“For as long as I can remember, I struggled to be slim.
As a child and teenager, I was rounder and heavier than my peers, and when I was in university I developed an eating disorder and suffered with body image issues, which left me depressed for a time.
It wasn’t until I was in my early 20s that I stopped punishing myself and tried to accept myself as I was.
When I was 27 I started dating Eric*. He was handsome and sophisticated, and seven years older than me.
An entrepreneur in the fashion industry, he hung out with models and other good-looking people, and I felt the pressure to look like them.
From weight-obsessed to full-blown eating disorder
In our early days together, Eric never failed to tell me how beautiful I was.
However, as we got closer and spent more time together, he got less generous with the compliments and became quite controlling.
For instance, he’d tell me what to eat, how to dress, how to do my hair and makeup, and suggest things I could do to improve my appearance.
At first I thought he just wanted me to the best I could be.
As we always showed up to his work events together, I also understood that it was important for me to look polished and groomed – like his female model friends.
I didn’t mind this, and in fact, was grateful that I had someone in my life that looked out for me this way.
However, over the next couple of years, I became so obsessed with my weight and fitting into certain types of clothes that my old diet habits returned and I began to cut out entire food groups.
Pretty soon, I wasn’t eating very much at all and my weight plummeted to 48kg, which was about 5kg less than what I ought to have weighed.
I felt weak half the time but convinced myself that I looked good, because everyone said so. Occasionally, people even mistook me for a model whenever they saw me with Eric.
Tired of the weight struggle
It wasn’t easy staying thin because I loved food so much. A few stressful months at work saw me seek comfort in all my favourite fattening treats, and pretty soon I gained the 5kg that I needed, plus a few extra kilograms.
Eric didn’t let me get away with it.
‘You’re looking unfit and podgy’, he’d say, ‘I think it’s time for you to go on another diet’.
I was stupid and naïve enough to listen to him and went on a crash diet, consuming nothing but green juice and protein shakes for two weeks.
I got back down to 48kg but felt absolutely horrible physically, not to mention, depressed. When I thought back to my time in university when I struggled to be thin, I knew that that was the last thing I wanted to experience again.
After I turned 30, a medical check-up revealed that my body was lacking in several crucial vitamins and minerals, like iron and calcium.
To make things worse my hair was falling out and I had trouble concentrating at work. My doctor put me on a weight-gain programme and warned me not to go on an extreme diet again.
Two months later my weight went back up to 55kg and I began to feel healthy again. Eric, of course, wasn’t happy and insisted I lose a few kilos.
He made fun of my belly and thighs and also tried to restrict what I ate – for example he would order food for me whenever we went out and forbade me from ordering alcoholic drinks. He also got one of his personal trainer friends to design a workout schedule for me.
I resented Eric for making me feel like I wasn’t good enough, so I decided to show him that I didn’t need him in my life in order to accept or love myself.
Happy to be me
I stopped listening to whatever diet and exercise ‘advice’ Eric gave me and focused on what my body needed, which was wholesome food.
In about three months I put on an extra 3kg, getting up to about 58kg. I was slightly overweight for my height but I didn’t care.
I felt beautiful and healthy. I took up martial arts and began lifting weights, which transformed my body from scrawny and weak to muscular and strong.
I also stopped giving in to pressure to look a certain way, so I stopped wearing all my figure-hugging outfits and changed how I did my hair and makeup.
Gone were the glamorous ’dos and attention-grabbing colours. Instead, I opted for a more natural, girl-next-door look.
Eric hated this change in my appearance, telling me that I had let myself go and accusing me of not caring about his social and professional image.
For weeks he threatened to leave me unless I lost weight and wore the clothes he wanted me to wear, but I’d had enough.
I told him that I wasn’t going to compromise my physical or emotional health for anyone again and that I was finally happy and confident in my own skin.
I added that if he couldn’t accept the new me, he could go ahead and find another girlfriend. I wasn’t surprised when he ended our relationship a couple of weeks later. Of course, it didn’t take him long to hook up with someone else. And I should have been heartbroken but I wasn’t.
Being impressionable and desperate to fit in with the cool, glamorous crowd, I allowed a superficial, arrogant, narcissistic man to control how I treated my body and dictate the way I looked.
It took me a long time to see that I was putting my body through hell for someone else’s sake. I was done living for somebody else and neglecting my own happiness in the process.
These days I am a lot healthier. I have a new group of friends who accept me as I am and love me for my heart and mind, not for my body or how I make them look when I’m with them.”
*Names have been changed