Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that affects nearly 200,000 people in the United States each year. I didn’t know this statistic until I searched it up online while writing this article. You see, most people underestimate the power of an eating disorder, especially when it occurs in young children, believing they’ll “grow out of it,” or “it’s just a phase.” This misconception was a mistake that my parents regretfully made with me.
Growing up in an Asian household, I’ve always been submerged in radical home remedies for sickness, such as herbal tea and Tiger Balm, instead of the orthodox medicines of Tylenol and cough syrup. My parents didn’t really ever take me to see any medical professionals other than my yearly checkup at the doctor’s office. It seemed to me that they believed there was no need for professional assistance unless it posed as an immediate threat to my life. This, of course, caused detrimental effects to my physical and mental health as I grew older.
Now, I’d always been a picky eater. As far back as I could remember, food was never appealing to me. I didn’t like the way it lingered in my stomach: a dense mass weighing me down. Every day was a new battle with my food. The year I turned eight, I couldn’t stomach anything. My body was rejecting any solid food and a horrible abdomen cramp plagued me until I lie down and fell into a blissful sleep at night. My mother force fed me small bites of dinner and rubbed pounds of Tiger Balm on my belly but never took me to the doctor, refusing to believe I needed serious help.
After a few months, the worst was over. However, the trauma of the experience spiked such an intense fear in me that I was never the same. I was severely underweight – and remained that way for most of my youth – with a weak immune system and a constant chill so deep I felt it set deep in my bones. My parents were desperate for me to eat. They showed me pictures of models from the internet, and I recall the way their skin clung to their bones: living skeletons. I was too young to understand.
Eventually, I began to eat more. It might sound ridiculous, but I think Niall Horan saved my life. Their music exploded right around the time I entered sixth grade and all of my friends loved Harry. I was more of a Niall girl. I admired his love for food and happy go lucky exterior. When he said his girlfriend would have to be someone who adored food, I was determined to be that girl. I pushed way beyond my comfort zone and ate until my stomach popped out. My parents were thrilled, always complimenting me on how I was such a well behaved girl for finishing my dinner.
Years after, I think back to my childhood and how much of it I spent in fear of my food. Back then, I didn’t realize that my eating habits were the result of a serious disorder that killed thousands each year. I thought it was normal. My experience has made me realize how easily mental disorders and diseases can go undetected, or worse: ignored. Recognizing and treating an illness right when symptoms begin can prevent years of suffering. The right kind of management can even lead to a happy, carefree childhood.
It’s strange to reminiscence to a time where I could ever detest food, when I love it so much now. But it’s even stranger to comprehend how sick I was as a child; and how oblivious I was to it all. I was just a kid. I didn’t know any better; but I do now, and I intend to help others become more aware as well in order to create a happier, healthier world.
Are you struggling with anorexia or another eating disorder?