My food Issues

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Hello

Another touchier subject on the menu today; and this one is also important to talk about more openly. Many people I know have an unhealthy relationship with food. These issues can range from distorted ideas about food to full on eating disorders.
I wanted to give some insight into my own issues with food in this post.
I’ve only ever talked about it with my two closest friends. How and when these issues developed might be a mystery to some, but I remember it clear as day. Reading other people’s thoughts and anxiety’s about food is comforting to me; maybe it will be to you too.

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Me at thirteen

Up until the age of fifteen, I was kinda chubby. I used to say fat, but I really wasn’t.
I was very obviously heavier than my sisters who all the boys in my class loved to remind me I did not resemble at all, though. I was very insecure and aware of my weight, and especially boys were cruel about it in school. I asked my mother constantly whether she thought I was fat like they all said I was, and she told me over and over again how I would ‘even out’ eventually.
One day when I was fourteen I was in art class,  drawing at a table with a bunch of my friends. One of my friend’s boyfriends joined us, and they were playing music and cracking silly jokes. The atmosphere was fun.
Mika’s ‘Big girls you are beautiful’ came on, and some of the girls started jamming along. I smiled and kept drawing, I was way too shy to sing in front of people. Out of nowhere this boy loudly said;

“HA, this song is especially for Lizette isn’t it!”

The entire table burst out laughing hysterically.
ALL of my ‘friends’ laughed.
I remember wanting to disappear inside my big fluffy cardigan. I pretended I didn’t hear, and they kept giggling for a bit before everyone forgot about the joke.
Everyone but me, that is.
Nobody knows this, but the second I got home I rushed to the bathroom and tried for over an hour to make myself throw up while crying in silence.

I don’t know why that comment pushed me over; I just know something clicked that day. I think it was because all of my friends were at that table, and none of them said anything in my defence against this kid.
After I realized making myself throw up wasn’t an option, I went downstairs and told my sister about what happened at school. She gave me a big hug and told me all I needed to do was get into a training routine, and I would even out.
I want to be very clear that none of my family members EVER made me feel worthless. I never felt fat because of them, they never used it against me during arguments and I felt more loved at home than anywhere else. The only family member who did make things worse was my grandmother. Instead of most grandmothers who’d tell you to eat more, my grandma was and still is the type to tell me to stop eating. She’d poke my stomach in front of other people and make silly jokes that I needed to eat less. I wasn’t a huge fan of visiting grandma’s house back then, and I still like to keep my visits with her very brief.
She’s always been that way though, so it’s something I expect now.

 

 

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My sister helped me to get into training that day. I cried and said I hated it, and she told me to keep going or try another sport instead. I chose running, because it was the sport I hated the most at the time. I wanted to punish myself as much as possible. I’ve grown to love running over the years and it actually helped me to get healthier, but back then it was a way to harm myself.

That night I also wrote a really long and messed up diary entry.
I wrote down exactly how much and in what way I hated my body and made a promise that during the summer holiday I would prove them all wrong.  I weighed myself as a starting point, at 64kg.
For reference, I was about to turn fifteen and 1.70 at the time. That would have given me a BMI of around 22, which is in the healthy range.

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Something fried and potato-y. No idea.

Over the next seven weeks, I lost over 15kg. Honestly, it was probably around 20kg.

I wasn’t allowed to weigh myself after a while.
I started running daily as well as swimming, and I severely restricted my food intake. I’m not going into specifics, those are not necessary and I don’t want to give anyone any ideas.
My mom was the first to catch on, and she took away the scale out of the bathroom. I wasn’t allowed to swim or run anymore either.
The last time I weighed myself I was 48kg, and I remember it wasn’t enough. It was never enough and I was never happy. The more weight I lost the more I hated my body. Ironically, it was then that I was approached for modelling. My mom had damn good reason to deny me from going into any agencies; I would have ended up with full blown anorexia in no time.

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I remember the day I came back to school, and everyone complimented me. Even teachers.
They couldn’t get over how different I looked. How much better I looked.
Nobody cared that I threw away the sandwiches my mom prepared or that all I drank was coke zero. That the jeans I got two weeks before school started were dropping off of me already and my stomach growled constantly.
I went in for my yearly routine check-up at school, and I was weighed. The doctor looked at my chart, back to me and back at my chart.

