The South Asian girls guide to surviving an Eating Disorder

Eating disorder is something the South Asian Community hardly ever speak about . With deep rooted ancestral issues mixed with the new wave of social media body image visuals we have a group of females that need a lot of help mentally and physically.

My own journey struggling with an eating disorder lead to years of self abuse and hate. Trying to uphold traditional values and fit into the western society I found myself at times with an identity crisis. To abide by customary rules and regulations as well as trying to find my way to break away from the linear narrative and what is expected from me was something that took me a long time to make peace with.

Pic credit to @digital.dopamine

Eating disorders is not something South Asian families tackle let alone speak about , in fact historically it is only viewed as a western Caucasian female issue. In context the female body image and how it is interpreted in different countries and cultures varies this can have a conflict on Asian females (or females from a different ethnicity /race).

A curvy woman in an African Tribe maybe viewed as a strong women or a leader of the pack, that very same curvy woman in American may be viewed as an overweight person. In India being skinny is associated with being poor and in the western world we can view it as a middle class healthy way of living. Having said that, Bollywood actresses in films have now caught up with this wave of tight abs and toned physiques, and in my opinion adopted the western beauty standards.

As humans we all like to identify ourselves with people we feel familiar with and actually can RELATE to, so yes Role models and representation matters more than we can ever imagine in this day and era.

Social media has created this unhealthy relationship making us feel like we are never enough. It is either the size 0, slim fit, thick thighs tight abs trend. Body images are constantly changing like fashion and even someone who knows better can fall into this trap of the need to fit causing mental health issues that cannot be explained.

Eating disorders are no joke, and when we narrow it down to females from a South Asian background it can be the hardest thing one can go through. We have this unsaid standard of beauty in the community where females are expected to be slim and petite. Anything else outside of this we can guarantee our parents or relatives to make a back handed comment such as “you are getting slightly  healthy” Most of us already know this is a polite way of saying “you are getting fat”.

I had always been a fat greedy child, it was survival of the fittest in my house over the kit kat bars. but I also recall being very sporty and we always played outside. Puberty was unkind and so unfair to me. I blossomed horizontally and vertically, i stood out like a sore thumb.

I was desperate to drop weight, I was in college when I knew how to stick my fingers down my throat, magically I shed so much weight. I had no idea that this was a disorder let alone a thing.

Me aged 17 and aged 20 at the height of being bulimic and dropped 2 stones on the weighing scales

Eating Disorders controlled my life.

It robbed me of my self -confidence, self- esteem, self- worth and everything in between of my sanity. 

I was so misunderstood and the only emotion I knew was rage and anger.

Deep down I was looking to be just loved and to be told I was beautiful enough, but I never heard that so it made me feel like I never was pretty or good enough.

I was fighting this inner war that was consuming my everyday thoughts. My demons were stronger than me as I fought through each day with the bite of an apple to last me till bed time.

 I was trying to prove something to myself but I had no idea what it was. Even when I reached my perfect weight on the scales I was never happy.

I constantly felt ugly and fat in front of the mirror. Even at my lowest body weight i felt i had to train harder. This is what we call Body Dis morphia

Forever chasing this perfect ideal body figure I had no idea that maybe my genetics and body type was never made to be like the white girl plastered on every health magazine.

Of course to be healthy means you have to look like this way. ( this is the message I picked up subconsciously as a young person which then means I am accepted and fit into society)

Ironically I diagnosed myself with an ED when I read the symptoms of the very same magazine that most likely encouraged my Eating Disorder.

Social media has created a new wave of insecurities selling us this idea of how we should look like as women. Celebrities have not really helped in this either, not mentioning any names here.

My ED was all about being validated and trying to fit in with my peer groups and petite Asian girls, I was naturally very athletically built.

I didn’t see anyone talking about Ed which in fact made me feel more isolated and reclusive to the idea that maybe my people didn’t struggle with this further making me question this disease I was learning as a first language.

I could never explain myself to my parents or siblings what I was going through so naturally distance was created with everyone and I became more and more introvert within myself. I spent a huge part of my 20’s over exercising and excessively binge eating.

It wasn’t till I threw up blood one day that I had a wake up call. I think I was on the borderline of anorexia, my face just looked gaunt, I was a horrible person to be around and always in my own head. No one could help me at this point but I stopped being bulimic when my baby sister walked in on me once, she was aged 8 then and it hit me that I was paving a message for my younger sisters and it made me feel like a very bad role model.

