I didn’t struggle with my body through most of my younger years. As a badminton player who represented my school, I was very muscular, especially in my lower limbs, from the sheer amount of physical training.
At that time, I was not affected by comments on how big my legs were because I was proud of them. These legs enabled me to be physically stronger than others in many sporting situations. I was honestly happy with my body.
However, this changed in university. One day, a particularly straightforward acquaintance randomly told me I had “thunder thighs”. Somehow his words stayed in my mind, and I was disturbed.
I hated how I looked.
To be honest, I had put on weight in university due to unhealthy habits – eating McDonald’s almost every other day, snacking through the night… I decided then to do something about it and explore having a healthier lifestyle.
I started exercising and eating better. However, people were still making comments about my body, making fun of my attempts to get healthy, and I became very conscious of my body shape and size.
It came to a point when I saw myself as fat and ugly, and I hated how I looked.
As a science student, I knew the most logical way was to cut calories. This wasn’t wrong, but I took it to the extreme and cut calories drastically, and in a short amount of time. At the same time, I started doing high-intensity exercises that were efficient for fat loss.
I would never have imagined myself to walk down this road, but I had fallen prey to anorexia nervosa.
After about five months of extreme exercising and dieting, my weight dropped drastically and I finally became very skinny. That same person who had called me out for my “thunder thighs” actually came to tell me how I looked better after the weight loss.
I was happy that I had lost weight, but the side effects of anorexia were actually making me feel terrible most of the time.
Thinking this was all in the name of good health, I was obsessed with counting every single calorie I consumed, to the point of abstaining from social gatherings. My mood was constantly low due to the low amount of glucose in my body, and I was losing a lot of hair. My period had also stopped.
I’m thankful that God was still very much in the midst of this, even as I was getting sucked into the black hole of mental disorder. When I picked up running as another form of exercise, I noticed that when I ate more, I could run faster. I felt stronger.
Yes, I still felt guilty when I ate, but as I focused on getting fitter and not just thinner, the hold anorexia had on me slowly loosened.
However, the internal tension was still there. I had been on a calorie deficit so long that it took time for my weight to return to a healthy level. People were now commenting on how emaciated I looked, and they even called me anorexic to my face.
They probably never meant malice, but I still felt judged and it didn’t help my self-hatred. People would force me to eat junk food in front of them or just eat more even after I had completed a meal – just to prove I was normal.
After a while, coupled with the stress of starting work, I swung to the other end. Food became my source of comfort. Whenever I felt frustrated, angry or sad, I would eat. I wouldn’t stop even if I was full. This wasn’t just overeating – I ate until my stomach hurt.
The binge eating disorder lasted for over three years. My mind was so distorted. I would binge, regret, cry and then the cycle would continue day after day. I was crying myself to sleep at night, afraid of going through the same thing the next day. It was a dark place to be.
The only person in the world who knew what was going on was my husband. We had gotten married even when I was still going through anorexia, and he had been trying to help me for a long time. He just did not know how to.
One day, after I tried to purge from the bingeing for the first time, he insisted I seek professional help at the Singapore General Hospital’s eating disorder programme. This was a turning point for me, and I gradually found the courage to share what I had been going through with my mentor and cell group in church.
It was so scary being vulnerable. However, it was also liberating to be transparent about my struggles to the people who loved and genuinely cared for me.
After a total of four years since the start of my mental health journey, I finally was recovering. Honestly, I still looked at food in numbers – the number of calories. There were still moments of guilt when I ate certain types of food.
But I was also bingeing much lesser, as I learnt to take captive of any thoughts on self-image and worth that I knew ran contrary to how God would see me – as His precious child.
It was a long journey of renewing my mind.
However, what was still missing was my menstrual cycle, which had been absent for years because of the eating disorders. Due to a lack of hormones in my body, I was diagnosed with osteopenia. And even with the strongest hormone pills, my menstruation was not returning.
I always wanted a child, so without a menstruation cycle, I knew it was impossible. I was angry – angry with myself because it was a consequence of my own doing.
Once again, the struggle with hating myself rose up again. I felt helpless, unable to will my cycle to resume. I felt guilty towards my husband; I felt worthless as a woman. The list of emotions was endless.
My identity as a woman did not lie in being able to conceive, but in Him. I’m always His daughter and just for that, I’m always loved by Him.
Around this time, I met with a very assuring doctor who told me to stop the hormone pills for a few months to see if my body would decide to “restart” on its own. And true enough, it did – four years since it had disappeared!
I briefly shared this breakthrough with my father and it prompted him to share a vision he had received from God two months before, one of me giving birth. He had not shared it with me as he was unsure and knew I was still emotional about being unable to conceive.
My identity as a woman did not lie in being able to conceive.
I told him it was impossible that I was pregnant, as my menstruation had only just come back. However, I kept that vision in my heart, believing that one day it would come true for me.
In the fourth month since my cycle restarting, I had pre-menstrual symptoms, but as the weeks passed, my period did not come. I was also feeling very sickly and was down with a bad bout of stomach flu.
After a while, I decided to get over the wariness of using a pregnancy test kit again and used it. I was pregnant. That same month was my fourth wedding anniversary!
Five years since my period stopped and a year after it returned, to the exact month, I held my newborn son in my arms.
It has been a long journey through shame, redemption and healing – but God saw me and my family through it all.
This article was first published on Thir.st.