“Huh, it says here you’ve lost over nineteen kilos.”

I got really fidget-y and nervous and didn’t look him I the eye. I felt caught. Someone noticed something was wrong. I was relieved and scared at the same time.

“So how did you do that? I could use some tips!”
He pat his stomach and laughed.
He laughed.

He completely ignored the fact there was a fifteen year old girl with huge bags under her eyes in front of him, who clearly was not ok.
I was given a letter to pass on to my mom, with my BMI underlined in red. I threw it away and my mother was never contacted by anyone at the school.
However, my mother was not an idiot.

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Pic by Tay Keen Meng @taykeenmeng

As I said, she was the first to catch on to my behaviour and she wasn’t having it. I said before my family never made me feel less than, but the way they handled these eating problems was probably not the best. I felt attacked, which only made things worse. I know they were angry and yelling at me out of love. They didn’t understand why I’d hurt myself like that. The phrase “Just eat” was thrown at me at least once a week, and I wanted to scream that I couldn’t. I had these rules in my head I wasn’t allowed to break, if I did I felt like I betrayed myself and everything I had worked for. People with anorexia will say how they have this voice in their head sometimes. I never had an unfamiliar voice in my head.
It was me, telling myself that this was all I had and I could not let it go. As if something terrible would happen if I did, and I’d lose the will to live.

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Nobody thought to ask me why I was doing it. It did start because of this one stupid comment, but eventually it became a thing I was good at. I had control over being skinny, and above that I was praised for it. People asked me for tips and advice constantly. I felt like the people who had something mean to say about my weight were trying to take that power away from me.

I wanted to get into med school at the time, and I was doing my best to keep my grades up. I wasn’t very smart naturally and it took a lot of effort. I felt like a failure in that aspect. I also wasn’t very social or into the party scene in school and I isolated myself because I couldn’t bring myself to be around food and people. I love my best friend to death, but she also ignored my eating issues. Mostly because I’m assuming it made her uncomfortable.
My family was my source of happiness; I always came home smiling because I knew I’d feel better when I saw them. The fact I wasn’t eating made the atmosphere around the dinner table very tense, and that made it worse. I felt unloved by everyone at the time, and my happiness came from looking at a number on the scale. At least that was going ‘well’.

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Frozen Yoghurt at Bugis street, Singapore. Topped with mini marshmallows and strawberry sauce.

Things changed after a few months. It wasn’t about being skinny anymore, although it started that way for sure. I noticed something else that soothed me much more than being skinny. When I was hungry, there was no room to think about anything else other than being hungry. I couldn’t worry or stress, because food was all that was on my mind. I was numbed. Like a drug.
I became very manipulative to hold on to that feeling, promising people around me I was eating and I had a million tricks to convince people I was. Again, not going into specifics.
I had everyone fooled.
My mother eventually called me into her room one day. She found a trash bag filled with food in my room. She walked into the living room and simply held it up to me.

“We have to talk. Right now.”

I still remember the look on her face and how it horrified me.

I tried to manipulate my way out of this one too. My mom showed me pamphlets of clinics she had been looking at, threatening to send me away to England to get help. I became hysterical, that was my worst fear. I convinced her I’d start eating again like normal and she gave me one last chance to do it on my own.
I really tried for her, and I did do it for a while. Old habits die hard, though, and I slowly started eating less again.

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Juices at Bugis street

I’d love to tell you I went to therapy and learned to eat like a normal person. That’s not what happened.
Instead, I got sick with swine flu one day and I physically couldn’t eat for a week. My weight dropped further, and while I was laying sick in bed enjoying the feeling of being empty, I made a startling realisation that literally shook me.
I hadn’t had my period in a long time. I started counting, again and again. Not believing it.
It had been fourteen months, almost a year and a half.
Having children was my biggest dream and it still is. I was horrified I damaged my body to a point where I might not be able to fulfil that dream.

