“I signed up for the Circuit Factory January Challenge” my friend, Paulina messaged me in excitement.
“Four workouts a week for one month, and I can barely move after the session today.”
Instead of matching her excitement, or feeling repulsed by the idea of anything called Circuit Factory, shattering anxiety immediately filled my mind and body. I had to join as well. Suddenly, it was a competition. I couldn’t live with the idea that she would get more attractive, while I stayed here—stagnant—in my fat and imperfect body. In that moment, my mind began to fill with images of her, with a tighter ass, more slender legs and an even better bikini body. I started to picture even more people liking her, wanting to be around her and wanting to sleep with her and date her. My mind went everywhere, running in hamster wheel circles outside of my self.
Suddenly, I was consumed with this idea of Circuit Factory and my undying need to enter the challenge immediately. I began researching, watching videos and going into a state that I go into when I begin to compare myself with others, and indulge in the “I’m not good enough” thought vacuum.
As of late, this destructive mindset has resurfaced its ugly face several times in varying spaces—friends, work, exercise and food. This level of comparison reaches beyond what would be considered normal or manageable. Comparison that takes over your mind and your body, to the point that you are completely not there; not present. You are somewhere else, in a land of self-hatred and self-sabotage and the idea of removing yourself is unwelcome. You love being there. Soaking in the pain of hating yourself. It’s safe. It’s controlled. It’s comfort.
It’s clear to me, that the reason behind these frequently re-occurring thought patterns is the instability and transition in my life. It’s been a year of major change, some wonderful and some painful. I got engaged, I left my full-time job to pursue my business, my partner and I decided to begin a plan to move to a new country, I met Cheryl Strayed, I made some new soul friends, I attended the Summit at Sea cruise, I met Elizabeth Gilbert.
And a toxic and damaging truth was revealed in my family, which I failed to fix. It was the end of a relationship in which I couldn’t save anyone and after all my efforts, I couldn’t fix it.
Enter self-destruction mode.
I developed eating disorders at a young age. I grew up surrounded by instability and was exposed to self-hatred, self-destruction and poor body image from my surroundings, my home life and media itself. I suffered from eating disorders for many years, and they were what I used as a form of control; a method to deal with and hide from the out-of-control life I felt like I was living.
I remember experiencing these thoughts and anxieties ever since I was a little girl. Ever since the days of gym class, when I would watch my friends in hateful adoration as they would annoyingly flirt, folding their school-blue shirt sleeves and navy shorts to a less than acceptable length, to expose their perfectly slim arms and legs. I was always the “friend.” I was the one whose role was to pass messages between my friend and her courtier. Every single day, I would secretly wish that as I spoke to the boy in the scenario (who occasionally just so happened to be my crush as well) he would suddenly kiss me, or tell me that he liked me. I would wish that he would scoop me off of my feet, and for once, everyone would look at me in jealousy.
Unfortunately, for many years, this is not what happened.
And then I found exercise. Or, I suppose you could say that it found me. It all started on the day of the quarterly P.E. mile run. For some reason, after so many failed attempts at a decently competitive time, I rocked it. So much so, that my teacher passed my time onto the Cross Country Coach, who soon after cornered me in the locker room. I was in.
Within a few days, I was running Cross Country and within a few weeks, my body began to transform. I loved it. I felt like I was on top of the world. I had a new community, people started to notice me, and best of all—I was being complimented on my appearance for the first time since I was a cute blonde doll-like infant. It fueled me.
At the same time, my family life was undergoing a decent amount of instability—my parents fought a lot and because of his job demands; my dad’s time at home was decreasing month by month.
Food (or lack thereof) and exercise was my way of managing the pain that I was exposed to, and what I felt. At first it wasn’t noticeable, my weight loss was simply attributed to running—it made sense. That is until I started fainting in practice.
I’ll never forget the first time it happened. Believe it or not, it was during another mile run. I ran an amazing time; I ran so fast, I pretty much sprinted the entire mile. As soon as I finished, I walked my self to the locker room, barely able to see where I was going. I felt so light and dizzy, and my legs were senseless. I pushed the pool-blue ladies bathroom door open, skidded across the wet floor and sat, banging my back against the locker wall.
