I remember when I was a teenager I would often look at beautiful models or actresses and think "if I was that size and looked more like that, I would be so much happier". I think a lot of young girls develop a similar mentality; you see beautiful people living amazing lives and assume that they are happy and that a lot of their happiness would stem from how they look. Unfortunately with social media, the access to images that trigger these kind of thoughts are so accessible. This is terrifying to me because I understand it all too well and I can honestly say from my experience that becoming skinnier absolutely will not make you happier.
I think I was around 18 when I started to think that there was a link between my size and my happiness. I had lost a little bit of weight naturally, and people kept telling me I looked great, which made me feel good, so I thought weight loss must equal happiness. This attitude was then perpetuated by the pressure from my agency to lose weight; I was told that if I lost weight I could be more successful. So then, both happiness and success seemed to only be attainable if I became a certain size. At first, I felt as though it made sense. What was the big deal in losing a few kilos in order to make it in the modelling industry? I'm not an idiot and I thought that because I did have my head screwed on, I would be able to remain in control and not become overly obsessed or sick in the process. However, I could not have been more wrong. In hindsight, I was ridiculously naïve to think that this was just a simple challenge that I could manage and I should have never assumed that eating disorders or mental health issues only affect certain people.
When it comes to eating disorders and body image, to me, one of the most damaging quotes of all time was from Kate Moss (although she has since retracted this statement) when she said ‘nothing tastes as good as skinny feels”. Let me tell you being skinny when you are not built that way does NOT feel good at all. In fact, it hurts like hell. At my skinniest I was also the most unhealthy and unhappy I had ever been. I was tired, emotional, depressed, lonely, scared, hungry and cold all the time. Every day, from the moment I woke up til the moment I went to sleep, I was in serious emotional and physical pain. Sitting down for longer than a few minutes hurt because my butt was nothing but skin and bone, but standing up for too long made me incredibly tired. I had extra hair growing on my body, particularly on my back, as my body was trying to keep me warm. Meanwhile the hair on my head became brittle and thin. I was hungry all the time, but when I ate I got extremely bloated and my stomach was constantly cramping. My breath smelt terrible, my eyes hurt, my body ached all over. I felt empty.
At this point, I knew I was not well. I was too skinny and I knew that the amount of time I spent thinking and obsessing about food and exercise was unhealthy. As this obsession took over I was weighing myself very regularly and since I had linked happiness with being skinny, my mood and my self worth became completely dependent on how much I weighed. Every morning when I weighed myself, that number determined how I would feel for the rest of the day. If I woke up and weighed the same or slightly less than the day before I felt okay (not happy, but just kind of neutral).. BUT oh my god... if my weight had increased (by even 500 grams) I felt awful, incredibly guilty and absolutely worthless. It is so scary reflecting on how heavy these emotions were and that they were so consistently triggered by a number on the scale that essentially, doesn’t mean anything .
At the time, I was studying Anatomy and Physiology at Uni (as part of my Speech Pathology course). I knew then, as I know now, that our bones, muscles, vital organs, skin, blood, water and other bodily fluids make up the majority of our body weight. Our weight naturally fluctuates due to water retention, how much water and food we have consumed and how far along the digestive process is. But, even knowing these things, in my mind I was convinced that the changes in weight were only because of an increase or decrease in fat and these fluctuations terrified me. I started to weigh myself even more frequently in the hopes that I could even out the weight changes. I remember one day that I was so obsessed by this idea that I weighed myself 8 times in the one day. Then to soften the blow (of a little increase), I tried to convince myself that at least if my weight was higher it might give me the motivation and self control I needed to get through the next day, eating even less than the day before.
As you have probably gathered by now, I spent most of my time thinking about my weight, my body, food, and exercise. I was totally and utterly consumed by it all and it was exhausting. I knew I had a problem but I also got to a point where I didn’t want to get better because the thought of gaining weight was so scary. I felt like there was no way out. I knew I couldn’t live like this forever, I was not getting an ounce of joy in my life. Yet I also couldn’t imagine my mind healing and once again being a person who ‘didn’t care’ about my weight, or at the very least someone who wasn't completely consumed by it. It was then I started having suicidal thoughts, because I honestly thought it would be better for everyone around me, and for me, if I wasn't around.
I was never diagnosed with an eating disorder, but I know that this is only because I was able to hide it enough from my psychologist that she wasn’t able to diagnose me. I lied when she asked me about my eating habits and my anxiety triggers which related to food. She diagnosed me with anxiety and depression, and getting the support I needed for this, indirectly helped with my disordered eating. I wish I had opened up to her about all of my issues because I think it would’ve been a faster recovery for me, but I did get there eventually on my own..
The first step I took was throwing away my scales. Weighing myself was causing me so much anxiety but I couldn't simply stop. I had to physically remove them from the house so I couldn't do it anymore. I also decided to quit modeling for a while, I needed to remove myself from the one environment that was encouraging my damaging behaviours. I needed more purpose in my life that didn't involve how I looked or what I weighed, so I started painting again and (after a year off) I went back to Uni to finish my degree. I stopped counting calories and stopped exercising only to burn calories. It took me a reeeeally really long time to heal. I think my recovery started in 2013 and for years I was still triggered by certain foods and drinks, by not getting enough exercise, by clothes not fitting me or by seeing an unflattering photo of myself. It's only been the past two years that I finally feel confident that I am okay, I am happy and healthy both mentally and physically. I do have damaging thoughts at times, but I have ways to overcome these and coping strategies that I use. I have a great relationship with food again, I enjoy cooking and eating and I don't deprive myself of things I love. I exercise regularly and I love it. I am kind to myself and most importantly, after years of abusing it, I have learned to be kind to my body.
As I've said in other posts, if you or anyone you know is going through a similar situation, please seek support or encourage them to do so. The earlier you open up the better. I know it is scary but with support, you can get through it. I suggest speaking to a close friend or family, or someone you trust first, then your GP and a psychologist. Also, some helpful online support networks are listed below.