Disclaimer: This article could be triggering for anyone that has struggled with an eating disorder.
Growing up, my relationship with food has been pretty dang good. I was raised in a family of foodies. When there was something delicious to be had, like homemade soup or lemon bars, I happily took part in devouring it. You could say the passion for food was passed down to me quite early.
However, my relationship with my body was not always the best. I was a massive fan of Korean pop music, so I often compared myself to these girls that had pop star-thin bodies. I'm not saying they shouldn't be that skinny, because that's their choice and their bodies, but I believed that I had to look like them or I wouldn't be beautiful.
When I looked in the mirror, I didn't see myself for the small girl that I was. I just saw the way my legs curved rather than looking completely straight. Yeah, not a healthy standard, and definitely a minor case of body dismorphia, which often develops in adolescents.
According to one source, "[Body Dysmorphic Disorder is characterized by persistent and intrusive preoccupations with an imagined or slight defect in one's appearance [that] may be only a slight imperfection or nonexistent."
Because of that mind set, I often went to bed hungry and over exercised on our stationary bike to "become thin" at around 13.
Everything Escalated in My Freshman Year
This tendency to think of myself as "not as thin as I should be" didn't become a real issue until college when avoiding the Freshman 15 suddenly became an obsession. Unlike in high school, I began to obsess over weight and size, which (compared to my second year) made life at college a lonely, frustrating place.
The summer of 2015, I decided I wanted to lose a couple of pounds I had put on in high school so I could be thin, and stay thin, in college. I remember seeing the picture above (with a good friend that visited me) and being shocked because I didn't remember my thighs being that big. How sad that I couldn't just appreciate the picture of me and my friend together! I didn't like the way I looked or felt since I had simultaneously lost muscle and gained fat in the last couple of years. I absolutely hated that difference and was determined lose weight.
I soon discovered calorie counting and My Fitness Pal, an app where you can find commercial and generic food profiles with calories attributed to them. I began counting everything I ate and adding it to the app. Then—surprise surprise—by the time the summer was over, I had successfully lost all the weight.
I remember taking part in all the friend-making that happens in the beginning of freshman year and thinking, "Huh, I don't remember these jeans being so comfortable." Yet, I still didn't recognize that I had reached my goals. When I looked in the mirror, I was looking at my imagined flaws and nothing else. When I sat down to do homework, I was pinching and poking at my stomach and thighs as if I could make unwanted fat just fall off.
The Over Eat/Over Exercise Cycle
As the fall 2015 semester got going, I became even more committed to losing weight and lost some by about October. However, my body was sick and tired of being deprived of natural amounts of food, so I began consistently eating far more than my "calorie budget" allowed, telling myself I could just work all the calories off at the gym.
Calorie counting had turned me into a computer that saw food as only numbers, and exercise as a way to cheat my way out of how much I had eaten. There were often times that I didn't care what I ate either, as long as it was within my calorie budget.
This cycle continued for a long time, until the end of the semester finally rolled around. At this point, eating food was stressful for me. I didn't give myself permission to enjoy the snacks and foods I wanted to, so I would end up eating strange things like old, half thawed ice cream, or a snack that I had thrown away a little while ago because "I shouldn't eat it." I acted like I thought I could sneak behind my own back by not making the conscious decision to eat something, and instead just starting to shove something in my mouth.
The Binging Began
On the third day of winter break, my binge eating disorder began. At this point, I comfortably fit the smallest pair of jeans I owned, so I had reached my goal. I was pretty small, and when family commented that I seemed to have lost weight, it validated all my efforts.
At this point I had restricted myself for so long that I was desperate to eat whatever I wanted to (i.e. everything in sight). Earlier, I had read several articles about the whoosh effect, and that night I used it as an illogical excuse to stuff myself beyond the point of discomfort. Cupcakes, Fritos, Cheetos—just about anything I could get my hands on.
