I have never ever in my entire life talked about this before. It is the story of how I managed to avoid an eating disorder by a hair's breadth.
People always assume, even tell me, that I'm either a) the lucky slim girl who can devour a decadent piece of chocolate cake without gaining a single gram, or b) the perfect example of iron willpower and self-control.
None of these reflect reality. The reality is that "self-control" has messed with my mind quite badly.
I had crappy eating habits as a kid and teenager but my body was very forgiving. I used to think my eating was fine and that I obviously could not get fat. We're talking about a daily diet along the lines of 'dry sugary cereal and no milk for breakfast; a tiny, unbalanced school cafeteria lunch; and then starving until Mom serves rolls for dinner'. Not quite as crappy every day, but you get the picture. Lots of sugar. Little protein and vegetables. I was often hungry, tired and cranky but considered it normal. My weight was on the low end of normal. I had no such thing as a regular menstruation. It came whenever it pleased about 6 times per year.
There were also a few times when I was a teenager when I got a "kick" from restricting my eating or from losing a kilo, but I never took it far, being afraid that someone could find out. I'm not sure where it comes from - I've never been impressed by skinny model figures (heck, I don't even read fashion magazines).
Then I started college and took my crappy eating habits with me. Sure, I learnt how to cook and had some decent, healthy meals but still ate a lot of junk in addition to them: Candied nuts and fruit, halva, chocolate, cake, cookies, puddings, tiramisu, a lot of processed stuff. I felt perfectly fine eating all this between and after meals, because 'I cannot get fat. I'm a special case with a badass metabolism'.
Imagine my shock when after the first 3 months of college I weighed myself and realized I had gained 5kg. No shit, Sherlock. Despite looking the same as always (and I scrutinized my figure in the mirror very closely), I was still horrified because the scale said 'You were wrong. You CAN get fat. Did you seriously believe you were somehow special? Well, you are not!'
I told myself that something had to be done. I needed to lose those five kg. In retrospect that made no sense: my weight was perfectly normal. I'm guessing I did that because I felt I had somehow lost control. Losing those 5kg was an attempt to regain power and control. I might have fooled myself with my careless eating, but I was smarter now and would fix things!
I did not think of myself as "fat" but I was suddenly terrified of gaining weight, because "if I can't trust myself with food, anything can happen!"
Of course I knew about eating disorders, and I was perfectly sure that such a crazy thing could never happen to me. Why the hell would I want to become like that? No, that could not possibly happen to me. Because I was in power. Because I had control. Something had changed. It was as though a gear in my mind had been shifted from a careless attitude about food to a new, radically different attitude: Now, all of a sudden, food was dangerous. Something to be controlled, regulated, and restricted.
I did not realize that this is an extremely dangerous mindset.
Having researched a lot about weight control I decided to try calorie counting. Arranging my eating in such a way that I ate about 1600 calories daily (weekly average) was a very easy thing to do thanks to an online calorie counting food journal. And sure enough, over the course of 3 months I lost five kg. I was now back at my high school weight. It was a great experience. I felt extremely powerful and in control. Meeting my first boyfriend around the same time and noticing how much he loved my body only added to that thrill and excitement I felt at being so good at losing weight. I got a real kick out of it.
Now I can understand why 'anorexia' means Magersucht in my native language, which literally means 'addiction to being skinny'. The kick that one gets from restricted eating and scale numbers can be addictive, even if you don't actually have the disease (yet).
I was hungry a lot, but thought that was okay. I ignored my body telling me that it was not getting enough nourishment.
There were also a few moments when I ate „too much“, and for the first times in my life I felt awfully and extremely guilty and ashamed about having eaten something. It wasn't just about food: it was as though I had no control over myself. And that was a bad thing, because I was successful in everything else I did. People had high expectations in me. I had to be able to do this! Trying to make up for my „mistakes“, I restriced calories the next day. It was a sort of „punishment“, and perversely it felt right.
Every day I was obsessing about my food intake more. I was adding up the calories, the numbers. All the time.
Sadly, I still had not realized the importance of healthy eating, still not knowing what exactly a balanced meal is.
But I did not yet realize that I was moving very close to „eating disorder“ territory because from what I knew, eating disordered people ate a lot less than I did. They were crazy fanatics, and I was not, right? I was functioning normally, right?
