Most people would love to be told by a doctor “you need to gain more weight,” but not me. In a world of weight obsession, I thought I had recovered from my society-driven eating disorder and our obsession with ‘weight loss.’ But hearing those words shuddered me to my core because it goes against the culture I was brought up in. I used to dream of ‘losing weight, ‘not having periods,’ or better still being invited to put on weight. ’
Then when I fell poorly with physical health problems, ‘my teen dream,’ became my adult nightmare.
I felt weak, fatigued, and out of control as I didn’t know what was happening with my body.
I was flooded by messages telling me how awful I looked. I think people thought the ‘shock factor,’ and tough love would somehow cure my weight loss.
People assumed it must have been intentional. Instead, it just made me feel, well uglier and weaker. I
And while I now get messages congratulating me for gaining weight or “getting fatter”… It has reminded me of just how we are all still body-obsessed.
PHOTO: Sophie and daughter at Cedar Court Hotel. Sophie turns to positive coping mechanisms now – connecting with family and wellbeing activities
Fortunately, I now know how to protect myself from such triggers by focusing on what makes me feel truly good inside-out and, stepping away from the noise.
Like most people, I have a weird relationship with food and at times, my body image although I am more resilient than most.
Then when the doctor before me says that I need to try to put on even more weight, to give myself the best chance of recovering from my physical health issues. I can’t lie that I find it challenging going against cultural ‘norms,’ in the West. And while western ideals have spilled over to the East, a ‘bigger’ body has always been celebrated in a lot of parts of South East Asia where I also have a family.
I know how to challenge my thoughts, however. I speak openly about my vulnerabilities which is actually a sign of my strength and resilience, contrary to popular belief. I hope more people are able to follow suit to take power back from their inner demons.
Today it takes on average three years for someone to seek help with an eating disorder.
I too kept my bulimia “the bully inside me,” a secret for many years from age 11 until my teens, which made it worse.
When I did finally confide in a relative, they booked me an appointment with our GP. But my BMI was ‘normal,’ so they turned me away.
I was told by services that I had to get worse before I got better.
Sadly, I battled for many years and so did my family who cared for me until I finally ended up in an in-patient hospital in Leeds in my early twenties.
Arising from what felt like ‘hell,’ has helped me to appreciate what I have today and how far I have come, a decade later.
So while the Doctor’s words sent a wave of fear over me, I could quickly rationalise it into something positive. Not because I will necessarily enjoy gaining weight just to experiment if that helps but the fact that I feel stronger physically. Plus he was not going off my ‘normal BMI,’ but with what he referred to as my ‘biological BMI.’
“You’re BMI is normal still but I don’t know what your actual biological BMI is.”
While I have continued with a normal BMI throughout weight loss and gains throughout the years (as you can gain weight with an eating disorder too), he said that we all have an individual BMI – an optimal weight for your body to function at its best.
It was refreshing to finally hear a healthcare professional acknowledge the difference between our bodies. It’s no surprise however that one in three adults wouldn’t spot any symptoms of an eating disorder. Yet the sooner we can get someone support the faster they will be able to start on their recovery journey.
When I was at my ‘worst’ with my eating disorder aged 21 I was a “healthy weight” at my heaviest and even at my lowest weight with physical health issues last Summer, my BMI wasn’t worrying. We have come far as a society but these recent research findings for Eating Disorder Awareness Week coupled with my own experience of society’s viewpoints show how much awareness is still needed. Yes, weight loss or gain can be a sign but there are many more. Eating disorders are rarely about food but more about our sense of control or lack of.
I now take back power not through food but by ensuring I have a core cheerleading team around me who see me beyond aesthetics and help me to break previous self-destructive cycles. This is why cognitive behavioural therapy can be really powerful too. Bulimia used to feel like my ‘best friend’ but actually, she was my worst enemy.
The first step is always the hardest but once you find support that works for you, the more in control you will truly feel.
Sophie is the author of Eat. Sleep. Control. Repeat: https://www.mamamei.co.uk/2020/05/29/becoming-a-published-author-eat-sleep-control-repeat-my-recovery-journey/ follow @thesparklecoach
You can buy the book here: https://www.thewritinghall.co.uk/product-page/eat-sleep-control-repeat