‘Food was for ‘growing boys.’ I would take an empty lunch box to school so I looked like I fit in.’: Woman overcomes lifetime of eating disorders, ‘I love me for me’

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“I remember a time when all I wanted was to feel like a normal kid should. My disordered thinking and issues with body image and food started at a very young age (around the age of 5). I have always felt different. I remember being in kindergarten and looking different from everyone else. I remember not having what other kids had. I was Asian looking in a school of Australian kids.

I grew up in Australia in a biracial family. My father is Australian and my mother is from Papua New Guinea. I have two brothers. There is a big age gap between me and my brothers. Five years and six years difference. I am very much the middle child.

Courtesy of Suzi Curtis

Our family was all about the boys. My dad followed my older brother around for sport and events because he was often on representative teams. My mum was always occupied with my younger brother so most of my childhood, I fended for myself. I often always felt left behind. I even went through phases at a young age, about 8 or 9, of cutting off all of my hair to look like a boy, just to see if it made a difference. It did not.

We didn’t have a lot of money. I knew this from a young age because I always had hand-me-down clothes from my brother that were too big and worn out, and I never really had anything I really wanted that other girls my age were getting. For example, a Cabbage Patch Kid doll – I got the fake version called a Cauliflower Kid. I remember taking it to school and being picked on because it looked so different. Everyone else had dolls that looked like them. If they were blonde with blue eyes, their doll had blonde hair and blue eyes. My doll (I called her Tina) had bright red wooly hair, freckles, and wore overalls. She looked nothing like me. She was different.

Courtesy of Suzi Curtis

When my younger brother was old enough to go to preschool, things changed drastically.

At this time in my life, I didn’t really understand what was going on. My mum was fixated on my little brother. My older brother was a teen and busy with representative sport or girls, and dad was traveling a lot for work or traveling with my older brother. Almost every day for me was a struggle. I remember my mother making lunches for my brothers and not me. They’d get some really yummy food I was never allowed to have. Cookies, packets of chips, and mini chocolates, tuckshop, and money for extra snacks. I was never allowed to have any of it. It was for ‘growing boys.’

My older brother was a growing teen and an athlete and needed his strength. And my younger brother was very small for his age and he needed all the food too.

I was often told I was too chubby and didn’t need what they were getting.

I would often go to school on an empty stomach. On good days, I would have toast. I would take an empty lunch box to school so I looked like I fit in. I would beg my friends for a bite of their sandwich or snacks, but most of the time my friends never shared.

I used to tell the teachers I had no lunch and while at the start it was fine and they’d either share their lunch or buy me something from the canteen – it got to the point they started to think I wasn’t telling the truth. It was every day without food, so I ended up at square one. HUNGRY.

I’d get home from school and sneak into the kitchen when mum wasn’t looking, trying to find something to eat. Most of the time, the good food was hidden or out of my reach so I’d end up eating a teaspoon of peanut butter or sugar – really, whatever I was able to grab.

At dinner time, I ate. I ate everything I could, even if I didn’t like it because I was hungry and didn’t know when I’d eat again. If I could get a second helping, I usually would do that too, even if it was veggies.

This went on for many years and even though I would go a full day without food, I still managed to gain weight because whenever I could eat, I ATE. I guess my body just stored it because it didn’t know when it would eat again.

I got picked on a lot at school because I looked different. I had ‘slanty eyes’ and was chubby. My hair was often a mess because I had to learn to do it myself from a very young age. I never had what other kids had.

Courtesy of Suzi Curtis

I remember being in the changing room in grade six, getting ready for a swimming class and a girl screamed in fear because of the marks on my body. I had bright red stretch marks on my hips and belly. I didn’t know what they were at the time and was too afraid to ask anyone because I didn’t feel I could trust anyone. I remember eventually finding out what they were because of a poster I saw at the pharmacy.

When I got to high school, I kept to myself a lot. I was tired of always feeling left out and different. No matter how hard I tried to fit in, it just didn’t work. I had a few friends but nobody that I could call my best friend. I was still struggling with my identity. I had so many different haircuts to try and stand out. I was very overweight and was continually bullied for it. I was, however, a really talented singer and was often chosen to sing solos in the choir or at events, but because of my looks, I was never picked for lead roles in the school musical. This hurt my feelings a lot. I wasn’t the pretty leading lady in Mary Poppins – I was a chimney sweep in the chorus. But really, I could out sing everyone on that stage. I remember one year, I was asked to sing for the lead role but stand in the wings out of sight, while another person acted in the lead role.

My self-confidence was really low. I had often thought about ending my life because, at the time, I felt nobody cared if I was around or not.

