For more than a decade of her life, Nichol Ng counted every calorie she put in her body.
“I weighed myself every single day for 11 years from the time I was 12, and my happiness depended on whether I had put on one pound or lost two pounds,” says the tall and attractive 30-year-old managing director of a food distribution business. Although much happier now, with plans to wed her boyfriend of 11 years next June,life for Nichol was once a constant battle with food and with herself.
Born the only daughter and elder of two children, Nichol, who had always been bigger-built than most of her peers, often bore the brunt of her relatives’ tactless remarks. “When I was five, I told my uncle that I wanted to be a ballerina. He answered, ‘You’re so fat. How to be a ballerina?’”, says Nichol in mock horror.
Fuelled by years of insults about her size, all it took for Nichol to start down the winding path of eating disorders was a chance encounter at the hairdresser’s.
“At the hair salon, I read tabloid magazines on how Hollywood stars were taking extreme measures to lose weight and learnt that I could take slimming pills and laxatives, starve myself and exercise to lose weight,” recalls Nichol.
Nichol subsequently started taking laxatives and progressed to slimming pills in secondary school, sometimes popping up to 20 pills a day. Her eating disorder worsened to the point where she did more than going on starving and bingeing sprees and purging after every meal. She also started exercising excessively – waking up at 5am every morning to jog, dancing to music for two hours after returning home from school and doing up to 300 sit-ups a day.
“On days when I starved myself, I felt good, and on days that I binged, I felt bad. My weight was yo-yoing up and down by about 15kg to 20kg every two months, and I would even cancel friends’ appointments at the last minute because I felt so ugly,” says Nichol candidly.
THE GREAT ESCAPE
Despite years of struggling with her weight and self-esteem, nobody was privy to Nichol’s condition. After all, no one would have expected a highachiever and all-rounder like Nichol to have any health problems. She was head prefect in both primary and secondary levels at CHIJ St Nicholas Girls’ School, a cheerleader and softball school team player in secondary school, president of the students’ council in Catholic Junior College and vicepresident of the student union at the National University of Singapore.
“When I was in university, everybody knew me because I had a hand in every project. But I was constantly struggling with my weight and would wake up in the morning, telling myself that I looked ugly. I perpetually suffered from gastritis and severe migraines because of the starvation, bingeing, diarrhoea and purging. At one point, I asked myself if this was really how I wanted to live my life.
“So I tried to heal myself by eating regularly, but on my first attempt, I took two bites of my meal and couldn’t finish it. I felt so helpless as the eating disorder had taken over me. I cried the whole night and thought of killing myself. I was very depressed – it was a bleak period in my life,” sighs Nichol.
JOURNEY OF LOVE
Nichol met her 32-year-old fiance Eddy Tapsir 11 years ago when they were both waiters at Delifrance. She was waiting to enter university, and he was waiting to join Singapore Airlines as a fl ight steward.
“When he asked me out, I was surprised as I didn’t think he would be interested in this plain Jane,” laughs Nichol.
The young couple soon embarked on a relationship, but it wasn’t long before Nichol’s eating disorder reared its ugly head. “I cried many times due to insecurities about him and our relationship. I would often starve myself when he was away on long flights, just to shed a few pounds before he saw me again. It was a terrible cycle.
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“On top of issues that young couples usually faced, we had to manage my eating disorder, which was at its peak as depression had set in. I constantly felt like I wasn’t good enough for him, and it didn’t help that he attracted a lot of attention, being a charming and good-looking guy. My eating disorder had caused me to be very temperamental, and because he was so young then, he was less tolerant and patient with my mood swings,” says Nichol.
Her turning point came at the age of 23, when she passed out blood in the toilet. “The laxatives had started to erode my colon. The psychiatrist diagnosed me as suffering from bulimia nervosa with signs of anorexia, and the colorectal surgeon said had I gone to see him a year later, he would have had to remove parts of my colon.”
RECOVERY TO REDISCOVERY
Nichol finally began her journey of recovery, both physically and mentally.
“After I left the doctor’s office, the fi rst thing I did was to throw away the weighing scale, the measuring tape, magazines that infl uenced me, clothes that I couldn’t wear and my slimming pills and laxatives. I also stopped exercising and quit my job as a marketing executive at Mediacorp Radio because with a media job, there’s always a lot of pressure to look good.
“I wanted to rediscover and learn to love myself and find out what I really liked, instead of trying to live up to people’s expectations of me,” says Nichol with a smile. Nichol attributes much of her success in recovery to Eddy, who is now a leading steward with Singapore Airlines.
“Eddy stood by me and even accompanied me to doctors’ appointments and supportgroups. Till today, he still makes me feel gorgeous and always fulfils my food cravings so I don’t binge later. He has brought back the joy of eating to my life,” says Nichol. Nichol now volunteers with Support for Eating Disorders Singapore (SEDS), and gives talks on eating disorders to build awareness.
“Although I do cringe at exposing my ugly side, hearing mothers crying for help with their daughters made me realise that there is a bigger cause in life,” she says with conviction. Nichol still occasionally struggles with her size, but she has no qualms about becoming a mother, even if she has to put on weight.
“My biggest fear about pregnancy is having to weigh myself every day, but with a very supportive partner and family and the love for my child, I believe I’ll overcome it. It’s all about putting the baby’s health before my own selfi sh wish to stay slim. “Even if my eating disorder were to relapse in the future, I’m confident my family’s love will help me to work throught it again.”