"I had adopted the belief that my value was measured by the numbers on my scale." Connor's Story.
Updated: Aug 11, 2020
Hello! I am Connor, I’m a 22 year old guy who is currently living up in Edinburgh, Scotland. I am originally from Wigan, near Manchester back down in England. I moved up here around 4 years ago to pursue a degree in Psychology. However, since finishing my studies, I have decided to start work up here and stay here as long as I can.
I have previously suffered with an eating disorder (ED), namely Bulimia. Although I say ‘suffered’ and I believe that I am currently at the ‘recovered’ end of my journey, I don’t believe it’s as simple as describing these issues as things from my past. Despite suffering more so previously with my ED, it still affects me daily.
At its worst, I was in a painful cycle of restriction, purging and bingeing. I had adopted the belief that my value was measured by the numbers on my scale. More specifically, that those numbers had to be as low as possible. You could picture it as a cruel game of golf where I wanted to go so low I’d end up with a negative score. Not possible, right? To me, it was the only thing that mattered in my life. I would do anything to make sure the number on the scale wasn’t a single unit higher than what it was the day before. Exercising vigorously everyday, usually twice a day for good measure. Whilst doing this, I would minimise the amount of calories going into my body.
There is a minimum requirement that we all need in order to not only function normally, but to live happily. I didn’t realise this so much at the time, but when you pass this minimum threshold, your brain will be constantly focused on food. When is the next meal is coming? How much you will have? etc. It sounds crazy, but it makes sense in the bigger picture. We all have an inherent desire to survive, whether we are feeling on top of the world or lower than ever imaginable. When we restrict ourselves of food, our body is simply trying to survive by constantly focusing on the food. If we don’t, we may let a potentially life-saving meal pass by. Due to this constant obsession, I was caught in a constant cycle of purging every night. Every last meal of the day was almost registered as the last I’d have for a long while. Due to this, I would enter into a state where I could not stop eating. We’re all familiar with over-eating of course. This was something different. This was almost a trance like state where I was not thinking about what I was eating, how fast it was all happening, when I would stop or even realise the pain and discomfort I was in. I would go to bed in pain and wake up with an almost hung-over feeling from the amount of food. We’ve all felt a bit sleepy after a big meal, but like I say, this was something different that affected me daily. When I woke up, the cycle started again. The restricting, the purging and the bingeing later in the evening. It was a cruel cycle which I could not break.
Nowadays, I don’t struggle with bingeing nor purging so much. I say that as although I don’t binge like I did in the slightest, I always have to check in with myself with what my intentions are in my day to day. I find it very easy to justify doing extra exercise as being ‘good for me’. Sometimes it is, I love exercise now and gain a lot of joy from it. However, on some days, I recognise that I am only exercising for the purpose that it could make me look better or weigh less. That’s the wrong intention and it is the voice of the ED coming back to try and work it’s way in. Similarly, I can avoid snacks or have meals not as substantial as the day before as I’m just not as hungry. Fair enough, our bodies can be funky and the needs of it change frequently. However, I also recognise when I’m avoiding eating as I feel anxious or stressed about something in my life. In my past, restriction was a solution to my issues. Now I recognise it only serves to exacerbate issues in my life, I understand that the whispering of this ED voice is not a helping friend but a destructive enemy.
There are a few different reasons I can point to for how this all started. For me, an obvious turning point in my mental health was after I competed in my first boxing match. In preparation for the match, I lost a lot of weight and exercised excessively. Due to this, I started to lose the joy I once found in training and my diet. However, because I was losing so much weight, I began to receive a lot of compliments around looking ‘good’ or ‘lean’, ‘strong’ and more. Without realising, I had realised the key to me being valued or even liked, was to lose weight. Although this was wrong, it seemed to be supported by the influx of compliments I had at the time. Saying this, I still love boxing and I love training now I have a healthy relationship with my body, food and mind. Many can also receive compliments around losing weight and not developing an ED. I get that too. However, when I look further back into my life, I can see where this all may have come from.
I was always an obese kid. All the way through primary school, high school and really all the way up until I left my home town to go to University. Although I was teased and criticised, I never really let it affect me. I was a happy kid, content with who I was and how I looked. Nevertheless, I did always feel like I had something to prove. I am also a dyslexic and dyspraxic, so the traditional school system was never suited to me, as I didn’t have the support to put me on an even playing field with my friends. Although I struggled with these learning difficulties, I never received any help for it until I reached college. For all my time before this, I was always seen as the dim one. The one who couldn’t do what was set out in class. The one who needed a simple task repeated a few times before understanding it. The one who couldn’t read out a few sentences from a book properly because a couple of the words couldn’t make sense. I knew inside me that I wasn’t stupid or dim, I just couldn’t do something like everybody else could. From all of this, I feel that a large part of me doing things on my own was to prove something. I studied hard to get into University to prove that I was capable. I began boxing to prove to people that I wasn’t just some obese kid who couldn’t do anything physical. I did all of these things to prove myself, rather than to enjoy myself. I believe my ED was another way of doing this. It was a way to show others of what I am capable of achieving, even if the goal of this achievement was dark and destructive.
Nowadays, I cope with my issues by checking in with myself and ensuring what I am doing is stuff I want to do for the sake of the thing itself. I no longer do things to prove myself, to weigh less or to look better to other people. I do things because I want to. When you do this, I believe the happiness follows as you are fulfilling yourself in the way that is true to you, not because you are being held to an unrealistic expectation that you ultimately don’t care about. That kinda stuff is so empty and soul-draining. So now, I feel happier in myself.
In terms of more practical tips, I would urge everybody to unfollow people who preach disordered behaviours and attitudes. You do not need to exercise to ‘earn’ a meal, to ‘burn off’ last night’s meal, nor do you need to make the ‘diet’ version of your recipes. If you want to lose weight just because you feel that’s right for you, fair enough. I wish you well with it. Just don’t do it because somebody has shamed you either directly or indirectly into doing so, in order to be more valuable. When I say unfollow, this also applies to people in real life. If people in your life are teaching you this message, they don’t care about your wellbeing. If they don’t care about this, they don’t care about you. Don’t waste your time, love and energy on people who don’t respect you in the same way. I wish I could tell these things to my younger self. Although I believe everyday is a new day to rebuild from the past, I’m sad I had to go through what I did, both when I was younger and even recently. However, I am beyond happy that I can now go forward in the future knowing that I don’t need to fall into those traps again. Sure, there might be more traps in the future, but I’m better equipped to overcome them.
With my experience, I want to teach others and share a message that I don’t believe is shared enough. Too many suffer in silence. Silence in the fact that they believe that they aren’t allowed to speak about their feelings, but also silent in another way.
I believe many disordered attitudes and behaviours are so subtle yet perverse in our society. Look at the focus on celebrities weight, the next fad diet, crazy workout routine. When these attitudes lead us individuals to suffer, a lot of the time we don’t question it as it feels as if it is the ‘norm’. If it’s the norm, we have no right to question it, yet alone fight against it. That’s what I want to do now, fight against the wrongs that are being taught in our society,
to help others avoid a path of needless pain
Thank you for reading.