Before anything else, let me just say that I am not an eating disorder expert. The following is my personal experience.
It was almost midnight. Jay and I were in our early 20’s, not yet married, on our way back from one of our gigs, when we passed by a 24/7 drugstore somewhere in Quezon city. I asked him to accompany me to inquire about a promising box of weight loss pills that I saw at another branch.
I think the box cost around Php 2,500, good enough to last you for a couple of weeks, but pretty steep a price for musicians who earned less than that amount for every gig.
What I can’t forget was the aghast look on the sales lady’s face when she found out that it was I who intended to use it. “Ikaw?!?!?” She proceeded to tell me that I was already too skinny and shouldn’t be doing any more dieting or whatever.
I chuckled and told her it’s just the clothes that’s making me look thinner than how I really was, which was funny because I had on a pair of slim, low-waisted jeans that I had to get off a rack in the pre-teens section of the department store because none of the adult sizes were small enough to fit me, and I had on a skimpy halter top underneath my black velvet jacket.
She didn’t argue with me but her face said it all. She didn’t believe me and if she had a choice, she wouldn’t sell me the pills.
How it started…
I am a recovering anorexic. I know it doesn’t look it right now because I’m struggling with peri-menopausal weight, but once upon a time, I was an 88 pound, 5″2 woman who kept a small calorie count book in my jeans’ back pocket which I used to help me keep my calorie intake for the day to a hundred at max.
It wasn’t 1,200, it wasn’t even a thousand. I kept it down to a hundred to make sure I did not get fat. I used to constantly measure my wrist with my fingers. As long as my thumb can easily touch my pointing finger, I was good.
Honestly, I don’t think anyone really recovers from Anorexia completely. Yes, you start eating more and becomes on guard about falling into starvation mode again, but the things that go on in your head – the insecurities, the fears, the desire to throw up the food, the aversion from it…they somehow find their way back in your thoughts one way or another.
I know exactly when it started. I was in high school and I grew sick and tired of people saying I was fat. I’ve been called fat my whole life — even on those years that I wasn’t.
When I look back at it now, the only time I was really overweight was when I was in junior high.
I chose to lose weight over the summer. I just got kicked out of my second high school (don’t ask!), and somehow, I figured that people would take me more seriously if I lost weight and be pretty. I think that today’s youth has a different concept of beauty, but back then, skinny equaled pretty. You can’t be thick and pretty — the weight had to come off.
I asked help from a doctor who prescribed to me two weeks’ worth of weight loss pills (that are now banned) — that I took FOR ONE YEAR. I found out that I could buy them over the counter in smaller, unknown drugstores.
Skinny was my obsession. I took diet teas, laxatives, diet pills and went as far as take drugs — the kind you don’t buy in drugstores. I had to lose weight at all cost!
The stars are all skinny
Wanting to break into the entertainment industry didn’t help. I went to numerous auditions and VTRs, won some pretty decent jobs, but I was waiting for a big break that just wouldn’t come. I was getting older, my time was running out — I must not be pretty enough!
Translation: I must not be skinny enough!
It came to a point that the most I ate was a spoonful of rice on my way out the door. Our shows finished late, I would get home at around 4AM in the morning and sleep the rest of the day off. The only time I would set my alarm before 5PM is when I had to learn a new song, otherwise, I’d wake up at 5PM and prepare to leave right away. Best excuse to avoid food.
At the venues we played at, my constant companion was a cup of black coffee and a cigarette. I was heavy smoker back then. I didn’t eat. I’d sit with my band mates while they ate the dinner prepared by the management for us. I told them I was afraid to burp on mic, which happened once while I was belting out a Patti Austin classic, but the truth was, I was afraid to lose the audience’s attention. I was always in revealing clothes onstage and men would stand up and dance with me, hand me bouquets of roses, send food to our dressing room and ask to meet me.
