What the Vicious Cycle of Starving Taught Me

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As I sit here trying to write this article, I find myself struggling to do the task. I have had my own struggles with my body image and food. I understand what it feels like to look in the mirror and see “fat” and “ugliness.” The thoughts of “If I could only lose five more pounds, then I’ll be pretty” or “If I only eat lunch today, I’ll get skinnier quicker” are all too familiar. Once I got sucked into the cycle, I was addicted.

My obsession with my weight and appearance began in the third grade (In today’s society, this has become normal). For as long as I can remember, I have always been the smallest in class. My teachers and friends would always point out to me how tiny I was but one day that whole idea about myself would be wiped away. It began one day at lunch when a girl called me “fat like an elephant.” My heart and more importantly my self-esteem shattered after what my classmate had said. Trying to make sense of this comment, I quickly examined my lunchbox, only to see nothing left—I had eaten my entire lunch that my mom made for me. My mind couldn’t stop analyzing the empty lunchbox. “No wonder why Sam*(Name has been changed) called me fat, there’s no food left” was the only explanation my eight year old self could come up with. I promised myself that I would never let Sam or anyone call me fat again and my dietary habits quickly changed.

My mom, a healthy person, always made sure I had a balanced lunch with a little “treat.” I always left the snacks I ended up not wanting in my lunchbox and then had to hear from Mom, “Gab, why didn’t you eat this or that.” But, after that traumatizing day at lunch, I got smart. I would rip the crusts off my sandwich to reduce calories—Looking back, I had no idea what a calorie was at eight years old but from what teachers were discussing with one another calories were bad. In addition to ripping crusts off, I would throw away my “treat” snack from my mom and take only a few bites of my other snacks. I would be coming home from school with both an empty lunchbox and stomach.

Everyday after school I went to my grandparent’s house and would be greeted by a table full of snacks that my grandmother prepared for me. I would eat everything so that the hunger could be quelled and then a few moments later guilt would set in. Guilty, because I let myself indulge in all of this food, and I should have known better than to do something like that. To make up for this “unnecessary eating,” my best friend and I would take laps and laps around the neighborhood. Our parents and grandparents weren’t questioning our behavior—We were coming home with empty lunchboxes, hungry bellies, and a desire to be active, that doesn’t indicate a body image obsession right? My best friend and I wanted to be perfect and tiny. It brought us joy when we would go to the mall and the “Xtra-Small” would be a little loose on us.

When I think about my behavior at eight years old, it makes me sad that I let Sam’s comments get to me. Deep down I knew that there was nothing wrong with me but I couldn’t let go of that lunch comment. If she thought that about me, then everyone else must, right? The cycle was so fun in the beginning and now it’s just exhausting. What happened during lunch in the third grade impacted me then and still continues to impact my life as a college student.

My obsession with calories, being the smallest size, and appearance is present as ever. I hate eating meals because I equate eating with gaining weight. I start my day off with two cups of green tea to hold me over, then I eat a small meal for lunch, drink more green tea, if I’m really hungry then sometimes I’ll have some cheese or a protein bar so I’m guaranteed to not feel hungry, and then I’ll eat dinner. Of course, I can’t forget to mention my need to take my diet pills. I’m not even sure if they work but my mind has me convinced that I need to take them. The rumblings in my stomach even after I have eaten is just a reminder that I’m doing something right. Seeing the scale, fluctuate throughout the day makes me happy, and I know this is 100% insane.

I used to get nervous when I was in the dining hall and was walking back with my plate because I couldn’t help but to think that everyone is staring at me and thinking, “Oh my God, she’s so fat.” I can’t look in my mirror without finding something wrong. “I hate my thighs, my belly sticks out so much, why are my calves so big?” are only some of things that I say to myself. I’m sure my friends are tired of hearing my self- insults but it’s nearly impossible for me to not do this.

I think what hurts me the most is when people comment on my thinness. At my Junior Prom pictures, my date’s aunt told me “eat a cheeseburger because you need one.” Couldn’t she tell me that makeup was pretty?

Since being away at college some of the following statements that people have said about me stuck with me: “The best part of you is your body,” “I’m so jealous of your frame,” “You can wear anything you want,” “You only get by because you can wear jeans,” and “You don’t deserve to be skinny.” These statements have hurt me tremendously. Why should strangers first “compliments” about me be about my weight? This isn’t acceptable for anyone.

These comments only fuel my obsession with my diet and exercise habits—and I’m sure that I’m not the only girl who has had an experience like this. My weight shouldn’t be of concern to strangers. What should be of concern is my personality and attitude. I don’t want to be known as the “skinny girl.” I want to be known as the funny, smart, happy, and of course, the fashionable girl.

As a society, we need to end the obsession over food—cliché I know. Wishing for this cycle to end isn’t going to do anything.  This absurd obsession is going to end when myself and other girls realize that we look just fine. I know that what I am doing is not healthy. I also know that there are many other girls out there who feel the same way that I do and I want these feelings to finally come to an end. But, I feel this pressure from the media and people that I hang out with to be absurdly skinny.

I have come to understand that I have to stop buying over the counter diet pills, I can’t rely on green tea to stop my belly from growling, I can’t be afraid to eat in front of other people, and I need to find something beautiful about myself when I look in the mirror.

Just because you haven’t been diagnosed with a specific disorder doesn’t mean that you don’t have a problem. However, you shouldn’t be ashamed of yourself if you have an eating disorder or if you have body image issues—all that matters is that you realize that this is no way to live life and you have to find the strength inside yourself to make the decision to take care of your body. As Mae West said, “I never said that it would be easy, I only said that it would be worth it,” it’s going to take a lot of work but I believe that every girl can come to love her body, myself included.

Photo by Daniela Vladimirova