Overcoming An Eating Disorder
Not many people like sharing their vulnerable side, and it’s only normal to hide it from others. For Chiara, a writer at a food-based media company, it was coming to terms that she was struggling with an eating disorder.
During a recent episode of Ask ZULA, she opened up about the insecurities that happened to her since she was a child, and her attempts at dieting. Along the way, Chiara also shared how she handles negative comments online and her overall thoughts on body positivity. This is her story.
Dealing with insecurities growing up
Chiara and her siblings
When Chiara was only a K2 student, she began to notice that her body was larger than her other classmates. During moments when she had to take class photos, she was always the one standing in the back row. While her parents told her it was because of her “big bones”, she became even more self-conscious of her body when going through puberty.
Normally, girls would love it if they had a big butt. But, that wasn’t the case for Chiara. Instead of flaunting it, Chiara shared how she would “hit her butt to make it flatter” because she wasn’t pleased with it. Plus, she had an unpleasant incident where a stranger molested her, ‒ leading her to constantly have doubts about her body.
“It was definitely not a good thing but it made me think twice for the first time. Why would people want to touch my butt? What’s so great about my butt when I’ve always been very insecure about it? I felt very weird when that happened to me.”
This eventually led to Chiara finding comfort in snacking on food during her schooling days. However, because of her chubby size, her parents began to limit tidbits on her and her siblings. Instead, she secretly ate them in the shower after school so her parents wouldn’t notice. To Chiara, that was her personal way of unwinding from a day of stress and school.
When Chiara was 21
When she turned 21, a rollerblading incident caused Chiara to sustain a chin injury that required stitches. “I couldn’t eat properly for a full month,” Chiara said, adding how she lost so much weight just from that accident.
Although Chiara didn’t realise back then, she looks back at that time as when she felt the “hottest” because she was “skinny” – but insecurities back then made her not appreciate her body.
“No matter what body shape I had, I wouldn’t feel happy about myself,” Chiara explained.
Another instance that contributed to her low self-esteem and confidence growing up was when she was bullied in primary school. Some guys would pick on her because of her larger body-built. Even her friends would make fun of her double chin – something she had no control over since she learnt that it was genetic.
Attempts at dieting
Because of societal norms and the irrational need to be “skinny”, Chiara always had ideas of going on a diet, even till today.
“I tried calorie counting, exercising more than my food intake, and restricting myself to a certain food type during my teenage years,” Chiara shared. “I used to do a lot of fad diets like intermittent fasting. I tried to cut down on carbs and switched to liquid diets. But they were all short-term.”
There were many reasons why the diets didn’t follow through, especially since she was a budding, hormonal teenager.
“It was hard to keep up with diet plans when you’re having PE lessons every week in school. And I also had to attend CCA after classes which drained my energy by the time I got home. Plus, I was also hanging out with friends every week over good food.”
Pointing out how dining out was such a major part of gatherings in Singapore, it was just too challenging to stick to any diet she had set her mind to.
Another reason for not committing was that Chiara realised how “most of the diets [she] did were trendy but not very healthy.” This was because fad diets could result in nutritional deficiencies and even pose more health issues.
“I did have fit friends who do healthy diets such as weighing out their carbs, protein and fibre for each meal. They do it not because of body image but rather, for their health. However, I have never tried those healthy diets because food is always my guilty pleasure.”
Between choosing to pursue a diet or not, Chiara eventually gave in to her love for food and lived without limitations.
Impacts of working in a food-centric media company
Her passion for all things gastronomical even extended to her professional life. Working at Eatbook since 2017, Chiara is exposed to food almost every day. But that’s not all she’s exposed to – comments from netizens and her own family targeting her appearance also get to her.
One that hit straight to her heart was when her loved ones told her that she looked “a bit chubby on camera” and “needed to take note of [her] weight and food intake”.
Although it didn’t affect her immediately, the emotions built up over time. Eventually, on days when she thought she didn’t look good, she wouldn’t feel good too. And this affected her performance at work.
“I just felt moody and horrible about myself. The horrible feeling wasn’t just physical, but emotional too.”
