In high school, at the tender age of 18, I was tiny. I look back at photos of myself and wonder just how it was possible, because it wasn’t as though I was eating healthy. Then a gap year happened, and after that I started my first year of varsity.
You know how they talk about first year spread? Yeah. It’s real.
I moved back home to Cape Town after my first year and continued my varsity career in Stellenbosch, where I struggled to lose the weight I had gained in the previous year despite trying every fad and trick.
Eventually, after much embarrassment and deliberation, I decided to see a dietician for some proper advice. I was put on a 1 200 calorie diet, which considering my height and activity, was not a lot. It was trial and error; I lost a bit and gained a bit of it back, and I quickly became frustrated. A couple of months in, I became so strict and unyielding about my eating plan that I refused to eat anything that wasn’t prescribed. Not one extra glass of wine with dinner, not even one square of chocolate or teaspoon of sugar. I had decided that if I was going to do this, I was going to do this right. I lost the weight I had gained, and even a little more.
It turns out that I had developed a form of orthorexia. I would only eat what I deemed healthy and avoid anything that I thought unhealthy or harmful to my body. And it meant that I was stressing out my metabolism. It meant salads and veggies and fighting about milkshakes with a now ex-boyfriend.
Soon after this, I was diagnosed with PCOS, short for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. The condition is not fun, but it’s also not uncommon, and along with the increased chance of cardiovascular disease and Type 2 Diabetes comes increased levels of anxiety, depression and disordered eating.
Skip ahead a couple of years, and a new, happy relationship had seen me slowly get back into the habit and rhythm of eating normally again. I could enjoy chocolate without wondering how much I had set myself back. I didn’t feel the need to constantly check how much water I had consumed. But somewhere along the line, I picked up some of that previous weight again. Hey, it happens. Life happens.
Shortly before my 25th birthday I decided that I would try to lose the few kilos I had picked up. It backfired. I tried the 21-Day plan that every second person on Facebook has given a go. I tried intermittent fasting and high protein diets to no avail.
I just figured that if I had done it before, I could do it again. And what was the big deal with food anyway? It’s just a way to fuel your body, right? Why should you care what you eat except to change your shape?
I developed a binge eating disorder, also referred to as BED. For anyone sitting there thinking, “Oh, no big deal, I binge sometimes” please let me explain the absolute chaos and havoc that this wreaks on your life. It’s not just overeating once or twice. It’s a compulsive overeating that you simply cannot control, affecting your emotions, your way of thinking, and basically taking over your whole life. During the space of a few months I gained 16 kg. Gasp, I know. My social life plummeted along with my self-confidence. This is not just a once in a while “eat until you unbutton your jeans” kinda thing. This is something that slowly devolves into you not wanting to start eating for fear that you won’t be able to stop.
How do you stop it? How do you lift yourself back out of this spiral?
If you’re having an issue, or if you think you’re developing a problem, speak to someone. Maybe it’s a friend, or a parent, or a trained psychologist. Put on your big-girl panties and build up the courage to tell someone you’re struggling. Because chances are that you’re not going to be able to beat this alone.
For me, it was understanding that what and how I eat makes a difference to me, and it’s not just my physical appearance that is affected.
Eat the food that makes you happy, but understand that this might be a once-in-a-while kind of treat, and not an all-day-every-day kind of treat.
Understand that you’re going to mess up. It might be in a day, a week, or a month. It might be in a year. And you might have to deal with that panic of “Oh no, it’s happening again.” It’s okay, just breathe, you’re strong and you’ll beat this.
Understand how the food you are consuming is making you feel. Struggling at 4pm in the afternoon? Maybe there’s a trigger. Maybe you’re sad or stressed. Maybe you’re struggling to come to terms with something. Grab your notebook and a pen and acknowledge the fact that you’re struggling.
There are so many cool resources out there if you know where to look. Personally I enjoyed listening to a podcast by the name of Brain Over Binge.
So, is this it? Am I cured, whole, sane again?
I think the thing with becoming an adult is realising that things don’t always get fixed overnight. Sometimes it takes weeks, or months or even years. So no, I’m not completely “cured”. I still have a way to go before I can honestly say that I don’t fear slipping back into it.
But I can now truly say that I care about what I eat, because I know how it affects me as a whole, mentally, physically and emotionally.
It’s a big deal. So eat like you give a fuck.