Like any addictive you go from one thing to another to fill in the gap of anxiety or nervousness.

My replacement was over the top exercising which caused a lot of injuries in the process.

As ignorant as it may sound I didn’t even know that healing from an ED was a thing. I had a volatile relationship with food and where I had stopped being bulimic I hadn’t recovered from certain eating habits and patterns. This was only picked up by a coach when I was 30 years old. Which left me in awe and sad in a weird way. I thought i had left that all behind me but little did i know that it had still affected my relationship with myself.

@nicolewright at @daxmoy studios

From my research , historically ED is associated with the Caucasian western women but it is now catching up with females from other backgrounds and it is not something we cannot ignore as it impacts the economic society on a whole.

South Asian females, let alone any kind of females struggle to adhere to these false representations of health and fitness images and it is now becoming a crisis of mental health issues.

Maybe South Asian females have this root belief that we have to be thin and small and we definitely have this notion of how to behave and act within the cultural boundaries . The brown culture is very much based around reputation, honour, and appearance really has an impact on how one is treated.

This can be shown in the very fact an average asian wedding can cost anything up to 50k to 100k. Being Asian and overweight is one simply not fitting into the beauty standards and automatically you become an outcast without anything being said. It comes with a heavy burden of feeling like an one does not belong.

I also want to mention romantic relationships can also have contribute to the South Asian females Eating disorder trauma. Remember how I said earlier reputation and honour is the most important thing for a brown female well universally Asian people have this concept of no sex before marriage which means one cannot be caught in a relationship before that.

Though times are changing it is also something we still hide from our parents and families. This experience can easily lead to a female to get caught up in the wrong or toxic relationship where Asian men may also have this idea of what an Asian female SHOULD look like. I have seen this have an impact on so many young females when asked what triggered their ED.

So here are some of my first hand tips on how to recognise the signs early on :

  • Recognise the signs early on, this can be anything from you comparing yourself to your peer groups or images on social media.
  • If you are feeling inadequate compared to others this is also a sign that maybe you are having issues with how you look.
  • Withdrawal from food.
  • Counting calories obsessively
  • Over exercising way too much
  • Always critical about yourself.
  • Forever judging other overweight people around you ( I did this a lot, and I realised I was fearful of looking like them so I judged them, sidenote, I don’t do it anymore though)
  • Buying health magazines all the time

Solutions to overcome an eating disorder

When I realised at 30 years old I hadn’t l recovered from certain habits and patterns it was time for me to learn how to fall in love with myself.

Self-love literally took care of so many insecurities and it was the lack of self-love that made me want to be something I wasn’t. (mic drop moment )

 I was forever seeking love from others and did not know how to fill my own cup up.

Self-love taught me how to love my body rather than punishing it and I am so thankful I got to learn rather than wasting more years of my life with self-control and loath with my body and food.

  • Understand that we are all unique and trying to create a better body for others will only make you unhappy.
  • If you think you have an ED get in touch with someone that can help you and heal you but more importantly get you to fall in love with your body.
  • Speak about it. Maybe your friends are struggling with ED too. Ed is a very personal matter no one will ever want to admit it first.
  • Forgive yourself and learn to move on
  • If your Asian parents do not understand the ED thing try to speak to a family member you can trust and talk to. Or get in contact with me.
  • Understand that all our bodies are made differently we do not all have to look the same
  • Delete any social media pages that constantly show perfect butts and boobs, we do not need that kind of negativity, most of them are photo shopped, filtered or angled. you may even hear them complain that they don’t even recognise themselves on some posts haha
  • Please go see a therapist as soon as you can. This is something I had to spend a lot of money on years later and I wished I knew about his before it would have saved me so much time and energy.
  • That’s because we are not represented in this ED issue does not mean your experience with it is invalidated. We are all struggling somehow.
  • FINALLY remember that YOU ARE ENOUGH. I repeated this sentence for a whole year till it made me feel valued again. you are more than what you look like on the physical side

This turned out to be a long read didn’t it? but I hope you managed to get something out of it and please share on your social media platform or with family /friends.

You could be helping someone come out of their darkness.

Lots of love

Nazia Khatun

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