Time: 3.43AM. Distance covered: 22.7km. Calories burned: 1,743kcal. Current weight: 52.7kg.
That was how far shame took me.
At 14 years old, I was training to be a national high jumper. My fat percentage was 12.7%. My coach wanted me to get to 11%. I towered over most of my peers at 178cm and weighed 56kg pre-diet.
Each day was a battle; it was a test of surviving on as little as possible until the 24 hours was over.
I would wake up in the middle of the night to do long runs in addition to the regular training sessions I had every week. Six times a week, I was training hard.
I weighed myself after each meal, hoping that the numbers would go down.
Words from my coach rang in my mind each time: “Your advantage is your height. Your biggest disadvantage is your weight. How can you improve your performance when you’re so heavy?”
It was a slap in the face. It was the first time I was made conscious about my weight.
RUNNING FOR MY LIFE
One of those nights that followed, I changed into my jersey and laced up my running shoes despite a sleep-inducing drizzle outside.
How can I still be 53kg? I had stopped eating for 34 hours and 26 minutes! I was enraged at myself and prepared for yet another long run, tucking my cigarettes and caffeine pills into my inner pockets for extra energy along the way. Earlier, I had drunk two diet teas and taken one laxative to get the water and food – whatever was left of it – out of my body.
But this was only the beginning of my destructive journey, fuelled by an obsessive desire to control everything I had, especially food, because I couldn’t control anything else in my life. Everything seemed to be spiralling out of control.
My desire for control became extreme.
Soon, I started cutting the sides of my tummy or thighs with a penknife for each time I overate to remind myself how disgusting I was. My phone was filled with wallpapers of starving models and quotes to motivate me to get thinner.
And whenever I overate, I would force myself to gag and throw up everything. There were days only green bile came out because I had barely eaten anything. I was fighting against my body and metabolism.
There was once I was so ravenous that I waited till my family had gone to sleep before devouring everything that was in sight – fried chicken, cheesecake, yoghurt, ice-cream … whatever I could get my hands on in the kitchen.
I remember feeling so horrible about myself almost immediately that I ran to the toilet to purge those “evils”. I was so ashamed that I stopped eating for the rest of the week to make up for it.
This quest for “perfection” was far from perfect.
I was constantly having stress migraines and my throat burnt each time I threw up.
My weight plateaued at one point and couldn’t drop any lower despite fasting for three to four days with as little water as possible.
My period stopped. For four years.
I was always lethargic from the lack of food but I would lie about having eaten to my family and friends. I found it annoying every time they asked.
I wore baggy clothes to cover my body because I felt so big, even though I had lost a lot of weight.
But I am still disgusting, I would think to myself, pinching the sides of my thighs.
I saw myself as a disciplined, strong athlete, participating in nearly every sport offered. I was even scouted to be in the national team for the heptathlon and rowing because of my build and natural strength.
However, the only thing that kept me from passing out was the temporary adrenaline rush from caffeine pills, black coffee and cigarettes.
I was skin and bones and running myself into the ground.
I could see jutting cheekbones. But it wasn’t enough.
I could see prominent collarbones. But it wasn’t enough.
I could see ribs sticking out. But it wasn’t enough.
I could see my hip bones when I lay down. But it wasn’t enough.
It was never enough.
THE WEIGHT OF BROKENNESS
In junior college, after a sexual assault incident, it dawned on me that my current body wasn’t able to protect me from assaults. I was too weak, too helpless.
It was a much needed wake up call but that incident pushed me to the other extreme, where I’d spend long hours at the gym, trying to ‘bulk up’. I started eating again. Bit by bit and the weight came back. At the peak of my lifting journey, I was lifting over 120kg in deadlifts.
Then I broke the joint between my shin and ankle during a bad fall while playing volleyball. It was just 3 months to the Institute-Varsity-Polytechnic games. In my cast, I was still heading down to the gym to do rehab and workout whatever was not broken.
I looked healthier but I’d never been more broken on the inside. The worthlessness that clung to me when I was starving myself had never left.
People saw my effort as dedication. I saw it as desperation to validate myself for one last time by winning big at the IVP. I intended to stop competing to focus on work.
Since it was my final chance, I sprayed anaesthesia on my barely recovered shin before the competition. I ended up clinching 3rd place. Many of my friends were in awe of my “valiant” attempt, but I knew that it was just a horrible attempt to salvage what probably was the end of my athletic career.
I sunk into depression and stopped eating again. So what if I had gotten physically stronger? I was only strong on the outside. I looked healthier but I’d never been more broken on the inside. The worthlessness that clung to me when I was starving myself had never left.
It was so tiring, the fight to prove myself. It was a never-ending battle.
After years of battling anorexia, bulimia and depression, I finally admitted to myself that I needed help.
Letting go of the control I thought I had over my life was difficult and frustrating but I knew I had to surrender it to God. To believe that His sovereign goodness would steer me in a better direction than any of my efforts ever could.
As Jesus won our eternal victory on the Cross, we will always have hope on our side.
Now at 22, I am still trying.
Each day still feels like a struggle but it’s no longer me trying to insist on my will over His. Just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, recovery usually is not a magical one-step prayer. There is no secret formula I can give those who struggle like I do. But as Jesus won our eternal victory on the Cross, we will always have hope on our side.
And thus, I hope. I hope that you – and I – will continue to press on towards full recovery. He gives us grace for every step forward. This is the race we must run.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith … (Hebrews:1-2)