough that something was wrong. At my mom’s urging, I saw a nutritionist on campus. She helped structure a sustainable meal plan for me. My dad helped by encouraging me to eat things I liked. Fruits, sweets, drinks, full meals — it didn’t matter, as long as I was eating. He bought them for me, sometimes cooked them from scratch, and we ate them together.
But recovery was a lot more complex than that. I slipped at times. Occasionally, I would grow conscious of my food intake and run to a convenience store just to pick up a “slimming drink” to make up for having eaten too much.
A new support system
In my fourth year of college, I met the man who would become my husband. At the time, I was two years into my eating disorder recovery. Although going out on dates — which inevitably involved eating — kept me distracted enough, there were times when the intrusive thoughts about food, my weight, and my value as a person came back in full swing. I had to proactively fight these thoughts by actively demonstrating love for myself — one thing that’s surprisingly difficult to do when you’re so used to seeing yourself in a negative light. I wouldn’t have been able to do this if not for my support system.
In 2019, I gave birth to a healthy baby girl via normal delivery. Thankfully, I was able to go through labor without complications. I also opted not to have an epidural. Though painful, all the sacrifice paid off when I caught a glimpse of my daughter for the first time.
I even managed to breastfeed my baby girl for four sweet months. Breastfeeding was a grueling journey for me, but it was also full of tender moments only she and I shared. I treasure that time so much, and I’m so glad I was able to give my body the grace it needed as I entered motherhood.
Today, I can proudly say that I’ve now overcome my eating disorder. But even though this is the case, it doesn’t mean my eating disorder is gone forever.
My eating disorder is — and will always be — part of me.
The disorder just doesn’t take over my life like it used to. I still get bothersome thoughts about my body now and then, but I’m now aware of them.
Lately, I have been feeling insecure about my body. I have gained a few pounds and my clothes feel tighter. I don’t feel as sexy or as self-confident as I did in the last year when I was at an ideal weight and could pull off wearing the type of clothes I like. Though my body did not change much after pregnancy, stressful situations have befallen me recently. Perhaps hormones or emotional eating (or both!) are to blame. My husband assures me I still look beautiful, but I struggle to see myself the same way. Writing about my eating disorder is an exercise in self-consciousness for me. I want to be aware of my thoughts and stop the destructive ones before they set off a chain of actions that will take me back to the deep end.
An Endnote: Mental Health Resources
If you live in the Philippines, here are some resources that may be helpful if you are experiencing mental distress, courtesy of Scout Mag PH.
This list is not by all means conclusive. It’s also good to reach out to people whom you think could help. Opening up to others may not be the easiest thing to do when you’re feeling down (I know, I’ve been there!) but it’s always worth a try. You’ll never know when you’ll chance upon an empathetic soul.
As for my own mental health diagnosis? Here’s the story:
A few years ago, I finally decided to see a couple of psychiatrists to keep my mental state in check. The first psychiatrist, who is from the National Center for Mental Health (NCMH), diagnosed me with chronic depression and anxiety disorder. The second psychiatrist, whom I spoke to about my obsessive tendencies (which have a strong link to eating disorders), placed me under observation for Bipolar II. The latter diagnosis remains unconfirmed. Once my family and I are in a better financial situation, I will quite likely consult again.
UPDATE (Dec. 7, 2021): A version of this blog is now posted on Rappler’s iSpeak section! Many thanks to the editor for featuring my thoughts.