In short, the whoosh effect explains what happens when anyone eats very little, then a whole lot at once, causing an abrupt weight loss both on the scale and in the mirror. It's not something I should have tried to apply to myself as it usually is a function of bodies who have been on a consistent eating plan in order to lose fat, gain muscle, or both. Eating an uncomfortable amount of food in one sitting is never a good idea.
That night, I ate a ton of calories. Not a crazy amount for an adult man who's had a long night of eating and drinking with friends (for example), but for a girl who only needs fewer calories, it was seriously uncomfortable. My stomach was bloated no matter how I sat, and I remember doing yoga to try to aid digestion. That was just the start.
For the rest of winter break, I ate an unusual amount of food whenever I could. I was constantly eating more than I was hungry for because I saw my diet as nothing but numbers, so it was okay if the numbers were bad for a while. If I had simply eaten when I was hungry and stopped when I wasn't, I would have eaten far less. I told myself I could fix my eating habits when I returned to school.
By the time spring semester came around, I had gained almost all the weight back and was once again desperate to lose it. I began to push the limits on how long I could go without eating and how little I could eat. I often continued to eat as a way to punish myself for messing up in the first place, and for the rest of the night, my mind would dwell in a terrible place of guilt, shame, and self loathing.
I Finally Understand Body Positivity
After the worst couple of months, February and March, during which the cycle didn't stop in the least, I continued to binge and then starve on the following days to try to compensate for it. When I looked in the mirror, it was never to just look at myself and feel beautiful, it was to guilt myself over how I looked. I knew something had to change, and that's when all the online ideas about body positivity started to sink in.
Megan Jayne Crabbe (@bodyposipanda) is one of the many people who share their stories and journeys online, and encourage others to embrace the body that they're in.
I spent my life refusing to apply those ideas to my own body. I felt I had to be perfect (by my own standards) even if everyone else's body was beautiful the way it was. I had some serious attitude changing to do, and I still do!
Around the same time, I discovered Cassey Ho's YouTube channel Blogilates, where she uses high intensity body weight and pilates exercises to help her viewers stay strong and healthy with limited time and money. Cassey is also all about body positivity, and the importance of taking care of your body because you already love it and are happy with it, as opposed to only eating right and working out because you "should."
That's why she's also made videos where just shares her struggles with body image and how it ruined how she ate for several years.
I've Made Important Changes
By May 2016, not very long ago at all, I finally started to make progress. Even now, it's a constant conflict between thinking that I've let myself eat too much for too long, and letting myself be happy just the way I am.
Since then I've still struggled a lot. But, when I moved back to school, I finally set my foot down (with myself) and stopped counting. I began focusing on wholesome healthy food. Of course, social eating is fun, and often impossible to avoid (who would want to anyway?), so when I indulge I try just enjoy myself and not feel guilty. Sometimes this is effortless, sometimes not.
My paranoia that I would lose control and somehow gain a lot of weight when I stopped counting calories proved to be just that, paranoia. It's now been over two months of school, work, and play during which I haven't counted calories, I've been able to avoid bingeing entirely, and I've gained virtually no weight (though I'm not really measuring!).
In some ways, I've been forced to eat better, since there's a strong possibility that all the bingeing has somewhat disrupted my digestion. I've become more sensitive to foods I never had an issue with before, like the cream in ice cream, and dairy in general, so I've had to watch out as I physically heal myself from the damage.
And Now the Struggle Continues
After what I've been through, I understand that it simply isn't worth it to hate the body that you're in. If this is something you've struggled with, especially if this article sounded familiar, no matter what kind of body you have, whether you're a girl or a guy, I highly suggest exploring body positivity on Instagram, YouTube, and all over the interwebs.
Right now, I'm trying to see myself as beautiful no matter what. I had a strong habit of tearing down the way I looked to motivate myself to lose weight or just eat less — a habit I continue to fight when it resurfaces. But I'm okay with my fight because at least it's happening. It's been extremely relieving to embrace my body the way it is, and not get caught up in the devastating effect of the desire to be thinner.