Struggling with eating disorders as a teen: 'We skipped meals together'

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Xener's struggle with eating disorder began after making a pact with her friends to lose weight by skipping meals. (Photo: Xener)
Anorexia sufferer Xener with her mum. Xener’s struggle with eating disorder began after making a pact with her friends to lose weight by skipping meals. (Photo: Xener)

When I was in Secondary Three, my desire to become thin grew into an obsession after realising that the weight loss tips I had acquired online were working.

I would look for “thinspiration” (inspiration to look thin) via online blogs that showed images of girls showing off their thigh gaps as well as ribs and collar bones protruding from their skin.

Realising that those images were making me feel fat, I would heed advice from many pro-ana (pro-anorexia nervosa) websites for tips on how to eat less and hide eating disorders.

Looking back, I no longer understand why anybody would post such things online.

How my anorexia journey began

My eating disorder began shortly after chatting with two classmates in school. I was 14 years old and weighed 50kg at the time and we were talking about losing weight before deciding to make a pact and skip meals together. We began by skipping the least important meal of the day, namely the one we had during recess.

While one of us fell out of the pact soon after, my best friend and I stuck to it.

I would listen to exercise tips from my best friend, which included doing crunches before bedtime, and decide to eat even less since I wasn’t exercising much. Throughout my anorexia journey, I stuck with the motto: If there was no output, there should be no input. I thought it was the most logical thing to do at that time.

After discovering that my best friend had a boyfriend, I immediately thought that it was due to her slim and beautiful figure.

Addicted to starving

My eating disorder became worse after I started losing weight. I began to skip lunch, which I would usually have at the market across from school before my CCAs, and replace it with just two packets of vegetable biscuits that contained only 120 calories.

More people were noticing my weight loss, including my form teacher, who once pulled me aside kindly to talk to me about how she was concerned about my situation.

She even shared with me about a student who had to be hospitalised due to anorexia. Despite sharing with me her concerns, my teacher did not pressure me to change my eating habits. Instead, she reached out to my friends and asked them to look out for me.

However, my friends never spoke to me about my eating disorder. I guess they didn’t know how to broach the topic.

I began to take up more activities in school so I wouldn’t have to eat. Soon, I began to skip dinner.

I started by cutting out the carbohydrates, mainly rice, from my dinner. Since I didn’t want my mother to worry, I would place a substantial portion of rice on my plate only to eat two spoonfuls before throwing away the rest when my mother wasn’t looking.

I would weigh myself before and after each meal to determine how much I had eaten. Whenever I couldn’t weight myself – like in school – I would only have biscuits. The lightest I was during this period was 43kg.

It got to a point where my body was starting to become very weak. Once, I couldn’t even carry an empty plate to the sink because I was too weak to carry it, and ended up dropping the plate.

I would wake up multiple times throughout the night because I was hungry but would only drink water to suppress my hunger before going back to sleep.

The hardest part of this low point in my life was to see my mother suffer. It hurt her to see a visible change in my body and discover my eating disorder. She would scold me, hoping that I would stop.

My mother would confiscate my weighing scale and made me feel guilty for hurting her through my unhealthy habits.

However, everything my mother did only made my disorder worse. Without the weighing scale, I would just eat less and use my school uniform’s belt to monitor my weight – if it was loose, it meant I lost weight; if it was tight, I would eat less that day.

One day, I saw my mother cry because of me, and it was one of the most heartbreaking things.

From then on, I told myself to get better for her, marking the start of my recovery.

Road to recovery

Towards the end of Secondary 3, my mother signed me up for yoga classes near my house. After a few lessons, I was burning calories without having to change my diet.

I even reached out to a family friend who is a personal fitness trainer. He and his wife designed a routine for me.

I was still recovering when I got to Junior College. I confided in a friend about my eating disorder and asked her to help keep me in check and to make sure that I was eating. This helped me a lot.

I began to eat more after joining the football team. When you’re doing so much cardio, you get so hungry you don’t really have a choice but to eat.

While I wasn’t eating full meals just yet, I was definitely eating more than before. I started bringing food from home so that I could be in control of what I was putting in my body.

Today, weighing 50kg and standing at 170cm, I still count the calories I consume to decide if I deserve to snack.

I think there is still an obsession with what I eat, but it’s no longer as bad as before. I don’t know if I’ll ever fully be okay, but I’m glad I’m not starving myself anymore.

Interview conducted by Jill Marianne Arul

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