Why Gaining Weight was the Best Decision I Ever Made.
Beth Phillips writes about taking back ownership of her body
When I was fourteen, I fainted at school. After months of unbearable sickness, and pointless doctor appointments, I was taken to the hospital for an MRI to see if they could figure out what was wrong. Whilst there, they told me I was due for a general check-up. The nurse measured my blood pressure, height, and of course my weight. Within seconds of stepping on the scales, she told me that my BMI was overweight. Whatever sickness I was there for now seemed irrelevant. I felt disgusted at myself, like I had let myself go, despite being so young.
From that moment, I made a vow to cut out, control and restrict just about everything in my diet. My sixteenth birthday was spent avoiding the buffet table and passing on cake because my brain simply wouldn’t allow it. I gave up chocolate for Lent as an excuse to start dieting. I was scared of alcohol. I religiously counted calories in order to track my progress. The days would be sandwiched with a trip to the scales, praying that I hadn’t gained that extra half a pound. It started slowly, then all at once, using diets as a personal challenge to see how hard I could push myself. The worst part is that I thought my attitude towards food was normal— healthy.
I know I should have told someone how I felt. Looking back now, there are so many moments that I could have used as a chance to reach out for help. I fainted in the doctor’s waiting room and the nurse asked if I was eating enough, or when my classmates went to the teacher, concerned about my rapid weight loss. Yet, I faked a smile, assured everyone I was fine. I’ve always been stubborn, desperate to show how capable I am of doing things alone. I should have known that asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, but a massive step in becoming better.
It wasn’t until I was eighteen that I decided to change. I remember visiting the doctor, crying as I attempted to explain how I could only eat at certain times, and only if I had showered. I listed the foods I was allowed to eat, the foods I couldn’t even look at, how I would walk around supermarkets for hours picking up what I really wanted, but always leaving with the same six items. It didn’t take long until I was diagnosed with anorexia. Finally, I had an answer to why I was consumed with these thoughts.
I was soon sent to therapy, where I hoped I would magically become better. The first year was rough. I’d never been so open about my problems before; I hated anyone worrying about me, and therefore didn’t bother telling my parents. I was sure they had an idea what was going on, but didn’t want to approach the subject in fear of me flipping out. That’s another thing about eating disorders, they turn you into someone new: a malnourished, miserable, exhausted version of yourself. I was angry at everything, or rather my anorexia was. If someone even mentioned that I should increase my calorie intake, I thought they were out to get me. Realistically, all they wanted for me was to get better, but I was too afraid. I needed that push to realise that food wasn’t the enemy. After a few weeks in CBT, I hadn’t gained any weight. I was reluctant to do the homework, cried every week and simply didn’t think I was worthy of taking up their time. Eight weeks passed, and my therapist and I decided it would be best to have a break.
I came back to University in September 2017, ready to tackle not only the massive workload, but also my anorexia. I went back to therapy with an open mind, realising that they were there to help me through my pain. My teenage years were consumed with anorexic thoughts; there was no way I was letting it continue with me into adulthood. I started ignoring the voice in my head telling me to restrict. I started eating bread again, ignored the numbers on food packaging, started going out for dinner. After years of mistreating my body, positive changes started to happen. Of course, breaking out and becoming physically exhausted don’t sound great, however I knew these were all signs that my body was attempting to repair itself. My hormones were waking up for the first time in five years. My emotions were all over the place, walking around with blotchy cheeks and a bloated stomach as I fought through the ongoing mental battle.
Despite what many people believe, it’s not an easy process to gain back the weight, especially after restricting for so long. Recovery is, without a doubt, the most difficult thing I have ever done. For a long time, I expected it to be an easy ride. However, something I’ve come to realise over the past year is that recovery isn’t linear. Some days, I feel as if I can tackle anything. Other times, I get stuck in a mind state that can be nearly impossible to escape. For example, a few months ago, I grew out of my jeans. I had owned this particular pair of jeans since I was fifteen, when my eating disorder was starting to develop. Seeing them rip at the thigh was a massive wake up call that I was growing and gaining weight— the weight that my body needed. At first, I was heartbroken. My brain started screaming, telling me I was a failure, and all the hard work we had put in for years was now wasted. However, I then remembered why I had gained weight. When I was a lower weight, life was exhausting. I could hardly walk without feeling faint, holidays were spent panicking and I was never truly in the moment because my brain was constantly fixated on what I’d be eating next. As cliché as it sounds, I wasn’t made to be a number. Worth isn’t measured by the size of my jeans, or that little screen on the scales, or the number of my BMI that the nurse told me when I was fourteen.
Since gaining weight, I’ve fallen in love, I’ve travelled, I’ve made new friends, I’ve become closer with my family. I’ve actually started enjoying food, and come to realise that eating is not, and will never be, synonymous with worth. Sure, food is needed to survive, but it’s also for us to enjoy, to savour and share. After seven years of fighting, I’m finally in a place where I’m learning to embrace my body; gaining weight was the best decision I ever made. Fast forward to the present, I’m tackling my eating disorder head on by enjoying life and eating as much cake as I can. I’ve deprived myself for too long; now is my time to take back ownership of my body.
Image credit: Jeffrey Cheung, 2018