‘There are ants on your underwear,’ my mother told me.
I didn’t believe her, so I went to have a look.
The next morning I was in an armchair in front of a doctor. He passed me a small canister.
‘Little girl, can you fill this up with your urine?’
I did, then handed the canister filled with my liquid waste back to him.
He took the canister and went missing for a while.
When he came back, he told my mother, ‘Your daughter is in this stage we call pre-diabetic. That means her blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but she is not diabetic yet.’
My mother looked at me, then looked at the doctor again. ‘So does this mean we can still do something about it?’
The doctor said yes. ‘But you have to do it fast. The body will adapt to this state of blood sugar levels if she goes on with her current diet.’
I was nine years old.
I stopped my daily soda or sugary drink habit that day. I cut my habitual eating of chocolates by half.
Though I never did turn diabetic that year, my eating habits were still worse than most children my age.
I felt like a monster. I wanted to stop, but I could not control myself.
I was twelve years old when I first experienced all sorts of health problems.
Breathing difficulties. Coughing to the point of insomnia. Going to the washroom multiple times an hour.
But that didn’t stop me: I continued eating without thinking.
Again, I wanted to stop, but I felt like a monster who couldn’t control herself.
Until one day, I found a name for my obsession with eating. It was called emotional eating.
People say you can’t really change yourself until you become painfully aware of your problems. At times, it was helpful to add a name to your problem.
Though so, I felt like obsessive eating had already had become part of me. Change felt difficult and I was not ready for it.
Until, of course, I was forced to be ready for it.
The year was 2005. I was sixteen years old, on a trip to Singapore with my family.
It was supposed to be a fun trip. Except that two weeks before that I started to develop a strange illness.
I found a lump on my neck.
I went to the doctor and was given all sorts of medications.
But they did not help. The lump only became bigger.
One night in Singapore, I fainted in my hotel.
After the fainting incident, I started to develop a fever which made me feel cold most of the time.
To nurse me, my family canceled their plans and spent most of their time during that trip with me in the hotel. I was too weak to go anywhere and my parents did not want to leave me alone in the hotel.
It was a dreadful trip. We spent money to be there to enjoy ourselves, yet all they did was look after me.
I never wanted to repeat it again.
So when we returned to Brunei, I made a promise to myself to change my diet and start exercising more often.
I have the habit of making an 180-degree shift overnight.
You can call this a good or bad habit. My family would call it shocking.
Within one year of my trip to Singapore, I stopped buying things that were obviously junk food – chocolates, chips – on grocery trips with my family. (Though, I still bought biscuits and drank milo because my mother told me they were good for me.)
Whereas before I was sedentary, I started going for karate classes in my school and exercised five times before.
I even became vegetarian.
Gradually, my health improved. By the time I was ready for college, I was just like most first year students.
How can doing too much of a good thing make it bad?
Seeing how a good diet and exercise helped me become healthy, I decided to take it to the extreme.
I learned more and more about food and exercise.
I stopped eating biscuits. Most of my meals consisted of just rice and two servings of vegetables. Occasionally I would eat a little more, but I always felt guilty after that.
I exercised 10 – 14 hours a week.
I lost weight, which I took as a sign of progress.
Unbeknownst to me, however, I was starting to develop an eating disorder. My hair was slowly falling out and my energy levels were dipping.
I did not notice it at first but my hair was slowly falling out and my energy levels were dipping.
One day my sister told me, ‘You have bald patches.’
I didn’t believe her. I grew up with a head full of thick hair. But when I checked the mirror, I saw it.
But still, I did not make the connection between my habits and the changes that were happening to my body.
Other than that I found myself feeling increasingly lethargic. I was tired most of the time.
Still, I never linked my tiredness with not eating enough.
My food portions became increasingly smaller. By the time I was 23, after having kept my diet habits ‘clean’ for seven years, I could only eat half the portion of a normal person.
But still, I never thought I had a problem.
I didn’t think I had an eating disorder.
I hit a plateau
By the time I was 24, I decided to start a weight training regime.
I read somewhere that it would help me lose weight.
But no matter how hard I tried, my weight would not move. I consulted my brother, who was a gym rat at the time, on what to do.
He told me, ‘Keep a food diary. Sometimes we do not know it but we eat more calories than we know.’
Ah, that’s the solution, I thought to myself.
So I downloaded an app to help me discover the real calorie count in my food.
On the first day I tracked my calories, it said 900.
900 calories? I thought. There must be some mistake. Shouldn’t I be eating more than 2,000?
But there was no mistake. One portion of rice was 200 calories. Two servings of vegetables was 100 calories. Water – no calories.
I became worried.
I started to do research online. I learned that I had the opposite problem of eating too much: I was eating too little.
Too little, in fact, that my body became used to it. So much so that my metabolism had slowed down.
The website I was reading advised to eat more.
But after seven years of eating 900 calories a day, how do you eat more?
2014: I learned to eat again
The first time I tried to finish a full portion of food, I vomited.
My body had become so used to eating so little.
But I forced myself to do so. Every day I increased my portions.
The bad thing was that with a slow metabolism my body became very fat, very quick.
People who had not seen me for a few months told me, ‘Wow, you have really gained weight!’
I didn’t bother to explain why. I just ate more.
After one year, I started to notice that my hair was growing back and my energy was higher than before.
I met up with a person I had not seen in almost two years and she told me, ‘There’s something different about you now. You seem more energetic.’
Conclusion: Eat enough
It took me two years to adapt to eating like a normal person again.
But still, I don’t like to eat too much. I’ve kinda lost interest in eating in the way I did when I was sixteen.
But nonetheless, I’ve learned my lesson: Your mind may tell you that you can take your body to the extreme, but your body will make you pay for it.