The stereotypes around women’s bodies are so strong that it’s easy to get lost in this jungle of small sizes, flawless shapes, and ridiculously yet inevitably desirable perfect-looking Instagram feeds.
I’ve always been a sporty person, I did 6 years of gymnastics and I love movement. When I started high school I had to study a lot and I pretty much stopped playing sports. I have never been obsessed with my look, I’d say that I was an average teenager trying to look good. However, I became more and more aware of what I didn’t like about my body, high schools can be a very triggering environment, the feeling of being judged by the way you look and the pressure of having to fit in such small clothes that should only belong to the kid’s section.
So the summer of my third year of high school I started using an app to count calories and I lost some weight. I was happy, it worked well, then school started again and so I stopped, I had many things going on and no time to count calories. One day I looked at myself in the mirror and I realised that I had gained some weight, I didn’t like it and I decided to lose those kilos again. Over the next 3 years that app has always been on my phone, I’d use it for a few months, reach my weight goal, and then stop. It wasn’t such a big change so none could really see it except me. At this point I still wasn’t obsessed with my body, I just had periods where I was dieting and counting calories and periods where I stopped and I’d gain a few extra kilos.
It’s during the last months of my last year of high school that things got worse. I was going to the gym and I was on a good track of losing weight. Then exam preparation started and I stopped training, my brain automatically thought that I had to make up for it by eating less and counting calories more strictly. I still remember, my app was set up on a calorie goal intake of 1200kcal/day but my brain was set to 600kcal. Every day that’s what I was eating, basically starving myself, but I didn’t realise it because I was too busy stressing out for exams and being happy that I was finally as skinny as I wanted. Everyone was complimenting me for losing weight, my aunt was so excited that I felt like she was liking me more just because I was skinnier. People were asking me how I did it and I’d say something like ‘I didn’t do anything, It was just exam stress’. Then summer came and I did my best not to gain weight, I was so happy, or at least I thought I was. The reality is that I was scared of food, scared of carbs, and anything that in my mind would make me fat. I was only feeling safe when eating vegetables or salads. Even going out for dinner was stressful for me, I needed to prepare for the idea that I would eat more than usual and either eat less during the day or skip a meal. I was living in fear but I wanted to show to myself and to everyone that I was happy and carefree. In the meantime, I hadn’t had my period since May, it was already 4 months.
In September, I moved to the UK to start university, I had so much going on and yet one of my main fears was that the canteen in my student halls would make me gain weight. However, I managed to eat almost only vegetables and fruit. So I lost even more weight. I was often feeling dizzy and too tired to go out, but I didn’t care, I was determined not to gain even one gram, I was counting every calorie that I was putting in my mouth, control was what made me feel safe.
When I went back home for Christmas, I was so skinny that everyone was now worried for me, I had lost too much weight, my family was telling me that I had to stop losing weight and my friends looked concerned but they didn’t say anything. I was confused, I thought that I was doing a great job, I felt good in my skin like never before but the reaction of people around me starting making me feel insecure. I felt like I had to hide the fact that I was skinny, I was wearing big jumpers and trying not to make a big deal out of it. My mum wanted me to do some blood tests but I refused because I was scared that they would find out about my period or that there was something wrong with me.
Christmas is when things really started going bad, I don’t know exactly what changed, probably the fact that I hadn’t had good food in a long time and that my parents were trying to feed me with everything possible. I started bingeing. It all started when I realised that I had had too much food once for dinner, so my brain went crazy and started thinking that since I had already screwed up, I might as well have all the food that I wanted. So I’d go to the kitchen after dinner and eat a lot more, anything really would do, from leftovers to cookies to Christmas desserts, I had totally lost control. I would end up not even tasting the food anymore and feeling dizzy for how full I was. I spent one month like this back home, bingeing at least 2/3 times a week, I gained a lot of weight and I was constantly in a bad mood because of the overeating which was making me feel so uncomfortable with my body. I was having a hard time even going out with my friends and enjoying the time spent with them because I was ashamed of what they would think of me.
The following year and a half, until the end of my second year of university, have been a constant up and down. At uni, I was starving myself thinking that I didn’t need food to feel good, what I needed was to look good and be skinny because this way people would like me more. The only way I knew to achieve my goal was by counting every single calorie that I was eating, I needed to be in control. I was deluding myself into thinking that I was happy and that was all I needed. When I was going back home for the holidays the bingeing would come back. It only takes a few seconds to go from having a healthy meal with my family to feeling like I have eaten too much and losing control. I was trapped in a vicious cycle and I had no idea how to end it, I couldn’t see any solution to my problems but to keep dieting and counting my calories so that’s what I did.
In September, I moved abroad again for a placement year, happy that my friends back at uni didn’t have to see me after 3 months spent at home constantly eating. From September to December it was the best and worst time ever. I met some very nice people and we had lots of fun, but I was often feeling uncomfortable because I was too aware of my body and I really didn’t like it. Counting calories and keeping control had become really hard because I didn’t have a very stable routine. I was going to work all day, partying at night, and often drinking and eating out. As a consequence, I was tired and frustrated for not being able to fix my situation, every mirror was making me feel upset and every excuse was good to overeat. However, with regards to food, for the first time I felt free without apps to rely on, I was eating whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. But I could see that I was gaining weight and I was feeling so powerless, incapable of doing anything to change my situation.
In December, I was afraid of going home for the holidays, the first thing my aunt told me at Christmas Eve was that I had gained weight, same with my dad. I could see the look of disappointment on their faces. I was ashamed of meeting my friends fearing what they’d think of me. That was it, I had reached my lowest point (at least I hope), when I went back to my placement I decided that I had to get rid of the calorie counting and start a new chapter of my life, I couldn’t keep living like that.
I had to start relearning the concepts of being hungry, full, and too full; I had lost the balance with my body and I didn’t remember what the feelings of hunger or satiety were anymore. Eventually, it started coming back to me, I read some articles, I tried to understand more about macronutrients and I learnt a lot about my body. I decided to move to a mostly plant-based diet, I enjoy this type of eating and I like the idea of eating while doing something good for the planet. After some months, I was finally starting to appreciate my body again, I was enjoying food and I was training, all of this finally without counting calories.
However home remains my soft spot, I can be very strict and respectful of the rules that I have set for myself when I am on my own, but at home everything changes. I struggle to control myself and I get carried away by the events forgetting everything that I worked for before then. I am slowly learning to let go of all the restrictions that have been part my life in the past years. I hope that I am on my way to recovery and that I will finally be able to appreciate food again without worrying too much or thinking of how many calories a piece of cake contains before I can eat it with no regrets.
This is something that I have never been able to share with anyone. I feel so stupid for being trapped in this situation, for the entire time I always thought that it was nothing serious and that I was strong enough to take care of it. Now I am realizing that I was lying to myself, this is a real problem, I can’t go on as I did in the past, it’s just not healthy both physically and mentally, but to move on I need to accept my body the way it is. I still haven’t figured it all out, it’s a work in progress and I think that a very big part of it is sharing this with my friends. I’ve always wondered what my friends and family thought of me. They must think that I’m crazy, losing so much weight and then gaining it back over and over again. The thought of them looking at me and thinking how ridiculous I am makes me really sad. That’s why I want them to know what I have been through in the past years so maybe they can understand also this part of me.