As I entered my teenage years and my body started maturing, I felt I also started gaining weight.
During COVID-19, I saw myself binge eating, bored, and isolated. I think I almost gained 10 kilos (22 pounds) during this time. The constant social media scrolling during the isolation didn’t help.
I hated myself.
I decided to fix my health—by health, I mean my perceived fatness and weight gain. I started dieting and then binge-exercising on YouTube. I would spend 1-2 hours in the gym in the morning and then Zumba classes in the evening. Along with these, I continued my usual sports and swimming.
With the intense exercise, I bulked up, which still meant I didn’t feel slim.
People around me were cruel too, even if in jest. When you’re sensitive about your body, every comment hits hard and is fodder for more dysmorphia. My relatives teased me for being stocky, but when the shaming comes from teachers, it’s worse. A sports instructor called me “mini Hulk.”
All this fed my zeal for losing weight. An instructor “helped” me by asking me to send pictures of every meal I ate to keep my food intake in check.
In 2021, during my high school Board exams, I stopped the intensive workouts and started walking instead. I also cut down majorly on my eating. Finally, I started to lose weight.
I would drink a lot of water just so I wouldn’t feel hungry. It helped suppress my urge to eat. Within a few months, I dropped 10 kilos, which was my target weight. But alongside, I also started losing my hair. I had also lost my appetite by then.
I was skipping breakfast completely and barely eating dinner, a small snack maybe. The intermittent fasting trend seemed to be working (not).
The stress around body image and losing weight became multifold. I was constantly fighting with my mom because she was worried about my health, but even the fights couldn’t convince me to eat better. I stopped eating fruits altogether, and barely any veggies. Only the absolute necessary carbs.
My pediatrician became concerned then. I felt dizzy most of the time. We checked for anemia—my blood iron levels were fine, so we thought maybe the heavy periods were causing the lightheadedness.
It took a major accident, three days in the Intensive Care Unit, multiple facial fractures, and a major surgery to jolt me to my senses.
Last week, I went out to watch a movie, just a regular Friday evening. I had popcorn at around 5 p.m. and that was more than dinner for me, of course. That was the last “meal” for the day for me. I went to bed as usual.
At around five in the morning, I woke up with extreme stomach ache and felt I couldn’t breathe. I felt pukish, so I got up to go to the bathroom. As I got up from the toilet seat, I passed out.
My mother recalls me shouting out her name several times before I fell. She found me face down on the floor with blood gushing out from my mouth.
When I came to, I was lying on the floor in the bathroom in my mother’s arms—still feeling nauseous, still unable to breathe. I didn’t realize I was hurt, but my mom’s face said otherwise. There was blood everywhere, on my face and the floor. My parents rushed me to the Emergency.
And then I started to feel it. I was shivering and felt like I was freezing. My body was in extreme pain. At the ER, I had to wait because without my endocrinologist’s and pediatrician’s direction, they couldn’t perform any surgery on me. I live with Type 1 Diabetes and everything that goes into me needs to be monitored and measured. Regular blood sugar readings and insulin injections are needed to maintain insulin levels in my body. I couldn’t eat, so they had to give me measured glucose via drip. They gave me pain medication, but I still felt crappy—that would be an understatement.
The pain was endless, but I had to wait a whole day for them to schedule a surgery with specialists.
I spent three days in the ICU in pain—from my injuries, but also the lingering discomfort from gastritis that led to the degree of pain that caused me to pass out in the first place.
The doctors debated about the cause of the gastritis; my family tracked back all the things I had eaten the day of the accident. Finally, it was concluded that it wasn’t any specific food, but a gastroenterological problem brewing for a while. This night happened to be extreme—extreme enough to cause me to pass out.
It seems I had been having gastritis for a while due to the minimal food intake. The stomach was staying empty for long periods and there was a build-up of excess acid and thus gases in the gut. Add to that the lack of nutrition had led to weakness. So when I stood up that night in the bathroom, my body couldn’t handle the pain, leading to the accident.
This has been a wake-up call for me.
As someone who lives every moment highly aware and particular of my health needs in regard to managing my Type 1 Diabetes, I am amazed at how I walked into the weight loss/body image trap. Feeling ashamed of my body as it was led to frantic dieting and weight loss without concern for actual nutrition and health. But feeling guilty and further shaming myself for this is not going to help in any way, so going forward, my resolve is to listen to my body more closely and treat it with care and respect.
I also aim to delve more into the nutrition aspect of health. As an aspiring doctor, I realize the need for more nutritional training for healthcare professionals. It is my mother’s hope and my resolve to create a healthy eating routine and fitness plan which helps the body’s health and not just the image.
I share my story in the hope that other young people out there, conscious and overly sensitive about their bodies, start to love their bodies the way they are. That a healthy body is a vessel of life, one which is essential to thriving mentally, emotionally, and in all other aspects of life. That we need to listen to our bodies more than the social influences—the digital media, the fitness ads, the fashion trends, and shut out the unkind voices around us.
Kindness to our bodies is the first step to being kind to ourselves and loving ourselves.