One day I decided I had enough practice in calorie-counting, and now could be trusted to manage without it. After all I'd been successful. One could not count calories for their entire life, right? So I stopped calorie-counting.
Sure enough, over the course of a few months, those five kilograms returned. I was horrified.
And then several small realizations came. The first one was, 'perhaps I have been fooling myself again.'
Perhaps I was never meant to lose those five kilograms. Perhaps my body actually wanted to have them! Perhaps diets really don't work.
As more time passed, more realizations and questions came. For example...
Why and how had some foods become so 'dangerous'?
My boyfriend loves my body. Neither he nor I could notice a visual difference between five more or less kilograms. Was it truly that important?
What did my body really want and need? Had I truly ever listened to it?
Most importantly, I slowly realized that there was something wrong; that obsessing about food and calories is not normal.
Something was messing with my mind! My mind used to be different! What had happened?
It was as though I had lost my 'innocence' when it came to food. I had unjustly declared it a danger, an enemy.
How could I do that? Food is something I need for survival and health, something I should appreciate!
Over the course of 1-2 years I refined my cooking skills and learnt a lot more about how to eat healthy. Little by little I manage to make satisfying, balanced meals, learning what my body really wanted and needed. The following „rules“ have now become habits for me:
Three meals a day, because that's what I grew up with.
If I get very hungry between meals – which is now rare - it means the meal hasn't been substantial enough.
Each meal needs to have a decent protein source and some fat. Each lunch and dinner needs to have some vegetables. That way, 5 daily servings of fruit and veggies are easily achieved, even exceeded.
Meat just 1-3 times weekly. (Not because it's „bad“ but because I want to eat only organic meat, having decided that what's better for the animals is also better for me. I can't afford it more often). And it's okay because I've figured out every other suitable protein source.
No sweet drinks but that's okay because I've never liked them anyway.
When eating grains, use whole grains at least 80% of the time.
Fruit for dessert. An easy „rule“ because I've always loved fruit anyway.
I eat 80% healthy and 20% 'unhealthy' now, and have been for the past 2 years.
It works beautifully. My weight has been very constant in that time. I have accepted the extra five kilograms and feel good and energetic most of the time. I weigh myself about every 3 months or so - and I don't own a scale, lest it mind-fucks me again. My periods are a bit more regular, albeit not monthly ones. But my gyno says I'm fine. And I feel fine, better than ever.
My body is very happy with my new eating habits. It does not become ravenous or cranky anymore as long as I eat those 3 meals in regular 4-6 hour intervals (and that's not so hard to plan).
No food is forbidden. People tell me I have „great self-control“ when I'm not taking a second piece of my grandma's yummy cake, but it has nothing to do with self-control. 'If you only knew', I then think. My body simply doesn't need nor demand any more of the sweet stuff. It knows that it's gonna be fed well, and soon. It knows I won't neglect it. Self control, or the illusion thereof, is something that has mind-fucked me, so I don't want to hear any compliments about it, even though they're well meant.
I've learnt how to be kind to my body, so now my body is being kind to me.
Admittedly I probably won't ever regain my carefree innocence about food. You know what I do with some really delicious sugary treats? I put them in the freezer! As fine as I'm doing now, almost never overeating, I still don't trust myself hundred percent. Calorie numbers and compensation thinking probably won't ever be fully gone from my mind.
And now for the numbers. My weight span during this whole time was between 53/54 and 58/59 kilograms all the time.
Isn't it sad? Such a normal, healthy, perfect number for a woman my age and size! How did such a number – such a small difference – manage to mess with my mind so much?
Looking back it seems outrageous, incredible. Now I can only shake my head about myself.
I still have "kicks" sometimes - for example, in winter 2011/2012 I discovered I'd accidentally lost 2 kg despite an irrational fear of the opposite, but I was a good girl and did not let the "kick" get to me, but gained the 2kg back.
All the time in the past years I have never talked about this. No one has ever suspected that I could have been obsessed about food – how could I possibly let anyone know about my mental struggles with something so basic when I was an image of success in all the other things I did? My parents don't know. My best friend does not know. My boyfriend does not know. I'm someone known for her healthy ego, determination and self-confidence. They would never assume or believe that I could possibly have issues of any kind, however small. I'm practically not allowed to have issues.
I'm still very ashamed about it all – it is like a scar in my mind that has healed well and that I'm trying to hide.