John's Story - Part One
Names have been changed to honour anonymity.
Body image issues developed at a young age
To me, it feels fair to say that I can’t remember ever feeling comfortable in my skin as a child.
My first memory of body awareness probably dates back to me being around seven or eight and me feeling dislike for my body. I can remember few specifics of that time in terms of how others treated me and related to my body. I guess like most kids I was picked on a little. One thing I do remember however is that one of my friends, a girl in my class, was openly and horribly body shamed for being too fat by her mother.
I witnessed this many times and I wonder now whether seeing that we were a similar shape and size I identified myself as ‘fat’ partly because of witnessing this body shaming. Fast forwarding to my teens, my discomfort with myself and my body increased and I started feeling uncomfortable about allusions to my body, my sexuality or my interest in certain girls at school.
Problems began to snowball out of control
I self-injured by cutting myself for the first time when I was around 12, but this was just an experiment. Although I would throughout my early teens stick needles through the skin of my fingers and remove them by ripping through the skin I had pierced.
Shortly after my 13th birthday we moved to a different country and this is where things get a little blurry. I felt like I did not really fit in. I did not speak the language and my different nationality was highlighted and I was picked on for it. I think over time I started feeling increasingly isolated and depressed, which I battled through various types of self-harming behaviours.
There was my over-eating, which was enabled by my parents who as I ate more and more supplied more and more food. Then self-injuring returned to the stage as well as use of hardcore pornography aged 15-16 enabled by internet access, curiosity and lack of parental involvement in my internet use.
All these unhelpful and destructive ways of relating to my own body snowballed along with other behaviours and ways of expressing myself that were getting more and more problematic over time.
A good appetite developed into binge-eating
As time went on comments about how much I could / would eat continued to be made (I always had a very good appetite) and I think this played a role in me starting to eat secretively alongside my already large intake of food. By the time I was in my late teens it would not be unusual to finish off a day of fairly regular eating with a prolonged public (i.e. non-secretive) binge However, I would also sneak more food on top of what I was visibly eating in front of others.
It was like I was in a pressure cooker and things got more intense as time went on. I was cutting the soles of my feet, my eating was out of control, I was struggling with anger and depression and I had recurring suicidal fantasies. Despite this, I managed to do well at school and university and superficially appeared to be functioning well to most people if not everyone.
By the time I was in my early 20s I had put on lots of weight and actually feared moving out of my parental home as I was scared about my eating habits and my mental health deteriorating even more. Then one summer, something life-changing happened.
Problems with eating began to change
One of my friends had taken a photo of me at the beach sitting on a rock with my shirt off and when the photo came back from development and I saw myself I was shocked and possibly disgusted by the huge amount of fat I felt I saw on my belly and chest. That moment was a turning point, though that did by no means signal the end of the struggle.
Instead, new and at times worse, challenges were to come. I decided it was time for a change and I set myself a challenge to lose weight.
What followed was a 9-month struggle to lose weight and I worked methodically. I made very strict rules about quantities to start off with. There was trying, failing and trying again. There were difficult times, like Christmas, when I put on weight that I then needed to lose again. As time went on, the rules got stricter. The stricter the rule the more powerful and strong I felt when I was able to stick to it. Then followed another rule – more restriction.
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