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Sunday, February 7, 2016

8 Years Since Anorexia: How I Gained Confidence

Loving yourself is one of the most important and sometimes the hardest life lessons to master. People often tell me that I am very confident, but honestly that confidence wasn't achieved overnight. I spent most of my junior high years suffering from anorexia nervosa. During that painful period of my life, I learned so many aspects of myself that I hadn't noticed before and, more importantly, I learned that true confidence comes from within.

As a kid, I was very thin, but once I hit puberty, I gained weight, acne, and a lot of negative feelings towards myself and my body. Back then, I was larger than I am now. I was two sizes larger in jeans, weighed about 10 pounds more than I do now, and was maybe an inch or two shorter. Was I unattractive? Uh, yeah, but who wasn't at that age?

My mom told me that everyone gets chubby during puberty, and that that weight would go into my height once I got older. I trusted her, so I never really minded my weight. I ate a healthy diet and was relatively active. I thought I was fine.

It wasn't until when my friends were talking about trying out for cheerleading and were practicing the pyramid. I asked if I could be in the pyramid, and one girl replied, "No, you're too heavy. But you can be on the bottom of the pyramid if you want." Um. OUCH? Yeah, it hurt, but I decided to shrug it off.

I attended a private Catholic school where my inner circle of friends were becoming increasingly self-conscious about their bodies as they got older. We wore uniforms, but once a month, we had a Free Dress Day, where we could, well, wear whatever we wanted.

On one Free Dress Day, I wore a pair of American Eagle jeans and an Abercrombie & Fitch shirt (it was the cool thing back then... ha). When I showed up to school and sat with my friends, the topic of discussion was jean sizes.

"I'm a zero!"
"Well, I'm a double zero!"

I thought, "Dang. They are tiny. I hope they don't ask me about my size LOL."

But then they did. "What size jeans are you wearing?"

"I dunno," I said. "Why does it matter?"
Then one girl decided to check my jeans size for herself (which was incredibly rude and inappropriate).
"You're a size four?! Wow."

Later that day at lunch, I bought an ice cream sandwich, and when I sat down to eat it, one boy asked me how much I weighed. I lied and replied, "Ninety."
"More like nine hundred!" he said. I could tell he was satisfied with his "joke" because there was snickering everywhere.

Needless to say, I felt pretty bad. 

What made things worse was that it wasn't just my weight that I got teased about. Thanks to my dad's wonderful genes, I inherited pretty bad acne. A guy I sat next to in science class told me that he wanted to "scrape off [my] whiteheads with a knife." Another kid literally told me, "Your face is worse than the debris of Hurricane Katrina."

I never told my parents about what kids were telling me at school, because I knew they would be heartbroken. I oftentimes came home and cried silently in my room.

One day, I had had enough. I knew I had to make a healthy change in my life. I was so sick and tired of being that chubby kid with a red polka-dotted face.

I started off by eating salads at lunch, but I wasn't losing as much weight as I wanted to. (In retrospect, I added way too much Italian dressing and croutons.) In addition to salad, I subtracted sodas and fried foods from my diet. I began exercising for an hour everyday by running/cycling around my subdivision once I got back from school. I also quit snacking after 7 PM. Sounds healthy, right? Soon enough, I was shredding off pounds. I easily lost about five pounds from those changes.

But the teasing was still happening. Even though I felt like I was at a healthy weight, I was still insecure about my body. That's when my diet and exercising became more and more extreme.

It got to the point where I was consuming literally only 300 calories a day. I lived off of "sandwiches" that were made out of two slices of Sara Lee's 45-calories-per-slice bread and 30-calorie-per-slice fat free American cheese. No condiments, of course. I still felt like the 120-calorie sandwich was too much, so I would cut off the crust. After eating, I would do 200 sit-ups, not even kidding. But my skin cleared up, which was a huge plus.

In just two months, I went from being 120 pounds to merely 87 pounds. I had lost 33 pounds in two months.

The first time people began to notice my weight loss was at my National Junior Honors Society (NJHS) induction in 7th grade. I was wearing a size 00 dress and I felt great. When I walked up to the podium to grab my NJHS certificate, I heard many people gasp at my weight loss.

After the induction, many parents went up to my mom to ask why I had lost so much weight so quickly. A lot of them asked if I had an illness.

My friends, however, came up to me and said, "You look great!" to which I thought, "This is what I had to put myself through to get compliments from people?" But I still felt that it was worth it. For the first time in a long time, I felt great.

My sudden weight loss and "diet" came with a lot of consequences. I oftentimes passed out in my own house,  slept in class, my class attendance fell, I basically had no energy all the time. 

My immune system got weak, so I was sick all the time. My nearly perfect marks in all of my classes began to slip. My teachers suspected me of having bulimia, so they made me sit next to them at lunchtime, in case I ran off to the bathroom when they weren't looking.

But finally, I was fitting into Abercrombie Kids clothes that all the skinny girls in my class wore. I easily fit into size 00 jeans. I fit into the smallest sizes at Hollister. On Free Dress Day, the fact that my jeans were smaller than my friends' gave me a boost of confidence.

Prior to anorexia, I loved science. My dream was to be a doctor. I used to read my science textbook ahead and begged my parents to buy me more science books.

But at measly 87 pounds, I felt terrible. I pretty much slept all the time and my scientific Google searches were replaced with "calories in [insert food name]."

It wasn't just my weight that had changed. I had become a materialistic monster that prioritized how others thought of me over anything else. 

Weirdly though, I still felt insecure compared to some girls, even though I was skinnier than them! It eventually dawned on me that the reason I was insecure in their presence was because they were so confident. They were nowhere as thin as I was, but they always had bright smiles on their faces, had a strong sense of self-awareness, and, most importantly, they loved themselves. That's when I realized that it's not my weight or people's compliments that were going to make me feel better about myself. The only thing that could get me out of my eating disorder was myself and how I thought of myself.

What really led me to recovery was a deep conversation with my dad. He asked me if I still wanted to be all the things I wanted to be before: a doctor, a leader, someone important in society. I said, "Of course."

"You are stopping yourself from achieving your dreams," my dad responded (See where I get my bluntness from?). "You have a lot of people around you who love you and support you, but you are your only obstacle. How are you going to do anything when you have no energy? How is that going to make you happy? Do you think passing out in hallways and falling asleep all the time is going to get you anywhere?"

What my dad said was very straightforward but so accurate. Truth be told, yeah I liked that people were telling me I looked good in clothes, but none of those compliments were making me happy with myself as time went on.

I began to think more about what I liked about myself besides my new clothes sizes at Abercrombie and Hollister: I had the highest grades in my class, won piano competitions, was known for being funny, and very ambitious. More importantly, I learned that physical attractiveness implies absolutely nothing about a person's character — if it did, the "skinny and pretty kids" would not have made those cruel remarks about my weight and acne.

Many people are completely surprised when I tell them that I've had an eating disorder because I am a very confident person now. Do I wish I could have learned body positivity and the importance of loving yourself without an eating disorder? Of course.

Eating disorders are incredibly painful, and I do not wish them on anyone. But through this painful experience, I learned that the source of true confidence comes from within. Feeling confident about "external" things like stupid freaking jeans sizes is not going to last long at all. In the end, you need to know that you are beautiful and you have so much to offer to the world.

You only live once. You only have one body. Love yourself.

With love,

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