This Is What It’s Like To Have An Eating Disorder In The Philippines

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I was stick thin in high school. I didn’t have to worry about the speed of my metabolism, I didn’t need to count calories and I didn’t even know what my weight was because I didn’t really care. As long as I looked like most of my peers, I was happy. As I entered college, however, things changed. For one, I had to say goodbye to the uniforms that made me and my classmates look like equals.

In a university crawling with high school valedictorians clad in short shorts, it was bound to happen to someone as insecure and self conscious as myself. I ate out of stress because of my exams and requirements, and I binge drank to feel like I belonged; to have some semblance of a social life. Eventually I felt my clothes tighten and so I started weighing myself every day. Yes, my body image issues started as soon as I learned to adopted the university life, but I distinctly remember the moment my eating disorder presented itself. It was just after summer, I had just come back from a 2-month vacation outside the country. The thought of seeing my possessive boyfriend again, the thought of being with my family without their vacation goggles on, the thought of enrollment and classes starting in a few days — all of these thoughts rushed in and suddenly I just had to weigh myself. I had gained 7 pounds. I forced myself to throw up.

It didn’t turn into a full blown eating disorder immediately. I only purged when I was stressed and anxious. But my excruciatingly stressful thesis, coupled with finding out that my boyfriend was cheating on me, eventually caught up with me a few years later. I became obsessed with my BMI and soon I was visiting pro-ana websites. I had a calorie calendar; I would consume 500 calories one day and 100 the next. After a few weeks I was 20 pounds lighter. But it wasn’t enough — it was never enough — it just pushed me to go further.

I wasn’t a sheltered little rich girl; yes my family was well-off but my parents made sure that we were socially aware and that we knew that we had to give back to the taxpayers after we graduated. So growing up, I knew what was happening outside my so-called ivory tower — the hunger, the poverty, the human rights violations, the crumbling political system. I was well aware of all of them. But it was exactly just that, an ivory tower. You would think that my middle class guilt would have stopped me from starving myself, but if anything it actually worsened my eating disorder. It was my first day at work — my first real job after I graduated — and I was on my way home crying because I had a boss from hell. Then this girl about the same age as me, but carrying a baby, stood by the car asking me for money and all I could think about was how I want to be as thin as her. When I got home, I went straight to the bathroom and expelled at least half of the 200-calorie dinner I had had an hour before. It was like that every day for about a year– I ate about a fourth of what was required of me and then I would purge.

But none of my friends knew what was going on. They would comment on how thin I was but they just assumed I was just stressed out. Sometimes they’d even tell me that I looked good. At home everyone thought I was just on some diet or that I was turning vegan like most of my family. No one really talks about eating disorders in this country because Filipinas are supposed to be naturally petite and why would anyone starve herself when he or she is surrounded by people literally killing to get some food in their mouths? Early last year I decided to tell a group of my friends what was really going on and I think all it did was turn one of my friends anorexic too. As soon as I realized that what I have, in a third-world country, is something senseless, selfish and superficial, yes, but more so something praised for its self-discipline and commonalities with Mary-Kate Olsen, I stopped talking about it. I refuse to be lauded for this disorder.

I’ve been in recovery a few times. But I don’t think it ever really goes away. It started again a few months ago and I even took breaks while writing this to purge. Ironic, I know. Everyone’s attributing my weight to work stress and I’m fine with that. Someday, like the other fads of America, the awareness surrounding eating disorders will reach this side of the world. But until then, I’ll just remain in my little closet, with this not-so-little Bulimarexia monster. TC mark

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