I remember going on weekend trips to the local high street (I live in the U.K.) with my family, heading to the fast food joints, and insisting I wanted a “grown up meal.” I was a greedy child, but I was never enticed by the toys you would get with the happy meals; I was enticed by food — more specifically, by the amount of food.
It was when I turned 11 years old that I became more aware of my weight.
It wasn’t because I was bullied. I think it was because suddenly, I was in an environment where there were more people — specifically, more girls — and pretty much all of them were skinner than me.
Perhaps it was puberty, perhaps it was the hormones — but I instantly started comparing myself to others.
Unhappy with how I looked, I quickly realized that I was the cause of my own weight. This was the start of my new attitude toward food: blaming food.
I began to associate food with fat. At meal times, I would restrict myself to eat half the plate, which was half of my “normal” amount.
Once I saw my weight begin to drop off, I continued to cut my food. I often skipped breakfast and found myself chucking my lunch away once I got to school.
My mentality was, if I don’t eat, I’ll lose weight. “No pain, no gain,” was a motto I lived by. I think from the age of 15-19 years old, I lived my life like this.
Yes, I was losing weight, but I wasn’t healthy at all.
I began getting quite sick, because I lacked vitamins and minerals as I omitted so many things from my diet. It was then when my family intervened to help me eat properly. Thankfully, my eating habits never got to the point of anorexia or bulimia — but I can now see how easy it is to fall down that dangerous path.
Since my family’s intervention, my weight has remained at a constant number. I eat more, but I tend to stick to what I would consider to be the “healthy foods.” I have learned about portion control and how to control the amount that I eat.
But even then, as my sentence shows, I still control what I eat. I find it very hard to just relax and enjoy a meal.
My friends and family always comment on how little I eat, or how I choose to eat salads. Subconsciously, I think to myself that I eat in front of them to avoid the hassle of getting asked, “Why are you not eating again, Jess?”
As I mentioned, my weight has remained pretty constant for the past year or so. I’m not “skinny,” but I’m not “fat” either.
Yet in my head, I still think of myself as that chubby 11-year-old girl. That’s the thing about body dysmorphia: It’s all in your head.
While you may appear to have a healthier weight on the outside, if your body still makes you unhappy, then your weight is still causing you to be unhealthy. Only this time, it’s your mind that’s unhealthy.
Mental health is a conversation that needs to be spoken about. For many, it’s considered a taboo subject. But we need to bring light to it.
All this talk about diets, food trends, and weight in our culture is causing us to become obsessed with our body image from a young age. And I know from firsthand experience how your weight as a child can affect you as an adult.
Even if you are not diagnosed with an eating disorder, you’re still aware of diets and you’re overly conscious of your weight. As recent statistics from ANAD show, “15% of young women in the US who are not diagnosed with an eating disorder display substantially disordered eating attitudes and behaviors.”
We live in a society that is obsessed with achieving the ideal “healthy body.” We believe the idea that, in order to be healthy, we need to be X amount of pounds with a waist of no more than X inches.
Instead of forcing unhealthy ideas about weight and body shape upon young girls, isn’t it better that we educate them about health — both mental and physical? We need to look after our mental health so we can feel beautiful both inside and out — and we need to remember that every body is different and every body is beautiful.
Let’s celebrate our good health and happiness, and let’s make this new year a good one, for our physical and mental health.