I was seven years old. My grandma scooped food onto my plate. It took so much effort just to eat the very little I had taken: a little spoonful of rice and some Dinendeng, a vegetable stew, a staple Filipino dish. Trying to finish was impossible. I would spit it out in a napkin unnoticed or scattered it around the plate so it looked like less. The best method was to just put it back into the serving bowls when no one was looking. That was the easiest way to get out of eating. And so began the never-ending cycles of my eating disorder. 

I didn’t know I had an eating disorder.

From as far back as I can remember food was difficult. Every time my family ate at a restaurant, it never failed. I barfed after every meal. “Alah, Ag sar sarwa manen.” Translation: She’s throwing up again. It was just expected. I walked to the bathroom, barfed, and returned. And we just carried on. 

As an adult, food issues took a different turn. Instead of under-eating and being underweight, I swung the other direction. Each year, my clothing size would go up. I’d have to buy new clothes, but I saved small sizes as motivation. The weight would go up, then down, then up, down, and then way up. 

I was binging all day and every night. It was as if I was making up for lost time from childhood. No matter what I ate I was still hungry and never felt satisfied, so I just moved on to the next food. I couldn’t even taste anything, because I was just thinking of what to eat next. 

Vomiting became regular. I didn’t think I had an eating disorder because I wasn’t trying to barf to lose weight. If anything, I just wanted to make room to eat more. 

A different side of the same coin.

There are so many sides to this illness, but it’s all the same. It looks like this: 

Binges, drive-thrus, snacks for the car ride, restaurants, desserts, drinks at the bar till 2am. Munchies, and fried diner food after. It’s spending thousands of dollars on groceries, fancy restaurants, and searching constantly for the best foodie spots. 

Body checking, obsessively looking in mirrors, scales, tracking weight, comparing yourself to others. It’s feeling disgusted with your body. 

Then there are diets, restricting, calorie counting, BMI calculators, health books, food journals, weight loss gimmicks, vitamin B injections. Don’t forget the appetite suppressants, weight watchers, counting points, eating only grapefruit and an egg for breakfasts. Being vegan, raw, vegetarian, pescatarian, paleo, gluten-free, or sugar-free. 

There’s the over-exercising, swimming for an hour and then maybe a run. It’s the gym to hop on the treadmill and then a kickboxing class after. Working out before the workout. It’s hot yoga every day without eating. Then fainting in yoga, and waking up to your teacher smacking you in the face to come to. 

A losing game.

It’s the never-ending game of losing weight, gaining weight, losing weight, and then gaining it all back and then more. 

A game I kept losing at so I started hiding. Secretly binge all day, eat dinner at home with my husband and then binge more at night became a regular thing. 

My weight increased and I wore black clothes to hide my shame and low self-esteem under large flowing fabric. I became so overweight, I could not breathe at night and sleep apnea developed. My body was crushing itself. I had to wear a c-pap. My joints were shot. There is cartilage in my knee that is still torn probably from over-exercise. 

But the worst of it was I was sick to my stomach daily and hated myself. I went to bed sick, and I woke up sick. Each day I felt grosser than the last. And when I promised myself I wouldn’t do it again today, I did. And each day, there was more evidence that I was a monster out of control. 

The solution.

I could still not stop eating. But then I stumbled upon a 12-step food program. 

At first, I didn’t think it would work, and I just didn’t have it in me to fail at another thing. But I joined anyway. I was desperate, defeated and in so much pain, physically and emotionally, I would have done anything. And instead of the strictness and rigidity that I beat myself up with for years trying to be “healthy”, surprisingly I learned something new. 

Women accepted me with open arms and taught me a gentleness I never knew. I learned flexibility and how to be kind to myself. They said, “We will love you until you learn how to love yourself.” 

Learning how to eat normally was something I never learned to do as a kid. They taught me that eating was self-care, and I can nurture myself with food. Food is sustenance. See, I always thought of food as punishment or reward. 

Happy? Sad? Anxious? Angry? Lost your job? Got a job? Got married? Got divorced? Did someone die? It’s your birthday? You are having a baby? Broke up with your boyfriend? Found a new boyfriend? 

I learned to cope.

In any situation, there is always something to eat, to either celebrate or mourn. Food meant love, family, comfort, and food meant safety. But they taught me, you can have all of that without food. Food is actually just food. 

It took work to separate all that in my head. Understanding that love, connection, or safety, doesn’t have to be connected to food was mindblowing to me. It isn’t a reward and most importantly, it is not a punishment. 

After hard work, a lot of crying, and learning to care for myself through others’ experiences and guidance, I developed spirituality and self-love. 

Today, I am at a healthy size and am constantly in awe of others and my own recovery. I have clarity of mind and freedom from food obsession I have never felt before. My obsession with food was lifted. The weight left and I gained my life back. 

Author

Jana has been in substance abuse recovery for 3 and a half years, food recovery for nearly 2 years and has struggled with mental illness the majority of her life. She is a mental health professional and artist. A huge part of her recovery is to share her lived experience through writing, poetry, and composing songs to sing and play on her guitar and piano. She hopes to help others feel not alone in their struggles and to let them know that recovery is possible.

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