Since it never feels good to be trapped in that physical and emotional turmoil, Chiara decided to seek the “easy” way out ‒ self-induced vomiting.
How the eating disorder started
The idea of self-induced vomiting happened when Chiara and her family went to a buffet restaurant one day. As the food was too good to resist, they ate so much to the extent that Chiara’s sister commented that she was going to go puke. It was not to look slim in particular, but rather, to not feel so full.
Although Chiara did not attempt to mimic her sister that day, she tried it for the first time at home after a shoot for work later on. As she was too full, the puking did make her feel better. It even caused her to develop the thought that you could enjoy binge-eating without having to go through the consequences like extra weight or calorie gain.
However, this temporary solution was far from healthy – and Chiara knew it.
Attempts in rectifying the situation
Many times, we hate getting our family worried and so did Chiara. Besides not wanting her loved ones to be concerned, she also didn’t want her health to deteriorate and decided to pull “the plug before it became too serious”.
“I didn’t want to spiral out of control and I told myself that I shouldn’t do such things again”, she shares.
Some changes and habits she kickstarted were being more mindful of the food portions she ate and pacing her food intake. A piece of advice she took from her bestie at work was also to drink water before heading off for shoots. Not only did Chiara find herself eating fewer portions, but it was also a good way to get her to fulfil her necessary daily water intake ‒ killing 2 birds with one stone.
On top of that, Chiara’s also started exercising more as she was beginning to feel the aches in her body as she got older, doing workouts to help strengthen herself and burn calories.
“Taking care of your body is the best thing you can do for yourself,” Chiara shares. “It improves your body physically, mentally and even emotionally.” Over time, the self-induced vomiting stopped and she was back to balancing an active lifestyle with her passion for food.
Though it sounds as if everything is too good to be true these days, Chiara admits that she still suffers from insecurities about her body. Being more mature now, she believes that she’s always a work-in-progress and is thankful for friends who always give her a listening ear.
Dealing with negative comments online
As an online personality and influencer, it’s inevitable to receive comments that aren’t pleasing to hear. One way Chiara deals with them is to simply erase them from her brain ‒ the best way to not harp on them.
“I have a very bad memory so it is easy for me to get over it once I forget about the mean comments online. After all, there’s no reason for me to remember them either.”
However, she revealed that comments from her closest loved ones such as her mum affect her the most. Since they are the ones whom she respects and holds dearest, it’s hard to hear such words coming from their mouths. Eventually, she would get upset at herself, resulting in her feeling even worse.
Now, she tries not to wallow in self-pity, and uses those negative thoughts to grow from them instead. Making use of her social media platform, she uses it as a medium to represent people with similar body sizes as her. When asked how she wants to be seen by others, she quips “a relatable mid-size girl who is there for the positive vibes”. And judging from her bright and cheerful disposition on her feed, she’s achieving just that.
She adds “Instead of trying to be someone, it’s always best to just be yourself”.
Thoughts on body positivity and advice from Chiara
Chiara feels that most people will go through body image issues and lack confidence at any stage of life. Though she can’t say for sure that she will be in a great spot forever, she wants to normalise sharing about eating disorders and weight insecurities.
One thing that she hopes that people take away from her story is to be content with themselves ‒ keeping in mind that “you’re your own worst critic” and “only you can help yourself”.
“Even if you decide to seek advice from your friends, it all boils down to whether you want to accept their help. At the end of the day, you’re seeking validation from yourself.”
“It’s more of a personal journey and growing to become a more contented version of yourself. Don’t judge other people’s words and behaviour, because there’s always a reason behind everything,” Chiara concludes.
For those who are still struggling, Chiara also advises that “it’s alright to take some time to really process what’s going on and take time out of your busy schedule to take care of yourself.”
Overcoming An Eating Disorder & Being Contented With Herself
As humans, it’s only natural to be unhappy with certain parts of your body. During these moments, we tend to compare ourselves with other people that we deem as perfect and succumb to societal pressures and bad habits. But, Chiara’s story proves that it’s possible to overcome an eating disorder and work towards a better version of yourself.
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Watch the full ZULA episode below:
All images courtesy of Chiara.
Some quotes have been edited for brevity and clarity.