Commentary: How image controls the mind

Trigger warning: This story discusses an eating disorder. 

My appearance is something I can never get away from.

Am I good enough? Is my belly too big? Do people think I’m pregnant? Can they notice my double chin? Are my stretch marks showing?  

It took me a long time to learn to love myself and my imperfections.

I used to think you needed a thigh gap and your weight in the double digits in order to be beautiful. 

My self-doubts began when I started high school. 

I was dating someone who constantly body-shamed me and the way I looked. He would tell me how I should look, compare my body to other girls at our school and controlled what I wore. 

I worked up the nerve to break up with him after eight months of being told I wasn’t good enough. I thought leaving him would make things better, but it didn’t. 

In Grade 10, I stopped eating.

My daily diet consisted of a piece of fruit and a plain rice cake. If I went out to eat with my friends, I would feel guilty for eating an actual meal and wouldn’t eat anything the next day. 

I remember trying to see how long I could go without eating and managed to make it three days. I was so proud.

The effects of starving myself

I became clinically depressed and turned to drugs and alcohol.

The more I did drugs, the skinner I became. That’s what got me hooked. It was less about the high and more about the loss of appetite.

I remembered the compliments I’d receive about how skinny I was and how beautiful I looked. Girls said they wanted to look like me. It made me so happy and I became obsessed with what others thought of me.

People complementing my appearance was like adding fuel to a fire. I’ve learned to never complement or comment on someone’s appearance because they may be ill or dealing with trauma. Saying someone “looks good” when they’ve actually just lost weight can be damaging — just like it was for me.

The unwanted help

My parents started to worry when they could see my bones popping out of my body.

By Grade 11, I weighed 82 pounds and could barely fit into my extra-small jeans. 

My doctor considered admitting me to the hospital. She said if I weighed 80 pounds or less, I’d have to be put on feeding tubes.

There was no way I was going to be put on feeding tubes. In my mind, I thought those evil tubes would make me gain hundreds of pounds.

In order to avoid this, I agreed to get help. But I didn’t think I actually needed it, I just wanted people to leave me alone.

I was put on anti-depressants, started seeing a weekly dietician and began going to therapy.

My weight eventually went up to 98 pounds. But my eating disordered-brain refused to hit triple digits. Since my mom had removed all the scales from our house, doctors’ orders, it was hard to make sure I was maintaining it. Anytime I saw a scale I would jump on it to make sure the number didn’t go up.  

Two years passed and I looked a lot healthier, but the diet-obsessed mentality stayed. I was still watching what I ate and constantly counting calories. It wasn’t until I got pregnant at 20 years old that everything changed. 

I gained about 90 pounds during my pregnancy, but I thought the weight would disappear once I had my baby.

I was wrong.

After I had my daughter, I started going to the gym daily and tried every diet I could think of. Nothing was working for me. I consulted my doctor about my weight and she reassured me I was healthy. She told me some women have a hard time losing weight after pregnancy because of hormones.

Of course, I had to be one of those women.

A path to recovery

It’s been three years since I gave birth and there still are days when I doubt my body. If it wasn’t for my amazing boyfriend, I would have a hard time accepting myself. He constantly compliments me and makes me feel beautiful. 

My past relationships have made me realize how important it is to be with someone who accepts you for you, and loves you and all your imperfections.

Being in a toxic relationship is what started my self-doubts. But being in a happy and healthy relationship is what helped me to find my worth and true beauty.

I eat three meals a day with small snacks in between. I’ve stopped obsessing over calories and started focusing more on protein.

Instead of not eating, I eat healthy.

I may not be skinny, but I’m still beautiful. I’ve grown to love my stretch marks because they’re what gave me my beautiful daughter. I don’t mind not having a thigh gap because now my booty can fit into jeans. I’ve gone up two bra sizes, and what girl wouldn’t want that?

My family and best friend cheered me on throughout the whole process. I wouldn’t have been able to get through that hard journey if it weren’t for them.

When I look back to the past I can’t help but cry because of how far I’ve come and how much I’ve accomplished. Every time I see an old picture of myself I just see a sick, sad and confused person. I look in the mirror today and see a strong, beautiful and happy person.

It’s not easy overcoming an eating disorder but it’s possible. 

My friends and close loved ones always tell me how happy I look because for the first time in my life, I am truly happy.

The key to happiness is not your weight, appearance or being in a good relationship — it’s learning to love yourself.

This can be hard for some women, but once you pass that barrier, you will never look back. 

The National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC) provides information, resources, referrals and support to Canadians affected by eating disorders. Their toll-free helpline and instant chat are available Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. EST and Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. You can call them toll-free at 1-866-633-4220 or visit their website at https://nedic.ca/.

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