Features

Part 2: An Eating Disorder That’s Part Of Me

Natasha Phang-Lee

A continuation from Part 1: An Eating Disorder That’s Part Of Me

**TW: Eating disorders, bulimia and excessive exercising**

I can’t stress enough how mentally draining this disorder is. Whilst many people can stroll into the kitchen and see what food is speaking to them at that moment, I would mentally plan out the night before what I’d be having so I got the ‘right’, ‘healthy’ combination.

Eating as a family at home would usually mean this plan was thwarted as my parents would decide the evening meal. So, more mental energy would be sapped as I’d adjust my plan to compensate for the (potentially unhealthier) evening meal.

The anxiety I had both before and after a meal was truly crazy, ‘checking’ myself in the mirror after literally every meal to see if the bloat had re-emerged (which of course it had) would instigate an internal beating up and a vow to do better next time.

With the internal battles never ending, my fuse was incredibly short. I’d always be tired and this soured relationships with family and friends.

I found surface level friendships easier to uphold, as it meant I could ‘bury’ my eating disorder

My friends would never witness my explosive, outwardly destructive self, because it was easier to remove myself from situations at school and I could cope with stuff in ways that would go unnoticed.

However, my cynical mindset made me so insecure about some friendships. I would never believe people were friends with me because of who I was, but rather just because they were being ‘nice’; not wanting to intrude or be a burden, I would check and re-check that I was actually wanted at something.

Some of these traits followed me to uni where I found surface level friendships easier to uphold, as it meant I could ‘bury’ my eating disorder and also a slightly more introverted personality: things I was ashamed of.

At home, my family would bear the full force of my destructive, snarky, selfish negativity, tiptoeing around me, afraid of saying something that might trigger me to lash out.

For anyone reading this who might know someone with an eating disorder, the best thing you can do is listen

The amount of stress, worry and upset I caused during this time is something I don’t think I will ever fully understand but is something I deeply regret.

My parents are of the generation where mental health isn’t really talked about, so I think they struggled to make sense of it all and to understand what they should do.

For anyone reading this who might know someone with an eating disorder, the best thing you can do is listen. Be there to listen and to check-in on them.

Yes, suggest things but don’t try to ‘solve’ the issue. There’s no one solution and you trying to offer one could come off as not fully understanding.

Please make sure you never say to them: “Why don’t you just eat more?”. It was said to me and, although I know the person had the best intentions and was struggling to grapple with the whole issue, it just came off so insensitive and made me feel even more isolated.

I was left thinking that no-one would ever understand what was going on in my head.

The most obvious effect of my disorder was the damage it left on my body; my legs got thinner till it was scary to think how they held up the rest of my bodyweight.

My circulation was absolutely destroyed – another thing I’m paying for today – with my hands and toes now always being cold and scarred with itchy and painful bumps. The scariest of all was that my periods stopped.

It was more a realisation that I was not just harming myself, but also everyone around me that prompted me to take action

I brushed this off, saying that it was just irregularity, but after months turned into years, it was obvious that the lack of food was becoming a real issue that would affect my future as well (please do message me if you can relate to this and need help getting your periods back – it’s a funny story that I don’t have the word count for!).

There wasn’t a decisive turning point where everything became positive; it was more a realisation that I was not just harming myself, but also everyone around me that prompted me to take action.

Recovery is flipping difficult because you’re constantly in two mindsets; one that wants to get better, and another that’s cynical and doesn’t remember what you were like before all this started.

Also, having lived with a disorder like this for what seems like forever, it’s so easy to slip back into the mentality.

So, where am I at now?

Honestly, I’m definitely not there yet, I still struggle – more with the mental and self-acceptance side of things compared to the food element.

However, opening up to others has been such an integral part of the healing process (I mean I can’t believe I’ve just shared so much personal stuff in an article that’ll probably exist somewhere on the internet forever).

I feared telling people because I hated the thought of burdening others with my problems, but if a friend was struggling, I would hope they could come to me about anything.

I began to see it not as burdening but more as sharing – showing vulnerabilities that I have found others also have.

I thought I’d be defined by this ‘thing’ and that my friends would view me differently, but this is such a misconception. Humans are so complex and although, intuitively, we simplify all this information about a person into categories, we all know that personalities are dynamic.

One person can have so many different sides. It doesn’t make you fake if you’ve kept one hidden for a while, it just means that you have been adapting to what life is chucking at you.

True friends know this, and will accept every part of you, so don’t let this fear of judgement stop you from opening up.

For all the times you feel like you’ve had a setback or a bad day, the fact that you’ve had a bad day means you’ve made progress

Alongside opening up, here are some other things that have really helped me:

  1. Doing things that are bigger than yourself – I found volunteering super helpful in taking me outside of my head and giving me a sense of purpose.
  2. Getting outdoors and living in the moment – for me this comes in the form of surfing, you’re so unbelievably present, only focused on catching (or attempting to catch) the next wave.
  3. Find an outlet to express your emotions – I use art.
  4. Clear your head – get all those thoughts outta there, I still write a diary, literally brain dumping everything. I will never read back over it though (it’ll probably be condemned to a fire at some point!).
  5. Say yes – in reality it’s not as bad as you think (we’re still working on this one!).
  6. Try manifesting – stole this one from a close pal (you know who you are!) But it’s basically a belief that whatever energy you put out into the world, that’s what you’ll get back. So, get those positive thoughts out and about!

Having a disorder is actually just cr*p and I wouldn’t want anyone to go through it alone, so please please tell someone if you’re struggling. You can also message me if you want to chat or have any comments on what I’ve talked about!

I’m sure this disorder will be a part of me for life and, although I’m more at peace with myself than ever before, it’s still a battle. But as another wise pal recently said to me:

For all the times you feel like you’ve had a setback or a bad day, the fact that you’ve had a bad day means you’ve made progress.

– Because you can’t move back without having first moved forward –

Natasha Phang-Lee


Featured image courtesy of i yunmai via Unsplash. Image license found hereNo changes were made to this image. 

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