The next the thing I remember, my Cross Country coach, gym teacher and three good friends were huddled around me, holding a towel, a bottle of water and a can of 100 plus (Malaysia boleh!).
“Chloe, what happened? Are you ok?”
“Maddy, can you go grab Chloe something from the cafeteria?”
I could barely gather the energy to speak or sit up, but as soon as I heard the word cafeteria I immediately jumped to attention, and realized that unwanted food was coming my way.
“I’m okay!” I pushed.
“Chloe, you fainted. We need to get you some food,” my teacher insisted.
As you can imagine, the food came, and I sat there, as if I was on a platform, putting on a show, and I slowly ate, baby bite by baby bite, the pizza bread from Connie’s. I felt disgusting. I hadn’t eaten carbs or cheese in months. I hadn’t eaten anything outside of green grapes or fruit salad in weeks. Suddenly, I was being forced to eat this fat-inducing piece of pizza bread, slathered in cheese and grease. I felt like I was going to die.
I knew what I had to do. But I needed to get rid of everyone, so I could do it in peace. It took all my energy to stand up, and walk over to my locker and create a scene that resembled me being okay. Luckily, they believed me. I told a half-true story that I had forgotten to eat that day, because I was late for school and had to do homework during breaks and lunch. What I didn’t say is that I actually hadn’t eaten since yesterday’s breakfast, aside for a handful of grapes and three diet cokes. But they didn’t need to know that.
When they finally let me be, I only had one option. I had to remove that disgusting pizza bread from my body. So I did it. I purged the pizza in the girl’s locker room. I was late for class because I had to wait for my friends to leave. But I did it. I was back in control.
That was when bulimia and I made friends. Our friendship lasted a long time, all through middle and high school, as well as university. For a long time, I truly felt like she was my best friend and that we loved and supported each other. She was always there for me, and rarely gave me a hard time, even when I had a lot of unreasonable expectations on her. Once I moved from Malaysia to Canada for university, our friendship started to get shaky. I met a new boy, I had new friends, and my secret friendship with bulimia was no longer secret and not accepted. I wanted to keep her, and stay safe, but she began causing me more problems than I could handle. She stuck around for a few more years, until I finally let her go.
When people ask me about how I developed eating disorders, what it was like and how I recovered from them, I am not always sure what to say. I’m not sure of which story to tell, to inspire them.
There is no one reason why someone develops a disease like bulimia. It’s a complicated creation. There is no a + b = c sequence of logic. When I go through my story, it’s clear that anorexia, bulimia and exercise addiction all came to me at a time when I was completely lost—and grew up feeling shame, guilt, anger and sadness. I grew up feeling like I was unlovable, despite the fact that I had a family who all truly loved me.
To this day, I have beautiful relationships with both my parents and my brother. They are all my best friends, and I love them dearly. However, I was exposed to a lot of instability in my home. Being an empath, and so sensitive, I believe that I absorbed a lot of the pain that circulated the walls of the structure I called home. At that time, food transitioned from a place of nourishment and safety to a place of destruction and control. It was as if at a time when I had no control over the chaos unfolding, I felt that by having control over my weight, what I ate and how I felt about my body, I could breathe. It was a way for me to silence the anxiety, push down the reality and go into a place of numbness.
Over the years what I found is that my relationship with food and my body was a direct reflection of the relationship I had with myself. Food is here to nourish us and for some reason we have furthered the disconnection between our minds and bodies; an innate relationship which is here to keep us alive. The lesson is in recognising the ebb and flow of life, acknowledging pain when it is around and allowing ourselves to ask for support, allow pain to just be and to foster the deep connection between our minds and our bodies. Our bodies are incredible machines and time after time, they protect us, they keep us alive and they are always there for us. It is becoming increasingly important for us to bring awareness to our bodies, listen to their messages and approach life from a conscious space.
Author: Chloe Elgar
Editor: Caitlin Oriel
Image: Nicole Mason/Unsplash