Mermaids don't have thigh gaps either. / by Anita Cheung

I am the 1%.

At least, according to Stats Canada, I am the 1-2% of women who have had anorexia nervosa.

If you know me today, you probably wouldn’t be able to guess that at the age of 14, I absolutely despised every ounce of my body. It wasn’t so much that I refused to eat; it was more so that I was limiting my intake drastically, counting every calorie, and spending 3+hours a day exercising. (Note: I also never missed a beat of school and would always have straight As in addition to a well-padded extracurricular resume.) I would spend every waking spare moment thinking about food and exercise. In my head, it wasn’t anorexia. It was simply “healthy eating”. Wasn’t it good to be health conscious and exercise lots? I mean, everyone does it! My mom, and everyone I knew, would always lament about being fat- as if it was the worse thing that could happen to a woman. Even my thin older sister would talk negatively about her body weight. I knew I was larger than her so that must mean I'm HUGE. 

Unfortunately, there comes a point where a healthy habit becomes an unhealthy obsession and it’s really difficult, when you’re in the throes of it all, to tell when you’ve crossed the line. To be completely honest, I couldn’t tell, not even when I stopped getting my period, went to see experts at the hospital, or when I got to a dangerously low weight of 67lbs. I would continue to obsessively compare myself to others, monitor my intake and output, and I never thought I was thin or good enough. If I got to my “goal weight”, I would think: let’s see if I can lose 5 more lbs.  I would then proceed to apply my hard work ethic to losing weight. I've always been "hard working" and what started as a curious question soon became a challenge I didn't want to lose and a goal I just had to "have".  I genuinely thought that the person I saw in the mirror was fat and unattractive and I recall doing stupid things like punching myself in the gut in an attempt to "beat" (non-existent) belly fat away. It wasn’t until multiple interventions by loved ones that I finally realized what I was doing to myself and started on the road to get better.  9 years later, I’m not going to lie and say that the negative thoughts don’t still slip through and get into my head occasionally; heck, these thoughts would still crop up, as recently as last year. There were times where I would wish I had the motivation to lose weight like I did when I was 14. Twisted, eh? 

To this day, I am working to rebuild my relationship with food. I was once told that people who have had eating disorders often struggle with food, even after their days of disordered eating are over. It's either they are a meticulous #cleaneating vegan (disordered eating that is masked in a socially acceptable way), or they completely throw it to the wayside and #YOLO it. I am of the latter camp. There are many reasons why I studied nutrition as an undergrad and there are many more reasons why I decided not to pursue that as my career. One of which is I worry when I see people obsessing over food. Additionally, I worry when I see people obsessing over fitness. Inner thigh gap? Squatting gives you a perfect booty? Let's just give it up already, shall we? Strong is NOT the new skinny. How about we all stop focusing on how our body looks and focus more on overall, holistic health. You know- mental, emotional, social health. The things that we can't see or measure with a pedometer, a scale, or a tape measure.

While I have always stayed very active after my eating disorder, I credit the quieting of my own negative body image to yoga. 

Now first, let me just get it out there that in this world where we are constantly greedy for pleasures of the aesthetic and visual sense, yoga is no stranger to competition. One simply needs to search a yoga hashtag on instagram or search "Yoga" in google images to see what I mean. Lots of skinny girls contorting themselves into various shapes in tight clothes. This isn't the yoga that I'm talking about. This isn't the yoga that helped to heal me. 

Rather than being self conscious and seeing myself from the outside-in, yoga has taught me to be self aware, and feel my body from the inside-out. For those of you who don't know- Anorexia is very rarely solely about food. It is often about perfectionism, and a desire to control. When your world is spinning out of control, you do what you can to keep things in place. In my case, I tried to control how my body looked. And guess what! Even when I was rail-thin, I still didn't have my "ideal" body. Yoga teaches me to "Let. It. Go" To give up control of things I can't control, and take a ride on the wild side of the universe.

I'm not saying I have it all figured out, nor am I saying I am immune to body image and self esteem issues. With that said, I am full of immense gratitude that I always have my practice to soothe me and it is this desire to share the comfort in Yoga that inspires me and ignites me with the passion to teach. 


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