Written by: Kimie Kwan (Photo by: Marvin Ng)
My story of battling an eating disorder
“You’re too fat!”
“You’re so ugly, no one will like you.”
How often have we heard such poisonous words lunged at us? It could come from a friend or even a parent, and finds its way in our head — a constant echo.
Having grown up in a family of six, my siblings and I found ourselves competing against each other throughout our childhood, from academic grades, looks, and even to our school co-curricular activities. I was not study material; my report card was often filled with low passes. Call me lazy or non-studious but I was content as long as I wasn’t failing.
However, my sister seemed to have it all. She was smart, athletic, pretty, popular, radiated passion for Jesus and had a long line of suitors. In stark contrast, my life was mostly sad and dull — I was often the subject of bullying, which instilled fear and rejection in me. I also had to endure unending name-calling and teasing because of the way I looked physically, resulting in self-hate and disgust. On top of that, I was often stuck in the dark recesses of spiritual apathy. It was not long before I grew jealous and resented my sister for being “the better one”. Why did everyone love her and not me?
The final blow to my already battered and bruised self-esteem arrived when I overheard my mum praising my sister one night, “She’s the prettiest.” I was heartbroken as my dad agreed with her comment. I knew full well my sister was superior in the looks department but hearing my parents confess it aggravated the jealousy and resentment; I no longer could not look at my sister the same way.
Consumed with the urge to outshine my sister, I began pursuing worldly approval and lived according to what others deemed as pretty and attractive. I bought new clothes and never left the house without make up on. As I scrutinised and criticised every part of myself in the mirror, I concluded that I was too fat. Thus, I drastically altered my diet, began exercising, and soon began shedding pounds. I survived on a 250 kcal cereal bar at each meal and drank less than a cup of water every day. I even went so far as to consume a form of laxative to force myself to egest everything. The more I indulged in this unhealthy routine, the more obsessed I became with losing weight. Clothes that used to fit barely hung on an almost-skeletal body. I didn’t need anyone to tell me what was wrong — I knew I was anorexic.
One day, my sister exclaimed, “You’re so skinny! I wish I could eat whatever I want and not get fat, just like you!” While I felt like I had finally beaten my sister at something, I consciously knew I was painfully losing the war. In a matter of four months, I had lost 10kg and noticed worrying physical changes — my hair fall increased rapidly and my menstrual cycle stopped. I constantly felt weak and suffered from dizzy spells. As worried as I was about my health, my body did not want the pounds back! If I overate for a day, I felt the need to “punish” myself by restricting my food intake for the next few days. I was miserably fighting my body that craved, yet rejected, food. As a result of my physical condition, my conduct at work and ministry was heavily affected. I could not get by a work day without breaking down; my body would feel weak and faint and I would cry at random moments.
As I was serving in the worship and music ministry in my home church, I avoided being on stage because I felt exposed, vulnerable, and ugly. After struggling for eight months, I decided it was easier to run away from serving and met one of my leaders in ministry with the intention of requesting for a ministry break. A peer was also at the meeting and to my surprise, she shared about her struggle with anorexia and how God healed and set her free. As I listened to her journey, it felt like God was saying to me, “Enough is enough.” This was the turning point for me. Her testimony made me realise that I was not the only one who struggled with an eating disorder. It also showed me that through Christ, there is hope, and I can stand victorious in my battle with anorexia. I decided I had to get better.
The journey of recovery did not come overnight. In fact, I struggled between needing to be thin and wanting to be healthy for six to eight months. It was a long process of repeating the truth of God, and using it to overcome the deceptive voice of the enemy which I had grown so accustomed to. I had been so busy adhering to the worldly standard of “pretty” that I failed to see how emptiness and insecurity overtook the truth of what God thinks of me, allowing myself to become vulnerable to lies that fuelled the eating disorder.
In my pursuit of finding my identity in the world, I had forsaken my identity in Christ. When I authoritatively silenced the voices that were screaming at me, I heard God’s whisper in the quiet: “Why are you doing this to yourself? You are not your own. You belong to me. Stop running after all that’s pretty. Find your rest in me.” At that moment, I ran back into the arms of my Father. In an instant, the waves that were raging within me were brought to a calm and divine peace descended like a dove. Satisfaction, contentment, and confidence displaced all my emptiness and striving.
Laying in His arms, I found my identity. I am a child of God — adequate, worthy, loved, desired, and a recipient of His love. It was then I understood that the superficial beauty the enemy had wanted me to chase was merely a fleeting, shallow exterior. This supreme understanding consumed all the past pain and hurt inflicted upon my heart and physical body, turning ashes into beauty. Today, I am grateful to be able to enjoy the food I eat and no longer need to punish myself for having chocolate!
If you are struggling with loving your image or perhaps have been defeated by the lies of the enemy, I encourage you to look to the Word of God — it is the only eternal mirror that reflects your true identity. We are “God’s masterpiece” (Ephesians 2:10); we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalms 139:14). We must never forget that we were created to be loved by God, not by the world, and may this truth revolutionise the way you choose to live today!
“Whenever you start to feel insecure — about anything — come to Me. Talk with Me about your fears and concerns; then affirm your trust in Me. Voicing your trust connects you with Me at a deep level. It also pushes back the darkness of deception. The evil one has been deceiving people ever since time began, since the Garden of Eden. Do not listen to his lies. Instead, put your trust in Me, for I am absolute Truth. As you come to know Me — the Truth — better and better, I make you increasingly free.”
– Sarah Young, “Jesus Calling”