Once, I came to work in a less revealing outfit and the management of one bar we played at asked to speak to our band manager to give me a warning. Skinny sold!
My doctor and I never really discussed my condition. He brought it up with me a couple of times during my visits for other health reasons but he never named it. Not to my face, anyway. I just saw it noted in my medical records once when I peeked while waiting to be called into his office — Anorexia Nervosa, it said, in bold letters. He must have written it when they had to admit me for several days for dehydration.
People were telling me I was too skinny. I joined another band for an out of town gig one time and one of them began tracing my ribs from my bare back. “Ang payaaat!” he said, shaking his head. “You’re too thin. You should eat more.” And I took it as a compliment, despite the expression on his face.
I honestly thought people were complimenting me when they told me I’m thin, and some really were. And was all the more convinced to keep the weight off. In fact, when I posted a picture of me from those days on social media several years later, some people were all over it.
Eating in fear
I don’t remember how I started eating normally again. I think it was around the same time I stopped smoking. Or maybe when I stopped singing altogether and focused on family. I was 92 lbs when I got married. I was on my way to recovery. All I know was that my body must have gotten into some sort of ketosis because I wasn’t gaining weight for many years even when I ate. Even after giving birth to my three children.
I started gaining weight in 2014, but that’s a different story to tell for another time.
But I was always self-conscious. I can’t help but mentally measure the amount of food I eat each time I do. I worked out a lot whenever I’d feel bloated or if I ate too much.
I think I am 20 lbs overweight at this point and it’s killing me. I don’t know if it’s peri menopause but it’s been very hard for me to resist my sugar cravings the past few years. I experience headaches and dizziness when I lessen my food intake. And it doesn’t help that I am suffering from back shoulder pain for over a year now and I cannot do the heavy workouts I’ve been doing.
I’ve been trying to work out consistently since the pandemic lockdown but the weight loss has been minimal. I tried the Ketogenic diet a few years ago and achieved some amount of success from it, but I fell out of it and it became difficult to get back to the diet. I know I shouldn’t feel this way, but I’m frustrated.
There are times when I would not eat for hours. I would try to eat just one meal, but then I end up eating more than I should. Then, I’d hate myself for it.
I’ve been under a lot of stress lately and I’ve been stress eating. Then I’d be miserable because I ate.
I can’t count how many times I resisted putting my finger in my throat to lose the food I just binged on. I’m always looking at my reflection on the glass windows whenever we pass by stores, and I cringe each time I see myself on video. I don’t really know how fat I am. I see it, but then I’m not sure, so I always ask my husband, sometimes pointing to a person and asking him if I’m as fat as her or that other girl — random people at the mall.
I hate it when I see photos of me. I feel ugly most of the time. It doesn’t look it because you see me post my picture on social media from time to time. But that’s just me fighting to be confident, drawing inspiration from other people who couldn’t care less how they look. I ask my husband and my children all the time if I’m fat – they always say I’m not, but I know they’re just being kind.
When you say I’m fat — I believe you. I’m annoyed because I know, you don’t have to tell me. I’m struggling to lose it. And I’m struggling against all the negative thoughts and emotions that come with it.
I’m afraid to fall into it and don’t recover from it this time. I can’t wait to move into our own house so I can resume my workouts. Workouts balance me. It could be the dopamine, but it somehow makes me feel better about myself. It makes me feel that I’m choosing what is right for my health, instead of going into another one of my crash diets.
I’m trying to be healthier, make healthy choices and avoid the anxieties caused by my weight. The Bible says to honour God with our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:19), and I’m all for that. I know my identity is not in how I look or how much I weigh. I know all that.
All I’m saying is that this is one of the battles I fight everyday. It messes with my head more than it should.
I offer no lessons from this experience. I’m just sharing my story and perhaps, someone out there is going through what I’m going through, too. I know I’m not alone. You aren’t, too. And we can do this – you and I. We can rise above it. We take it one day at a time. One win at a time.
A prayer at a time.