I started my love-hate relationship with food at a very tender age. I was about eight or nine at most and was preparing to get into secondary school.
I had always been bigger than my classmates –taller, fatter and bulky.
The State primary education board did not make life any easier for me when they introduced a literature book called ‘’The Fat Woman’’ to be used in all elementary schools in the state back then.
In one month my named had changed from that given at birth to the ‘’fat woman’’. The teachers whom I thought would come to my rescue did not even help matters as they resorted to calling me that at the slightest provocation from me, as the school had recently placed a sanction on teachers who punished their pupils by flogging. My only safe haven was home, maybe because my siblings were equally fat.
I didn’t exactly have an easy time dealing with my weight when I finally got into secondary school. The teasing got worst and I was determined to do something about my weight. I wasn’t sure of what I was going to do.
I got an idea from a dog. My Aunt’s dog.
I had gone to spend the long vacation with my Aunty Emma. She was a matured single, living alone at the time and rumours had it that her attraction to dogs was to fill the loneliness that came with not having a husband and kids. She nurtured the dogs like she would a child, bath them and spoon fed them. A special vet came to the house every other week to look at the dogs and some of her friends will even jokingly say they wish they could be her dog.
Nicky was the oldest among her dogs and was mother to almost all others. She was angry when her puppies were sold off and went on a protest fast. Maybe something else happened, because Nicky boycotted food for the rest of the year. She barely touched anything she was served and was getting leaner by the day. My aunt resorted to force feeding her every day and Nicky will throw up everything she was fed immediately she was let off the hook. Nicky stopped gaining weight and before I left, the once very fat dog was now a skinny bag of bones.
I had learnt that one could stop gaining weight by not eating or throwing up after eating, and that started my long painful journey with bulimia.
I began restricting my food intake immediately I got back from vacation. I will try to skip breakfast and barely ever touched my lunch. My stomach would roll and growl all day long. I remember being embarrassed if the classroom was quiet enough for others to hear the rumbling. Inevitably, I’d return home in the afternoon ravenous. I’d binge on whatever I could find. Cookies, candy, cake, garri, all kinds of snacks, my mum was a caterer by the way.
Full Blown Bulimia
My binging episodes got out of control. I was eating less and less during the day and would make up for it in the evening. This habit made very little difference on my weight even though I had been on it for years. I did not add the weight as rapidly as I did before, but stealthily, the number on the small bathroom scale kept increasing. I was in deep thought about why I wasn’t losing weight when my aunt called to tell my mum that Nicky had been hospitalized for complications related to starvation. I then remembered. Nicky threw up every time she was force fed and she still was losing weight. I had found my missing link. Purge it all out after eating. And there began my journey with bulimia officially. The process seemed so easy. I could eat whatever I wanted and however much I wanted, and then just get rid of it with a simple flush of the toilet.
I was about 15 the first time I purged. I had just finished a whole pack of cereal combined with several cubes of sugar and a full tin of the much sweetened condensed milk. A wave of guilt immediately hit me and I sneaked into the bathroom, put my hand deep into my throat and brought everything out into the bathroom sink. After I had gotten rid of the offending calories, I felt lighter. I don’t just mean that in the physical sense of the word, either.
You see, bulimia became a sort of coping mechanism for me. It ended up not being so much about food as it did about control. I was dealing with a lot of stress later on in school. I had the difficult career choice to make, I had men who could father me hitting on me, (my size did not help mattes in this regard), and there was the domestic issue of dealing with the chronic illness of a beloved sibling. There were lots of things in my life that I just wasn’t able to manage. I’d binge and get a rush from eating so much food. Then I’d get an even bigger, better rush after getting rid of it all.
Not just weight control
My parents were very distracted at this time. My brother’s ailment had taken its toll on them and so it was easy for them to have missed my bulimia. Coincidentally, I had to leave home for university about a few months after I started purging and at my uncle’s house where I had to live in my first two years in the university, it was easy to go unnoticed. Nobody seemed to notice my bulimia. Or if they did, they didn’t say anything. At one point during my first year of university, I got down to just 115 pounds on my nearly 5’7 frame.