In grade 10, I was sent to boarding school. It was an all-girls school where most of the girls came from families with money. There were girls in my grade with cars, brand name clothes, expensive bags and shoes, and loads of spending money. I managed to get in on a partial scholarship. My clothes were very different. I had my brother’s t-shirts, my dad’s old steel cap boots, and skirts I had hand sewn from scraps of material. I also had non-branded clothes you would pick up from the supermarket. I was very much the odd one out. I managed to make friends with a couple of the girls who were also a little different.

Courtesy of Suzi Curtis

When you’re at this age, you really want to fit in. You really want to be like the girls in magazines or on TV. You want to be the popular girl who gets the hot guy at the school dance. I wanted this. I wanted this so bad, I slowly started restricting food and joining a few of the sporting teams. My restrictions developed into bigger restrictions until I eventually became an anorexic with bulimic tendencies. I restricted everything. I would only eat half a banana a day and very little water. And if I ate or drank more, I would exercise like crazy or find the closest bathroom to purge. It was an unhealthy cycle but mentally, I thought I looked amazing. And so did people around me. I got that boyfriend and it made me feel amazing at the time. I even slowed down my overactivity and I started to eat more. Until the day he broke my heart and it completely shattered me.

I went back into this vicious cycle of not eating and overexercising. It got so bad, I developed a number of health issues, including an issue with my heart. I needed to have surgery. My anxiety and depression grew, too.

I went through this cycle for many years. I would date a guy, gain a little weight, and then be told I was too fat now or just not marriage material. I would pour my heart and soul into these relationships because I craved the love and attention I thought I was getting, when really I was being used for money or to make them feel better.

Courtesy of Suzi Curtis

It wasn’t until I fell in love with my then-husband that the cycle with anorexia and bulimia stopped. Our relationship was never the easiest but we loved each other. We supported each other through major highs and lows but this support often lead to a lot of eating. And when we ate, I would often eat the same amount as he would. My weight got out of control and skyrocketed up to 280 pounds plus. I say plus because, after that, I just stopped counting. With weight gain came body image issues again, and my mental health got wildly out of control. I was suffering from severe anxiety, panic disorder, and depression. It was so bad that I couldn’t leave the house. My anxiety pushed my adrenaline through the roof too. If I started to have an anxiety or panic attack, my body would just shut down and start to expel every fluid it could. I would need to go to the bathroom every few minutes, I couldn’t keep hydrated. If I tried to eat anything, it would make me sick.

There was one major episode of panic where I actually thought I was having a heart attack. My chest was in pain, I couldn’t breathe, and I knew something wasn’t right.

I was rushed to the hospital and had a number of tests and scans. I wasn’t having a heart attack but the doctor told me then and there if I didn’t do something about my weight and my mental health, I would die young. That shook me to my core and was the major turning point I needed to make changes with EVERYTHING.

Courtesy of Suzi Curtis

The next 18 months were all about change.

I was dedicated to making me better again. I was fortunate enough to live in a country where health care is amazing. I worked closely with my doctors, nutritionists, and psych team. Once I was ready, I started experimenting with group fitness and found that spinning (indoor cycling) was something I could do and didn’t feel pressured to keep up.

Courtesy of Suzi Curtis
Courtesy of Suzi Curtis

I had an amazing instructor who, from day one, made me feel comfortable and secure. She told me to just keep rolling my legs and not to worry about keeping up with everyone else in the class. ‘The fact that you turned up to give this a go is an achievement. Celebrate it!’ That meant everything to me.

Courtesy of Suzi Curtis

Every day, I went back to her class and slowly was able to keep up with everyone else. I started to drop weight and feel good. My mental health got better.

Courtesy of Suzi Curtis
Courtesy of Suzi Curtis

But with all these new changes came one last major hurdle. Learning to love myself again. My body wasn’t able to bounce back into shape this time around and I was left with sagging skin, more stretch marks, creases in places I didn’t know could crease, sagging breasts, and decreased muscle mass. I was thankfully still seeing my mental health team at the time and I received some of the best advice, which was ‘start by liking one thing about yourself a day. Like – you don’t need to love. Love will come when it’s ready.’ So I did.

Courtesy of Suzi Curtis

I started off every single day with one thing. And then that one thing grew to two and so on until I eventually started to love. Love turned into who I am today. I LOVE me for me. I love all those little things I once hated. I know that that saggy skin, cellulite, and stretch marks are all a part of the journey. MY STORY makes me who I am today.”

Courtesy of Suzi Curtis

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Suzi Curtis. You can follow their journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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