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Another one by @taykeenmeng

I tried all sorts of crazy things to get things going again, but nothing worked. Eventually I decided I’d have to let go of my friendly feeling of hunger, for my kids. Stupid as it sounds to you, but it’s my unborn children that made me eat again.
Calories are difficult to forget, and I had a strict regimen of what and when I’d allow myself to eat in what exact quantities. I started eating little snacks in between meals I didn’t allow myself to count since they weren’t ‘meals’, and that’s how I managed to put on the weight. It wasn’t healthy and without the help of a physician. It also turned into occasional bingeing, where I’d eat to the point of physical pain.
I kept going until I had my period again, just before I turned eighteen.
Over two years later.

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Sweet corn bun

My issues with food didn’t suddenly stop, and it wasn’t until I went into therapy when I was 21 about something else that this was actually discussed. I mentioned my food issues in passing, that whenever I’m stressed I like to deprive myself of food so I’m numbed. I learned different ways to cope, like writing and talking to my friends and family.
I still get nervous around certain food situations, and I really don’t like it when people comment on what or how I eat. It immediately stops my appetite, I cannot take another bite. A person watching me eat makes me uncomfortable beyond words and I’m hyperaware of every movement I make at the dinner table. I trained myself to only eat in front of other people so nobody would get suspicious, so eating meals alone is still really hard for me.
There are other things that I had trouble with for a while, like spontaneously going out to eat. Anything that broke the food rules in my head would make me freak out.
I had a near mental breakdown over a lasagne one time, because I hadn’t taken it into account for my day.

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Even now I have my issues with food. I struggle with feeling guilty after a high-calorie meal and up until a few months ago I’d binge on a regular basis after a period of prolonged restriction.
I’ll struggle with my food rules and guilt for the rest of my life, I think.
Just like I’ll never not enjoy that empty feeling, messed up as it sounds.
Nowadays I can say that body issues are separate from this, since I can look in the mirror and see when I’m getting too thin or too muscular for my own liking. Even then, it’s still hard for me to adjust my diet.
It’s this constant balancing act.

I push myself to get into food situations that make me anxious to break the cycle.
Every time I do, I realize food is not as scary as it seems and I’ll be fine after eating it. When I was in LA I made myself eat meals alone in public, which was a huge fear of mine for years. Not knowing what went into something made me freak out, especially right before a meal. I’ve walked out of many restaurants after being overwhelmed with the choices on the menu when I’m on my own. When someone is with me, their presence calms me down. The fact that someone is eating the same food with me and can be totally ok helps me in feeling more relaxed.

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Bugis street food. Bites and snacks are easier than full on meals for some reason.

It’s hard to explain, some days it’s worse than others. Especially during more stressful times, I still resort back to food deprivation sometimes because it calms me down. I never hated food, I love preparing food and I still think food is one of the pleasures in life that is meant to be enjoyed.

I’m officially an adult now, responsible to take care of myself. I was given this one body, and I have to choose every single day what I’ll put in it to keep me healthy and keep me going. That is a big responsibility.
I can honestly say I am trying my very best, but it is something to take day by day. What also helps is talking more openly to my friends that certain situations do make me nervous. When someone stares at me while eating I’ll point it out, and I don’t like to be pushed to eat more.

If you struggle with these messed up thoughts and rules in your head surrounding food, I highly suggest you talk to someone close to you about it. Try to explain what’s going on in your mind, even if it is scary to let someone in like that. I promise you it will only relieve the stress in the long run.
Therapy is another thing I’d recommend, since that is where I first talked about these issues in depth. It became a coping mechanism for me, and there are other ways to deal with stress in your life.

You can also talk to people online anonymously;

https://www.facebook.com/BetterHelp/

If you’re Dutch, you can get therapy online.

https://www.onlinetherapie.nl/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIqpiP7dqF1QIVRoyPCh1Ugw51EAAYASAAEgJ3zvD_BwE

It’s also available in English;

https://www.insight4u.nl/online-therapy/?lang=en

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My first root beer float, which was underwhelming. Fun experience though.

 I know the stigma on eating disorders isn’t as bad as it was four to five years ago, but there’s still a bit of a taboo surrounding the topic. The more it’s talked about, the easier it is to recognize an eating disorder in the early stages before it gets too bad and therapy or even hospitalisation is necessary.

Best wishes and much love, as always.

Lizz

Photo’s of this post were either taken by Tay Keen Meng or by me during my trip to Singapore.

xo

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