There were so many changes that came along with moving away from home, attending lectures and dealing with life mostly on my own for the first time. I was binging and purging daily.
My mum was alarmed when I returned home on the first school holiday. She complained to my dad that my uncle’s wife must be starving me and that being very introverted in nature; I am not the type that will ask for food if I’m not offered. I felt sorry for my aunt who was nothing but nice to me.
Sometimes I’d complete the binge-purge cycle multiple times a day. I remember going on a field trip with some course mates and desperately looking for a bathroom after eating too much cake. I remember being in the hotel room I shared with a course mate, after eating a box of chocolates and waiting and praying desperately for the girl to step out so I could purge. I will run all the taps at once and make a lot of noise in the bathroom to prevent her from hearing what was really going on down there. It got to the point where I wouldn’t really binge, either. I’d purge after eating normal-sized meals and even snacks.
I would go through good periods and bad periods. Sometimes weeks or even several months would go by when I’d barely purge at all. And then there’d be other times — usually when I had added stress, — when bulimia would rear its ugly head. I remember purging after breakfast on the day of my convocation. I remember having a very bad period of purging during my compulsory National Youth Service Corp.
Again, it was often about control, coping. A lot was going on in my life that I couldn’t control, but I could control this one aspect.
Ten years, later
The long term effects of bulimia aren’t completely known, but the ones known are frightening enough. Complications range from cardiovascular diseases, blood pressure abnormalities, gastrointestinal distress, constipation, indigestion, heartburn, tooth decay, irregular periods and even depression. I had a fair share of most of these complications, but at this point I could not stop myself despite being afraid about what it was doing to my body. I remember blacking out upon standing quite often during my bad periods of bulimia. Looking back, it seems incredibly dangerous.
My then fiancé was the first to notice and I eventually confided in him. He encouraged me to speak with a doctor, which I did, albeit briefly. My own path to recovery was long because I tried doing much of it on my own. It ended up being two steps forward, one step back.
I knew I had to take my recovery process seriously when the complication of depression became very serious. I was surviving on antidepressants and had on two occasions being hospitalized for episodes of depression.
Recovery was a slow process for me, but I can confidently say I am free from bulimia now.
Yes, I have gone back to being ‘’the fat woman’’ but I am a beautiful and healthy fat woman.
The last time I purged was when I was 25. That’s 10 years of my life plagued with this draining eating disorder. The episodes were infrequent by then, and I had learned some skills to help me deal better with stress. I now exercise regularly, and have discovered exercise lifts my moods and helps me work through things that are bothering me. I also have developed a love for writing and cooking healthy meals. I read my bible daily and the comfort contained therein is better experienced than imagined.
The complications of bulimia go beyond the physical. I can’t get back the decade or so I spent in the throes of bulimia. During that time, my thoughts were consumed with binging and purging. So many important moments of my life are tainted with memories of purging. I wish I could turn back the hand of those times.
Don’t let the world rush you
The fashion, modeling and advertising industries have constantly made women feel they have to be a certain body type in order to be considered beautiful. Don’t let the world mold you to its standards. A wise man once said, “do not read beauty magazines, it would only make you feel ugly.” While it is good to maintain a healthy weight for a longer and healthier life, you can be beautiful no matter the number on your dress tag or result of the scale while standing on it.
If you’re dealing with any eating disorder, please seek help urgently. You don’t have to wait. You can do it today. Don’t let yourself live with an eating disorder for another week, month, or year. Eating disorders like bulimia are often not just about losing weight. They also revolve around issues of control or negative thoughts, like having a poor self-image. Learning healthy coping mechanisms can help.
Admitting that you have a problem is the first step. Be determined to break the cycle. A trusted friend or doctor can help you get on your way to recovery. The steps to recovery is not all easy, you may feel embarrassed at relapses, but do not give up even when you fail every now and then. You may feel you can recover on your own, but from experience, this is quite unlikely. Stay strong, seek help and cultivate healthy lifestyles .
Your memory book should be filled with important moments in your life and not memories of your eating disorder.